Desperate to escape the Midwest winter, we searched for an easily accessible beach destination and found just the place at the all-inclusive Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit. Boarding the plane at O’Hare early in the morning, we arrived at the resort just in time for a late beachside lunch.
The Vela brothers, who believe in the art and passion of hospitality, own and operate the Velas Resorts. In 2002, the brothers opened the portfolio’s second property—a retreat located on Banderas Bay and a quick drive from Puerto Vallarta’s airport. Reinventing the all-inclusive concept, the “Velas Vacation Experience” embodies exceptional dining, expansive suites, and luxury service. The brother’s vision has been well received as the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit is the only all-inclusive resort in the Mexican Pacific to be awarded Five Diamonds by AAA.
Upon arrival, we entered a palatial lobby where beautifully attired staff delivered cool beverages, warm towels, and a head and neck massage. I have visited places all over the world, but I have never experienced a welcome massage—something every weary traveler craves. This trio of pleasures is the perfect antidote for jet lag.
Walking to our room, we found a large carved wooden door that opened to reveal an expansive suite with an ocean view. Waiting for us on the desk was a fun Grand Velas touch—a Mezcal Kit. The elaborate display included Velas’ own Olvídame Si Puedes mezcal, a drink recipe, glasses rimmed in Tajin (chili salt), orange slices, and an array of dark chocolates. A welcome note encouraged us to sip the mezcal during our stay or take the bottle home as a memento.
A woman we met at an early morning yoga class was traveling with her family and stayed in the two-bedroom family suites. The accommodations provided the perfect balance for her—allowing the family to stay together while providing ample room for privacy for her and her husband. The spacious accommodations, over 2,000 square feet, featured one king bedroom connecting to a suite with two queen beds, a private terrace with ocean views, and 24-hour Suite Service. Her children adored the additional amenities including stuffed animals resembling the resort’s mascot “Pancho,” bathrobes and slippers in special mini sizes, and a kids’ welcome beach package.
Although I traveled with my friend and not my family, we both marveled at the resort’s family-friendly ambiance. We couldn’t get over the “cuteness” of the adorable mini beach cabanas for wee travelers or the pint-sized hooded towels featuring the resort’s beloved mascot. We wondered why the resorts of our children’s youth didn’t offer something similar to the Baby Concierge, state-of-the-art Kids’ or Teens’ Clubs. The Baby Concierge coordinates everything from a crib, toys, and bottle sterilizer to bouncers, strollers, and highchairs. The Kids’ Club (for ages 4 to 12) and Teens’ Club (for ages 13 to 16) offer a plethora of entertaining activities, including arts and crafts, outdoor games, video gaming booths with big screens and seats with built-in speakers, various table games such as foosball and air hockey, lounge areas to relax, and more. The Teens’ Club was so cool that I am not sure even the beauty of the Pacific Ocean could entice the occupants away (however, as we all know, a happy teen is a happy family).
If traveling with a family, there is no reason to leave the property as there is something to delight any age or interest. My friend and I never felt the need to leave either—with the six restaurants, spa, beach, pools, and activities (our favorites were beachside yoga and lounging in the beach cabanas), we felt every desire fulfilled.
DINE & IMBIBE
The Grand Velas’ modernly appointed restaurants include four gourmet options that take you on a mouth-watering journey through Mexico, Europe, and Asia and two open-air beachfront eateries. On our first night, we celebrated by taking a mixology class. Our mixologist introduced us to the magnificent creation dubbed “Golden Ranch Water.” Twenty-four-karat edible gold flakes danced in a tequila bottle as the master mixologist poured “liquid gold” into a glass, adding fresh lime, jalapeno, Topo Chico sparkling mineral water, and Tajin—we sipped the sparkling, spicy concoction beneath the sun and couldn’t imagine a more perfect introduction to the evening. We also learned about a Hibiscus Mezcaltini—an incredibly delicious combination of mezcal, hibiscus, and cinnamon. These mixology classes serve beverages alongside tales of Mexican culture and reflect the resort’s desire to keep things exciting for its well-traveled and culinary-driven guests.
Ready for a little food in our stomachs, we headed to Frida, named in honor of famed Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, for modern Mexican fare in an elegant setting with beautiful ocean views. We started with a fig salad – caramelized figs with green tomatoes on a bed of spinach bathed in a bittersweet tamarind-mint vinaigrette with toasted pistachios and a touch of parsley. My main course presented a large plate full of giant spicy shrimp in a garlic, blackened green sauce with sweet potato puree in smoked chili, and sautéed vegetables. I just had to try the churros with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream—the dessert was worth every single calorie. That night we slept like kings.
On our final evening, we ventured to Piaf for its classic French menu. The cheese plate was plentiful and delicious. We followed this with a French onion soup topped with Gruyere cheese. For our main course, we had a mahi-mahi filet over mussels, shrimp, and a chorizo ragout, with bisque and saffron emulsion. The entire meal was très bon!
Our post-dinner libations were often enjoyed at the resort’s nightclub, KOI where the juxtaposition of sleek modern décor and ‘80s music videos was intoxicating and transportive. Breakfasts were enjoyed oceanside where we chose from an endless array of delicacies at the bright and airy Azul restaurant.
Saving the best for last, we visited Se Spa by Grand Velas. Forbes Travel Guide has awarded the spa Five Stars—one of only nine spas in Mexico to receive the distinction. The 16,500 square-foot Se Spa is the resort’s crown jewel. The spa’s design includes a palapa-style entrance, furniture from Bali, and a large marbled wall with cascading water. The seven-step Water Journey guided by a personal spa valet entailed an hour-long relaxation/purification ritual built around the use of seven specially designed water-based facilities. After this delightful experience, I was guided past 20 treatment rooms to my destination for a Grand Cora massage. This highly energetic massage stimulates sensorial perception through a sound ritual using natural instruments—think enchanting drums and vibrating bells. With the application of warm ginger oil, all tension drained away restoring my emotional and spiritual wellness. Even after 90 minutes, I was reluctant to rise from the table.
If you are looking for an adults-only alternative in Puerto Vallarta, try the Casa Velas resort just a short drive away. The resort is an all-inclusive boutique hotel featuring 80 suites nestled on the grounds of the Marina Vallarta Golf Club. Giant iguanas stroll the golf course occasionally encountering a toothy companion as gators like to sun on the course’s rolling hills. Although not on the ocean, guests have access to the Táu Beach Club set on the white sands of the Pacific Ocean with an infinity pool, dining, and event space.
For reservations or more information about Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, visit vallarta.grandvelas.com. For reservations or more information about Casa Velas, visit hotelcasavelas.com.