We were already heading to Cancun for a destination wedding, so it was a pleasure to accept an invitation to check out the new resort-within-a-resort at the mega-property Moon Palace. The Grand at Moon Palace is the new jewel in the crown, and deservedly so as this here review will soon reveal.
Gosh, where to begin?
Let me start with the price because when I do a check online with WestJet Vacations for a week (Dec. 2-9) at The Grand at Moon Palace for a family of four with kids who are 7 and 9, it comes up as $6,541.44 including all taxes and fees; this is only a few hundred more than what we just paid to go to the Royalton Riviera Cancun for a week in November — which is arguably not as desirable as December. Given the choice, I would go back to The Grand.
Next, because I’m a foodie, I have to spend some time swooning about the food we ate at The Grand at Moon Palace. It has earned the moniker of Best Restaurants at an All Inclusive in my books. In five days, I couldn’t get to everything, but — boy — did I give it the ole college try. Let me start with my top picks and work my way down:
Our favourite restaurant of the lot, featuring Lebanese food. A meal so good we agreed it would have been worth $300 to go downtown Toronto to enjoy. In fact, we felt this way about most of the a la carte restaurants, which is saying a lot when you’re a food snob at an all-inclusive resort.
There was live music and belly dancers throughout our meal, which added to the overall authenticity and certainly amped up the entertainment value for my kids. Authenticity continues with the menu, which you read from right to left (who knew that was a Lebanese thing?!). We asked for recommendations from our server and she didn’t disappoint.
First, they keep bringing you freshly made pita/naan, which is warm and heavenly. From the Cold Mezze section, we had the labne with kalamata olives and this was so good that we kept it at the table throughout our entire dinner to use with several dishes; hummus; and baba ganoush with awarma (lamb). All were just excellent. From the Hot Mezze, we went with fried kibbeh, falafel and makanek, with the falafel being the standout among three very solid dishes. Our mains included the mixed grill, which I’d recommend for carnivores who want to try a bit of everything, and the samak bi tahine — or the catch of the day served over a creamed tahini. You really need to love tahini if you order this, because there’s not much else happening with the fish (mine was a mahi mahi, cooked as fish should be, I might add).
We had a variety of desserts, which were all very good and included exquisitely made baklava. But the showstopper was the Turkish coffee, which you can order sweetened and arrives in a ready-to-pour golden pitcher with a matching golden mug. The server lovingly pours every drop slowly before your eyes. But the presentation itself isn’t even the most impressive part — because the coffee is so freaking good that we then went back every night after dinners elsewhere to get Turkish coffee to go.
The sign reads “contemporary Asian cuisine,” and it’s not wrong. This is the perfect example of fusion done right, taking core cooking principles and classic menu items from traditional Asian culture and blending it with modern flair and what is clearly a team of passionate chefs. And I’m so glad I went hungry.
From the list of cold starters, we chose the seared scallops, seared wagyu and spicy tuna. Each one better than the last, setting up BIG expectations for the rest of our meal at Jade. Our hot starters included pork belly dumplings, barbecued pork belly and a steamed pork bun — which was one of the best I’ve had anywhere, including those from dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong. Big B tried the spicy seafood soup and it was fine but clearly the outlier in what was otherwise a 10-out-of-10 dinner. The octopus skewers were lovely and tender.
From the specialties section, we went with the sea bass in sweet miso, smoked duck with figs, teriyaki pork ribs and the lamb in herb sauce. My faves here are a toss-up between the sea bass and smoked duck with the pork ribs coming close behind.
Oh, and then we ordered a second round of the dumplings because they were so stellar.
I’m so glad we made it here for lunch one day. What a sad day it would have been if we’d missed out on this Italian pizza and pasta standout. Complete with a wood-fired clay pizza oven, Tavola’s menu has just about everything you’d expect from an Italian restaurant and executes each one with excellence.
If you’re trying to decide between the caprese or burrata salad, make no mistake: the burrata will bring you to your knees. The cheese is beyond perfection and is surrounded by incredible fire-roasted tomatoes and atop a lovely pesto. I bow down to the whole dish, and I ordered a second one just to ensure quality control.
We tried three pizzas — the margherita, pepperoni and diavola. The kids loved the first two — though they first had to get past the melted mozzarella blobs that are typical of fancier pizza joints, instead of the grated cheese typical of a chain — and Big B and I devoured the third. It will long live in my memory that pizza. We also tried the spaghetti Bolognese, which we all thought was very good.
This is the only restaurant for which you need a reservation. Guests told me this was pretty easy to do and we had the same experience. Everything arrives in cast-iron dishes, giving it that hardcore steakhouse feel. The decor — and this is true of every restaurant — is authentic to its theme and looks like a high-end restaurant you’d find in any major city.
We started with delicious short-rib tacos and calamari that had a lovely breading. Then we moved on to a beautiful cut of beef called “picanha” (pronounced “pee-CAHN-ya”) and it was cooked to medium-rare perfection. Lamb chops? Gorgeous. Really nicely marinated and prepared, though the serving is very small so don’t make this your only entree unless you’ve got the appetite of an eight year old. Our favourite sides were the truffled corn (just wow) and the au gratin potatoes. I really liked the roasted carrots and wild mushrooms, too.
The charred octopus was nice but not as “crispy” as the menu states. I didn’t love the braised short rib as much as I wanted to, nor the black pepper crust bacon which seemed more like a hunk of ham.
Big shout-out to Caribeño, which isn’t listed as an a la carte but is open for lunch as a buffet and dinner as an a la carte. It was fantastic for both! But the real standout was lunch, with its made-to-order taco stand on the patio. OMG — these tacos! They are a must, must, must when you’re at The Grand at Moon Palace. They were one of the most memorable things we ate during our stay.
I wish we’d had a chance to get to the adult-only Le Chateau. Next time.
The Grand at Moon Palace does, of course, have a few buffets. We went every morning for breakfast at the main buffet (The Grand Buffet) and both the selection and presentation were wonderful. There was no shortage of options no matter what kind of breakfast you wanted to have. There was even a kids’ area that was lower to the ground and made it easy for my kids to help themselves. You could have a Bavarian-style morning with meats, fish and cheese; a Mexican morning with local dishes; a healthy morning with egg-white omelettes, fresh green juices or versions of eggs Benny on sprouted grain bread.
There was a DIY yogurt station with various yogurt flavours and toppings, like toasted coconut. There was a bread counter with a toaster, flanked by a selection of infused honeys, homemade Nutella and other delicious jams and spreads. And then there were the croissants. I need a moment of silence for the croissants.
…more silence, please…
OK, that seems like a respectable amount of time to pay homage to some of the most divine croissants I’ve had anywhere on this earth — including Paris. A French pastry chef must have come in and taught someone how a croissant ought to be made: perfectly flaky, bursting with buttery goodness and a heart centre so moist it brings a tear to my eye. We learned quickly to grab a plate of these beauties as soon as we walked into the buffet each morning — because once they’re gone, they’re gone. And that, friends, is a sad, sad moment.
I also must compliment the dessert chef, because the desserts at every lunch and dinner where we visited a buffet-style spot were awesome. They were inventive (like deconstructed tiramisu) and presented with so much pretty:
One place we frequented throughout our stay was the boulangerie and coffee shop. Aside from being decorated with the prettiest furniture, there was no shortage of specialty coffees or sweet treats. More than once, we enjoyed a slice of the delectable S’mores cake and it was a daily stop for some macarons and truffles — both done as beautifully as you’d find in a proper French pastry shop.
This seems like a good time to mention the resort’s wine list and a la carte kids menu. When I think about all of the house wines that have been available on the included wine lists at all of the resorts we’ve visited, I’d say this one is tops. Or at least tied for first place with Beaches Resorts. There was a LOT of variety available for those who like whites and reds, with at least five to seven different varietals available for each — and YOU GET THE WHOLE BOTTLE for your table. There was also one included bubbly and a rose.
Not being white drinkers, we made our way through the reds list (with the French Cabernet Sauvignon being our favourite of the bunch — bold and earthy), and we also tried the sparking wine (very dry with no sweetness, so not my personal taste) and the rose, which is also not my thing on the whole…though the server at Jade suggested making my glass into a spritzer and that was tastier.
I understand why they do it, and though I’m not ordinarily a fan of having the same kids’ menu at every single restaurant, at least the one offered at The Grand at Moon Palace is big enough that kids can eat something different every night of a week-long vacation rather than cycling through three meal options. Ours really enjoyed the chicken fingers, mac ‘n cheese and quesadillas.
While we’re on the topic of food and beverages, it’s worth mentioning that the cocktails at all of the bars are made fresh and not from the garbage that comes out of pre-mixed slush. This is the way it should be at a resort billed as five stars, but you’d be amazed at how many places have the slush. Making cocktails from scratch means you can adjust the sweetness to your liking.
Time to move on from food to amenities and activities. There are so many pools at The Grand at Moon Palace that I couldn’t even count them all, and most are equipped with not one but two swim-up bars. Several even have these king-sized floating beds, which are phenomenal.
Some pools are warmer than others, and I like that there were varying temps because not everyone likes to swim in 88-degree bath water like I do. Some people actually seem to enjoy getting into a “refreshing” pool. Weirdos, there’s something for you, too. There’s great music playing at each pool and some have volleyball nets. Some are infinity. Others have full tables and stools built in. All are beautiful and tropical perfection.
There are so many kid zones that it doesn’t matter how old your kids are, there will be something fun for them. Babies and toddlers will need to be accompanied by parents everywhere since the kids’ club doesn’t allow you to leave children under age 4. But there are some great play spaces for them, so be sure to go to the Playroom, located within the water park, and head up to the second floor. Let me run through the various kid spaces at the Grand at Moon Palace:
It is so close to opening and once it’s ready to roll, it will top just about every water park we’ve seen at any all inclusive. There are big waterslides, small waterslides, a wave pool, lazy river and there are snack kiosks, a full bar and poolside drinks service.
There’s also a little-kid play area with really small waterslides and fun water features. The best part is that the bigger water park is fully enclosed.
The Playroom is the kids’ club and located within the water park. It’s two floors of fun! There’s even a snack bar inside where kids can get fresh fruit, chicken nuggets, popcorn, juice and water. Kids who are 4 to 7 must be signed in and out by a parent, but you get a mobile phone so if your kid wants out before you return, they just call you. The downside is that these kids are limited to indoor-only activities and can’t go to the main floor without a parent present.
Kids 8+ get a wrist band that allows them to come and go as they please and use either floor of the Playroom without parental supervision.
There is so, so, so much to do in the Playroom!
There’s a big, two-level obstacle course like you’d see at a pricey play place, mini golf, bumper cars, air hockey, an arcade, a mid-air trekking course (your kids actually get into climbing harnesses), a neat area with science-flavoured activities, and a mirror maze (which we all loved). The second floor area for little ones is cotton-candy-coloured decadence with lots of padding and a number of rides and stations that will keep them busy for hours.
Despite the many resorts to which we’ve been that have kids’ clubs, my kids never seem to like them. Either there’s not enough to do or they don’t like the staff. This is the first time EVER that I’ve had both kids in a kids’ club long enough to lie down on a sun bed, have a couple of drinks and read. IT WAS BLISS. They both agreed it was by far the best kids’ club they’ve been to yet.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Wired Teen Lounge
Designed for 13 to 17 year olds, you can still go in if you’re not yet 13 but your parents have to go with you. The advantage of the Teen Lounge is the location — it’s in the main building with all of the restaurants. So this was more convenient for some post-dinner play than heading back to the Playroom. There’s a big air hockey table and loads of arcade games. There’s a bigger snack bar here than in the Playroom with more sweet treats, including ice cream. And there’s even a dance floor that’s touch-sensitive.
You can tell that someone actually put some serious thought into what should go in each area based on the ages of the kids it’s designed to entertain.
Apparently, there’s also a bowling alley somewhere at The Grand — but we never found it…there just wasn’t enough time.
I mentioned earlier that as a guest of The Grand at Moon Palace, you’re part of a resort-within-a-resort. There are two sister resorts: Nizuk and Sunrise. They’re attached, but separate, and you have unlimited access to both. This is best done by any of the free shuttles leaving the lobbies every 10 to 15 minutes, but you can also catch a ride with a golf-cart driver if you ask nicely.
Speaking of which, these golf carts are everywhere, all the time. They can be available on demand most times, too, though at peak periods like dinner, expect to wait or just walk to your destination. Nothing within The Grand resort is so far that you can’t make it there on foot…but you do get used to being delivered from one spot to the next by golf cart. We only visited Sunrise, and it was specifically to spend time on the Flowrider — a simulated wave machine on which you can surf or body board. And it’s easily the biggest Flowrider I’ve seen to date! So.much.fun.
Overall, the free WiFi was good and strong. There were periods when we had to re-connect or had no service, but these were few and far between. The kids could watch Netflix before bed, and I was able to upload videos to Instagram and Twitter consistently.
The Grand at Moon Palace has an excellent gym! It’s bright and big, and there are cool towels and plenty of water. And there are about three rooms within the facility, with everything from cardio machines to circuit training to free weights.
I can’t close out the review of The Grand at Moon Palace without praising the interior design team. All your hard work did NOT go unnoticed. At every turn, I gasped at the decor. It represents the ultimate in luxury. I can’t even guess at how many millions of dollars’ worth of marble is in this place. Every restaurant, every bathroom, every common area — you name it — it’s stunning. Even the lobby bathrooms don’t disappoint:
Let’s get real honest for a minute about the shows you usually see at all inclusives: mediocre. Well, I only made it to one performance in the Grand Theatre (which in and of itself is impressive), and it was pretty stellar! Great sound, incredible costumes, wonderful performers — it was big budget stuff! I loved the Day of the Dead show, even if it scared my kids and they went back to the room with Big B. (Because sugar skulls that are inanimate aren’t as intimidating as ones staring at you from the front row…)
I’m going to end with the staff, who deserve more than just a paragraph. Because they were outstanding. Daniela from the activity team stands out; she was always happy and trying to get people to play games or do activities around the pool. We tried a water spinning class with her, which was a pretty solid workout, a balloon-catching game, trivia games and more. It wasn’t uncommon to see her entertaining a group of kids pool-side.
But it didn’t stop with Daniela; from the golf-cart drivers to housekeeping to restaurant servers, the attitude was always one of trying to please. Every time we expressed our gratitude, the response was “It’s a pleasure.” If they weren’t happy to be working at The Grand at Moon Palace, they all hid it well…staff seemed genuinely happy.
I need help understanding why the kids’ bracelets were equipped with door-opening technology but the adults needed to carry keys. Obviously, if the kids’ bracelets can do it, the adult ones could be fashioned to do the same. Carrying a card-key around feels old skool and unnecessary.
The Riviera Cancun is not on the nicest or most developed stretch of beach. I don’t like the ocean in this part of Cancun because it seems to be where all the sea grass and these weird pine needles end up. If you MUST be in the ocean all day, re-think your decision. The Grand at Moon Palace makes up for it BIG TIME with outstanding pools and best-in-class food, so that works for me. Food trumps ocean, but I’d still rather be in the ocean than a pool. That said, if it was on a beach like Grace Bay or Negril’s 7-mile beauty, this resort would probably cost a family of four $10-12k a week. So there’s that.
The waterpark was not fully operational and guests told me that they’d been told “it will be open tomorrow” nearly every day of their vacation. The day we arrived, the concierge told us it was opening the next day and five days later, it was still only about 50 per cent operational. It was still VERY fun and my kids loved it but those wanting the biggest, fastest slides should confirm that it’s fully open before booking. I also asked several times about the height restrictions for the bigger slides set to open, and no one was able to provide that information to me. I expect it will be at least 48″ for the bigger slides because they are big (think Great Wolf Lodge big).
There doesn’t seem to be a free shuttle to take guests to the Beach Palace resort up in the Cancun Hotel Zone, despite the fact that it’s printed in the brochure we received when we arrived.
Basic rooms have two double beds; there’s enough space for two queens in these and this would have been MILES better for my family because of the sheer size of my husband. We wouldn’t have had to bring in a rollaway bed had there been two queens, which really reduced the convenience of having a room with such a large footprint. The rollaway could only go in one spot, and that blocked our access to the many dresser drawers — meaning that our clothes lived in suitcases or surfaces for the duration of our stay. If budget allows, spring for a family suite.
I wish it wasn’t so much effort to get actual vegetables for my kids when we were at an a la carte. I can’t be the only parent who doesn’t want to feed her kids French fries every night, can I? Surely, steamed broccoli or mixed raw vegetables would be easy to have available. It was a challenge to procure much more than cucumber slices or carrot strips from night to night, which is the biggest downside of an otherwise well-thought-out kids’ menu.
I wish the kids’ club offered daily programming for kids that includes time outside; as it stands, it’s all indoors.