Monday, February 26, 2018

Travel Diary: Riviera Maya, Mexico | Valentin Imperial Riviera Maya Review

Hi friends! Two weeks ago Nate and I traveled to Mexico to get away from the cold and snow. We had such an amazing time - anytime someone asks about our trip I basically can't stop talking about the beautiful ocean, beaches, food, people, etc. Because we enjoyed it so much, I decided to write a blog post reviewing our experience. Be sure to grab a cup of coffee, because this post is LONG. 

I'll preface this by saying this is a review of the Valentin Imperial Riviera Maya Resort and not a review of Riviera Maya/Cancun since we never left the resort. We only stayed in Mexico for 5 days and we wanted to just enjoy the amenities of the resort and spend as much time by the beach relaxing and resting! However next time we would definitely do excursions and explore the area. 


We traveled from Des Moines to Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport and then from there to Cancun International Airport. We left on a Sunday morning which happened to be busier than what we were expecting. The Des Moines airport is pretty small and I've never had to get there more than an hour before my flight (praise the Lord!), however that was a big mistake! We got to the airport at 4:45am for a 5:50am flight and the airport was PACKED! Lines upon lines, people everywhere, and basically no one working the desks. When we finally got to the front desk to check our bags, the attendant helping us said we may not be able to check our bags since we were within an hour of our flight time! Thankfully we were able to check our bags and avoid disaster, but we were pretty freaked out. By the time we got through security we had to run to our gate and we barely made it on the flight. It was definitely a lesson learned and added stress that we could've avoided, but in all honestly we'd never seen the Des Moines airport that busy...ever!

We were delayed in Dallas, so by the time we got to Cancun it was late afternoon/early evening. Our travel agent had arranged for a transfer from the airport to our resort. We used AmStar as our transfer and they were wonderful. We traveled with another couple and between the four of us and another couple in the van we had plenty of room and the trip took under 30 minutes. 

The Resort: 

The Valentin Imperial Riviera Maya is an adults only, all-inclusive resort about 30 minutes south of the Cancun International Airport. The resort is off the main highway in Cancun, and you can tell upon arrival it's safe and well secured. There are huge stone walls along the highway with guards in tree towers every 50 yards or so. The entry is gated with security and they confirmed our names and reservations right at the front gate. Once through the gates, we drove another 2-3 miles on beautiful paved roads towards the main lobby. I was very impressed with all the flowers, green grass, and gorgeous wildlife. Upon arrival we definitely knew that the Valentin staff took pride in the landscape of the resort. We felt like we were in a beautiful jungle the entire time! 

Upon checkin we received warm towels and champagne cocktails. The only complaint from the whole trip was the checkin process. Although informational and thorough, it took almost an hour to get through everything. Additionally, when we were given the details of our room, we were informed that we wouldn't have a king size bed but rather two double beds and that we would have to move in two days to a room with a king size bed. The only other option was to upgrade to the next level room, which is what we ended up doing. We were able to negotiate a better rate which ended up being not much more than an extra $30 per day, but we were still disappointed that we didn't get the room we requested. With that being said, the room we stayed in was amazing! 

Our room was beautiful, spacious and updated. We stayed in Building 2 which was in-between the lobby and the largest pool. Our room was on the first floor and we never heard any footsteps from above or music from next door. Each room has a stocked mini bar with snacks, bottled water and Dos Equis! We also had an espresso maker for mornings, robes and slippers, and a safe for valuables. The bed was extremely comfortable and the bathroom was spacious. Each room also had a deck or patio with chairs that overlooked beautiful greenery, a pool or the ocean. We had a room that overlooked some trees and it felt like a private retreat!

Now to all the fun parts! Each day we would wake up and put on swimsuits. Then we'd head to one of two breakfast buffets for a quick bite and then run to the beach or one of the pools for the day. At night we would head to one of the many bars at the resort for a cocktail and then head to dinner, followed by some sort of show or concert and then back to the bars for late night cocktails and snacks. I'll explain all the restaurants we went to and the pools/beaches/bars:


La Hacienda: this is the Mexican restaurant and it was also our first meal at the resort. We had to wait about 45 minutes for a table (it was about 7:30 when we got there) but the food was amazing! The Chicken Tortilla soup is to-die-for! I also had a taco platter that was delicious.

Ginger: this is the Japanese restaurant that also has multiple Teppanyaki rooms. We tried the Teppanyaki the second night, and the fried rice and miso soup were pretty spectacular! The entertainment was great and it was fun meeting other couples during Teppanyaki. Ginger also had a sushi bar that you didn't need a reservation for and it was the best sushi I've ever had! We tried a few different rolls from the menu - my favorite was the spicy tuna - however they would make you anything you asked for. Almost every night we would stop at Ginger for our "appetizer" and then head to a different restaurant for the main course. So good! 

L'Olivo: this is the Italian restaurant. It's definitely one of the larger restaurants on the resort and we only had to wait 5 minutes for a table. We tried the salmon carpaccio and bruschetta for appetizers (both were excellent!) and I had pasta carbonara for dinner, which was decent. Nate tried their lasagna bolognese and it was absolutely amazing!! We were licking the plate clean it was that good! 

Dress: found at Katy Lynn Boutique 
L'Alsace: this is the French restaurant. We'd heard amazing things about this place so we were excited to try it on Valentines Day. We got to the restaurant at 6:20 (they opened at 6pm and it's the largest restaurant on the resort) and we had to wait over an hour for a table! However once we were seated we were not disappointed. I tried the french onion soup and it was the best french onion soup I've ever tasted! They bake fresh bread over the top of the soup... delicious! I also had the sea bass with sautéed spinach and it was excellent! By far the best sea bass I've ever eaten. Nate had the filet, which he was nervous about since we are spoiled with having the best beef available living in the midwest (in our opinion). He said the filet was the best cut of beef he'd ever had in Mexico. Like melt-in-your-mouth good. Everything I ate was very rich, so by later that night I wasn't feeling the best, but the food was worth it!

Dress: Nordstrom, similar here 
Taman Sari: this is the Indonesian restaurant. First off, the atmosphere was incredible and the service was the best out of all the restaurants. We both started with the pad thai - it had shrimp and chicken - absolutely amazing! Nate had a chicken dish that he said was the best meal of the whole trip! I had sea bass again with noodles and vegetables and it was also spectacular. We also had dessert - strawberries with dipping sauces and Pandan tiramisu. You must try this place!

Mar y Tierra: this is a breakfast and lunch buffet right by the ocean. This was our favorite place for breakfast! They had a custom omelet bar, as well as a variety of fresh fruits, breads, cheeses and fresh squeezed juices every morning. They also had popular "American" breakfast options, like pancakes and waffles. We never came here for lunch, but I heard they had great options. 

Le Marche: this is another breakfast and lunch option closer to the lobby. Their lunch options were different dishes from all the restaurants, so you could get sushi and fried rice, pasta, Mexican food...whatever you wanted really! They also had some of the best coconut ice cream I've ever tasted. We never felt bored coming here.

Bars and Entertainment: 

Don Miguels: this is a piano bar off the main lobby. We would come here every night before dinner for espresso martinis, jalapeño margaritas or their famous 1921 tequila drinks! They always had someone on the piano or playing the harp. After shows we would come back for one last drink and play cards with friends.

Dress: found at Katy Lynn Boutique
Sports Bar: accurently named, this bar has pool tables, darts and card tables, as well as TVs showing American sports games (they even had the Iowa Hawks basketball game on one night!). They also provided yummy nachos and cheese fries for late night snacks.

Salon Partagas: this is a cigar bar. The cigars were not provided in the all-inclusive fee, so we did not participate in this, however they had many cigar and hookah options. 

Martini Bar: right off the lobby is a martini bar, but we would frequent this bar in the afternoon for lattes and cappuccinos!

Golden Pool Snack Bar: located next to the lazy river pool, they had a lunch/snack menu where you could get salads, burgers, paninis and appetizers served poolside. Their shrimp burgers were amazing, as well as the mahi mahi ceviche! 

La Plaza Espana: this is the courtyard and bar outside the lobby. Every night they had the Valentin Imperial Band perform Spanish and American music. Everyone was dancing and hanging out by the stage. They also had vendors arrive every other night that sold different items, like jewelry, bags and paintings. The band was great and the atmosphere was fun and inviting. We would end many nights here taking in the sights and dancing the night away!  

El Palenque: this is the main stage for entertainment. Each night they had different performers. We saw a magic show (I was pulled onstage!), an acrobatic performance similar to a Cirque du Soleil show, and a caribbean dance and music show. All were impressive!

Excursions: we could have booked excursions through our transfer, AmStar. They had different options, like catamaran boat rides, snorkeling, and day trips into the city. All of these options were for an additional charge. 

Pools and Beaches: 

Large Pool: I don't think this pool had a specific name, but it was very large with lots of chairs and cabanas. You had to reserve spots at this pool pretty early - around 7:30am to get chairs right next to the pool - but it was worth it. They had live entertainment every day next to the pool, as well as two swim-up bars and a jacuzzi tub in the middle of the pool. There was also a quieter side if you didn't want to be around all the music. Everyday around 2pm a chef would make pork tacos poolside with grilled pineapple - these were delicious! 

Golden Pool: this was a lazy river pool that was much quieter. We came here a few times to relax and get away from the "party"! This is also where they had the snack bar for great lunch options. 

Beach: this was my favorite part of the whole resort. The beach was absolutely beautiful - hardly any rocks or seaweed. The water was turquoise blue and super warm for February. Each set of beach chairs were under cabanas that you didn't have to reserve. There were plenty of chairs so we never had to worry about getting there early. There was also a bar at the entrance of the beach, and they had waiters going up and down the beach taking orders and bringing drinks. We liked sitting in front of the sand volleyball area, and it was fun to watch people play! Nate and I took a long walk down the beach and it was clear that our beach was taken well care of compared to other resort beaches nearby. 

This dock is not at the Valentin but at a resort next door. We walked along the beach about 1/2 mile to get here. Worth it for this view!

Would we return?

Overall, our experience was amazing and we would definitely return to the Valentin. Next time we would probably fly out of a larger airport so we wouldn't have a connecting flight (we flew back into Dallas on our way home and almost missed our connecting flight due to long lines at customs and not enough time between flights). We would also reserve the same room again that we upgraded to because we loved the amenities the room provided. If you're looking for a fun and relaxing vacation for you and your partner or with friends, this is definitely a great option. 

To book our trip, we used a travel agent. We were referred to Michaela Moore at Creative Vacations, a Travel Impressions agency out of Des Moines, IA. She was wonderful to work with. 

Let me know if you have any questions about our stay! And if you have any other all-inclusive resorts you love, please share in the comments below! I'd love to hear about your travel plans and vacations.