The Valentin Imperial Maya, an all-inclusive 540-suite resort for adults only, fans out over 136 acres of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the area between Cancun and Tulum where the tourism industry is exploding.
The Imperial Maya, first in the Valentin chain of hotels to be built outside of Spain, features its parent company’s Hacienda-inspired architecture, but its amenities, activities, and service more closely resemble other local all-inclusives.
The property’s biggest draw is its natural resource: a half-mile stretch of gorgeous beach, much of which is fit for swimming (the same cannot be said for every resort in the area). So if you go, book one of the oceanfront suites—even if it’s a 10-minute walk from the lobby.
Suites at Valentin Imperial Maya
There are six levels of suites among the 540 at Valentin Imperial Maya. In addition to varying in size and appointment, the rooms overlook either the ocean, a natural lagoon, or a narrow swim-up pool running the length of the building (separate from the central, communal pool). Even the smallest rooms have a couch and table and a big Jacuzzi tub.
Satellite TV, wired Internet service, a DVD player, and an iPod dock are standard; Europeans will appreciate the bidet. All of the rooms are clean, attractive—neither hyper-stylized nor boring—and comfortable. Unlimited access to the minibar is also part of the all-inclusive.
Dining at Valentin Imperial Maya
The problem with the food at the Valentin Imperial Maya is the scope of its ambition. To woo guests with variety—and, one assumes, feed 1000 people simultaneously—the property offers seven different dinner spots. Unfortunately, the chefs don't achieve quality across the board.
If you go, let common sense be your guide: the local fare is good, while recipes from far-flung countries miss the mark. The guacamole and shrimp fajitas at the Mexican restaurant, La Hacienda, hit the spot, but the pad Thai and palak paneer at the "Indonesian" restaurant, Taman Sari, are best avoided.
If not wowing, the scallops and filet at the French restaurant, L’Alsace, were at least worth the visit. But the predominantly cream cheese-centered sushi menu at Ginger is an indication of why it's better not to order sushi at a resort in the Carribean.
At the buffet, you'll do best if you stick with fresh Mexican staples: fresh juices, homemade salsas, stewed cactus, and local squash with onions and tomatoes.
The hit-and-miss dining experience is especially frustrating because the Valentin Imperial Maya is all-inclusive; guests buy their meals in advance. But for those willing to revisit a handful of dishes, again and again, this might not be a problem.
Less negotiable is the wine situation: Oenophiles won’t enjoy the house white and red, yet a bottle from the extensive wine list costs extra.
Drinkers of bottled beer and liquor will fare better, although it is worth noting that often by the end of the night only rail liquors remained (mid-tier brands are the standard; top shelf is available for extra).
Destination Weddings at Valentin Imperial Maya
Many couples choose to get married on the beach at The Valentin. Other options for the exchanging of vows include a non-denominational minimalist gazebo (which might otherwise double as a post-ceremony cocktail area) or in the Riviera Maya’s only consecrated chapel, an open-air structure that gets beautiful natural light during the day.
The Valentin offers several wedding packages; most include a judge or minister, a cake, and champagne, a bouquet and boutonniere, along with various upgrades and discounts.
If you want to go the whole hog, they can also provide a photographer and seated dinner. The upsides: the grounds are beautiful; your ceremony would be accented by local flora, and perhaps a lizard would be one of your witnesses.
The downside: strangers might accidentally wander through your reception. Also, as mentioned before, oenophiles might want to oversee the beverage selection and be prepared to spend more.
Honeymoon and Romance Packages at Valentin Imperial Maya
If you've just spent the last six months of your life planning a wedding, you might find the play-by-ear attitude of an all-inclusive honeymoon attractive. In fact, thanks to the no-reservations policy at the Valentin's restaurants (beepers are distributed if there's a wait), you won't even need to plan dinner.
What you can't escape, however, are your fellow guests. And the Valentin wants it that way; they encourage mingling by the pool, in the plaza, and at the property's various bars. Gregarious couples will enjoy the social atmosphere. But for those seeking solitude, Valentin Imperial Maya will pose a bit of a challenge. There are definitely romantic escapes—lounging in the oversized in-room hot tub, looking for shells by crashing waves, strolling the beautifully landscaped grounds in the afternoon, drinking a sunset cocktail on your terrace—but you'll have to be the ones to seek them out.
Activities at Valentin Imperial Maya
If you let them, the staff at Valentin will fill every second of your stay with games, sports, and entertainment. A bulletin board near the lobby lists each day's schedule (a copy is also delivered to the room): yoga, dance lessons, water polo, Texas hold 'em, rifle shooting, cocktail classes, and something called "crazy game," by the pool, the aim of which is to thrust a ball-on-a-string through a basket tied to the waist.
Rigorous activities also abound. The beachside volleyball court was gleefully occupied at all times. Guests can play tennis, hit the fitness center, snorkel, kayak, and sign up for diving expeditions (for an extra cost); an 18-hole golf course is five minutes away. Alternately, the full-service spa with sauna and steam rooms offers a respite from the action.
When the sun sets, the entertainment begins. Live music—mariachi, for example, or top 40 covers—fills the communal plaza each night, while purveyors sell local handicrafts in a makeshift traditional market surrounding it.
Night owls can catch a shuttle to the Vegas-show-style party spot Coco Bongo; due to a partnership, its flyers paper the resort and its promoters run the poolside games. For fans of the spectacle (think Madonna impersonators and confetti guns), Coco Bongo will not disappoint.
Nearby Valentin Imperial Maya
The resort is located between Cancun to the north and Tulum to the south, so nightlife seekers will be about 30 minutes away from the former’s parties and about 90 minutes away from the latter’s ancient ruins.
The most impressive ruins in the area are the Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza; getting there and back will take about six hours, but early rising culture seekers might find that to be a fair trade-off in order to experience a Mexico beyond Valentin’s colonized gates.
Less of a time commitmen is a trip to Tulum. The ruins are not as preserved and no longer as extensive, but the beach at the site is open to the public, so you can swim in the same spot that the Mayans did 1,500 years ago.
Also within driving distance, are the theme parks of Xcaret and Xel-Ha, which offer museum exhibitions, zoological habitats, and water activities.
What Could Be Improved at Valentin Imperial Maya
Valentin Imperial Maya’s size is both its biggest asset and hurdle; the resort wants its guests to do and eat different things each day, but in so doing it’s created an enormous amount of upkeep: you may encounter burned-out lightbulbs, toilets that won't flush, glasses running out on the buffet line, or day-old room-service leftovers left in the halls.
The sprawling property is maintained by an enormous staff—all of them were cheerful, helpful, and capable—but it’s impossible in such an environment to keep things from falling through the cracks.
Also, having to tip in cash throughout the stay can be frustrating; one of the draws of an all-inclusive is the removal of money and transactions from daily life.
Finally, the biggest improvement to be made is in the kitchens. The restaurants would be wise to focus on what they do well, rather than aiming to do everything.
Is Valentin Imperial Maya Right for You?
If you're one of those couples that have trouble going from 60 to 0 on a getaway—or never slows down at all—Valentin can provide you with constant stimulation. There are music and games by the pool, lively conversation at the bars, and friendly hellos at every turn. It’s not a singles’ haven; it’s not Club Med. But neither is it serene. The Valentin is for people who like fun, but not necessarily for those seeking a retreat.
Rather than authenticity, the Valentin traffics in convenience. You won't need to research an area, navigate its customs or plan an itinerary in advance; Valentin has taken care of everything, allowing you to play your vacation by ear. From the brand names on the sodas and booze to the amplified rock'n'roll by the pool, everything will be familiar.
This resort is for people who want to take it easy, for those who want to enjoy the beauty of Mexico’s natural resources without the feel of being in a foreign country.