Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mi Mexican Casa

There's times I think I work to support my vacation habit. I come about it honestly, my parents were great travelers, and my mom still is- just returning from a cruise through the Panama Canal. As a child we traveled a lot - cross country to California, toured most of the west, the southeast. I am nearly always dreaming of my next trip. I keep a count up of last time I was at Disney, or snorkeled/scuba-ed, and countdowns to next trips on my facebook page. Friends comment on how often we take trips. My timeshare weeks and points allow us to go to some incredible paces - this trip was no exception.

The latest trip was to one of my favorite beach destinations, Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula about 45 miles south of Cancun. This time we didn't trade a timeshare week, but instead purchased a $200 “Extra Vacation" from RCI for a 2 bedroom unit at Hacienda Tres Rios. Of course, we still had to pay the all-inclusive fees, but overall for considerably less than it would cost to book this resort through a travel agent.

Loved Tres Rios. Highly recommend. Wish we could have spent more time. If you go, try to do the bike tour and the coati (snorkel) tours early in the week, just to give you a good feel for the resort. After that you can check out bikes, grab kayaks, and swim the cenotes at your leisure.

The Resort:
Hacienda Tres Rios bills themselves as a luxury, all-inclusive, eco-friendly, "green" resort, spa and nature park. As stated on their website, they are "at the forefront of sustainable tourism development, creating amazing guest experiences while protecting the region’s natural beauty and culture". Loved the nature park and all the included activities. We biked through the jungle to the cenotes,

Snorkeled from a cenote down the river to the sea.

Kayaked up a river from the sea to another cenote

Sailed on a hobie cat in the Caribbean sea

Played volleyball on the beach, chilled where the river meets the sea, toured their nursery where they are working to restore the vegetation lost in Hurricane Rita, and skipped countless rocks into the cenote or the ocean.

Of course, we also relaxed on the beach. Oh, those beach beds. Nothing could be better than a mid-afternoon siesta on a bed on the beach, feeling the sun, hearing the sounds of the ocean.

Resort also has two pools and three hot tubs. My son and his new BFF loved what they called the cliff area of the upper pool - which conveniently placed them close to the pizzeria.

The Food and Drinks:
The resort has a buffet style restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A dinner-only restaurant that rotates 3 nights a week with an Asian theme, 3 with an Italian theme. A fine dining Mexican dinner restaurant. An outdoor grill open for lunch and dinner, and an outdoor pizzeria open from noon-7pm. They also offered two theme style dinner parties, a Mexican fiesta on Sunday evening and a Caribbean party on the beach mid-week. Finally, there's a coffee/pastry restaurant. Son loved the pastries, I loved the mid-afternoon pick me up of a perfectly foamed cappuccino. Oh yeah, also 24 hour room service.

We mainly used the buffet restaurant for breakfast - nice fruit selection, really good granola with a wide selection of yogurts. Interesting selections on the buffet, son loved the pastry, chef making eggs/omelets’ or quesadilla to order. Never ate lunch there, dinner was ok, chef doing pasta.

Spent a lot of time at Hacienda Grill - the outdoor restaurant /bar. Lunch there was very good, dinner even better. But our favorite was grabbing a table w/ friends around 4pm for some chips and guacamole, or shrimp and having happy hour. Close to the pool to watch the boys. Fresh, yummy guac. Nice steak at dinner.

The boys couldn't get enough of the pizzas. Lunch, dinner. Gotta admit I loved the European pizza - a white pizza with guyere and gargonzola. Oh my. One thing we did find odd was the "Italian sausage". Probably better described as hot dog.

The most interesting meal was the adults only "chef's table". This one required the purchase of a bottle of wine. Was a five course meal in the kitchen just outside head Chef Oscar's office. Oscar helped present most every course. Started with a summer roll, then a coconut shrimp with a great mango, peach and sundried tomato sauce, a duo of cream soups, salmon with saffron sauce and vegetable risotto, beef with miso sauce (sorry, Chef, I'm not such as fan of the sweet, clingy miso sauce which you seem to love to use, and I think overpowers everything), and a chocolate dessert.

There's a tradition for Chef's table guest to sign the chef's apron. I choose to sign next to the Prince and Princess of Denmark (who were also guests of the resort while we were there).

Italian concept was very nice. From appetizers through dessert. I had a well done risotto with sausage, hubby had a veal dish which he loved, and others at our table enjoyed their meals. We all agreed on enjoying this restaurant. The first time we ate at the Asian restaurant, did not enjoy it. Sushi was three pieces of rolls with minimal fish. I had something with the words sashimi tuna, tempura and miso in the description. To me sashimi tuna implies something other than heavily battered fried fish with a sweet clingy miso sauce. I admit to not noticing the word tempura first time through.

For our last dinner, we'd originally planned to go back to the grill. However, ran into Chef Oscar and made a comment about the coconut shrimp. He said if we came to the Asian restaurant, he would make us a plate of them as an appetizer. We decided to give the Asian restaurant another try. Noticed though some folks were eating lobster. Hmmm, that's not on the menu. Talked to our server who arranged a special menu. Quite good. Choice was just lobster, surf and turf or surf and surf. Between the six of us we had all of them. Plus the coconut shrimp. And a mixed dessert platter to share. Highlight of the evening was tableside preparation of Mexican coffee.

As to the bars at Tres Rios;
I think bars are the one big miss here. Granted there is a very good selection of premium/top shelf products. No skimping there. However, with all-inclusive comes the expectation of pool bars (the swim up kind), no such thing here. In fact outdoor drinks are a bit tough. There are servers on the beach and pool side, but service is slow (like 20-30 minutes to get a drink, hour or more to get food). While we enjoyed "happy hour" at Hacienda Grill, if you weren't there by 5pm, you were out of luck as they closed from 5-6:30 to prep for dinner. Which means the only outdoor bar is closed. There is spotty bar wait service at the outdoor tea/martini bar - but on a couple of nights servers were not present. With all the lovely scenery and beautiful weather more options for outdoor drinks with friends (esp. casual, post beach time) are sorely needed.

This is not a big night life resort. Yes, there are shows and events at night - but all fairly low key.

The Room:

Magnificent, huge, well equipped. We basically had a one bedroom suite with a connecting hotel room. Fridges in the rooms stocked with sodas, water and beer.

Overall an incredible vacation. Made even more special by meeting some new friends. Tom, Stephanie and their son Spencer. The boys hit it off as fast friends. The parents also. From the time we all meet, we were pretty much inseparable. Hope to travel with them in the future, enjoy more meals, more wine, and games of find Stephanie a new drink. Great, great family. And huge thanks to Tom both for taking me out on the Hobie Cat not once but twice, and even more importantly, the really good pictures on the blog are his - thanks so much for allowing me to use them.


  1. Wow! great photos! I want to go there!!!

  2. Thankyou for sharing. We leave MN on Saturday to HTR and I have been getting a little nervous reading trip advisor reviews. Seeing your pictures and reading about your experiences both good and not so good helps me prepare for our trip. I think we will have a great time!

  3. Hi Kim...My wife and I just returned from our Honeymoon at HTR. We really appreciated your comprehensive review and were amazed we were not the only ones that picked up on the "italian susage" as well as that sushi tempura blob or fried uncooked dough... We missed the "nice steak" you describe as the Rib eye(s) looked more like pancakes or totillas than a real steak even after discussing with chef Oscar. We thought many of your observations were right on. We are debating if we should take the time to write a comprehensive review which would be from a significantly different perspective.( we went there for a honeymoon)as well as would include some expereinces that were not at all positive with respect to some of the staff, quality of consierge, wait staff , front desk service, "timeshare" program and some other problem areas.

    You highlighted most of the positive attributes with which we also agree, but I think you left off or chose not to address some of the shortcomings albeit we recognize your perspective is from a family vacation.

  4. Barry - Sounds like you were disappointed in HTR. In our experience anything we directly asked the staff for - they accommodated. Be it "boxed" lunches to take with me on two days where I left for the day to do multiple scuba dives from another resort, Baileys to throw in our coffee in the coffe/pastry restaurant, the lobster dinner mentioned above. We did not ask the concierge for anything, so no experience there - nor did we attend a timeshare presentation. Been there done that, do not need to repeat, particularly in Mexico, which pick any resort, the tactics are the same. (I bought all my timeshares via ebay).

    That said, we were on a family vacation, and very low key. Up most days by 7am to dive or work out or whatever, ready for bed by 9:30-10pm. If I had been looking for any sort of nightlife, would have been very disappointed. So if for your honeymoon you wanted more than laying and the beach and uh, well, you know, this probably was not your resort.