Free Wi-Fi throughout and free international calls
Removed from the action of 5th Avenue (a pro for some)
Large and impersonal feel may not appeal to some guests
Lots of kids running around might put couples off
Not enough loungers around the infinity pool
Newer villas a bit of a walk from the beach (golf cart rides available)
Azul Fives by Karisma is an enormous all-inclusive luxury retreat located in Playa del Carmen, a 20-minute drive north of the main drag of 5th Avenue. The 480-unit property caters to families, and offers bright, modern rooms plus large suites with kitchenettes and up to three bedrooms. Amenities here are extensive and include a spa, all sorts of activities, clubs, play areas for children, and a ton of adult-friendly activities ranging from archery to rock climbing. The dining options are equally impressive, with cuisine from around the world; there are optional all-inclusive rates. While it's a good place for families looking for a fly-and-flop experience, the Azul's gargantuan size can make it feel impersonal and those without kids might find it a bit rowdy. Couples wanting something a bit more intimate may want to consider the adult-only Blue Diamond Riviera Maya by BlueBay instead.
Enormous family-focused all-inclusive hotel on a white-sand beach
Azul Fives by Karisma is an enormous resort hotel with 480 rooms, five pools, and a huge range of amenities and restaurants spread out over a large terrain along the Caribbean Coast. Guests enter into a pleasantly scented lobby via a polished marble walkway, and while the entrance is grand, the lobby is comparatively casual, with a muted, light-tone color scheme and a few pale-rust and soft-gray chairs plus a large banquette for seating. An internet corner with a few Mac desktops sits off to one side.
The property layout is a bit sprawling, but there are golf carts to help guests get around. Looked at from above, the core of the resort buildings -- a little over a dozen white, three-story cubes -- form an approximate half-square triangle, with the lobby, spa, fitness center, shops, and many of the restaurants at the top point, and villa buildings filling out the sides and middle. In the center are a couple of quiet, freeform pools meandering through the villa buildings. Past the top tip of the triangle are a couple of newer villa buildings with swim-up suites; they're beautiful and modern, with their own pool and poolside grill, but they're the farthest from the oceanfront infinity pool and beach. The kids' club and teens' club are at the bottom right corner of the triangle, on either side of Villa Building 5, and beyond them is a swath of green, jungly area, where a tennis court is located and where it's possible to spot wildlife such as spider monkeys and iguanas -- somewhat unusual for a big resort like this. Once through that stretch, guests will find the infinity pool with swim-up bar, beach club, a couple more restaurants, and the beach.
While couples and groups of friends do stay here, the Azul is particularly geared toward family vacationers, with all sorts of amenities for babies, children, and teenagers. Cribs, strollers, high chairs, and even baby monitors can be requested, and the hotel provides both kids' menus and either Gerber-brand or natural baby food in all its restaurants and via room service.
Beachfront location in northern Playa del Carmen, a 20-minute drive from the city center
Azul Fives by Karisma is located in the Mexican resort town of Playa del Carmen, a 40-minute drive south of the Cancun International Airport and about an hour north of Tulum. The resort is geared toward those who want to stay on the property, and is surrounded by jungle and coastline, with just a few other resorts and hotels in the immediate area. However, those who do want venture out to the city center can reach the lively main drag of 5th Avenue in about 20 minutes by car.
Big, bright rooms and suites, some with sea views and most with kitchenettes
The Azul Fives offers a total of 480 units, ranging from Deluxe Rooms (some with pool views) to apartment-style suites with one to three bedrooms. Decor is light and bright, with a color scheme dominated by pale grays and off-white tones highlighted by softly hued colorful cushions but little else in terms of color. Bathrooms follow an equally minimalist scheme, with glassed-in showers and water closets, and accent walls made of multi-hued brown and tan tiles. Standard amenities in rooms include small minibars, safes, coffeemakers, wall-mounted flat-screen TVs, and air-conditioning, while suites add living rooms with sofa beds plus kitchenettes with ovens and stoves, terraces, and king-size beds in the main bedrooms. Villa Buildings 4, 5, and 6 are the closest to the beach, and the newest villa buildings -- 15 and 16 -- are the farthest (a five- to 10-minute walk).
Suite categories start with the One-Bedroom Essence Suites, which measure around 700 square feet (65 square meters) and also come in a Swim-Up variety, which have direct access to one of the hotel pools via their patios. The slightly larger One-Bedroom Sky Suites (990 square feet; 92 square meters) are situated on the top floors of each of the suite blocks and add rooftop lounges with outdoor living areas plus half bathrooms, patio furnitures, barbecues, and small whirlpool hot tubs. The largest of the one-bedroom options -- the One-Bedroom Jacuzzi Suites -- feel a bit more spacious in the living/dining areas and add whirlpool hot tubs in vanity areas located between the bathrooms and the bedrooms.
The Azul also offers Two- and Three-Bedroom Suites that measure 1,140 square feet (106 square meters) and 1,540 square feet (143 square meters), respectively. There's also a two-bedroom version of the Sky Suites, which measures 1,710 square feet (159 square meters) and features a rooftop terrace with dining space along with a whirlpool hot tub for six. The 2,248 square foot (209 square meter) Connoisseur Three Bedroom Sky Suite is easily the fanciest unit available, with all of the features of the smaller Sky Suites plus enough room to sleep six adults and two teens.
Huge range of activities for all ages, from cooking classes to spa treatments
The Azul Fives is designed for guests who want to spend the bulk of their vacation time on the property, and offers extensive amenities to match. The resort offers all sorts of activities for kids and adults, including water and beach volleyball, kayaking, archery, and air rifle shooting, and lessons in Spanish, aqua aerobics, dance, cooking, and yoga. There's also a large fitness center with all sorts of cardio and weight-training equipment plus a spa, Vassa, with a large selection of beauty and health treatments on offer as well as a series of hydrotherapy pools.
Families are especially well-catered-to, with a kids' club -- Azulitos Playhouse -- for children ages 4 to 12, plus play groups, a kids' pool, a water playground, a mini theater, and arts and crafts itineraries. There's also a play gym for kids with regular PE-style classes and special spa services for children ages 5 to 17. For teens, the hotel offers Extreme Breeze, a recreation area with snacks, video game consoles, and even a rock-climbing wall.
There are five pools, and one of the meandering villa pools as well as the main infinity pool have swim-up bars. There are two pools up by the newer villas section -- one between the two buildings that can be accessed from the swim-out suites, and one separate, with a poolside grill. The main infinity pool faces the beach and is the most popular, but it's also a bit small and guests complain that there aren't enough loungers. Alternatively, guests can head straight to the beach, where there are plenty of shaded lounge chairs and sunbeds on the white sand; families, however, should note that while the beach is great for swimming, the waves can be unpredictable at times. Wi-Fi is free throughout the hotel and there's no fee to make international calls.
Great food at a huge variety of restaurants, but reservations required for a la cartes
Azul Fives offers a total of nine restaurants and six bars. Arezzo focuses on fine dining, serving Italian dishes at dinner paired with any of 150 wines, while Koh Thai -- also a dinner restaurant -- focuses on Thai cuisine. Meso Tapas does tapas and Central and South American food at dinner, while OKA specializes in sushi and serves sake and Japanese beer. More casual offerings include Flavours, an international buffet restaurant open for breakfast and dinner, and La Brasserie, which serves French food morning and night. Lunch options include the beach-facing Oriola, which serves pizzas, burgers, and the likes, and the Poolside Grill, which has a similar menu. Breeze Bar N' Burger serves, as the name suggests, beer and burgers, while Sea Olive fuses Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine at lunch and dinner. The hotel also offers a few "Gourmet Corners" for light snacks, including Natural (a juice and smoothie bar), Lizzards, with burgers, kebabs, and booze.
Bars include two swim-up options -- Breeze and Palmas; plus Nineteen Ten, a Mexican Cantina with beers, margaritas, tequila, mezcal, and regular Mariachi performances. The Gin Bar is a bit sleeker, focusing on cocktails, and has both indoor and terrace seating. Sports fans can catch games at Zky Bar, a sophisticated take on a typical sports bar, with large floor-to-ceiling windows and sea views.
Food quality is excellent, especially for an all-inclusive resort, but dinner reservations at the a la cartes must be made in advance -- though the concierges and butlers can assist.
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