I’m giving you fair warning……this review will not be short. But if you care to really learn about this resort you should probably take the time to digest what I have to share.
First and foremost, the new Secrets Vallarta Bay / Now Amber is a work in progress; only one of its kind AM resort. In short it is a pilot program to see if the company can defray the cost of 2 separate hotels (one family and one adults only) into one hotel while still trying to provide the same high qualities of both said hotels….separately. Although this is a novel concept, based on the way that both the designers of the hotel and hotel management implement their ideas; this resort is doomed to be a complete failure. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why. From the very beginning people have found out great ways to cheat any system that exists, you can find the same here. Secrets is an adults only hotel chain while Now promotes families.
However, the adults that stay at the Now quickly learn that all they have to do is:
#1 – book a room at the Now at a cheaper price and get a free upgrade to the Secrets side OR
#2 - Dump their children off at the kids club and head over to the Secrets side of the resort for some peace and quiet and to avoid the headaches of other people’s children playing in the pools of the Now side. Well this is great for The Now residents; but if you paid a premium to stay at the Secrets side, you’re getting shafted. The Secrets side pays on average a 15.5625% premium in price over the Now side. Don’t believe me? Do the research yourself on any website and you’ll find that the exact same rooms on the Now side simply cost less than the Secrets side. And trust me, they are the Exact same IDENTICAL rooms. I was in them on both sides of the hotel. So on to the prices:
Secrets Price P/Night----Now Price P/Night----% Difference
Junior Suite with Jacuzzi----------------------323----279--15.8%
Junior Suite Ocean View----------------------355----307--15.6%
Preferred Club Junior Suite Garden---------355----307--15.6%
Junior Suite Swim Out Garden View---------386----335--15.2%
Preferred Club Junior Suite Ocean View-----393----340--15.6%
Preferred Club Swim Out Garden View------420----363--15.7%
Master Suite Swim Out Garden View---------435----377--15.4%
Master Suite Ocean Front------------------------468----405--15.6%
The average premium paid by Secrets guests comes to 15.5625%. Don’t think that’s high? Well if you choose that Master Suite Ocean Front room as I did, that equates to wasted money totaling $441 dollars for a one week trip. Don’t want $441 dollars? That’s 4 massages at the spa or if you go to healing hands – it’s almost 15 massages with tip included.
Speaking of money, as part of the resort special at the time we received $400 (2 - $200 dollar packets of coupons that each person could spend) in resort coupons to use towards:
Wine: Up to $40 dollars per coupon packet can be used on Wine – can only use one $10 coupon at a time.
The house Merlot we found to be the best wine without paying extra. It was very smooth and had a very good taste. There were a couple $14 bottles of wine that we could have used the vouchers on, but most were 30-50 dollars on average. Of course they have more expensive bottles if you feel the need to spend money. There was no need to spend money on wine when you find one that you like that’s included. So that was $80 dollars of coupons that would never get used.
Spa services: Up to $100 dollars per coupon packet can be used here – 2 $40 dollars coupon & 1 $20 dollar coupon. Can only use one coupon at a time, cannot combine them with any specials or promotions.
Must be used on a treatment, can’t use it to get a day spa pass for general use. Now an 80 minute massage just outside the resort, with a tip costs $30 dollars. But at the Secrets Spa, an 80 minute massage costs $169-$209. If I were to use the $40 dollar coupon I can get that down to $129-$169…….without a tip. They ran daily specials not only in the Sundial daily paper but also at the pool of up to 40% off services, but you can’t combine specials and coupons. So that was $200 dollars of coupons that would never get used.
Romantic Dinner: Up to $60 dollars per coupon packet can be used on Dinners – 1 coupon of $40 & 1 coupon of $20. Cannot be combined with any specials or promotions.
Now I don’t recall the exact prices of the Romantic Dinners, but their special while we were there was:
$150 for Surf & Turf with Lobster
$200 for Surf & Turf with Lobster, bottle of Argentine Malbec wine and Chocolate covered Strawberries
$250 for Surf & Turf with Lobster and a bottle of Moet & Chandon
Those are the specials – which tells you the original cost is much higher, I think each level was $50 dollars higher than that special. Although I like the idea of that romantic Dinner – I don’t need to shell out such a high amount of money on surf & turf. So that was another $120 of coupons that would never get used.
So yes that brings the grand total of useless coupons given to us at the time of check-in to $400 dollars. There was no incentive to use them at any time because I could find better options at a vastly reduced price or for free (included). I would have loved to have used their spa, my wife and I love using spa’s – but we just don’t see the point in spending money on a service that is vastly disproportionate to its value. And don’t think that I’m cheap, I did pay for the Master Suite Preferred Club Room….
The Master Suite rooms:
I had the privilege of booking this category of room, first on the 5th floor and then we got moved to the 7th floor. We also visited friends we met at the resort who were staying on the 6th floor. And we requested and were allowed to view the Presidential Suite before we left.
For the Master Suite rooms on floor #1 – it is a very nice swim-out room with palm trees blocking much of the view you would have had of the ocean.
The Master Suites on floors 2, 3, 4 & 5 are all identical. You will have a very spacious room with a large balcony equipped with two padded loungers, table with four padded chairs and a balcony Jacuzzi tub. Special note about the Jacuzzi tubs – every single room above YOUR room can see into your Jacuzzi tub. So if you plan on getting naked at night and hop in, just look up and you can see everyone’s room above you will get a free show. The rooms themselves are huge, more than half of the space will probably go unused as the living room part of the suite is just that big. The bathrooms are amazing, in particular Secrets Vallarta Bay has the most impressive showers I have ever seen at a resort; and yes I have stayed at a lot of places including Zoetry and Iberostar Grand to name a couple. The tubs on floors 2, 3, 4 & 5 do not have Jacuzzi jets – they are just soaker tubs, but massive soaker tubs. You can fit 3-4 people in them and be very comfortable. The beds did seem a bid hard but we didn’t have that much trouble sleeping on them.
We had to switch from the 5th floor to the 7th floor because our room on the 5th had a problem with water leakage from the ceiling that eventually led to the ceiling starting to come down. I informed them immediately and for some reason they just came up, shut the A/C off and left the room. Thinking it was fixed, I turned the A/C back on to go to sleep at night, 83 degrees is not pleasant sleeping weather; and the next morning the warped ceiling was over saturated and had begun to separate under the weight and stress of the water logged panel. And it just so happened that on that same morning our toilet broke, the push button to flush it simply snapped. So we were moved to the 7th floor, the only other available Master Suite available.
First I will tell you about the 6th floor room: Amazing…..amazing…..amazing. Technically the 6th & 7th floor rooms are the same category room, but they do not compare. The 6th floor is bigger and better in every way. The suite itself is bigger, but the balcony is at least 3 times bigger in size. You can legitimately host a party of 30 people and not be cramped for space. The 6th and 7th floors also have plunge pools, but the 6th floor plunge pool is 3 times bigger than the 7th floor plunge pool. Oh and the 6th floor is also bigger & better than the Presidential Suite. Yes I said that correctly, we viewed the Presidential Suite and after being in the 6th floor Master Suite with friends a few nights before, we were shocked by how much bigger and better the 6th floor Master Suite was. Yes the 6th floor plunge pool is even two times bigger than the one on the Presidential Suite. If you are looking to book a room in this category or the Presidential – request the 6th floor, you will not be disappointed. Did I mention this room on the 6th floor is amazing?
The 7th floor room: Well everything the 6th floor has except smaller, that didn’t make much sense to us as they are the same room category; but at any rate the 7th floor room is slightly smaller. What makes up the main difference again is the balcony and plunge pool. The 7th floor balcony and plunge pool is cramped and is 1/3rd the size of the 6th floors. Both the 6th and 7th floor have Jacuzzi tubs in the bathroom, ours had never been cleaned so we were welcomed by massive chunks of bacterial mold as we turned on the jets. Not very impressive. I flushed the jets and tub 4 times and even after that we got the occasional mold shooting out when we used it.
The Presidential Suite: Quite honestly not worth the $ 2,000 asking price per night. I was told by the UVC manager that the rack rate for this room was $ 500 per night. Don’t waste your money, book and request the 6th floor Master Suite; it is a better room. The only thing that the presidential has that all other rooms don’t is a half size fridge and a microwave, that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, the room is nice; but the 6th floor balcony and double size plunge pool won me over.
Overall the rooms were very nice, good décor and I cannot speak highly enough of their showers. And yes, the REAL door that closes so people can’t see you going to the bathroom is a welcome change from the clear doors. Honestly who came up with the idea to put clear bathroom doors in these other resorts? Both of the rooms we were in on the Secrets side had the A/C shut off after about 60 minutes being out of the room. However our friends on the Now side said that theirs never shut off and was always cold for them. Our rooms regularly got over 85 degrees until we came back and the A/C kicked back on. I can’t sleep when it’s hot, so that was quite unpleasant.
The main body of the resort is beautiful; the best placed and designed Lobby I have ever seen. It is a perfect place to relax, have a nice drink and watch the sunset. Each side of the resort has its own matching lobby, the Secrets side slightly nicer furniture – the Now side slightly lower quality that kids can destroy. The best place to watch the sunset is from the Secrets side because all three sections get a full view. The Now has some viewing areas blocked by buildings as the sun crests the horizon when it goes down. If you are dead set on watching it from the Now side – use the seats to the far left or middle. The right side is totally obstructed.
Beyond the Lobby, the layout of this resort is totally screwed up. Whoever designed this place needs to be #1 – fired & #2 placed into an insane asylum. The reason I say this is because in order to get from you preferred club room (as I was in) to any restaurant other than French (Secrets side + Adults only) or Oceana (can get to from either side); from the Secrets preferred side you must go down an elevator to level #1. Walk to the main elevator and go up to floor #3. Walk over to the Now side and go down the rear elevator or main elevator to have dinner at the Mexican restaurant (adults only), the Oriental restaurant (adults only), the Italian restaurant, enjoy the night club Desires (adults only) or the coffee house(Now side main level). The majority of the Dinner restaurants are adults only, as identified in their room information binder. Now we did see children at the Mexican Restaurant and the only one that they did identify as adults only at check in and in their brochure was the Oriental, even though the French restaurant can only be entered from the Secrets side. It wasn’t clear at all which ones really were adults only and which ones were not.
The effort to get to the other side of the resort is stupid, all of these restaurants should have been right down the middle of both resorts so that you can get to them from either side, instead of having to keep talking about the running joke of the resort….up/down/up/down/up/down. If you go here and listen to other people talking; they all keep saying the same thing…. up/down/up/down/up/down. It’s not funny; it’s pathetic that someone that got paid to design and build a resort forgot about rule #1 – customer comfort.
Speaking of the use of the elevators. I noticed very quickly, since I tend to sweat when its 70 and my wife doesn’t until It’s 90+. The elevators on the Now side all were air conditioned with cold air coming from the vents except the elevator going to Desires and the Mexican and Oriental restaurants. All of the vents on the Secrets side were shut off except one in the preferred section, which had warm air coming out of it. The elevators on the Secrets side got very very hot very quickly. It was annoying to take a shower, get all dressed up and then once you step inside one of the 7 up/down/up/down/up/down elevators to get over to your restaurant – your dripping with sweat as if you just got out of the shower.
French: Our favorite of the trip. We ate here twice and found it to have the best food of the resort. The portions are very small so do not be afraid to order more than one entre. I highly recommend the muscles and steak. The service is incredibly slow, even with such a low occupancy of 15% at the resort. We waited over 30 minutes just for the dessert menu the second time we visited the restaurant, we eventually got up and left because we were tired of waiting.
Oriental: This was our second favorite restaurant. We did the hibachi grill the first time and the main room the second time. The hibachi grill was not hot as the kept the glass doors open and we enjoyed a private meal by ourselves with our chef. Our second visit was less than stellar; we didn’t get anything that we had ordered. My wife additionally asked 4 times for some ginger sauce and never got it. We ate some of what they brought and left.
Italian: We were both disappointed with the Italian restaurant after having stayed at another Secrets for our honeymoon two years ago. The Italian was simply not good, we didn’t like the taste of the food or the selection of the food at all. At Silversands it was our favorite.
Mexican: It was listed as adults only but we did see children in the restaurant. They were well behaved so that was a plus. My wife loves Mexican food and she said it was just ok. I’m not a fan of Mexican food so I tend to order other foods I might not get a chance to try at the other restaurants. I struck gold with the Mahi; phenomenal. I highly recommend getting it.
Breakfast & Lunch Buffet: Outstanding. They had a huge selection of all kinds of food. My favorite was the yogurt bar. They had a choice of 8 different toppings for your yogurt including coconut shavings, raisins & walnuts to name a few.
Pool food: do not, do not, do not, do not get any fish dish from pool service. So many people were getting sick from it; it seems to be a theme. They advertised chef’s special every day from 1-3 pm. Some days he never showed up, other days he was there for 10 minutes and left. Only one day did he actually show up and stay for about an hour. He had pork and beef soft taco’s that were very good.
As mentioned in other reviews – there needs to be some shade around the pool bar. The pasty white gringo’s tend to fry in the sun when they wait for their drinks or strike up a conversation with other people.
The vendors are annoying; they just stand in front of people in large groups. It definitely takes away from the relaxing atmosphere. They charge 3-4 times more than what you would pay in old town Vallarta shopping areas.
We didn’t get the same service that some others rave about. We had to ask repeatedly to get things that we ordered, even had to get up after 30+ minute of waiting to get our own menu’s or drinks.
As noted, when this resort gets to full capacity it will be a nightmare. At 15% occupancy it is not overwhelmed. At 100% capacity you will be tripping over people left and right and the waits for restaurants will be hours long forcing people to use the buffets against their will and desire.
One couple was staying in the non-preferred tower and management wanted to close that floor. They offered to move them to the preferred room as a free upgrade. They said we don’t want to move because we like the privacy. So the upgraded them to the master suite ocean front room on the 6th floor for free. Well having actually paid as much as I did, that pisses me off. If I had known they were giving free upgrades, and they were to most if not everyone; I would have booked a junk room and saved a lot of money. I don’t blame the couple, I blame the management of the hotel. People that pay a premium for a room should have been given preference for upgrades over those that have not paid for that same privilege.
Overall I like the resort but there were some things that lowered my rating to a 3 that really bothered me. Once they get fully established I have no doubt the lowest rating this resort should ever get is a 4, but they are not there yet.
Some information on their Unlimited Vacation Club:
Simply put, it is a waste of time and money for the package that they offered me. Yes I will explain why in vast detail. I was very direct with the UVC people on Wednesday morning when I went to talk to them. I told them, my wife won’t be coming, I’m not interested in any vouchers or credits (they offer $200 dollars to use towards the spa or $150 for a tour) – just make me your best offer and I will tell you yes or no. I knew all about their program prior to going in to meet with the manager of the UVC, whom spoke perfect English. And I also knew what other individuals had been paying for their various packages and what a fair price in my own mind “should” be based on a break-even point. I gave them 40 minutes of my time and this is what they offered me:
The unrestricted package, meaning no blackout dates and I can book preferred club rooms.
Starting price: $ 22,400
$ -3,500 - a matching discount equal to what I paid for this trip up to $4,000.
$ 18,900 - Remaining Balance
$ -945 - for total balance paid within 30 days
$ 17,955 – Remaining Balance
$ -4,800 - for them buying my current timeshare to get into their program
$ 13,155 – Final Remaining Balance.
$ 120 per year program fee; includes prepaid first booking fee. Each booking after the first booking costs $ 20. RCI and other programs cost extra.
The Offered Plan:
20 unrestricted weeks, advised the going program rate for preferred club ocean view master suite was 210 per night total on the Now side of the property, NOT the Secrets side which I was staying in. He was very adamant about only telling me rack rate prices from the Now side of the resort because they are lower prices. 2 free weeks in the lowest non-preferred room category; to use at any resort except Secrets Maroma Beach and Zoetry.
7 days at 210 per night is $ 1,470 plus the 20 booking fee equals 1490 for the week. I paid on average 357 per night on my existing reservation. Obviously I will need to purchase airfare and hotel transfers separately each time I would be using their program weeks. Assuming I continue to pay this price for all 20 weeks and assuming the $210 rack rate continues as well; and I use 2 weeks per year over 10 years it will cost me:
For the Preferred Club Master Suite:
$ 1,200 for the club fees
$ 380 for booking fees
$ 29,400 for the room fees
$ 13,155 up front totaling:
$ 44,135 – To stay in the Now Amber Ocean Front Master Suite; for 20 weeks over 10 years.
Since the UVC guy was adamant about only telling me the Now side rack room rates, I will use the Now side in my comparison. The Now rate for the Preferred Club Master Suite Ocean Front is 305 per night totaling $2135 per week, multiplied by 20 weeks equals: $42,700. That’s if I paid for the room outright, with no upfront costs, one week at a time.
If I were to buy into their program and reserve this same room I would immediately lose $ 1,435 dollars over the course of the program. Not to mention the lost money through interest accrual on money I would not have had to pay upfront. WOW what a great deal!!! In fact Mr. UVC manager said to sell me the package at a lower price, he would have to pay for it out of his own pocket.
Now for the Secrets side: if I get the same rate at 357 per night is $2,499 per week. Multiply that but 20 trips I would pay $49,980 dollars. And the rack rate for the same room on the Secrets side of the resort will be higher because on average the secrets side pays 15.5625% higher costs for the exact same room. This percentage added to the $210 per night Now rack room rate equals $243. This $243 rack rate is a close approximation based upon the average “premium” people staying at secrets pay over people staying at Now Amber.
243 X 7 = 1701 X 20 = $34,020
$ 1,200 for the club fees.
$ 380 for booking fees.
$ 13,155 Up front payment
Totaling - $ 48,755
So I can one week at a time and after 20 trips pay $ 49,980 OR pay $ 13,155 up front plus club fees to end up paying $ 48,755. A Difference of $ 1,225 of savings plus two free weeks in the lowest category room of a resort other than Secrets Maramo Beach and Zoetry. I value each of those free weeks at around $ 700 dollars apiece because of the low room category. So let’s assume that $ 1,400 plus $ 1,225 is my savings – over 10 years that totals $ 2,625 in total savings on a total $ 48,755 dollar investment; of which I lost money on because I paid more up-front costs to buy into a program that merely offers nothing more than discounted rates. At best you might be able to argue that I will break even after 10 years, based on this specific room category at this specific hotel. The UVC manager was intent on telling me that their goal was to get their customers back to break even on their investment as quickly as possible. Well if that is the case and I use this example as what I can expect; then I wouldn’t break even until after I used my 19th week.
This example is based off of a very high priced / high cost room category. If you were to use these weeks in a lower room category you stand to lose a whole lot of money; simply because you can never gain enough savings from a lower room category on the rack price versus retail price. In fact the interest on $ 13,155 over 10 years at a very low 2.75% rate of return comes to $ 2,711. So in essence, paying that money up front not only would have paid for my 2 free weeks, but my savings on the whole program on the Secrets side as well; thus making my total value of the endeavor a waste of money.
If that sounds like a good deal to anyone, I've got some premium dirt to sell everyone. It may look like regular dirt, but I swear it is soooo much better; cuz I say it is.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Romantic. Refined. Remarkable. Located on the golden sand beaches of the Pacific coast within walking distance of the famous El Malecon boardwalk, this vibrant oceanfront resort provides adults 24/7 access to amazing nightlife, non-stop entertainment and Unlimited-Luxury(R). ... more less
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