Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Trip Report: Riviera Maya & Karisma Resorts

Can you Cancun in Three Days?
August 26 – August 29, 2012
FAM Trip – Karisma Resorts

One of the many perks of being a travel agent is FAM trips. Familiarization trips that wholesalers or resorts will provide to travel agents so we can get firsthand knowledge about their product.  I was very fortunate to go on one of these trips this August. Funjet Vacations paid for about 12 of us agents to stay at the El Dorado Casitas Royale in the lovely Riviera Maya. I have never been to Cancun so I jumped at the opportunity. The cost of the trip was very small for me because my sweet wonderful hubby works for an airline so I fly stand-by. I usually get to the airport check in then go to the gate and wait. This time I checked in and had to pay taxes. I smiled and handed the wonderful Airtran agent the money. Although secretly counting what I had in my pocked!

Flying stand-by is never a non nerve wracking experience! But this time I was able to get on the flight (which happened to be the last one for the day) and in business class. This was starting out great! I had been battling a horrible cough and pretty much sucked on halls the entire flight! It has been a few years, 10 plus, since I have flown internationally and forgot about customs and immigration forms. They were easy and I was ready. I love landing in a new place! The sights, the views it makes the trip so much more exciting!! We landed, I grabbed my carry-on (no checked bags for stand-by if you can help it!) and it was off to the races, which came to an immediate halt at customs. They were nice, didn’t ask me any questions, just checked their computer, scanned my passport and sent me on my merry way.  There is this weird button you have to push and it shows up green or red. Red is bad, very bad LOL you will be checked if it’s red! Weird!

I walk out into the airport in Cancun and immediately wanted to hyperventilate! Did I mention this was my first international trip in 10+ years? Well, I didn’t mention it was my first SOLO international trip! And it was to Mexico, you know the crime ridden, drug infested Mexico! I nearly freaked. I went to the restroom, had a pep talk with myself and came out ready for what lay ahead. As I’m walking out people are asking me if they can help me, did I need a taxi, a car, a hotel. All the hotels and resorts have shuttles waiting whether it be with their name on it or through a shuttle company. Well, your travel agent extradonaire forgot to find out which shuttle company. So as I am reading every sign without making eye contact because I didn’t want them to ask me questions, one nice enough gentleman asked me if I needed help. I said yes I’m looking for the shuttle for the El Dorado Resorts. He pointed me in the right direction and Lomas Travel was waiting for me! I was on the list and the board and missed the sign in my desire to not make eye contact! It was at this point I sorely missed Magical Express!!!

I was ushered into a private SUV and we made the drive to the resort.  My driver thought it was funny that I was taking pictures as we drove, but that’s what I do! Thousands of pictures!! One thing I noticed and wished I had gotten more pictures of, were the green road signs. Here in the U.S. the green road signs are road names or exit names (again, usually road names). Not here, they had the resort names! They were huge signs with resort names. What an easy and awesome concept!! Several tourist cities should take notice!!

In about 30 minutes we arrived and checked in through the security gate for the resort and started our drive down the driveway. My first impression was how gorgeous, shaded, and so very Disney like! We arrived at the front door and I got out, the bellman got my suitcase and the driver was on his way. Immediately an 8 seater golf cart drives up and they ask if I am Mrs. Mackey (they pronounced it MaKEY), that my room was ready and he would take me right to my room. How very prompt and nice! They were waiting for me! I didn’t have to ask, I didn’t have go to a desk and check in with my credit card in tow. Very luxurious and something I could certainly get used to.

My driver took me to the Casitas talking the entire way! Asking how my flight was, if this was my first visit. Where was I from? The usual, but very friendly questions. In fact every time I was shuttled anywhere the drivers were very friendly and curious, I’m sure it’s part of their training but a very personal touch.  We pull up to the Casitas “front desk” so that I could get my safe key and sign in. I put “front desk” in quotations because we were in the center of the Casitas and it was nowhere near the front desk.  A very laid back atmosphere where they had been radioed that I had arrived so when I came through the door Mrs. MaKEY got all of the attention!

Within in 5 minutes I was ushered back to my room, Casita # 2704. It was on the bottom floor and when I opened the door, I literally gasped. My first impression was the size, the beautiful dark woods and the canopy bed. The curtains to the sliding glass door were open so I could see the pool and off in the distance the Caribbean Sea! The room was nice and cool (which was a wonderful welcome, more later about the heat!). Everything was perfect!

I quickly put my things down and started taking pictures. I went into the bathroom and discovered this very strange sliding glass door leading to a patio that went nowhere. How strange?! I found out later that was my outdoor shower! I never tried this feature out, but it was wide open at the top of the wall and the window in the inside shower had no coverings!! I have to admit I spent a couple of days taking a shower in the corner of the shower so no one could see in! The last afternoon I was there, I figured out the wall to the outside shower was over 10 feet tall so there was no way that anyone could see in! You can take the girl out of the country…well you know the rest!

We had a meeting time of 4:30 so I didn’t have a lot of time to check the resort out. I ended up going to the lobby then on to our meeting place. I’m not much of a beach bunny. In fact my family always begs to go to the beach and I always hesitate! I can think of 1000 things I’d rather do then sit in the heat on the sand and burn! This is unlike any other beach I have ever been to! I mean there is sand, there is the ocean and there is more than enough heat!!  But there are so many options for a non beach bunny to do and see that you could go the entire trip and never touch the sand J it was my goal!

Our group meets up and we start our tour. I click so many pictures I look ridiculous. But that is what I was there for. The grounds are very plush and Karisma takes a lot of pride in their upkeep and grounds. I talked with the bar tender before everyone arrived and found out they employ at least 500 during the slow season. They were cleaning, repairing, and replanting the entire time I was there. Every single employee took such great pride in their work no matter what they were doing. It was absolutely amazing to watch and be a part of. Kudos to Karisma for hiring, training and expecting the best!

After our tour, we had a wine tasting. I have never been to a wine tasting. Normally I go for a Reisling and don’t try other things. Very in the box! We tried 4 wines and I hate to admit this but I liked them all. I tried raw tuna for the first time, I literally opened and popped it in!! It wasn’t bad, but I can’t say I really tasted it. Our dinner was full of conversation and getting to know one another and of course trying things we don’t normally eat. Quite an enjoyable evening.

If you have ever done an all inclusive you know that room service is 24/7 and is included. Well I felt the need to try it! I was back in my room at around 8 so I had plenty of time. I ordered a couple of things and have to say it was all very good! The options are plentiful from hamburgers, tacos, nachos, to Asian noodles. The desserts were yummy although crème brulee needs to be eaten warm. All of our food was excellent. I tried breakfast in Cocotal, the main restaurant and the selection on the buffet was awesome. At least 10 fresh fruits, tons of cheeses, meats and breads. The warm selections were very good and my favorite by far was the flautas or taquitos, not sure which they called them, but they were excellent! Mexican for breakfast, who knew?!

I’m not much for drinking unless at a party or for a meal so I didn’t try drinks unless we were eating a meal, plus I don’t like being around people who are toasted so I didn’t try the bar scene. Some trip report this is going to be! The drinks are fruity and very yummy. Each resort has their favorite or I guess signature drink. You can order your favorite or try something different every time. Quite amazing. Again, I have never done and all inclusive so it was a treat.

Now, I promised to mention the heat. REALLY?! I have been to New Orleans in July, Houston June, July and August and Orlando every month of the year. I have never and I repeat never experience heat like this. I’m not telling you this to dissuade you from going to the Riviera Maya or Cancun, I am simply telling you this to prepare for it! August is the most humid month of the year in that part of the world. So, make your plans accordingly!!

Day two was spent in a conference room learning all there is to know about Karisma and Gourmet Inclusive. Gourmet Inclusive is not just meant for the food and drinks, it is meant for the level of service you receive, the level of accommodations you enjoy and everything in between. I have to say it is quite inclusive in every aspect of their resorts. I believe in their concept and think they have perfected it. We were able to tour their greenhouse which is about 100,000 square feet. OK, we didn’t tour the whole thing, but we did walk the perimeter which in 3,000 degree heat that is quite a challenge! They grow their own vegetables and have a palm tree plantation so that they can provide a higher level of service and it shows on their plates in on their grounds. Well done!

Our last full day was spent speeding from resort to resort. By the end of the day they truly were blending together. But each has their own unique touch. One thing I learned from a fellow agent is that each resort has a different beach/ocean. Some have stronger under toes, some have better lagoon type oceanfront and then there are the ones with great waves for body boarding. These are things a truly schooled agent should know! I can read about the accommodations but knowing that is very beneficial too for anyone who hasn’t been to the Riviera Maya. But something about being on the ground, eating the Gourmet Inclusive cuisine, meeting the amazing staff, smelling the salty air for myself helps me understand the immense attraction to the all inclusive resorts and to the ocean itself. I can’t say when I will make it back to El Dorado Casitas Royale but I can say that I will make it back. I can’t wait to share these beautiful resorts with everyone I know! They are truly not to be missed and I think once you go you won’t be able to stop! One of the agents on our trip with us made a very poignant statement: these honeymooners are setting the bar high! Once they get a taste of Karisma they are going to have a hard time trying many of the other all inclusive options!

Thank you Karisma, thank you Funjet and thank you KHM! You all made this travel agent see the light when it comes to the all inclusive vacation. You haven’t converted me from Disney, but you have shown me that multiple vacations a year is a must and Karisma needs to be one of the options!

 El Dorado Resorts ~ Riviera Maya

Azul Resorts ~ Riviera Maya

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