Last year, I got the Hilton Aspire American Express card. Although it costs $450, I figured it was worth it based on four of the perks (most of the perks are valueless to me): (1) Hilton Diamond status, which is *marginally* more valuable than my otherwise Gold status (not a single suite upgrade but guaranteed lounge access at least); (2) a free weekend night at almost any Hilton-family hotel; (3) a $250 airline fee credit; and (4) a $250 credit for spending at “resorts” (plus the 150,000 points sign-up bonus). The free weekend night was easy to spend, as I used it at the new Curio Collection Reykjavik Konsulat in Iceland. But that last one, the resort credit, proved hard to use.
You can use the $250 for anything charged by the hotel, including most room rates, or spend on-property. But it has to be one of the hotels listed at Hilton.com/resorts – which currently lists 227 properties, many of which do not have “resort” in their title, while excluding many others that do. When I got the card, I was sure that the Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort was on the list, so I made plans to use the credit there this December. Well either I was wrong, or it got removed, because come October I realized it was not on the list.
At that point, my travel for the remaining card membership year was pretty set, and included nowhere that had a qualifying property. But it also looked like I was going to be a few MQDs short of requalifying for Delta elite status, so I figured I’d at least explore what weekend options might use both the Hilton credit and take care of that issue inexpensively (stay tuned for that muck-up). Lo and behold, Hilton announced it was taking over the former Royal Resort in Playa del Carmen effective November 1, and turning it into the Hilton Playa del Carmen, an adults-only all-inclusive — on the resorts list. Although I had just been in Playa del Carmen in February, it is a relatively easy trip from DC, and Delta flights booked as Aeromexico codeshares were pretty cheap. My $250 credit would cover almost an entire night, including taxes. Since I didn’t arrive until Cancun til 9pm on Friday, I booked a cheap room at La Galeria by Bunik, the sister property of one I stayed at last time, which was perfectly fine for $39. In the morning, I had breakfast at a really lovely café, Choux Choux Café, read a little on the hotel’s roof deck, before the easy 12-minute walk to the Hilton.
In brief, it definitely was the nicest all-inclusive I’ve been to, though I haven’t been to many. It’s nice that it is right in town, just off Playa del Carmen’s main drag, Fifth Avenue, so you’re not captive on property. The fact that it is adult-only is a major perk that keeps the fairly compact facilities a lot calmer than they would otherwise be. At the same time, if you’re looking for a complete luxe beach get-away-from-it-all, this probably isn’t the place for you, and you might be better off going farther out of town to one of the more expansive properties. Also, I was staying just a few weeks after the hotel joined Hilton, and there were definitely some integration issues. My Diamond elite status didn’t seem worth much at all, so maybe they will work on that. But everyone was friendly, and the property was immaculately maintained.
I arrived at 11:45am. Although before check-in time, I was optimistic I could at least get lunch and sit by the pool and maximize my time at the property, since I had to leave around 11am the following day. Walking into the main entrance, it was a bit of a zoo—my guess is there was a lot of people waiting for excursion pickups and the like. There were about six or seven desks, and then a big long counter, and I had no idea where to go. Finally, someone came over to me and told me to sit until someone was ready to check me in. She offered me a drink, and I had a cold bottle of water.
After sitting for a few minutes, a woman with a clipboard approached me and asked me my name. She scanned her list, which I could see had groupings of reservations under things like “Expedia,” but could not find my reservation. She asked me to spell my name again, and couldn’t find it. I had printed out my reservation confirmation – from Hilton.com – and gave it to her, but she still couldn’t find it. She asked me to wait a minute, and while I did, one of her colleagues came and offered me another drink – at this time, I switched to sparkling wine – and also gave me the wifi code.
I waited quite a bit longer than a few minutes, and was finally escorted to a desk to check in. I was given the most cursory of overviews of the hotel- mostly a map with things circled on it – and told as a Diamond member I was given a one category upgrade to a garden view room. (It also appeared that I had a different color wristband than every other guest I saw, and it did have diamonds on it. I was not told I had any special benefits as a result, so that was pointless.) A bellhop then escorted me to my room, and that was it. I got to my room at 12:20pm—more than thirty minutes after arrival. No bueno.
The hotel is quite large, with several different interconnected buildings mostly perpendicular to the ocean shooting off the main building. It’s hard to describe the layout of the property, so here’s the map.
Other than the few full-on ocean view rooms, I actually think the Garden View is probably the best. Sure, you’re mostly looking at other rooms across the garden, and the private plunge pools some of those rooms have, but you can also see the ocean from your balcony. And it’s also quiet. The rooms that face the main pool are much louder, as are the rooms that face the street. The rooms in the back area are too far from everything and the rear pool barely gets any sun. (You’ll see some of the various rooms in pictures of the property below.)
The room itself- a junior suite, which is the base at this hotel – was nice, large, but oddly-shaped (a kind of trapezoid). As you walked in, there was a very large bathroom on the left.
On the right, was a bureau, that included some chips and other basic snacks, and a minifridge, stocked with juice, soda, beer, and water- a nice touch.
Then just past that, about 10% of the way into the room, was the King-sized bed. Past the bed and a desk, occupying the center of the room, was a jacuzzi. Beyond that, and against the other walls, was a single armchair, and a super tiny table and chairs. Everything was in a beige and brown motif, which fit the property and locale well, but was definitely not very Hilton. It was well-maintained though.
I explored the room for a little bit, including the tablets on the nightstands you could use to arrange activities, order room service, etc. I tried to make a reservation for one of the on-site restaurants that evening by phone, but I was told I had to do that at the concierge desk in the lobby in person — something that I could have been told at check-in, perhaps. So, I hiked back down and got my “ticket” for a reservation at Maria Marie, one of the finer dining restaurants on property. (The finest dining one, the Chef’s Table, has a supplemental charge.) I was pleased that there were reservations available since, at other all-inclusives I’ve stayed at, if you didn’t reserve the a la carte restaurant within a one- or two-hour block of time in the morning, you were done for.
I decided I’d explore the pool and beach areas, but didn’t realize quite how loud the main pool would be – referred to as the “activity pool”, there were some sort of games going on, followed by a “foam party.”
Passing the pool, I decided to grab lunch at one of the a la carte restaurants, Pelicanos, which is a Caribbean restaurant on the covered patio right off the beach. Because of its location at the corner of the property, it’s open to non-guests as well, which lead to some confusion for me because there are prices on the menu for all the food items. Although I had a crappy seat, the service was quite friendly. In what would be a theme, the food all had an excellent presentation, with not quite as excellent flavor. I had the octopus tostada as a starter, followed by the jerk chicken entrée. They were fine—and definitely better than standard all-inclusive fare. Since the restaurant was outdoors, I was also joined by a few cats.
After lunch I wandered along the beach for a little bit. The beach itself isn’t particularly deep, and is right next to the ferry dock to Cozumel. The Hilton’s area is right next to the Hyatt beach, which was bumping as they had some sort of beachfront club that was packed with 20-somethings in the middle of the afternoon, and appears to have taken over Mamita’s on the other side as the place to be.
Back at the Hilton, I found a quieter pool in the back of the property, which was better for relaxing. Unfortunately, it was completely in the shade, and had no view of the ocean. It was pretty empty and there was no staff milling about, but it was right next to an outdoor bar, and the “Royal Coffee House.” The Coffee House was great, as it had self-serve cookies and pastries, and then counter service for coffees, ice cream, milkshakes, fancier pastries, and small sandwiches. The cookies were particularly yum.
After a nap, I went to the gym, which was in the main building, and a bit hard to find. It had a very good range of equipment, though the cardio equipment was a bit old. There were also several classes listed for guests. It was empty when I went in the evening, but was busier when I went again in the morning.
One thing I didn’t take advantage of was the games and other activities. In the main building, there is a massive lobby space with two bars. In the center, there are shows and other events. At one point, I walked by and saw the acrobats practicing for the evening’s show. Later in the evening I passed by a show with three singers. There was also bingo and a “country show.”
I also passed two spaces that slightly confused me. One was the “24 Hours VIP Lounge,” which was not actually a VIP lounge, but rather a space open to all guests, and indeed the only food and beverage establishment open past midnight (surprising about the beverage part). It had a small buffet of snackier foods and liquor, reminding me of an airport lounge. It also had some game tables and big chairs for watching football. Go sports!
My meal at Maria Marie was a bit disappointing. It was supposed to be French-Mexican fusion, whatever that is. First, there’s a huge menu. I could have ordered many more courses than I did, but stuck with four. I was disappointed to see that all wines were an extra charge, which was annoying when there was included wine at the bars around the corner.
For starters, I went with the “Choriqueso”, or “Chorizo Au Gratin”, which I expected to be a gooey ooey melty cheese like a queso fundido. It wasn’t hot enough though, and was the consistency of choose that had melted and already cooled a bit. I next had the French onion soup, which was pretty on point. For the main course, I may have ordered poorly, skipping the filet and lamb chops and going with the flank steak tlayuda, which was cooked well, but not very flavorful. Finally, for dessert, I went with the apple tart with carrot ice cream, which was really more like a deconstructed apple tart, and was, you got it, bland.
In the morning, I grabbed a smoothie at the snack bar by the pool before a workout, followed by a full breakfast at Pelicanos – chilaquiles. Then some more pool and beach time, then it was already time to go.
My experience at the Hilton Playa del Carmen was just a few weeks after the property joined the Hilton family, and although there was noting wrong with the property, I imagine there will be continued tweaks to bring things to brand standard. It’s nice for an all-inclusive, and the property is staffed very well, with friendly people constantly keeping the place clean. Just don’t go expecting the meal of your lifetime or amazing Hilton Honors benefits, and you should have a good time.