by Kara Williams
The Sandos Playacar Resort & Spa is an all-inclusive, oceanfront resort located in the Playacar strip of hotels just south of Playa del Carmen’s downtown and pedestrian-friendly 5th Avenue.
This property, originally built in 1996, was formerly known as the Gala Playacar, and is still labeled as such on some dated hotel maps. It is the most southern property on the Playacar strip, next to the Iberostar Tucan/Quetzal resort; this means there is a nice section of beach to the south of the resort that is not fronting any hotels or cluttered with lounge chairs.
The Sandos Playacar Resort & Spa is comprised of three sections laid out vertically in a long, skinny rectangle perpendicular to the beach: Sandos Beach, two four-story buildings closest to the Caribbean Sea and adjacent to the activity pool; Sandos Haciendas, 16 two-story buildings each with its own pool and each housing 10 guestrooms; and Sandos Riviera, which is the biggest section and farthest from the beach, but with the largest rooms with the most modern amenities.
Guests of the Sandos Playacar Riviera and the Sandos Playacar Beach share all of the same facilities, including check-in lobby, pools, kids’ club, spa and restaurants. The Riviera section is a good 10-minute walk to the beach. The Beach section — while older, smaller and not as nicely decorated — is situated closer to the beach. Make it very clear when you are booking your reservations which style of accommodations you want at this 860-room property. Also note that there is a totally different Sandos property north of Playa del Carmen called the Sandos Caracol Beach.
Our Editor Loves
- Preserved Mayan ruins on the property
- Waterfront location and white sandy beach
- All Inclusive Rates
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Room configurations in the three different sections of the resort are varied. But the most ideal rooms for families feature two double beds and a pull-out sofa, which allows for two adults and up to three children in one room. These "junior suites" can be found in the Riviera section.
Again, the Riviera section is furthest from the activity pool and the beach with balconies overlooking the "quiet" pool or the jungle. The junior suites here are spacious, with huge bathrooms with double sinks, separate shower and commode areas, and two-person Jacuzzi tub, plus a flat-screen television. The decor is modern and sophisticated with dark wood and warm beige accents.
Junior suites in the middle Hacienda section can also accommodate five guests (two adults and three children) with two double beds and a pull-out sofa bed. While some of the junior suites here have been updated to reflect the new modern decor and amenities of the Riviera section, most resemble the decor in the older Beach section (see below). One nifty thing about the quiet Hacienda section is that each of the 16 free-standing buildings has its own small, private, four-foot-deep pool and deck area with table and chairs. The Hacienda section features a lot of greenery, from the many shrubs and bushes to the rolling green lawn.
The standard Beach rooms are smaller than the Riviera rooms. Although some of the room configurations here have two double beds and one day bed/couch that together could technically accommodate two adults and three children, the official word is that they are limited to two adults and two children. The decor in the royal-blue and yellow room could be described as "Caribbean floral." The bathroom with shower only was not near as spacious as the bathrooms in the Riviera rooms.
All resort rooms have a stocked mini-fridge, air-conditioning, balcony or terrace, in-room safe and hair dryer. Irons and ironing boards are only included in the Riviera section; you can ask for one to be delivered to your room. Complimentary cribs are available on request; there are no bedrails.
There are some adjoining rooms available, but the front-desk staff admitted that they are very hard to get, even if you request them in advance. In other words, definitely don't plan on having adjoining rooms to make into a sort of ad hoc suite for a large family.
Master Suites, with a separate living room and bedroom are available in the Riviera and Beach sections, but the quantity is limited (only two total in the entire Riviera section). If you book this type of room (a definite upgrade from the junior suite and more expensive, plus ocean facing in the Beach section), make sure you indeed get what you pay for!
Golf-cart trams take guests from the Riviera section to the Meeting Point lobby area in the Beach section about every five minutes; it's a two-minute trip by tram car. Otherwise, to walk from the furthest room in the Riviera section to the ocean it's at least a 10-minute walk. It's a slightly shorter walk from the Riviera lobby to the activity pool.
by Sonia L
We were at the Sandos Playacar last January. I know... several months ago! I was looking at reviews to make sure they still have the gluten free buffet. From what I see, they still do. Staff were amazing with my celiac daughter that can't have gluten, and this is our number one priority. We loved our stay that was for the new year and we hope to go back again in January for new year again if budget allows. Staff and service was great, the beach and pool perfect and we also loved our day at the other Sandos to enjoy the water slides.
by Helen G
The soup and tacos were very delicious....including all the mankn meals....service was very good. The guacamole was good. Wine was excellent. Marcela was on top of out drinks and the front desk was good also
This is where the Sandos Playacar Beach Resort shines. With a supervised Kids' Club and Teens' Club, plus poolside activities that children can participate in throughout the day, kids of all ages are entertained morning to night.
The Kids' Club, with its own freestanding clubhouse operates from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. and is complimentary to all guests. Children are grouped by age: 4 to 7 years and 8 to 12 years. Register your child between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. and, if you like, reserve lunch or dinner with the group at that time, as well.
Children can stay at the Kids' Club all day, enjoying different age-appropriate activities such as tye-dyeing T-shirts, building sand castles, painting, puzzles, cooking lessons and relay races. The schedule is posted clearly outside the clubhouse, so you can also drop your children off solely for specific activities. (Just be sure to fill out a proper registration form prior to 11 a.m. that day, or your child can only stay for one activity hour, and cannot eat lunch or dinner with the group.)
The clubhouse features a small water-play area for youngest participants, with a slide into a two-foot-deep pool. Bigger kids splash around a large pool loaded with lots of water toys and boogie boards, but it's also shallow: two feet, two inches. There is a playset and sandbox with lots of sand toys, but it is only available to children enrolled in the Kids' Club.
One special activity for children is participating is Monday night's "Disney Show." This is part of the included nighttime entertainment, which is typically performed by adults and held in the 800-seat indoor theatre. But with the Disney production, young children rehearse all afternoon, then don costumes to get on stage to perform scenes from Disney musicals. Other nighttime fun includes a pinata party, face-painting, fashion show and mini disco. Cool!
Teens have their own recreation space in an open-air palapa next to the Kids' Club clubhouse with foosball and pool tables. Teens can also meet up with activities staff here at 10 a.m. to begin a day of events like beach volleyball, water-balloon fights and a kayak race. The resort's disco is open just for teens three nights a week between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Baby Club is offered to 2- and 3-year-olds from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., and then again from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. Children these ages can stay in the Baby Club for a maximum of three hours a day, but you can split those hours up, one hour in the morning, two hours in the afternoon. This child care takes place at the Kids' Club clubhouse. Children do not have to be potty-trained to participate in the Baby Club or Kids' Club, but you must provide diapers (or Pull-ups), swim diapers and wipes.
The activity pool in the Beach section of the resort is hopping all day long, with staff leading scheduled water aerobics, dart tournaments, water polo, belly-flop contests, bingo and more. If kids want to participate, they'll accommodate youngsters in just about everything but the Ironman Olympics (one of the events involves chugging alcohol) or the poolside beer-drinking contests (dads only, please).
The activity pool in the Beach section is generally four feet deep, but can accommodate younger swimmers with wide step entries and two-foot-deep ledges around the pool. There is a separate, adjacent kiddie pool (1.5-foot deep) as well.
The swimming pool in the Riviera section is generally quiet, although children are welcome. It is also four feet deep. The adults-only pool on the property is strangely located right next to another kiddie pool in the Riviera section.
Other kid-friendly activities that are included in the price of your all-inclusive room rate: Ping-Pong, giant chessboard, giant Connect Four game, tennis with kid-sized racquets and tennis balls to borrow, ocean kayaks and one catamaran (an adult must sail it). There are more than two dozens bicycles for guests to borrow, including many kid-sized bikes, and you can simply check them out (with helmets) to explore the Playacar area on your own. Guide-led bike tours are also held several mornings a week.
If kids need a break from the sun, they can play complimentary Playstation games in a small video-game room. Pottery painting by the pool is another option; prices vary depending on the size of the object your child chooses to paint, from about $8 and up.
Kids also love holding the iguana or toucan that the onsite photographer totes around the property. Of course, you can't snap a picture of your kid holding the animals; you need to purchase the professional photos.
Since the Sandos Playacar Resort is all-inclusive, all your meals, snacks and drinks (including alcohol) are included in the price. All but one restaurant at the Sandos Playacar Resort is open to children, although a few are more appropriate than others. None have specific kids' menus, but many of the a la carte restaurants have food items that appeal to young palates, while the buffets are naturally great for children, since they can pick out exactly what they'd like to eat - and then go back for seconds!
The number of nights you can book at the reservations-only restaurants depends on the number of nights you are staying at the resort. Reserve your times as soon as possible (at Guest Services at the Meeting Point lobby/entrance to the Beach section of the resort), to get your preferred times.
Here's a peek at the main restaurants, all of which have high chairs for young diners:
This is the main eating spot open for three meals daily under a huge, open-air palapa in the Beach section. Offerings at breakfast include Mexican specialties (chilequilies and empanadas), French toast and pancakes (with melted chocolate topping!), an omelet station, cereal, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit, yogurt and more. Lunch features a pasta station, sauteed chicken and beef, salads, vegetables, fish and other entrees, plus a dessert spread. Dinner varies nightly, with different themes: Mexican, International, Mediterranean, French, etc.
This air-conditioned restaurant in the Riviera section is supposedly open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but we found it closed at lunchtime on our last day in Mexico. Food items are similar to those offered in the Festival Buffet, plus pizza.
This restaurant adjacent to the activity pool offers breakfast and lunch items similar to the Festival Buffet, just in a cozier atmosphere. By night, it's transformed into a Mexican buffet restaurant, with absolutely delectable Mexican favorites: tacos, tostados, fajitas, refried beans, beef hash, roasted meat on a spit, several salads, soups and a dessert table full of items like flan, churros and tres leches cake.
This is a reservations-only restaurant with all sorts of buffet items that appeal to children, namely pasta and pizza.
Asiana Oriental Restaurant
Here, you order off of a menu for a table-service meal. Choose from miso or five-spiced chicken noodle soup to start, then consider items like sashimi, egg rolls or oriental salad, followed by entrees such as chicken tandoori, pad thai, or Siam Duck. We found the food here extremely tasty and filling. Reservations only.
Le Gourmet French Restaurant
This is another a la carte menu that we steered clear of with children ranging in age from 6 to 12; it just appeared to sophisticated for their tastes with items like onion soup, scallops with brandy, filet mignon with bearnaise sauce. Reservations only.
El Gaucho Steak Restaurant
We also opted out of this a la carte restaurant, which features entrees such as rib-eye, T-bone, BBQ pork ribs, salmon in capers and seafood casserole. Reservations only.
Fogo de Janeiro Brazilian Restaurant
Start with salad or soup from a buffet, then enjoy all sorts of different grilled meats (beef, turkey, sausage), served off the skewer at your table and accompanied by sauteed vegetables, plantains and corn on the cob. A highlight was the roasted pineapple with cinnamon. Our group of children enjoyed the food, even if service was a bit slow and the meal lengthy. Reservations only.
Riviera Blue Snack Bar & Buffet
We enjoyed this casual spot for lunch near the adults-only pool in the Riviera section, since you can order sandwiches, hot dogs or cheeseburgers off the menu, or choose from the hot buffet items (including pizza). In the evening, it transforms into a candle-lit, romantic setting as the one adults-only eatery at the resort. The menu in the evening includes soup, salads and seafood entrees, such as grouper, salmon and grilled tuna.
Agave Snack Bar
This is a little stand on the beach offering hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, popcorn and self-serve, soft-serve ice cream. The children absolutely loved that they could serve themselves ice cream cones here and at the poolside Itztapalapa Buffet restaurant.
Available 24 hours a day; menu items include sandwiches, salads, tacos and chicken wings
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Mayan ruins have been preserved on the property, on a hill next to the activity pool and also near the Teen Club. These ancient stone buildings are marked with informative plaques, and they are not roped off, so kids can actually touch them and walk inside.
The Sandos Playacar Resort & Spa has a primo location right on the white sand beach. Note that in recent years, however, that the beach has eroded. Humongous sandbags that look like giant beached whales are set in the water to prevent further erosion (these are found all up and down the beach, in front of other resorts, too). Kids love sliding down them or jumping from them into the ocean. We highly recommend an adult supervise play on these "whales."
In general, an all-inclusive vacation at the Sandos Playacar Resort & Spa is a great deal. Because your lodging, meals, drinks and activities are all included in the room rate, you know the price of your vacation up front (excluding off-property excursions). For families, especially, all-inclusive resorts such as this one make ultra-convenient vacations, too. Kids can always find something to eat at the plentiful buffet restaurants, and you don't have to spend time researching a bunch of kid-friendly eateries before you get there.
Once you arrive at the all-inclusive resort, there's very little cash you'll need. Exceptions include pottery painting, gift-shop purchases, professional printed photography, spa treatments and gratuities. We typically tip a dollar or two for good service in the restaurants (although it is not encouraged) and for daily housekeeping in our guestroom. Small tips for bellmen or shuttle drivers are not expected, but certainly appreciated.
The fitness center has cardio-vascular machines such as stationary bikes, treadmills and stair-steppers, plus strength-training equipment and free weights.
Resort babysitters can be hired for an hourly fee.
Free Wi-Fi is available in public areas of the hotel.
The Art of Smart Timing
The resort is open year-round, but is most crowded with families over the Christmas holidays, spring break periods and summer vacation. In general, the low season for Playa del Carmen is April to June and September to mid-November - this is when you should find the least expensive rates. Remember that hurricane season runs from June to December.
The resort is located on Paseo Xaman-Ha in Playacar, about an hour's taxi ride from the Cancun International Airport. While the hotel does not offer complimentary transfers to and from the airport, some vacation packages include them (these may be large buses that drop off at several different hotels) or you can book your van or taxi transfers via an independent transportation company online prior to your visit.
From the resort, it is a five-minute taxi ride into town, or about a 35-minute walk for adults (factor a bit more time in if you have little legs in tow).
For Mom and Dad
With built-in child care, in the form of the complimentary Baby Club and Kids' Club or hired babysitters, parents have no excuse not to escape one afternoon or evening for some grownups-only time. You could enjoy a kid-free meal at one of the onsite restaurants (you've paid for it already!).
The full-service spa with relaxing pool and hot tub offers an array of massages, facials and wraps. Beauty salon offerings include haircuts, up-dos and braids, nail service and waxing.