Acapulco is a casualty of its own success. Though it put Mexico on the map as an international hot spot in the 1960's, its thunder has since been stolen by Puerto Vallarta, Cancún, and other upstart destinations around the country. But if it's not quite what it was when Truman Capote kept them in stitches on Gloria Guiness's yacht, Acapulco refuses to be written off just yet. The party-hearty atmosphere rivals that of any Caribbean island, the wide-open, powdery beaches are a toasty place to chill, and sightings of Elvis's snake-hipped ghost are frequent. What more could you ask for?How about these four long-lived hotels …
It was a long, steep, serpentine walk from my casita—one of 263 "little houses" at Las Brisas—to the lobby and command center. Not that anyone had suggested I walk. This was just me being me, willfully ignoring what I had both read and been told, which was that whenever I wanted to move around the mountain-hugging, 110-acre compound, all I had to do was call for one of the resort's signature Pepto-Bismol—pink-and-white jeeps. They're known for arriving practically before you hang up, but I wasn't interested. The more I travel, for better or worse, the more disobedient, the more headstrong I become.
Anyway, like taking a hotel staircase rather than the elevator (which I always do at least once), choosing to explore Las Brisas on foot proved a good way to get a feel for the place. Sticking my rubber neck around surgically trimmed hedges of starry basket flowers and palm trees with glowing whitewashed trunks brought into focus the resort's most famous feature: every casita either has its own swimming pool or shares one with another unit. Though generally not huge, the private pools are very swimmable and definitely the way to go when reserving.
Around one hairpin curve was a trim white truck that looked like an emergency medical vehicle, except that neatly set out on the tailgate were a blender, a cooler, a pail holding bottles of Tabasco and other condiments, and all the makings for margaritas. The words bar de primeros auxilios, which translates as First Aid Bar, were stenciled in bright red on the side of the truck. (If all of Acapulco was this witty, I was going to have a very good time.) Pulling up a chair to a stone parapet with exhilarating views of Acapulco Bay and Roqueta Island and sipping "relief" cocktails is a sunset ritual at Las Brisas.
But as I continued down the switchback, the view took a nosedive. Whoever is responsible for the sloppily concealed (and in some cases completely exposed) water tanks and garbage cans should be fired. Hardly worthy of a 44-year-old institution that put the jet in jet set.
Thankfully, the casitas live up to Las Brisas' reputation for tropical pleasure-seeking with a fantasy edge. Even if it strains your budget, book a junior suite, which could serve as a blueprint for seamless indoor-outdoor living anywhere in the world, weather permitting. On one side of a sliding door is a spacious bedroom painted that same creamy Pepto pink (it's everywhere) and cooled by a ceiling fan (not as automatic in Acapulco as you might think); the bathroom is clad entirely in gray marble. On the other side are the outdoor quarters: a homey bar and sitting area, shielded from the grilling sun by an overhang and furnished with a stylish, Saarinenesque table and a giddy bamboo bubble swing that alone is worth the price of the suite. A few paces deliver you to the lip of a vaguely L-shaped pool spangled every morning with fresh hibiscus flowers.
I also became a big fan of La Concha, which Las Brisas bills as the only private beach club in Mexico. The sprawling complex, with one freshwater and two saltwater "lagoons," is at the end of a five-minute ride in the resort's minivan. At the club, as at the hotel, service is fresh and nimble—and heartfelt in the Mexican manner.
5255 Carretera Escénica Clemente MejÌa; 52-7/469-6900, fax 52-7/446-5332; doubles from $240.
FAIRMONT ACAPULCO PRINCESS
I didn't know what to expect. I am more familiar with the Hôtel du Caps of the world than I am with all-inclusives or big chain hotels. In fact, in my adult life I have never been to a hotel that actually embraces (as opposed to merely suffers) children, much less to one with a swim-up bar. If not fun, staying at the Princess was at least going to be interesting.
No one is more surprised than me, but I'm happy to report that the beachfront Princess is very doable, even for someone accustomed to boutique, silver-spoon properties whose doormen are cast, not hired. What I learned is that attentive service and a respectable comfort quotient are not exclusive to hotels where personnel outnumber guests.
Of course, for people with no experience of what might be called stadium resorts, the scale takes getting used to. The Princess has 1,017 rooms. They're divided among a 20-story monolith with sloping sides—inspired by Aztec temple architecture—and two squat, rectangular towers. With 480 acres of obsessively maintained gardens scattered with mango, lemon, and almond trees, you could walk from now till next November and never retrace your steps. Hunger is cured, diverse palates amused at seven dining spots, from La Hacienda, which offers haute Mexican fare and more than 50 tequilas, to the Café Los Angeles coffee shop, the only place in Acapulco besides Price Club where you can get Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Waterbugs have their pick of four free-form freshwater pools (two of them interlocking), one sultry saltwater lagoon, and Revolcadero Beach, at 12 miles the longest in Acapulco. Of course it wouldn't be Acapulco without a disco. And did I mention the man-made waterfalls?