We're been visiting the area for at least 15 years (adult couple, no kids). Stayed a few times at the old ABR and then branched off into
condo/villa rentals on HMB some years and most commonly the bungalows and the main Hotel Akumal Caribe (HAC). Every year we hear about the changes and occasional chaos and wonder what we'll find when we return. Sure it has changed but so far the vibe we enjoy has still been there at the heart of it all. We agree that if cost were no issue our uncontested favorite is HAC. You just can't beat the location, views, and with enough of a breeze the ability to ditch the AC and leave the windows open and sleep listening to the waves. It's getting pricey though but it seemed to be much less busy this past week than the same week in previous years. Even happy hour at LolHa was weirdly quiet until Friday and Saturday nights. Hopefully that means maybe the price will stop going up so much every year to encourage more people to come! Except on the weekend I'm pretty sure there were far more maintenance staff/security out around the hotel than guests. The magical vibe can still be found but the extra security and the hassle of having to backtrack a lot to get off the property away from the beach did dampen it a bit for us. It almost feels like being at an AI with all the security around and not so much like a quaint beachside hotel.
Our other favorite place is Isla Mujeres and it really is so much cheaper to go there. Except for the lack of good walk-in from the beach snorkelling it rocks. We're thinking maybe just Isla next year to see how much we miss Akumal if we take a year off but we will definitely be back, just maybe not every year as it's getting $$. It's one of our happy places but we're learning that it's not the only one.
We just visited for 6 nights Apr 30-May6. Wow, the beach is much quieter than it has been in the past few years and we have gone this exact same week for at least the past five years so pre and post Secrets. Both Secrets and ABBWR seemed to be busy but either there are less day trippers or they are more spread out than they used to be as much less activity on the beach in front of HAC and the dive shop. More buoys in they bay than life jackets out there! The buoy lines are somewhat confusing and not very pretty but I'd rather look at them than huge groups of what we used to call the snorkel hoards so I'd say overall a big improvement. In our days there we saw NO ONE swimming in either "circuit". Lots of people swimming and snorkeling in the free areas in closer to shore and people snorkeling right up to the buoy line but no one that we could tell who were moving about within the circuits or in any type of circular direction within the buoy lines. Also, the boats seemed to be taking people out beyond the buoy lines of circuit 1 and just leaving them to snorkel about "free form" for a while before boating them back in. Maybe that counts as circuit 1? I'm not sure.
We snorkeled every day going in just in front or Secrets, swimming out to the buoy line, following it along south and then turning out towards the reef at the end of the buoys. Spent most of our time among the coral heads in front of the ABBWR. Saw all the usual fish, rays, turtles etc. Most interestingly every day we saw small individual turtles out in the reef area not in grassy areas which was nice. We had our own equipment including short fins and snorkel vests. No one stopped us, or gave us any grief at any time, we snorkel in the mornings before noon as I find the light is best then. At least one day there was a guy patrolling in a kayak, one day on a SUP. I heard a whistle in the distance a few times but didn't see anybody getting in any trouble. Both times they seemed to stick mostly in front of LolHa/Dive Shop area but I think the SUP guy was in front of Secrets for a bit. Groups were smallish and like I said not many of them at all, most seemed to taken out to behind circuit 1 by boat. I found it much better than the all day, huge groups of years past.
So to sum it up, changes happen but they aren't as huge as they sound if you pay attention to some of the drama on Facebook.
It's a beautiful beach, the weather was great, you can snorkel easily with lots of interesting things to see. Everyone seemed to enjoying
themselves out there no matter what they were doing. There are great places to eat and drink in walking distance. It's still a great place for a vacation just getting a bit pricey compared to some other places that we also like to visit.