Beach and pools can be crowded with weddings and events
Annoying time-share and rewards points pitches
Not much for teenagers to do (and they are excluded from the adults-only restaurants and pools)
Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Esmeralda is one of the best family-friendly, all-inclusive resorts on the Yucatan Peninsula. This luxury property is located directly on the Caribbean and includes access to a white sand beach. The swimming pool, with a pirate ship playground and a swim-up bar, makes it a popular spot among families and partiers. Even the most affordable rooms here include marble floors and sensory soaking tubs. Upgrading often means swim-up pools and/or kitchenettes. Restaurant and bar options include everything from a show cooking buffet, to Argentinian-style steaks, to burritos, to sushi. Vacationers that go all-out for the Family Concierge level rooms get access to private pools, a tricked out club lounge, and expedited service -- but those who don't book it have reported feeling like second-class citizens. Couples can be happy here, but should check rates next door at the all-inclusive, adults-only Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Perla.
Guests enter La Esmerelda under a white porte cochere flanked by lush gardens filled with green plants and short palm trees. The buildings' exteriors are mostly two- to four-stories with lots of right angles. Inside, the lobby looks like an indoor sculpture garden. A tranquil pool holds granite islands set with enormous white statues of female figures. There's a brown sofa that looks like an octopus and bird cage-like lanterns hang over the black reception desk. One section of the lobby is devoted to cushioned bowl chairs, sleek low sofas, and coffee table books. Outdoors, the grounds are well-maintained and beautifully landscaped with wooden boardwalks, flowering bushes, and pools with water fountains.
Guests who book a Family Concierge-level room also have access to a private lounge and lobby where they'll get expedited check-in, among other perks (see family section below). The lounge looks like something a boutique airline might offer: 3D silver walls, modern furniture, and enormous light fixtures. Plus there's an outdoor patio area -- with a chocolate fountain.
Most of the guests are families with younger children. Teens might get sulky here, as they're too old for the swimming pool with a pirate ship and too young for the adults-only restaurants. Couples come here for the spa and gorgeous rooms, but might be happier at the adults-only sister property next door, Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Perla.
For vacationers looking to stay on the property (which is easy to do because of the beach, pools, restaurants, and entertainment), the location on the Caribbean is great. Those looking to explore downtown Playa del Carmen, Tulum, or Cancun are going to need a car, as there's nothing within walking distance of La Esmeralda besides other resorts. Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Perla is directly next door. On-site parking is free.
Lots of luxe options and upgrades such as swim-up pools, kitchenettes, and sea views
There are a whopping 501 suites at La Esmeralda, with 61 Swim-Up Suites available. Even the cheapest rooms, Luxury Junior Suites, are over-the-top beautiful. These include marble floors (which can be slippery), glass doors leading onto private terraces, separate sensory soaking tubs, and rainfall showers. Flat-screen TVs, coffeemakers, and minibars come standard. Guests choose from two double beds or one king bed in standard rooms. Decor includes dark wood furniture, white bedding, and fabric headboards.
From there, perks (and prices) go up and up. Book a Family Concierge level room and upgrades include everything from kids' robes and toiletries, to preferred check-in, to access to the private lounge loaded with premium booze, snacks, and sweets. Turndown service includes milk and cookies, and families can request an Xbox gaming console.
Two-Bedroom Master Suites are the biggest rooms, clocking in at over 1500 square feet. There's also a One-Bedroom Master Suite Swim-Up option which has steps from the private terrace leading into a long and narrow swimming pool. The pool isn't entirely private, as neighboring suites (and really anyone staying at the hotel) can access the water, too.
Wi-Fi is free in all of the rooms. Some rooms are a bit of a trek to the beach, while others have ocean views.
One highlight feature at La Esmeralda include YHI Spa. Contemporary decor combines with the spa's five senses theme to induce total relaxation indoors and out. Use of the sauna, steam room, outdoor pool, and hot tubs are free for guests, but there's a charge to schedule massages, facials, and beauty services. Outdoor white day beds with privacy shades are nice spots to relax.
Striped flooring seems an odd choice for the small fitness center (although maybe it's an attempt to make the room look larger). Technogym cardio equipment, a strength-training machine, and free weights are provided. Outdoors, there are tennis courts with night lighting.
Shoppers can check out the on-site gift shop which sells everything from beach gear to jewelry to snacks and toiletries, along with handicrafts. Organized activities include sushi and cocktail making classes. A concierge team can organize tours and excursions. Wi-Fi is free, and there's a business center and ample event space. Weddings on the beach are popular, too -- to the chagrin of guests who have to steer clear of the sand during ceremonies.
Several restaurants, bars, and 24-hour room service
The all-inclusive package at La Esmerelda really does include everything (except there's a charge for room service). Some restaurants require advanced reservations and are located next door at the adults-only sister property, La Perla. It's best to check in with a concierge member to sort out the almost overwhelming options. Those with Family Concierge level rooms also have access to premium booze, candy, food presentations, and a chocolate fountain at a private lounge. There's a restaurant and bar by the Family Concierge pool, too.
Naos is the casual international buffet with show cooking, open from early in the morning until late at night. Fuego (which is adults-only) does Latin American-inspired grilled meats indoors and out. Vento offers Mediterranean food for the entire family. Passion by Martin Berasategui has a Michelin-rated chef and offers fine dining for adults; this option is also open to non-hotel guests. Bana is the Asian restaurant for the whole family, complete with sushi. Hadar is the adults-only international buffet, which offers nice options such as freshly squeezed juices. Mole is popular for fun Mexican food, while Gabi Beach Club specializes in tapas by the beach for lunch. The Market is popular for families with picky kids, as it serves pizza and salads on an outdoor terrace. La Palapa is probably the most romantic dining spot.
For bars, Red Lounge has a sexy post-dinner vibe, while Toji employs mixologists and serves sake. Gabi Club Bar has a relaxed vibe by the beach, and Blue Agave is a tequila-lover's paradise.
A kids' club, kids' pools, and Family Concierge make this resort a popular pick among families.
For families with little ones, La Esmeralda is a top pick in the area. Babysitting services are easily available and there's a super tricked-out kids' club. Kids under four stay with supervised babysitters in an indoor room stocked with toys and activities. Slightly older kids can participate in the all-day dance parties, have their faces painted, or get pedicures. There's a pool table, air hockey, and copies of Tiger Beat magazine. Staff puts on family-friendly evening entertainment with dancing and singing.
Book a Family Concierge level room and kids are absolutely spoiled. These rooms come with kids' toiletries, check-in gifts, mini-robes, and drinks for little ones in the minibar. Teenagers will probably like the Xbox and flat-screen TVs, plus free Wi-Fi, but there isn't much else for them to do.
Many of the restaurants have kids' menus and cribs are available. See below for a description of the fun pools.
The beach at La Esmerelda includes a private section of free sun loungers and umbrellas, though past guests have complained it's difficult to secure a spot. Towels are also free. The sand is powdery white but areas of the water can be rocky and have seaweed. There's a roped off area where sea turtles have laid eggs. Guests can pay extra to rent water sports equipment like jet skis. A beachfront bar has bottles of water, booze, and a keg. Waiters offer beachside service.
Two lagoon pools, a kids' pool, and a Family Concierge pool
The most popular pool at La Esmerelda is definitely the meandering and sprawling main pool. It's decked out with inflatable bridges and islands for kids to play on, and a replica of a pirate ship complete with little water slides. Adults appreciate hot tubs, submerged sun loungers, and a swim-up bar -- though the constant loop of Disney music can be annoying to some. There are free towels, sun loungers, and umbrellas, along with drink service and free balloon animals for kids. A circular, shallow splash pool doesn't get a lot of action.
The swim-up pool attached to some of the guest rooms is actually accessible to all of the guests and includes hot tubs, but there aren't any sun loungers there.
The Family Concierge pool is only available to those who booked Family Concierge level rooms -- and it's gorgeous. It's set in a private area flanked on one side by thick green vegetation. Wide steps lead into the sparkling blue water. Cutouts on both sides have enormous submerged loungers. There's a swim-up bar and the daybeds are far more posh than those found at the main pool. A "serve yourself" tiki hut has covered chairs and tables, and snacks like nachos and hot dogs. There's also a salad bar set up with veggies and chips and salsa, plus more hot options. A Sno-Cone cart completes the over-the-top family vibe.
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