Av Cocoteros #98 Sur, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, Mexico
A stylish all-inclusive resort worth bragging about, Grand Velas near the Puerto Vallarta airport proves that it is possible to build a one-price luxury resort that is upscale, classy, and emphasizes fine cuisine.
When the Grand Velas Resort in the Riviera Nayarit area north of Puerto Vallarta opened in 2003, it was presenting what many at the time considered an oxymoron: "luxury all-inclusive." From the start though, they proved the naysayers wrong by creating a refreshing twist on the concept of paying one price for everything. The contemporary design, oversized rooms, consistently good restaurants, and premium liquor service set this distinctive resort apart from the rest.
While other competitors have jumped on the bandwagon since then, Grand Velas still reigns as the gem that rises far above most of the mass market competitors that dot the Pacific Mexican coastline. Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit is an oasis of elegance, offering upscale style and superior service. If you've never experienced this type or resort, it may shatter all your stereotypes about what a "one price and you're done" vacation in a place like this can be. The service will be friendly and attentive, your meals will sometimes be shockingly good, and nobody will try to sell you anything.
The soaring Zen-inspired lobby sets the tone for what will surely be a relaxing and peaceful stay-black stones inlaid in a cool white marble floor lead to a gently bubbling floor-level fountain. Skylit hallways and giant overhead beams holding up a thatch palapa roof add to the dramatic effect.
The striking design elements continue at the swimming pool complex, where cushioned chaises surround a large main pool that flows into an infinity pool right above the beach. There's a swim-up bar, shallow areas with headrests, and a spacious kid's area off to the side. Reusable plastic cups (and no straws allowed) are used to serve top-shelf drinks, ensuring that the manicured pool and garden areas remain litter-free.
The all-inclusive plan is far from stingy here. Waiters will regularly ask what they can get for you and they're glad to bring snacks or a full lunch if you can't be bothered to leave your lounge chair. They will also set you up at the beach and make sure you stay hydrated.
There is a little bit of difference between winter and summer though: when it's cold up north, prices are higher but the clientele is more adult and the liquor and wine take a step up in quality. In the summer the crowd is more domestic and family oriented, so rates go down and the lawn space—normally used for buffet theme dinners—turns into a much larger kids' play area.
Winter or summer, the teen club here is truly outstanding. Offering table games, video games karaoke, snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks, it's a wonderful place for teenagers to socialize with their own kind, away from the parents.
Most Puerto Vallarta resorts that are all-inclusive focus more on keeping the masses happy than they do on attracting top chefs who can win awards consistently for their cuisine. This Nuevo Vallarta resort's five restaurants and a snack bar offer a perfect mix of upscale and casual dining options, including French, Asian, Mexican and Italian, in addition to the ongoing poolside buffet. The four specialty restaurants are a la carte and both the food and service are a major step up from the usual all-inclusive mold. Three have been awarded 4-diamond award kudos and attract top guest chefs from around the world for gastronomy events. Fine furniture and candlelight create a romantic atmosphere and it impossible to get bored with the options during a week-long vacation.
I only had time to dine at two during my last stay, but both were outstanding. For lunch we helped ourselves to the cornucopia of fresh items at the Azul buffet, from salads and ceviche to a range of cooked items. A chef was grilling fish and octopus for tacos, which a waiter brought to our table on request. Naturally we could order whatever we wanted to drink and sample a few desserts. They also serve buffet meals at this beachfront spot for breakfast and dinner, supplemented with some made-to-order items or carving stations. With an outdoor area too overlooking the ocean, it's a good spot for when you're ultra-casual.
The other restaurants do have a "casual elegant" dress code so nobody is waltzing in with swimwear. At dinner we went for upscale Mexican at Frida and had a several-course tasting menu that was one of the best I've experienced at a beach resort in Mexico. As we moved through tableside-mixed guacamole, an amuse-bouche of lobster ceviche, tuna tostada appetizer, watermelon salad, a giant prawn, grilled fish with baby corn, and an ice cream dessert, we got an explanation of what ingredients went into what we were sampling and had a wine pairing to go with each course. The atmosphere, service, and dishes were all on par with the independent Puerto Vallarta restaurants we experienced later that week. (Plus this meal came with a harpist providing music.)
When I visited, Sen Lin Asian restaurant was headed up by a Thai chef who used to be at Banyan Tree Mayakoba, but it also has some items from Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Lucca Mediterranean has a strong focus on Italian, including pizza, risotto, and gnocchi options. Piaf may be the most romantic option, serving up classic French cuisine with a few contemporary twists. Children need to be at least 12 for Piaf and be prepared to order with the adults, but the other restaurants have a kids menu.
All Grand Velas restaurant menus do an admirably good job of pointing out which items are all clear for those with allergies and which ones are fit for vegetarians-Lucca even has a whole vegan page. Waiters are accustomed to accommodating special requests. Also, you can also choose to have 24-hour room service deliver meals to your room for balcony dining.
Don't come here expecting a lot of wild nightlife though. There are a basically only two real bars: the poolside and swim-up options during the day and the Koi Sports Bar at night. You've got more to drink in your minibar though if you want to keep the party going in the suite.
The rooms here are a pleasant surprise to the upside if you're used to beach resort rooms that are really just for sleeping and showering. "All Suites" used to be part of the longer name of the resort. Even the smallest accommodations have 1,000 square feet for spreading out. These Parlor Suites and Master suites have a nice-sized Jacuzzi, outdoor terrace or balcony, dining table, and sitting area with a sofa bed. All have marble décor, quality custom furniture, and come loaded with the amenities, including a well-stocked complimentary minibar and snacks that get replaced each day. You can enjoy English channels on the large TVs, plug in your music player, and surf the web with no extra charges.
One step up are the spacious Grand Master and Presidential Suites that come complete with furnished wraparound terraces, outdoor whirlpools, and all the expected extras. There are also wellness suites, family suites, two-floor Resident Suites, and ones that look directly out at the water instead of across the pools. Romantic couples may want to go for the adult-only Ambassador Grand Class Suite, with a spacious deck, two whirlpools, and nearly 1,900 square feet of space.
A well-equipped gym and state-of-the-art spa receive high marks as two of the best in the region. You can also take advantage of several included water sport activities like kayaking or boogie boarding. Naturally, there are tour excursion desks on site to set up nearby golf course tee times, boat trips, or other adventures for a fee.
Although this resort has "Riviera Nayarit" in its name because of the state side of the line it's on, it's really a Puerto Vallarta all inclusive, closer to the Puerto Vallarta airport than the namesake city is. This stretch of beach is a bit nicer than the ones closer to the city as well, with opportunities to take a long stroll on the sand.
Popular among sophisticated travelers and honeymooners who don't want to be sweating about the details on the checkout bill, AAA 5-diamond Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit remains the best large resort option for that on this coast. While more competition has popped up in recent years, this luxury beach resort still holds the edge when it comes to excellent meals and superior service. It remains the finest all-inclusive resort in and around the Nuevo Vallarta region.
Web Address: Vallarta.grandvelas.com
Total Number of Rooms: 267
Published rates: $702 to $4,900 all-inclusive per room/suite
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.