Puerto Vallarta a vacation by the skin of our teeth

When the mama from Mexico City in the golf cart beside me started grilling me about how much it was costing us to stay here, I became very self conscious. The place is a 5 diamond hotel, the kind of place we never go even when we have the points for it because generally you just can’t enjoy any of the fanciness at a place like that with kids. Uber fancy hotels are also culturally not where I find the people I most like spending time with, generally speaking. But what do I know? I’ve never stayed anywhere this fancy before.

So when I told her it was free except for the cost of our food, her eyes bulged and I felt like an asshole. A friend had lucked into the time share swap of the century, I explained. After inheriting a not-so-fancy time share, they somehow found a 4k square foot, 3 bedroom suite at the Vidanta Grand Luxxe on an online swap. Then they were upgraded to a 4 bedroom after calling to confirm the details of the reservation the day before arriving.

The place was bigger than both our houses combined, plus a lot. I had trouble imagining what it would actually be like. Would my toddler get lost trying to find our bedroom?

And we were just going on a last minute whim because we could use points and our Southwest companion passes to travel for free. The lady couldn’t quite imagine it, and kept asking me how much our tickets would have cost had we spent actual money on them. In the off season, these kinds of resorts usually offer deals in the home country, which actually makes it much more interesting to be there if you are hoping for some modicum of cultural exchange while staying at one of these gated bourgtastic ridiculousnesses.

My spouse had no vacation time so he would be working remotely all week, but being on my own with kids all day is a variation on a theme. We’ve decided that traveling is an important part of our lives and our kids’ education so when the opportunity arises, I overcome my nesting urges and all my normal parent worries about all the things that can go wrong and try to make it happen. This one was a no brainer.


Our family of two adults, a 6yo, and a 2yo stayed with another parent and his two small kids in one of these unbelievable Vidanta Grand Luxxe Residence suites for a week in August, 2016. We then spent two days and nights at the Casamagna Marriott in town before heading home.

Once again I find myself in the position of saying–only more so this time–that I cannot imagine the circumstances under which paying anything close to full price cash to go here would be worthwhile. That’s not because it’s not everything a person could want in a super elite fancy resort, it’s just that I probably won’t ever be able to reconcile myself with the idea of being a super elite fancy resort type of person.

BUT! If you have the chance to swap a reasonably priced time share, or go with a friend to Vidanta for a few days, I’d say go for it.

Everything is beautiful at Vidanta, even nursing an acrobatic toddler with poor latch.

Everything is beautiful at Vidanta, even nursing an acrobatic toddler with poor latch.

My only overall knock on this place is that it is enormous. Walking most places with small kids just isn’t an option. It doesn’t matter because there are super fun golf carts and by day 3 you will be going down to explain that no, you don’t need to get anywhere, can you just ride on the back of their cart while the shuttle makes its rounds because your two year old has been screaming “Ride Cart!” over and over since 5am? They will smile and drive extra fast around the curves just to make your kid happy. But you will also gain 10 lbs because you had no idea the 800 times you walked up the stairs in your own house or to your car on a normal day actually contributed significantly to your fitness level.

super shuttle

super shuttle

One of the cart drivers told me there is a tunnel that runs under the whole Grand Luxxe complex for deliveries and staff. I asked if they made them walk, he laughed and said no, they got to ride the carts too. But we did find that room service took forever because things were so far apart. It only took us one day of breakfast coming 45 minutes after calling to start planning ahead. Four hungry kids under 6 are no f**king joke.

We had not a single food disappointment for 7 days with 4 kids. The food is priced very reasonably for a fancy pants place, we think in an effort to get people to not leave the resort and just do everything there. There’s a pretty good grocery store and pharmacy in the shopping center (called The Plaza), so we bought fresh vegetables and fruit, bread to go with the PB and J we brought from home so no one would die (good peanut butter outside the USA is always a crap shoot). Portions are big and everything was fresh and good quality. When my big kid got an earache I was able to get white vinegar and rubbing alcohol and a syringe that I pulled the tip off of to squirt homemade swimmer’s ear preventative into his ear. The concierge desk will get you anything you need from a bigger pharmacy if they don’t have it.

We tried out all the pools, which is saying a lot since there are like 397 of them (okay, just 15). All the pools (even the adults only pool that we took all the kids to one evening to play with the other kids we found there) are awesome for kids. They have these funky shelves–eight or nine feet of a few inches of water, probably for drunk people to set their glasses down on but also awesome for babies. Every pool is different, but the kids loved them all and there were safe and fun spots for each age. It wasn’t over my tall 6 year old’s head anywhere, which made it much easier for the grown ups to relax and enjoy ourselves. We really liked the rooftop pool at our building.


Residence rooftop

Mayan Palace pools

Mayan Palace

Also fabulous are the buckets of 5 beers for the price of 4. Our kids got the fancy faux glass beer cups and played games with the ice for an hour.

The water feels sort of like a bath by the late afternoon. I know I said I only had one complaint. I lied. It’s weird to swim in bath water. But this place is so ridiculous I’m sure if they could speed climate change up by cooling the pool water in the afternoon, they would, so I’m guessing it’s a worldwide tropical-pool-in-summer issue.

There’s a kid’s club, which, like the food, was not expensive. $8 for four hours of free babysitting for kids over 5, even cheaper per hour if you sign up for the whole day. My kid who won’t do things without me went with his friend for a morning. Not only did he not say goodbye when I dropped him off, he didn’t want to come home when we picked them up. They did disco dancing, made aprons, and went swimming. He told me I was a deficient mother for not packing him sunscreen (I did, he just didn’t find it because he has nascent male pattern can’t-find-s**t syndrome) or his rashguard top (I actually did forget that, but he had a t-shirt on so why did he need another one?).

We did get lost in the apartment. We tried to come up with creative things to do with the extra room at night after the kids were asleep in our bed. We enjoyed the turndown service with chocolates. The kids loved the splash pool on our porch (the porch that’s bigger than my house). The views were awesome. Even the fact that they are building a new monstrosity right next to this one was great since all the toddler wants to do is watch “Big Diggers!” all day long. We got some exercise walking from the kitchen to the bathroom and bedroom every time we forgot something while the two non-working adults tried to get all 4 kids out of the apartment every morning. Nothing got broken. There’s a washer and dryer. The bathroom was also bigger than my kitchen.

By the time we said goodbye to our friends and headed off the Casamagna Marriott we were dazed and suffering from resort exhaustion.

Casamagna is more my speed in terms of size–the beach is right there by the pool and rooms, the views are amazing, and if you want to go do things in town you are much closer (though while we were there an entire group of people were kidnapped from a fancy restaurant in town, supposedly all narco-traficantes but it helps you understand the attraction of a place like Vidanta where you have to go through 5 miles of wilderness preserve and a polite checkpoint to get in). The room was cute and functional.


from our window at Casamagna

The service was meh (asked 3 times in 3 different ways for someone to come up and unlock the mini-fridge so that we could store our fresh produce and no one ever showed up). The main restaurants have lackluster ambience, likely because they are designed for the breakfast buffet and folks don’t eat there much otherwise. The only onsite restaurant we’d recommend is the poolside one, which was awesome. The kids’ menu is the same at every restaurant and is composed of really icky food. Not that my kids didn’t loooooooove the velveeta and noodles mac and cheese and the bizarre open faced american grilled cheese. But when after two days your two year old is asking for broccoli, something is wrong.

Our kids got a cold the day we left Vidanta so we only made one foray into town. Cab prices are fixed and you confirm at the hotel before leaving, but any real cab can be trusted. We walked out to the Los Muertos pier and down the boardwalk, stopping for breakfast at La Palapa on the beach, which was super kid friendly and delightfully good.

Puerto Vallarta, as one cabbie explained it to me, has no other industry besides tourism and has not for as long as anyone can remember. It has a pretty interesting history, with even some pirate fantasy back in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century it served as a port to support the mining industry in Guadalajara. For the entire post-war period it’s been a tourist destination for gringos and development has exploded–much driven by seasonal foreign residents–since the 1990s. What this means in practice is that every single thing you encounter there is designed to support tourism. Choosing to visit this particular place means choosing to be somewhere known as a great party spot. There are lots of prostitutes and plenty of street hagglers, though we never felt unsafe in the slightest. Most irritating were us–all the drunk foreigners. We loved talking to our cab drivers and the resort workers, but didn’t have the same kind of meaningful interactions with other visitors that we often do when we travel.

But for this East Coast gal, mountains right by the sea will never get old.


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