If you're so done with gigantic all-inclusive resorts and the Spring Break contingent, consider a smaller hotel that allows you to skip the cheap booze and 3-times-daily buffet.
Tip #1: Choose a hotel that's new. Sure, there might be a few hiccups, but we find the service top-notch (their need-to-impress high) and the prices rock-bottom. Rates are low until they get enough reviews and work out all the kinks, then jump to compete with other luxury hotels. We would never normally stay in a place like this, but couldn't resist the rate, location, and quality of the rooms.
Jeff (the trip-advisor in our household) spends weeks researching places, reading customer reviews, plotting flights and seeking out the best value. He stumbled upon Isla Mujeres, the 5-mile island off the coast of Cancun, by chance. The Privilege Aluxes has been open for one year and sits at the northern end of the island, in the state of Quintana Roo, 360° views of Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Exceptional.
Tip #2: While Expedia got us a great rate including flight, you should definitely inquire about upgrades when you arrive. If the hotel isn't fully booked, you can score deals that aren't offered online. For $60 more per night we upgraded to a two-level penthouse suite with our own plunge pool and 900 square foot terrace. We couldn't resist.
Though the Aluxes offers all-inclusive packages, we opted out. The hotel sits smack-dab in "downtown" Isla Mujeres, surrounded by all kinds of adorable cafés, restaurants and bars. And it's cheap. The two of us can eat a beautiful organic breakfast (fresh squeezed everything) for $12USD, have dinner for less than $30, and drink for next-to-nothing, all while enjoying and supporting a plethora of local businesses. While the convenience of 24-hour buffets is handy, the food is almost always boring and repetitive. Skip it.
I'm starting to feel like I work for The Island of Women Tourist Association, so I'll stop for now. Stay-tuned for a golf-cart tour of all five miles.