For years we’ve been hearing about all-inclusive resorts that are out to reinvent the genre. And while it’s true that all-inclusives have come a long way from the days when they featured lukewarm buffets and all-you-can-drink watered-down margaritas (at many newer resorts, there’s a new level of luxury and à la carte services), it’s not clear that any project has yet transcended the old mass-market notions.
But that may be about to change. Opened in March 2017, the UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya is out to “shed all preconceived notions of what an all-inclusive is, creating an entirely new category of hotel.” That means offering flexible programming that frees guests from set itineraries, putting stylish, sophisticated design and gourmet dining at the forefront, and aiming to create the same kinds of authentic, immersive experiences that smaller, independent hotels can craft.
What’s unique? “We’re putting an emphasis on cultural exploration and love of the arts through both on-property and off-property experiences,” says Frank Maduro, vice president of marketing for the hotel’s parent group. “And we’re including select spa treatments, golf, and tours in the guest’s stay—departing from the traditional and preconceived notions of an all-inclusive.”
Along with the public spaces, the 448 guest rooms were designed by the trendy firm AvroKO. Light-filled and spacious, they have local art on the walls and handwoven sisal rugs on the floor. Many have semi-private plunge pools or double hydro spa tubs, and most have ocean views. The pieces in the varied art collection throughout the hotel are all by Mexican artists or have another connection to the country.
There are five globally infused restaurants and six bars and lounges. “We’ve escalated the à la carte and independent restaurant concept by dedicating a specialized chef and separate kitchen for each individual dining outlet to truly enhance the culinary offering,” says Maduro. “We’ve also focused on providing an immersive experience in an unforced style through our annual rotating chef restaurant concept.” The first will be Christan Bravo, who has cooked all over Mexico and Spain and competed on Top Chef Mexico.
There are 18 treatment rooms and a state-of-the-art wellness center. At the Esencia Beauty Bar, guests can select personalized in-room amenities made with local ingredients.
Instead of butlers, guests will be assigned anfitrións (local hosts) meant to connect them with their culture as well as unpack their luggage. These hosts will also lead off-the-beaten-path excursions and point guests toward local tastemakers’ preferred restaurants and bars. On-property cultural activities include cooking classes taught by regional chefs and impromptu programming, with a “pop-up event” roughly every 30 minutes, like a mescal or ice cream tasting, cocktail hour in a nearby Maya village, pibil pit roasts, and full moon parties on the beach.
From $207 per person per night
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Ann Abel Ann Abel was born in New Mexico, lives and works in New York, and is always looking forward to her next trip.