Why Viceroy Riviera Maya is always booked by New Yorkers
Among my favorite hotels in the world, Viceroy Riviera Maya ranks high.
When I worked at Soho House New York (I'm dating myself here, but this is when it opened more than a decade ago), there was one guest (the son of a famous fashion designer) who actually lived on property. I saw him every day for about six months (I left for a magazine job though staff did tell me he was still there two months after I left). I didn't understand why someone would want to leave the comfort of their own home to live in a hotel but, after my third stay at Viceroy Riviera Maya, I had a stark moment of clarity.
Wow factor: Viceroy Riviera Maya is one of my favorite hotels, not just in Mexico but in the world. Considering I've stayed at more than 1,000 luxury hotels, this is a huge statement. The AAA-Four Diamond, 41-room resort is intimate, rustic, exotic, timeless and—unlike many properties I've stayed at in Riviera Maya—it has tons of soul. Viceroy Riviera Maya is one of few resorts that straddles jungle and beach, so guests have the beauty of both worlds. Because it's situated in the jungle, resident spider monkeys swing up in the treetops, which roots the experience in place. Before you're whisked to your private villa, you're treated to a proper, traditional Mayan blessing that gets you grounded right away. This truly set the tone for the rest of the weekend, and it's why tons of affluent, smart, cultured New Yorkers are ALWAYS here. It's basically a hotspot for jetsetters who don't want to go all the way to Tulum or need a winter getaway when Montauk is dead.
Service and facilities: The staff doesn't want you to have an amazing vacation; they're driven to give you an experience. The service is truly back-bending, and some of the staff have been here since it opened in 2011 (it took over Tides). During my second trip two years ago, I brought my pup, Ruby, who loves the beach. On that visit, it was extraordinarily hot, so I made a point to keep her in the privacy of our shaded patio. The staff created a sandbox for our private patio, literally bringing the beach to her, which was a thoughtful and impressive gesture.
The six-acre resort facilities include an outdoor infinity pool, al-fresco restaurant Coral Grill, fine-dining restaurant La Marea, library, wine cellar, fitness center, temezcal, spa with outdoor treatments, beach palapas, a pier for sunbathing and a prime location situated on miles of white-sand beach for your backyard.
Room: I booked an Ocean View Villa, which did face the ocean but it was a good distance away. Most of the villas are broken down in categories (i.e.: Ocean View, Signature, Luxury) though the "bones" are very similar. Every villa is equipped with its own private pool, swaying hammock and outdoor rain shower. They're drenched in luxury and privacy, and the amenities are top-notch. In fact, as you settle in, your butler cuts you a huge chunk of fragrant, handmade soap, a signature treat at Viceroy. The villa's ceiling is domed, enhancing the space, and the separate bathroom is almost as big as the main bedroom. The villa is transformed into a magical place after turndown service, where its' not uncommon to find lit candles and meditative music. Your private pool also glows at night thanks to lights built in (which can be adjusted). At night during my last stay, I swayed on the hammock and watched the full moon in the privacy of my villa. If you're lucky enough to book one of the two Beachfront Villas (they are always sold out well in advance), you've booked the best accommodations at the resort.
Food and beverage: I have to admit, I was such a big fan of resort chef Jorge Ildefonso that I wrote about him for New York magazine (see story here), but he had relocated to the Viceroy Zihuatanejo property just months before my last visit. The new resort chef definitely had big shoes to fill—and I was also impressed. While Jorge's technique was wildly progressive, Carlos Zamora Larios was quite imaginative. I didn't expect less considering he worked with Enrique Olvera (Mexico's most famous chef and possibly my favorite chef) for years. Carlos banged out a new Mediterranean inspired menu at the main, al-fresco restaurant, and brought some traditional, innovative and hearty dishes to the fine-dining restaurant, La Marea.
Drawbacks: There's not much to gripe about here. If there was one thing that was inconvenient, it's that my Ocean Front Villa wasn't all too private. While tucked away, the patio is next to the main resort path, so anyone walking this path could see me on my day bed, hammock or pool. It's definitely voyeuristic, but it was never a problem as there are only 41 rooms here, so I didn't see that many people (only peak times, like when people were returning from the beach to the pool around sunset). The gym was big, but limited with equipment. You're all set with cardio machines but if you're looking to weight train, this is the time to take a break (there's a multi-machine that's clunky and somewhat inoperable, though there are free weights). Also, the ocean definitely needs some attention. This obviously isn't the resort's fault but the government could do one big sweep and help clean the water from all the seaweed and other debris.
Is this hotel right for you? Viceroy Riviera Maya is a magnet to honeymooners and couples. It's also a preferred resort for New Yorkers who like to splurge. Every time I've visited, I've definitely met honeymooning NYC couples. Because it's adults only, it's not family friendly, though you definitely don't want to bring the kids anyway. The romantic vibes are crazy strong. The resort is also gay friendly, and I did run into a group of girls on a getaway on my last visit.
Accolades: Best hotels in Playa Del Carmen (US News & World Report), 2016 Conde Nast Traveler Reader's Choice Awards, AAA Four Diamond Hotel, World's Most Popular Spas (2015 Conde Nast Traveler)
Rates: Villa rates start at $499; Ocean View Villa starts at $807 a night.
Final thoughts: As soon as guests arrive, it doesn't take much to impress them. The resort oasis is truly one of a kind. Every time I've stayed, I never wanted to leave. I wanted to move right in, like the fashion designer's son at Soho House New York. Everyone feels welcome at Viceroy Riviera Maya, and guests will experience true Mayan hospitality, the luxury of a private villa and excellent F&B.
Click through the images below for a typical stay at Viceroy Riviera Maya.
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