Gluten-Free in Mexico

Pueblo Bonita Pacifica Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 

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Secrets Silversands Riviera Maya, Mexico

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The cumulative tally from this review puts Pueblo Bonita Pacifica at an average score of B- and Secrets Silversands at an average of B. Read on to hear details about the #sogood and #notsogood of each property.

Location
B+ Secrets is one of the resorts closest to Cancun in the Riviera Maya, about 20 minutes from the Cancun airport.

C  Pacifica is located southwest of Cabo San Lucas. The bus ride was about 40 minutes from the airport.

Room Accommodations
C+ At Secrets we had a deluxe ocean view room, which was spacious with a couch, table and large balcony. This is an older resort so the room was showing wear and could use some freshening.

C+ Pacifica had a much smaller room, ours was also ocean view, with a teeny balcony. But the resort is newer so the interior was fresher. Our friends upgraded to the butler suite and it was pretty amazing. We spent our evenings as a group either in their room or the fire pit area near the beach.

Beach
B+ Secrets has a shallow, swimmable beach with water sports available, there are sandbags throughout to protect from erosion, but it was pretty and there are plenty of chairs, shade and beach chairs available as well as drink service.

C+ Pacifica has a large beachfront, no shade (other than upgrade cabanas) but a very volatile riptide so there is no swimming allowed.

Pools

A- Secrets main pool had a lot of activity during the day with music for a few hours intermittently. The activities team did a nice job of making people smile throughout the afternoon. The pool temperature indicated it may have been moderately heated. The nearby infinity pool was definitely quieter but pretty darn cold! Note the photo op – we were dying! One member of our group noted that the hot tub had a funny odor.

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B+ Pacifica’s main pool was nice, nothing spectacular. The cushions were nice and they did have umbrellas for shade, they had a more relaxed pool near the ocean with a hot tub as well. The activities here were more subdued without quite the energy the Secrets staff had.

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Restaurants – So how gluten-free was Secrets “gluten-free” food?

One positive that I found at Secrets, why this resort made our list, was that all the restaurant menus had gluten-free items marked on the “regular” menus. As much as I feel like I still need to advocate for myself, it is super nice to have your options already narrowed down. I still had to address the fact that I have a medical condition and was not just ordering items for a “lifestyle” choice. The only restaurant that had very limited gluten-free options was Portofino, the italian restaurant. We did not dine there. The hostess at each restaurant asked specifically if any of the guests had any allergies when we checked in, which was also a nice awareness factor. I did not get sick from any food on this vacation. And in all honesty the only slip came the first day when my gluten-free ceviche came out with gluten-full crackers (but they were packaged so no harm done).

Secrets Breakfast

B- The only option at this resort for breakfast was room service or the buffet, The World Cafe. My husband appreciates a hearty breakfast so he was pleased with the variety and custom order options at this buffet. I enjoyed the smoothie bar, you selected from a variety of ingredients and placed the ingredients in a glass and they added juice, milk or water and blended it per your instructions! Nice. No gluten containing ingredients that I could see so I felt like this was a safe option. I actually packed my paleo crepes and Justin’s almond butter packets and am very glad I did.

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I tried conversing with the chef via translation with the manager and it was difficult to feel comfortable with their prep on more complicated breakfast dishes. This is where buffets are difficult! Crepe + smoothie = a decent start to the day. We did order room service our last morning because we just didn’t have time for the buffet. It was just mediocre.

Secrets Lunch

B+ Poolside lunch service was not an option here – likely due to the size of the hotel. There was a buffet set up at the poolside bar, but after one trip there my crew was not interested in trying it again. They said it was pretty gross. And nothing was gluten-free. So the only other options for lunch were the Oceana sit-down restaurant or the lunch buffet set up inside where the breakfast buffet was.

We went to Oceana twice – the food was excellent.

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Surf and Turf skewers are pictured above. Ceviche, whitefish and salads were also very good – but unfortunately the meal took well over 1 1/2 hours. Not exactly how you want to spend your time with there’s sun shining at the pool right outside!

After our bike ride we wanted a quick lunch so grabbed some salads, etc from the buffet inside on the way to the pool and they were able to bring out a nice grilled chicken salad with some fresh fruit. It worked, but the whole group lamented that they missed the poolside ceviche and fish tacos that we were served at the Pacifica pool. The pool bar at Pacifica did not have gluten-free lunch options, read on for more on Pacifica’s gluten-free offerings.

Secrets Silversands Dinners

El Patio

Our first evening at Secrets we visited the mexican restaurant, El Patio. We did not experience any issues with our group’s size at Pacifica last year (aside from dinners taking over 2 hours to complete). At Secrets however the first night we ran into a huge problem. “With a group this size we can not allow you to order individual meals, we will bring you all the same appetizer, entrée and dessert.” Uh, what? Isn’t this is an all-inclusive resort and we should be able to order what we like off the menu, right? Nope.

So we had a rough go the first night. They served our table the same appetizer, reviews were mixed, some people got upset, some people enjoyed the food. I sat there. With no food. Starving, having had a few cocktails. And then they never came to take my order. They eventually brought me gluten-free appetizers. With beans, and cheese. Two things I usually avoid while dining out. And did I mention I’d had a few drinks?

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Note the picture – empty place setting for me! I felt out of control of the situation. I hadn’t eaten much that day. We were up at 3:30 am, It was 9 pm when we sat down for dinner. Recipe for disaster. I ended up in tears, partially due to the condition my body was in, partially because I wasn’t sure I was being served safe food, and finally because I felt very, very sorry for myself. And that’s okay! Right? No.. yes of course its okay. It’s a hard road, it’s tough to have such limited choices. It is really tough to watch others eat whatever they would like and… ? It’s just a tough spot. If we were not at an all-inclusive would the cards have fallen this way for me? Nope.

The manager listened to my tears, fears and sad story. My friends also stepped up to discuss the whole situation with him. I was sad. Sad I wasn’t able to participate in the “experience.” And that is truly what dining is – it’s the process of sharing an experience, enjoying food together. Like sharing a bottle of wine, grabbing ice cream on a hot day, stopping for a quick lunch. It is all an experience. And when you have a group of 10 and you are the only one not included… it’s hard not to feel that down to your core.

So we will mark that night in the #notsogood category.

Bordeaux

A Our second day we were on a mission to have a better experience. We met with the staff at the French restaurant, Bordeaux. We had to work with them and spend quite a bit of time talking to the management about making sure we didn’t have the same bad experience we had the night before. They agreed to seat us (without an upcharge!) all together and we narrowed down our menu choices to two appetizers, a soup, two entrees and a dessert. I placed my order in advance to assure no missteps.

Here’s the rundown of what I was served at Bordeaux.

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Fig & strawberry salad with vinegrette. Lovely presentation!

This may have been the first night they pulled the gluten-free bread out of the freezer – I picked it up and it literally fell apart. The texture left alot to be desired. #notsogood

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The fresh catch of the day was a whitefish, it came highly recommended by the server and did not disappoint. Delicious!IMG_0071

I was served the same sorbet two nights in a row – champagne pear. Ick. #notsogood.

The rest of my crew had the creme brûlée and the presentation was impressive! See the above video. They lit the sugar and liquor on fire and poured it on the custard. Super cool and a nice end to the evening.

I avoided dairy on this trip. It is so hard to travel dairy free. Especially when it comes to dessert. But usually by the end of the trips I am feeling the pain of indulging in the ice cream, etc. The joints in my feet just flare. So I thought I would try staying dairy free on this trip to see if it made and difference and I feel like it did. Did I say dairy free desserts are awful?

The food was exceptional and the service very attentive. We ordered a few bottles of wine and the staff was happy. It was an excellent meal!

Himitsu

B We struggled to get a reservation at this restaurant. It was deja vu to our battle with Bordeaux the night before. Several people in our group met again with the manager and we were seated at the Hibachi-style table together and ordered the premium menu at a $30 per person upcharge. Incredibly annoying that it seemed we needed to do this to get the service we desired.

The menu included several bottles of wine and my meal was prepared in the back and served to me, instead of being made on the shared surface with the rest of the group’s meal.

IMG_3213Salad with a grapefruit vinegrette. I didn’t get an appetizer served to me so I asked for a second salad – which they happily provided! It was quite good!IMG_3214

The upcharge for this ‘premium’ meal was $30. The lobster was good but there was a significant portion of steak and chicken too. Not sure it was totally worth it. The non gluten-free eaters got a portion of shrimp as well. IMG_3206

Generally speaking the food was good, part of it is the experience of the hibachi chef. Unfortunately we all agreed that the meal from Bordeaux the night before was better. And we didn’t pay an upcharge for it.

Adios Secrets – Beach Dinner

B Based on the tough experiences we had at meals, two of the guys in our group took the efforts on to set up a private dinner on the beach for our last night. At $100 a couple it was not a cheap addition to the all-inclusive price. It was really fun having our own private table and staff out on the beach, a unique experience that would have cost much much more in the states. We had a lit fire pit and music. We had several waiters to bring drinks and keep us happy.IMG_0070

The meal itself was great. They allowed me to select which restaurant menu items I wanted for my meal and I chose the whitefish from Bordeaux. Yum. It was prepared differently, still gluten and dairy-free, but still just as tender and delicious. The gluten-free bread I was served 3 nights in a row became a bit of a joke. Here’s the pics.

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The texture was better the next few nights. Maybe they took it out of the freezer?  Still not great bread though.

Dessert was a smore’s bar, but they came already assembled with no toasting required. A little odd. The gluten-free, dairy-free desserts were plated on the same plate as the gluten-full desserts so I stayed away from them. A bit of a bummer.

Room Service – Secrets

In addition to ordering breakfast the last morning via room service, we did place a happy hour order one afternoon near the swim-up rooms. Gluten-free and dairy free makes happy hour a little difficult – pretty much all the time. Here’s the steak, salmon and vegetables I ordered. I do feel like room service is a pretty gluten-free “safe” option at these resorts. You are cutting out one person in the chain and dealing directly with the kitchen which does make the communication more effective = less mistakes!

And here’s serving #4 of the same gluten-free bread. It really became pretty funny by this point.  #notsogood

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Great trip with great friends!

Meals during the Pacifica stay

Pacifica Breakfast

B One morning we ordered breakfast in the room and I was happy to get some fresh fruit and two eggs over easy. It worked 🙂 The other mornings we joined our friends for breakfast buffet at Siempre. There was a very courteous manager on staff who handled my order and assured me great care was taken in prep to ensure it was safe. I had no trouble and it was great to feel taken care of. Unfortunately the last day he was not working and I did not receive the same service. My omelette came out looking different and I was too tired to argue so I ate it. I did not feel well that day so I think there was some cross contamination involved with that meal unfortunately.

Pacifica Lunch

B Our crew really enjoyed the fish tacos, salads and ceviche served poolside. Unfortunately none of this was safe for me. I walked over to the Peninsula restaurant each day and ordered my meals to be delivered to the pool due to my dietary restrictions. They resisted at first but I really did not want to sit at the restaurant for another LONG meal while my friends munched on food while taking in the rays. The food was safely prepared and it was fish and vegetables each day – I was ordering super simple food to ensure no gluten exposure but it did look much less appetizing than the fish tacos my friends were all eating. #jealous

Pacifica Dinners

Quivira Steakhouse at Quivira Golf Course

B+ Our first evening we ate at Quivira Steakhouse, a $35 upcharge from our all-inclusive rate. The meal was top notch and everyone was please with their plates. I had the fresh catch special and it was delicious. It was a long meal but the location is superb with an excellent ocean front location.

LaFrida at Sunset Beach

C The second evening we went to LaFrida, an upscale mexican restaurant and the nearby sister resort, Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach. Our food was okay, I didn’t feel like I had many options available to me (no chips that are GF is a big bummer, I have since learned and tote my Plantain Chips wherever I go on vacation because usually guacamole is a safe bet!) and the sell for upscale tequila tasting was a bit much. It was also so dark we could barely see each other! Definitely wouldn’t do that again. This was also a long meal.

Siempre at Pacifica

A The third evening we dined at the resort (which would probably should have done more often) at Siempre. While the food was good, the larger size of our group seemed to cause yet another LONG meal. Like so long that part of our group when across the resort to the sushi restaurant and brought plates of sushi over for us to eat between courses!

D Our final evening we went to another sister property, Pueblo Bonito Rose, which is along the main bay of Cabo San Lucas. After a failed reservation for an outdoor restaurant (it was too chilly and windy so they were closed !?!?) we ended up at the resort’s buffet for dinner.

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Not how we had planned to spend our last night! I ordered some sushi made for me in the back and that was it for food. We did walk down to a few bars in the hotel zone which was fun.

Gluten-Free Cocktails

Tito’s has not quite made its way to the Mexican resort scene. So unfortunately vodka choices at both Pacifica and Secrets weren’t really much of an option. I don’t tip the risk scale on gluten-full grain liquor (most vodkas start with wheat, barley or rye).  Instead I’ve found I do better with alcohol that’s derived from gluten-free grains, agave (tequila), or sugar (rum or Ocean vodka). This is a personal choice for me, not a standard for others that live with celiac disease. You can learn more here from GFCO and here from Beyond Celiac about gluten-free liquor and labeling.

I did pack some Titos in my checked luggage, in several small water bottles to lighten the load of the glass bottle. It came in handy when I was ready for a change. I drank mojitos, skinny margaritas, bacardi limon and soda, and a few frozen cocktails here and there.

Size

C  Secrets is a large resort with 455 rooms. A bit of personal touch is lost here, with service suffering at times because of he sheer volume. Because we had over 6 people at our dinners the basic restaurants tried to force a set menu and it resulted in one poor experience for both me and the remaining group.

A- Pacifica is smaller with 150 Rooms but one nice positive was a larger resort, Pueblo Benito Sunset Beach, was just up the hill and allowed for other restaurant choices.

Entertainment

A- Secrets puts on more of a party atmosphere. The daytime staff was really great. Miguel was a favorite amongst our group. We did a bike ride with him to Puerto Morales that most of us agreed we would not do again. We were tired and it’s basically 40 minutes each way through the back alleys of resorts to a quaint town square with shopping and, bonus, great watermelon mojitos at the beach bar. #sogood!IMG_3231But the ride itself was rough and stinky. There was constant nighttime entertainment which our group enjoyed. The theater shows were always during our dinner times but we did enjoy the outdoor live music and indoor nightclub for dancing and shenanigans.

B Pacifica is definitely a sleepier resort. Depends on what you are looking for. Our group had to make its own fun after dinner, usually with drinks by the fire pit or playing games. The majority of the resort was asleep  by 9:30! The entertainment team was all daytime, with some pool aerobics, poker games and beach volleyball.

Overall the experiences I had at Secrets and Pacifica, from a gluten-free perspective, were mixed. #Sogood and #notsogood. I think I will always lean toward having a bit more control of the food situation while on vacation. The reason why all-inclusive’s are so appealing is the convenience factor. But unfortunately that just isn’t the case for someone with celiac disease. Traveling to Hawaii and dining out in the evenings only, I found myself to be much more comfortable with the risk levels. Not to mention the language barrier makes me uneasy in Mexico. So would I go again with friends? Maybe.  Based on how I felt I really do feel that the resorts did their best to serve safe food – it wasn’t always as appealing as the alternative but I stayed pretty healthy. I would prefer an environment with more control over the options (think vacation house rental) or a resort that was more forward with their allergen protocol (think Disney). Please share your experiences at other all-inclusives!

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