Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ocean Maya Royale for the 6th Time! ~ Playa del Carmen, Mexico ~ January 2017

Over the 17 years that Steve and I have known each other, we have always loved to vacation. As we've gotten older, matured and fine-tuned our lifestyle, we've realized we absolutely love vacation and it's an integral part to our overall enjoyment of life. We have come to particularly love traveling to the Riviera Maya in Mexico. There are many factors that have us returning to the same area and to the same resort. One big factor is the weather. The U.S. is totally unpredictable and when we're leaving the freezing temperatures of Cleveland, we want hot, not warm, but hot weather. We also want something that is affordable, relaxing, comfortable and easy to travel to (i.e. non-stop flights). Add all-inclusive and adults-only and we have perfection. 

Perfection is essentially what we have found at Ocean Maya Royale. 

Earlier in the fall when the Cavaliers schedule was released I quickly highlighted a handful of weeks/weekends when we could get away. Let's face it, when you work for a World Champion, you work more hours and between the months of October and June, we are handcuffed by the NBA schedule. With Steve working on Christmas Day, we knew vacation during that time would be off-limits. Instead, we were able to travel during the first week in January and it was nearly perfect. Everyone at work was coming back from their time off while we were high-tailing to a much warmer destination. Having just come off an awesome fantasy football championship, it all tied together and we were ready to relax, have fun and celebrate! See the final standings below :) We (PIBE and SHIG) finished #1 out of 14 teams. Pretty awesome! 

A few things have changed at OMR since our stay in July 2016 and this trip was a little different overall. We usually travel for 14+ days, but cost and time limited us to 7 days. We also weren't as active. Cooler temperatures (80 vs. 90..hahaha) and chilly pools had us changing gears from our usual 100% in-the-pool party fun to a much more chill and relaxing time. We were also alone and honestly weren't very exciting! We had a total blast, but it was just different. Date night every night was the best part of the trip and we were treated like royalty. Pure vacation bliss. 

To see longer trips, trips with friends and trips with family, feel free to enjoy the recap of my previous trips (mostly 2+ weeks) by following these links to my July 2016 OMRMay 2016 OMRJuly 2015 OMRJuly 2014 OMR and July 2013 OMR blogs!

Having just won our fantasy football championship, we decided to book first-class seats. We have upgraded to first class quite a few times now and definitely starting to get used to it :) We started our trip on a United non-stop flight from Cleveland and arrived at the Cancun airport around 10:30 am. During this time of year, Cancun is on EST, so no time change for us. 

After customs, baggage and a quick 30 minute airport shuttle, we arrived in paradise. Although we weren’t able to check into our room, we were able to enjoy the amenities, including a drink at the lobby bar.

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.


We have previously stayed in buildings 9 and 12 and this time were in building 9 again. Room 903 is in a stellar location with a slight ocean view. It's actually the same room Ron & Jean had last July. We also upgraded to the privilege package and were checked in at the exclusive air conditioned privilege office.


There are five restaurants at OMR, including four a-la-carte and one buffet restaurant. Steve and I are usually very satisfied with the food at OMR and this trip was no different. Everything was excellent with some slight improvements. More on that later.

We have visited every restaurant at OMR and we definitely have our favorites. On this trip we ate at our favorite restaurant five out of seven nights. Menus at the other restaurants have not changed since our last visit, so previous blogs have many more pictures and documentation.

La Hacienda is the buffet restaurant which is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We ate at La Hacienda once for breakfast and once for lunch. Otherwise, we opted for breakfast and lunch in the Privilege lounge. The fruit was fantastic and we enjoyed making our own bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches with a fried egg from the grill. They also have made-to-order omelets as well as traditional breakfast fare, a fresh smoothie bar and self-serve mimosas, bloody Mary's and screwdrivers.

Historically, La Dolce Vita has been our favorite restaurant and this visit was no different. We ate dinner here five out of seven nights. In addition to the food variety, the atmosphere at La Dolce is what sets it above the rest. It's open air and right on the water which allows for a nice breeze in a comfortable setting. I always request fresh Parmesan with my bread and oil. Our favorite items are the arugula salad, eggplant Parmesan, salmon, chicken Parmesan, beef filet, ravioli and tiramisu to finish! A welcomed change is they now serve focaccia bread instead of a loaf of bread. Both delicious, but a nice change.


On our last night, Jorge set us up with a special menu and romantic dinner. We felt so special and the menu was awesome. Creamed corn soup, arugula salad, filet and prawns and a chocolate dessert. Jorge even prepared us a flamed cognac. 

Yookoso is the Japanese restaurant and only open for dinner with hibachi and a-la-carte dining. During our stay Yookoso stopped serving their a-la-carte menu and we were told this is to accommodate more guests for hibachi. It was my understanding it would remain hibachi-only, but that could change if guests complain. We are indifferent and usually only visit once during our stay.


Blue Moon is only open for dinner and is considered the most high-end of all of the restaurants. It is air-conditioned so there is no open air and you really have no idea that you're at the beach. Men are instructed to wear long pants and close-toed shoes. Steve and I decided to forego dinner at Blue Moon on this trip. We have visited many times in the past, but we simply enjoy eating dinner at La Dolce near the water and beach.

El Charro is open as a small buffet for lunch and a-la-carte for dinner. There is also a large outdoor grill located outside of El Charro near the quiet pool. It's very convenient for lunch.


We enjoyed lunch from the outdoor grill a handful of times. The addition of the larger grill was a nice improvement within the past year and the variation of food has improved since our last stay. Located next to the pool, the grill offers burgers, hot dogs, fries, wings, and tacos...all with plenty of toppings. We also felt the quality of the food itself has improved and the opportunity to have the variety without having to go to the restaurants is nice and ultra convenient. The coaties (and birds) can be pesky so we chose to take our food to our balcony, which is a nice convenience of having a room so close to the pool! Although convenient, El Charro's lunch buffet does not offer the same variety as La Hacienda nor the ambiance of the Privilege lounge.  

The Privilege lounge is the final restaurant and only available to Privilege guests. Steve and I ate breakfast in the Privilege lounge every chance we could. It offers a beautiful and relaxing setting with an a-la-carte menu.

We always ordered mimosas and fruit, in addition to either the eggs your choice, crepes, hot cakes, omelets (vegetarian egg whites or your choice), eggs Benedict or ham and cheese sincronizadas. Manuel was our server for breakfast and lunch every day and he was exceptional. We made sure to see him on our day of departure and he was so kind to give me a small gift. So nice and generous!



Although the fruit plate isn’t on the menu, Steve and I ordered it every day and they are happy to accommodate. The fruit selection varied by day, but it was always delicious.


For lunch we enjoyed Privilege tapas. The menu is limited, but you can't go wrong with patatas bravas, sliders, fries and champagne! The portions were small, but high-quality.

My favorite change at OMR since our last stay is the addition of a new snack menu in the Privilege lounge. Unveiled on the day before our departure, we had no choice but to give everything a try! Salad with fruit, burrito, quesadilla, chicken fingers, club sandwich, cheesecake and brownie. Nothing was too big and they were perfect for sharing. We have always enjoyed the Privilege tapas menu, but this was a nice change and we loved having the added variety. We can't wait to add them all to our repertoire during our two week stay in July. The plan is to have food available all day for Privilege guests, so breakfast will be served until 11 am and then the snack menu will take over until dinner.


Another simple change in the privilege lounge was the pepper grinders and new salt shakers. Seems silly, but we joked during our last visit about bringing our own pepper grinder. I truly believe the hotel listens to the feedback of their guests and this is just a simple example. 

We enjoyed dinner at Privilege with excellent service from Alberto! We tried the croquettes, tuna salad, corn soup, and sea bass.

One option we took advantage of was the opportunity to order from the La Dolce menu while dining in Privilege. They share the same kitchen, so the menu was presented to us every night. I ordered the arugula salad because I considered it the perfect start to my meal. 

 We didn't order room service during this visit, but have in the past. The food is adequate and it's convenient when you're hungry and don't really feel like getting ready to eat elsewhere. The menu offers basic breakfast, lunch and dinner items. Breakfast is only available to Privilege guests, but lunch and dinner are available to everyone. 

 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 visit the lobby bar where they have an espresso and cappuccino machine.

There are two main bars at Ocean Maya in addition to a smaller bar outside of El Charro (also a smoothie bar). Dos Equis and Dos Equis Amber are available at the main bar and the pool bar. There is a plethora of liquor available at all of the bars as well. 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. Miguel and Ignacio were both phenomenal at the pool bar. They were efficient, kind and funny. Steve and I drank Ketel One, Campari (or grapefruit) and soda. I also packed several cans of sugar free Red Bull with us, so we would start our day with a Red Bull and Ketel. It made the decision making process a lot easier! We also had the occasional Mexican Gatorade, mudslide, dirty banana, pina colana, Bahama mama, purple rain and margarita.

 At dinner, Steve and I mostly drank rose or white wine. After dinner, we found ourselves at the main bar. The comfortable temperatures allowed us to stay indoors and we'd occasionally venture outside to the courtyard. Eber, Yovonnetti and Tila were exceptional in their service. They work so hard, while still remaining kind, eager to please and always remembered our drinks from previous nights. They all remembered us from past visits and seemed genuinely happy to see us again. We enjoyed cocktails such as Ketel One martinis, Manhattans, 1800 Anejo, and Lemoncello, among other things!

Another brilliant improvement since our last visit was the readily available late night bar snacks. Also introduced during our stay, the kitchen brought out a display of hot dogs, nachos, fries and all of the fixin's. This happened at promptly 11 pm and was well received by the bar patrons. You can still order the late-night menu from the bartenders, but this is simply faster and more convenient. Perfect drinking snacks!

Of course we had to have Steve sing karaoke and I'm always one to make new vacation friends, especially if they tell me they're Mrs. Ohio (seriously...)

By total coincidence, we ran into a few of our favorite Canadian friends!! Darcy and Tanya started coming to OMR after reading my blog over two years ago and they just can't stay away. Such great people and we picked up right where we left off! They were leaving the day after we arrived, so we enjoyed dinner with them and their friends at La Dolce.

There are two pools at Ocean Maya and most people refer to them as the quiet/relaxing (or big) and loud (or party or swim-up bar) pools. Unlike July when the pools are like bath water, in January they were pretty chilly. We spent most of our time at the party pool because there was more activity. It never got crazy and it was very relaxing. 


Decisions decisions...champagne or sangria? How about both! 


Of course we couldn't miss the foam party at the party pool! Every Monday at 3 pm, the entertainment team hosts a foam party in the party pool. We've enjoyed it in the past and we make great use of our waterproof camera! The worst part is that it's a little difficult keeping our drinks foam-less. The entertainment team hosts several other activities throughout the days including a paella-making competition, sushi-making, sangria-making, guacamole-making, cards, water polo, volleyball, water aerobics, etc. etc.

There is also a small beach with plenty of chairs and a separate Privilege beach area.


Because the temperatures weren't as scorching as we're used to in July, we decided to take a long walk on the beach. We walked past several other resorts and it was neat to check them out. 

The highlight of this resort and the #1 reason why we continue to return time and time again is the staff. From top to bottom, everyone treats you with genuine reverence and kindness and is always eager to please. Groundskeepers, housekeeping, bar staff, dining staff…I could go on forever about their seemingly genuine attempt to make every guest happy.

Although everyone went above and beyond, there were a few members of the staff who specifically impacted our trip. First, we want to extend a very special thank you to Manuel in Privilege breakfast and lunch. He was efficient, kind and personable. He provided stellar service and made sure all of our needs were met.

Alberto at La Dolce and Privilege provided flawless service every night. He always had a smile on his face and went well out of his way to accommodate any request.

Oli, Eber, Yovonnetti and Tila from the lobby bar and courtyard have always stood out and remember us from previous stays. This trip was no different. They take excellent care in ensuring we are happy and our drinks are full and perfect!

Finally, Miguel from guest services is a great asset to the h10 and OMR companies. He was so accommodating and kind before and during our stay. I look forward to keeping in touch and seeing him again in July!

Overall, the staff at Ocean Maya Royale is phenomenal and should be proud of what they bring to the h10 organization. Manuel, Alberto, Victor, Yovanetti, Tila, Ana, Eber, Oli, Miguel, Ignacio, Oscar, Carlos, Jorge and Daniela ALL truly made our trip memorable and an outstanding experience. This was my 6th visit to Ocean Maya and the staff always exceeds our expectations. We have already booked our 7th stay at OMR for our annual two weeks in July 2017. Thank you!


Unfortunately, we weren't able to score a first class upgrade on our return, but I had bought some United drink tickets on eBay prior to our trip. Coach class wasn't quite so bad...

That night, we met friends for dinner and we were sad to return to Cleveland with winter jackets and hats. Our walk to dinner in Lakewood was a little colder than our walk to dinner the previous night.

...we really do love home and we were happy to continue our "back from Mexico" tradition at Angelo's. Yum!

Once again, we recognize how much we appreciate, need and enjoy these vacations. They truly are part of who we have become as Steve and Shannon Schur. This trip with just Steve and I was particularly relaxing and when we came home we felt refreshed and ready to take on 2017. In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, we consider these vacations healthy and nurturing for our marriage and our friendship. We are continuing to live the dream...