We had just, in December, visited the Grand Yucatan Princess for a week, and enjoyed it greatly (review available on TripAdvisor). The Princess is a very large mid-range resort with a separate adults-only section and premium package, both of which we purchased. It was our 3rd adults-only AI resort-within-a-resort visit, an excellent value, and very satisfying.
In contrast, for our second trip to the Yucatan, we booked the cheapest package available at this much smaller 'boutique' resort in early January.
Karisma is a Mexican-owned chain, and the El Dorado properties are their adults-only sites. This is NOT a place for younger couples looking to get drunk and loud, if you fall in to this category do yourselves and everyone at this resort a favour and go elsewhere. Example: you are required to wear presentable clothing in the restaurants. We appreciate this requirement.
The resort is big on green cred (as much cred as a resort can reasonably offer), and make a big deal out of their conservation efforts and homegrown food - they should. The resort has the advantage of using some very fresh produce they cultivate themselves. Bonus!
My wife and I take these AI resort vacations to unplug, tune out, and just be quiet and lazy by the beach. We did not do any excursions. For that, this resort is THE baseline against we will measure any future vacations.
Sunwing again. The plane was leased from a Czech company and was not a Sunwing standard layout; there were several more rows of seats shoved in there, making it so tight you couldn't put your head down for 'crash position' if you wanted to. Good thing it was a short(ish) flight.
Cancun airport was it's usual model of mad inefficiency: hundreds of people lining up for two (?!?) immigration officers, followed by lining up again to get in to the line to go through customs, followed by... lining up to go through customs. It took 90 minutes to debark and find our bus. Same as last time. This is not the first thing you want to deal with on a vacation. While the airport staff are all friendly, they also often seem as harried as the passengers. Solution: hire more staff, Cancun airport?
The resort is a 95 km drive from the airport, but we were the 6th stop on the route, and so it took 90 minutes to get there. This may be a deal-breaker for us next time, as it just drags the whole day down. Consider a taxi.
This is the first time we've experienced check-in coming to you. It's very nice to be greeted at the resort, sat down in a comfy chair, and have someone attend to you rather than lining up at a desk. The staff were courteous and friendly, the lobby modern, airy, and as we've noted before in Mexico, incredibly clean.
There is a library of books and videos available to you there also, if you're so inclined. Of note, the induction staff spoke excellent English, as did our concierge (Charlee, a very sweet and efficient American lass who did everything in her power to make us happy, though really, they're all like that). The lobby is as pleasant place to hang out as everywhere else in the resort, even the bathrooms, really (I'll get to that later).
Since we tend to spend the majority of our time anywhere but the room, we took an entry-level 2nd floor suite. It was big, clean, and had both a usable balcony and a Jacuzzi. The motion-sensitive toilet light took some getting used to, but that's minor. The suite includes double vanities, which is always nice, and a large shower. Do note that the shower hot water temperature will spontaneously jump; set the temperature you like, get in the shower, wait a few seconds, CHECK AGAIN. Else you can scald yourself. Pressure is good, but temperature consistency is not.
King-sized bed, neither too firm nor too soft. The in-room air conditioners (fascinating pieces of technology that can produce prodigious amounts of cold) have a blue LCD status screen that is actually quite bright at night. It's not a big deal, but if you require complete darkness to sleep, bring an eye mask.
The jacuzzi was large and well-cleaned, and the suite has a large table with two chairs well sized for room service. The balcony is not particularly deep, but comes with two ball-backed recliners that are amazingly comfortable, though at first glance you wouldn't think so. The view was of the grounds and pool bar area, which I had misgivings about though they were unfounded.
It's not a resort for the WOO HOO crowd and so there was very little, if any WOO HOO going on in the evenings. OK by us.
The room fridge contains water, beer and soft drinks, and kept them well cooled (wife is a diabetic, so insulin temperature is important). There was no complimentary liquor in the room - I've noted before how others may see this is a problem but I just can't: it's multi-bar all-inclusive resort - get up and go outside, or order from 7/24 room service.
No need for toiletries, they supply good ones including skin balm for idiots like this author, who got himself nicely burnt on Day 1. Lighting in the room itself is on the dim-to-very-dim side. There were three convenient power outlets available.
Decent flat-screen TV, really don't care. We don't spend that kind of money and fly all that way to watch TV.
The grounds were cozy, lush, private and clean, but let me go straight to the washrooms. I think they were cleaned every 15 minutes. Seriously, you could eat in them if you wanted. Often you'd hear guests remarking on it to each other, in the bathrooms. No paper towels, no air dryers, only fresh, scented linens. One evening there was an overpowering smell of lemon in the main beach bathroom, suggesting someone went overboard with the disinfectant - not a bad thing. I tend to obsess over public restroom areas as the ultimate gauge of a resort's cleanliness, and this one was the cleanest I've ever seen, which after visiting the Princess earlier is saying a lot (they were ridiculously clean, too).
The place isn't so much 'small' as it is 'right-sized'. An after dinner stroll down the gently lit pathways takes exactly the right amount of time, and invariably leads you to some place to sit near a bar in privacy and comfort.
Interestingly, palm tree coverage over the walkways is just about enough to keep anything but the strongest rain off you.
NO insects, which is a little weird since I couldn't smell insecticide anywhere. Lots of Geckos, everywhere, one Iguana, and few squirrels. A lot of birds, though, which I always like (dunno why, just a thing I guess), and may explain the lack of insects?
There is a constant background of 'spa' music in the suite areas, I think to cover up the sounds of construction (which were never bothersome anyway) of their new facilities. Amazing how this stuff gets in to your head, like an ear virus. Can't say it was objectionable, but after about day 4 I wanted those simple, damned, repeat-every-30 minutes melodies OUT OF MY HEAD and reaching for my Slayer playlist.
Not the greatest beach compared to, say, Varadero, but what compares to that? The sand is relatively coarse, there are a few rocks in the water, and depth of the beach is limited in some places - however it is damned pretty and there was never a shortage of palapas and beach chairs, not once, at any hour of the day, and that makes up for a lot.
We were told the resort was operating at 90% capacity at the time, in which case the architects must have planned based on 110% capacity with their palapas and seating areas. At any time of the day, at any section of the beach, you could find somewhere nice to sit. The beach is also constantly being groomed by hand, and there's lots of fish. We saw a school of (something...) skipping in and out of the water just meters from the main beach, awesome!
There are, to the left of the main outdoor bar, two fantastic areas with Bali beds. We spent most of our time here; there is a stone seawall there and so you can't just walk out and go swimming, but... damn was it relaxing. The Bali beds are supremely comfortable and clean, however some of them do not have a full roof and so varying patches of your skin will get toasty as the sun moves across the sky. There is also a quiet pool with bar and Bali beds, too, but we didn't try them although they were luxurious and, of course, impeccably clean. The 'quiet pool' actually was maybe the noisiest area at the resort on two afternoons...
FOOD & DRINK
If fine dining is your thing, meaning proper service, high quality food tasting like it's supposed to and not only of sauces spices, and 'normal' portions (vs. North American Franchise Feeding Trough portions - not knocking it, I like quantity over quality as much as the next guy, do note), this is your place. There are no buffets and no reservations, though we recommend you go relatively early as the tables fill up quick after 18:30. The food was uniformly very good. I think to get to 'excellent' at any resort requires spending considerably more coin for a stay in the Côte d'Azur...
Wine is included, house red or white, excellent for our purposes as an accent to the meal, but if you're a connoisseur you will need to pay for anything else. I'm not a connoisseur, but like to think I'm picky and the house wine never disappointed.
The Sandwicherie is where you'll likely eat lunch every day, and it produces a variety of simple yet tasty and high-quality meals, from fish-and-chips to specialty pizzas. We would often grab chips, salsa, and pico de gallo (and Margaritas, duh) for a late snack and eat it on out Bali bed while staring at the ocean. Sybaritic luxury defined, for us anyway.
We thoroughly enjoyed all the restaurants; my favourite was the Mexican, my wife's the French.
Room service can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes to reach you, dependent on the time of day. When it gets there, it will be excellent and properly presented to you by the server. So if you're insanely hungry and can't wait, consider walking the 30 metres to a restaurant, any restaurant. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the whole idea of people-bringing-you-food-while-you're-in-a-bathrobe.
Here the resort truly excels. They survey constantly, actively soliciting your opinion on every aspect of your stay. At no time did we ever encounter any staff member who was less than gracious. They are both discreet and friendly, there was a real sense of the resort encouraging employees to speak at length with guests. Our beach waiters, for instance (Anna and Lucy) would take the time to sit with us on the Bali bed and talk, which was fantastic. The spa/activities guy, Javier, and I must have spent at least an hour over two days just talking about Mexican history, culture, travel, etc. He was low-key, never pushy, literate, educated, hard working, and truly interested in what you wanted. I asked him to pick up a pack of decent Mexican cigarettes for me (the on-resort gift shop will perform fiscal rape on you for them, as at every other resort), which he did, and at first refused payment for them.
Of note; we were not on a honeymoon etc. package, however our Concierge stealthily picked up during conversation that we were celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary. Two nights later, I got in (wife was still out dancing...) and found a bottle of champagne chilling, petals arranged on the bed, and the jacuzzi full of bubble bath and flower petals. She and her colleagues did this for us regardless of not being 'on honeymoon'.
Hit and miss. The cultural shows were awesome, particularly the Mexican regional dance history night and fantastic in-your-face Mariachi band - all the passion you'd hope a Mariachi band would have for the craft. The rock band that performed one night was just...terrible. The same terrible band that performed one night at the Princess; great vocalist/bass player, sloppy drummer, and a guitarist with too much attitude and not enough skill (I've been a guitarist/musician/engineer for 30 years, trust me). Avoid these guys. The fire show we'd seen before, but it was still impressive.
Avoid also the 'Mayan Beach Dinner'. In theory, it should be great, but in practice it suffers from disorganized queuing (nobody really knew which table was to queue when, and where, so it was a free-for-all) and an inability to see what you're choosing to eat at the buffet (it's dark out). Also, the chairs, being in sand, will sink over the course of 30 minutes, so you're constantly finding the table at your chin (I exaggerate, but not much). I was looking forward to it, but the combination of mystery food, uncomfortable seating, constant percussion from the authentic Mayan musicians (which started out very cool but became tiresome after 45 minutes) had me leaving feeling a little queasy about an hour in. To be fair, I do like Tequila and had consumed a fair amount during the day so... I'm not blameless.
The main beach-side bar is a frighteningly comfortable place to just sit... There's a flat screen mounted high, usually playing sports of some kind. Football matches drew the Brits in residence like bees to honey, and when that wasn't playing I'd stare in horrified, silent shame at the retro 80s pop videos (no Thrash Metal videos, alas, the only good music to come out of the 80s) (that's an empirical fact) (OK, I made it up).
And DO try the Tequila tasting - you're in Mexico and the stuff you get there is likely not what you can get at home. The presenter was very knowledgable and friendly, and took care of wrapping the bottles we purchased for our trip home. Unfortunately, whatever you bring home will never taste as good as it does in Mexico, particularly when it's -20 outside... Solution: return to Mexico.
The bars, though few, were excellent. We tipped as is our custom, and the service we received from the bartenders bordered on sycophantic (Google it...). The two main bars have plenty of seating, both near the bar and in more secluded alcoves, everywhere.
We liked it so much we should NOT have gone. It'd be precious easy to blow through an extra $1k in a week at the spa. The staff, facilities, cleanliness, and expertise were all excellent, and as certified massage therapists their services are tax-deductible in Ontario. Yup. So get a receipt.
WiFi is available in several places, clearly marked, none of it free. Not a big deal for us as we went to Mexico to unplug, and it's not expensive ($4 for 60 mins), but if you're a compulsive social media type the perhaps you should stay home anyway.
They are building many new units close to the lobby, and will expand the French restaurant as well. I don't know what this will do to the place in terms of never feeling crowded, but suspect it won't be much of a good thing. Only one way to find out...
No stops on the way out, so the bus ride was only about an hour. Only. It's still too long for my tastes, but given the value proposition of the resort, sufferable. On the way home, we rotated crews in London (Ontario), and had an extra 30 minutes to wait while the CBSA held our crew at customs. Never seen that before, and not SunWing's fault (I presume). Otherwise uneventful, we exited Ottawa airport and experienced a 60-degree temperature change, from 30 and sunny in Mexico to -30 and windy in Ottawa. Man, that can crush your soul...
An anecdote: one morning we took a Bali bed behind the main stage area, and didn't realize until ensconcing ourselves there that a two-man crew were doing masonry work on the wall behind us. Quietest. Masons. Ever. No excess noise, hardly any talking, just the shhhht shhhht of the trowel and the occasional faint slop of cement - they were RIGHT BEHIND US, less than 3 meters away. I fell asleep with them working. That pretty much sums up the mood of the entire resort, it's relaxing and respectful, and amazingly peaceful.
This is a small, intimate place, where the staff go out of their way to be discreet, friendly, and super-efficient. Do not go here if you expect a lavish Hard Rock style extravagant bling-fest. That's not what it's about. Coincidentally, it's not we are about either, so we were insanely happy with it. We will try more of the El Dorado properties in the next few years, and I guess that's the best endorsement you can ask for - we're going to do this again with them.
I hate to say this, as it may not do Karisma much good, but I don't see the purpose of anything other than an entry-level room at this place. The resort is both small enough and so good in all respects that a large ocean-front suite is really a waste.
Having now sampled some large resorts and the Seaside Suites, our conclusion is simple: Large resorts offer something for everyone, every age group, every preference. The Seaside Suites are targeted at... exactly us. 40-somethings (OK, 45-somethings) who want a quiet, gentle vacation with some entertainment and REALLY GOOD FOOD.
As noted in the preamble, this place is the baseline against which we will measure all future resort vacations. Our thanks to the management and staff, all of them, for a truly memorable experience.
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- Also Known As:
- El Dorado Seaside Hotel
- El Dorado Seaside Suites Mexico
- El Dorado Resort Spa
- Hotel El Dorado Seaside
- El Dorado Seaside Resort
- El Dorado Spa
- El Dorado Seaside Mexico
- Eldorado Seaside Suites
- Eldorado Resort
- El Dorado Sensimar Riviera Maya Mexico - Puerto Aventuras