Hotel Review : Secrets the Vine Resort and Spa, Cancun, Mexico
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the uber-deluxe Secrets the Vine Resort and Spa located on the Cancun hotel strip, for a week of pampering and sun. The strip is just that, literally a thin strip of land (over 22kms long) in the shape of the number 7, on which sit an endless line of hotels with views of the Caribbean sea on one side, and the Nichupte lagoon on the other.
Being my first trip to Mexico, I didn’t know what to expect, but having researched the hotel in detail before arriving, I had great expectations.
When we landed in Cancun, even before we reached the resort, I found something I liked rather immensely: the 15 minute drive from the airport! After a 10 hour flight, one would certainly appreciate the short drive to relaxation.
Disappointingly we were not greeted with the customary glass of sparkling wine and cool towel on arrival, perhaps due the fact that we breezed in at 10:30pm? That did not discourage us at all though since the check in went very smoothly and in a matter of minutes we were whisked up to our room on the 20th floor.
I must make particular mention of the fact that we did not choose to book a room in the “preferred” category. After much online research prior to this trip I decided against upgrading to the preferred experience, as it just didn’t seem worth the additional cost for the 12th floor pool, preferential bath amenities, and newspapers.
The standard room (Deluxe Ocean View) fitted the description found on the hotel’s website. Our turn-down service had already been by, so our first impression didn’t include the azure green bedding this resort depicts on their website. However, it did not take away from the aesthetic beauty of the room.
The modern wood and tile finishes gave the room a sleek, minimalistic outlook: EXACTLY what appeals to me in a hotel. I was very satisfied. The bathroom and WC area were separated, each enclosed by glass “walls”. (Something to think about when not holidaying as a couple). I did feel that this design provided a sufficient amount of privacy though, as these glass walls were cleverly frosted in appropriate places. There was a set of ‘his’ and ‘hers’ vanity sinks complete with storage spaces for towels as well as mirrors. We found ample closet space, with bathrobes and slippers (which had been left on the side of the bed by the turn-down service).
We found all the hotel’s common areas (lobby, restaurants, pools) succeeded in exuding a feeling of large open space. This must have been particularly challenging to achieve, as the hotel itself if built on a relatively smallish piece of land (when compared to other hotels on the strip). The hotel is in fact a high-rise building, which doesn’t have a sprawling footprint so don’t expect to be surrounded by lush, tropical foliage. If this is a deal breaker for you, I suggest you book somewhere else. What you can expect though, is a sleek modern design, with contemporary décor and stylish finishes throughout.
The first restaurant we tried was the Market Café for the buffet breakfast. The Market Café also serves a buffet lunch, and for dinner, it transforms into an a la carte Mexican restaurant. I must admit, that I am not a huge fan of these all-inclusive type vacations. I really enjoy going out to local restaurants, whether for a gourmet meal, or a lunchtime burger. I enjoy the experience of scouring blogs and websites beforehand to find local foodie gems, and I love to experience and review these for myself. I also like knowing that we’re giving a little something back to the region’s economy by patronizing local restaurants.
However, at Secrets the Vine, once we were aware of the quality of the food on offer, and the sheer variety at the various restaurants, we were happy to ‘slum’ it on the resort and never leave!
We tried all of the restaurants, save for Olio (Mediterranean cuisine). The reason for skipping this one, was the fact that we tried Nebbiolo on our 3th night, and literally ate dinner there every night for the rest of our stay (It was just that good!)
Back to the Market Café though! We ate breakfast here almost every morning (we ordered breakfast room service once as we left early on a Chichen Itza tour). We loved it! The variety was astounding, and I experienced one of the best qualities of buffet standards EVER! I mean, have you ever had scrambled eggs from a buffet that actually tasted good? Well at the Market Café we did! There was something for everyone, from fresh fruit, to made-to-order omelets, from a smoothie bar to quesadillas. Anything and everything the heart wanted, it got. Even a mimosa or two. Or 3! (Hey, no judgment, I was on vacation!)
For lunch we usually ate at the Sea Salt Grill. We avoided the pool side buffet (Barefoot Grill) for no reason except the fact that we wanted a sit-down, restaurant experience at lunch time and welcomed the break from lounging in the sun. (Yes, poor us.) We found this restaurant a bit hit and miss. We had a very good experience on our first visit, followed by uncooked grilled salmon on our next. The complaint about the salmon however, was handled very efficiently, and a new plate arrived within minutes, cooked to perfection. We found the waiters in this particular restaurant to be harried, and not as friendly as the other places, and our wait times were the longest here. I assume this was down to the fact that it was the restaurant of choice for lunch, and was usually full to capacity. However we went back several times, as the issues mentioned above did not outweigh the amazing shrimp tacos they served there!
We ate dinners at Dragons (fusion Asian cuisine), Blue Water Grill (Grilled specialties) and Nebbiolo (Italian fare). I enjoyed the meals at every one of these, but Mr Wolf did not appreciate his experience at the Blue Water Grill. (He was not happy with the choice of cut for his steak). As mentioned, once we tried Nebbiolo, we just couldn’t eat anywhere else. The food was impeccable and this was topped only by the service (ask to be served by Hector -you won’t be disappointed!) Mr Wolf swears by the beef carpaccio, and I think the Carciofo (artichokes cooked in mozzarella, spinach, parmesan and garlic) was the best dish I had at the resort. For dessert, I rarely strayed from the Pianono Reimpito (a hazelnut-filled canelé in a red wine sauce- heaven).
With the exception of the Market Café and Olio, all restaurants had a ‘casual elegance’ dress code for dinner. I quite enjoyed dressing up and “going out” to dinner each night.
We were also pleasantly surprised at the level of service and quality of food provided by room service. (Expect same standards as high end (non-all inclusive) hotels).
What I loved:
- Smiles: Everywhere we went, we were greeted by smiles. Be it the man who kept the stairs at the entrance to the resort polished and gleaming, or the friendly lady who spent all day replacing towels in a pyramid shape by the pools. From waiters to poolside barmen, from restaurant managers to room cleaning staff. Secrets the Vine added a little extra magic to our vacation simply by hiring the friendliest, happiest, most polite staff. Ever.
- Exceptional Cocktails: No watered down daiquiris and weak mojitos in sight! This was not your typical all-inclusive! Add to the fact that every drink was served with a smile, and cocktails magically reappeared when finished, and you have a winner!
- Coffee Bar: Nothing chases away the mid-afternoon munchies quite like a slice of cheesecake and a cappuccino. If you preferred, the lovely ladies at the coffee bar would whip you up a Baileys Frappuccino and offer to toast your steak and cheese sandwich. I loved the elaborate foam designs in my lattes, and even though this may not count for much to some people, these extra little touches, made the difference.
- Chef’s Parade: Daily at 1pm, it became something we eagerly awaited. We loved the interaction with the chefs almost and much as we loved the delicious delicacies they served.
- Media presence: Zuleica, the resort’s wonderful e-concierge does a great job of updating twitter, facebook and pinterest. She is also proactive in responding to questions and suggestions from guests. I had several comments and special requests that were taken care of before I even arrived at the resort!
- The Views: Room service on your balcony staring at the endless turquoise Caribbean Sea. Need I say more?
- The Bed: I won’t elaborate except to say that this was, by far, the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on. Hotel or otherwise. Seriously considered packing it up, and taking it home with me!
- Heated pools: (in February) felt like a relaxing bath!
What I didn’t love:
- Cabana Bookers: Around the pools we found there were plenty of loungers, irrespective of what time of day you rolled out of bed. The few cabanas towards the sides of the pools however, were a different story. These were frequently “booked” by 7am, regardless of the fact that the ‘bookers’ sometimes rocked up as late as midday. I found this highly annoying, and it seems (from twitter and Facebook posts) that the resort is trying to implement policies to deter people from doing this. I doubt they will have much success in enforcing this though. I just think that this is a highly selfish and deeply irritating way to behave whilst on holiday (sorry, tangent).
- Spa Prices: I never did get to experience the Secrets Spa by Peruvia. I found the prices a little steep, especially having recently visited ESPARiga which had been voted the top overseas day spa in the Condé Nast Readers’ Spa Awards 2012. I tried to use the spa coupons for a massage, but the exclusions to coupon use extended to any treatment that wasn’t at full price.
- Hot water issues: I love me a piping hot shower, and I frequently had to deal with lukewarm water in the mornings. I read this on some other Tripadvisor reviews since our stay, so I hope its something the resort management addresses soon. I must state however, that the lack of hot water seemed to resolve itself in the afternoons.
- Blotchy Wifi: Free wifi? (good), highly sporadic wifi? (not so good)
All in all, we found Secrets the Vine to be one of the best resorts we ever visited. The concept of Unlimited Luxury echoes throughout the resort, and you end up feeling special and pampered throughout your stay. The look and feel of the sleek modern elements appealed greatly to my tastes, and the food was exceptional. We swam in the sea every day, and found the beach to be extraordinarily clean and remarkably maintained. The water was a bit rough, but we swam despite the red flags being up. I dare you to take once look at the topaz color of the sea and the powder-white sand and not swim!
One thing I must mention before I wrap up this review: the staff at Secrets the Vine work exceptionally hard to ensure you have a great vacation. People, please tip! Even $1 to the poolside server will be appreciated!
We rarely visit the same hotel/resort twice, as I feel this planet has SO much to offer travellers in terms of destinations and experiences. I want to have as many different experiences as I can in this lifetime, but that being said – I am already planning a return visit to Secrets the Vine in the coming year. I can’t wait to visit again, and see if they have managed to keep up their extraordinary level of service! (And you will surely read all about it, right here!)
Disclaimer: No part of this vacation (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Secrets the Vine. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.