The Secrets To All-Inclusive Success In Akumal
with Nina Slawek
Muted colours, wood tones dominate
Our heated swim out pool
Yummy lobster thermidor
My host, Sales Manager, Maria Rivas
The Spas luxurious solid green marble counters
Who’s that man running onto the stage?
If the secret to running a great company is hiring great people, my recent experiences with AMResorts go a long way towards explaining that company ’s explosive growth.
Everyone at Open Jaw who has had dealings with VP Sales Jan LaPointe knows she fits that category, but a first stay at an AMResorts property – Secrets Akumal on the Riviera Maya – deepened that impression, with standouts including Secrets Akumal Sales Manager Maria Rivas and Preference Club room concierege, Karen Baez. These are smart people delivering a smart product.
Located near Tulum, Secrets Akumal opened in November and is quickly becoming a favourite among Secrets aficionados – of which, I have learned, there are many.
The impression among devotees is that this property is being groomed as the showcase resort for the brand, a title now held by Secrets Maroma Beach, located further up the coast. The presence of star GM Eric Freudenthaler attests to that.
Like LaPointe, Freudenthaler is a transplanted Canadian. Though he’d rather be running a hotel than doing a media interview, he was generous in sharing his thoughts on the challenges of launching a new property.
Building a reputation for quality is not easy on a stretch of Mexican coastline that may well contain the world’s most competitive all-inclusive market, and where each new opening seems to raise the bar.
“Certainly, all the hotel groups look to deliver more for a good price,” says Freudenthaler.
“We monitor the innovations and the product. But it’s the team that makes all the difference. It’s what maintains the credibility of the product. Ultimately, it’s the performance of the people which helps deliver a similar format and a similar vision. Because of that, Secrets has a very high repeat factor. Many guests return 5 to 6 times a year.”
Secrets To Success In Akumal
The service at Secrets Akumal is as close
to flawless as I have known in my limited ITC experience. Small omissions can
be forgiven when staff are cheerful and well-intentioned.
The décor and architecture is warm and inviting with natural materials used throughout. The local teak used throughout the property – from the oversized doors to the knotted root tables – as well as extensive use of natural limestone, creates a soothing atmosphere.
Amenities and room features are well designed and of excellent quality. Light switches are in all the right places – easy to reach and set up for reading or atmosphere. And I can assure you the shower bath fixtures were not bought at Home Depot. These are solid, expensive, pieces of equipment spewing forth water pressure that can fill an over-sized Jacuzzi tub in 2 minutes flat. The AC was so silent I had no idea when it was running.
The Physical Setting
Reflecting the recent opening, the trees and shrubbery at Secrets Akumal have some maturing to do, but the landscaping is a lovely meandering of paths and bridges.
The Akumal Bay beach is a beautiful stretch with sugary sand. The property provides great loungers and lots of shade from thatched umbrella stations as well as beach attendants who hop to it and set you up with comfy thick towels rolled into head rests.
The ocean almost right in front of the property is also a natural habitat for sea turtles – which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s great to grab the complementary snorkeling equipment and wade right in.
But it also attracts hordes of visiting snorkelers and their guides who keep being swept onto the beach in their fluorescent life vests. So the view is continually dotted with 4 or 5 brightly coloured marching snorkel brigades. Life could be worse… but we finally moved over to the far side where the ‘aahhh’ surf was once again ours to enjoy.
It has to be said that great effort is put into creating signature experiences in the varied themed restaurants - for which no reservations are required. From the French Bordeaux to Argentinian steak house -- the décor and hot and cold running waiters is fabulous.
Highlights of the a la carte restaurants for us were the rich, authentic dishes at Portofino and an amazing lobster thermidor at the French specialty restaurant Bordeaux.
We were disappointed with the steak at the Seaside Grill, finding it tough and extremely salty, as well as the dinner at the Himitsu restaurant which offered a very Americanized assortment of Asian dishes.
Our experience at the Mexican El Patio was what one fears in Mexico – great chefs offering what they think North Americans think of as Mexican food. As Carlos Miramonte, the assistant F&B Manager told us: “We have to cater to every nationality and every taste – whether French, Italian, Mexican or American. And the staff is trained to recognize the various proclivities. If you want habanero sauce, they will bring it.” And they did. And it helped.
For my palate, the best food by far was served at the elegant buffet-style restaurant Market Café. Here the chefs don’t hold back from offering incredible Mexican sauces and salsas, tamales, chilaquiles, freshly grilled fish, a delicious variety of freshly baked breads, French cheeses, artichokes, and, according to my husband, the bestest, crispiest bacon he’s ever had.
For the difference in price, I would highly recommend advising clients to consider the Preferred Club rooms. Besides being in prime locations close to the beach, the additional perks are well worth it – from the heated private swim-out pool (heaven after a long night at the disco), to additional amenities to the helpful floor concierge. We particularly enjoyed and took advantage of the Preferred Club lounge. It was a congenial meeting place for a drink, a snack and a game of scrabble.
Aah, The Spa
The Secrets Spa by Pevonia is breathtaking. They have combined indoor and outdoor sanctuaries and water pools to create a truly relaxing environment. A private attendant offers water, teas and fresh towels.
As I wobbled out of the place, feeling like warm rubber after a massage and hydrotherapy, I stopped to ask the receptionist how she saw her role and the overall purpose of the spa. The smiling, open young face didn’t miss a beat in responding: “I see many people arrive. Some sad. Some angry. Some just stressed. And when they leave their faces are totally changed. That makes me happy.” [I nearly adopted her.]
The resort brings in top-notch musicians and performers for a variety of evening of shows as well as evening musical accompaniment at the lobby bar.
On our last night, my husband couldn’t hold back anymore. During the rock portion of the show he stormed the stage and began gyrating with the band. That’s how good they were.
The overall ambience is friendly and engaging. Always ready to share a smile or laugh with guests, staff seem genuinely excited about their work and the prospect of developing this new property.
The view from the Romance Master Suite
The resort seems to attract a friendly and cultured crowd and we spent many an evening engrossed in lively conversation with other couples. Ages ranged from young adults travelling with parents to middle aged couples like ourselves. There were also a number of seniors with mobility issues and the resort is extremely well set up for wheelchair access.
As the charming Sales Manager, Maria Rivas, told me during a tour of the property: “the ‘no wristbands’ policy and the philosophy it embraces creates a quality, hassle-free vacation and tends to attract an educated, respectful clientele.”
An overview of a Secrets resort would not be complete without mentioning ‘the box.’ Perhaps many of you have already experienced the joys of the Secrets Box – but I found it an absolute revelation.
A secret compartment in all rooms can be accessed by room service to either drop off your meal or drinks, or pick up your left-overs. So if you’re enjoying an intimate Jacuzzi moment with your partner and fancy some chilaquiles and guacamole, you don’t even have to put on your bathrobe to open the door. The room service attendant will simply slip the goods into the box and slip away.
In fact, if your ‘do not disturb’ light is on, your doorbell (yes, doorbell) isn’t even active.
The tiny town of Akumal is a short walk from the property. There isn’t much in the way of shopping, but further down the road is a treasure trove for avid snorkelers at the Yalku lagoon. We didn’t even have to get in the water to watch the beautiful fish in this huge natural aquarium.
The all-inclusive world has certainly undergone a sea change since my last experience. So much so, it was easy to forget I was not at an EP hotel.
As I’ve been working with AMResorts for a few years now on various projects such as the Open Jaw Headliners, I was eager to experience the product firsthand. I found that it lived up to GM Eric Freudenthaler’s claim: “Secrets delivers what they promise.”
As Maria Rivas told me: “Whenever someone takes the time to fly to Cancun – to cross this door – they are actively choosing us. And we have an obligation to take care of them. This is our home and they are our guests.”
On that note, the “Welcome Home!” greeting bestowed
by staff to each bedraggled, jet lagged, lily-white arrival is a joy. It must
get old for the people who work at Secrets – but when you’re thirsty for some
sun, sand and rest, it is medicine.
Short video demonstration on how to make Secrets Akumal guacamole!