This is a rather extensive review that I hope will help people who have never been here before and are thinking of staying here some day, so I hope I don't bore the rest of you This is the fourth year in a row that we have gone to the CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, and I think our stay this stay was our best so far. Here is a link to more pictures of the hotel and Puerta Vallarta area:
PRIOR TO THE TRIP:
Our stay started off with very thorough emails welcoming us, from both Denise U. (Vacation Planner and Concierge) and Simon C. (Chief Concierge), making sure any needs we had were taken care of.
For those of you who are not sure what time of year you want to go, there are several things to consider. First, there is a special rate that we really like, that you can find by going to the hotel website and looking for the Sand Dollar Special. The rates are the lowest through the summer months and up to the 1st of November, because the summer is warmer and you may have to deal with storms. The hot weather gets better, and things stabilize and the tourists start really showing up the first of November. We particularly like the last 2 weeks of October, because the storms are usually past, the weather is starting to drop, and the hotel is not really full yet, so you get even better than the "already wonderful" service. The Sand Dollar special is a great way to go because you get low rates, and on top of that, every 4th day is free, and you get a $50 US resort credit every day (even on those free days). You can use that resort credit for food or drinks, or other things around the resort. This really is a big part of why we keep coming back year after year.
When you make your reservation, specify that you would like the pickup from the airport. The price is not that high and you'll find the taxis cost almost as much because of the taxes at the airport, and you'll have a lot more hassle if you try to deal with that, and you really don't need that pressure if you're new here, or new to Mexico.
ARRIVING AT THE HOTEL:
When you land and have cleared customs, you will have to go through several areas of people that will try to convince you that they have been waiting for you and will try to get you to come and listen to what they have to say. These are usually high-pressure timeshare salesman that you should try to avoid. We try to politely say no and just keep going until you're almost all the way out of the airport. The nice part about having the Marriott pick you up, is that you will see someone with a sign that has your name on it, and then you will know that you have the right people. The Marriott people usually bring you into a room and confirm who you are and then put you in a taxi with your bags, and they will take you right to the Marriott. The charge is billed to your room, so all you have to worry about is tips. We firmly believe in tipping, and you will find that many of the employees are not paid as much as you might think, but depend on the tips from a nice establishment such as the Marriott, to make it a more desirable job. I have always been absolutely thrilled with the service of almost everyone I run into at this hotel. The last few years, showing up as a Platinum Member, we have not had to wait at the check-in desk, but have been greeted by the doormen with our key and had our bags delivered right up to the room. The doormen at the Marriott are exceptional and some of the friendliest I've met. Here is a picture of one of our favorites Guillermo (nickname Memo), who we really enjoyed chatting with, and getting travel tips from.
The breakfast at La Estancia is a feast and goes till about noon. There are two big islands, where you can get things made like Chicken Chilaquiles, Squash Blossom, Mushroom, and Cheese Quesadillas (with fresh made tortillas they make by hand as you watch), and a lot of other yummy local dishes. Another part has 6 large covered pans that have bacon, sausage, potatoes, beef tamales wrapped in banana leaves, some Mexican casserole that changes every day, and Refried Beans. Another part has about 8 fresh cut fruits (such as papaya, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and a couple of other fruits. There is a whole selection of some of the best juices (about 12 different ones to choose from). There is also a large portion dedicated to more standard dishes such as cereals, pancakes, waffles and made to order omelets, and eggs made to order. This is a meal you can fill up on and the all you can eat breakfast runs about $23 per person, but is worth it. We didn't have a dinner at Las Estancia, so I can't speak to that. Here's a picture of Patricia, Restaurant Supervisor, and some of the other friendly staff we met each morning.
Reyna and Jose
A nice place for really special dinners is out at the Las Casitas. They present some marvelous dishes and you are sitting in a nice covered outdoor restaurant as you watch the waves lapping at the beach in the dark. They also do a great job of helping you understand tequila tasting at the bar, and make it a very enjoyable experience. Sometimes we ask them for a bucket of beers and some peanuts and go sit in the dark by the shore on the lounges close to the pool. So relaxing. This is also the restaurant that takes care of the pool during the day, along with the swim-up bar in the pool.
Another very enjoyable experience is Mikados. This a nice place to feel relaxed and enjoy a lot of good food and sushi. They make you feel really special in here and at the other restaurants as well.
Champions is probably the place we go the least, only because it's too much like what we would find up where we live. It is a nice place to go if you want to watch a game and have some beer and burgers, and things like that. I have to say that Chef Fred Ruiz does a wonderful job making sure all the restaurants at the Marriott serve really wonderful food!
Executive Chef Fred Ruiz
Some of the most fun places to eat are out around town and everywhere you turn. I can't even begin to
cover all the great places to eat. Over the years, we've gone less to finding expensive restaurants and have gone more to finding those little local restaurants where tourists don't go as much, and even the little street taco stands are hard to beat! It is safe to drink the water in Puerto Vallarta area, since they are off a centralized filter water system. When you start traveling farther out like we have started doing, then you may be safer drinking the bottled water.
This part of Mexico is far safer than any of the large cities in the US. The things people seem to be worried about are around the drug areas, and have not impacted this area at all. When an area depends almost solely on the tourist industry, they work hard to take care of the tourists and make sure they want to come back again and again. There are one or two cruise ships landing here every couple of days. If you look at any State Advisories, you will see that this is not an area of concern. We ride the local buses for a couple of hours North, South, and East, and have never had any issues or concerns.
This is a great place for buying Silver, Tequila, artwork and many souvenirs. There are shops all over Puerto Vallarta, and several nice ones at the Marina that is just a few blocks from the Marriott. We prefer to buy our silver at the shops, but buy trinkets from the street vendors. The shops won't bargain as much, but the street vendors will start sometimes as high as 4 times the value of an item, so be aware that a lot of bargaining skills will be needed. Try not to try and bargain with the street vendors on the days the cruise ships are in, as they won't go as low on the prices.
We like the Rhythms of the Night the first year we went to it, but didn't enjoy it as much the second year. If you go to this, a few tips are to make sure you do the night one, and not the afternoon one. It is totally different to show up on a dark island with all the beautiful candles and torches for lighting. The food is good and the show is great. Outdoors with no electricity with an open starlit sky makes for a great show. The second year we went in the afternoon, not realizing there were choices, and it rained continually show we all watched the show in a downpour with umbrellas. Not much fun at all.
This year we took the San Sebastian tour and it was great! A little over an hour bus ride (air-conditioned) up into the mountains to see an old town that was established in 1604. This was an old Colonial Silver and Gold mining town that died after the Revolution. It went from about 30,000 people down to about 600 now. Very quaint with lots of history and a beautiful really old church. The tour also went to a Hacienda of historical significance, a coffee plantation, and a tequila factory. A continental breakfast was included, and so was lunch. Great value and one of the best tour things we've done so far.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
My wife had never wanted to have a massage prior to this trip, but when she won a free Swedish Massage at the dinner we were invited to, she had to try it and added a facial too. She absolutely loved the experience at the Ohtli Spa and is now ready to do this every year.
One of the great things about being in Mexico around Oct 31 to Nov 2 is the Day of the Dead Festivities. If you stay around this time, you won't be disappointed! There is so much going on around this time and it can be summed up as a celebration of life, not a mourning of the dead. The altars are all over, and you will see several in the Marriott as well. These are marvels to see, and this year we were privileged to get to help judge the altars in the Marriott. We got to see the ones even down in the laundry and back offices and can't even begin to give these justice. This was one of the highlights of our trip! I have included several pictures in the photo album we are starting for Puerto Vallarta. Here are a couple just to show some of the altars in the hotel.
OVERALL HOTEL STATUS
One of the things that can use more improvement is the consistency of the wireless connection. It can be hit or miss. I had some problems with the wifi in my room, but a call down to the front desk, and an IT person was up and they put a booster in our room to increase the reception. This is the best response I could have hoped for, and when I later mentioned that the reception by the pool was slow, they replaced the booster out there the next day, and I had a lot better connectivity out there after that. While this is an older hotel, the staff are what make this place so exceptional for us. When we are they, we feel totally relaxed and pampered, and I think that is what we all want on vacation. I can't say enough about what a nice job Simon, Denise, the rest of the Concierge team, and all the other wonderful people at the Marriott did to make our stay so enjoyable. We have already booked our stay for next year, and I will be looking forward to it through the whole cold winter!