Grand Palladium, Puerto Juarez

My travelling style comes from my parents, who have worked in the tour industry for decades. That means I don’t set out on a trip without thorough research, a list of priority must-sees/must-dos, and an itinerary.

My sister and I don’t know how to travel without an itinerary. We’ve been known to hand out full- and wallet-sized copies to our husbands. Hers are colour coded; I think orange is nap time.

I’ve always turned my nose up at all-inclusive vacations because they make me wonder: “How will I find hidden gems? What if I miss the sights after coming all this way? And more importantly, how will I find the street food stands?”

Grand Palladium, Puerto JuarezSo when Jason suggested that we go to an all-inclusive resort to lie on a beach and do nothing, I was mighty uncomfortable. But since I’ve dragged him on exhausting trips through largely Communist countries — and since I’m in a certain condition — it was only fair and fitting that we give it a try.

Armed with a rough time frame and price range, we booked a week at the Grand Palladium Kantenah, on the Mayan Riviera about 60 kilometres south of Cancun, through Travelocity and Transat Holidays.

Contrary to fears of being overrun by douchey partiers, felled by terrible food, and bored by doing nothing, we were delighted with the pleasant blend of couples and families, the ample poolside reading time, fabulous staff, convenient location and pretty good food.

In short, we had a great time.

There are actually four separate resorts that make up the Grand Palladium property. Guests are free to use any of the services and restaurants on the lush estate, where animals freely roam. I almost stepped on a large snake our first night there. There were also tons of iguanas and lizards, frogs, flamingos, crocodiles (in an enclosure), and capybaras (which I recognized from this).

I was surprised by the number of kid-friendly activities and also the daily sports and leisure board, which included something called “corne hole” — which I think refers to this, even though Jason thinks it’s this (NSFW).

Grand Palladium, Puerto JuarezOf course, the biggest complaint I heard from friends and family about all-inclusives was that the food was usually mediocre to terrible. I breathed a huge sigh of relief to find that wasn’t the case at Grand Palladium.

It might be because it’s owned by a Spanish corporation, or that its clientele is an equal mix of North Americans and Europeans, but the food didn’t shy away from spices, salt, heat or Mexican specialties.

Most breakfasts and lunches we ate at one of the buffet restaurants, which always had a huge selection. The hamburger/hot dog station was regularly clogged with people, so I had free run at roasted leg of lamb, freshly made quesadillas, plump shrimp… Suckers, they didn’t know what they were missing.

Jason was particularly impressed by the fresh pastries/baked goods, while I loved the cold soups (gazpachos etc.) and fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, green sauces.

One afternoon, they set up a tent on the beach and made paella in huge pans. I’ve never been to Spain, but the fragrant, just-tender saffron rice, and chunks of succulent shrimp and fish was the best paella I’ve ever tasted.

Grand Palladium, Puerto JuarezWe tried the majority of the eight a la carte restaurants, which all serve three-course dinners. We enjoyed tender ribeyes at the steakhouse and homemade fettuccine in the Italian restaurant. Definitely thumbs down to the Japanese-themed one — but really, I’m not sure how much to expect from “sushi” in Mexico.

We had two favourites. The only place that required reservations was Bar Emilio Punta, also known as Fish and Rice. It was a gorgeous setting right on the beach, where a handful of tables were set up under canvas tents and strung with little lights.

Seafood was the focus and Jason had a huge entree of tender, grilled squid, while I had a huge plate of fish stew. It was by far, the best dinner at the resort, obviously helped along by the romantic setting and the sounds of the ocean.

The restaurant had a regular visitor in the form of a cat who knew exactly when to show up and be fed scraps. However, this was one discerning feline. It gobbled up bits of veal and fish, but when someone threw down a scallop, the cat sniffed it and then walked away!

Our other favourite was La Adelita, the Mexican restaurant.

Grand Palladium, Puerto JuarezA cold salad bar was stocked with salsas, guacamole and all sorts of sauces as well as:

  • Tuna salad with avocado
  • Yucatan salad with fish
  • Avocado stuffed with sour cream blossoms
  • Tomatoes stuffed with huitlacoche, onion, cheese, epazote
  • Fresh corn salad
  • Mixed ceviche
  • Chicken salad with mango
  • Garden salad with broad beans, egg, spinach and cabbage.

Our mains were gigantic. My Tampiquena beef turned out to be a huge flank steak that was so big it had to be folded over to fit the plate, next to a chicken enchilada, some rice and then some very bacon-flavoured beans and guacamole. The meat was extremely tender.

The best-made drinks were in the bars inside the restaurant foyers. Their margaritas and (virgin) pina coladas weren’t flush with syrup like the ones at the pool and beach bars.

Mental note: bring your own reusable insulated cup, like lots of other resort veterans I saw. Not only does your drink stay cool, you refrain from using countless plastic cups.

The staff were amazing. They always had smiles on their faces and said “Hola!” even if you were just passing them on the pathways.

One of our complaints was about the shuttle “train” that takes guests around the four different properties. It was always packed before and after dinner, and would take at least half an hour before it would roll around again. Get more golf carts in rotation, I say!

Anyway, the bottom line is we really enjoyed our all-inclusive experience and would heartily recommend the Grand Palladium if you’re looking for a place on the Mayan Riviera.