Tips for Picking a Caribbean Resort
The old cliché, “You get what you pay for” is certainly valid. But in the case of Caribbean resorts it’s more about, “Where do you want to go?” and “What do you want to do?”
The Caribbean offers a variety of resorts, from ultra-posh to family-friendly with good value. Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba remain the most popular destinations with Canadians, and for good reasons. There are plenty of direct flights, most resorts are all-inclusive and guest safety is taken seriously.
Parts of Mexico—along the U.S. border and in some sections of the Pacific coast—are still dangerous. But the Atlantic side, especially the Yucatan coast from Cancun south to the Mayan ruins at Tulum, is dotted with modern, sophisticated resorts that offer wonderful beaches, excellent food and a great variety of activities and entertainment.
Over the years, we’ve noticed vast improvements in the quality of the cuisine in Mexico. Our most recent resort visit at the family-oriented Grand Velas Riviera Maya included an AAA Five Diamond restaurant, the Cocina de Autor, that offers a superb level of service and cuisine. The Spanish-themed restaurant is just one of five specialty eateries that emphasize creativity, taste and freshness.
We visited two other resorts along the endless sand of the Riviera Maya that feature wonderful food. The Paradisus Playa del Carmen (one side is for adults and one side for families) brought over a Michelin-winning chef from Spain for its flagship restaurant while the adults-only Excellence Riviera Cancun just seems to do everything well, from the outstanding buffet to the specialty restaurants.
The Dominican Republic has beaches that, in some respects, are even better than those on the Mayan Riviera. Punta Cana, in particular, has developed some wonderful all-inclusive resorts in recent years that emphasize comfortable accommodation and good food. While not quite as good as the cuisine in Mexico, the DR offers excellent value, particularly with packages that include air, ground transportation, food and drinks.
Jamaica is the original home of the Caribbean-wide Sandals Resorts. That high-profile chain continues to provide excellent accommodations for adults and a huge variety of specialty restaurants. Plus, from our experience, they seem to have staked out some of the best beach locations on the planet. Especially outstanding is Sandals Whitehouse, on the quieter south side of the island.
Sandals management also owns the family-friendly Beaches resorts that match the parent company for accommodation, entertainment and cuisine.
Travel to Cuba is still a challenge. Five-star seems to have a different meaning when it comes to that island nation. While several new high-end seaside resorts have been built over the past decade, the U.S. boycott and limited resources in the communist country have caused food shortages and infrastructure problems. On our last trip a year ago, the food quality was sub-par and the resort needed maintenance. Even many of the rental scooters were broken (the government insisted that the resort buy its bikes from China). The Cuban people are wonderful, the beaches are fine, and it’s interesting to see all the 50s cars.
Consulting online travel guides is always a good idea before you book. Air Canada Vacations rates the facilities at its resorts (beach, entertainment, restaurants, etc.) on a 1-5 scale and we’ve found that information to be fairly accurate (a lovely Mexican beach that had sharp coral along its edge got just a 3). The Sunwing brochure includes a satisfaction rating from previous guests. But travel websites like TripAdvisor can give you a reasonably accurate idea of what people think of a resort and its facilities. It’s worth consulting before you commit.