Before I knew much about Mexico’s Riviera Maya, I’d always imagined it as a spillover of Cancun, its cosmopolitan neighbor to the north. Big mistake: This stretch of Caribbean coastline has very little of Cancun’s commercial sprawl or splashy nightlife. Instead, it’s low-key and largely unspoiled, lush with jungle foliage and rich in Mayan history. In other words, just my style.
All-inclusive resorts are plentiful in the area, and this pricing model can work well for families, as you’re not shelling out every time someone wants a snack or signs up for an activity. The trick is finding an all-inclusive that hits the sweet spot for quality, value and family-friendliness. I recently spent a long weekend at the Grand Palladium Riviera Maya in Akumal, and I’m happy to say that it scores high on all three fronts — it’s a very good choice for a Mexico vacation with kids.
Know this: The Grand Palladium is big. Five sister resorts, with more than 1,500 rooms and suites, sit within the property’s borders. Guests have full access to all of them except Royal Suites Yucatán, which is adults-only and has restrictions. What astonished me was how intimate the complex felt despite its size. Buildings keep a low profile, tucked amid lavish landscaping that creates a sense of seclusion. Although the place was bustling, I saw very few crowds or lines — impressive, given the 100 percent occupancy at the time.
Golf carts whisk guests from point to point, but I was glad to take my time strolling; the grounds are gorgeous and immaculate. Wildlife watchers will love the roaming iguanas and badger-like coati, plus the resident flamingos and the crocodile habitat. Grand Palladium’s wonderful sea turtle camp, a protective effort to safeguard nests and help hatchlings reach the water, showcases conservation in a way kids can relate to.
I stayed at Grand Palladium Kantenah in a junior suite, which is spacious and has a nice setup for families. The sitting area includes a pullout sofa that supplements a king or two double beds. There’s no partition between sleeping spaces, but you won’t feel like you’re on top of each other. For more privacy, choose a full suite with separate living and bedroom areas.
Large families can book connecting rooms and suites in a number of configurations. Accommodations are clean and nicely appointed, though trappings and finishing touches can vary with the room category.
TIP: Grandparents or other childfree family members may appreciate the peace and quiet of the Mayan Suites, adults-only quarters that feature stunning outdoor showers and large terraces with hammocks. They’re close enough to the kid-friendly rooms to be convenient, but they still feel like a retreat.
As any parent knows, happy kids make for a happy vacation. Complimentary children’s clubs — Baby Club for ages 0-3; Mini Club for ages 4-12; and Junior Club for ages 13-19 — will keep them engaged and active. All of the clubs offer a huge menu of weekly activities, from Spanish lessons to treasure hunts to ultimate Frisbee. I love that they give eco-tours of the resort, with an emphasis on native flora and fauna. Nighttime family entertainment includes live shows, karaoke and a kids’ disco (of course, there are adult versions of all these and more).
Grand Palladium recently partnered with Raggs, a preschool TV series that began in Australia and now airs on PBS and Telemundo in select U.S. markets, to rebrand its family programming. Activities for younger kids have been revamped around the Raggs characters, and the tots I saw seemed to be crazy about these lovable canines.
Soccer, volleyball, archery, tennis, basketball … name your sport, and Grand Palladium probably offers it. If, like me, the thought of exerting yourself in tropical weather makes you want to flop straight into the nearest pool chair, you’ll be spoiled for choice: The property has nine pools, including a fabulous saltwater pool right on the beach. Most welcome kids, though a few are just for over-18s. There’s a shallow, zero-entry toddler pool, plus a larger family pool with waterslides and splashing fountains, near the kids’ clubs.
One of my must-haves at Caribbean resorts is a private beach, and the one here is a beauty. The soft sand is perfect for tiny toes, but keep an eye out for rocks and coral at the water’s edge. Snorkeling, kayaking, windsurfing, scuba diving, deep sea fishing, and other watersports are fun diversions for older kids (some incur an additional fee).
TIP: Surf in this region can get a bit strong at times. Heed the color-coded flags on the beach to keep little ones safe.
The onsite Zentropia spa is a heavenly oasis for parents, with state-of-the-art treatment rooms, an outdoor hydrotherapy area, an expansive fitness center and more. I could have spent hours at the whisper-quiet infinity pool, which has its own whirlpool and a narrow swimming channel that meanders around the building’s rear. Only the promise of a hot stone massage lured me out of the water, and it paid off: The luxurious head-to-toe rubdown was one of the best I’ve ever had.
There’s a small per-person fee to use the wet areas, but they’re complimentary for the day if you purchase a treatment.
Grand Palladium has more than a dozen restaurants and 20-plus bars. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style, with numerous venues and enormous spreads to choose from. My past experience with all-inclusive buffets has been mixed, but I was pleased with the quality and variety here, especially the large number of cook-to-order stations.
Kids are welcome in the à la carte eateries, and the chefs are incredibly accommodating of picky eaters. Themes at these restaurants span the globe, from Brazilian to Japanese to (of course) Mexican. My favorite was the beachfront Punta Emilia, a cluster of open-air pavilions with the waves crashing just steps away. Seafood is the star, and we feasted on platters of perfectly cooked lobster, squid, prawns and more. The Italian fare at Portofino also stands out. All restaurants on the property are part of the all-inclusive fee, with no à la carte surcharges.
Although you won’t run out of things to do at the resorts, it’s nice to get off the property at least once and take in the local culture. Mayan ruins are the marquee attraction in these parts, and for a combo of fascinating history and jaw-dropping natural splendor, you can’t beat Tulum. This ancient settlement sits on a bluff that plunges to the sea below, with a stunning beach to enjoy after you tour the site. There’s a lot of walking, and not all of it is stroller-friendly, but an optional shuttle train does save visitors the long trek to the entry gate.
For families, it’s worth it to book a private guide. The cost is reasonable, and it will more than pay for itself in personal attention and detailed information that brings the past to life. And while you savor a last look at the ruins, toddlers and preschoolers will have plenty of room to run and work out the wiggles before the ride back to the resort.
We can help! Our Family Vacation Consultants can reach out to the property directly for Best Available Rates and availability. If you’d like comprehensive help planning a full beach vacation on the Riviera Maya or anywhere in the world, request assistance on My Trip Planner.
Editorial Note: Ciao Bambino was part of a media trip to experience the Grand Palladium Riviera Maya. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Lisa Frederick unless otherwise noted.
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