It’s always a struggle when traveling as a family. We want to stay in cool places, eat at popular restaurants with great food, and do some quirky, off-the-beaten path things along the way. But all of those things that we want to do might not always be appropriate (or enjoyable) with kids. My friends, the struggle is real.
So if I told you there was an all-inclusive resort where you could play with your kids in the pool by morning, sip cocktails sans kids at a swim-up bar in the afternoon, get a kid-friendly dinner delivered to your room that evening, and then drop the kids off at daycare for a nice dinner alone with your spouse that night…would you do it?
About the Property
That is exactly what drew us into Paradisus La Esmeralda, a kid-friendly all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. There are two sides to the resort, La Esmeralda, the family-friendly side, and La Perla, the adults-only side. The resorts share its 12 different restaurants and central commons area, but are otherwise on two completely separate sides of the massive property, which opened in 2011.
The first thing we noticed about Paradisus La Esmeralda was the sleek, modern decor. The center of the property is open and airy, with dramatic deep purple and silver colors surrounding you on all sides. The property itself is massive, and it took a good 10 minute walk to get from the reception area to our room on the far end of the property. Inside our room, it was very clean and spacious – something we’d been craving after always feeling sandy in Tulum.
So What Makes Paradisus La Esmeralda So Special?
When we were looking for an all-inclusive resort for our Mexican getaway, our top requirement was a “baby club”. Now, “kids clubs” themselves are not hard to find…just about every all-inclusive that allows kids will also have a “kids club”. But “baby clubs” are another story. Whereas most kids clubs are limited to children 4 and up, the baby club at Paradisus La Esmeralda was open to children starting at 1 year old!
The only limitation to the baby club (as opposed to the kids club) was that we needed to be sure Evelyn was well fed before arriving, since they don’t serve lunch, dinner or even snacks there. Otherwise, we could have left her there all day if we wanted (not that we would do that to Evelyn)!
We were a little nervous how Evelyn would respond to being in a strange place, but she actually enjoyed it quite a bit and went off to play before I could even get her signed in! This may be partially due to not having many toys or other kids to play with for the previous several days; she was ready to be a kid again! We were also really happy with all of the nannies (we did encounter one rather cold lady who looked as though she had no interest in plaing with babies, but luckily she was accompanied by Erica, ours and Evelyn’s favorite nanny there). For extra charge (quite expensive at $30/hour), you can also hire a private babysitter if you wish to venture off the property without kiddos.
Paradisus La Esmeralda does also offer a Family Concierge service for an additional cost, and to be honest, we didn’t use it so I can’t say much about it. It didn’t seem worth the extra cost for us, but the main perks are having access to a private pool and private family restaurant. The concierge will also do fun things for the kids like decorating your room for a birthday.
A Pool for Everyone
Instead of paying for the family concierge, we had our own “private pool” via a swim up room! Just about every first floor room on the property is a swim up, so the upgrade isn’t too expensive. It was perfect for those afternoons when you needed to cool off, but didn’t want to go through the whole fiasco of getting everyone down to the pool. Only a very few swim up rooms actually connect to the main pool, so that’s something to keep in mind. For us personally, we liked having a separate, more quiet swim up pool mostly to ourselves.
On the La Esmeralda side of the resort there is a family-friendly kiddie pool, with a full-on pirate ship and animal slides, where we spent most of our time. Also attached to the kiddie pool is a small wading pool for babies. It was never too difficult to snag pool chairs or even a cabana when we wanted. For older kids and adults, there is also a “main pool” at La Esmeralda with a swim up bar and lots of built in loungers.
It’s safe to say La Esmeralda had plenty of pool space for families, but we were ready to slip away to the adults-only pool at La Perl. So, we checked Evelyn into the baby club and snuck away for some poolside cocktails where it was a little quieter. It’s a bit of a walk between the two sides of the resort, but a totally different vibe. It was great to be able to walk away from the “kids resort” and be transported to an entirely new “adults only” resort in minutes.
Tons of Dining Options
Another great perk of blending the two resorts into one was the many restaurants. 14 actually, in total, along with 16 bars. Since we only stayed for 3 nights, we weren’t able to try as many of the restaurants as we’d liked to, but each of the 3 nights we did choose to leave Evelyn at the baby club and get some alone time, which was much needed after our busy few days in Tulum.
About half of the restaurants allow adults-only, while the other half are family-friendly. We ate at The Market, an Argentine steakhouse; Bana, a hibachi grill/sushi restaurant; and Fuego, a Latin-fusion restaurant with a Peruvian chef (and some stellar ceviche!). I was not terribly impressed with the food, but I will say if you opt for the fresh seafood instead of steaks, you’ll be happier. Our best meal was actually the Benihana-style hibachi at Bana.
On our last day we stumbled into the buffet restaurant, Naos, by accident for lunch. I was pretty disappointed we hadn’t found it sooner (we’d been eating our lunch at the poolside grill)! I was quite impressed with the selection, and for a buffet, the food was actually pretty good! They even have a little ice cream bar near the exit, so you can stop in for an ice cream cone any time you’d like!
The Not So Great Stuff
Besides the hits and misses on the food, there are a few other things we didn’t love about Paradisus. After avoiding one of the sales managers for days, we got caught and had to go through a rather uncomfortable conversation about a “free gift” and tour of a timeshare, which we ever so politely declined.
We never ventured out to the beach in Playa del Carmen, mostly because we’d heard from others that it was not quite like the white sandy beaches we’d experienced in Tulum, instead filled with lots of seaweed along the shoreline. The property isn’t exactly on the beach either, separated by a large sprawling mangrove, so it’s a bit of a walk to get down there.
And the staff was helpful, but almost too helpful sometimes, if that can be a bad thing. I found myself saying “yes, that’s great, thank you, thank you, yes, that’s perfect, thank you, no, nothing else, thank you” a thousand times every time we ordered room service or went out to dinner. But I’m sure there are other more demanding guests that crave that kind of service, so I can’t blame them for that.
Despite the negatives, I have to say overall the pros far outweighed the cons, and we really enjoyed our stay at Paradisus La Esmeralda. Would I stay on the La Perla side without kids? Probably not. I think there are better adult-only all-inclusives to be found in Riviera Maya. But for a family-friendly all-inclusive that caters to the desires of adults too, La Esmeralda really hits the mark.
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