Our Stay at Haven Riviera Cancun, an Adult-only, All-inclusive resort in Mexico
All-inclusive resorts are not really our thing, but for our trip to Mexico where all we wanted to do was read by the pool and drink cocktails in order to recover from months of burnout, we booked the adult only Haven Riviera Cancun for 12 nights and we’ve just come back totally refreshed – for once, this type of holiday was the right decision.
I did a tonne of research before our trip narrowing down resorts (how could you not as it’s not cheap!?) and one of the biggest issues I found as part of the avowed ‘Trip Adviser is evil’ tribe for so many resorts there was a severe lack of independent reviews – even most of the blogger ones I could find were from press trips so whilst this is not my usual glossy hotel review (honestly I focused on relaxing not getting the right photos for a post) I thought I’d pay it forward and include our thoughts, opinions and recommendations if you’re considering a stay at Haven Riviera.
After searching around for the best price we booked directly through their website though do keep in mind that you’ll be paying in either local currency or US dollars so keep in mind if your payment method has a foreign transaction fee when you’re working out the cheapest way to book (the cashback on my Amex Gold for the hotel stay, for example covered about half the transaction fee).
We flew using Virgin / Delta from Heathrow first to Atlanta, and then to Cancun. Delta who operated the flight were fantastic at every turn and for the long haul leg of the trip if you can I recommend upgrading to Sky Priority which is business class – it is actually worth it! Changing flights was the most affordable way to travel but also keep in mind to transit the USA you’ll need to allow time between flights to go through full immigration and security again, and to fill out an ESTA visa waiver at least 3 days before your flight. Also, as you’re doing security again in the US that means no cheap Mexican tequila at Duty Free which is a shame, because the prices were excellent!
Once we arrived (very, very late thanks to delays in Atlanta) we caught a private airport transfer booked through the hotel which I can highly recommend as they tracked our flights so were there at the right time, helpfully with much needed ice cold Coronas for the 20 minute car ride to the resort.
As I mentioned, we arrived at the hotel really, really late. Check in was a bit of a daze as we were helped with out bags up to our suite so I think the best way to get an idea of the Romance Junior Partial Ocean View suite (not booked for any particular romantic occasion, but just because it was the best value!) is to look at their pictures which actually make it look smaller than it actually was. But, in the spirit of old school blogging here are some snaps I quickly took towards the end of the trip, mostly of our incredible double bathroom with vanity and a giant shower with a bench and two separate temperature controlled shower heads (perfect for when we finally arrived and were able to relax into our room so we did not have to fight who was going to wash the plane off first) complete with our toiletries and my messy wash bags. That’s ibuprofen gel on the side, by the way: perfect to prevent that horrible heat from sunburn if you stay in the sun too long and catch around the edges if you apply it right away with your aftersun.
I also want to give a shoutout to this BRILLIANT Curvy Kate swimsuit (#ad) by the way, which is easily the most flattering piece of swimwear I’ve ever owned – I was not the only woman by the pool wearing it and it’s six way straps. Swimwear is a nightmare if you are both petite and have to go to specialist bra shops because you have a niche size and I’ve not had a one piece that actually fit since I was a child; if I spent more time by the pool I’d be ordering a couple of them because honestly I was just waiting for it to dry to wear again the entire trip.
Anyway, back to our room. Every room at Haven Riviera has a balcony with either a Jacuzzi or a swim up pool. The latter costs more, but having a Jacuzzi room we felt we actually had the best deal. We only used it once, the one day there was a tropical storm, but the swim up pools looked like a bit of a let down when the pools were never crowded.
We also had a dining table, sofa area, generous hangers and wardrobe space, and a free mini bar which was restocked every day with snacks, bottled and canned sparkling water (essential as you can’t drink the tap water), fizzy drinks and several different types of beer. The air conditioning and WiFi were also brilliant, and the bathroom has inbuilt bluetooth speakers which was great when we were watching the Formula 1. We watched the sprint races on Mexican television in Spanish, but as they don’t show the European races until later in the day we waked up to iPad stream it using a VPN – and looked the sound through the room for a better race experience!
Oh and the bed big enough for four people to comfortably sleep, not two!
Room service was not the best food at the resort, but it was super helpful to have when we arrived too late for the dinner buffet, and the morning we had to leave to explore Chichén-Itzá before breakfast started – we were at least fed. They’re also super good if you want to call down for more water or beer – nothing is too much trouble!
The maid service was also excellent – our rooms were clean and tidy every day we remembered to put the green light on to say we wanted them in, if not a bit over zealous – if you want to keep your receipts, don’t leave them laying around!
As we had a romance package room it came with a few extras: tasty chocolate strawberries and a frankly terrible bottle of pink sparkling wine on arrival, a special set menu romance dinner in one of the restaurants which had the only redeeming feature that we experienced it together (!) and a romance breakfast we did not bother booking as J rarely eats breakfast, and I was half in love with the breakfast buffet! Honestly, as mentioned we booked the room as it was the best value at the time we booked, but honestly, it is not worth the extra money.
Another way of upgrading was to book a Serenity Club room in the new part of the resort which comes with an exclusive pool (which looked fine), another restaurant that served a mix of Indian and Moroccan food, a separate check in lounge, a club lounge and the chance to eat food from the snack bar with table service. Oh, and free (terrible, we tried it with our romance dinner) house rose wine at meals. Again, in a lovely resort a pricy upgrade that, at least from the outside, did not look worth the money.
The Pools & Beach
Most of our days were spent reading by one of the pools, or basking in the water with many, many drinks in hand. Unless you’re in a Serenity Club room with an extra pool (which we saw, but were not disappointed we could not use – it was just another pool, and we never found that both of the other pools were too busy at once) there are two pools to choose from: the long pool, or the round pool, which is the quiet pool. A big circle with about standing height depth in the middle it does not have steps so it was great to sit in the shallows in, underwater but still about to read. Both pools have a swim up bar, unlimited clean towels and a drinks order table service, but another pro of the quiet pool was the proximity of the Mistral snack bar you could order food to go and eat at your sun lounger or cabana (which by the way are all free, lots of other resorts I researched charged for the cabanas). They do excellent grouper ceviche, guacamole, Pico de Gallo and tortilla chips, grilled hot dogs and a killer BLT sandwich.
We actually preferred the long pool, which has a little area around the swim up bar with jacuzzi seats, and warms with the sun throughout the day so it is like bath water in the evening, but it was loud with a DJ most of the day 5 days a week, so we only spent time there on the other two days, and for evening swims after we’d escaped the heat of the mid-afternoon for some time in our air conditioned suite, but before we changed for dinner.
Haven Riviera does have a private beach with again table service and a life guard, and whilst I had planned to swim in the sea, there was an awful lot of seaweed on the beach, and I’d become so relaxed and lazy I just stayed by the pool. However, even if you don’t once step onto the beach, it was an excellent idea booking a resort with one as the sea breeze was essential to not overheating by the pool during the day – we missed it when we headed inland!
I’ll be honest (and I’ve written about this a lot more for my newsletter subscribers) that the bars at the resort let us down a bit as the drinks were all far too sweet for our European tastes, though that does not mean we did not have an awful lot of them! Haven Riviera as all inclusive has almost all drinks for free, except for in the restaurants you can pay for extra premium bottles and spirits if you don’t want to drink house wine, which is a good selection of Spanish reds, whites, and sparkling.
If you’re that inclined good mimosas will start your day at breakfast either on the buffet or from table service, and then around 10am the swim up bars by the pools will start serving, as will table service to your sun loungers. The pool bars have good Mexican beer on tap, a menu of tasty yet sweet blended drinks, and the ability to order literally anything off menu from their massive drinks selections as long as they have the ingredients, know how to make it, or you can explain to them how to make it! I usually started the day by the pool with an iced tea or a Bloody Mary, followed by a Bahama Mama or two – our favourite blended drink made with fresh banana – before moving onto beer, chiladas (beer with lime juice and a salt rim), ojo rojos (another Mexican beer based cocktail with Clamato juice) and either an Aperol Spritz, or a spritz made with many of the different Vermouths they had on hand.
There are five other bars at Haven Riviera: a small bar at the end of the long pool next to the casual Italian restaurant we did not visit, an American sports bar and a sea view mixology bar both of which we went to once, a bar above the long pool that was good for a spritz in the late afternoon and which had terrible (but in an entertaining way!) cover bands on each night, and a Moet champagne bar I really wanted to drink at, but every attempt to visit it during it’s advertised opening hours it was inexplicably unmanned.
We liked the atmosphere at both the sports bar and the mixology bar but again, like at the pool they served drinks that were far, far too sweet, and unlike at the pool at least at the mixology bar they were unable to make anything off menu so I was unable to talk the bartender through something more to our tastes. But, as we liked the wine at dinner and had good, ice cold beers in our mini bar we tended to drink in our suite or on our balcony before dinner.
Food & Restaurants
Resort food was never going to be the great pinnacle of fine dining or regional authenticity I usually seek on holiday, but as mentioned before we were there to relax, and the fact I quickly could not recall the last time I’d even chopped an onion, having something cook me unlimited food at all hours of the day for two weeks was bliss.
I also fell hard for the breakfast buffet where I loaded up plates filled with chilaquiles, eggs in salsa, Pico de Gallo, the best guacamole I’ve ever had, fried plantains and incredible fresh fruit every single morning, as well as sampling some other dishes I’d never had a chance to try before such as tamales (not for me, but at least I’ve tried them!)
Also available were a wide range of American and South American cooked breakfast dishes, sandwiches and toasts, pancakes, waffles, pastries, porridge, fruit and yogurt, an omelette station, anything you could want to be honest!
I also loved the selection of fresh juices every morning, and another thing I’d read about but I’d not tried before – tamarind juice – became another part of my daily routine.
We did have room service breakfast once when we had to leave for an excursion before the buffet opened (not worth it – all the room service food was pretty bad versions of what you’d get elsewhere in the resort if you left your room) but for me at least the buffet in the mornings was the edible highlight of my day! Also, serenity club can get table service in their restaurant for breakfast, but why would you not just visit the buffet??
The buffet was also open at lunch, which we went to a few times for average pizza and tacos, really only to sit in the air conditioned dining room for a while where people would bring us beers that would still be cold by the time we reached the bottom of them away from the midday sun! The Mistral Snack bar (or the bar above the swim up bar in the quiet pool which serves the same food with serenity club table service) is the best lunch option!
At dinner the buffet had themed nights: Mexican twist a week, American, Asian, South American, Italian etc. We went one evening when we were very tired and it was Mexican food which was fine, but nowhere as good as the Mexican food at breakfast. Also after our romance package meal was so bad we went in on Asian night after our meal and I had a bit of sushi before lots of fruit for dessert and more wine, though everything looked more Chinese-American than Asian. If you’re planning a trip, visit the buffet for breakfast and skip it on other days.
The Casual Italian
Otherwise at dinner you get to choose between a casual Italian, a Mexican grill and steakhouse, a pan-Asian restaurant, and a fine dinking Italian you need to book in advance for, with the added option of an Indian-Moroccan (?) for serenity guests. You can check out all the menus in advance from the TV screen in your room by scanning their QR codes, which you also have to do visiting the restaurants instead of given a menu. I did not like this, but call me old fashioned that way!
The casual Italian was our joint favorite with a good selection of pizzas (we had them and they were great), fresh pastas (mostly great, I had a bad puttanesca but I came back for the seafood fresh spaghetti with squid ink multiple times) and risottos (I had a fantastic seafood number on our second night!) Skip the starters though – above was my beef carpaccio, tasty meat ruined with dry parmesan and an inexplicable honey drizzle – and head for the salad bar with all the usual suspects as well as good focaccia and a delicious marinated courgette salad.
The Mexican Grill & Steakhouse
The Mexican steakhouse was another favorite – skip the premium paid for steaks and their house steaks in favour of their Mexican classics which I think are among some of the best things they do at the resort (except for the Mexican shrimp cocktail which I think I do much better, because mine does not taste like delicious, juicy shrimp then coated in tomato ketchup!) The Yucatan grilled chicken had an excellent flavour with a good marinade with a lovely bit of smoke from the grill, but it was the slow cooked Lamb Birra which was the star, served with good warm tortillas, avocado salsa and red pickled onions it was so good I ordered it twice.
I’ll admit to being really disappointed by the Asian place J had a delicious sweet and sour pork stir fry, but some fried Udon noodles we shared were quite flat. My tuna tostada was a bit too oily and they’d gone too hard on the spicy mayo, which they then put too much of on my hand rolls. The sushi and sashimi portions were really generous though!
The Fine Dining Italian
This was another let down – the only restaurant where the service was less than perfect, and where the food was very average. The highlight for me was the foie gras, because that was imported pre-prepared how I like it!
The Coffee Shop
I only had an utterly delicious cinnamon roll from the coffee shop (can you call it a shop if it is all free?) but J took to having their coffees and pastries each morning, all of which were very good!
Entertainment & Excursions
Honestly, we did not partake in much of the entertainment like macrame, cooking and mixology classes at Haven Riviera because, as perviously mentioned, we were there expressly to read by the pool each day! (Though in the pool you could also take part in aerobics, volleyball (this was also available on the beach), and something called the ‘Crazy Game’. But I have reviewed the excursion we took via a partner tour company booked at their desk in the lobby to Chichén-Itzá in another post.
If they’re your sort of thing there is also a gym and a spa on site (and whilst we’re talking amenities also a jewellery shop, and a clothes and essentials shop very useful for the most expensive but best value for our coin sunscreen we’ve ever purchased!) on site. There is also a cabaret with different shows every night from a nightclub night to magic and karaoke. We only went to the burlesque night, which was so bad we were both entertained!
On the beach you can go kayaking if you buy a $2 wristband because the resort is in a national park. We were going to do this, but just like we could have done it in Croatia but figured we’d have another opportunity, we figured we’d save the activity for a trip somewhere that was just not so hot where we’d be in direct sun!
Pros & Cons
I know I’ve been both very positive and very negative in this post, but I want to be totally honest because these resorts are a lot of money, and you need to know if a place is right for you – there are so many different factors to consider, not much information out there (I keep being messaged on Instagram by people planning their trip and can see I’ve location tagged from the resort) so here are a few quick-fire pros and cons from our stay at Haven Riviera:
- It’s near the airport and transfers to the hotel are really easy to set up. Useful if you’ve already been travelling a while!
- The rooms are fantastic, and you get many premium features in other resorts such as balcony jacuzzis included.
- The staff are so so helpful, and so so lovely. Nothing is too much trouble.
- Free mini bar. This turned out to be more important to us than it would usually be!
- The pools were never crowded and we never had the queue for dinner. Keep in mind our dates were the last week of July, and the first week of August.
- You’ll never feel like they’re scrimping on the food and drink.
- You don’t have to get involved if you don’t want to. As mentioned, there are plenty of activities on so you’ll never be bored, but there is also no pressure to get involved!
- It’s by the sea. Which keeps things nice and breezy so it is not as hot as resorts inland.
- The WiFi is good and fast.
- The food and drinks are distinctly average. There is lots of it, but you have to work to find the truly delicious dishes.
- The margaritas are terrible. This needed it’s own bullet point.
- Not everything is always open as advertised: see, the champagne bar.
- The desserts are all pretty average. Nothing to write home about good or bad on that front!