Discover one of Mexico’s best all-inclusive family holidays
Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Esmeralda is no ordinary family escape. Laura May, editor of Kuoni Magazine, heads to Mexico to see why this five-star resort is one of our most popular all-inclusive family holidays.
It’s a surprise when a Jet Ski appears in the swimming pool. It is even more of a surprise when it is pulling a flying man on a jet-powered hover board. Chins tilted towards the sun, we watch as he flies into the air, arching his back and twirling around gracefully before diving into the water. He emerges to a round of applause, the water draining from his chunky boots. The Jet Ski loops round to pick up the woman who is supplying the background music, belting out A Sky Full of Stars by Coldplay on her saxophone under the cloudless blue sky. It is a bizarre sight, but pretty cool.
We’ve been encouraged to sit on the edge of the pool for this impromptu performance by the entertainment team and I watch the kids’ stunned faces as this fearless guy impresses us with his aerial acrobatic skills before surfing his way around the perimeter, creating a bow wave that ripples over our legs.
The team at Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Esmeralda has mastered the art of a luxury family holiday. There are planned experiences from 9am to 10pm for kids – and a few surprises thrown in for good measure. One morning you might find yourself covered in bubbles at the family foam party; or watching your youngest save a princess who has been kidnapped by pirates during a treasure hunt – the booty being a big treasure chest overflowing with sweets.
There’s a pool for every mood, from a quiet area with comfy day beds and chill-out music close to the beach; to the shallow pool with its giant pirate ship and slides. The latter is the perfect setting for the children’s pool party, where you’ll find the resident DJ on the decks, dancers and games including slide races, a tug of war and water balloon fights.
We are here with a seven, nine and 14-year-old in tow; and the younger two get stuck into activities including mini Olympics, cooking lessons and arts and crafts, all included in the price. I go back every hour to see if they want to return to the pool and join us, but they’re eager to do whatever activity is coming up next and I go back to my sun lounger and read another undisturbed chapter of my book. For teenagers – if you can tear them away from the free Wi-Fi – there’s paddle boarding to DJ lessons; and there’s also a baby club for children aged 12 months to four years here, so they can get messy with painting, make kites, even try to learn Spanish.
The five-star service here is spot-on and the interior design of the hotel is extraordinary. Gigantic lampshades and chandeliers light-up lofty roof spaces, mammoth statues flow through the entrance and water features run like canals through the hotel, some home to koi carp and large terrapins occasionally making their way out of the water to bask on rocks in the sunlight.
The resort is big and split into two – the family-focused La Esmeralda and the adults-only La Perla, separated by an incredible choice of restaurants and bars in the middle. At the Brazilian Rodízio, we turn our card green on the table and a waiter brings round a new skewer of meat every few minutes, carving it at the table onto our plate if it takes our fancy. From melt-in-the mouth steak to chorizo sausages, the kids get involved in this barbecue and, one by one, we drop out of this meat-eating competition until we all agree it is time to turn the card in the middle red.
Upgrade to Family Concierge
I’d recommend upgrading to a Family Concierge room. This gave us a dedicated family check-in area, where we were welcomed by our family butlers, Jeanne and Luis. While we checked in with a glass of fizz, the kids were given fresh strawberries and juice; and Jeanne set up a WhatsApp group so we could keep in touch during our stay. Via chat, she booked our restaurants so we didn’t have to queue at the reservations desk and looked after us, leaving little treats in the room for the kids. The real benefit for us was the exclusive use of the Family Concierge heated pool, with its beautiful cabanas; plus, the chance to dine in the Italian restaurant, Olio.
We try Mole, the contemporary Mexican restaurant, where our little ones light up at the sight of a pudding served with billowing dry ice, laughing as their hands try to cup the clouds floating over the table. At Vento, the Mediterranean restaurant with hints of the Middle East, oversized red, white and black lampshades dangle overhead and huge eyes gaze down at us from the modern art on the walls, a mixture of graphics, mirrors and tiles creating a giant face. Curved plates offer us mezes, beef in plum sauce and baklava; and the showmanship continues as the waiter pours hot chai tea from a teapot over a sugary dessert that melts before our eyes.
Some of the 14 restaurants and 16 bars here are adults-only, such as the Michelin-star Passion by Martin Berasategui. These child-free dining experiences are aimed at La Perla guests; or parents staying at La Esmeralda hoping to sneak off for a romantic evening while the children enjoy a supervised movie night or pyjama party.
There are six restaurants for us to enjoy together as a family, plus Olio, an Italian restaurant exclusive to Family Concierge guests. One of the most memorable dining experiences we have is a seat at the Hibachi table at Bana, the Asian fusion, teppanyaki and sushi restaurant. We watch as the chef cooks in front of us with gusto, juggling with kitchen utensils before chopping and cracking ingredients – like a raw egg – mid-air onto the sizzling grill. Every one of the posh restaurants we dine in welcomes the kids, offering us simple children’s meals if the fancy cuisine doesn’t tickle their tastebuds.
After dinner each night, we head to North Avenue Bar or Gabi Club to see what’s on. We watch a fantastic Michael Jackson tribute show; a Divas’ Night featuring hits from Adele and Beyoncé; a circus show; and performances from acts such as The Jersey Boys and Il Divo. After nine nights at the resort, we are still discovering new things and on our last night we follow signs to The Lion King show in the theatre. I expect a cosy performance space and am astounded to find a theatre the size of an aircraft hangar where a full production of the show is about to start. We take our seats and the music springs to life, the ‘animals’ running and darting through the aisles towards the stage.
Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Esmeralda has a great location close to Fifth Avenue shopping and is within easy reach of Xcaret Eco Park and archaeological sites such as Tulum, Chichén Itzá and Cobá.
Nine nights here have flown by. With so many surprises – from jet-powered aerial acrobatics to full-on West End-style shows – we could have easily stayed for two weeks and are reluctant to head home. The size of the resort ensures you’re always discovering something new, from a little coffee shop hidden away to a Disney Princess show. We don’t often agree on much as a family, but Paradisus has made an impression and we all want to come back. We’ve found our family paradise.