A bird’s eye view of Margaritaville Island Reserve Riviera Maya (Photo courtesy of Jenny Block)

Jimmy Buffett-themed Margaritaville Island Reserve shines a whole new light on all-inclusive resorts

JENNY BLOCK | Postcards from Jenny

When I’m wrong about something, I am the first one to admit it. And Margaritaville Island Reserve Riviera Maya — celebrating its one-year anniversary on June 1 — has given me a new view on some old ideas.

The first of those old ideas was that I’m a not a fan of Jimmy Buffett. Well, I thought I wasn’t. I’ve long found the lyrics of his most popular songs kind of tacky, and I figured that the paradise-located cheeseburger and the missing salt shaker were really the cornerstones of his vibe.

Turns out, not so much.

Margaritaville Island Reserve is full of sweet quotes from the sailor/philosopher and is decked out in dreamy turquoise, wistful watercolors and sweet details like banana lotion, an in-room knife and lime squeezer and fishtail faucets. I see you, Jimmy. May your memory be a blessing.

The second of those old ideas was that all-inclusive resorts generally have mediocre food that is nothing more than buffet after buffet. Wrong again. Welcome to gourmet-inclusive.

Think food presentations rather than buffets, a la carte menus without surcharges, Italian food that will make you forget what country you’re in and-made-to-order tacos that you just might eat six of in one sitting. Even room service is included.

Another assumption I have long held is that having a wedding or other event at a swanky all-inclusive would cost a fortune. And I was wrong again. If your party books five rooms for at least three nights each, the wedding is free at these properties. Sure, you can up the package with more bells and whistles for more cash. But the basics are all yours. Color me shocked.

And I was really delighted to find out that the Karisma brand is super committed to diversity, including LGBTQ weddings and culturally-focused weddings. They can even get you a camel if you want one. They offer all kinds of groovy venue options, too, like a clear platform over a crystal pool or a “wedding in the clouds” on their Sky Terrace.

My final assumption was that all-inclusives are bare minimum kinds of places that cater to folks who want a lot for a little but don’t care much about anything beyond endless drinks and chicken nuggets. Margaritaville Island Reserve and its partner properties are anything but that. Truly.

The spa there is other-wordly. It just may have been the best massage I have ever had in fact (thank you, Wendy). And they have this very cool and VERY relaxing hydrotherapy experience that includes multiple showers and pool jets and a sauna and steam room — oh my! I was in heaven.

And if you really want to do something kitschy and fun, you can order up a taco boat. Yes, you read that right: a taco boat. It’s a boat full of tacos along with ceviche, chips and guacamole floated right out to you in the pool. I think they say it feeds four-to-six, but I’d say more like eight-to-ten. There’s an upcharge for it, and you have to book in advance, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s so fun and all the rage on Tik Tok, I hear.

This place has some really clever concepts, including a meat sommelier at JWB Steakhouse, an oceanfront brewery called LandShark and a DIY mini bar for which guests are given points at check-in that they can use to shop at Joe’s Mercantile to stock up as they please.

Plus: No keys! A bracelet they give you at check-in does it all. Love that.

There’s even a molecular gastronomy restaurant at Azul Beach Resort that is minutes away from Margaritaville Island Reserve Riviera Maya called Le Chique that is just the epitome of cool. Led by Chef Jonatán Gómez Luna, each course was a culinary surprise that was a delight to every one of the senses. Nothing was what it looked it to be, and every single dish made you go, “Wow!”

Gold leafed orbs that popped in your mouth. Walnuts that weren’t. Nests and puffs and fish bone-shaped bites. Even a taco that looked like a feather duster. It was out of this world. And every bite was as delicious as it was fantastical looking. No wonder Le Chique landed as number 17 on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

The best part, though, was the people. Everyone on staff was super nice; the guests were friendly. It was a truly happy vibe, and I was very sad to say goodbye to the multiple pools and the foam party and the water aerobics and the dinner shows and the local market right in the resort and — well, you get the idea.

Sadly, the beach there has almost completely eroded away. But the resort wall butts up almost right against the sea, which gives the lovely sense that you’re aboard a ship — which makes sense since that’s exactly what the property looks like as you pull up after a barely 15-minute drive from the airport, which is SO nice.

A friend noticed that there were no clocks and suggested that was because perhaps it doesn’t really matter there. As Jimmy says, “It’s five-o-clock somewhere…”
Bottom line, I have to stop saying I’m not an all-inclusive girl. It’s just that you have to find the one that’s right for you. And all I have to say is, “Tag, you’re it, Margaritaville.”

Visit karismahotels.com for travel through Sept. 5, 2024.