Review: Grand Riviera Princess, Riviera Maya, Mexico with Babies & Toddlers
Editor's note: This winter, my family vacationed with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law's family at the Riviera Maya, Mexico resort Grand Riviera Princess. Our two households had different points of view regarding the resort experience, which highlights how different each young family’s vacation needs – and experience – can be, based on family size, kids’ ages, and personal preferences.
Travellers: Asma and Jon, and their three kids - Alina, age 6; Laila, almost 3; Idris, almost 1
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Travellers: Brandi and Owais, and their 19 month old daughter, Safiya
Hometown: Canadians living Brooklyn, New York
Destination: Grand Riviera Princess; Riviera Maya, Mexico
Asma, you have three small kids under the age of 6. Are there special challenges to travelling with a young family of five?
Asma: We had to do a lot of research to find resorts that could accommodate a family of five in one room. Many resorts have a maximum room occupancy of four people for fire code compliance. But booking adjoining rooms with really young kids isn’t ideal.
I also knew we would need to come up with a lot of activities to keep our six year old entertained. So we needed a resort that offered a lot of kid-oriented activities.
Would you recommend this resort to other families with small children?
Asma: I think I would. There were upsides and downsides, so it would really depend on what the family wanted and needed.
Brandi: For larger families, it could be a good option. As I learnt from this family vacation, it can be difficult to find a resort that can accommodate three children and two adults in one room.
There are some thoughtful touches to the Family Club rooms and amenities, designed to make things comfortable for young families. There are trade-offs though (e.g. mediocre food; a small beach and a Spring Break vibe in the larger resort).
We enjoyed the time with our extended family, but my husband and I never felt relaxed during our stay. To me, vacation bliss is peace and quiet while I gaze out over the ocean, and someone brings me a pina colada. Even with a toddler, I can have those moments on vacation – but I never had it at this resort.
After leaving the Grand Riviera Princess, my family visited the Westin Resort & Spa Cancun, which my husband and I preferred for its beach, as well as its more laid back vibe. (Editor’s note: See the full review of the Resort & Spa Cancun here and here).
What were the top features of the room?
Asma: We were in a Family Club Deluxe Junior Room, and it had a great set up to sleep all five of us – a King size bed for the adults, bunk beds for the girls, and a large pack and play for the baby. The bunk bed had a pull-out trundle for our toddler, so we didn't have to worry about her rolling off the bed and hurting herself. There was even a curtain to visually separate the bunk beds from the bed.
We were upgraded to one of the Family Club Deluxe Junior Rooms with a swimout pool right off our patio, which our girls really liked.
The resort offered a lot of other items that made the room and the stay more comfortable for us, including a step stool for the bathroom; a baby monitor and a sterilizer to clean bottles, utensils and plastic toys. We were even provided with a second pack and play for our patio, so there was somewhere safe to put the baby when the girls were outside.
Brandi: We had a nice spacious room as well. Despite booking a Family Club Deluxe Junior Room, we were NOT put in the Family Club Zone, but in another building across the way. It's still not clear to us why we did not get the room we booked, even after calling prior to arrival to confirm the room type. At check-in, we were told that if we wanted a room in the Family Club Zone, we would need to pay an additional fee of $69 USD per night; or if we wanted access to all Family Club Zone facilities, including the Mini Club, we would need to purchase wristbands for $10 USD pp/ per day.
The front desk staff spoke limited English and our Spanish is even more limited, so we spent a frustrating 30 minutes at check-in trying to ensure the experience we had booked and expected. In the end, we left check-in without paying for wristbands or upgrades, since we just wanted to settle in and eat lunch.
Nevertheless, the Junior Suite Deluxe Room that we were provided was relatively new, spacious, and very nice, with a small seating area that fit the pack and play, as well as a balcony, which is a must-have for after the little one goes to bed.
(Editor’s note: Brandi’s experience was a recurring complaint made by guests on travel review sites like TripAdvisor. Many guests believed the “Family Club” room that they booked would include bunk beds and full access to the children’s facilities and activities, only to be told that their booking did not include these features and amenities. We recommend contacting the resort ahead of time to confirm your room type, and getting confirmation – with the employee’s name that you speak with – in writing by email.)
What did you like most about the resort?
Asma: The Mini Club was great for our girls. There were always activities - it was great that the entertainment didn’t always need to be parent-led.
We were able to drop off our oldest daughter to any of the activities held within the Mini Club throughout the day. Even though our younger daughter is only 3, she was allowed to attend the activities that were held just outside the Mini Club, or in the wading pool, so long as she was in our eyesight. That meant there were times when my Jon and I could sit on the lounge chairs and relax while the girls were entertained and the baby was asleep.
There were two “Family Time” slots each day (once in the early afternoon, and again in the early evening) when kids younger than four could play in the space accompanied by an adult. Laila and Idris loved watching the older kids, and it was particularly great for the baby because it was the only place in the resort area where he could crawl.
Other families we talked to did complain about the “Family Time” periods, since many other resorts let kids under the age of 4 use the kid’s facilities at any time, as long as they are accompanied by an adult.
Brandi: I could definitely see how the Mini Club area would be great for slightly older kids. The facilitators seemed very engaged with the kids, from what I saw, and the activities looked fun.
Same with the kids’ wading pool. Unfortunately, our daughter was just too young to enjoy it. Many of the features have waterfall effects, which she found to be overwhelming and a little scary. She's also going through a phase of hating loud noises, so she kept complaining "too loud!" about the falling water. She fared much better in a regular pool. So all in all, she was too young to really benefit from all that the Family Club Zone had to offer, and we were glad that we had avoided any upsell at check-in.
The resort offers a babysitting service for a fee ($10 USD per child, per hour). Did either of your families use the service?
Asma: No, we planned to use a sitter to take the two younger kids to Family Time (our oldest could be dropped off for free). But the service requires at least 24 hours advance reservation, and we never managed to get our act together to book in time for the next day.
Brandi: No. Our visit to the resort was shorter, and it was dedicated family time.
The resort is all-inclusive. How was the dining experience?
Asma: We felt that an all-inclusive experience would be easier for us with three young kids – the kids are hungry all the time and at different times.
The food was mediocre at best, not fantastic. The girls ate so many disgusting hot dogs. The Kid's Buffet tried to cater to both kids and parents, with kid friendly options like burgers, chicken nuggets and french fries, as well as an a la carte menu. The girls also loved the ice cream parlor.
Brandi: Meh. We only ate at the buffets, since the a la carte restaurants don't open until 6pm for dinner, which would have made dinner time a bit too late for our 18 month old.
Asma: The food at the a la carte restaurants wasn’t any better.
Brandi: Our family is pescatarian (meaning we eat fish but no meat), though we stayed away from the fish at the buffets, just to be safe. As vegetarian diners, we found the dining options fairly limiting at times - some lunches had a small hot vegetarian section, while at other meals there were no vegetarian options aside from a simple made-to-order pasta dish.
Also, the dinner buffet was packed with other guests and incredibly loud (we dined at the buffets outside the Mini Club). Our daughter does not do well in loud spaces, especially so close to bedtime. Needless to say, dinner was stressful and she was so keyed up that it took her almost an hour to wind down and go to sleep. It would have been nice to have room service options for dinner, but that's not possible with all-inclusives.
There was a great taco stand beside one of the pools - though the tacos were too spicy for the kids.
What did you think of the property?
Asma: Beautiful, very clean – and huge! The fact that it’s huge can be good and bad. There’s lots to see and do, but If you want to wander down to the beach, the main pools or the a la carte restaurants, it can be a 15 minute walk with a stroller.
There is a tram that picks guests up from outside the Family Club Zone every 15 minutes. We'd often use that, with one parent walking with the stroller (which we packed with supplies for the three kids, and which served as a bed on the go). If you walk with the kids, expect that you'll be carrying a toddler half of the way.
Brandi: I absolutely agree. Beautiful grounds, but way too huge for our liking. It felt like a schlep to go anywhere. Asma, do you think that there was enough amenities in the Family Club Zone that you could just vacation in that area and be content, rather than move all around the resort?
Asma: No, especially not if your staying a whole week. Plus if we stayed in the Family Club Zone, we would have missed out on the beach and pools for the adults. And I wouldn’t have wanted to be on vacation without spending some time on the beach.
It would have been great if the beach were easier to access – the 15 minute walk was far.
Brandi: It's also worth noting that the resort has only a small sliver of beach, and beach chairs are tightly packed in long rows, so there’s no sense of privacy. This might be a deal breaker for folks that were hoping to clock some serious beach relaxation time.
Also, the main pool areas don't have much shade (nor does the kids’ water pad), and can get incredibly hot. This means you need to be careful if you or your kids have fair complexions. The swimout pools are very shaded, especially in the afternoons, which makes booking one of those rooms an appealing option.
Any downsides to the room or property?
Brandi: Staff speak limited English. We were able to get by in most exchanges with our broken Spanish, but customer service requests (e.g. asking for a bellhop) and concerns (e.g. being told we did not have full Kids Club access although booking a Family Club room) were difficult to address with the language barrier.
The mid-range price tag and all-inclusive nature of the resort attracts a lot of partygoers, giving areas of the resort a Spring Break feel. You can avoid much of that by sticking to the Family Club Zone, and there were tamer pools to be found.
There were also a lot of smokers who, by Mexican law, are allowed to smoke anywhere outdoors. Again, this wasn't an issue within the Family Club Zone, but it was within the larger resort.
Asma: SO much walking! And although the resort is very stroller accessible, there are only a couple of elevators on the property if you want to take a stroller to the Theater for the kids’ evening entertainment, or access a 2nd or 3rd floor hotel room.
Also, the room had very slippery marble floors, which was annoying with a crawling baby, and even though we had an indoor and outdoor pack and play, there’s only so long that a baby will sit contently in one of those. It felt like the kids were always slipping and hurting themselves.
Any tips to families who choose to stay at the Grand Riviera Princess?
Brandi: Print out your reservation. We only had a reservation email on our phone, and we were asked for a paper version at check-in. So we were made to go to Concierge, request a print out, and return to the check-in line.
Keep your little ones a safe distance away from the coati – a Mexican raccoon that roams the property. They look adorable, but are wild.
Asma: If you stay in the Family Club Zone, visit the Family Concierge as soon as you’ve settled in. They were a great resource for filling us in on all amenities and events, and booked us into the a la carte restaurants.
The Grand Riviera Princess' Junior Deluxe rooms start at $318 USD per night during the high season, while Family Deluxe rooms start at $397 USD (all inclusive). http://www.grandrivieraprincess.com
All information is current at time of publication. We recommend confirming all information with the hotel prior to booking.
Neither The Littlest Passport nor the travelers received promotional consideration for this review.