Making tortillas on the plaza at Azul The Fives

Making tortillas on the plaza at Azul The Fives

By Eileen Ogintz

RIVIERA MAYA, Mexico (Day Two) — Bean or pork taco?

The smiling woman is making them with fresh corn tortillas in the heart of the plaza. But we’re not in Playa del Carmen’s famous pedestrian Fifth Avenue.

We’re just outside Playa del Carmen at Azul Beach Resort The Fives by Karisma. The plaza is a 13,000 square foot area with shops, restaurants (how about Koh Thai or Oka Sushi?), bars (The Cantina has 40 kinds of Tequila and there is a specialty Gin Bar) and live music in the evening.

The Fives, I learn is a play on the five senses. Did I mention the huge Vassa Spa or the chance to have a Beachfront Sky massage in a private raised palapa?

The Plaza at the Azul The Fives

The Plaza at the Azul The Fives

The resort features 524 one, two and three bedroom suites — designed to encourage people to be able to gather with friends and family in the shared space but with their own bedrooms and bathrooms. It is ideal, we find, for an annual girlfriends’ getaway. But unlike other Caribbean resorts, none of these rooms are beachfront, though the grounds include a cenote and jungle where monkeys and exotic birds live.

And though it is 90 percent occupied, it doesn’t feel crowded nor is the construction (the resort is targeted to almost double in size over the next four years) seem  bothersome.

We meet families here for a wedding; others on vacation.  Is an all-inclusive or a “gourmet-inclusive” a good value? (Rates range from $257 per person to over $1,500 for a three bedroom unit with a private Jacuzzi on the roof. Kids 3-12 are half off, though there are many deals.

“Not having to cook and clean increases our activity time on vacation,” said John Daniels, here from Winnipeg, Canada with his wife, two young children and parents.  April Daniels said she appreciated getting a stroller and crib and not having to lug baby supplies for the 10 month old.

Azul Fives Essence Three Bedroom Suite

Azul Fives Essence Three Bedroom Suite

Another plus: Not having to drive anywhere to eat. There are choices of eight restaurants whether you want the buffet, Italian, Tapas or a burger “and if it isn’t going well, we can just leave,” she explained.

John and Jill Melino, from Toronto, are relaxing with 11-month-old Veronica in a shaded beach bed on the white sand beach where guests alternately are in the big pool with the swim up bar and the clear ocean water with tropical fish everywhere.

“This is so easy,” said Jill Molina. “You don’t have to think about anything.” If they prefer, they could sit at the pool outside their unit. And when Veronica is asleep, they can slide a door closed so they can watch TV, read or sit on the balcony rather than “staring at her while she sleeps.”

Some suites have butler service but there are also concierges stationed outside. “You don’t have to line up at the front desk if you have a question,” said John Molina. He added that his mom is already thinking of bringing everyone — including the nine grandkids — here next year.

There is even a complimentary Mom’s Morning jogging yoga program for mothers and babies complete with jogging strollers and a healthy breakfast.

There is a kids club complete with My Gym’s Children Fitness Center and the Nickelodeon Experience coming later this year. A Teen club features an outdoor patio, fire pit area, non-alcoholic bar and “social media corner” with free access to the internet.

Those younger than four can visit with their parents and there are plenty of age appropriate toys and books — great when it isn’t nap time but time to get little ones out of the sun a bit. There are pint sized shaded loungers outside, a small play area with swings and slide and a wading pool.

Beach cabana at Azul The Fives

Beach cabana at Azul The Fives

Kailey Keller, 12, and her brother Koen, 10, here from Calgary, opined that they were too old for the kids’ club but too young for the teen club. But that didn’t bother their mom Arlana. “There is plenty to do,” she said — ping pong and basketball, tennis and giant chess and checkers in the garden, bingo in the pool, snorkeling and kayaking. Besides, she added, it’s important for the kids to “decompress and just be”

“This is a good vacation for me too,” she said. “If we had a condo, I’d be cooking and cleaning… it would be here but like home.”

“At home we are always on the go,” agreed Lisa McNeil, here with her husband and two sons aged 10 and 12 from Ontario. “We really needed this… And that we didn’t need reservations for dinner was big for us.”

So was the quality of the food — and Azul resorts is known for that whether you want freshly made pasta carbonara in the Italian Arezzo, ceviche in the Tapas restaurant or sophisticated Mexican in Mestizo (think smoked marlin empanadas, fresh snapper in a black bean sauce, adobo marinated tenderloin followed by flan for desert  or the chance to try fried crickets).

McNeil said at night, if the boys are tired, she feels safe getting them room service or bringing them pizza or a burger before she and her husband head out for dinner.

The best, said 12 year-old Freddy, “I can always go get something to eat without asking my mom for a credit card. “

And then there is the ocean. “That’s the best,” said Charlie McNeil,1 0. “We saw tons of fish —a lion fish and a stingray!”

“This fits the bill,” agreed their mother.