By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency
Want to impress a teen on vacation?
Start with the food, perhaps guacamole, which tastes as good as it looks, prepared tableside in a traditional stone dish and served up with freshly made tortilla chips.
“That was really awesome,” said Maia Capp, 13, from Sitka, Alaska. So was the beach butler, who came around with fruit kabobs, an omelet with smoked salmon and all the steak she wanted. “A lot more than at home,” said her mom, Kimberly Capp, a physician with the Indian Health Service.
That the Capps have opted for an all-inclusive package at the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun enables them to enjoy their vacation — and their meals — even more. “If I have to look at a bill every time I eat, that’s a detriment to my enjoyment,” said Capp.
But unlike buffets at all-inclusives in the past, the idea here isn’t to stuff yourself silly — though that is tempting — but rather to savor the carefully crafted dishes. Liquor is likely to be top shelf and there are plenty of mocktails and smoothies for the kids, as well as cooking demonstrations, mixology lessons and cooking projects in the kids’ programs.
When we can’t decide between grilled lobster and flambéed shrimp with tequila at the Flor de Canela, the traditional Mexican restaurant at the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, the waiter suggests that we order both. “Have as many entrees as you like,” he said smiling.
At breakfast a smiling chef makes street tacos from freshly made blue corn tortillas with a variety of fillings — some zucchini blossoms, perhaps? And along with the made-to-order eggs and omelets here are tamales, enchiladas, Mexican stews and all varieties of cheese and fruit.
And, of course, there are options for vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians, or anyone else who requires a special diet.
“People are really interested in the food,” said Daniela Trava, general manager of the 144-suite resort, which is located about a half-hour from Cancun International Airport. “It’s a whole revolution.”
Other all-inclusive resorts are also upping the ante when it comes to food. Karisma Resorts in Mexico and Jamaica boast their “Gourmet Inclusive” meals, including Casa de Rosa, fashioned like a traditional Mexican home, at The Fives Azul Beach Resort Playa del Carmen. Here guests are invited to learn to cook authentic Mexican dishes from salsa, tamales, tacos and more.
The family selection at the new Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa (north of Cancun) and at Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa (in Riviera Nayarit) elevates the dining experience at their own restaurants. And should families opt for Teppanyaki, for example, a Japanese chef will be there to prepare it for you.
At Beaches, Turks and Caicos, kids love the swim-up ice cream bar and the mac and cheese food truck named Mr. Mac. At the same time, Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts have expanded their “5-Star Global Gourmet ™ Dining,” focusing on authenticity, local ingredients and food from around the world. There are some 21 restaurant concepts offering everything from classic French, Italian, Caribbean, Japanese and English pub fare, as well as the recently added and upcoming steakhouse, Indian, Southern and tapas restaurants.
“We’ve set the bar as the gold standard in the industry with internationally trained chefs creating diverse dishes that allow guests to savor the world in just a few short days,” said Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, chairman of Sandals Resorts International.
But unlike most cruise ships, these specialty dining experiences don’t come with an extra tab. Not only is the food “amazing,” said Daisy Schudmak, visiting with her family from Louisiana, but that the kids can order anything encourages them to try new foods — mussels or ceviche, an unfamiliar sauce for their steak.
Just ask Jeff and Lisa Park, who are from Vancouver, Canada, and have stayed at a variety of all-inclusive resorts in Mexico for the last 10 years. Jeff Park is a chef and restaurant owner, his wife is a teacher, and they have always opted to try new places — until now. “Everything is so on point,” said Lisa Park, the mom of two young sons. “The food is way beyond what I expected,” added Jeff Park.
About 65 percent of the guests here opt for the all-inclusive plan, roughly $135 per person, and free for kids 12 and under. As the units are all suites with kitchens or kitchenettes, guests can also opt for the resort to provide provisions for them at no charge — just the cost of the groceries.
But with the dining plan, said Schudmak, “I don’t have to lift a finger.”
“I can really relax,” said Jessica Bertoldi, here from Chicago with her husband, mother-in-law and 5-year-old twins.
Our biggest decision at the resort’s El Faro Grill is whether to have Steak Diane or grilled scallops for dinner or cheesecake or an assortment of decadent chocolate delicacies for dessert. “And there aren’t any dishes to wash,” said Bertoldi.
Plans are underway here for a big expansion, which will include a larger gym, spa and two new restaurants. A new wellness menu will be introduced this spring, as well as an expanded children’s menu with more healthful options, though the kids I met were especially happy with the quesadillas and freshly made mac and cheese. A roof garden is under consideration.
“We’ll have to come back!” said Lisa Park as her sons grinned.
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© 2019 EILEEN OGINTZ
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