Spotting Uma Thurman on the verandah of the villa helped validate our decision to visit Esencia at the outset. We were still pale new arrivals at that point. Only a short time earlier, a hotel taxi had picked us up from the Cancun airport and driven us a quick hour south toward the resort, turning down a two-lane road off the highway toward the water. Upon entry, a ‘butler’ assigned to us made quick work of signing the paperwork before guiding us on the tour of the grounds – the manicured green lawns of the Esencia estate, dotted with palm trees, which until recently served as the private vacation home of an Italian duchess. I quickly entered into fantasies of owning our own such family compound.
‘Maybe we should see our room before we buy the place,’ my sensible Mr Smith cheerfully suggested. But first: midday cocktail hour by the pool.
I rarely drink hard liquor, but we were in Mexico after all, and Mr Smith assured me it would be impolite not to at least test the local tequila. We sat under a hot sun overlooking the sparkling blue ocean and were served two, and then two more, of the most exquisite margaritas, salted. Guacamole and fried chips kept arriving unbidden. As two well-behaved children splashed adorably – but not too loudly – in the water in front of us, we decided that we had made an excellent choice.
And then Uma emerged, ruddy and fresh from a facial. Exchanging knowing glances, we simultaneously cited, in whispers, our favorite celebrity magazine feature – ‘Stars! They’re just like us!’ in US Weekly, which publishes photos of stars engaged in mundane activities such as drinking lattes at Starbucks – and decided that in fact we were just like stars. Mr Smith rummaged around for the camera to document our immense success in life.
Before the silliness could continue, our usher appeared to tell us our room was ready. We stumbled across the lawn to a white stucco villa a short distance away, and were led into a sprawling suite.
Sobriety set in. This was our dream loft, not a resort hotel room. Up a short flight of stairs, the heavy wooden door opened up onto a split-level room decorated sparsely, all in white, with a large sitting area leading out onto a patio with an ocean view. On the upper level, a large bed sat in front of a flat-screen television (done tastefully modern, not gameboy style), with a nano iPod plugged into the surround-sound system. A Spanish music medley, downloaded by the hotel, played at the just-right romantic level. Before collapsing onto the bed, we inspected further: On each level was a bathroom, one featuring a standing, wood-paneled shower, the other with a walk-in closet and a large bath. Our fridge was full of (complimentary) local beer, juice and water.
‘Could you live here now?’ I teased. As we would repeatedly discover over the next two days, the beauty of Esencia was the mandate to do absolutely nothing other than wander a few feet to the next station of luxury – perhaps stopping to admire a small iguana on the way to the bar, or lazing in our private hammock, or staring blankly at the ocean before heading off to a massage. Although we had been duly informed at check-in about the available activities, including private scuba lessons and daily morning yoga lessons, nothing in the atmosphere (or the room brochure) urged excessive exertion. Even upon being shown the wi-fi equipped common room overlooking the pool, we were urged by a member of the hotel staff: ‘Please don’t do too much work.’
Thus implored, we headed to dinner our first night at the early hour of 7 pm – something of a tactical mistake, as we found ourselves surrounded by young families with children in high chairs. Still, a tasting from the extensive wine list and ceviche menu quickly put the family atmosphere at some remove. The next night, at a much later hour, the dimly lit dining area had a more exclusive feel. And yet the open seating encouraged interaction among the guests. One couple from San Francisco, having heard us say that we had previously been to the the Tides Riviera Maya resort down the road, did not hesitate to introduce themselves and ask for a comparison, which led to a spontaneous, alcohol-fueled forum on destination weddings that kept us laughing well after we had left.
By day, we did what we do best, examining every feature of the spa and taking advantage of as many services as we could justify spending money on. Set apart in its own bungalow (though with a full complement of modern amenities), the spa welcomed us even when we did not have appointments set, to use both the steam room (with a rosemary aroma) and the outdoor plunge pools. My best moment came when Claudia, a wiry Mexican woman with tattoos, led me to a private room for a massage, where for 80 glorious minutes she stretched and kneaded muscles I had never known. Afterward, she sat me down in a low wooden chair surrounded by candles to serve me fresh fruit and sweet tea. When I inquired about sitting in the jacuzzi, a therapist led me to a private, heated outdoor pool, where I sat and read, sans swimming suit, for more than an hour.
‘I am so happy and relaxed, I just can’t believe it,’ we overheard a lithe blonde woman at the next table on the patio (not Uma) say later on our final afternoon, before she tumbled onto the lawn with her Mr Smith for a round of tickling. We watched with the satisfaction of those who knew what she was talking about.