Review: Gran Bahia Principe Akumal, Mexico

Welcome to our review of one of the Gran Bahia Principe resorts nestled in the Riviera Maya resort in Mexico.

As usual, we looked at trip advisor before our stay and noted some of the perceived problems, but experience has taught me now to take negative reports with a pinch of salt unless there is a constant and uniform pattern to them. It is rare that someone giving a good review would exaggerate their stay, so I tend to believe the majority of them over the occasional “total assassination” born out of a few minor gripes.

Here is our opinion…

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After an excellent flight via British Airways we arrived in heavy rain which continued all the way to the resort, arriving around 8 p.m.

Approximately 1 hour 20 mins from Cancun International, we travelled in a “sedan car” supplied by Hoppa, booked in the UK. I will review Hoppa separately, but suffice to say it wasn’t the best experience and I won’t be using them again.

We were dropped at the Akumal lobby and from there taken by golf car to the Akumal privilege lounge, which we are members of.  I must say now this has not biased my review. We joined this scheme in Runaway Bay and had so far had considered it to be a bad move.

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After a quick check-in (which we were thankful for being exhausted after our long journey) we were taken to Villa 83 and into the most beautiful junior suite we had ever stayed in.
Well impressed. We found out later that Villa 83 had only recently been completed and it appeared a higher quality design on the outside, although the other villas looked equally well appointed internally.

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The rain continued the next day and then cleared up for the remainder of the holiday. The complex is immaculate throughout.  Unlike some of our other experiences, while maintenance and housekeeping was ongoing, it was done in a low key and unobtrusive manner.

I should say now that the complex is SPRAWLING. There are four hotels on the complex, Tulum, Coba, Akumal and Sian Kaan. Sian Kaan is a way back from the beach on the other side of the highway, connected by a private bridge and serviced by regular shuttle trains which allegedly operated until 2 a.m. – we were normally in bed well before that so cannot confirm.  It appears to be adult only and more suited for people wanting a relaxing vacation with little hassle.  We had a nice meal and a drink in the bar area, and can say we would have been happy to be staying there.

Tulum is probably the largest area of accommodation, Coba has a great small water park for kids, and Akumal seems to be a smaller version of Tulum although I’m guessing the quality of suites are superior judging from its official designation “Luxury Akumal Don Pablo Collection”.

So, you are able to select the right area of accommodation for your needs.

Each of the four hotels have their own lobby complex, off of which you will find shops, bars, buffet restaurants and other facilities. You are able to use any of the facilities throughout the complex. There are two spas; we tried one, good value for money.

Some people on Tripadvisor regarded this resort as 2 star.  In your wildest.

The room had a well stocked minibar although unlike their hotel in Runaway Bay Jamaica, they restricted the minibar to just the contents listed. Having said that, it served our needs. Being all inclusive, I don’t understand why they need to be so restrictive.

Each complex has a main pool which are large, clean and are no more than 4ft deep anywhere in the pool. Some have swim up bars, and a good selection of beds around the complex – there never appeared to be any issue with obtaining a bed. And frequently staff were wandering around the pool with platters of fruit which was a nice touch.

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The beach is an expanse of white crystal sand and again kept very clean. Apparently they had sea weed problems in recent years but this was not evident during our stay. The sea is quite rough and they have built artificial breakwaters to calm the inshore waters, and a small floating boom demarks the swimming area. Although we saw one or two people venturing out past these booms, I wouldn’t personally recommend any swimming beyond it, the waves got quite high on windy days. The beach stretches all the way down from the Tulum resort to the Akumal, and there are also designated exclusive areas for Sian Kaan and Coba residents. The beach outside Tulum is particularly nice and the shallow waist high blue waters are a must for young children, especially with a modest collection of tropical fish which swim merrily around your feet. There are ample beds available with palm sunshades. Typical of the caribbean, the sea is as warm as bath water from 8am until sunset, it is totally idyllic and as I have said in the past, those complaining about it must have been to some exceptional holiday destinations prior to their stay in Mexico. Again, no need to rush – beds are rarely reserved, and if there’s a towel on it, the owner is paddling in the calm Caribbean or slipped off for breakfast somewhere. We were going down to the beach at 9 am and still easily finding one of the four poster gazebo type loungers.

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The complex is abundant with local wildlife, including iguanas, racoons, some rabbit like animals and allegedly crocodiles although we never saw them. I even saw a real Blue Bird. Couldn’t get my camera switched on quick enough – Note for action 2018.  There is also a dolphinarium on site, and having taken the experience I can affirm that they are well kept, very happy creatures and in the hands of some very professional trainers.  Beware that although the experience is quite cheap, by the time they have loaded on the obilgatory video and photos you can easily get into three figures.  But they weren’t pushy about it and it’s nice to have the option to record your memories professionally.

The staff across the park were nothing short of exemplary in terms of customer service. They all speak fairly good english, and we only came across one housekeeper who was struggling, but even so his pleasant smile made up for that – and my Spanish is sufficient to understand the odd question thrown at me .  And we noticed EVERY member of staff, regardless of department were very pleasant and ALWAYS went out of their way to say hello. But my advice is learn a bit of Spanish, it works wonders. Especially Gracias.

Each complex has its own buffet restaurant, and you can eat here anytime without a reservation. There is a relatively slack dress code, consisting of NO bathing gear and NO bare chests or feet.   Other than that you are good to go.   The Akumal buffet was huge; with an amazing range of foods, good enough for even the pickiest of eaters, and mostly piping hot and often replenished. We preferred the Siam Kaan buffet, but again you can eat wherever you like, so feel free to browse and graze.

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Breakfast is also available in the main buffets and in the 24hr snack restaurant at Akumal (recommended for lunch) and also in the Los Corales restaurant outside Villa 83 next to the newly built infinity pool. I can heartly recommend Los Corales where the staff, including Carla and Felipe are nothing short of excellent.

We never found the restaurants busy, and only on one occasion did we find a lack of replenishment at breakfast – but that only lasted a few minutes before fresh food was brought out. So I really can’t uphold any complaints on food quality or service.

There are also a number of speciality restaurants on site and there are two things you need to know, which is common with Gran Bahia hotels:

One – You DO have to reserve your table in the speciality restaurants, and I suggest you do it early into your vacation, they get booked up quickly. Restaurants often look empty but I am told this is deliberate to ensure the best service and allow for a quick turn round of tables. It is a great policy as you never see waiters running around trying to keep up, no queues at the door, and the whole experience is just so much more relaxed. Reservations are simple and so this really shouldn’t be seen as a negative. Are you honestly saying you turn up at your favourite restaurant at home without a reservation and expect to be given a table immediately? I think not.

Two – many of these restaurants have dress codes, and although you may not agree (similar to those who refuse to wear dinner suits on cruises) they are what they are, they are detailed on your reservation and the odds are you are going to be turned away if you come inappropriately dressed.

Some of the restaurants specify casual, while others are more formal – an example is the Don Pablo French restaurant where you are expected to turn up in shirt and trousers. I did see one or two get allowed in with nice chino shorts, but the guy who turned up in an England shirt, swimshorts and flip flops was on a hiding to nothing to be honest. But why moan about it? The rules are clear so just, please, abide by them and don’t spoil it for everyone else looking for a more classy experience.  After all, remember it’s not called Luxury Akumal for fun. I guess that’s because it’s intended to be a little bit upmarket from your normal package holiday.  If you want to be surrounded by people in football shirts and shorts carrying pint pots, go to Ibiza.   Personally, we like to get a bit dressed up at night and enjoy the ambiance.

We tried most of the restaurants (privilege club members get to dine anywhere with no restrictions, normal guests get four specialist reservations per two week stay) and we can recommend Los Corales, Don Pablo, the excellent Mikado (head for the Teppanyaki for an amazing experience) and our favourite Mexican themed restaurant, Tequila, set right by the beach and serving “to die for” Mango Margeritas. For the nights’ entertainment, ask for an Irish Coffee in Don Pablo, don’t wear too much hairspray and have a fire extinguisher by your side.

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Feeling so impossibly relaxed and idle, we often used room service for lunch and can say the food is edible, warm and not at all unpleasant. The menu is limited, probably too limited, but bear that in mind and don’t complain too much if they don’t provide exactly what you expected. A fully equipped restaurant is never far away if you want more.

There is a commercial centre (the Hacienda) which has additional shops and bars, a casino and also hosts the nightly open entertainment, which I expect was very good but we didn’t get to see ourselves.  Next time.

Unlike their hotel in Jamaica, we found shop prices to be reasonable and consistent across the site.

We were never disturbed by any noise at night, and we were struck by how quiet the resort was at night, under the gorgeous moon and starry sky.

Unusually, we only experienced one malfunction, one night the aircon failed at 10 p.m., (you could tell by the rapidly warming room and condensation forming on all surfaces) but a quick call to the concierge was all that was needed, and maintenance arrived 15 mins later and fixed it immediately. I can’t fault that level of service.

Housekeeping was excellent throughout and we were given fresh sheets and towels daily. We would often be sat on the veranda when they arrived and I can say honestly that they are very thorough and spent 30-45 minutes cleaning each day.

There is a fair amount of entertainment at the hotel, but  details of it can be pretty scarce, and you need to check at one of the four lobbies each day to see what’s coming up.

Did I mention the resort is SPRAWLING?  To cope with this the resort runs a series of train shuttles from various points, normally terminating at one of the four lobbies. These go past EVERY five minutes on a variety of routes through the resorts and only on one rainy day did we see them full. We never saw queues at the stops, and the place is literally awash with shuttles. You can stop these at a number of bus stops, and most will even stop if you flag them down on the path.

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Then there are the large golf cars operated by the bell boys. These are used mainly to ferry new arrivals to their rooms with their luggage, or pick you up to take you back to check out at the end of the holiday. They don’t routinely stop to pick you up, but might oblige if you ask nicely.

Then there are the smaller club cars – identifiable by the green and gold roundel on the side. A bit too discrete probably, but these are the privilege club cars and reserved for members. So don’t get TOO upset when we whiz past you and don’t offer you a lift. Membership does have its privileges after all.

Speaking of which, I have to say again that we are members of the privilege club, and unlike Runaway Bay the old heavy selling routine seems to have been toned down. I have seen some people on Trip Advisor saying they were constantly being approached, but I never saw this myself. In fact we noted the obvious lack of selling going off. We did see a couple of times a group being shown around the privilege areas, but this appears to be much more low key than we have experienced in the past.

We spoke to a number of couples who have also taken the club option, which means you basically buy 10-30 years of holidays up front, but gain some privileges over normal guests. From my more recent discussions, I realised we regretably paid quite a high price, and all I can say is if you go for it, stick out for a good deal.

I have to say for the record that the Privilege club team at Akumal are fantastic, falling over themselves to make your stay a pleasure. I won’t go into details on how they assisted with my secret wedding anniversary plans, but I’ve not come across a hotel that offers such a dedicated and commited service before, and don’t expect to find another like it again. I’ve already given a huge thanks to Vanina, Mar Benet, Roberto and the rest of the staff in the Akumal lounge, but I will just mention them again – you are all very special people.

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So, if you read our Runaway Bay review, you will see I’ve changed my mind about the club, thanks to these people.

My holiday philosophy is always this. Don’t ever go to the same place twice, the world is too big a place and there’s too much to see to waste time going back to the same place every year.  So would we go to this resort again?   Absolutely, in fact we didn’t want to come home.  Our 2018 holiday is already planned!

Thank you for reading our review – was it helpful to you?  Let us know!

Robert and Sue  stayed at Gran Bahia Principe Akumal, Rivera Maya, Mexico in June 2016; they paid BPPC’s full published all-inclusive price for the holiday and received no payment or gratuity of any kind for this review. 

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