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No Groundhogs in Riviera Maya: Our Escape from the Cold to Mexico


Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow a few weeks ago, which means we’re due for a few more weeks of puffer coats, finding the sweet spot for how long to run your radiator before you start sweating (we’re getting pretty good, for what it’s worth), and doing that thing where you scrape frost off your wind shield with an expired debit card because you keep forgetting to buy the actual tool for it… is that last one just me?

Sure, maybe Phil’s 40% accuracy over the past 10 years is hardly a prophetic bellwether to live by, but either way, the idea of even more chill is unsettling for those ready to rock pants that don’t go past your knees (I used to call shorts “short-sleeve pants”, which, I maintain, is a way better name).

Anna and I decided after our first NYC winter that we were going to get one step ahead of our famous underground friend by heading to warmer climates in January whenever possible. This year, we worked with Anna’s sister, Lia, to book a trip to Mexico to get away for a week, and get some much needed, non-supplemental vitamin D. It was every bit the shot of espresso we needed to get through the winter.

We had never gone to a all-inclusive resort before, so we determined ahead of time that was the route we wanted to go — minimal planning, stress, or coordinating was our goal! After giving Lia some ideas of what we wanted, she narrowed down our options to a couple of different resorts, until we ultimately landed on UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya. Riviera Maya is almost exactly in the middle between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Mexico, travel agent, all-inclusive resort — this was a lot of firsts for us!

Once we landed at the airport, we walked straight outside and met our driver, and we were off! We arrived at the hotel, sat down in the lobby, juggling the two cocktails they handed each of us as we were introduced to our personal concierge for the week while our room was being prepared.

We had a few initial impressions:

  1. The staff was amazing… so nice, so helpful, and our concierge made all of our spa, gym, and dining reservations for the week right away, so we didn’t have to sweat about them later.
  2. This was a much longer travel day than we had really considered… from the time we left to go to the airport, to the time we arrived at the resort was about 9 hours. Not the end of the world, but it was a tiring way to kick off our r+r.
  3. The entire resort was expertly decorated, extremely clean, and very clearly laid out… the bar and pool table in the common area, the massive gym we used almost every day, the two pools in the center of the resort (both with their own bar and restaurant), the gift shops, and the euro-style cafe we frequented were all developed so intentionally — you constantly felt like you were in a place designed for maximum enjoyment.
  4. Finding something to sip on was not going to be difficult.

We originally booked an ocean view room, and when we arrived, the only thing missing was, well, the “ocean view”. We were ultimately fine with that, because the view of the resort was still beautiful. We texted Lia to make sure we were in the right place, and before we knew it, the resort was already arranging the correct room for us — another major perk of using a travel agent! (If an ocean view is a major sticking point for you, I would recommend booking the “ocean front” room instead of ocean view). In the end, the interior was beautiful and truly felt luxurious, and the balcony had a lounge area and jacuzzi-style bath tub. To me, once we settled in the room absolutely made the experience!

As the week rolled along, we kept things intentionally unplanned, not our usual vacation M.O. That meant long days by the pool, casually grabbing lunch as we got hungry, and then cleaning up before our dinner reservations each night. They have multiple pools, but two for “standard” guests — one for a more party-minded crowd, and one for people who want to fall asleep with a chicken tender in their hand as Lana Del Ray plays over the sound system. AKA: us.

All things considered, this trip was everything we wanted from a relaxation standpoint (lounge, eat, drink, repeat), and we highly recommend UNICO Riviera Maya if you’re looking for an affordable, all-inclusive, weeklong, carefree experience.

Here are a few final takeaways we had:

  • The food was never bad, but none of it blew us away either. We were somewhat disappointed with the room service options, while the cafe and pool side food were probably our favorites. The dining did stand out as something that, at the very least, would not be one of the considerations in going back to UNICO. We’re new to this, so maybe that is true of all-inclusive resorts in general?
  • There are some status-based amenities and experiences, especially around the pool area. If you are a certain level of member, you have access to certain cabanas and can reserve the best pool-side areas. It didn’t necessarily interfere with us getting good pool side spots, but I recommend researching this before you go to see if it’s something you can become part of at a low cost.
  • The ocean water there is some of the clearest I’ve ever seen. If you walk about 50 yards past where the resort sets up chairs, you can avoid walking through piles of sea shells to wade into the ocean. We spent an afternoon out there, and it may have been the highlight of our trip. Stunning!
  • The layout of the resort for day-to-day activity was absolutely perfect. Every morning, we would go to the gym, grab coffee from the cafe, go to the pool until dinner, then finish the evening in the common area where they had low key events — we typically sipped on tequila and played pool until we called it a night. There was so much to do, and it was all easy, accessible, and beautifully curated.

This trip checked a lot of boxes for a low stress, affordable venture out of the cold, and while UNICO was exactly what we were looking for, we came away feeling like the all-inclusive life might not be for us — at least not for every warm weather trip. We were reminded of how much we enjoy really good food on vacations, and the easy, constant access to food didn’t outweigh the desire to not be limited in our choices. Still, our experience in Riviera Maya was a positive one overall, and we recommend it for anyone looking for an all-inclusive resort.

Let us know if you’ve got any warm weather trips planned in the comments below!



• leave a comment •

  1. Andrea Jarmon says:

    Sandals Grand St Lucien. All-inclusive. Excellent food. Particularly at the Japanese Steakhouse and the over-the-water restaurant. Skip Italian, it was the only disappointing meal. Go Club level. It’s the middle of the road (not butler, but we liked no constant hand-holding, but lots of perks). It’s not cheap, but highly recommend.

  2. Debra Shaw says:

    You are not alone. I’ve been to several all inclusive resorts and the food is never impressive….neither are the cocktails. The only appeal to an all inclusive for me is it’s ideal when traveling with kids/teens. Other than that, I’m with you and really enjoy good food while away! GREAT info, thanks for sharing : )

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