Utah bred and adopted by L.A., Brady Tolbert is an interior designer and stylist who currently works full-time as the editorial director at Emily Henderson Design while managing his own freelance clients, prop styling, and creating editorial content for his own site. He first began his design career as an intern in Washington, D.C., working under Frank Gehry during the conception and design of a future presidential memorial. With an eye for design and a background in architecture, he furthered his professional pursuits on the West Coast in Los Angeles where he worked for two years for the luxury interior design firm Beverly Hills Luxury Interiors, before moving to his current position at Emily Henderson Design. Now, he's sharing everything he did on a recent trip to hotel UNICO in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
We’re all familiar with those all-inclusive resorts—the all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink, basically all-you-can-do vacations (aka a carte blanche to anything the hotel offers), but that sometimes means less-than-delicious food, not-so-hangover-friendly drinks, and a slew of activities that may or may not be subpar. Well, last month my boyfriend Jason and I spent a week at one called UNICO in Riviera Maya, Mexico, and it was none of those.
As the editorial director of Emily Henderson, I knew I wanted to stay at a place that would both inspire me visually with its design (of course) and ensure some quality R&R (very necessary). After rummaging through hundreds of different hotels online (with every one of them looking more touristy than the last), I stumbled onto UNICO, an all-inclusive resort about an hour outside of Cancun. The eclectic and global décor is what really lured me in. This place looks nothing like your typical hotel. In fact, I was taking design inspiration at every turn.
But décor aside, this hotel is a compound of luxury wherever you look. The interiors, which were designed by avroKO, are just as drool-worthy as any little Instagrammer could ask for but beautiful and timeless enough to satisfy every single guest as well. The design is eclectic and curated. Every last detail has been considered. UNICO pairs leather sling chairs with overscale Chesterfields, antique rugs with modern brass tables, and Mexican artifacts with contemporary furnishings. Luxury followed us from the moment we arrived. A driver even greeted us with a sign and two ice cold coronitas. We knew the UNICO experience would be like no other. Here are a few other reasons.
Stepping into the lobby of the hotel instantly gives you a sense of calm and serenity. Boasting two-story ceilings and a collection of antique lanterns hanging from the beams, it transports you to a different place. The layers upon layers of perfect styling, the way it feels like a well-lived-in home—one that could be your own, the lighting scheme that gives the room so much depth, and the furniture choices I would gladly take for my own home (including that chrome and leather chair below—SWOON).
The hotel pairs antique with modern, midcentury with Mexican, and it all seems to work in the most harmonious way. It is a testament to the fact that design does not have to be limited to just one style. Unico’s eclectic meets global meets rustic style is one that has you feeling like you landed in a designer’s playground. It’s inspiring while still feeling attainable, something that feels on trend yet timeless.
Once you’ve completed your check-in process (which basically consists of UNICO handling everything while you relax on one of the 30-inch Chesterfield sofas while sipping your cocktail of choice in awe of this little piece of paradise you have just found), your “local host” will escort you to your room. The local host acts as your personal assistant the entire duration of your stay, and can assist with booking dinner reservations, spa treatments, excursions, outings to the city, or just about anything else you could need (we couldn’t believe it either). Ours greeted us with a sweet “good morning” every day, followed by “Today it’s going to be warm and sunny. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” They go to great lengths to ensure you are fully taken care of and don’t have to think about anything, ever.
Now let’s talk about the rooms. Each one includes a custom bar area where you can order a sampling of mixers and drinks as well as a large outdoor patio area complete with either a soaker tub or a swim-up pool area, depending on the location of your room. Basically everything you need to soak into bubbly out-of-office bliss.
The rooms are curated in a casual, rustic neutral palette with layers of linen, raw wood, leather, and woven elements.
Now here’s what to do once you’ve settled into your new home away from home.
No tropical vacation is complete without at least one spa treatment, so do yourself a favor and book an Esencia massage. It is the spa’s signature massage, and it involves two masseuses, four hands, and 50 minutes of pure bliss. In this treatment, two therapists work together in perfect synchronicity to target tension at either end of the body, resulting in a sense of deep inner balance and overall well-being. Basically, you turn into a puddle on the table, and they put you back together by the end. It’s incredible. Be sure to get to your treatment early so that you can take advantage of the facilities (including the wall of lockers made out of wood and caning). I’m telling you—this hotel has spared no design expense.
Their full-service spa has a huge range of luxury spa treatments, a fully equipped hydrotherapy facility, and uses natural ingredients in all of their product. In addition to the spa, you can enjoy one of the many fitness classes offered throughout the day, a fully equipped gym, and yoga room with floor-to-ceiling windows that open up to the jungle, or a full-service salon that has many treatments included with your room.
When you get tired of lounging around aimlessly drinking cocktails by the pool in the hotel’s selection of loungers or daybeds, there are so many fun things to do here, and they’re all included. From swimming with the dolphins, paddleboarding in the ocean, zip lining through the jungle, and visiting the ruins of Chichen Itza to cave diving and underwater snorkeling through the cenotes, just to name a few. Whatever your vacation vibe, the hotel and its friendly staff can get you all booked up.
The resort offers a huge selection of excursions, which are included in the price of the room (you just have to pay a small service fee), and we had so much fun on them. We took a sunset wine and sail cruise, which leaves from the harbor just before sunset and sails you along the coastline providing drinks all night while you sit on the front of the catamaran and enjoy the sights and the sunset.
We got adventurous and decided to do an extreme zip lining tour through the jungle as well. We walked ourselves up this five-story wooden tower in the middle of nowhere, and at any moment I surely thought it was going to blow over, to then strap ourselves to a tiny little metal cord stretching 500 feet to the next tower and trusted that Juan (our tour guide) knew what he was doing. The views were pretty incredible, and the experience was undeniably unforgettable. If you get a chance to do the Xtreme Mayan Jungle Tour while you are there and are feeling adventurous, have your local host sign you up.
The hotel offers so many different excursions and these are just a FEW of the many it has, but what we did get to experience was once again so perfect.
The hotel has some of the best food I have ever eaten. There are four restaurants: Mi Carisa for Italian food; Cueva Siete for Mexican food; Mura House for hibachi; and a steakhouse, 20.87, as well as a plethora of cafés and places to grab a quick bite. And if you aren’t feeling like doing much moving, there is always on-demand room or pool service at any hour of the day that can be directly ordered through their app on your phone, which will keep you and your belly happy.
Be sure to take advantage of the daily buffet breakfast, which can be enjoyed out on the hotel’s teak deck that looks over the coastline. There’s a DIY mimosa bar (yes you heard me right), a chilaquiles station (a traditional Mexican dish) where you mix in just about any topping and the chef stirs it all up to perfection and serve it over tortilla chips. If you are feeling a little healthier, you could take a sampling of homemade yogurts and Mexican pastries as well as fresh green juice made every morning on site.
We visited each of the restaurants during our stay there, and we have to say each one of them was just as delicious as the next, but the saffron risotto at 20.87 can’t be missed; pair the risotto with one of the seven steaks it offers. You can even order all seven if you are feeling adventurous—it is all-inclusive, after all. We also could not get enough of the edamame at Mura House. From beachside dining to elevated fine dining, the cuisine ranges from “simple and healthy to wonderfully indulgent” as the hotel puts it. And indulge we did.
Whether you are looking to relax, see the sites, dine on some of the best food the area has to offer, or ogle every vignette of a perfectly designed space, UNICO will take you on that journey from start to finish.
Full disclosure, I reached out to UNICO before our trip to see if they might be interested in a discount in trade for some social and blog love over on my feeds about my trip, and although it did provide a discount, as soon as the trip was over, Jason and I both agreed we would have paid full price for EVERY SINGLE THING we did, due to the fact that everything was beyond what we could have ever expected.