Azul Fives – Riveria Maya, Mexico
I have visited the Quintana Roo section of Mexico so many times I almost feel as though it could be a second home of mine. From multiple trips to Cancun, a few stays down the Riveria Maya, a week a piece in Puerto Aventuras as well as Playa Del Carmen, and a couple adventures in Tulum, one would think I should know a lot more Spanish than I do. I may not know a lot of Spanish, but a few words to describe each and every trip I have had in this portion of Mexico can be described as increíble y excelente. This area of Mexico truly offers a little bit of everything for everyone. Its offerings range all the way from horseback hiding, atv’s, riding jeeps in the jungle, snorkeling, fishing, jet skiing, speed boats, cave diving, zip-lining, or just sitting on a gorgeous beach and enjoying a cold refreshing drink. Quintana Roo is blessed with beautiful scenery and nice hot weather all year-round. It would be a shame if you do not go there at least once in your life.
My most recent visit brought me to Riveria Maya’s Azul Fives Resort (AF), one of the thirteen resorts owned by the Karisma Hotel Group for fun in the sun, a culinary adventure, and being honored by being a part of my lifelong best friend’s wedding as his best man. Every person in the group had their trip planned and prepared by expert travel consultant Bob Booth, the owner/operator of Gloucester Travel and Cruise. Being in the travel industry for more than twenty years, Bob was a delight to work with, professional and courteous throughout the entire process, and created an itinerary for each individual that was flawless. His hard work and dedication for our group was responsible for creating a destination wedding so magical, I am sure each and every person who attended and witnessed this beach wedding will never forget. The group was also lucky enough to have representatives from Kristiewellsphotography.com capture our entire stay. One would think having photographers follow you around everywhere could be intrusive and annoying, but not one second of our stay felt like our privacy was being violated or out of the ordinary in any way. Both photographers were a joy to work with, took some of the most amazing portraits I have ever seen, and really captured some once in a lifetime moments that others will be able to see for themselves from the happy newlyweds.
AF is situated about fifteen minutes north of Playa Del Carmen in an isolated area of Riveria Maya. AF is one of the resorts where unless you are on the resort, you truly need to bring your own transportation or be prepared to use a taxi wherever you would like to go. One taxi driver in particular, Jose Juan Gonzalez Hernandez of taxi 1122 was my personal chauffeur to all of my destinations and he could not have been more pleasant to deal with. His taxi is not the newest or fanciest vehicle around, but his charm and his love for his family as well as sharing all of the great places to eat around Mexico gained a friend in me.
Being without my own transportation is usually not my style of vacationing, but at AF it seemed to work quite nicely. Knowing there was nowhere to go unless you wanted to allowed for the feeling of true seclusion from your daily life. While too large to be a boutique hotel, AF provided a boutique vibe throughout the resort. AF was large enough to provide everything you could want or need, while being quaint enough not to feel overwhelmingly touristy as other larger all-inclusives with thousands of guests pushing and shoving their way through the resort can feel. Being at AF was first and foremost relaxing with a family atmosphere provided in large part due to their partnership with Fisher Price that provided children with all sorts of toys and amenities not seen elsewhere. The beachfront provided an ampule about of places to sit, while the beach-side pool was hopping with activity. If neither of those are your scene, you could find solace in the pool circling the interior of the compound where it was peaceful most times with a decent amount of shade. If you truly were looking for serenity, you could also visit their state of the art spa that provided any and all services one could only dream of. The rooms were spacious and modern, and the landscaping was immaculate around AF’s entire property. The entire staff was graciously accommodating from Food and Beverage manager Walter, to personal concierge Ana Karen, all the way down to the housemaids and random employees walking by who made you feel welcome and appreciated just for visiting their resort.
The highlight for me visiting AF was not only to be a part of an unforgettable beach wedding, but AF’s signature Gourmet Inclusive (GI) branding. During my stay at AF, AF’s Executive Chef Denis Radioux, Sales Manager Lucero, and agriculture specialist Alejandra Alvarez explained to me in depth what GI truly means. It starts with a 100,000 square-foot greenhouse that provides tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, cilantro, basil, and mint as well as numerous other seasonal produce and outdoor fruit orchards throughout the property. I have not researched this, but multiple people from Karisma stated that this is the only greenhouse in all of Mexico on a resort property and the only Rainforest Allaince Certifed greenhouse. This provides them with the eat fresh and local movement that is overtaking America and must be the envy of many in the food industry being able to eat what you have grown yourself. The greenhouse fills the produce needs of all thirteen Karisma resorts and one of GI’s mantras require that once a product is harvested, it is to be used in the kitchen within two days. If the crop for some reason is above what Karisma’s current food demands are, the fresh produce is first offered to all employees of the resorts and if a surplus still exists, it is sold to local restaurant suppliers. This process not only provides Karisma with the freshest produce possible, it also cuts down on their carbon footprint by not having to source a large part of their produce from far away markets to be shipped to them, it also provides their employees to share in the wealth of a bumper crop to thank them for their hard work.
Alejandra Alvarez is in charge of agriculture for Karisma with ten employees, while Chef Denis oversees seventy chefs just at the AF property alone. AF provides a challenge to Chef Denis by having to create up to twenty-four hundred meals a day during AF’s peak seasons and trying to make sure the quality and consistency is upheld to GI standards on each and every meal served. I would love to know whether Chef Denis envisioned such a scenario having to serve so many meals a day as he only ended up in Mexico seeking a break twenty years ago when he left France after finishing his studies in International Cuisine to go on a vacation. Once he arrived in Mexico, he never left to go back home. I think he would say he is not on a vacation any longer, but regardless of his answer of envisioning how busy he would be one day, the undertaking he has to deal with on a daily basis should be commended. Chef Denis seems to be taking it all in stride stating “It’s all in a days work”. By all accounts, Chef Denis has risen AF’s food quality many times over since his arrival with the successful concept and execution of Sea Olive restaurant under his watchful eye and the anticipation boiling over for his next creation, a high-end burger bar on site at AF. Working under Chef Denis’s tutelage is no easy task. Each culinary staff member under his umbrella is required to train a minimum of four months traveling around the world working at various resorts from 7am till 10pm. Their are no exceptions to this rule, but it is an easy way to weed out those who are in it for just a job, and those who have a true passion to provide each and every meal they come into contact with the GI stamp of approval. The staffing process may seem a bit overboard, but the Karisma officials know it is in their best interest to uphold their reputation and their guests expectations. They have had a one-hundred percent GI approval rating recently on departing guests surveys, so obviously it is working and they want this trend to continue. Now that they have reached the top, nothing but perfection will continue to be tolerated while also continuing to be innovative and fresh by changing the menus every six months in order for the staff and guest experience not to stagnate.
AF has a innovative idea with GI, and I can see them fine tuning it even further as time passes. I enjoyed my stay at AF thoroughly and had some of the best all-inclusive meals I have ever had. Are AF’s meals truly gourmet in my mind? Yes and no. Yes, as for the price point to stay at AF, the selection of foods available, unlimited room service during your stay, and the consistency shown at each and every meal is above your average all-inclusive and a quite a good deal in my opinion. No, from the standpoint of eating out at nice restaurants anywhere in the world, even in Playa Del Carmen only fifteen minutes away from AF I have had countless meals I would call gourmet before what I would call what I was being served at AF gourmet. Keep in mind though, at the same time I have had more meals than I can count ten times worse than what I was being served at AF as well, so there really is not an easy answer when it comes to having a great meal every time no matter where you go. AF does a quality job at every meal and the best part of dining at AF is that if an instance occurs you did not like something for some reason, it’s all-inclusive so you will not be charged anything additional like you would somewhere outside the resort so just order something else and I am sure you would not have a two bad meals in a row from them.
Traveling is fun and difficult all at the same time, just as is finding a good meal out to eat. What I will say is that if you are looking for somewhere to have a home-base in the Riveria Maya section of Mexico and want to know that you will have some good meals along the way, AF is the perfect spot to do so. They are centrally located to get to everywhere you could want or need and whether you like all-inclusive resorts or not, AF is a different breed by providing a higher end and better quality dining scene then most while being extremely family friendly at the same time. They are working hard to provide their patrons with a unique farm to fork concept that I am sure is the way we will all get our food sourced sometime in the very near future, and in my opinion you should give them a try just for this reason alone.
Below are pictures from some of the meals I enjoyed while at AF and the greenhouse tour. For more information about AF you can CLICK HERE