For our five-year anniversary, I wanted to do something extra special. Not only were we deserving of it, but it was a perfect excuse to go somewhere better than we have ever gone before. Everyone who has traveled with me, allowed me to book their travel, or heard about our travel, knows that I am quite compulsive about finding the best deal in the best location. I do A LOT of research. I know something good when I see it and don’t think I’ve ever regretted any travel choice. Best of all, my husband never doubts me :) I had been thinking about this particular trip for over a year. I started researching locations and decided Cancun is where I wanted to go. Not only does Continental offer the cheapest fares, but they also fly non-stop. Once I figured out the location, I needed to find a resort. Steve and I have long agreed that all-inclusive is our favorite way to travel and with the costs of transportation, hotel, food, alcohol, etc. an all-inclusive seems to make a lot of sense for our style and interests.
After a lot of reading and constant rate inquires, I finally booked us on a seven-night stay at Live Aqua Cancun. In November 2010, they went from a high-end hotel and dining establishment to an adults-only, all-inclusive resort. During their early transition period, they were offering great travel packages via the common travel sites (Expedia, Orbitz, BookIt, Apple Vacations, etc.) in an attempt to reach out to a different clientele. I booked the trip in January and we had seven months to dream and heighten our expectations.
We were set to depart on Saturday, July 16. On Friday night, I went online to check in and they offered us a first-class upgrade for only $69! Coincidentally, I had been checking on upgrading for months, but the cost was $320 apiece. Not a chance. It’s very rare for us to fly non-stop, particularly on a 3 ½ hour flight, so the $69 seemed like we were supposed to be there…After all, it was our anniversary :) We didn’t sleep much that night as the anticipation of the week ahead was overwhelming.
First class was just that. We had our personal car service pick us up at our house (Thanks Rich!) and when we arrived at the airport, the Continental check-in line was wrapped around the entire area. We could barely move. There were 100’s of people in line!!! We made our way (smiling the entire time) to the Elite Access line and checked-in immediately. Next, we stepped into the Elite Access security line. Very nice. After that we made our way to the President’s Club as we had over an hour and a half before our plane would be ready to board. We ordered a bloody Mary and had a seat…34 minutes had elapsed from the time we stepped outside of our door to when we were sitting in the President’s Club. We were giddy.
We boarded the plane first (of course!) and were immediately asked if we wanted a cocktail. Yes please! We ate a nice breakfast of cereal, fruit, yogurt, omelet and potatoes and then talked and rested. We even had warm cookies and milk! Even though I’m a small person, the space is still great. Neither one of us had to sit in the middle seat, making the overall flying experience very nice. For the record, we’ve never flown first class, probably never will again, but we made it worth every single penny.
When we arrived in Cancun, we breezed through customs and had arranged a private car through USA Travels. The cost of a private vehicle versus a bus was only $7 roundtrip. It was worth more than that. We didn’t have to wait for other flights to arrive or stop at other hotels on the way. We were at the hotel in about 25 minutes.
From the minute we walked into the lobby of the resort, we were in awe. This place was amazing. The entire hotel was very Zen and I think we captured this in all of our pictures. As we took a seat on one of the fancy couches, Steve looked around and said “I feel like we’re in paradise and we’re not supposed to be here.” He was partially right. We were in paradise, but we were supposed to be there.
Like many people we spoke with at the resort, we booked at a great rate and it was a steal. Outside of our flights, we paid $1,400 for seven nights ($100 per person/per night) for our room and all food and drinks. Many other guests thought the same as us prior to our arrival...Is this deal too good to be true?? Live Aqua was at least half the price of other comparable resorts in Cancun.
We originally booked an oceanview standard king room and stayed there for two nights. It was a very average size with a great bed, sitting chair & ottoman, table & two chairs, and plasma TV. The bathroom had a stand up shower, nice tub and amenities. The balcony also had two chairs and one small side table.
We were interested in upgrading to obtain access to the Aqua Club and did so for our last five nights at $50 per night. In appearance, the rooms were identical. The "oceanview" room had a slightly larger balcony and bathroom. The "oceanfront" room was located in the center of the resort. There were great views from both. Notice the "Live Aqua" written in the sand :)
Each room was equipped with a small mini bar stocked with beer, soft drinks, juices, water, candy, chips, peanuts and a few other items.
Rooms also had an aromatherapy pot with a menu of oils to choose. I thought I'd hate it, but most scents were actually pleasant.
With our upgrade, we received access to the Aqua Club. The service was great and we had our own butler. Isaac and Alfonso were awesome and did anything to try to make our trip even better.
There were four different changes of food and beverage throughout the day in the Aqua Club. From 7am-noon, there were assorted cheeses, pastries, fruit, yogurt, two hot dishes which varied daily (mini burritos, mini omelets, poached eggs & peppers, potatoes, etc.), teas, coffee, a Nespresso machine, juices, mimosas, bloody Mary's and screwdrivers. We spent every morning eating a small breakfast and drinking a few mimosas and bloody Mary's. The view was spectacular and the lounge very comfortable.
From 1-3pm, there was a selection of vegetables, guacamole and salsa and from 4-6pm they offered desserts...both with a tequila bar. We usually weren't eating much during this time of the day so we'd stop in to relax and get a drink. Even though the tequila bar was self-serve, the servers would get or make you anything else.
From 6:30-10pm there were pre and post dinner snacks that varied daily (various cheeses, stuffed grapes, sushi, ceviche, etc.) all served with an open bar. We made it a routine to stop in here before dinner for a small snack and a few drinks and watch the sunset over the lagoon.
Although we used it a lot, we probably wouldn't pay much more than $50 per night for the Aqua Club. We used it as another convenient and comfortable option for a snack and drinks.
This may as well double as a food blog because the food made our trip SOOOOO much better. We believe food can make or break a trip and this time it surely made it! Within the first four days we had eaten at every available food option. Azur, Siete and MB were the three restaurants. There was also 24-hour room service, poolside service and the Aqua Club. After we had a taste of them all, we choose our favorites and made the best of our dining experience. The presentation was great and the food just as good. The food we ate easily covered the cost of the trip...and as tempting as it is, we really didn't overeat. The portions were controlled and the sides minimal. We usually ordered one or two salads/appetizers and two entrees...then maybe a dessert or two. We could always get an additional entree or extra salads, appetizers, etc., but typically opted for dessert instead. I'm drooling as I write this, so my guess is you'll be drooling after you see all the pictures :)
Azur was the only restaurant option for lunch. It had Mediterranian cuisine with an Asian flair. Located directly on the water and next to the pool, it was very convenient mid-day. Each day, they had a different dessert display with a different color theme. Although we didn't really enjoy the desserts, we did appreciate the display. Azur also had a small buffet available, but we choose to eat a la carte instead. We ate lunch here twice and dinner once.
On our first day, we shared a pear and gorgonzola pizza with two spinach salads for lunch. We didn't eat much, but it was tasty.
On Sunday we ordered Azur again for lunch at ate it near the pool. We found the best choice for lunch to be their burger. It was huge and easy to share, so we did it twice!
On Sunday night, we visited Azur for dinner. I had a seafood risotto and Stephen a grouper. I also had English peas with prosciutto and Stephen had cheesy asparagus. Besides the veggies, this was our least favorite meal of the trip and decided not to return for dinner. It was a wise choice considering the food we'd be eating later...
Siete was another restaurant available for breakfast buffet and a la carte dinner.
We had their buffet breakfast once and it was good. It was very extensive with tons of hot dishes, cereal, sushi, and mimosas galore. It was easy to overstuff yourself (...and we did), which is why we only did it once :)
We ate dinner three times at Siete and it was spectacular every time. Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita hails from Mexico City where he was named one of the top chefs in Mexico. They offered a very sophisticated Mexican cuisine and we found everything delicious. The first dinner, I ordered the filet mignon served with a smoked chipotle Chile sauce, while Steve ordered a sautéed shrimp with squash blossom seeds, cilantro and a Serrano chili sauce. We also had the squash blossom cream soup and tuna tar tar for appetizers.
On our second visit I ordered the filet again, while Stephen ordered a duck breast with pineapple, plantain, apple, pear and an ancho chili sauce. My beef was was cooked perfectly again!!!! It the best entree we had at the resort. Yes, I shared with my husband. He would never let me get away with it! For dessert we had the tres leches cake and sorbet.
The next time, Steve didn't want to share. The filet was so good, that on our last night we both ordered it! Once again, cooked pefectly. We also ordered a poblano pepper stuffed with pork, almonds, capers and olive oil, then topped with a Macadamia sauce.
MB was our favorite overall restaurant. Named after celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein, a James Beard award-winner from Miami, who was responsible for creating the MB menu. Like Siete, we visited MB three times during our stay. It was fantastic and we tried something different every time. With only nine appetizers and seven entrees on the menu, we covered a lot of ground. It was ecclectic...maybe too much for some, but we liked trying new preparations. In general, it's rare to find this type of food at an all-inclusive and we were happy to eat as much of it as possible (six appetizers and six entrees to be exact!) The service was incredible.
On our first visit, I had the watermelon and strawberry salad with pickled watermelon and Stephen had the king crab and grapefruit salpicon with a coconut-vanilla-tapioca vinaigrette as appetizers.
Following our appetizers, we were served an amuse-bouche. This night it was shrimp and cous cous.
As our entrees, Steve ordered the angus grilled short rib with a potato-avocado puree and aspragus slivers, while I had a snook filet with potato, winter leaves and garlic and anchovy cream sauce. Ironically, we had never heard of snook until earlier in the month when Scott and Gretchen were looking to get some snook fingers in Myrtle Beach. Scott had said it was a delicious fish so when we saw it on the menu, we knew we had to get it! It is very small fish, so it's not commonly served in restaurants.
On our second visit to MB, I ordered the carmelized sweetbreads with beet, mushroom and comfit shallots. I was very skeptical about ordering the sweetbreads since they are technically the thymus glands and pancreas of milk-fed veal, but I figured since I wasn't really paying for it, then this is the best time. They were surprisingly good and Stephen loved them. The beets really added a nice flavor to them. I just tried not to think about the baby cow.
Stephen had the roasted fig with pistachio vinaigrette with veal tongue scallopini and endives. It was also very good and we shared them both.
As our entrees, I ordered the comfit duck ravioli with plum carpaccio and magret ham salad, while Stephen ordered the comfit suckling pig (pork belly) with tomato chutney, mango foam and sauteed Brussels sprouts.
Our last visit to MB was on the night of our anniversary. I ordered the thyme roasted quail with an asparagus and tomato vinaigrette. Steve had the tuna and ataulfo mango trio with passionfruit juice and cilantro.
For our entrees, we chose the pan roasted grouper with white clams and cuban rice as well as the sweet potato gnocchi with wild mushrooms and brie cheese.
Finally, for dessert we ordered the cocoa + cocoa (a soft and crispy hazelnut base with salt, chocolate cream, vanilla ice cream and caramel foam) and the corn + ricotta + milk caramel (a corn cake with ricotta cream and milk caramel ice cream) Both were so good, we decided to get them for take-out on our last night.
The poolside menu offered a lot of simple options. Tacos, quesadillas, nachos, fries, chicken fingers, etc. We ate by the pool twice and had the burger, rib eye nachos, shrimp tacos and flank steak tacos. All were ok, but when we asked for a hotter salsa, we were brought a habanero salsa and it made such a difference!
The room service was the final option for food and it was great! Totally underestimated. We ended up eating most of our lunches via room service because we were usually at the pool or beach between 9-1 pm. So delicious! We preferred it over Azur's lunch and poolside. Here we have chicken fajitas, shrimp linguini, tortilla soup and a spring salad.
We also order the roasted chicken and pasta primavera. The chicken & pasta was a very light and tasty combination and so we had it a few times.
We usually had a bottle of wine or champagne delivered with lunch...Always a nice treat.
We also had liquor bottle service delivered to our room. Here we had vodka, served with grapefruit juice, a bucket of ice and Japanese-style peanuts. Very fun.
We were also creative with the contents of our mini-bar and drank the vodka with Fango orange soda and sparkling water...and when we ran out of glasses, we just used a coffee mug :)
There were four bars at the resort. Surprisingly, we didn't spend much time at any of them but made time to visit three. Aka was located in between Siete and MB and was usually very busy around dinner time as people waited for tables at MB. Otherwise, it was pretty empty.
Egos was a late-night bar open four days a week.
The pool bar was well, at the pool :) This is where the beach and pool servers went to get our drinks.
The swim-up bar was located in the more secluded pool. We never stayed at this pool or visited its bar as it was more crowded and a lot noisier.
On our first day, we participated in a tequila tasting at the Aka bar. There were only four of us, so we had a lot of samples! It was very informative and we were happy to have done it so early in our trip. We were taught how to drink it (not shoot it) and learned about three types of tequila (Silver, Reposado and Anejo) which are given their name based on how long they have been aged. They're typically smoother and more expensive the longer they've been aged. Stephen was even so adventurous to try all of the tequilas offered in the Aqua Club.
Mexican law states that in order to be called "tequila", the spirit must be made from an agave plant and can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Also, Mexicans don't typically mix their tequila with anything and simply sip on it, which is why the Reposado and Anejo are the most commonly consumed. Despite begin very popular in the U.S., Patron tequila is not thought of highly in Mexico because it was originally created exclusively for exportation. Only recently has it become available for purchase in Mexico...and at a very high cost.
In the end, our favorite was the 1800 Anejo...it was a very smooth sipping tequila. We even bought a bottle to take home with us.
Even though there were very few activities, we also participated in a wine and cheese pairing and a cocktail class.
Although we think we are pretty talented at making our own cocktails, we did make a watermelon mojito, a caipiroska, and a michelada, which mixes beer and different spices and sauces. In Mexico, it's known as a great hangover remedy.
The pool scene was pretty spectacular. There were eight pools, all at different temperatures. The main pool area had five pools and one hot tub. We loved the pool area, but with little breeze it was very hot and hard to take for too long. There was poolside drink service, but we were rarely there long enough to take advantage of it other than to have bottled water and ice delivered to us.
We usually went to the pool earlier in the day and the water temperatures were fine. Later on, the largest (and warmest) pool could be a bit warm. It was fun to hop around to the different pools, but the view from the infinity pool was hard to pass up…
There was also a pool that was a little more secluded and had a swim-up bar. The chairs were closer together and the noise levels were a lot higher, so we never actually stayed there.
We ended up spending our last several days at the beach because the breeze off the water made the heat more tolerable for a lot longer! There were several chairs and umbrellas and never crowded.
The drink service was outstanding and we often had a new drink delivered to us before we were even done with our old drink! We also had a bucket of ice and bottled water delivered…and they even refreshed our ice when it melted! It was pretty awesome J
Some other random fun…
There were two Rolls Royce parked out front. We weren’t sure what they were used for other than weddings and VIP guests. Regardless, they were pretty fancy.
There were two Rolls Royce parked out front. We weren’t sure what they were used for other than weddings and VIP guests. Regardless, they were pretty fancy.
The Coffee Corner was a cool place where we could go to get coffee made to order throughout the day. It was like our own little coffee shop with coffee, espresso, lattes, iced coffee, pastries, cookies, etc. It was also conveniently located next to the Aka bar where we could add Bailey’s…
Randomly throughout the resort were displays of cookies, drinks, coffee and tea.
There were three trained resident macaws on the premises. Unfortunately, on our first day the female broke her wing after flying into a window L The two remaining birds flew around during different parts of the day and even posed for pictures.
La Isla shopping mall was located across the street. We walked there once, but it was very expensive and very hot so we quickly returned to the air conditioning.
We received a special surprise in our room on the night of our anniversary. The concierge had left a bottle of champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries and a nice note to congratulate us.
On our last night, we were surprised to find this elaborate rose petal and candle display in our room. They even drew us a bath! We were a little nervous about the open flames, but it was very thoughtful J We enjoyed our dessert and Bailey’s on the balcony, then called it a night. We were so sad that our vacation would be coming to an end…
We departed Live Aqua at 10 am on Saturday. We had upgraded our flight to first class again and it was just as great...except the Cancun airport doesn't have a President's Club. I guess we're already spoiled...
As we flew over the Cancun hotel zone we were able to spot our hotel. It was even beautful from up above.
Ah yes...first class again. We were milking it for everything it had to offer because we don't know when or if we'll ever fly like this again
Our five-year anniversary was truly everything we dreamed of and more. We are so happy to have the opportunity to travel with each other to such amazing places while creating new and exciting memories year after year. We love spending time together and cherish trips like this...Sadly, every future vacation probably won't be able to compete with "Live Aqua 2011" because it was a first class vacation from beginning to end.
We will continue to do our best to live happily ever after...