NONSTOP // CLT-CUN
Flight time: 3:15
JUST NORTH OF CANCÚN, gated resorts line the coast of a curved strip of land that extends into the Caribbean Sea. Here, the community of Playa Mujeres is packed with all-inclusives, which typically carry grandiose names like Excellence, Beloved, and Finest. We pass each before we arrive at ATELIER Playa Mujeres—which is, per marketing literature, “inspired by the Art and Design of Contemporary Mexico.” The 36-acre resort delivers on that promise, with murals throughout, a full-sized gallery, pop-up art projects, and luxury suites adorned with canvases. Even the bathrooms are Instagrammable: a freestanding tub is steps away from a rain shower with marble accents.
My previous resort experience, in the Dominican Republic, was excursion-heavy and family-friendly. This is the inverse. My wife and I, joined by two other couples with kids back home, planned an excursion-free stay with close proximity to the primary pool bar. The result? Well, “glorious” isn’t the word. “Paradisiacal,” maybe? We’re parents of young kids during a pandemic: The absence of tasks is unthinkable. To actually meander around the site, striking up cocktail conversations with Yucatán spiny-tailed iguanas, has value beyond the tempting list of area activities at the front desk.
Maybe you’re more of the explorer type. When you go on vacation, you’ve got a list of ruins, zip-line trips, and hidden locales unknown to the average tourist. I’ve had a few trips like that, but sometimes it’s OK to let an all-inclusive be all-inclusive.
There is no correct way to stay at a resort like ATELIER Playa Mujeres, but we discover that the main pool has a gravitational pull that makes it difficult to exit. When we hanker for a snack, a gray empanada cart magically appears and circles swimmers like a friendly, oddly shaped great white. We get the (slight) itch for a workout, and the resort staff invites us to join a pool volleyball tournament. Its submerged format levels the playing field (pool).
It’s the kind of decadence you should indulge only in weeklong spurts. Otherwise, I may have returned to the offices of Charlotte magazine as a modern-day Henry VIII.
We make only one reservation that’s not at a restaurant: for a tequila tasting at a ground-floor bar, led by a knowledgeable staffer named Sergio. He enlightens us on the beverage’s varieties and on how to down a shot of any type without gagging. The secret, Sergio says, is to breathe in and out before and after downing the tequila. The fumes that exit would otherwise irritate the inside of your mouth.
That’s, at least, my understanding of the Sergio Way. Even today, my travel companions debate the mechanics we learned that night. Our group does agree that we might have a better recollection if we hadn’t practiced for the tasting during the prior hours.
Again, I blame that damned, glorious pool—and its attentive staff.
The five-star ATELIER Playa Mujeres has 431 suites in a stunning, greenery-filled structure with stair-stepped tiers that make the building resemble a ziggurat. A bottom row of swim-up suites might tempt some for the social media flex, but the lanes are not wholly private. We found plenty of water elsewhere, so we skipped that amenity. Marble and wood accents provide elegance and continuity throughout the site, and there’s always a visual-art surprise around the corner. One night, we happened upon a floor installation made up entirely of colored rice and beans, a vibrant, culturally relevant take on a sand mandala. Even if you don’t venture out to explore the local culture, this resort ensures that it comes to you.
ATELIER Playa Mujeres and its neighboring, family-friendly ESTUDIO Playa Mujeres are enveloped by an 18-hole golf course designed by World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman. After a game, you can relax in the three-level Nuup Spa, which has individual and shared suites, hydrotherapy, a tea station, and a beauty salon.
Oh, did I mention the beach at the Caribbean resort? Situated along exceptionally clear waters, it’s large enough to put some space between your cabana and the next. And yes, there’s a bar, too.
The resort has eight restaurants and eight bars. On the gastronomical side, highlights include the Brazilian-style, coal-cooked meats of Los Abrazos; the “Mexiterranean” fusion of El Suspiro; and sprawling Asian eatery Takeshi, with its robust sushi and sashimi options. There’s also a cleaner, more health-conscious spot called Alba, but I wouldn’t vacation with anyone who wants to go there. In terms of imbibing, the wide array of bars is impressive, but we found ourselves most often visiting the swim-up one at the main pool.