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A Seaside Brewery and a Side of Buffett
Margaritaville Riviera Maya offers barefoot luxury just 20 minutes from the Cancun Airport
Jimmy Buffett’s entire life and career revolved around the concept of having the perfect day under a Caribbean sun, preferably with a margarita or frosty beer in your hand. For over half a century, the singer/songwriter managed to retain his everyman persona even as he built an empire of restaurants, resorts, and branded merchandise all catering to the toes-in-the-sand lifestyle that he, and his loyal fans, loved.
When Jimmy died in September, I was heartbroken. Not quite a card-carrying Parrothead, I had been to many of his concerts, visited a bunch of his Margaritaville restaurants and resorts in my travels, and had his Margaritaville radio station perpetually tuned in on my car stereo. Jimmy, after all, was both poet and connoisseur of a good drink and a cold beer. IN other words, one of my heroes.
So, what better way to pay homage to a fallen hero than to visit the brand-new Margaritaville Island Reserve Riviera Maya Resort? Run by Karisma Hotels, the property opened just a few months ago and the newness shows — the hotel, just a short 20-minute drive from Cancun International Airport, looks and smells pristine. Unlike other Margaritaville hotels, this is an adults-only, all-inclusive resort (there’s a family-friendly Margaritaville resort just up the road for families).
Upon entering, I was greeted by a luxe lobby and a bozzy, tequila-infused margarita paleta, made locally.
The 355 rooms are all appointed in “tropical chic” furnishings with touches of Jimmy Buffett all around — a pillow that says “changes in attitude”, a mural of a parrot, and a shaker and glasses to make margaritas. Speaking of those room margaritas — instead of pre-stocking your hotel fridge, guests are given a credit (dollar amount depends on length of stay) to shop for provisions in a small store. There’s wine, beer, soft drinks, snacks, and spirits. And, if you do buy some tequila, room service will arrive with the mixers you need for margaritas. They’ll even loan you one of Jimmy’s margarita machines for you to make frozen margs on your balcony or swim-up patio.
What the resort doesn’t have is an actual Margaritaville restaurant. Instead, look for some more interesting options that include a working brewery, a steakhouse complete with a meat sommelier, a breakfast that offers some pretty good authentic Mexican options, and a bakery and coffee shop.
The craft beer scene is growing in Mexico and Margaritaville has taken advantage of the trend by hosting its own brewery on site. The 15 bbls, two-vessel Prospero system can brew four different beer styles, including a super fresh and crisp version of the popular Landshark Lager. Brewmaster Diego Balmori also offers a rotating selection of seasonal beers. For instance, I was there at the tail end of Oktoberfest, so the brewery was offering a Marzen, along with a dark lager and a session IPA. The brewery also has a patio with a gorgeous ocean view, where you can relax with a flight and Baja fish tacos. It’s one of the quietest spots in the resort (though it turns into a club after 11 p.m.) and I might have found a haven there sipping a cold one while watching the tide roll in.
Though Joe Merchant’s Coffee and Provisions doesn’t sound like the place to find authentic Mexican treats, I was delighted to find freshly baked Pan de Muerto. This sweet bread is traditionally eaten by the living and left on ofrendas for dead friends and relatives to enjoy during Dia de Los Muertos.
The breakfast, served in the Boat House, has a daily array of traditional Mexican foods including both savory and sweet tamales offered every morning. Other highlights include marinated cactus, chilaquiles made to order, and n less than a dozen different freshly pressed tropical juices.
Executive chef Daniela Vallejo Serrano says that in addition to Margaritaville staples, she and her team strive to give guests a good sampling of the rich culture of Mexico. “You can find local products and flavors influenced by the Yucatan Peninsula among our many culinary offerings, from fresh fish to marinades made with annatto. We also serve jackfruit that grows in the nearby Chiquilá jungle as part of our vegan options,” she says.
Carnivores will appreciate that the property dry ages its own Certified Angus steaks, supervised by JWB Steakhouse’s meal sommelier. Chef Serrano says that the steaks are aged between 20 and 45 days in a controlled temperature room. Guests are invited in to pick their steak, which is weighed and cooked on the restaurant’s Josper grill.
Finally, no homage to Jimmy Buffett would be complete with toasting the musician with a margarita. Here, mixologist Alor is in charge of the mixology program, shaking your margarita with your choice of 15 tequilas and seven mezcals. There are also an additional nine premium tequilas and nine premium mezcals, offered for an upcharge and the resort hosts tequila tastings and pairings.
The only thing lacking at this particular resort is a good, wide beach. The beach is almost nonexistent, which was disappointing when I wanted a morning walk to burn off my calories in advance. But, a multitude of pools, swim-up bars, and even an afternoon foam party more than make up for the lack of sandy shoreline.
Besides, I’d much rather listen to the surf while toasting my beloved Jimmy Buffet with a fresh beer than blow out my flip-flop on a beach walk. And Margaritaville Riviera Maya is the perfect place to do just that. Arriba abajo, Jimmy.