Diary of an all inclusive holiday at Velas Vallarta Suites Resort

August 2008

Saturday 16th August

The last time we flew to the USA with American Airlines we had to queue at check in for so long that we didn't have time to look at any of the shops in the departure lounge, let alone have any breakfast.
We decided that this time we'd make any early start and arrived at Heathrow three hours before our flight, and found ourselves 'air-side' within 15 minutes. Breakfast in 'Chez Gerard'.

The flight to Dallas was mostly smooth, and the two warnings that we had from the cockpit about turbulence up ahead proved to be false alarms.

Arriving at DFW we queued for 45 minutes to be allowed into the country, only to leave it again 90 minutes later. You'd think they'd have come up with a better system by now!

The flight to Puerto Vallarta was also smooth in spite of dire warnings from up front; maybe this is a new policy from American...
On the plane we had to complete the forms for Mexican immigration. I filled them in as I always do for US immigration, only to see later that they wanted the details to match the passport information exactly (the US authorities are not interested in second names or initials on their 'I94'). I decided to leave well alone, and be prepared to eat humble pie if necessary. The customs form asked how many items of luggage we had, and totting up our suitcases and hand luggage, I answered '5', hoping that we wouldn't be in trouble for having too much. When we arrived in Mexico it was pouring with rain. Immigration took around 15 seconds, we collected our suitcases from the carousel and made our way to Customs. The Customs officer expressed surprise at how little luggage we had with us!

We had read that we should avoid all the people hollering at us as we emerged into the concourse, and this we did, making straight for the official taxi booth. The taxi to Velas Vallarta cost 18USD. The road was flooded in a number of places, but this didn't appear to bother our driver.

The resort were expecting us, and had all the booking details correct. We were allocated a room on the third floor, but when Heather asked if it had a good view, we were immediately changed to a room on the sixth floor.

By this time it was 21.30, and we had been up for almost 23 hours, so we called room service for a snack and a drink, which duly arrived complete with tablecloth, condiments, and cutlery, and a waiter to set it all up on the table for us.

Sunday 17th August

The view
The view from our balcony
The view from our room on the sixth floor is stunning.

Breakfast in the Andrea restaurant was impressive, with a splendid buffet of hot and cold food.

After breakfast we were met by a member of staff who had spoken to us briefly the night before, and who wanted to give us our 'welcome pack'. Mindful of all that we had read about persistent hard-sell timeshare sales people, we went with her to a table in the lobby. She chatted about all the things that were going on, and to which we were entitled, including two coach trips that were apparently included in the price we had paid for our holiday. When it came to the invitation to a timeshare presentation, we explained politely but firmly that we are already timeshare owners, and that we had no intention whatever of attending a presentation, and the matter was dropped without further comment, other than to request that we didn't accept an invitation from anyone else as she might get into trouble.

I went to the desk to enquire about internet access, as I could detect a wireless network in our room, but I needed to get a passcode to use it. This was obtained from the Business Centre above the reception, and cost 500 Pesos (about 27.50GBP) for seven days. A lot to pay perhaps, but it will enable me to watch the F1 Grand Prix next weekend through my slingbox, and to look up all things we want to look up.

We spent most of the rest of the day by the pool, drinking beer, in my case, or 'surprise' cocktails (various concoctions that the waiter thinks that she might like) in Heather's. The beer is local, or (heaven forbid) American Bud, but the Corona is just about drinkable.

In the evening we went to the Grand Salon Alejandra for the Mexican Fiesta Dinner Show, which was fun. The buffet was magnificent, with far more to sample than it would have been possible to eat. Afterwards, in the bar, I asked for a cognac, and was offered Martell, Remy Martin, or Courvoisier - no cheap local substitutes - without hesitation I chose Remy Martin.

Monday 18th August

Breakfast at La Ribera. The restaurant is right by the beach, and has netting (presumably to keep birds and the beach vendors out), rather than windows. Another superb buffet.

The pool bar
The pool bar
After visiting reception to book our trip for tomorrow, we returned to the pool for another tough session of swimming/sunbathing/reading. Hard work, this relaxation!

The pool has a swim up bar; the water is only four feet deep, so you can walk if swimming is too energetic. The waiters come around the pool area from time to time with little bowls of fruit, chicken wings, burritos, etc..

We had seen notices saying that turtles would be released on the beach at 21.30, so we decided to return to La Ribera for dinner. The 'Surf & Turf' was excellent. Around 20.45 we saw people gathering on the beach, and it became clear that the release of turtles had started early. By the time we had finished dinner it was all over, which was extremely irritating, although not as bad for us as for the families who had turned up at the announced time with small children. Later we heard that it is going to happen again tomorrow, so we'll get there early.

Tuesday 19th August

After breakfast at the Andrea restaurant, we boarded the coach for the tour that we had booked. The coach took us to the 'boardwalk' area of Puerto Vallarta, and our guide explained various items of local history. We were then taken to a jewellery shop where we were offered drinks, with or without tequila (I chose 'with'), and we had the opportunity to buy genuine silver jewellery at reasonable prices. Heather spotted a pendant opal necklace which was offered to us for 200USD. Upon putting my credit card in their machine, the man there told me that it had been refused. Ridiculous! He tried it twice more without success, so I called my bank at home to see what was going on. I was told that no request for authorisation had been received, and that the problem must be at the shop. I asked to see what the salesman was doing, and saw that when the card reader asked for a PIN, he was putting in the shop PIN, or something made up, but not asking me for my PIN. I tried my PIN, but it still didn't work; I hope they haven't blocked the card. We will look for another necklace somewhere else.

We were then taken to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, and were told about its history. It was interesting to note that there was not a candle in sight, which is most odd in our experience of RC churches.

Next to the flea market where we had the opportunity to buy jewellery with a less reliable provenance, as well as all that one might expect in such a place. Heather bought a bag... purple, of course.

Back on the coach we were taken about ten miles up the road to a restaurant beside a fast flowing river. Having eaten a hearty breakfast before leaving, we declined lunch, but had a couple of drinks while watching people shoot pass on a zip wire. The coach then returned us to our resort at around 15.45.

Dinner at the Andrea restaurant; it was their Oriental night, and it was very good. Indeed, so good that we forgot about the turtles.

Wednesday 20th August

We are here to relax, and that is what we decided to do today. We worked hard at it, Heather by the pool and me on the balcony of our suite, and by the end of the day we felt that we had achieved exactly what we wanted to achieve, nothing. That isn't really true - another two books were finished. It started raining at around 17.00, and continued until around 21.00, with thunder and lightning at times.

In the evening we went to La Ribera as Wednesday night is their 'South Pacific Gourmet Night'. It was still raining quite hard, and it was quite loud on the roof of the open sided restaurant. The waiters were very attentive, and insisted that, as Heather ordered white wine and I ordered red, we should have a whole bottle each. I noticed that the words 'drink responsibly', in Spanish, were printed on the label, and I thought, well, I am sitting down... It seems that the 'nannying' that I had thought was peculiar to the UK is spreading fast.
At the end of the evening, as I had finished my bottle, the waiter insisted that I took another away with me; what wonderful service!

Thursday 21st August

We were woken at 05.30 by one of Heather's students calling her phone to tell her the good news about her GCSE results, she had achieved an A* grade. Later we learned that a third of her students had achieved A or A* grades.

After breakfast at the Andrea restaurant, we spent the morning reading and generally taking life easy, and then took a taxi to the local shopping mall, and to Wal*Mart. This cost 60 Pesos each way. Wal*Mart was just as you'd expect it to be, and the shopping mall, whilst quiet, was like most shopping malls.

Back to the pool soon after 17.00, where we stayed for a couple of hours. we might not have stayed so long but for our friendly waiter from the other day, who insisted that Heather try more different cocktails. She didn't take much persuading.

We had made a reservation for dinner at Andrea as they were having a Mexican Gourmet Evening. Quite why it is necessary to make a reservation we are not sure, although I expect it gets very busy during their high season. The meal was very good, although the waiters were not quite as desperate to please as last night's had been. Another thunderstorm was brewing in the distance while we were eating, and the rain started just after we had returned to our suite.

Friday 22nd August

Breakfast at La Ribera, followed by some serious relaxation. Two more books finished.
Heather went down to the pool in the afternoon but I stayed on the balcony, unaware that while she was there, Heather was tucking into a Club Sandwich and a 'Superman' cocktail.
The rain started at about 18.00 and kept going until about 21.30. No thunder this time.
Dinner at La Ribera; excellent steak, excellent wine, and extremely large measures of Remy Martin. We were not able to sit at a table close to the netting as the rain was blowing in.

Saturday 23rd August

I rose at 06.00 to watch qualifying for the Grand Prix in Valencia, and just before 09.00 Heather went off for the massage that she had booked.
When Heather returned she said that she had been advised to take it easy for a while, so we had no option but to do just that.

Dinner at La Ribera again, and as we arrived we were given insect repellent by the waitress as there were apparently a lot of mosquitoes around that evening. I assume that it was to do with it being such a still night, although they could have been attracted by the wonderful food. There were indeed quite a few around, but it didn't matter that much, and in any case it is only me that gets bitten.

Sunday 24th August

I rose at 06.00 again, this time to watch the race. After breakfast at Andrea we booked a table for the evening as they were having an Italian night, and the alternative was the Mexican Fiesta that we had been to on the previous Sunday.
The rest of the day was spent reading or swimming or drinking cocktails (had I mentioned that this was taking up a lot of our time?).
The previous week we had seen that there were a number of craft stalls outside the room where the Mexican Fiesta was held and we decided to visit these before dinner. We bought two glass ornaments and a brightly painted dish, so returned to our room to store them before eating.
As we had suspected, booking in advance at Andrea is not really necessary when the resort is quiet, and only four or five tables were occupied when we arrived. I ordered a dish with lobster, giant shrimp, and caviar, on a pasta base, while Heather ordered rack of lamb. As ever the food was excellent, and during the evening, in conversation with one of the waiters, the subject of language came up, and Heather carried on a conversation in French for the rest of the evening. The strange thing was that she had been saying, only the previous day, that she wasn't sure that she could hold a conversation in French any more. After three large Amarettos (Heather), and two large Martells (me), we retired.

Monday 25th August

We had resolved to get up early and have breakfast by 09.00, so as to provide time for some sunbathing before going off to Puerto Vallarta for a shopping/sightseeing expedition. The plan didn't quite work out. We arrived at Andrea for breakfast at around 10.50, and then went into town by taxi at about 11.30.

We walked along the seafront, the 'Malecon', taking photos, and then headed for the shops. We looked at various jewellery and fabric and craft shops, and then headed for the flea market that we had visited briefly the previous week. We bought a couple of things to take home as presents, and something for ourselves as well.

Before heading back to Velas Vallarta I decided that we should stop for a cold drink and Heather spotted a likely looking place. We were shown to a table, and the proprietor, realising that we were English, asked after the Queen, and complained that it seemed she wasn't answering her cell phone these days. Heather explained that she would be on holiday in Balmoral at this time of year, and wouldn't take her cell phone with her. I assured him the HM spoke very highly of him, and I promised to pass on his regards when I next saw her. He seemed very happy with this.

We were offered home made guacamole, and it arrived raw, as it were. The waiter proceed to cut and scoop out three halves of avocado pear, and checked with us on how much of each of the other ingredients we would like. The result was superb. While he was doing this, some of the other staff, having nothing better to do, Put a hat on his head and tied a ribbon around him in such a way that two oranges (I think) could be placed within, making him appear to be her!

They both fell in the pool
They both fell in the pool
Back at the resort we headed for the pool and I immediately saw one of the four (I think) iguanas that seem to live here, so I stopped to take some photos. Later another one appeared and climbed up on a rock to join the first. After a while a fight developed, and they both fell off into the pool. It turned out that they were both able to swim, and they climbed out very quickly.

Dinner at La Ribera. There didn't appear to be too many mosquitoes about, but we asked for insect repellent which was instantly produced. We were also given special insect repellent air conditioning - two high speed fans - which precious few mosquitoes would be able to withstand. The steaks were as good as ever.

Tuesday 26th August

Breakfast at the Andrea Restaurant, followed by a day spent by the pool, swimming, drinking cocktails, and munching the occasional snack. It is very easy to sunbathe in decadent fashion as, in addition to the sun loungers around the pools, there are built-in loungers where one can lie with only one's head and shoulders above water.
For our evening meal we decided to stay in our suite and order a meal from room service. Nachos, salads, and pizzas duly arrived.

Wednesday 27th August

Starting early finishing off last night's pizza, heated in the microwave, we then had breakfast at the Andrea Restaurant before setting off to join the tour party for the trip to the tequila factory. This turned out to be a fascinating trip, and our guide, Jesus, was very informative.
Arriving at the tequila 'factory', we were given another talk on the production of tequila, before being given the opportunity to sample their wares, which included a number of flavoured drinks (almond, mango, blackberry, etc.). We were also given advice on how to drink tequila (not with salt and lime).
Back at the pool in the afternoon (a few more cocktails), until Heather had to go off for the facial that she had booked.

We had remembered rather late on in the holiday that we were entitled under our all-inclusive deal to eat at the restaurants at the sister resort, Casa Velas. I went to reception and booked a table for 20.00, and was told that if we came down to the lobby at 19.45 we would be taken to Casa Velas. We presented ourselves at 19.45 and were taken, in an air-conditioned minibus, to Casa Velas; a journey of no more than five minutes.
First impressions of Casa Velas invoke the emotion 'wow'. If Velas Vallarta is a four-star resort, this must be worth six. We were shown to the restaurant, where a man was playing a grand piano (reasonably well), and where three of the fifteen or so tables were occupied.
I ordered Crepes of Duck, with merlot sauce and red onions, followed by Sea Bass. It was beautifully presented, and very good indeed.

When we returned to Velas Vallarta, again by air-conditioned minibus, a Mexican band was playing in the lobby, so we stopped to listen to them and to have a nightcap. Within a minute of our sitting down (immediately in front of an industrial strength fan) they stopped, but we were then treated to a display of traditional pre-Hispanic dancing (Inca style).

Thursday 28th August

Breakfast at La Ribera, down by the sea. There was a good view across the bay this morning, indeed, there was most mornings. We spent the day by and in the pool, drinking cocktails from time to time, also by and in the pool, and eating huge plates of nachos with cheese, guacamole, re-fried beans, and salsa for lunch.

In the evening we tried to book a table at the 'Beach Hut' restaurant at Casa Velas, but they were unable to accommodate us. We'll have to come back here. We went to Andrea where they were having a Mexican Gourmet Evening and, as it was busy and the only table for two was tucked away in a corner, we sat at one of the outside tables in the warm night air.

Friday 29th August

Heather went off at 08.50 for the Reflexology that she had booked, while I stayed in the apartment reading and watching TV.
We decided to skip breakfast, having eaten very well the night before, and headed for the pool, where we stayed for most of the day. At around 16.45 I felt a few spots of rain, and within two or three minutes it was raining quite hard. Within another couple of minutes it was RAINING cats & dogs, and it continued to do so for the rest of the evening, often accompanied by thunder & lightning. I made my way back to our apartment pretty well as soon as it started, but Heather stayed in the pool for another 20 minutes or so.
Shortly before we went to dinner we saw that the water level in the pool appeared to be very high, and when we went downstairs we saw that the water was indeed lapping over the edge of the pool - a rise of around four inches.
We borrowed an umbrella when we went out to La Ribera. Whether this umbrella belonged to the resort or to one of the other guests we were not sure, but we put it back where we found it on our way back. At La Ribera we sat at the side open to the sea and watched the storm while listening to the rain banging on the roof.

Saturday 30th August

We made an early start as we had to get all the packing done, and we weren't sure how we were going to pack some of the things we had bought. Heather's big heavy towel had got soaked the night before, and hadn't dried out at all over night. Fortunately my suitcase has a plastic 'pocket' in the lid, so it went in there (and it was heavy!).
One last breakfast at La Ribera. It was a clear morning, a complete contrast to the night before.
The taxi back to the airport cost 50 Pesos, making me wonder whether we had been ripped off with the 18USD charge when we arrived, or whether there was an airport tax involved.
There was only a short queue at the American Airlines desk, but first we had to have our luggage searched, cursorily, by a security girl who seemed more concerned with the weight of the cases than anything else.

The flight to Dallas was fine, except for the fact that we seem to be plagued with people who can't sit still. The man in front of me was a first class fidget, and didn't stay put for more than five minutes at a time. We were warned about turbulence over the Mexican/US border, which had me wondering 'how does it know?'.

Arriving at Dallas/Fort Worth, we had to go through the charade of immigration again, to be allowed to enter the country only to leave again, from the same building, two hours later. This time we had to queue for about 75 minutes, which was an irritation to us, but the woman immediately in front of us missed her flight - nobody seemed to care. As we started queuing there were 11 desks open, but as 5pm came & went, most of the officers completed their shifts and simply closed their desks, leaving just four by the time we got there. It seems clear to me that the Department for Homeland Security was set up as a 'knee-jerk' reaction to '9/11' in much the same way as the Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in the UK - no thought before hand, and no thought afterwards. If there is anyone in that organisation with any common sense, no one has managed to find him yet.

We still had two hours in hand, so went to eat in TGI Fridays. Sizzlin' Chicken & Cheese, washed down with Samuel Adams' Boston Lager (pure nectar after two weeks of Mexican beer).

The flight back to England was delayed by about 40 minutes, but only 20 minutes late arriving at Heathrow. It was notable for two things; firstly the couple in front of us were a pair of fidgets, and spoke quite loudly when they talked (we later realised that he was deaf), and secondly because we were at the back of the first section of steerage seating and the lavatory was immediately behind us, we heard the noise of the vacuum flush every few minutes for the nine hour journey home. In similar fashion to the other three flights, the 'fasten seat-belt' sign was switched on twice for no real reason, and then stayed on for another hour of perfectly smooth flight on both occasions.

Sunday 31st August

When we arrived at Heathrow the baggage handlers excelled themselves as our cases were already on the carousel when we arrived there. Purple Parking were also very prompt, and we were home at 13.15.

© TL 1st September 2008
tony.legat @ gmail.com (remove spaces)