Review: Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort, Cancun

Moon Palace Cancun is a sprawling all-inclusive waterfront resort minutes from Cancun International Airport. Divided into three sections — Sunrise, Nizuc and Grand — each has its own character, landscape, demographic, restaurants and amenities. Once you put on a guest bracelet at check-in, you’re not only given access to these “phases,” which while walkable are connected by a lobby-to-lobby bus service, but you’re also allowed to visit other Palace properties in the region. With seemingly limitless entertainment and dining options, the real party in Cancun happens here.

As the bellman explained the extensive features of our deluxe room at Grand, it became apparent that this resort was built with newlyweds in mind. With an in-room jacuzzi — standard for all suites — and a furnished patio, our accommodations were quite large for a single person. But it wasn’t long before we took advantage of the cavernous marble shower, swim-suited up and set out for sunshine. While climbing stairs that led to the nearest pool, we almost stepped on one of dozens of sunbathing iguanas that would appear over three days.

Outstretched in a chaise under the shade of palm fronds and umbrellas, the heat was welcome. There were more chairs embedded in a shallow shelf of water along the pool’s perimeter, and these prime seats were often occupied. But when the water gets to be too much, guests will be happy to know that Moon Palace has a spa, two salons and daily yoga in an on-site meditation garden. Even though it briefly rained each day, the side effects were positive: The loudest guests — mostly families — abandoned the deck, and the ocean breeze rolled in to whip our paperbacks’ pages and the napkins under our cocktails du jour. Wash, rinse, repeat: We pool-hopped like this for the rest of the trip.

One afternoon at the Sunrise pool’s coal-fired pizza oven, two newlyweds chit-chatted with other guests in line. An older woman advised the couple, “It only gets better.” Smiling, the husband of the pair responded: “We’ve been here three days and each one has gotten better.” The made-to-order pizza — and the camaraderie we felt — hit the spot. Among a crowd of hundreds of spectators, our gaze turned to the pool’s center stage as a DJ encouraged an 8-year-old to dance to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” It’s rare to see confidence (and hear applause) so pure.

Just beyond these pools is the quieter beachfront. Although a hefty bit of seaweed clutters the other-wise sea glass-green waters — not on par with the Mayan Riviera’s reputation for pristine beaches — the sandbars are the glorious temperature of bathwater and the sand itself is the softest we’ve bared our feet for. Each time we walked the shoreline between the phases, we shuffled through heart after heart etched in the sand. We eventually caved and drew one, too. “Have you ever been kissed by a Mexican?” asked Miguel, a trainer at Moon Palace’s own dolphinarium, where guests get a show and a wet smooch from one of eight bottlenose dolphins. A professional photographer on hand means that guests take home a souvenir portrait that’s a step up from a smartphone selfie.

On the last evening of the trip, we had an unexpectedly exceptional meal at Los Tacos. At the poolside snack bar, surrounded by a ring of romantic canopied beds and mangroves, a flirtatious waiter brought to our table a heaping plate of nachos that we didn’t actually order. But it didn’t matter, because the tortilla chips swimming in cheese, grilled pork and pineapples were as gratifying as the tumbler of Dos Equis we washed them down with.

For the kiddos

While there are hoards of honeymooners — Moon Palace hosts more than a thousand weddings annually — the resort is actually bursting at the seams with families. The appeal is as strong for the under-18 set as it is for grown-ups. Parents relax poolside while their kids roam independently with minimal risk, and vice-versa. Plus, the all-inclusive element means that, cost-wise, parents don’t need to utter the dreaded word “no” very often. Kids seem elated; adults look relieved.

Coming up at Moon Palace

  • Cirque Dreams Holidaze, Dec. 20 through Jan. 6, 2014
  • Ricky Martin, Dec. 28
  • Chicago, Feb. 14-15, 2014

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