Relaxing in the Yucatan
Last year I had gotten COVID pretty bad. When you are really sick it makes you re-evaluate things. I usually go on “adventure” vacations but I realized that sometimes you have to stop and just take a breath and relax. After sharing my thoughts with my bestie, we decided a Riviera Maya Vacation would be a great couples vacation for ourselves and our hubbies. When planning small trips like this I usually just book everything myself, but with the pandemic in full swing with no end in sight, I decided to reach out to my travel planner. This turned out to be the best decision I made.
We chose our Riviera Maya Vacation at the TRS Yucatan resort because it was an adults only 5-star luxury all-inclusive hotel. The TRS Yucatan resort has several pools, bars, and restaurants to choose from but is part of a complex which includes 3 other family friendly resorts (White Sands, Colonial, and Kantenah). This allows for the flexibility of visiting the other resorts’ pools, beaches, and restaurants.
Ultimately our Riviera Maya Vacation Package was booked through Funjet Vacations. This included airfare, resort, private transportation, and travel insurance. We thought it was a great value and we had paid extra for a refund for any reason upgrade. I would recommend this as COVID requirements can change at any time and its good to have piece of mind you won’t lose all your money.
Please continue reading to find out my helpful hints and tipping recommendations for a Riviera Maya Vacation. For a different perspective on the trip, please read Alex’s guest blog!
- 7 nights at TRS Yucatan (January 6-13, 2022)
- Airfare through Spirit Airline
- Transportation to/from airport through Amstar
- 1 day guided tour to Ek Balam and Cenote Maya
We were supposed to arrive on January 4th, but due to a large snow storm and losing power at our house, we decided to postpone our trip by 2 days. My bestie, Alex and her hubby, AJ had arrived on the 4th, so we would be meeting them 2 days later but because we had purchased travel insurance, our travel agent was able to change our dates (this was not an easy task on her end). We flew Spirit Airlines (which I would never do again). Not only do they charge you $55 per checked bag, but if your bag is over 40 lbs, they charge you another $50. This means one bag could be charged $105! They also charge you $50 for large carry-ons (bigger than a back pack). These fees may be different depending on your flight. There are no snacks or beverages provided without a fee. The only upside is you have a seat assignment. Take home message: I’ll stick with Southwest next time.
Our flight left on time and arrived slightly early. There were many Amstar representatives there. It was a little difficult trying to figure out which one was picking us up. The driver gave us a piece of paper with a note on the back that said we were supposed to meet an Amstar representative the next day at their desk at our resort. There was no explanation as to why. I had assumed it was so they could sell us an excursion. Helpful Hint: Meet with a Amstar representative well ahead of your departure date else it will be an issue (more on this later).
The ride from Cancun took 1.5 hours. As we arrived at the gate at 4 pm, they were not aware that we were staying there. The chaos continued when we tried to check in and they told us we were two days late and we were leaving in 5 days. My travel agent had email confirmation that they had agreed to our date change but there was no follow through in their system at the resort. After a call to my agent and a lot of stern words, the problem was fixed. I feel certain that this would not have been taken care of if I had been doing this myself.
We were then taken to our room and we met with our butler. Helpful Hint: Make sure you have WhatsApp installed on your phone ahead of time. That is how they will be communicating with you. You can also take this time to let your butler know the 2 alcoholic beverages you would like in your room (aside from beer). I chose a bottle of red wine and Absolut vodka. Once you drink one bottle, ask for an other one! You can have two at any time although we ended up with more than that.
We had a room with a private garden view pool which we loved! The pool was heated and was never very cold. The room was clean and spacious. The bed was comfortable. Thumbs up so far! Our pool was private and surrounded by vegetation although we noticed not all the private pools were actually that private especially if you get a corner room.
We met up with Alex and AJ and they showed us around the resort. We had drinks at the Las Rocas bar by the salt water pool and ate dinner that night at Tentazione, an Italian restaurant. Alex and I both had the sea bass as an entrée. This resort is great about allergies. They ask you about your allergies every time you check into a restaurant and the waiter makes sure all of the dishes you order are safe for you to eat. Alex’s sea bass had cheese on it and mine did not due to my dairy allergy. The sea bass was so delicious I decided to order it as dessert! Helpful Hint: Make sure you book your first dinner ahead of time else you will be stuck ordering room service which is not that great and takes a long time.
I went out for a morning jog around the complex. There were plenty of cute little agoutis to be found nibbling on coconuts that had fallen. It is very easy to get lost as the complex consists of 4 mini resorts within the overall Palladium complex. There are many boardwalk trails going through the mangroves that offers a sense of peace and nature. It was too early for the iguanas but plenty can be seen when it warms up.
My husband, Joe had ordered room service. I had gotten a banana smoothie which turned out to have dairy in it so it was a no go for me. His food was pretty good. AJ and Alex had massages in the morning so we decided to try the La Terraza, quiet pool. The pool had a bar and plenty of cabanas that were open to all guests. Most of the cabanas at the other pools were only open to Palladium Rewards members which meant only the chairs were available to “regular” guests. Most of these cabanas in the salt water pool sat empty due to them being reserved.
For lunch we met up with Alex and AJ and ate at Helios. This is the restaurant that is open everyday for breakfast and lunch. It is buffet style but you can also order off their menu. Since COVID, the “buffet” is simply small portioned plates for you to take and try. There was plenty of healthy food choices. Each item was marked with its basic ingredients and there were plenty of options that avoided my allergies (dairy, beef, pork). The boys enjoyed cheese steak subs and hamburger sliders. The girls leaned heavily toward the sushi.
For dinner and entertainment, we signed up for the Chic Cabaret show for $35 a person. The food was a little odd (one entrée had octopus tentacles on top of steak) but the show was amazing! There was a pre-show with cocktails, a band, and dancers along with an after show which we briefly attended and allowed me to dance with one of the svelte show dancers. I would highly recommend this show. They were heavy on the cocktails and shots during the show and these were incorporated into group shot time throughout the show. If you go away sober, you did something wrong! Helpful Hint: Don’t drink much before the show and if you don’t have exotic taste in food, eat before hand!
Joe and I took a morning walk past the salt water pool and through the family beach area. We discovered the waterslide in the family section and I decided to take a fitness class which ended up being just me and the instructor. There are several options in all of the resorts to participate in activities from water aerobics to archery to tequila tasting.
Afterwards, we ate breakfast at Helios. The four of us met up again and decided to do a pool tour that day. Our first stop was at the salt water pool where Joe went snorkeling. There are coral and fish swimming around this pool as it is directly connected to the ocean. The water was a little cold for my liking.
After a couple cocktails, we decided to try the waterslide. It turns out this was just meant for kids as it is a bit shallow at the end. We then went to the swim up pool bar at the White Sands main pool. This pool did not appear to be heated and was quite cold. Note: there are no swim up pool bars at TRS Yucatan.
The four of us went back to La Terraza pool to enjoy some cocktails and conversation in the pool. We headed back to the room when it started to rain to get ready for our dinner at La Boheme, a French restaurant. The food here was really good. You will see posts about how great the French onion soup is but AJ got the Vichyssoise (cold potato and leek cream soup) and raved about it. Helpful Hint: The restaurant menus are only available by scanning a QR code on your smartphone. Make sure you bring your phone to dinner.
Day 4: Excursion day on our Riviera Maya Vacation
We were picked up at 8:15 for our excursion to Ek Balam Mayan ruins and a Cenote. The drive was around 2 hours long to Ek Balam. The guide gave a 20 minute tour and then we had 45 minutes to explore the ruins on our own. Ek Balam means “bright star jaguar”. Unfortunately, we did not see any jaguars. In the past we had been to Chichen Itza and the Coba ruins. We found Ek Balam to be comparable and slightly more impressive because of the presence of stucco sculpture that you won’t find at the other Mayan ruins in the area. There are also less people visiting this site.
Our next stop was at a cenote where we participated in a Mayan ceremony and rappelled down into the cenote (stairs are also available). The water was pretty cold. There were tubes, zip lining , and jumping platforms available for the 45 minute experience. The cave was somewhat dark and I found the experience to be calming and refreshing. We had gone to other cenotes in our past Riviera Maya Vacations but this one was by far the best.
Afterwards, we had a fantastic traditional lunch on the cenote property followed by a 1.5 hour drive back to the resort. We then suited up and went right into the Infinity pool to grab some cocktails and chill out before heading to dinner at Tentazione.
Joe and I got up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise by the salt water pool. There were some low lying clouds so it wasn’t a great sunrise but still beautiful. What Riviera Maya vacation would be complete without a sunrise picture?
The four of us went to the Zentropia spa at 10 to enjoy the Hydrotherapy section before our massages. The hydrotherapy section includes a pool, hot and cold hydromassage tubs, swan neck jets, waterfalls, a sauna, a steam room and a foot shower with stones. The massage was great and I highly recommend getting one. Helpful Hint: There are guys walking around the infinity pool that will sell you an 80 minute Swedish massage for $100. It’s a good deal. Go an hour ahead of time to enjoy the hydrotherapy section before your massage. Don’t book your massage directly through the resort as it’s twice as much.
We had lunch at Helios followed by more pool time and dinner at La Boheme. We then decided to try out the sports bar at the Kantenah family resort section. I was dying for some chicken wings. The bar had a buffet and football games playing and was what you would expect from a sports bar. The wings, however, not so much. They were probably the worst chicken wings I’ve ever had and seemed to be fried in some sort of panko or shake and bake type of batter with really bad sauce. Joe did make some good conversation with a group of guys there on a guys trip. We decided to head back to AJ & Alex’s room for some late night partying.
That morning we went to the main lobby to make sure our two day extended reservation was still in order, book our COVID test, and talk to the Amstar representative about our transportation back to the airport. We were successful with the first two tasks but the Amstar representative did not realize we were leaving two days later than expected and informed us that a van had tried to pick us up that morning. Our only recourse was to file a complaint through our travel agency, pay for transportation, and hope to get paid back once the misunderstanding was rectified. Helpful Hint: Meet with your transportation company the day after you ARRIVE to book your ride back to the airport.
We had some good bye drinks with Alex & AJ before they left in the morning at the lobby. The bartender made some fantastic mezcal shots!
Joe and I set off for the infinity pool as they were having a seafood grill lunch by the pool bar. After a couple cocktails and pool time Joe had some pork and seafood dish (not allergy friendly for me) and then we went to Helios so I could have some lunch as well. Most days there was someone grilling out by the pool and it all looked really good. If you want some activity and entertainment this is the pool to be at. Helpful Hint: Most pools and pool bars open at 10 am and close around 5-6 pm. Get your drink on early!
We then decided to walk to the private cabaña area on the beach that is only for TRS Yucatan guests. This area is past the family beach area and on the opposite end of the whole resort complex. There were some cabanas for travel rewards members only, but quite a few open to everyone. We slept, read, and enjoyed the day which was intermixed with rain showers.
We had dinner at Chang Thai which is on the Colonial resort side. The appetizers and soup were good but we both got the Pad Thai which was definitely NOT what I know Pad Thai to taste like. It seemed to be mixed with some sort of really spicy tomato sauce and was almost inedible. I’d suggest sticking with the TRS Yucatan restaurants.
Day 7: Last day of our Riviera Maya Vacation
We decided to try the breakfast restaurant, Capricho, at the lobby. They have a smaller selection than Helios but do have a make your own Bloody Mary and Mimosa bar. I ordered scrambled eggs, rice, black beans, and tortillas which was not on the menu but they were happy to oblige. They have a lot more sweet pastries and donuts than Helios.
We spent morning and early afternoon on the family beach. I read and Joe went snorkeling. There are some decent reefs if you go a little ways out. This day there was no seaweed, but on most days the staff were up before sunrise to try and gather as much seaweed as they could off the beach. Sargassum seaweed is a big problem in the Yucatan and throughout the Caribbean. If you decide to plan a Riviera Maya Vacation, look into the best times of year to avoid the seaweed if this is a concern for you.
We had some more pool time back at our private room, and then headed out to get COVID tested in the Sands lobby. There was no one in line and it took about 10 minutes total and we got the results via email within 40 minutes. The cost was $60 for the both of us. Helpful Hint: Make sure you book your COVID test a couple days ahead of time and look at the current restrictions for your country on what kind of test you need (PCR vs Rapid) and how long you need to get it before departure. For us, we were required to get it within 24 hours of departure.
Dinner that night was at Helios. I got the lobster and grouper. Both were delicious! Check out the local gato (cat) that hangs around at night. Helpful Hint: The Rosé wine was not good. Skip it and get the red or white instead. Also, the lobster only comes in half portions. I ordered two entrees: grouper and lobster.
This was our last day of our Riviera Maya Vacation. We woke up, packed, and had breakfast at Capricho before leaving. As we finished our breakfast, the waitress gave us two departing shots and a good buy desert! All in all we had a great Riviera Maya vacation. I would absolutely recommend this resort to anyone wanting to have a relaxing, stress free vacation. One thing that really made our stay top notch is the attention and care we got from all the staff. Everyone was over the top attentive and friendly. Even the staff looked relaxed and happy to be there!
I added this section to the end because this is the question that is often asked. How much do I tip and to whom do I tip? I will only tell you what my travel agent suggested and what we thought was appropriate. Each day, I put $5 on the bed with a “Gracias!” note to housekeeping. I also put $2 inside the mini fridge which kept it well stocked. The butler got $5-10 from us throughout the day for helping with odds and ends such as booking restaurants . Sometimes, I would tip the golf cart drive $1-2 for taking us places. The massage man got a $20 tip for a great massage. Bartenders got $2-4 periodically. We usually tipped $5-10 at restaurants. The driver to/from the airport got $10 from us. We brought $500 with us and had about $16 left when we went home. That also included tipping the excursion guide $40 for the two of us and paying for semi-professional photos at the cenote.
Helpful Hints for your Riviera Maya Vacation
A complete list of my helpful hints for our Riviera Maya Vacation can be found below:
- Make sure you have WhatsApp installed on your phone
- Meet with an Amstar representative well ahead of your departure date
- Make sure you book your first dinner before you arrive
- Plan on attending the Chic Cabaret show but don’t drink heavily before the before the show and eat before hand if you are a picky eater
- The restaurant menus are only available by scanning a QR code on your smartphone. Make sure you bring your phone to dinner.
- Don’t book a spa treatment directly with the resort. You will get a better deal from booking it from the spa representatives near the Infinity Pool
- Most pools and pool bars open at 10 am and close around 5-6 pm. Get your drink on early!
- The lobster at Helios comes in half portions so order a second entrée.
- Book your COVID test a couple days ahead of time and look at the current restrictions for your country on what kind of test you need (PCR vs Rapid) and how long you need to get it before departure
- Bring tip money ahead of time in $1’s, $5’s, and $10’s.
Alex’s Review of Our Riviera Maya Vacation
Alex here as a guest blogger for our Riviera Maya Vacation. First, you HAVE to make dinner reservations. It was around 6 pm when we got to our room on arrival day, and we went to El Gaucho (Argentina steak house) around 7 and waited 2 hours for a table. I do not recommend this restaurant. It was extremely dark and the steaks were thin, overcooked, and had a lot of underdone fat.
The butlers were a bit hit and miss. I think we had 3 over our 7 days. 2 were fabulous and the other was not good. Unfortunately, he was working when we arrived and most needed some help.
The other butlers were fantastic. The salt water pool was really beautiful but I didn’t get in -it was COLD! the infinity pool had wonderful service and lots of activities. I think the ‘secret’ pool Melissa mentioned was the best if you want pool-side service. Otherwise the private pools in our junior suites’ are the way to go. Definitely get at least one massage, but sign up at the infinity pool for half price.
Room service takes at least an hour and is really hit or miss. We got the fruit plate 3 times and it ranged from papaya and starfruit to honeydew, cantaloupe, and pineapple, to weirdly diced cantaloupe and honeydew.
We over tipped. I don’t regret it, but follow Melissa on this. We certainly didn’t get better service.
Scheduling your trip back to the airport: this made no sense. Joe and Melissa were charged for missing a transit they never scheduled. We had terrible trouble scheduling one because we didn’t do it on day 2. So, no rhyme or reason about that.
All in all we had a wonderful time and highly recommend this resort. We would go back in a second, but we have other places we’d like to see. With any luck we’ll see some of them with Melissa and I’ll guest blog again!
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