For a first time all inclusive guests, my wife and I though this was a beautiful resort with great pools, beach, drinks, and service. Sadly, the food was a bit lacking, but we still had a wonderful time.
On with the long review!
I'll start with the food. It wasn't usually bad, but neither was it usually good. I suppose the word average would do. My review is going to cover food quite a bit, as most of the other reviews do not give much more than a good/bad. I've worked in restaurants most of my life, and have a pretty good feel for them. I'm picky, but can roll with the punches too.
Overall, I'd put the Del Mar/Beach's food on par with a Village Inn or Denny's. Some items were much higher quality however. The sit-down reservation-only restaurants were definitely better food than the main buffets and eateries. It just seemed that these meals got better attention, were more fresh, and had higher quality ingredients than the mass produced buffet meals. The food in the buffets did have an almost cafeteria quality mass production taste to it. (As I suppose it should, as that is essentially what the food is.)
The Del Mar and Beach share two main buffet areas in their respective lobbies, as well as two large outdoor pavilions near the beach, and the beach grill. Guests of the Del Mar can visit all five areas. The Beach's buffet was not open for dinner, and I believe one of the beach pavilions was closed for dinner as well.
The two main lobby buffets have quite a large variety of food. Every day breakfast items always consisted of scrambled eggs, bacon, waffles, pancakes, sopapias, sausage, a variety of breads, pastries, donuts, and rolls, a variety cheeses, several yogurts, fresh fruit (oranges - with seeds, cantaloupe, grapefruit, bananas), an omelette station, cereals, milk, and juices. These items usually accounted for about 1/3 of the items. Another 1/6 or so was unidentifiable by me, and I can only assume were European/Russian dishes. The other half seemed to rotate by the day, and included things such as poached eggs in chili sauce, Brazilian ham sandwiches, breakfast enchiladas, sausage, various pico de gallos, refried beans, breakfast nachos, rice dishes, etc. Lunch and dinner seemed to be quite similar. There was the standard 1/3 of the main-stay items such as breads, rolls, lots of salad options, various sliced cheeses, a couple of soups, burgers, fries, hot dogs, pizza, dessert bar, etc. The 1/6 of strange looking dishes. And the other consisted of rotating food again. Things I found were bbq ribs, enchiladas (green, red, mole, and naked varieties), chicken picatta, mozzarella sticks, lamb, chicken béchamel w/capers, stuffed peppers, mini tostada tacos, mini chimichangas, sauteed peppers, quesadillas, meatballs, chicken alfredo, deviled eggs, a couple different carving stations, etc. This list is by no means exclusive, and there was a lot more than this. There was never any type of shrimp or seafood that I saw.
The outdoor pavilions each had a smaller (maybe 1/3 the size) amount of food than the main buffet areas. Otherwise, it was a sampling of the same foods as the main buffet. The beachfront grill always had burgers, hot dogs, fries, and maybe 3 more rotation sides and a few appetizer type finger foods such as quesadillas.
We went to both the Japanese and the Brazilian restaurants.
The Japanese was a good show and good food. We were given sushi and tempura veggies for an appetizer. My wife loved the tempura and I thought the sushi was very serviceable. Wish they'd given more wasabi though. The main meal had several ala carte options (maybe? almond chicken?) and then the habachi grill. Everyone at out table of 16 got the grill. Options were steak, chicken, shrimp, and octopus. I was adventurous and got all 4. Skip the steak and octopus. The steak was tough, not flavorful, and a bit grisly. The octopus was tough as well, but maybe it's supposed to be. I expected something more akin to calamari texture, and it was much chewier. The chicken was great and the shrimp was good. The mixture also included zucchini and broccoli. We were also given the option of steamed of fried rice. The fried rice was tasty. There was a dessert bar with 6 or so items. I tried 5 of them and was not impressed with any. I specifically remember the flan and chocolate mouse. Both were very average, although the mouse looked really good. There was a waiter serving drinks the whole time as well.
The Brazilian restaurant was a meat lover's paradise. If you like meat go here. Nothing particularly "American" style, but a great carnivorous feast nonetheless. It was located at one of the beach pavilions. A waiter took our drink order, and then we were allowed to go up the the salads, bread selections, cheeses, and size meat dishes. One of the sides was a tasty shrimp salad dish, which was the only time I saw shrimp at the resort. I zeroed in on the blood sausage in marinara at it was some of the best I've ever had. Simply fantastic. There were also some tasty chorizo sausages, as well as probably 3-6 others that I avoided including chicken, pork, etc. Not because ether didn't look good, but because of that darn blood sausage. Mmmm. Another waiter visited the table 5 or six times. Each time he brought a different skewer and shaved meat off. There was chicken, lamb, beef, and sweet bread that I remember. You could ask for as much as your tummy could handle, and all were quite good except for the sweet bread. If you don't know what sweetbread is, then probably stay away. If you do, try it to say you did, but don't get a big slice. Very flavorful, but also a strange texture. (for the record, I love liver & onions, and did not like the sweetbread).
The mall area had a free-of-charge ice cream shoppe/creperia, a burger restaurant, and a taco shop. We never tried a crepes, but the ice cream was great. My wife absolutely loved the raspberry cheesecake ice-cream. My lime sorbet was very good too. The taco shop was tasty and had 6 types of tacos, chips, quasi (movie theater variety), and a condiment bar with sour cream, guar, 2 picos, jalapenos, and several salsas. The choriqueso tacos were terrific. We never tried the burger place, but can only assume that they were similar to the beach grill - which meant that I'd skip them in the states, but when craving a burger, they were serviceable. Imagine your buddy grilling cheap burgers in college. Thats these ones.
We got room service once. I got tacos el pastor and the wife got chicken nuggets. The tacos were dry and not flavorful at tall - skip these and go the the taco shop in the mall. The chicken nuggets were the same type you get in grade school cafeterias. The fries were not good and are outlined below. She received ketchup, but no choice of ranch, bbq, etc. There's a reason we only got room service once…
All meals at the main lobby buffets had waiters, and the service was sporadic, even when tipping. Make sure you note, that even after a hostess seats you for dinner, you are still expected to go up the the buffet and get plates. For other meals, go strait to the food area, get your food, and then find a table. We sat at the table for a bit waiting for plates the first night. I would typically go and get my own waters/sodas from the beverage station in lieu of waiting for the waiters.
Beverages included 6 or so juices in pitchers, and taps for water, apple juice, oj, jamaica (delicious!), sparking water, and soda pops. There was also always milk that I wish I had tried, but never could get away from that dang jamaica. We almost always had a mimosa or two at breakfast, and a beer at dinner when a waiter was around.
As for as highlights, there was an EXQUISITE Challah bread pastry with a custard filling every day for breakfast. (looks like a big braided french roll with a dusting of parmesan cheese bits like in a pizza restaurant) This was spectacular and I highly recommend it. Every day my piece got a big bigger. The bacon and eggs were also quite good. I can only assume this is because the Del Mar's were much more fresh than I am used to - when my supermarket foods have been between factories, supplies, and shelves for weeks at a time. I was also surprised by the variety of cheeses available. There was almost always a few of either brie, gouda, provolone, fontina, manchego, and others. They were a bit soft from sitting in the warm air for the length of dinner, but tasty none-the-less. One night there was a carving station for a poultry. I can't say whether it was chicken or turkey, but I'm leaning towards turkey. It was fabulous. Completely fabulous. Probably the most succulent and moist I have ever had. I put a few chunks of it on the rolls with some of the cheeses and it was a treat. (I also ate a "few" more pieces by themselves…)
For lows, the pizza was atrocious. I call this type card board pizza - no flavor in the crust, sauce or cheese. Simple supermarket varieties such as Red Baron, Tostinos, or Tombstone are superior. Not even remotely close to a Digorno or Freschetta. The fries were also terrible. Certain varieties are better for extended buffets (such as in these buffets) and these were not those. The fries were soggy and flavorless. Ever fresh out of the frier, I doubt them being more than below average.
We drank water from the dispensers, sinks, and inadvertently from the pool and ocean. Never got sick or had indigestion.
Overall, the food served its purpose - to fill us up. Some was quite good and some was quite bad. If you are a foodie, then this probably isn't the resort for you. If you don't mind average food with lots of options, the Del Mar is pretty decent.
On with all the rest which is almost all good!
Drinks were always plentiful and stiff. If you didn't like the pour, a simple mas (insert liquor here) and you had a drink that was half booze and half mixer. I never felt like I was cheated on any drink pours. Some of the fruitier drinks don't have much alcohol, but aren't really supposed to.
The lobby bars have the higher end booze (I'll post pictures of the menu), but the pool and beach bars still had a solid 25 or so liquors available. It seemed to me that the best bar tenders in the resort were in the lobbies. The best Mojito I've ever had was in the Del Mar lobby. The Black Russians, Purple Rains, and Blue Lagoons were also great. There was a tasty local drink called a Michelada (Mitch-el-od-uh). It was a Dos Equis with ice, lime, and spices similar to a bloody mary, but without the tomato juice. They were great in the mornings. If you like bloody mary's, try it out.
The lobby bar wasn't very crowded, even at night. There were also quit a few waiters at night in the lobby. The pool bar could be a zoo sometimes, particularly around noon. It was quite perplexing that a full pool bar could have zero people tipping, I would have a $5 bill held out, and I would eventually have to give up and moved on. On that note, the lobby bartenders remembered me each time, but the pool bartenders did not. I tipped $1 ever time a ordered something, and really did not feel like it did anything special for me, save in the lobby. That was my favorite place to drink. Those bartenders also had some great suggestions and know their tequila!
The service was always impeccable, save the pool bar. There were many times that we looked around, and staff outnumbered guests in our immediate area. The staff are always scrubbing, raking, watering, and cleaning. Very very hard working folks. And every one always gave us an hola or buenos dais.
You could tell some of them couldn't speak English, but as long as you know Banjo, minuto, si/no, and a few numbers, you're probably ok. I was particularly amazed with the bartenders. They were fluent in English. And German. And knew lots of Russian, Dutch, and French. Talk about being lingual. Every one of the staff in any position to interact with customers was always fluent in English.
The Star friends were a riot. This guys and gals work the pools during the day as entertainment staff, and then act in the shows at night as the entertainment. I couldn't believe how talented these people are. And the shows at night were pretty good! Not broadway or anything, but still a sight. Just as good or better than our local community playhouse. The broadway and vegas shows featured over a dozen each choreographed songs that included grease, cats, lion king, rocky horror picture show, abba, beetles, and circa de solei (sp?). The stage had very well made props, a full band, and lights/fog. The biggest disappointment was Miss Iberostar - basically an incredibly cheesy production where 4 women hotel guests compete in ridiculous contests.
We were in the 1800 block. About half way between the lobby and the pool. Worked perfect for us.
The room was good, but a picky person could find some worn spots if they looked. We just used the room for sleep, showers, and getting dressed, so it wasn't an issue. The floors were tiled, which was great, because we had sand on everything by the end of the trip. The a/c worked great, but was always running. The room could have used a few more outlets, but we managed. The fridge was "luke"-cold. We'd always leave the maid a couple bucks along with a note saying "Mas Agua Por Favor!" and we always had plenty of water bottles. The bed was firm, but manageable, and the pillows didn't give me any problems (and I like a fairly soft pillow.) The patio was nice, but the patio furniture was pretty poor quality, so we did not spend much time out there. The bathroom had good quality toilet paper, a shampoo dispenser in the shower, and plenty of large towels. The bathroom itself was clean and had a very large shower, but no tub.
My only real complaint with the room was that somehow mosquitos managed to sneak in almost every night. We ended up wearing socks to bed, and using some bug spray and had no problems after that. There was no smoke or musty smell in our room.
The resort is beautiful. And big. Living in a downtown area, we love walking between destination, and the Del Mar provided plenty of walking to burn off all those Mojitos. I can imagine that small children or the elderly might have some trouble with the distances between the lobby, pool, and beach. The lobby to the beach is probably a 6 or 7 minute walk at 3 mph.
The grounds are very well cared for, and several places are a bit wild jungle-like in appearance. While the resort does not lack a manicured look, I have been to aesthetically better grounds in Hawaii. That's no complaint though. A path leads from the lobby, past all the villas and pool, through the beach pavilion, down the beach walk, and then to the beach. Several areas are the path with essentially jungle on both sides. What makes this interesting is that all you see are brush and trees, but the pool might be on the other side and only 70 feet away. The resort does a good job of keeping different parts of the resort seem truly apart from each other.
The wildlife was a lot of fun for a nature lover such as myself. Animals I saw: peacocks (and an albino one), guinea hen, flamingoes, cormorants, stork (several types), kingfishers, cats, caotis, capybaras (or something similar), turtles, and countless lizards including iguanas, anoles, and others. Never had anything crawl into the room either.
Smoking was never an issue other than one time on the beach pavilion patio, and we just ended up moving to another table. If you like cigars, there was a Monte Cristo for sale in the hotel cigar shop that I indulged in at the lobby bar. Best cigar I've ever had.
The pools are salt water, and impeccably clean. The water temp is a bit chilly in the morning, but feels fantastic by mid day. The pool bars could get a bit busy, but the quiet pool bar by the falls always was usually accessible. The pool itself has 2 sections and both are immense and beautiful. Even at mid day, we could find secluded spots to hang out. And there were always plenty of chairs available at any time of day. We never felt the need to reserve a chair early.
The beach was huge, with plenty of sun, sand, and chairs. The Del Mar end did seem to have more seaweed (think small kelp), but the staff was pretty constantly trying to clean it up. There was still plenty of area to swim in (nearly) seaweed free water. Towards the other end of the Iberostar property, there are also quite a few rocky tide pools with all sorts of interesting baby fish, snails, crabs, sea urchins, and blennies. Very cool.
One day while wading, I even saw a sting ray swim by. It was about the size of a dinner plate. Wish I had a snorkel a the time. Speaking which, you get a free hour of snorkeling each day. The snorkeling is adequate, but only a few varieties such as smallmouth grunts, lots of sergeant majors, lots of blue runners, and a few wrasses. If your very patient, there are countless blennies as well. Stick around the ruined pier for the most fish.
Make sure to be at the beach around 10 am. The water is more turquoise than any other beach I've ever seen (that's hawaii, aruba, california, and florida for the record).
We never once felt even remotely unsafe. There were always staff nearby, and when the occasional vendor wandered down the beach to sell something, a security guard with a walk-talkie shadowed him like a hawk. Otherwise, even in Playa del Carmen, we felt very safe when walking 5th street, the beach, and even down side streets.
Bring bug spray. Bring bug spray. Bring bug spray. There are mosquitos and they will get you. Bring some cortisone anti itch too. The mosquitos were most prevalent in the evening around the lobby, and on the jungle paths at night
Playa del Carmen was fun, but not worth it. The same knickknacks are available in the iberostar mall for the same price. The food prices were in the $10 burger, $8-12 appetizer range at most restaurants. Beers were $4 for a bottle. I expected a much better deal. The city itself was a bit "scummy" for a lack of a better word. Not unsafe, just a bit downtrodden. Some of the shops were fun to look at though. The beach was pretty, but about the same as the Iberostar's in quality.
My wife complained about the hair dryer. I don't know too much other than to say that she mentioned bringing her own next time.
I would also recommend bringing pool floaties with you. They ones for sale by the pool are $20 and very cheap (the type that would be a couple bucks a the dollar store back home.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC