By jordanb, · 2,868 Views · 17 Comments
Warning – this is going to be long-winded, but helpful I hope! I am fresh from the big day, and won’t have most of my professional shots for a while, but wanted to get this down before I forgot anything, so am including mostly amature photography where helpful. I’ll include the professionals when I do the full review of my photographer, Del Sol, a little later (there are a couple they sent me early below)! Update: Del Sol review here: http://www.bestdestinationwedding.com/products/del-sol-photography/reviews/6946
We were married on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, at the Royal in Playa Del Carmen, with 48 guests. Lili was my on-site coordinator. We chose the Royal as we’d been to Playa Del Carmen several times and loved being in the mix of things; stayed once at its sister resort across the street, the Gran Porto Real (and thought it was pretty decent); and read great reviews about the Royal. We also loved that Real Resorts encompassed three different resorts in the same area, all different price points, so our guests had options but were still encouraged to stay in one of the Group’s hotels (which helped us immensely on pricing). (We still had a few who ended up staying elsewhere.)
We held a welcome cocktail reception the day before the ceremony (once all the guests had arrived) at 5 p.m. in the Central Garden, with six kinds of hot appetizers and a full bar, for $10pp, in lieu of a Rehearsal Dinner (we sort of felt like it was a waste of money to host one, since everyone had already paid for all-inclusive meals). On that note, you are on your own if you want any sort of a rehearsal prior to the wedding, but I asked our wedding coordinator before I came if our location was free the day before (it was), and my friend who is also a wedding coordinator ran one for us.
We booked the Classic Wedding package and added the extra guests, an extra reception hour, the cocktail reception, upgraded to a private reception with a three-course meal, DJ, etc. We ended up figuring in most of the wedding-related items on an ala carte basis that are normally included in the Ultimate Luxury Package (at the time I booked – it’s a bit different now), sans spa treatments and extra gifts, etc., for significantly less than the package would have cost, and got everything we wanted and nothing we didn’t need.
Overall, the wedding week was magical! Great weather (minor rain scare on the day of, but it ended up being fine). Our guests loved the resort (one rebooked to return next month), and the area – even those who were wary of Mexico because they’d never been. The service was fantastic, and almost everything was just as we requested or was designated in our package (I am SUPER picky, which is why I will mention the things that were off a bit, but I’m telling you, we loved every minute of it, and would do the whole thing over the same way)! Here’s my take on the individual elements of the wedding week:
Mariana with the Royal in Cancun was my offsite coordinator (after I was passed off from Patricia Romero who booked us). Mariana was wonderful – I know lots of ladies thought that their offsite coordinators were not communicative enough, but she always answered my million+ questions in a very timely manner, was super helpful and always super cheerful. She was reasonable when I asked for things that were a little outside of the standard offerings, and also helped me work out an issue that I had with my wedding package, after its offerings were changed between when I booked it and the actual wedding.
We used a travel agent to book our wedding. I was not initially planning on it (I was actually 100 percent anti-agent at first), but when I contacted the Royal to ask about room blocks, and they kept asking me about who my TA was and telling me that that was the way blocks were usually organized, I decided to look into it. I used Doris Mundy Travel – she specializes in destination weddings in Mexico and a few other locales, and she happened to be local to me in Denver (which is funny that that had anything to do with my decision to hire her because we never actually got around to meeting in person so it didn't matter in the least). She ended up getting me a package through United Vacations in which her rates (for airfare, room and airport transfer) for our particular length of stay when we booked were more than $700 off the best I’d found online. We also get $50 for every room booked by our guests back from United now that our wedding is closed out – score! For this reason alone, a TA is a good idea in my opinion, but what really turned out to be invaluable was her being the one that all my guests bothered with questions! (Well, I got some of them, but far less than I would have.) She also would have been the one to call if anyone’s flight had been cancelled or delayed for weather, etc. (instead of me). Finally, she sent me everyone’s itineraries as they booked, so that I knew when they were arriving, where they were staying and MOST importantly, who had RSVP’d and still not booked one month out (so I could call them, and learn who wasn’t really coming before I paid for them). I highly, highly recommend using a TA no matter how big your group is – just put his/her info on your wedding website (we even put it on our save-the-dates), and let her do the work at no extra cost to you!
I personally am not a huge fan of all-inclusives for general vacations (I get sick of the food, like to have good reasons to really get out and explore the destination, etc.), but for a decent sized wedding in a foreign country with some who are not well-traveled, I think they’re the only way to go! That being said, as far as all-inclusives go, the Royal is WELL above the competition. The food was much better than any I have had at another all-inclusive, and above average for the Fifth Avenue restaurant crowd in Playa. Most of my guests loved it, but a few remarked they didn’t (these are semi-food-snob friends though, so I think the masses will love). The service here is FANTASTIC, and the rooms, grounds, etc. are immaculate. There is literally someone scrubbing every inch of that place all the time. Full disclosure: we did find a dying cockroach in our room one day, but in a tropical place like PDC (and we were on the ground floor in a swim-out suite and constantly leaving our back door open), that does not speak to the cleanliness or class of the resort, it’s just simply something that happens sometimes. There are a lot of the little bastards living in the shadows in PDC.
(Here we are enjoying the resort)
When we arrived, we were checked in by the Romance Concierge, who made sure to give us the full rundown of the resort, book anything we needed initially, and send us off with a drink! We asked her about an upgrade (as it was part of our package), and although it was not available the first two days, she hooked us up with the swim-up suite right next to the Gazebo for the reminder of our stay, which was PERFECT on the wedding day as us gals could watch everything being set up from my room while we got ready. Make sure if you have this in your package, ask for it - I found that with a lot of the extras I was supposed to have, that if I didn't ask, I probably would not have received.
As I mentioned, the food was above average. We enjoyed Asiana and Pelicanos the most for dinner, and even though I’m not big into buffets, we dined at Spice for most lunches and breakfasts and it was good. I did not try Maria Marie, but heard completely mixed reviews from guests – some said it was the best meal they had, others said it was the worst. I think it really depends on what you order – my biggest complaint with the food is that they focus too much on making it fancy, and not enough on just providing solid, delicious food. I wish they had more Mexican options instead of mass amounts of Asian, French, and other foreign “fusion” dishes, and that there wasn’t a crazy 17-ingredient sauce on everything (and this is also coming from a food snob). So, for that reason, I think many people in our group would order fish or steak, expect something grilled and lightly seasoned, end up with something covered in a unique sauce, and then be unhappy. FI, family and I asked the waiters a lot of questions about specifics in dishes in advance of ordering, and usually ended up pleased.
Room service is included in the all-inclusive model, and was fine; Mediterraneo, the 24-hour lounge and the coffee bar were decent, and all the bars had top-shelf liquor, champagne and wine. The standard wine is pretty bad, but you can order nice bottles for an extra price if you can’t handle it. One thing I should also mention is that while you don’t have to tip at this resort (it is said to be included in the price), we always did, and it made the service even that much better. After dropping 100 pesos (only about $9) the first day at breakfast, we always had a table waiting for a group of 10-12 in the morning, prepared with rose petals on the tablecloth (not the standard setup) by the same waiter who was eagerly awaiting us, no matter how busy they were. Keep in mind, this restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so this was actually really great for us to know we could wander in whenever and all sit together in a big group. We also always had fresh drinks on the beach, without ever having to get up to walk to the bar, for the same reason – we always tipped the beach server and a lot of people don’t. If you tip, you’ll have crazy anticipatory service the whole time – and they deserve it – the service staff works so hard there.
Before I wrap up food, I have to give an extra special shout-out to the staff of Pelicanos for the most memorable meal of the trip. My dad is a big fisherman, and decided he was going to head out with my brother and a few other guys a couple of days during the trip to deep sea fish. He knew from previous stays that the boat captains will filet the fish you catch for you, and many of the restaurants in town will prepare it and serve it to you for cheap. We hated to go elsewhere to have it prepared when we were already paying for meals at the Royal, so we asked Pelicanos if they might do something similar. They did, and it was awesome. My dad dropped off a variety of fish they’d caught around 5 p.m. one day, and they set it up for us to come back at 8 p.m. When we did, they had two long tables of 20+ each seats set up for my entire group of 40+ (again, no “reservations” supposedly at this restaurant), and had made the less desirable fish (barracuda, etc.) into fresh ceviche for us, which they served to us with guacamole and an assortment of appetizers they selected and had pre-prepared. It was delish! They then served us what can only be described as a smorgasbord feast of delicious grilled fish that had been specially prepared unlike anything on the menu. It was to-die-for, and such a great experience. At the end of the night they got a hefty tip and a standing ovation from my group, and you could tell they were incredibly proud of the reaction their efforts warranted. My dad, by the way, was beyond elated by the whole thing as well. They really went above and beyond.
We also had a “Romantic In-Suite Dinner” as part of our wedding package one night, which was wonderful, delicious and fun, except our poor waiter had to stand inside our suite while we dined outside on the balcony (they set up a special table for us with tiki torches, etc.) and stare at us like a British soldier on guard the whole time. Poor guy – but it was lovely otherwise!
We did a scouting trip to the resort last year to make sure it was “the one” before booking it for the wedding, and as a result were able to take advantage of their Wedding Site Inspection program. As such, we ended up with a bunch of resort credit we could use for upgrades, spa treatments, romantic dinners, etc. We pretty much used it all for spa and went crazy! I was able to use it for my hair, and a mani and pedi for the wedding (I did my own makeup). Alicia was my stylist for all and she was awesome. As quite a few people mentioned, the mani and pedi were nothing special but fine, but I loved my hair! I NEVER like my hair when it is professionally done, but knew with the beach wind and humidity it was necessary, so sucked it up. I came in with a picture from a hair trial back home, and when Alicia first did it (she did a trial for me the day before the wedding), I initially looked like what my sister-in-law described as “a 50’s country singer!” I nicely asked her to make a couple small changes, de-pouf it a bit, and in 3 minutes, it was totally different and exactly what I wanted. The next day, she nailed it too – best updo I’ve ever had (pics below). One a side note, my blonde highlights started to turn a bit orange from something in the water there (has happened before –not sure if its ocean, pool or what but it seems to be a problem isolated to me so don’t worry J). Alicia gave me a special shampoo to help fight it – free, and without me even asking her. She was great.
We also had a couples massage in the spa while there, and the romantic bath/massage thing in room, and both were great.
We put together welcome/OOT gift bags for our guests with a travel-sized bottle of sunscreen, aloe and aspirin; as well as some personalized koozies (this helped on the beach where your ice melts super-fast); beach balls; squirt guns; and a welcome letter/ tinerary. We ended up paying $3 each for the resort to deliver them. A few people didn’t get their bags until the second day they were there, and one never got his (even after we called to check up on it), but most were delivered without a hitch and we were happy to not have to worry about it ourselves, especially because we had some guests staying at the Gran Porto.
We had Lili as our wedding coordinator, and she was pretty good. I did have to push her a bit on a few things, ask her a few things more than once, etc., and I wouldn’t say she went above-and-beyond to make sure we were blown away, but after meeting with her for an hour and providing her all my décor items (and I brought a lot), she nailed most of it, and even threw in some suggestions to make some things better that I hadn’t thought of. I sent her a one-page rundown of how I wanted things set up before I left the States so she knew what to expect, and she had that, and the other 5 million emails I’d sent her about other things all printed off when I arrived for our meeting (I think she wanted to kill me a little J). I set up an example of the way I wanted the tables to be decorated while there, and she took pictures, and they looked great day-of. She also took my iPod with playlists for cocktails and the ceremony, and everything was spot-on the day-of. She arranged for FI’s suit to be sent out to be pressed (my dress miraculously didn’t need it), and it was back in our room and perfect the next day, and also let us change our cake flavor last minute because FI tried Tres Leches on arrival in Spice and had to have it.
She was a bit late delivering my bouquet the day-of, and my friend (the wedding coordinator) sort of tag-teamed with her to organize the setup, and had to make some changes to things that weren’t quite right. Overall, it was mostly on though – that is to say, nothing was wrong enough to make me enjoy the day any less. I also give Lili props for allowing my friend/WC to take some control of the job Lili would normally rule – she worked very well with her.
The only things that weren’t quite right were: 1) the ceremony aisle setup – I gave her a layout and she somehow added extra chairs and rows, so that not every row had an aisle decoration on it, and there were more empty chairs than I would have liked or needed and 2) the reception table setup – I gave her a seating chart and they had the wrong number of chairs and settings at a couple tables, which I think played a part in a few people getting the wrong meal. Also, just to note, they put ashtrays on all the event tables there as part of standard setup, so, after seeing this at my cocktail welcome reception the day before, I had to ask them to remove them for the wedding.
During the wedding, the catering and service staff was wonderful. I couldn’t even drop my napkin without three people rushing to pick it up for me, offering to get me a new one, and complimenting me on my hair or something in the process! I had one of those new-Polaroid-like Fujifilm instant cameras for guests to snap shots of themselves with (photo booth-style), and they even ended up designating someone to man it for me, which was not something they had to do! They also arranged to have our leftover cake (there was tons) delivered to the restaurant of our choice at the time of our choice for our guests to enjoy it at dinner the following day!
After the wedding, Lili collected everything (including the alter floral arrangement and bouquets) and had it waiting for me the next day in the Wedding Center. I asked if they’d deliver it to the room (because I read that they had for other brides) and she seemed a little put out, but said she would. When I walked by later that evening, it was still in the wedding center, and there was a bellhop with a cart nearby, so we ended up just asking him to help us take it back. We got everything back though, and it was all nicely packaged in the suitcase I brought it in. The next day, we also had our “Royal Wedding Gift” (part of the package – a framed picture they took of us at the ceremony) waiting for us in-room, along with our marriage certificate (symbolic – we got legally married at home before we came to make it easier), and my iPod, which I didn’t even realize wasn’t in the suitcase. We were supposed to have breakfast in bed the next day as part of our package, and it never came, which was slightly annoying because we waited for it for a while before we called and realized they forgot, but it was nice to eat with our guests anyway!
I thought the flowers at the resort were overpriced (and I went minimal since the location was pretty stunning itself), so I ended up using an outside florist for my bridesmaid bouquets. I used Flores Riviera Maya, and they were super cheap ($35 in comparison to the resort’s $80 per bouquet) and lovely. They also provided rose petals in my color of choice for the aisle for a small fee (we scrapped the red carpet that is standard decor). They delivered everything for free outside the resort, which saved us the outside vendor fee (we just told the wedding coordinators we were “taking care of making the bouquets ourselves,” and a friend grabbed them and brought them to us). I described what I wanted in bouquets to both the wedding coordinator and FRM the same: Stargazer lilies with fuchsia roses, and my resort-made bouquet (part of my package) and the ones from FRM matched perfectly!
(Bridesmaids' bouquets above, and the MOH holding my bouquet out in front, below)
For the guys, I skipped floral boutonnieres and made them out of raffia and starfish to save some extra money there too. I brought along some galvanized metal vases and had Lili put them on the tables, and the bridesmaids inserted their bouquets for added décor after the ceremony (I brought non-assembled Ikea lanterns from home for the main centerpieces, which sounds ambitious, but wasn’t too hard, saved me a ton of $ and looked beautiful in the moonlight on the beach).The alter centerpiece from the resort (part of package) was also gorgeous; I had them move it to the sweetheart table after the ceremony and it was perfect. (The lilies on the alter arrangement are closed in the below pic because it's dark, but when it was light they were open.)
The ceremony took place at 4 p.m. at the Gazebo, immediately followed by an hour-long cocktail reception at the Gazebo Garden, and a four-hour reception, starting at 5:30 p.m., at the Gazebo Beach (which IMO is more private than the Pelicanos Beach). It was nice to not have to go far to the reception and cocktails, but still feel like there was a bit of variety in the venues. The beach was amazing for the reception – not at all windy like I feared, and watching the cruise ships float by all lit up was added décor. The timing worked out great for pictures, and also to avoid gawkers on the beach, as it was just getting dark when the reception started, so most people had gone in, or if they hadn’t, we at least couldn’t see them!
The Gazebo was PERFECT for the ceremony. Nice stone floor that was easy to walk on with minimal risk of tripping, and PRIVACY! We had only a few gawkers compared to the gobs I saw at the beach weddings the week I was there. The setup was beautiful (pic below). We requested the Tiffany chairs which were no extra cost with my package, they hung the tissue balls and aisle décor for me, and my friend arranged the petals. The pastor we had was wonderful – she ended up changing a few things we’d put in the ceremony script (by accident I am sure), but no one noticed but us. All said and done, our ceremony was maybe 10 minutes, but that was fine by us. Best part – at the end of the aisle during the recessional, we were greeted with two glasses of champagne for a toast! We just used recorded music which went off without a hitch.
If there were gawkers by this time, I didn’t notice. We finished the ceremony an hour before sundown, then did sunset pictures, and the sun was just disappearing when the reception started at 5:30. Everything was prefect at the reception – the food was great; the steaks may have been a tiny bit overdone according to some, but really good, and people loved the shrimp (we had two dinner choices, which each person’s designated on their place/escort card with either a starfish or sand dollar). The wedding cake was also great, and like everyone, we had TONS left over. Again, service was great here – shots were constantly coming without order, and no one wanted for anything. One thing to reiterate – we added an extra hour for four hours total for the reception, and we could have partied for four more! It goes by so fast, I really recommend doing this! After the reception, we all went to the lobby bar to keep celebrating, but it wasn’t the same!
We used DoReMix for our DJ – through the resort – and they were awesome. They nailed our playlist, brought super-fun- balloon, mask and glow stick props which my guests loved, and added some really cool touches like fireworks after our first dance, and spelling out our names, “Mr. & Mrs. Sprague,” in the lights on the dance floor!). And the dance floor – it’s pricey, but ladies, get the light up! My guests LOVED this! It was full the entire time!
Update: You can see my sneak peek slideshow from Del Sol here: http://delsolphotography.com/jordan-garrett-royal-playa-del-carmen-destination-wedding/
This was super important to me, so I forked out the outside vendor fee, and hired Del Sol after a TON of research. I looked and looked, and just couldn’t find anyone whose shots I enjoyed more in their online portfolios, or who had more positive recommendations from past clients. Melissa and Jonathan were our photographers, and they were great. Right on time, nailed my shot list, and stayed late to catch the cake cutting and bouquet/garter toss when things ran over. Not to mention, they were just fun! They also sent me a few fully-edited “sneak peak” shots for my thank you cards – and to tame my impatience – just a few days after the ceremony, which I know is not something a lot of photographers will do (below and throughout). A few of these are below. From start to finish, the Del Sol team was amazing, and I highly, highly recommend them. I will post a separate review just on them with photos once I have more! Update: Full Del Sol review here: http://www.bestdestinationwedding.com/products/del-sol-photography/reviews/6946
Ya’ll, it was amazing. I pointed out all the tiny things that weren’t just as I requested just because I wanted to give the most honest, detail-oriented review for brides that are picky like me, but it was all such a small part of such a wonderful time, it didn’t event matter. Of course we are biased, but FI and I and family all agreed it was the best wedding we’ve all experienced, and that had little to do with the décor we brought, or the flowers we chose. The whole package, with the service and the location (not to mention the people you love), made it amazing. I am sure you will have the time of your lives. Any Qs, PM me – as you can tell, I love to share my opinions and am happy to help J.