I’ve long dreamed of staying in an overwater bungalow in the South Pacific with my husband. In fact, whenever I’m asked what my dream vacation is, I always answer, “An overwater bungalow in the South Pacific with my husband.” Thus, when I found out overwater bungalows opened near Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in September, I sent my husband, Quent, an email with a short note, “I WANT TO GO HERE.” The man indulged me with a three-night stay at the adults-only El Dorado Maroma’s Palafitos in December — timed while our teens were conveniently on a school trip in New York City (i.e. zero guilt leaving them at home; they were off having their own fun).
Someday I’ll find out if these overwater bungalows just off of Maroma Beach (between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos) stack up with, say, the overwater bungalows you might find in Tahiti, Bora Bora or the Maldives. But until then, I’ll say this: These Northern Hemisphere over-ocean accommodations are pretty freaking great.
In fact, our entire stay at this all-inclusive resort on the Caribbean Sea was close to perfect. Our plan for this short trip was solely to kick back and relax: no off-property excursions on the agenda. We just wanted to walk the beach, soak in the warm temperatures and welcome humidity (remember, we’re from arid Colorado), eat well, drink plenty, and sleep. Check, check, check. Here’s the scoop:
The Overwater Bungalow Accommodations at El Dorado Maroma
The entire point of our stay at intimate El Dorado Maroma was to sleep above the turquoise ocean water. And this experience did not disappoint. The 30, thatched-roof overwater bungalows here are decked out with a king bed, huge jacuzzi tub, indoor dining area (with refrigerator stocked with beer, wine, sodas, juices, snacks), espresso machine, indoor shower, outdoor shower, deck with dining table and big ottoman-like lounge seating, and… our very own infinity pool. We could walk down to a platform with a ladder leading right into the ocean, where we had another couple of lounge chairs. The bungalow itself is spacious (800 square feet), as are the outdoor seating areas.
The coolest part of of the bungalows are the sections of the floor made of glass. We got such a kick out of spotting marine life — coronet fish, parrot fish, at least one stingray — from inside our lodging. There’s a big area of glass right when you enter the bungalow, which we oohed and aahed at upon entry as much as we oohed and aahed at the waiting fruit plate and bottle of champagne, one at the foot of the bed, and one that straddled the indoor shower floor and floor near the separate toilet. Yes, you can pee and look for fish.
Another awesome feature: the outdoor shower. Why take a shower inside, when you can do it under an open sky? The showers are walled in, so you have complete privacy. And we’re talking nice strong pressure. No complaints there.
We happened to have a bungalow (#1621) on the corner of the T-shaped pier, so our back deck faced the resort beach and was kitty-corner to another couple’s bungalow. Thus, we saw them coming and going into the ocean, and witnessed their daily meals and happy hour enjoyed outside. Not really a big deal. We’d wave hello and exchange pleasantries. That said, I think if I were to go again, I’d ask for a bungalow further down the pier — away from a corner. Each bungalow has privacy screens up next to its infinity pool, so you really don’t see the people right next to you — on your right or left.
I’d say the only funky issue with our bungalow was the toilet. It was a crapshoot (pun!) whether it would fully flush or not. But we’re talking about a toilet over the sea… in Mexico… so one should not expect plumbing perfection.
The Food at El Dorado Maroma
Guests staying in one of the 30 overwater bungalows have their own restaurant to dine in; no other guests of El Dorado Maroma’s villas or suites can eat there. This is a huge plus. The service here was excellent — so few guests! — and the food divine. The Overwater Grill and Wine Bar serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The one morning meal we took at the grill we enjoyed al fresco. My fave: All coffees are served in French presses! And our dinners here were romantic and delicious. We only enjoyed the included wine options (remember, this is an all inclusive resort, so alcohol is included), but the restaurant does have an extensive wine list if you’d like to upgrade. And the nightly menu offers three to five options for appetizers, soups, salads, pasta, fish, and meat courses. Funny story: My husband only ordered a salad and meat entree our first night, and our waiter looked at him funny as if to ask, “Are you sure that’s all you want.” Yep. Well, servings are teeny tiny! The idea is to order at least three, if not four or five courses plus dessert! (We ended up tacking on a couple of pasta dishes once we realized how small the portions are.) Our faves included Chilean sea bass and a slow-braised short rib (yes, the meat off of one rib; remember, small portions).
To sample the offerings that “regular guests” have access to, we did have burgers at a beachfront restaurant for lunch one night, and for dinner, we sampled the reservation-only Peruvian restaurant, which I highly recommend: delicious tuna, ceviche and other seafood and meat dishes. Otherwise, we just ordered room service, and took meals on our deck. So decadent and awesome!
The Activities at El Dorado Maroma
As I noted, we really didn’t want to do anything besides relax at this resort. But guests of the overwater bungalows have a few extra added activities “just for them,” so we opted for a hour-long kayak and snorkel adventure. We happened to book it on a day where waves were a bit fierce, so our guide warned us that visibility at our snorkel spot — about a 20-minute kayak ride from the beach out into the ocean — wouldn’t be great. But we wanted to check it out anyway; and indeed we spotted some colorful fish hovering around the entrance to a cenote, an underground freshwater river, which was pretty cool.
Still another bonus for guests of the overwater bungalows: you have your own spa. Yep, this is a small overwater spa at the end of the pier that caters only to guests of the bungalows. My husband and I booked a couples’ massage, and my husband deemed it the best massage he’s ever had (take that with a bit of a grain of salt, he’s had a fraction of the massages I’ve had over the years — but I, too, thought it was great).
Also, just-for-bungalow-dwellers is a strip of prime beachfront staffed with your very own beach butler. She’ll take your order for a picnic lunch delivered directly to your own beach bed, and otherwise make sure your needs are met while lounging on the beach. Beach butlers staff a little hut with sunscreen (see my note about this below), cool washcloths, plenty of reading material and board games, and a friendly bartender makes the rounds bringing you any drink your heart desires.
Besides our short kayak adventure, an afternoon at the spa and lounging on the sand, we walked the beach every day. It’s a 40-minute walk north to the nearest resort, Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun. Along the way, we passed a small marina, part of Maroma Adventures, which offers everything from camel rides and ATV adventures to snorkel cruises and jet skiing. We eschewed them all, but discovered it is easy to have a vacation full of adventure while overnighting at the El Dorado Maroma, for sure. While stretches of our lengthy walk along the shoreline were absolutely beautiful, it is important to note that some sections are full of seaweed and trash — namely, dozens and dozens of pieces of plastic, as well as an inordinate number of abandoned shoes (likely swept off the beach by rogue waves). Indeed, we noted that the ocean in front of the Secrets resort had a lot more waves than we did at El Dorado Maroma. That could have to do with the fact that there’s a man-made “island” created to protect the sandy shore in front of El Dorado Maroma, as well as huge bags of sand we dubbed “whales,” when we stayed in Playa del Carmen years ago. If you’re looking to boogie board during your stay at El Dorado Maroma, you won’t find waves here. The ocean is, again, nearly lagoon-like.
A Word about the Included Butlers at El Dorado Maroma
On paper, the idea that you’re assigned a butler who will attend to your every need is awesome. Indeed, upon meeting our butlers — one who would be on hand for the day and one for the late afternoon and evening — we were pretty psyched. We were told our refrigerator was stocked with wine thanks to them (bonus!) and they could probably get us into the reservation-only restaurant that was booked (they did). However, butler service at El Dorado Maroma wasn’t perfect. At all. And I’m about to sound like a diva, but when you are paying $1,300 a night for a luxury resort and promised white-glove service, you expect it. So, bear with me.
For example, we got two included bottles of wine in our fridge, but there was no corkscrew in our room. Quent had to walk a bottle to the nearby bar to open it (until we had a corkscrew brought to us for bottle #2). Our butler pointed out where our very own snorkel gear was stashed in the room, but when we went to use it, we found we only had one mask and snorkel, not two. I’d think that if I were a personal butler and had new guests arriving, I’d make sure all key included bits and pieces were indeed included in the room.
Further, when our daytime butler agreed to book our exclusive 11am kayak adventure, I asked if we should just take our in-room snorkel gear down to the kayak center for our adventure , I was assured, “Oh, no no. I’ll take it down. I’ll escort you to the kayak guide.” I was not to lift a finger. No worries. He’ll find us the next morning. Well, the next morning was a bit of a cluster. We went to relax in a beach bed before the tour, and told our beach butler (different from out day butler) to please let our day butler know where to find us. When 10:45am rolled around, he was nowhere to be found. Should we go get our snorkel stuff? Go find our kayak guide? We asked another butler to find our butler. Again, he was nowhere to be found. Finally, at 11:07am, after I’d gone to retrieve our snorkel gear, we found our butler, who was trying to track down our kayak guide. I went off with basically, “DUDE. All you had to do is COMMUNICATE with us and tell us at 10:30, the guide was MIA. We would have been more than happy to snorkel later. I wish you’d just let us know what was going on — that you were trying to connect with a guide.” Instead, my blood pressure just escalated because I didn’t know what was happening. (Mimosa before kayaking anyone?!) It all worked out — we went snorkeling — but it was not the smooth encounter I was expecting and promised. Quent and I are extremely capable and would have been happy to schlep our gear to the kayak center and find a guide. But when we were PROMISED a hand-off and a sherpa for our gear, that’s what I wanted. If it hadn’t been promised, I wouldn’t have been so annoyed by the whole thing.
After that, our butler was very contrite (he knew I was pissed), so he offered to have a cheese plate and drinks delivered to our bungalow before dinner. Sure, why not. At 5pm, the cheese plate came, but not my husband’s rum and coke. Lame. Still, I do have to give the butlers props for seemingly arranging extra perks at our final dinner (our fabulous waiter Francsico brought us some yummy after-dinner drinks we wouldn’t have ordered on our own) and we were treated to a nice little flower petal and colored rocks (looked like Pop Rocks!) design on our bed when we returned to the bungalow after dinner. A thoughtful gesture.
Yet, other little things were just off — like nearly empty bottles of sunscreen in the beach hut. In my opinion, it’s not difficult to keep those filled. And I didn’t like that there were 10 beach beds, but the five couples using them one day were placed right next to each other instead of spaced out a bit. We were in bed #3, and I was woken from a doze by two couples (yes, four people) sitting in bed #4. So loud! They were angrily complaining about their butler, among other things. So Quent and I moved down to bed #9 (no one near us!) for the rest of the afternoon. The resort is designed for rest and relaxation, so I was surprised this wasn’t emphasized at the bungalow beach area.
That all said (diva rant over), I would absolutely book a stay at these bungalows again, and I’d recommend them to other travelers. Next time, we’d say up front we’re happy for hands-off butler coverage; we’ll call you when we need you. No need to check in with us constantly or offer us things that end up not happening. Besides the slight improvements in service I’d like to see, I wouldn’t change a thing about the overwater bungalows themselves. We loved falling asleep and waking to the sound of mellow ocean waves. We liked the privacy that the bungalows afforded; no one in the room right above, below, or next to us. Watching ocean life while leaning over our deck railing or through the glass floor of the room itself was super cool. Dining on our bungalow deck was divine. In all, we had an outstanding, romantic, kids-free tropical vacation at the El Dorado Maroma Palafitos.
In fact, toward the end of our trip I said to Quent, “I think all of our vacations must include overwater bungalows!” While I doubt that’s going to happen, we absolutely have our eye on these over-the-water villas at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay, Jamaica opening in February. Who wants to join us in 2017?!