It’s been 25 years since either Henk or I had been to Cancun, Mexico (separately, since we hadn’t met yet), and although I like to think that I haven’t changed much since those days as a 30-something single gal, returning to Cancun this November forced me to realize that not only had I grown up, but so had Cancun – and both of us in a good way. No longer just a playground for Spring Breakers, Cancun is a bustling destination that offers all kinds of resort options for visitors of all ages and tastes. Thanks to tripcentral.ca, we had the chance to see this for ourselves when we were invited to be guests at the Sian Ka’an Club at Grand Oasis Sens resort. What Henk and I discovered was a resort-within-a-resort that offers the kind of all-inclusive experience we look for now that we have become more discerning travellers: excellent a la carte restaurants on-site, premium amenities, spas, luxurious guest rooms, and high quality entertainment. Oh, and what would ‘all-inclusive’ be without a touch of romance as well!
Sian Ka’an Experience
In the Mayan language, Sian Ka’an means ‘where the sky begins’ or ‘gift from the sky’, and it’s a fitting name for the elevated experience guests receive at the 3 Oasis properties in Mexico that offer this premium “Sian Ka’an” category. The Grand Oasis Sens in Cancun is one of these properties, a five-star, 21+ adult-only resort whose guests are primarily couples, and where our premium Sian Ka’an experience started right at check-in: Henk and I felt like VIPs as we were welcomed to the resort in a private lounge that offers premium bar service, complimentary snacks throughout the day, and one-on-one service from staff members who walked us through everything the resort offered.
Even the bracelets that we were issued were high-tech, fitted with an electronic chip that acted as both our room key and scannable guest code for the restaurants and bars.
TIP: The Sian Ka’an Club includes dining at their premium restaurants at no extra cost, but it’s always wise to book your reservation for these restaurants at check-in, especially if you have a special day on which you’d like to secure space.
Room with an OMG view
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and the Grand Oasis Sens made an incredible one with our Sian Ka’an guest room. Located on the top floor of the property, our room was not only spacious and well-appointed with everything Henk or I would need including a fully-stocked complimentary mini-bar, coffee maker, robes, slippers, and l’Occitane toiletries (a nice touch), but the room opened onto a private terrace with a jacuzzi and one of the best views in the hotel. It’s hard not to grin like a kid on Christmas morning when this is the the panorama that greets you when you step out onto your private terrace!
Like any property, there are different categories of rooms within the Sian Ka’an Club as well, but even the rooms that don’t have jacuzzis on their terraces offer private plunge pools instead and great ocean views.
Having an outdoor space where you can watch the sun come up or see the stars come out at night is something that makes any vacation that much more memorable.
TIP: Travelling in the shoulder season (we were there at the end of November) means there is a greater selection of rooms available, and the resort itself is a little quieter, which Henk and I enjoyed. I’ve no doubt the action heats up in the hotel in the high season, especially as this is an adult-only resort.
Little Extras CountAs impressive as the view from our Sian Ka’an room was, it’s the little touches that make the difference with this level of service: things like a beach bag and hat provided to guests, the complimentary wine that awaited us in the room, and even fresh flowers as an extra-special welcome for Henk and I. (And of course, as a writer, having fast, free WiFi for multiple devices was appreciated.)
Personally, when I am planning on spending a week or so at an all-inclusive tropical resort vs touring several cities, the room is one of the most important things I consider, since I’ll be returning to this ‘home away from home’ every day. I can honestly say I wished Henk and I had had more time at Grand Oasis Sens so that we could have taken advantage of our terrace more – but with a beautiful beach below, and several great pools to choose from, it’s hard to be in three places at once!
The BeachOne thing that hasn’t changed in the years since I’d been to Cancun, is the beautiful beach. The colour of the ocean here actually makes you question whether the photos have been retouched, but the reality is that the turquoise and blues that you see in the ocean here are legitimate, and this part of the beach strip in Cancun is one of the prettiest stretches when it comes to the colours of the water. The beach here is all soft, golden sand and warm Caribbean water, and unless there’s a red flag posted, the beach is easily swimmable. And thanks to the Bali beds and deluxe loungers offered exclusively to Sian Ka’an guests, a day spent at the beach here is as luxurious as lounging on your own terrace!
Pools for everyone
If pools are more your thing, the Grand Oasis Sens has several to choose from, and all of them are spotless, sparkling and gorgeous. The Wet Bar offers a shaded swim-up pool bar (another thing I love in a tropical resort!) flanked by waterfalls, and even the colours of my drink mirrored those of the pool and the ocean.
The main pool adjacent to the Wet Bar is large and offers plenty of room to cool off, enjoy aquarobics and other activities throughout the day if you’re so inclined, or just hang out and enjoy the ocean views at the pool’s infinity edge.
If you want to liven things up a little, as an adult-only resort, the Grand Oasis Sens even offers the kind of grownup pool party that makes you feel like a kid again yourself: on Saturday afternoons there’s a foam party in the topless-optional pool where you can dance in the shallow end to great music from a live DJ and frolic in the bubbles like you are in a bar in Ibiza! (the owner of the Oasis hotels is from Spain, so perhaps this was his inspiration…) As far as I’m concerned, you’re never too grown up for this kind of pool party, and a mid-afternoon dance party is a great way to work off some of the food you’ve enjoyed. And when the foam party ends, this pool also has a 7-foot deep end where you can swim off some calories.
Restaurants & Bars
The restaurants at Grand Oasis Sens really do deserve particular recognition if for no other reason than the fact that 5 of the Top 6 Trip Advisor Restaurants in the city of Cancun are on Oasis properties. While the resort offers your typical buffet restaurant for breakfast, as well as several casual options for lunches and dinners, truly standout experiences can be had at some of their signature restaurants. One of these is the Black Hole, a ‘dine-in-the-dark’ restaurant where diners are treated to a sensory experience that will titilate more than just your palate, as the darkness encourages diners to fully experience the taste and smell of their food and not just the visual presentation.
TIP: If you are planning to try the Black Hole restaurant, bring dark/black clothing to wear so as not to distract from the ‘blind’ experience.
Although the Black Hole sounded intriguing, Henk and visited Benazuza restaurant instead, as we heard it specialized in molecular gastronomy which promised to be a visual feast for the eyes. Although we are not ‘foodies’ per se, we love a unique dining experience, and were keen to see what Benazuza was all about.
Benazuza Surprises and Delights
The Benazuza experience is a well-orchestrated one, with each table of guests beginning their experience at the bar, where a selection of five pre-appetizer mini-cocktails (or mocktails, if you prefer) are offered. The presentation of these drinks is a spectacle in and of itself, from red-wine-dipped apple curls served in the centres of two red roses which you pluck out with tweezers, to alcohol-infused whipped cream dollops flash-frozen in front of your eyes in a nitrogen bath and served ‘smoking’ cold.
These drink teasers are like liquid ‘amuse bouches’ that begin your evening at Benazuza, which continues with more than 20 courses, all of which are interesting and many of which are tromp l’ceil masterpieces of deception. Look again at the playful arrangement of ‘popcorn’ and discover that it isn’t really popcorn at all, and the ‘olive’ in your martini – it’s actually olive juice frozen in a spherical shape that melts on contact with your tongue!
And don’t be fooled by those luscious looking cherries (one of several dessert courses) – they aren’t ‘cherries’ at all, but will delight you all the same with their explosion of flavour. And their stems? Delicate filigree chocolate.
From the savoury to the sweet, Benazuza served up one surprise after another, with Henk and I deciding on our favourites only to change our minds after another course was placed in front of us. (In order not to spoil your surprise, I won’t describe all of Benazuza’s dishes here.)
Even though it’s not part of the package, an evening like this deserves a great wine, so Henk and I indulged ourselves with a great bottle of red suggested by the sommelier.
TIP: If you’d like to learn more about Rafael Zafra, the celebrated Spanish chef behind Benazuza’s gastronomy, read this article.
Sunset Views at Sakura
Not many resorts offer you both spectacular sunrise AND sunset views, but the Grand Oasis Sens’ unique location on the spit of land that is Cancun’s hotel strip allows guests to enjoy views both east and west. And there’s no better way to end your day than to enjoy a sundowner followed by a meal at Sakura Sunset restaurant. The restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows offer an amazing view of the evening colours, regardless of where you are seated, and the tables are strategically placed to maximize the romantic vistas for the patrons.
The cuisine here is categorized in Peru as ‘Nikkei’, a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese flavours, which chef Zafra experienced when he did research for his Sakura menu by visiting some of the best restaurants in Peru (like Astrid & Gaston, which is well known in South America for its cuisine – and which I had the good fortune to try on a business trip years ago). What resulted is a menu that offers dishes that are both tasty and tastefully presented.
(If this ambiance combined with a creative menu doesn’t trigger the romance in you, it may be time to see a marriage counselor…)
Top-Tier EntertainmentBeing a Sian Ka’an guest has other perks as well: our wristband was our ticket to visit any of the other Oasis properties in Cancun, and check out their entertainment and shows. One of the most impressive performances takes place at the Pyramid at Grand Oasis, the largest Oasis property, and only a short taxi ride from the Grand Oasis Sens. Here in the Pyramid’s namesake glass-topped lobby, the Red Circus show takes place every night, with a different Cirque du Soleil-style presentation that features top-notch singers, musicians, acrobats and costumes. Guests of the hotel can watch the show for free, and there are chairs are set up around the perimeter of the atrium. Or you can book seats on the floor near the stage and get front-row views with your choice of snacks, drinks, or a full meal while you enjoy the show.
Henk and I were treated to the dinner-show at a performance of Quetzal, and we were captivated from the first violinist who set the tone with a Game of Thrones-inspired arrangement, to the finale where suspended acrobats in brilliant costumes floated above our heads. With front-row seats, we enjoyed getting up close and personal with fantasy creatures and dangling acrobats, all while enjoying a 4-course meal and cocktails.
If you’ve had your fill of Michael Jackson impersonators at your typical resort or cruise show, treat yourself to something different and magical at the Pyramid’s Red Circus.
A Grownup Oasis
“Oasis Loves You” is the tagline at the Oasis properties and it’s hard not to love them right back, especially after the experience that Henk and I had as Sian Ka’an Club guests at the Grand Oasis Sens in Cancun. What more could you want in a getaway than a room with a gorgeous view, an equally beautiful beach, creative cuisine that is equal parts performance and taste, and an escape from the Canadian cold? Like the name Sian Ka’an itself, our visit was truly a ‘gift from the sky’ and we would happily go back to this decidedly grownup Mexican oasis. I just don’t want to wait another 25 years!