For 12 years our kids went to the same school – a combined elementary and middle school in California – and we fully took advantage of their school breaks. Our two oldest kids are now in high school though, and unfortunately they attend a school with a different break schedule: my youngest daughter has a week off in February and one in April, and the other two get two weeks in March. Ugh!
For her April break my daughter wanted to go somewhere sunny and warm, but she also didn’t feel like maxing out the break – she wanted to relax at home for a day or two before traveling, and then get back at least a full day before classes resumed. That meant we needed to travel somewhere close. And given that I have a spreadsheet of several dozen things I still need to plan/book for our trips to Europe and Africa this summer, I needed a simple trip – e.g. no coordinating hotels, meals, a rental car or activities.
An all-inclusive resort made sense from a simplicity perspective. However, we’ve had negative experiences at all-inclusives before. There was the resort that started playing loud music at the pool right outside our room at 8am every day, with way too many partying college students. There was the resort where we weren’t able to get reservations at the better restaurants so we were stuck at the mediocre buffet for all meals. And there was the Michelin-starred restaurant at a resort that yes, served very good food for 12+ courses, but the courses were so small we needed to go get a real meal as soon as dinner was over – souring me on the resort and on the Michelin rating system at the same time. I didn’t plan on booking another all-inclusive resort, but this vacation called for one, and I had seen several friends posting on Instagram about Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit. When I DMed them for the real story, each friend assured me that the praise in their posts wasn’t overstated – that it was a resort that would make me believe in the all-inclusive concept again. Plus, Puerto Vallarta is an easy non-stop flight from LA.
Traveling to Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit
So I booked four nights! We flew from LA to Puerto Vallarta, arriving 20 minutes early. We cleared immigration in under two minutes, had our checked bag a few minutes later, headed through customs and then found the VIP transportation desk (the resort booked transfers for us). The VIP rep put us in a taxi and we were at the resort maybe 20 minutes later. It couldn’t have been easier.
At the resort the bell staff took our luggage and my daughter and I sat down in the lobby to check in. We were quickly brought drinks (a margarita for me, a hibiscus water for her), and then a masseuse came over and gave me a five-minute head and shoulder massage. It felt amazing after the flight – the first time I’ve had that check-in experience anywhere.
All rooms at the resort are suites. We were on the 8th floor in room 840 – an Ocean View Parlor Suite. We had a balcony overlooking the pool, beach and sunset, a main sitting area with a couch, table and tv and a separate bedroom with two queen-size beds. I loved the balcony, with two benches, two chairs and a table – a great place to relax in the afternoon between the pool and dinner.
We had a refrigerator stocked with soda and beer, as well as mezcal, wine and snacks. Everything is included, and anything we consumed was replaced every afternoon.
Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit Activities
Every day our concierge sent us the daily activity schedule, which included things like yoga, a bike tour, beach and pool volleyball, aqua aerobics, soccer and dodgeball. We did virtually none of it! For us the vacation was all about the pool and beach. Each day we stood in the pool at the infinity edge above the beach and watched beach volleyball – so others were definitely taking advantage of the activities. We were happy being in relaxation mode.
The hotel was mostly full the week we were there, but it never felt crowded. A few people annoyingly saved chairs early in the morning, despite placards on the chairs asking them not to do that, but we were still able to get shaded chairs whenever we wanted them.
One morning I got a massage at the spa. It started with a 60-minute water journey, which had seven stops/stations. I began in the sauna, then scrubbed down with ice, and then moved to the steam room before alternating among several cold and hot pools – all led by a spa attendant. Then came the 80-minute Grand Cora massage, which was excellent. There were sound, scent and pressure elements that I’ve never experienced before, which elevated everything beyond a normal resort spa experience.
The Kids Club and Teens Club
I traveled with a 12-year-old, which is an awkward age at hotels, since she felt too old for the kids club (technically ages 4-12) and too young for the teens club (13-16). We therefore didn’t spend time at either, although we peeked into both clubs just in case my daughter saw something that interested her. The vast majority of guests during our mid-April visit were families – a lot with young kids and a lot with teens. The busiest kid activity we saw was the dinner/cinema every night. Other kids club activities included painting, piñata making, sports, games, pool time, picnic parties and video games. There was a different schedule every day. The teens club activities included a lot of sports (volleyball, kayaking, biking, soccer, basketball, ping pong) and they had DJs and karaoke at night.
Given that we had never been to Puerto Vallarta, we wanted to go into the city for a day. We chose to go on Thursday – halfway through our trip – without looking at the cruise schedule. There were two large ships in town which meant a lot more day trippers. Learn from our mistake: check a cruise arrival schedule like this one before you go into town.
We took a taxi from the hotel to the start of the Malecon – Puerto Vallarta’s 1.5km long boardwalk. We walked along the boardwalk for a while before zigzagging past the main church to the old town, and then wandered around the beach a little more, headed over to the Isla Cuale Flea Market, and then finally walked to lunch at Maria Baja before taking a taxi back to the hotel. FYI, both taxis were US$20. The ride into town took 30 minutes and the ride back took 40 minutes.
We enjoyed our day in Puerto Vallarta. The advice we got was if you’re interested in the beach or surfing, go to Sayulita. If you want to shop and dine really well for a day, go to Puerto Vallarta. There are a lot of touristy t-shirt shops/stands, but there are also more interesting areas if you explore a little. Maria Baja for lunch was excellent – highly recommended.
We made dinner reservations (see below) every night at 6:30 so we could be finished by 7:45 or so and be at the beach/pool for sunset (roughly 8:15pm in mid-April). It was my favorite time of the day! Every night was different – some evenings had amazing clouds, some had amazing light, and some had both. We walked around the pool (amazing reflections!) and up and down the beach, took pictures, and usually ended up at pool chairs where we relaxed until it was dark. If you’re a fan of great sunsets, don’t book dinner reservations that overlap!
Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit – The Food
My friends didn’t steer us wrong – the food at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit was a lot better than I’ve had at any other all-inclusive resort. Breakfast every day was at Azul at the beach – always some Mexican dishes, American breakfast staples like eggs, bacon, pancakes and waffles, an omelet bar, and a lot of fruit and pastries. We ate lunch either at the pool or at the pool snack bar. The chair service and snack bar have the same menu, with really good taco options as well as ceviches, salads, sandwiches, burgers, quesadillas and burritos. It typically took 10 minutes or so to get our orders. There was also a grill set up poolside with hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken nuggets if you wanted an even faster option.
We were at the resort four nights, so we booked reservations at their four main restaurants: Frida (Mexican); Lucca (Italian); Sen Lin (Asian Fusion); and Piaf (French). All were very good. Our meal at Frida was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. When we return I’d be tempted to only book dinners there, although I have no idea if that’s allowed? 🙂 I’d rank them 1) Frida 2) Lucca 3) Sen Lin 4) Piaf. My daughter though absolutely loved Piaf and didn’t like her meal at Frida as much, so she’d rank them 1) Piaf 2) Lucca 3) Sen Lin 4) Frida. Both of our meals at Sen Lin were marked as hot/spicy and they were VERY spicy, so be careful.
As of our April 2022 trip, the US was still requiring covid tests for re-entry. The hotel provided testing at no extra charge. We did our tests in a first floor room at 10:30am the day before our departure. We had our negative test results by 3:30pm.
Departure from Puerto Vallarta
Our flight back to LA was at 4:08pm. Just to be safe we left the room at 1pm, checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to the airport. Since I had already uploaded our Covid results to American Airlines’ system, check in was fast and we were at our gate by 2pm – very early. I don’t want to tell anyone not to arrive at the airport early, but we easily could have spent another hour at the hotel.
Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit – Summary
This was a great trip – relaxing and fun. The best thing we did was to make our dinner reservations every night so we would finish in time for sunset. We absolutely loved that hour after dinner every night.
Four nights weren’t enough. I wish we had booked five or six nights – we could have gone into Sayulita for a day, and I would have gotten another massage. And I loved spending time with my daughter. I didn’t want our trip to end.
One thing I mentioned on Instagram that’s worth repeating here: there were virtually no bugs. I’m sure it’s worse in the rainy season, but we only saw a few bugs the entire trip, and I think my daughter was only bitten once. Usually she’s a magnet for bites and previous vacations have been miserable for her.
The only negatives: It would be nice if Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit had daily shuttles to/from Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita. Maybe most guests don’t want to leave the resort, but I always like to explore wherever we are. And there weren’t a lot of open outlets in our suite. To charge my laptop and our phones and power banks, we had to use one outlet by the beds and two in the bathroom. It was a juggling act at times.
Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit is one of the nicest luxury all inclusive resorts in Mexico and it’s priced accordingly. Nightly rates for one adult and one child start at US$801, or $1,229 for a family of four, including taxes and all food. It’s higher during peak times – especially over Christmas. My massage was $249. I received a discounted media rate with no expectation of positive coverage.
Travel Health Insurance
My major fear this trip was testing positive for Covid. I normally wouldn’t mind remaining in Mexico for an extra week, except it would be boring isolating in a hotel room, it would be expensive (assuming we could remain at Grand Velas), and my daughter needed to get back for school. After our expensive broken knee incident a few months ago, we purchased an annual travel health insurance policy through G1G, so we would have been covered if we had been stuck – and my daughter may have been able to attend school online? Anyway, I highly recommend looking into a travel health policy before your next trip.