Robin Robinson, Travel Editor for the Canadian newspaper The Toronto Sun, highlights the prominence of Mexico’s Riviera Maya as the most “trendy” destination nowadays to have the wedding of your dreams, renew those vows or simply celebrate the ultimate romantic wedding anniversary. Check it out:
Whether you are planning to tie the knot, renew your vows, celebrate an anniversary or rekindle love’s flame, an important romantic moment demands an equally romantic setting.
But where to find it? Everyone has their own vision of what a romantic backdrop looks like. For some, a horsedrawn-carriage ride is the epitome of romance. For others, only a rugged mountaintop will do. For me, a romantic setting always includes the sea.
And judging by the way destination weddings have taken off in recent years, I am not alone. Resorts across Mexico and the Caribbean have rushed to fill the needs of sun, sand, sea and romance seekers with expanded options for weddings, vow renewals, anniversaries, proposals or just small romantic moments such as a gourmet dinner for two on the beach.
Recently I visited two Paradisus resorts in Mexico — Paradisus Cancun and Paradisus Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera — and was surprised to learn that both have full-time Romance Managers on staff. Romance has become a 365-days-a-year endeavour for Paradisus and the RMs go all out to help make the magic happen.
I have always enjoyed my visits to Paradisus properties, which manage to strike the right balance between luxury and comfort, but I hadn’t been to one for a few years. Much has changed, not only on the romance front but other fronts as well. Here are some examples:
MAKING MAGIC HAPPEN
While many couples still want the pomp and ceremony of a traditional wedding, many others are opting for less formal, less stressful, less expensive celebrations that include partying with family and friends before and after the “I do.”
Resort weddings — once the choice of older couples, and those marrying a second time — now attract more couples marrying for the first time.
One young couple I know described their resort nuptials as a wedding, week-long party and a honeymoon all rolled into one with all their favourite people along for the ride.
With the boost in popularity, the average size of a destination wedding party has grown as well — from 10 to 12 guests to 35 to 40, says Alain Velazquez, the Romance Manager at Paradisus Playa del Carmen, which hosted 221 weddings last year.
Paradisus Cancun hosts about 150 weddings per year, says Esther Hernandez, the Romance Manager there.
The number is growing but both properties have a limit of two weddings per day, each held in different locations, she adds.
“We want each ceremony to be special,” Velazquez says. “And we want to focus on making a couple’s special day truly special. We never want to turn weddings into a one size fits all, assembly-line type of thing.”
Most major wedding details are worked out in advance with the Paradisus wedding team based in Miami, Hernandez says. After arrival, the on-site Romance Manager works with the couple to make sure everything goes according to plan — or iron out things that don’t such as moving an event because of bad weather.
Couples usually opt for outdoor ceremonies so both resorts have alternate locations on standby, Velazquez says.
Paradisus Cancun has several lushly landscaped indoor spaces that can be used for ceremonies and receptions. At Paradisus Playa del Carmen, indoor weddings are staged at the nightclub.
The RMs also finalize details for rehearsal dinners, wedding breakfasts, menus, etc., Hernandez says.
Paradisus Resorts is part of Melia Hotels International, which has more than 350 hotels in 40 countries.
The company, which is based in Spain, has “a policy of inclusivity and guests of any race, religion, ability or sexual orientation can be married at Paradisus Resorts,” says Daniel Lozano, the managing director of Paradisus Playa del Carmen.
Having a destination wedding doesn’t mean having a one-size-fits-all celebration. There are pre-designed packages and custom options based on cultural or personal preferences, Velazquez says.
For instance, for a Hindu wedding, Paradisus arranged for the groom to arrive on horseback. For a Chinese ceremony, the bride and her attendants arrived at the pier by boat. One adventurous young groom parachuted onto the beach for his nuptials, and another couple dressed as their favourite superhero characters for their poolside ceremony.
Both resorts also have a bridal suite with a change-room, salon area and lounge that can be used for a bridal shower, or by the bride and her attendants as a place to unwind, dress and have their hair and makeup done before the big event.
And in case you’re wondering, May is the most popular month for resort weddings. November is second, but the weather can be more unpredictable then, Velazquez says.
MUCH DEPENDS ON DINNER
Gone are the days when resort dining meant bellying up to a big boring buffet. Today’s travellers demand more on the dining front.
Specialty restaurants have become a fixture at most good all inclusive resorts and buffet offerings have vastly improved. Resort dining continues to evolve with many companies kicking it up a few more notches by collaborating with celebrity chefs.
Paradisus has teamed with Chef Martin Berasategui on new fine-dining restaurants at several resorts — Tempo in Cancun and Passion in Playa del Carmen. Berasategui — who has been dubbed the “best chef no one has ever heard of,” has been awarded more Michelin stars than any other Spanish chef. His three restaurants in Spain have seven Michelin stars between them.
The restaurants he oversees for Paradisus have multi-course tasting menus based on his Basque-French cuisine. There is a small fee for resort guests to dine there (but included for guests who take the Royal Service option). Both restaurants are also open to the public.
I dined at Tempo and Passion, and found the dishes flavourful and beautifully plated. Service was attentive but non-intrusive. While each course was more delicious than the one before, the apres dinner platter of petit fours was nothing less than a colourful work of abstract food-art.
Chef Berasategui develops the menus and visits once per quarter, and the resort’s executive chefs travel to Spain for training.
A LITTLE LUXURY
Paradisus Playa Del Carmen and Paradisus Cancun are less than an hour apart, but each property has its own personality.
Paradisus Playa Del Carmen is really two resorts in one — the adults-only La Perla and the family friendly La Esmeralda. Both have their own pools and restaurants (14 restaurants and nine bars combined), and permit some crossover for guests.
Lovers of good bubbly will love the new Moet & Chandon tasting corner.
The four-year-old resort is built around a dense mangrove forest and wetland. Protected under Mexican law, the endangered mangroves form a leafy link between the resort and the beach, and in places come right into the heart of the public spaces. Their vegetation shelters birds, iguanas, turtles, fish and other species, which are seen frequently. Mangroves also help clean the air and water, prevent beach erosion and protect the hotel from hurricanes, Lozano says.
Paradisus Cancun is architecturally distinctive. Formerly a Grand Melia hotel, it has grown from three pyramid-shaped glass-topped buildings to five in its 25-year-history. These are arranged along a powdery sand beach and linked together by walkways.
Some pyramids are reserved for adults, others for families, and there are nine restaurants and five bars. There are also beautiful outdoor spaces and more indoor public spaces than many all inclusives I’ve visited.
The indoor space is lushly landscaped with hanging vines and other plants as well as small gurgling watercourses. In the heart of one pyramid, the Yhi Spa has several cosy treatment cabins in a garden-like setting.
Facilities in Mexico and the Caribbean are not known for being wheelchair friendly. And vacations at all inclusive resorts often prove difficult for persons with disabilities, especially those related to mobility.
Perhaps because of aging populations or a growing awareness of disability issues, this is slowly changing but there is still a long way to go.
At both Paradisus properties I noticed many well-graded ramps and lots of elevators.
Lozano says his resort is seeing “more and more guests with disabilities,” and improving accessibility is both a corporate policy and a personal goal.
“There are 14 elevators at Playa del Carmen and we are doing our best to eliminate barriers,” Lozano says.
Paradisus has an e-concierge to assist persons with special needs when booking. Currently, Lozano’s resort has eight dedicated accessible suites, and with elevator access many of the regular suites would also suit people with some mobility.
NEED TO KNOW
Paradisus offers all inclusive packages plus Royal Service options at adults-only resorts and Family Concierge services at family resorts. Both provide extra VIP goodies such as suite accommodations, separate check-in, dedicated lounges, restaurants, pools and beach areas. Royal Service includes a butler and complimentary cell phone for local and incoming calls. Family Concierge includes amenities for kids — child-sized robes and slippers, a milk and cookie turn-down, a beach kit, a mini-bar stocked with juices, milk and snacks, and in-room game consoles on request. For information, contact paradisus.com.