Last week, my family headed south to enjoy a much-needed vacation at the all-inclusive resort, Iberostar Paraiso del Mar. My husband and I have visited 5 different all-inclusive chains and we really appreciate the Iberostar model. We had an AMAZING time last year celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary at Iberostar Grande Bavaro, couples only, in the Dominican Republic last year (May 2014). Our boys begged us to take them with us this year! I chose Iberostar Paraiso del Mar, near the Riviera Maya, as a last-minute Apple Vacations deal and felt the price was fair for the “budget” experience. The Iberostar resorts are often several different tiered resorts all on the same campus. You are allowed to dine and play at the different resorts depending on what you pay. The Del Mar is the bottom of the chain, so you won’t be able to dine or drink at the higher paying Iberostar resorts on “campus”. I always appreciate a good unbiased review, so I’ll break down our experience in categories so you can get a better feel for what to expect in case you want to plan a trip! (p.s. This is NOT a sponsored post. This is just my review of our vacation.)
We arrived in the morning and our check-in went smoothly. We were greeted with a yummy drink and a member from the concierge who immediately helped us book our dinner reservations (which weren’t booked before as requested) and oriented us to the facilities. Our room wasn’t available until after 3pm which was expected, but we were prepared for this and just enjoyed the pool and then went to the shopping center to enjoy the taco restaurant, the coffee shop (sort of like Starbucks), and the creperie/ice cream shop. You can change in the changing rooms, but your luggage sits out in the main lobby until you check into your room. This didn’t bother us and we found it convenient to be able to access our bags in the interim, but it is worth noting.
The grounds are beautiful, groomed, and clean. My boys loved all the wildlife on the resort. There are coatis, peacocks, iguanas, agoutis, flamingos, and other beautiful birds to experience.
We saw a momma coati with all of her babies and my boys LOVED that.
There are also several stray cats roaming around the resort and a few that would actually roam around the buffet area begging for scraps. (There are signs all over instructing you not to feed the wildlife.) If you’re not a fan of animals, then the coatis and stray cats could be deemed a nuisance. We are animal lovers, so we didn’t mind at all. The foliage, trees, and flowers are beautiful and very interesting to admire on walks.
The common lobby areas in the hotel are all slick tile which was scary since we had so much rain and my son breaks bones very easily. The tile was wet most of the time in-spite of the staff’s constant and best attempts to squeegee it off. We saw several people fall and a few hurt themselves during our stay. Fortunately, we just walked very slowly and carefully and were fine but I did slip and catch myself a few times.
When our room was assigned, we were not granted the ground-level floor I requested prior to arrival, and we were on the second floor of building 11. It was a bit more challenging for my kiddo, but we are used to managing and nothing was promised. Building 11 is conveniently near the pool and beach buffet with a slight view of the activity pool. The pool music can be loud and kept us up one night due to what I think was a wedding reception. This only happened one night though, so it wasn’t that big of deal. Our room was clean with fun towel animals greeting us each afternoon. 🙂 Definitely worth noting that our standard room with two double beds was as expected but small. The beds are full-sized and my husband slept on the couch-thing to give us more room. The mini-fridge was well-stocked, and we had plenty of fresh towels during our stay.
Everyone we encountered on staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating! If you’ve read other reviews about this resort, then you know that it is large with a lot of walking required. The week of our stay was very, very rainy (with two full days that were complete monsoons). The shuttle staff in particular was just amazing. We had to have a shuttle every time due to my youngest’s inability to walk distances, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the care and diligence provided to us by the drivers. Most of the golf carts have rain covers which was wonderful and the drivers took us exactly where we desired to go and helped my youngest with his walker. We never had difficulty getting a shuttle and we were so grateful for this service!
We ate at two specialty restaurants during our stay, the Gourmet which was called El Colonial and was located next door at Pariaso Beach, and the Steakhouse which is located near the beach and is also next-door to del Mar. They were both decent. I prefer a la carte restaurants to buffets, but you really have to be pretty picky to not find something you like on the buffets. We did try to obtain reservations to other specialty restaurants on the other nights after 4pm as instructed but were told by the concierge that there were no cancellations/ availabilities. I would have liked to have eaten at a specialty restaurant each night. We didn’t try the “just show up at the door and ask” method but that seemed to be working for other guests. We saw several parties sat at our specialty restaurants using this technique.
We liked the breakfast buffet the best. We loved having fresh churros each morning at breakfast and my youngest loved trying all the new foods. The hot chocolate was delicious. I appreciated all of the fresh fruits and variety of cheeses as well as the fresh juices. The lunch buffet had a wide-variety catering to many different cultures tastes and preferences. I am a HUGE guacamole fan and was really looking forward to eating some authentic guacamole. I was a bit disappointed in the guacamole and have actually had better at Chipotle–which doesn’t seem right. But the tacos were fantastic and the salad bar extensive.
The drinks were inconsistent. Some of the bartenders made perfectly strong and flavorful drinks while others made very, very weak drinks. We found the drinks by the activity pool to be very watered down and some were even icy to the point of being unflavorful. I’m not a big drinker and really just want 2-3 mixed drinks max a day, so I want those drinks to be good! The bartenders were accommodating to complaints, but the drinks were still weak. My husband and I actually began ordering the drink and then asking for a shot of alcohol on the side–which we would then mix into our drink. Seems like a silly process to go through but just asking for more alcohol in the beverage didn’t seem to solve the problem. Top shelf liquor will not be used at the budget level del Mar so you may need to ask for exactly what you want in your drink if you are particular.
This colorful drink is called a Riviera Maya and is fun and fruity! Melon liquor is on the bottom, then vodka and orange juice, and topped with strawberry daiquiri. Or if the bartender is especially busy, then the drink is made with melon liquor on the bottom, straight orange juice, and topped with blended ice and grenadine. The former recipe is definitely preferred to the latter!
It was windy and VERY rainy most of our trip so unfortunately we didn’t get to experience much of the beach at all. We swam in the pools through the monsoons and had a fun time in spite of the rain. The pools are lovely and you can “pool hop” to experience all of them in a row. The activity pool was by far the warmest but the cascade pool leads to a waterfall and is shallow but beautiful. My boys adored their time in the pools!
My kids were tired in the evenings but we did take them to The Galaxy one night which is a Star Wars themed night club located at the Shopping Center. We danced as a family which was fun. They also had bounce houses, a carousel, some carnival games, and balloon swords for the kids. We didn’t see any of the shows but heard good things about them. We took advantage of the kids program for an hour, but it was more of a babysitting service than anything. My boys watched Frozen in Spanish (while my husband and I had a drink) and they were very bored. The staff member was friendly but didn’t really engage the kids. It might have just been an off-time that we tried it out though but my boys didn’t care to go back. In all fairness it was raining so outdoor activities weren’t an option, but I was hoping the resort would have a better “rain schedule” and plan in place. People were camped out in the lobby and crowded around the one open bar. We made the best of it but a better rainy-day plan with the Stars Friends entertainment and maybe a pop-up additional bar would have been wonderful.
TIP: Avoid the “free breakfast” or Iberostar Club presentation unless you want to invest in an Iberostar Timeshare (that they work overly hard to tell you is not a timeshare). The Iberostar Club is best described as a timeshare and actually might be a great deal if you take luxury vacations each year for two weeks out of the year. The presentation took over 2 hours of our precious sunny-time (we barely had ANY sun so it wasn’t to be wasted), and I had to get a little testy to let them know that I meant no when I said no. I didn’t mind hearing the deal, appreciated the explanation of what they were offering, but when I decided we weren’t interested it needs to be respected. I had to stand up to leave and raise my voice which shouldn’t have been necessary. We did receive $150 in Iberobucks for our time which we could apply towards an excursion. If it had been monsooning during our presentation time, I probably wouldn’t have minded as much that it had taken so long.
Wifi is not free in public areas although we were told this upon arrival by our concierge. I paid for wifi and it was unreliable at best and usually didn’t work in my room. However, it wasn’t overly expensive and did work in the lobby and by the pool (sometimes) for checking social media and email. Free wifi would be nice and would go far in making people happy.
The point of our vacation was to get away as a family after a really rough year of medical bills and scary health issues. We made the best of our time and had a fantastic trip in spite of the rain. I would recommend Iberostar Paraiso del Mar to other families as long as their expectations are realistic and their kiddos aren’t too young. The del Mar is the budget level of Iberostar and we went during the rainy season so rain was a chance we took. We had a lovely time with treasured memories, and I would go to another Iberostar again!