We recently returned from Bel Air Vallerta (April 7 - 11) where we spent four nights for an anniversary get-away. We did make reservations for the All Inclusive plan, which they refer to as the Gourmet Plan. We expected to be checked into a plain, no-view room, but were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves escorted to an upgraded (without explanation) room with a lovely small balcony, ocean & pool view. The room was more than adequate, with a comfortable king sized bed, large bathroom, kitchenette, and sitting area that included a pull out loveseat, and full sized closet. We arrived at the close of Spring Break season, so the resort was quiet, relaxing, and not crowded.
Staff -- The staff is what absolutely made this trip memorable. Galileo and Ruth at the Front & Concierge desks were extremely helpful. Jessica and Lucio in Activities were fun and super friendly. Luis and Leon at the Shipwreck bar were always helpful and quick with service. Carlos in the Nautico was quite possibly the best bartender, ever. Daniella, and the entire service staff, in the Palms Terrace were just fabulous.
Grounds -- The resort is beautiful with well-maintained landscaping. We especially enjoyed the turtle & koi pond, the blooming trees and shrubs, and the lizards. The pool was sparkling clean each and every day of our stay. The lounge chair cushions and pillows, as well as the pool towels were fresh daily. The short stretch of beach was groomed daily.
Restaurants -- The Shipwreck's grill menu was moderate, but delicious for poolside sandwiches, burgers, etc. We had breakfast and dinner daily at the Palms Terrace, and never found ourselves wanting for lack of choices, accomodation to special requests, or delicious, gourmet style meals. Even breakfast was presented with flourish. (Try the Cabre de Caramello, Torre Mozzarella, and the Pollo Cardinalis).
Bars -- The Shipwreck's selection was top shelf, and they offered a different drink special each day. We enjoyed excellent planter's punch, bloody marys, white russians, banana daquiris and amazing mango margaritas, and 2-for-1 specials during happy hour. The Nautico was very comfortable and welcoming with a nice patio and an excellent selection of top shelf liquors.
The Room -- The bed was amazingly comfortable, and we had no need to use the air conditioning as the breeze came in the patio doors from the ocean. The bedding was fresh and clean, and our room was made up daily with fresh towels and trash service. The room was quiet and well-insulated from the sound from other rooms and even outside unless the patio door was open. The kitchenette was fully stocked with dishes, pots, glassware, cutlery, and utensils. We also appreciated the in-room PIN number safe.
No Cash Policy -- The hotel has a strict no cash policy, which means regardless of your meal plan, any food or drink your order is charged to your room and you settle up when you check out. This means you don't have to carry any cash on your person unless you want to tip in cash.
Housekeeping -- The tidiness of the room depending on who was working that day. One day, it felt like our floor hadn't been swept. We also had to leave a note for housekeeping to please refresh the in-room coffee service and tolietries. The tolietries were provided, however, we had to go to the front desk to get coffee service brought up to the room.
Room -- Water pressure, especially during showers, was inconsistent; a drop in pressure was accompanied by a distinct (and uncomfortable) rise in water temperature. We also noticed some cosmetic issues, like water-damage stains on the bathroom ceiling, and the shower never seemed to completely drain.
Connectivity -- We were not able to access cellular service, though we observed other guests using their mobile phones. However, there is a business center with online PCs for guest use in the room behind the mini-mart on the property, and a 24 hour internet access pass is available through the mini-mart if you spend at least 80 pesos (right now, about $8 USD) and ask for the code.
Time Share Sales -- While you are enjoying your sparkling wine and waiting for a bellman to show you to your room, you will be approached by a time share salesperson (they belong to the Bel Air company, not the resort). They will give you a packet of information about Puerto Vallarta and area activities, tours, and sights. They will also ask you to reserve time to sit for a time share sales presentation of approximately 45 minutes in order to get discounts on the tours and activities, as well as mini-mart purchases, and some other incidentals. Its up to you if its worth your time to get the discounts. We found the idea of a sales presentation in the middle of our vacation to be very off-putting, and elected not to attend.
No Cash Policy -- The down side of not carrying any cash is that you have to sign a check for every meal and each drink. You can't set up a tab at the bar if you're going to be at the pool all afternoon, or spend the evening in the Nautico watching a sporting event. It gets to be a bit bothersome.
Things to Know:
The Gourmet "All Inclusive" Plan -- Is a bit of a misnomer. It does *not* include everything. The Spa services are extra, as is room service, lobster, and alcohol by the bottle.
Language -- Most everyone at the resort and around the city is bilingual to some extent. We found that properly using some Spanish (and attempting to learn more while there) was appreciated.
Tipping -- At the resort, particularly if you are on the Gourmet Plan, tipping is not requested, but it is silently expected. If you choose to carry a few small bills for tips, the cash tip goes directly to the waiter you hand it to. If you tip on the check, the tips are split: 60% goes to the actual waiter, 40% is pooled and split among the staff at the restaurant or bar that shift.
In town, tipping is expected for taxis, tour drivers/guides, luggage assistance, etc.
Airport -- When arriving at the airport in PV, after collecting bags and exchanging currency, expect to run a gamut of time share salespeople. Imagine every video you've ever seen of the Stock Exchange trading floor, with people yelling and waving papers and running up to one another... its just like that, but they want your attention, and they want you to sign up for a presentation at Resort XYZ. We heard from other travelers that if you give these folks the time, its a very hard sell and they will use virtually any tactic to get you to sign on (including a young saleslady bring her infant and young children to the sales meeting). The easiest way to avoid this is to ignore them as you go through, or tell them you are a member at a resort or own a house in the city. Whatever you do, unless you're truly interested, just keep walking.
When you get through the time share people, you'll come into much of the same scene, except that everyone wants to sell you a taxi. We found that the easiest way to deal with this was to approach the authorized taxi booth. This way, you know exactly how much you're paying and that you'll get where you're going. The taxi fee depends, of course, on the "Zone" your destination is in. There's a clearly marked map, and a list of fees for each zone. You pay at the window, they give you a receipt and a voucher. Between the booth and the exit doors, a bellman from the taxi service will assist you with your bags and into a waiting cab. You can tip the bellman or not (it is expected), and the driver upon reaching your destination (again, expected). We had a wonderful driver who gave us a great deal of appreciated information about tours, sights, where to go and not, and we tipped him accordingly.
Traffic -- Whether you ride or drive, traffic in the city is scary. Be prepared for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
Currency -- Most places and vendors will take either Pesos or US Dollars, but ask first. ATMs will dispense pesos.
Tours & Activities -- Set these up through your concierge or a reputable website like Expedia. There are several websites selling tours and activities that are pretty shady.
Shopping -- Especially in the flea market in Old Town, and pretty much anyplace else, except for established businesses, haggling is accepted and expected.
Phoenix -- If you tour a tequilia factory (and why wouldn't you?) they will rightly tell you that you can bring up to two liters of alcohol back to the US duty-free. However, if you are coming back through Phoenix, beware: apparently Arizona law says you can only have one liter per person, and anything more will be "destroyed" (per the signs posted throughout the Phoenix airport Customs area).
All in all, we really enjoyed the trip and plan to return to Bel Air and Puerto Vallarta.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.