“Get Out There” is a monthly column for itchy footed humans written by Paste contributor Blake Snow. Although weird now, travel is still worthwhile—especially to these open borders.
This story begins with a struggling musician in the 1970s who didn’t fit the establishment. Rock ‘n’ roll didn’t like him. Nashville didn’t either. So he said, “To hell with it,” moved to Key West, and popularized a new genre of counterculture music called Gulf & Western or Tropic Rock. He championed “island escapism” over hard work. Made fun of inebriated debauchery. Sang heartfelt songs about retired Caribbean sailors. And paired unapologetic poetry with catchy melodies.
His name was Jimmy Buffet, a name that has since outgrown the brilliant but often overlooked and underrated sound he created during that groovy decade. Not long after, Buffet started capitalizing on the endearing lifestyle he created by the late ‘80s, which grew to “Parrothead” levels by the late ‘90s, and stratospheric status by the turn of the century. Today, Jimmy Buffet is worth nearly $1 billion dollars. His “Margaritaville” empire includes dozens of best-selling albums, cafes, and hotels, three best-selling books, and even a handful of Southern retirement communities boasting thousands of homes. In truth, the “brand” far outweighs the music that inspired it.
Last year during the pandemic, just as the world was entering a second round of lockdowns, Buffet Inc. quietly launched the Margaritaville Island Reserve, its first all-inclusive resort, near Cancun, Mexico. Operated by the well-run Karisma chain of all-inclusives, Buffet’s resort could have easily turned into a tacky, kitchy, money grab. It is anything but. After visiting with my wife this winter, Margaritaville Island Reserve is one of the finest all-inclusives I’ve ever visited, replete with the best all-inclusive food of any resort, a helpful staff worth writing home about, and an impressive attention to detail (i.e. custom furnishings) to appeal to fans and non-fans alike.
About the only “on brand” thing the resort is missing is the debauchery, which no one wants on vacation anway.
When I first arrived on the property, several things stood out. Margaritaville Island Reserve is covered by palm trees and thatched roofs. It is literally connected by surrounding pools that give the impression of several little islands. On site there are five bars, four restaurants, four public pools (and several private ones), one coffee shop, one gift shop, one spa, and one pristine stretch of beach—the nicest you’ll likely find in either direction along Puerto Morelos. On top of that, you’ll find swinging beds, lounge chairs, hammocks, and oversized cushioned seats in every nook just waiting to get lost in and lay back on.
During the week we were there, my wife and I quickly got into a groove of grabbing a drink (or usually having one delivered to us wherever we chose to plop down) for an hour or two—whether by the pool, at the beach, or in one of the many “retreat within a retreat” spots mentioned above. When we first arrived, the resort was only at 30% capacity. By the end of our visit, that had jumped to 80%, the busiest of any other resort we observed along the same stretch of beach. But due to its strategically placed bars, restaurants, and lounge areas, the resort never felt overcrowded or loud.
Not that the place is totally quiet. There is live music, a killer playlist, and resort activities taking place at all hours of the day, creating a good balance between relaxing and never bored or overdone. Some of our favorite memories include the Mexican fiesta/carnival night, dinner for two on the beach, the genuine albeit temporary friendships we formed with the affable staff, and snorkeling the nearby Mayan Reef. We were also in love with our two room suite and adjoining bathroom with jacuzzi tub. We slept in on more than one occasion, taking advantage of room service. Once I took two bubble baths in one day. Don’t judge. It was awesome.
Of the included restaurants, all were good, but Rita’s Taco House and Frank & Lola’s Italian (yes, Italian in Mexico) were our favorites. The “Journey Through Mexico” taco sampler at the former was the best I’ve eaten anywhere, full stop. And the latter had the confidence to serve a simple pomodoro pasta and shrimp and polenta dish that was equally delicious.
Although Buffett wasn’t directly involved in the design of the hotel, it lives up to the ethos and lifestyle he created all those years ago. But as the New York Times once said, “Jimmy Buffett doesn’t live the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle.” He works hard to help you have a memorable vacation, quick getaway, or temporary break from work. His first all-inclusive is no exception. Four and half stars out of five. A wonderful little spot in nearby paradise with direct flights.
A NOTE ON TRAVEL TO MEXICO: American citizens must provide a negative COVID test within one day of boarding their return flight. While the resort does a wonderful job of facilitating this easy requirement, it was a little unnerving to wonder if a failed test would keep us from going home. If you can’t stomach that slight risk right now, consider visiting at a later date.
Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a bodacious writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with an adolescent family and their “bullador beagle.”