Our family of 6 just returned from a week at Garza Blanca. Overall it was a great experience and everyone (including all 4 children) had fun - which is no small feat!
Our visit started out well when we arrived. My wife had hurt her foot and she told the staff that she wasn't sure how well she could handle the walk to and from the towers where they had us booked. The towers are across the road from the main complex and you have to walk some distance to get to the pool and beach area. The staff immediately changed our room to one in the building next to the pool, on the first floor, about 50 feet from the pool. The space was literally huge and extremely well appointed. Polished stone floors, extremely clean, 2 large bedrooms, 2 full baths, 1 partial bath, full kitchen, eating area, 3 flat screen TVs, and great air conditioning (which you need given the heat this time of year). Further, the maid (who must have spent almost an hour cleaning every day) kept the entire room clean and organized every day.
I have to laugh a little about the next experience upon checkin - which was the attempt at a timeshare pitch by the woman who welcomed us. When I sensed that the pitch part of the welcome was coming I politely said "I want to be up front with you and say that we have absolutely, positively no interest in anything to do with a timeshare, and don't want to waste anyone's time - yours or ours - listening to offers for incentives that we will definitely say 'no' to. We came here because of the recommendations on Trip Advisor for a vacation, not to buy a timeshare. So I would appreciate it if you would skip the pitch entirely." She was clearly disoriented and paused for a couple of seconds, I think because I took her off her game, but respected my request and only slipped up once (when we asked about Internet she said the price was 'X' but we could get it for $10 for the stay if we attended a presentation, ooops.... Sorry.' So, if you ever read about the high pressure sales tactics, and think the polite thing to do is just play along and say 'no' at the end, I can assure you that the best defense against the high-pressure selling is to just look them in the eye and tell them confidently 'don't waste your or my time.'
In the interest of brevity, I'll focus the rest of my review on the plusses and the minuses.
- The facilities are top-notch for the PV area. The pools are nice, relatively large, clean and refreshing. The rooms (as I note above) are fantastic.
- The beach is probably 800-1000 feet long (the coast is rocky and I think the hotel may have cleared an area and brought in sand) but very functional for swimming (they also have an area roped off for swimmers), snorkeling (which is very good), kayaking, paddle boarding, and just floating. There is no boogey boarding to speak of on this side of the bay; the waves just come in and break next to the shore. But, the rest of what you can do more than compensates. Also, this was by-far the warmest ocean water I've ever been in. It's literally close to bath water, and completely insufficient when taking a dip to cool off from the heat. If you want to cool off, you have to go to one of the pools. The hotel also provides umbrellas, lounge chairs, and a dining area where there is full service from the outside restaurant and bar.
- The hotel provides quite a bit of sports equipment at the beach to people who chose the all inclusive package (we did). This includes snorkeling equipment, boogey boards, paddle boards, kayaks, life jackets, volley ball equipment, and probably more that I didn't see. The beach attendants also arranged rentals for us from some men who came up to the beach with jet skis (who they obviously knew ;-) ). The price was $120/hour which really surprised me. I know that's not chump change, but I've never seen jet skis for less than $200+ per hour. We rented one for one hour, and they helped us switch around the kids and drivers so we all got to ride. Afterwards, the jet ski guys introduced us to another man who has a boat set up for sport fishing in the Bay of Bandaras (who had just driven up to the shore). The hotel had negotiated a price of $60/hour for a boat with 2 motors, captain & mate, 6 rods, and all of the bait. We arranged for a 4 hour trip the next morning, paid a $60 deposit, the guys showed up on time the next day, and we caught some fish that almost pulled us into the water. We brought 1 of the 3 fish back to the hotel, and the chef cooked it for us that evening!
- The staff is extremely attentive, helpful, friendly, and very happy to help you polish up your Spanish skills (but only if you ask). There are plenty of waiters at the pool, someone was always stopping by your chair to ask if you needed anything, and it was easy to feel very well taken care of. I'll add that the staff seemed to be truly interested in making sure you were having a great time, and were happy when you said you were. We were never asked for a tip or felt like anyone was being nice only to get one.
- The all inclusive package was truly all inclusive (except, curiously for the rack of lamb, which was $32 extra). The package included all of the food at the pool (a separate restaurant from the dining-centric main restaurants), the main restaurants, and *room service*. Our kids were out of their minds with joy from being able to order their own breakfasts from room service each morning - and there were no extra charges. By the way, the drinks might have been a little watered down - but only because the ice melts so quickly in the heat.
'In the Middle - Not plus or minus - just 'is':
- It was hot, hot, hot. Some love it, some don't. My family loves it; I don't. So, I hung out at the pool and read a book, and jumped in the pool to cool off. Some snorkeling. But, that's about as much as I wanted to do between about 11:00AM and 5:00PM because it was that hot.
- It rained virtually every day. BUT! Only after about 5:00PM. The days were beautiful, and the heat built up large clouds that usually turned into thunderstorms by about 6:00PM. For us, they didn't get in the way at all. In fact, the lightening and thunder was kind of fun to watch from our porch. So, don't stay away from PV this time of year because you have been told that it's the rainy season.
- There are 2 restaurants that serve dinner. One (the Blanca Blue) is in the main area and is fairly good. The other is a 'steak and small bites' restaurant (I don't recall the name) in one of the towers on the other side of the complex. Our meal at the steak/bites place was just weird. It's hard to describe why. The meat - grilled very prominently - weren't as good as at Blanca Blue, and the small bites were odd. My wife and I paid extra for the aged beef options, and the were also not nearly as good as at the other restaurant. Desert was disappointing. And, the service was painfully slow. Dinner there was clearly the low point of our stay. But, you can choose where you want to eat, and we only chose to eat there once.
- The menu at Blanca Blue offers a nice selection of choices, and they are clearly shooting for gourmet. The staff is very well trained and the service was top-notch. However, the execution on the food preparation was a little inconsistent. For example, I had a rib eye that was perfectly cooked, but it was over a puree of (not sure what) with (not sure what) on the side. It was like they were shooting at the right target, but I suspect the staff in the kitchen wasn't quite up to the task at all of the stations. As a friendly piece of advice, I recommend to the chef that he scale back a little in his aspirations until the sous chefs can learn to execute better what he's trying to offer to his diners. One last thing: the service was painfully slow for the first 2 nights. I said something to my wife about it, and she reminded me that it gave us a chance to spend more time with the kids. Then, quite mysteriously, the service improved dramatically for the rest of the nights (except at the steak/bites place.) So, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that the first 2 nights were a fluke. Oh yes - you have to ask for the check. They won;t bring it until you ask, so don't complain about how long it takes to get the check! :-)
That's about it! All in all, I think these guys did a great job, and we would definitely go back.