Friday, July 25, 2014

Ocean Maya Royale for the 2nd Time! ~ Playa del Carmen, Mexico ~ July, 2014

Living the Dream.

Vacation. It’s a word everyone loves. It’s also a word that has a different definition among people. To me and Steve, it’s become 2+ weeks at an all-inclusive, adults-only resort in Mexico. It’s where we find our total peace and have the time of our lives. We started in Cancun and during the past two years have moved south to Playa del Carmen. During all of my extensive research, I've found we're limited in the number of adults-only resorts that fit into our budget, particularly for an extended period of time. In the end, Ocean Maya Royale has become our vacation mecca. For two straight years, we have visited for 18 days. It checks off every box on our wish list and we have found every reason to return time and time again!

A link to last year’s review can be found here: 

This year we had the honor of having our New Jersey friends, Jean Marie and Ron, stay during the last seven days of our trip. We met them at Live Aqua Cancun two years ago while they were on their honeymoon. Thanks to Facebook, Jean Marie and I have stayed in touch and thought this was a great time to meet up again! We had so much fun. We met a lot of different people from all around the world and even spent a lot of time at the pool with Dawn and Ken who we met last year at Ocean Maya. This year was Ken and Dawn's 4th stay at the resort and we're all planning another trip next year! In this big world, vacation seems to bring everyone together with a common goal…Have fun, relax and enjoy!

 With a 6:00 am departure time, we were up bright and early! After a layover in Chicago, we arrived at the Cancun airport around 2:00 pm when we retrieved our transportation. The drive from the airport to the hotel was 28 minutes (I timed it!) without any stops in between. Once you step onto the property, you immediately take notice of the layout of the resort. Rather than your typical “hotel” set-up, Ocean Maya has 320 rooms, including 33 eight-room villas and 56 rooms in the privilege building. We really love the layout and the grounds are always kept immaculate.

 The wildlife is very prevalent, especially the coaties. We had one that slept around our balcony and Ron and Jean Marie had one sleeping on their patio chair! They’re really harmless, but a site to see. Some people feed them (NOT recommended) so they beg for food at times and can be found going through the trash. They are members of the raccoon family, but are not nocturnal. Also seen often are iguanas and deer. 

 When we checked in, we were so excited to receive the same exact room from last year, which we already knew had some of the most spectacular views. We also upgraded to the privilege package, but opted not to stay in the privilege suite. We chose not to stay in a privilege room simply because we prefer a room with an ocean view over a room with more square footage. None of the privilege rooms are oceanfront. We were checked in at an exclusive privilege desk and then escorted to our room. When we arrived in our room, we were happy to see a pair of “welcome back” t-shirts, which we thought were a nice touch. There was also a bottle of wine, chocolate covered strawberries, two fruit plates, a set of robes and slippers as well as our privilege towels.

View from 1207 (our room)

View from 1206 (Ron & Jean Marie's room)

With privilege status you receive access to the privilege lounge with top shelf liquor, hot snacks mid-day, and a-la-carte breakfast. You also have top-shelf liquor at the bars, access to a separate privilege beach with service, a privilege concierge, breakfast in bed, a romantic dinner, and the ability to make reservations at restaurants. We enjoyed the a-la-carte breakfast the most (the fruit plate is fantastic), followed by the top-shelf liquor at the bars. The breakfast was nice and relaxed with a view of the beach. Regarding liquor, we mostly drank Ketel One vodka, 1800 Anejo tequila, Jim Beam and Crown Royal from the privilege options. If you’re a rum drinker, Bacardi is available without privilege.

As part of the privilege package, we also received five mini-bottles of liquor in our room, in addition to domestic beer, diet Pepsi, regular Pepsi, orange Fanta, club soda, juice and peanuts. Our fridge was restocked daily and if we wanted more of something specific (water, Bacardi etc.) we would just leave a note (and a tip!)


There are four a-la-carte restaurants and one buffet restaurant on the premises. We found the buffet to be satisfactory, mostly for breakfast and lunch, but preferred the al-la-carte’s for dinner every night. To be honest, we made much healthier food choices this year and we didn't have to search for them. It's fun to overindulge at times, but we love the fruit and salads so much that they were something we looked forward to having every day. Some people say portions are too big, other say they're too small. To be honest, we rarely finished a meal, not because we didn't like it or we were overly stuffed, but because we knew there was always another meal or another drink waiting on the horizon.

La Hacienda is the buffet restaurant which is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are so many options with many items changing daily. We skipped (missed?) breakfast a lot or ate in the privilege lounge, but the few times we did choose La Hacienda, we enjoyed toast, eggs, bacon and fruit. The fruit was fantastic every day and the bread and bagels were always fresh. They also have made-to-order omelets as well as traditional breakfast fare. The self-serve mimosa, bloody Mary and screwdriver bar is a nice touch!

Lunch at La Hacienda offers grilled meats and fish, cold cuts, cheese, salads, etc. There is also was a pasta bar and sometimes a chef cutting up pork for tacos. We enjoyed making our own sandwiches, tacos and salads with whatever ingredients were on hand. Once again, fruit was always a must-have! This year, we opted out of the buffet for dinner, but we liked to check it out and it offered a lot of variety.


 El Charro is a smaller pool-side buffet at lunch and a Mexican restaurant at dinner. Many people opted for El Charro for lunch due to the convenience, but we didn't particularly like it and enjoyed a snack in the privilege lounge or a bigger lunch at La Hacienda. There is also a grill outside of El Charro every day with burgers and sometimes hot dogs and kabobs. We only ate dinner here once as it was our least favorite a-la-carte. The food was good, but just a lot of the same…grilled meats, vegetables and tortillas. We love the chips, salsa and guacamole and the salad is very fresh! We also ordered the chicken tacos, sausage and potato (chorizo) tacos, tres leches cake and caramel custard.

Yookoso is the Japanese restaurant that is only open for dinner and offers both hibachi and a-la-carte dining. We dined at Yookoso four times during our stay, including three times at the hibachi table with six other people. They serve four courses: sushi, tempura, main and dessert, which ended up being too much food! We quickly learned to only ask for one or no appetizer. The hibachi was excellent and we much preferred it over the a-la-carte. It's a nice show and fun with other couples you know. Along with fried rice, you get shrimp, chicken, beef and vegetables. We also ordered the sweet and sour pork and the chop suey off of the a-la-carte menu as well as the fried ice cream.

La Dolce Vita was hands-down our favorite restaurant, both this year and last year. We tried to keep track of how many times we visited, but it was nearly impossible. We enjoyed it mostly because it offered the best variety. The chicken was great, the steak was pretty good and the lasagna delicious. We also ordered fettuccine Alfredo with shrimp (even though that wasn't on the menu), linguine with the aioli pepperoncini sauce, ravioli and seafood casserole flambe (not actually flambe, but more like a cioppino). We always asked for extra sauce, whether it was Bolognese, arribiatta or carbonara. We also liked to ask for freshly grated Parmesan with our bread. Yum! Jean Marie and Ron also ordered the beef and fish carpaccio. You always have two servers and the service is excellent, particularly from Oscar and Primitivo.

 Blue Moon is the newest a-la-carte and we were excited to give it a try. Men are required to wear long pants and close-toed shoes, which we knew in advance. Steve packed one pair of each! We visited on three occasions and it provided the most romantic atmosphere and more suitable for a table of two vs. table of four. For appetizers, we had the escargot, Caribbean dreams salad, lobster cappuccino and French onion soup. From the entree selection, we tried the steak, bella moon pasta, grouper, duck and seafood coral. The duck was our favorite, but the steak at Blue Moon was our least favorite steak out of all the restaurants. Dessert consisted of creme brulee, white chocolate mousse and a passion fruit cake. The Mexican coffee is a neat presentation.


There are three different bars on the premises. Corona is the only beer on tap, but there is a plethora of liquor. Since we were privileged, we drank mostly top-shelf liquor such as Ketel One vodka, 1800 Anejo tequila, Jim Beam bourbon, Crown Royal whisky and the occasional Absolut Raspberry.

 The lobby bar is where we had our pre and post-dinner drinks that could take us late into the night. This is also where most of the fun happened and where we met a lot of people. We watched people play drinking games we've never seen before, lots of dancing in the adjacent courtyard, and an overall good time. Yovonnetti, Tila, Oli, Jose, Octavio and Antonio were top-notch in their bar service. They work so hard, while still remaining kind and eager to please. Eber also worked the bar in the morning and was as nice as we remembered from last year. We loved his cappuccino with Bailey’s.

Tom (below) was travelling from England with friends, so on the look out for single women.

On my birthday, Oli made me a celebratory birthday shot and then I had him take a picture. Little did I know that he was taking a sequence of photos! Hahaha. Steve tried to keep his composure, but as you can tell, I really don't like shots...especially tequila shots.

Fun with Jean Marie, Ron and Grant (a.k.a. Ralph, because he was always wearing Ralph Lauren!)

The boys getting a little crazy! Steve, Aaron, Ron & Darcy.


Uncle Ron with Grant and Christopher. They're 23 and 18, so yes, we were Auntie Shannon & Uncle Steve and Uncle Ron & Auntie Jean. 

We may have been seen a few times dancing in the courtyard...or the theater...or the lobby. 

 The pool bar is located in between the loud pool and the quiet pool, but also has a swim-up bar on the party pool side. At the start we would simply walk to get our own drinks, but Ana Iris was so efficient with her pool service, we decided to order from her instead. This simply meant we didn't have to get out of the pool!

The bar outside of El Charro also doubles as a smoothie bar during the day. Many people don’t know about it, but we sure did! If we missed breakfast or didn't feel like going to lunch, we would just get a smoothie (or two). They’re blended with fresh fruits and vegetables and made-to-order as you wait. 

Mike’s Coffee Shop opens at 4 pm every day and serves delicious coffee drinks as well as a limited number of pastries and sandwiches. If you want coffee prior to 4 pm, you can simply visit the lobby bar and they have an espresso and cappuccino machine ready. 


This year we didn't attend as many shows as last year. They have moved most of them to the outdoor courtyard area, which is much cooler than the theater. The entertainment staff is a little smaller than before and perform fewer shows per week, while the rest are performed by outsiders. The staff help facilitate with many of the other shows, including the Mayan show at the pool every Friday. They work very hard and very long hours, beginning at the pool and ending at the nightly shows. They had karaoke twice per week and Steve participated nearly every time! There was one particular night where we had a very large group of people, so there was a lot of singing, dancing and fun.


There are two pools at Ocean Maya. Most people refer to them as the quiet (or big) and loud (or party or swim-up bar) pools. We spent every day at the quiet pool until Ron promised everyone we’d see them at the party pool! We kept his promise and met the group at the swim-up bar for a few hours. It was fun, but I may need a replacement liver if I spent 18 days there! There were often games going on with the entertainment staff. The quiet pool remained pretty quiet. I brought a float with me and I was happy I did and was not alone. We had 18 days of perfect weather and the heat was so intense that the pool was just perfect. 


 Our room overlooked the party pool, so we saw (and heard) a lot of activity!


There are two small beaches with plenty of chairs as well as a boardwalk with several more cabanas and chairs. Overall, during July, it’s just too hot for us to stay outside of the water, so we stayed at the pool. I made sure to take pictures to prove we were there!


We didn't actually visit the lagoon this year…18 days just got away from us! We think it’s worth the trip for those visiting OMR and haven’t seen it before. It’s a 15-20 walk on the beach and once you get there, you can walk and swim in the crystal clear water. We found it quite beautiful. These are some pictures from 2013.

Romantic Dinner

Included with the privilege package is a romantic dinner, which includes dinner poolside with a three or four-course shrimp dinner. Upgrades available are $20 for filet and $40 for lobster (per person). If you upgrade, your dinner will be located on the beach instead (if available). For our dinner, we did not upgrade, but Jean Marie and Ron upgraded to the filet and the lobster. We had our dinner poolside and they had their's on the beach, both at 7:00 pm. The pros and cons of both are that at 7:00 on the beach, you have better lighting for pictures…at 7:00 by the pool, you still have people in the pool, so the romance isn't quite there J 

Jean Marie & Ron at their romantic dinner on the beach with lobster & filet. 

 On the Friday before we were to leave, Steve won another romantic dinner at the poolside raffle (I actually won the same prize last year!) We made our reservation for Saturday night at 9:00 pm on the beach and upgraded my entrée to the filet. While we didn't have the best lighting, it was very romantic. Overall, we enjoyed the standard shrimp dinner, but we all recommend the filet upgrade and if you love lobster, then the lobster upgrade as well. Both were cooked to our liking, which is very important!

Now that I've covered all of the essentials, I'd like to point out several other factors that contributed to making this our best trip ever!

Birthday & Anniversary Celebrations

I celebrated my 35th birthday on July 8th! We enjoyed time at the pool, watched the World Cup and I was surprised to have a cake and champagne waiting for me in the room. It’s such a nice gesture when a hotel  or restaurant recognizes special occasions and Ocean Maya knows how to please J  We were also celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary, so they had a rose petal display throughout the room.

World Cup

We had the honor of watching the FIFA World Cup semi-final and championship games while in Mexico. Sure, we enjoy watching the games in the US, but there is something different about watching soccer in a country and with people where soccer really matters! It was fun to have people from Germany and Argentina watching the game together.


On Friday, July 11, 2014, Steve and I woke up and read through our twitter feeds. We decided we wouldn't let any decision, other than our own, dictate our day. It was time to get to the pool! We left our phones in the safe and headed out…when we returned to our room for our afternoon siesta, chaos ensued!! Steve saw that I had several missed calls and texts messages, so as I laid my head down, he opened twitter and couldn't even get the words out of his mouth. Together, we read “The Letter” and then read it again and again and again. I called my family and I called my friends. The pure excitement was overwhelming. With tears rolling down our faces and a silly grin, we couldn't wait to celebrate! In Steve and Shannon fashion, we put our Cleveland GV shirts on and went out on the town (ok, just outside). It was probably the only time during our trip that I really missed being home, but Steve did NOT miss being at work! (Louie's first birthday was a close second, but I know he understands!) For the rest of our trip I played “I’m Coming Home” on repeat every night as I went to bed and as much as I could during the day. Jean Marie and Ron may have gotten a little sick of it I honestly couldn't imagine being any happier when this picture was taken...

 This brings up the topic of LeBron James. I am well aware that most people reading this could care less about the man (you actually may have already skipped over it), but to me and Steve, he is more than just a man and he’s more than just a player. It’s not easy to explain or comprehend, but being a born and bred Clevelander, it was pretty easy to cry like a little baby when I heard he was coming home. I’m overly proud of where I've come from and where I live. What someone of this caliber brought and can continue to bring to the city of Cleveland is unparalleled. I wrote more about it on this blog back in 2010, when he eventually decided to leave for South Beach. LeBron’s Letter to the city and my blog are eerily similar because it’s true. 

Feel free to read my 2010 blog post here…More Than a Player 2010

Steve, on the other hand, has worked for the Cavaliers organization since 1995. It’s why he moved from Connecticut (via South Carolina) to Cleveland when he was 22. It’s where we met and it’s where he remains. He works every home game and has never been to a Cavs home game as a fan because he’s always working. This also means that when the Cavs are playing on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, Steve is working. It’s our livelihood and it pays the bills. We love the Cleveland Cavaliers and we love them for different reasons, but one reason that runs through us both is what his homecoming does for the city of CLEVELAND. Sure, downtown has thrived in recent years, but LBJ can only make us better and make us more proud. Steve wants a ring and the person who gives the Cavs the best chance is coming home…

Ok, back to vacation…

Vacation Friends

In addition to the staff, the people we meet on vacation are what keep us coming back for more. We have so much fun and these people would be shocked to know we keep such a private and (sort of) quiet life at home. Having met Jean Marie and Ron two years ago on vacation, we already knew we had a lot in common. Who would have guessed we’d meet in Mexico again?! and the room next door?! Haha. Lucky for us, we had them as our neighbor. 

We enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails and a bag of pistachios with the best view. 

Steve and Ron clearly spent too much time together, or their wives shop at the same stores (we do), because three days in a row, they were twins! This was not planned...seriously.

And when I forgot the key in our room, Steve just climbed to our balcony :) Note: this is also why I can never carry keys when we go anywhere. 

From Mexico to England to Canada to USA, we met so many great people who made our trip one of the best ever. Thank you!

We even met a few readers of my blog who chose Ocean Maya after reading last year's review. I was so happy to hear that they all were pleased with my "recommendation" and glad I'm not writing anything misleading. After all, we all vacation differently and I'm not shy about sharing what we take from a vacation!

Darcy (below) actually approached me while we were waiting for a table for dinner and asked "are you the person who wrote the blog?" He and Tanya were also the first people to mention anything about LeBron to us. Bonus points!


Let me finish with the highlight of this resort: The Staff. From top to bottom, everyone treats you with genuine reverence and kindness and always eager to please. This year was only our second visit yet the staff remembered us from our previous stay. Groundskeepers, housekeeping, bar staff, dining staff…I could go on forever about their seemingly genuine attempt to make every guest happy. Yovannetti might be the most adorable person on the planet. She and Tila are the servers in the lobby bar and work with diligence and speed, while still taking the time to take pictures and dance (Yovannetti was insistent that I “move my hips more”). They truly make nights at the lobby bar more enjoyable. Also at the lobby bar were Oli, Jose, Octavio and Antonio. They were bartenders who were efficient, conversational and good people. They were always thinking ahead and making drinks as quickly as possible to attempt to satisfy every guest, regardless of tipping. Ana Iris was a pool server at the quiet pool. We distinctly remembered her from the buffet last year and vice versa. She took care of all of our drinks in the blazing heat while we socialized in the pool. She was so nice and patient with us and other guests. Primitivo was our server at least three times at La Dolce Vita as well as our romantic dinner on the beach. He always had a smile on his face along with being professional and accommodating. Finally, Maria Lopez is an enormous asset to the company. We’re not alone in this thinking as she always went out of her way to accommodate all requests. We exchanged several emails prior to our stay and she never seemed bothered. When we arrived, she met us to ensure all was well and throughout the trip, she stopped and talked to us whenever she saw us around the resort.  I have no doubt that she was responsible for the cake and champagne for my birthday and the rose display for our anniversary. She even put Ron & Jean Marie in the room next to us! Overall, the staff at Ocean Maya Royale is phenomenal and should be proud of what they bring to the H-10 organization.

In the end, I can say everything went right during this vacation. We were perfectly happy, perfectly relaxed and had the time of our lives. 

hasta la próxima vez

A photo montage to Marc Anthony's "Vivir Mi Vida" (Live My Life)...We danced a lot to this song and the words couldn't be more true.

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Live My Life
I'm gonna laugh, I'm gonna dance
[I'm gonna] live my life, la, la, la, la
I'm gonna laugh, I'm gonna enjoy
live my life, la, la, la, la

Sometimes rain comes
to clean wounds
Sometimes just a drop
can overcome the drought

And why cry, for what?
If it hurts bad, forget it
And why suffer, for what?
If life is like this, you must live it

I'm gonna laugh, I'm gonna dance
live my life, la, la, la, la
I'm gonna laugh, I'm gonna enjoy
live my life, la, la, la, la

I'm gonna live in the moment
to understand the fate
I'm gonna listen in silence
to find the way

And why cry, for what?
If it hurts bad, forget it
And why suffer, for what?
If it hurts bad, forget it

I'm gonna laugh, I'm gonna dance
live my life, la, la, la, la
I'm gonna laugh, I'm gonna enjoy
live my life, la, la, la, la
My people!
I'm gonna laugh, I'm gonna dance
Why mourn? Why suffer?
Start dreaming, laughing
I'm gonna laugh, I'm gonna dance
Feel and dance and enjoy,
you only live once
I'm gonna laugh, I'm gonna dance
Live, always keep moving forward
Don't look back
My people, you only live once

I'm gonna laugh, I'm gonna dance
live my life, la, la, la, la
I'm gonna laugh, I'm gonna enjoy
live my life, la, la, la, la