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The first overwater bungalows were unveiled more than 50 years ago, but they’re still a hot commodity — and for good reason. These accommodations offer amazing views of picturesque sunsets over crystal clear blue waters, and make you feel like you’re floating in the ocean. I don’t know why, but there’s something really, really special about overwater villas. Mostly because they’re so far out of the ordinary when it comes to hotel rooms and being able to dive right in is really appealing to a lot of people — even though, in reality, they aren’t that practical. I would prefer to have a bigger villa on the beach so you have the ability to go in the water and be on the beach.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience a couple of overwater bungalows in the Maldives. Most recently, I stayed at two beautiful resorts: the Park Hyatt Maldives and The St. Regis Maldives. And while I was itching to stay in one again, I didn’t want to have to travel more than 24 hours to get there. The El Dorado Maroma, which opened in September 2016 in the Riviera Maya, had been on my radar for awhile — these are the first Palafitos, or overwater villas, in Mexico. I was burned out and needed a quick recharge getaway, so I decided to pull the trigger and book a stay at the property. I couldn’t wait to see what it’d be like to experience this kind of paradise in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Booking

El Dorado Maroma is not part of a traditional hotel chain, so I wasn’t able to use hotel points for this booking. Instead, I turned to one of my favorite credit cards, the Citi Prestige. Knowing I would have to pay cash for this stay, I took advantage of the card’s extremely valuable 4th Night Free perk.

Here’s how it works: Citi will pay for the fourth night of your stay at any hotel that you book through Citi Concierge, which you can now do online as well as by phone or email. The 4th Night Free credit is calculated based on the average daily rate, not including taxes and fees. On top of that, you can use the benefit when you book using Citi ThankYou points. Now’s a great time to get the card if you don’t have it already, as the Citi Prestige has a huge 75,000-point sign-up bonus after you spend $7,500 within the first three months of opening your account.

In this case, I decided to keep my points and pay with cash. Villas were going for $1,562 a night, so for the four nights I stayed, the total cost would have been $6,250, but thanks to the 4th Night Free, it ended up being $4,710, saving me $1,540. Note that some taxes and fees are not included in the fourth night reimbursement.

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While $1,562 is a lot for a hotel room, you are getting a premier overwater villa as well as unlimited food and drinks. Considering it’s only a three-hour flight from New York and a 30-minute drive from Cancún International Airport (CUN), it’s still much cheaper overall compared to having the same experience in the Maldives, especially if you think time is money. Plus, with the Maldives, you’d be spending more than $500 for seaplane transfers from Malé and the food there is outrageously expensive.

Check-In

The resort is easy to get to from most places in the US and only a 30-minute drive from CUN. I received a glass of Champagne upon arrival, while a smiling employee took my bags and whisked me away to my room on a golf cart.

Before you enter the villa, you’ll find your very own personal butler waiting at the entrance for you. Mine, named Allen, handed me a cocktail and a hot towel, then ushered me into my suite. They definitely know how to party in Mexico — it’s a much more lively atmosphere than other places with overwater bungalows.

Location and Property

Since the bungalows opened only a year ago, everything over the water felt new. The property tself is quite large and is spread over several acres. You’ll find suites in 13 different categories, from basic to the Honeymoon Suite, all the way up to the beautiful overwater bungalows.

The resort is located along the sandy white beaches of Southeastern Mexico, on the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. Right off the bat, you do have to check your expectations — the water in Mexico is beautiful, but not nearly as blue as it is in the Maldives — but if you’re not going to go in the water anyway and just want to relax, this is a great option.

At El Dorado Maroma, in addition to the ocean, there are several pools and even a lazy river that connects parts of the property.

I also love that you’re not stuck on a tiny atoll like you would be in the Maldives. Here, you’ll have access to the mainland, so you can explore Tulum and the surrounding areas.

The Room

One of the first things I noticed when entering the room was the glass floor. The view of the marine life below was incredible. I’ve never been in a room like this before.

The decor itself wasn’t super-chic, but it did the job. The villa came with a fully stocked mini-bar and an all-access booze policy. Yes, it’s one of the only hotels that offers an all-you-can-drink mini-bar — even the full-sized bottles were complimentary. Score!

The room service menu is creatively built right into the phone so you can just scroll through the menu and select what you want. The best part is it’s open 24 hours a day. Mind blown.

I loved how even the toilet had a view of the water. And the shower passed my TPG shower test; you know, if I can jump and still not hit the shower head, it’s good to go. The bathtub was huge and had Jacuzzi jets. I’m 6’7″ and I was able to comfortably lie down in it so I’m declaring that this bungalow officially passed the first-ever TPG bathtub test. Hopefully, there are more to come.

There was also a beautiful outdoor shower that passed my test with flying colors. When I stepped outside, I found my own private terrace. The private plunge pool was probably the biggest downside of the room, since it’s basically just a triangular wading pool and wasn’t nearly as nice as the ones in some of the other bungalows I’ve stayed in.

For sun worshippers, there was a tiny dock with two lounge chairs that sat right over the water.

Amenities

One of the first things I did was book a massage at the Overwater Spa. It offers a variety of treatments and since I was staying in one of the Palafitos, I had access to an exclusive treatment with Maroma Sea Moss, which can only be found in the Caribbean and is a great way to cleanse the body. A 50-minute full-body massage goes for $179, while the 80-minute treatment will cost you $247.

For those traveling with a significant other, the resort offers sunrise and moonlight couples massages as well.

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Believe it or not, this was actually my first time swimming in Mexico.

As beautiful as the bungalows are, sometimes you just want to get out and be active. For this, the hotel offers several activities: you can take a kayak tour, indulge in a cooking class, hit the gym or sign up for a yoga or Aquafit class. Sports lovers can play bocce ball or volleyball, on the beach or in the water. Want to go online? No problem, the Wi-Fi here is free.

Food and Beverage

I thought all-inclusive would mean a bunch of basic buffets, but it was the opposite. The food here was truly top-notch and even room service was part of it. There were seven restaurants and five bars, including some you can swim right up to, while the different types of cuisines included Mexican, Caribbean, Italian, Peruvian and pan-Asian, so there was always something new to try.

When some people think of an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, they generally assume the food won’t be of very high quality — and that couldn’t be further from the case here. I didn’t have a bad meal and room service had no gotcha fees. Plus, there’s no up charge for alcohol in the room, even the large bottles. So, if you’re a drinker, you can definitely get your money’s worth by staying in the Palafitos — there’s also a special restaurant that’s available exclusively to guests of the overwater villas. This dining area is perched over the sea and even has a glass floor. You can choose to sit outside, surrounded by water on all sides, or inside, away from the sun.

Fresh seafood is, naturally, a popular ingredient.

And there’s nothing like fresh guacamole in Mexico with an endless view of the ocean.

Overall Impression

By the end of my trip, I really wasn’t ready to leave. The El Dorado Maroma is an amazing property, especially if you can stay in one of these new overwater bungalows. Using the Citi Prestige also makes it more affordable and accessibility wise, the property gets two thumbs up. It’s a great way to experience overwater accommodations without trekking all the way to the Maldives or Bora Bora and is also lighter on the wallet than those distant destinations. I would absolutely return there, but just check your expectations; it’s not as beautiful here as it is in the Maldives since the Palafitos require sand dunes to protect them from the ocean. It’s not a points-hotel, but that just makes it a must-book with the Citi Prestige’s 4th Night Free feature. It’s an amazing place to go on a honeymoon, babymoon or to simply get away and recharge. I’ll be sharing more of my adventures in Mexico in another post — with video — soon, so stay tuned for more.

Have you ever stayed in an overwater villa at the El Dorado Maroma? Tell us about your experience, below.

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