Having a baby changes everything. Until little Olivia came along, my wife and I had succumbed to the resort bug on only two occasions, both times along Mexico’s Riviera Maya and both because a close friend or family member was getting married there. But for our daughter’s first time abroad, we wanted a few assurances: a comfortable room, a pool, and an easy experience.
We checked into the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa this May in hopes that we’d have an enjoyable first big trip with her, and came away with a memorable vacation that served as the perfect jumping-off point for future family travels.
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Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa: Rooms and family friendly amenities
At the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, guests can opt for basic room rates (starting at $152 per night) or go all-inclusive (from $330 per night). Room options start with a Garden View king bedroom and rise to ocean view, ocean and pool view, and a variety of suites. The headliner is the Presidential Suite – a veritable palace on the top floor that includes a patio with sweeping views of Banderas Bay, the city, and the entire resort.
A resort fee of about $12 per day is added to all rooms. You can easily offset this cost by taking advantage of what you get for it:
- Two welcome drinks
- Spa access for two
- One free tequila tasting per guest (this includes a sample of two different tequilas)
- A Mexican cooking class
The resort also includes free use of bicycles, paddleboards, and kayaks. There are tennis courts and an adults-only indoor lap pool (you’re best bet for doing any actual swimming).
We requested a pack-and-play for our infant and it was delivered to the room and assembled while we were out wandering the property after checking in. The resort is very accustomed to young children, and offers a “beach club” for kids that includes a small pool and playground area. While ours was too young to take advantage, we walked by and observed the older kids having a heck of a time at what is effectively a small water park. If you need it, numerous pharmacies and clinics are available in Marina Vallarta, a short walk from the resort.
Then there’s the beach, which is wide open and includes a wedding pier and plenty of space to lounge. But except for guests occupying the row of cabanas, the beach is largely empty. A sign posted at the beach entrance, advising beachgoers to be wary of sharks and crocodiles, does a magnificent job of keeping the vast majority of guests out of the water. I was skeptical of the danger, but my wife did see a crocodile in the water while strolling by the marina one afternoon. While I heard various accounts of similar crocodile sightings, none were near the resort and no one ever mentioned seeing a shark.
What to do at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa
My family visited the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa for six days, including a holiday weekend in both the United States and Mexico. The resort was crowded but at no point felt overwhelmed. We were always seated promptly at restaurants, and while the tequila bar in the lobby tends to back up with drink orders, we never waited more than a few minutes for a drink.
The one exception was at the bar accessible from inside the infinity pool. The scene here resembled the chaotic mess found at all-inclusive beach resorts the world over: loud, obnoxious bros slamming fruity cocktails and domestic beer served by overworked, constantly heckled bartenders. Fortunately, because the all-inclusive crowd here was small on my visit, the raucous crowd was confined to one corner of the massive pool deck.
Hit the pool: My wife and I spent several sessions in the pool each day with our seven-month-old, each lasting no more than 15 minutes due to her pre-swimming age and constant need for distractions. We stayed on the quieter side of the pool where she splashed, squirmed, and giggled in our arms to her heart’s content without interference from the fist-pumping crowd on the other side.
The pool scene appeared quiet compared to what I’ve experienced at resorts along the Riviera Maya, likely because the pool itself is so large. We had plenty of room to roam and lounge as desired in the soaking chairs without having to wait our turn. Poolside, plenty of sunlounger chairs are available with umbrellas. Cabanas and so-called “Bali Beds” (outdoor beds large enough for two, covered by a cabana) are available to rent by the day for about $60. We rented one next to the pool overlooking Banderas Bay and enjoyed the cocktail and food service.
Soak in the views: I’d booked an ocean-view room but upgraded to an ocean-and-pool view room at check-in. This proved the right decision, as each evening we’d have happy hour on our balcony while the baby napped, enjoying the soothing sounds of a reggae band playing on the deck at Nosh Pool Bar + Bites right below us.
Enjoy the spa: Spa service is on-point here. The Ohtli Spa offers full-service massages and facials, a soaking spa, and answers to any question one could have about how the sun, the humidity, the chlorine, or the sea salt will affect their skin.
Dining options at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa
Whether or not you opt for the all-inclusive package at Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, keep this guidance in mind: When near the sea, eat as the seafarers do.
Ceviche & Tequila Bar: Your first stop after check-in should be the Ceviche & Tequila Bar in the lobby, directly adjacent to the concierge (you can redeem your coupon for a free tequila tasting here, as well). Our stay started with a round of Pacificos and a Catch of the Day Ceviche, and there couldn’t have been a better welcome to Puerto Vallarta. The ceviche was fresh and delicious, amplified by spicy peppers, avocado, and onions, and paired with fried corn tortillas and Saladitas crackers. We returned for more on our final night.
La Estancia: A good vacation resort is at least partly defined by its breakfast buffet. This is where the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa shines – it’s home to the best breakfast buffet in Marina Vallarta, so good that even residents are known to come in on occasion. La Estancia is located just off the main lobby area. There are the standard offerings including a hot table with scrambled eggs, meats, potatoes, and salsas; a “carb table” with various breads and bagels; and a cooked-to-order omelet station. Healthy options included egg whites and veggie scrambles. There are fruits and cheeses galore. What puts La Estancia over the top, though, is its chilaquiles. Identifying how to order this popular Mexican breakfast takes a moment, as it comes together at the same station that prepares fried eggs. Ask for a base of chips and chili, with eggs, beans, and cheese on top. I found that it’s possible to order chilaquiles with two eggs, with one covered in red chile and the other in green chili. This creates a buffet version of my favorite breakfast, huevos divorciados.
Mikado: The resort goes Japanese for its high-end offering. This is convenient, as it’s the best spot in Marina Vallarta for a date night. Make a reservation to sit at the Teppanyaki area, which features on-table grills, and let the flamethrowing chef pepper your conversation with seafood prepared right in front of you. Afterward, walk down the resort’s indoor promenade to Champions for a nightcap on the way back to your room.
Las Casitas: I had an excellent seafood burrito at Las Casitas, the resort’s waterside seafood bistro. If you’re a mezcal drinker, this is your opportunity to sip a neat pour of something beyond a cheap espadin. Las Casitas’ bar features an extensive collection of tequilas, a few mezcals, and cocktails built from one or the other.
Deli Los Mangos: The resort’s coffee shop and counter service cafe is dependable for coffee and a late-evening, made-to-order meal. However, I grabbed a pre-made egg wrap for breakfast one morning and found it to be quite dry and, even with a splash of hot sauce, lacking flavor.
We ordered room service once during our stay. While it would be foolish to expect midnight food to be the best meal of the trip, we found the fries and pizza to be soggy and the food appeared to have been prepared in a haste.
What to know before exploring off of the resort
The Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa has two ATMs onsite, both next to the concierge, one dispensing pesos and the other US dollars. If heading out to stroll the marina or visit the Malecon downtown, take pesos – it’ll save you from having to do the exchange rate in your head constantly (even though its roughly a simple 20:1 conversion at the time of publication) and this allows you to more mindfully donate to street performers and artists and bargain for gifts on the beach.
The resort is about a three-minute drive from the airport and is a few blocks from the main marina square. Marriott does not offer an airport shuttle, so you’ll need to arrange your own transportation. We used Welcome Pickups to take us from and to the airport. It was expensive – about $45 each way, but we wanted to be sure we had a ride with a car seat for our seven-month-old, and they were one of the only companies to offer that option. Were we not with an infant in tow, and thus triple the luggage we’d have brought as childless vagabonds, we could have walked to the resort in about 15 minutes.
If you want to go into the city, a bus stop is located about a 10-minute walk from the hotel just north of Av. Paseo de la Marina’s intersection with Boulevard Francisco Medina Ascensio. The station is directly past a small shopping center with a Subway, a paint store, and a pharmacy. You can eliminate much of this walk by boarding the free bus that picks up just outside the resort and circles the marina area. There are two options to get to Centro (downtown). One takes about 20 minutes and the other over an hour, as it winds through the city’s residential neighborhoods en route. Ask for specifics from the concierge, as finding the right bus to head downtown proved a bit confusing the first time I tried. I spent much of the morning on a grand tour of metropolitan Puerto Vallarta that I hadn’t expected to take part in.