Live Aqua Cancun, Boulevard Kukulkan,
La Isla, 77500 Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico
888.774.0040 :: aquacancunresort.com
The custom-blended aroma of peppermint and Mexican rosemary float through the main lobby as I enter Live Aqua Cancun and see the expanse of the bright turquoise Caribbean Sea spread out before my eyes. “In la-keech,” Antonio says, as he greets me at this stunning, all-inclusive, adults-only resort that was recently named the No. 1 Mexican Resort by Travel & Leisure. “In la-keech” sounds a lot like “in luggage,” so I say, “Yes, it’s my luggage,” not knowing he was crossing his hands over his chest and greeting me with the Mayan phrase that means, “I am yours – your wish is my wish.”
Relaxing music streams throughout the lobby and there are textured, beaded pillows on luxurious couches that invite you to touch them while you’re seated for your welcome hand massage.
It’s late and my bed beckons me with my name spelled in flowers. “Drink anything or as much as you like,” my bellman suggests as he waves towards the room’s fully stocked bar. It’s been a long day and I haven’t had dinner, yet I don’t want to be a party pooper. Even though I am alone, I crack the añejo tequila and slam back one shot with lime and salt before I jump into bed and fall asleep to the lazy ocean.
I begin my day with a morning meal laid out with a treasure map of the plate, guiding me along a sampling of stuffed leaves and mole, salsas and freshly made tropical juices. While everyone at Live Aqua possesses a great deal of passion about their work, the executive chef of MB Restaurant (one of three restaurants in the hotel) is particularly fired up about his job (pun intended). Eric de Maeyer is Belgian and fuses Latin, Mediterranean and French gastronomy in the most creative way.
Guests are invited into his kitchen to chop, dice and stir under his tutelage to create a magical lunch. Initially we broke into cold and hot cooking teams. The cold team worked with Fernando, the de facto master of molecular gastronomy. They foamed mango and carved mini tomatoes into little sculptures. We, the hot team, created a fresh seafood pasta, blending a delectable combination of leeks, onions and mushrooms, sautéed with olive oil and butter, reduced with dry white wine and tequila stock, doused with cream and chipotles, blanketed with dill and basil, and finally tossed with steamed mussels, chicken breast and shrimp that had all been fired together with bacon and garlic.
Ultimately our dish was then layered over fettuccini and served to us at a family-style table of 16. (Find the complete recipe on Coast’s website). Chef Eric was both a talented cook and charming table companion. He and his dedicated staff raised the quality of the restaurant so completely that MB moved up 55 places on the Trip Advisor Best Restaurants in Cancun list in the first year of his arrival (at press time it is No. 21). “We are always working to improve,” he told me. “We ask how everything is before we ever get a complaint. We are willing to accommodate our guest’s pleasures. Tonight some returning guests are bringing me crafted Belgian beer and I am making a special dinner to complement their tastes,” he says.
When I ask him what his other job would be if he weren’t a chef, he smiles and instantly tells me he would “make the cartoons.” At first I think I misunderstood him, and then he reminds me that Tintin and many other cartoons originated in Belgium. He is well-traveled and I wonder aloud what his favorite restaurant is in the U.S. This El Bulli-trained chef looks me in the eye and grins. It’s McDonald’s. “I love the American junk food! Sometimes, after cooking all day long, I grab a Big Mac on my way home, pour some tequila and just sit down in front of the TV. I almost never sit down.” The reason I believe him is that I see him working almost all hours of the day every day. In the morning mist of the wee hours, he whisks some picnic lunches for guests out to the concierge. When I pass by the bar mid afternoon, he is creating some innovative focaccia paninis. Late at night he is commanding the open kitchen at MB. Even later he is eating and drinking with friends and staff. He is the Energizer Bunny of cooking.
This is my first foray into an all-inclusive resort. I expect bland cafeteria food and overcooked vegetables, but nothing could be further from reality. There is a lovely coffee bar, a sushi station, and on my last night, I eat at the only supplemental restaurant in the resort, In Lakeech. It is a romantic, candlelit spot that would be perfect for a rehearsal dinner or intimate wedding banquet. I feast on “cappucino soup” and grilled steak paired with succulent lobster, and drink mojitos.
I love sweating in the kitchen with the mussels and Chef Eric, but one of my favorite spots is the Sea Corner. I savor the casual food and the view overlooking the ocean. I have a midday fresh mango margarita with a couple of tacos under a palapa in my bathing suit while I watch the rainbow-colored lovebird parrots flit and fly together in their own aviation show for the guests. I name them Romeo and Juliet, but the hotel calls them Juan and Carlos.
I highly recommend “leaving campus” for a dinner in the home of one of Mexico’s up-and-coming chefs. Here, I find my ultimate intimate dinner party vision. The worldly Christian Morales, chef at Cocina de Autor, cooks for us in the privacy of his home with a party of fewer than 10, surrounded by changing art in a spot so secretive that no one could find it, least of all our driver, even though we were carrying the written address and a map. The meal is candlelit, multi-course and features creative combinations of color, light and innovation. I had never before eaten most things I found on my plate that evening. An adventurous chef who curated the event as lovingly as if it were our last meals, I felt honored and spoiled by the service.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Music pipes out of 10 designated areas, mixed by a full-time hotel DJ. His job is to shape the vibe in the lobby, at the pool, and in the restaurants and bars. I sit down with Gotardo Dorado to talk about his passion. “Thank God I can make a living at my hobby. I love it. I am a melomanos (a fanatical lover of music),” he tells me. “I started collecting records when I was eight years old. Now my computer has over 50,000 tracks. I have an important job to try and create an atmosphere with arriving, seeing a view, smelling aromatherapy, hearing the music. I take you to paradise.”
The resort has tracks running constantly from a playlist that he changes three times a year at Easter, summer and Christmas. With many return guests, he keeps the music fresh – buying tracks every month with his generous music budget. Gotardo finds inspiration from very cosmopolitan visitors, while classical music and jazz remain his favorites. He also DJs all the weddings, reunions and parties, personally.
As much as Gotardo loves his music, Jaime loves the Spa. He’s managed to coax his den of relaxation into one of the top five spas in Mexico. There is no better spot at Live Aqua than in the aromatic spa, luxuriating in a treatment room or floating cares away in the Jacuzzi or steam room.
Play with the Sharks
The first thing I do after I hear we will have the chance to swim with sharks (without cages) is Google “has anyone been eaten by a whale shark?” Surprisingly or not, depending on your perspective, the answer is yes! A fisherman was swallowed whole, much like Jonah in the belly of the whale. But it was an accident.
Aptly named for their size, the whale sharks don’t have big white shark teeth; they have big wide mouths that filter plankton and grilli (baby fish) out of the water. The whale shark is the largest living species of fish and can reach up to 40 feet in length, weigh up to three tons and possess mouths that open five feet wide. Our able crew gets us out to the water quickly, to the center of the action before the 45 other boats arrive. All this while the sharks are out for their morning meal, which is fortunately plankton. I could have easily reached out and touched one while we danced side-by-side had we not been told it isn’t good for the sharks, as they are a protected species.
Go early, prepare for sea sickness even if you don’t get sea sick, pull on a snorkel and mask, slither over the edge of the boat, and marvel at the gentle giant creatures that swim above, below and around you.