For many years, Edwina and Jack Murray, of Point Richmond, Calif., have been taking their seven children and ten grandchildren on a trip to Mexico right after Christmas. It is their gift to the younger generation. The grandparents always choose an all-inclusive resort — they favor Puerto Vallarta — because it permits everyone to eat and drink what they like, when they like, and the bill stays the same. Kids love having a bottomless soft drink; adults don’t mind having a bottomless beer or margarita.
Additional benefits of an all-inclusive resort include:
- one-stop shopping for planning your vacation
- no worries about tipping (though Edwina Murray says, “We left something more, anyway.”)
- most entertainment and sports activities are included
In a country loaded with all-inclusives, tropical Puerto Vallarta is one of the prettiest areas to visit. This is where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had that famous love nest, which interests most of us grandparents even if our grandchildren respond with a blank stare to any mention of the couple.
Besides visiting the charming central village at least once, you probably won’t do much sightseeing. After all, the advantage of being at an all-inclusive is that most everything on the property is included. Time any outings so they take place after breakfast and before lunch, which permits you not to miss a meal and also not to be out in the hottest part of the day.
A few caveats:
When booking two adjoining rooms, some resorts won’t guarantee that your rooms will be next door to each other. You might have to dispatch some adults to stay with kids in far-apart rooms. It is best to stay together in one room if your numbers allow it.
The saying “you get what you pay for” holds true. However, many people are content to get simpler food and lodging if they save money. Decide if that plan suits you.
There’s nothing like talking to someone who has been to the resort recently. Resorts are usually in flux, and changes aren’t always for the best.
The all-inclusives listed below are on the ocean. Most have a spa, fitness room, tennis courts, evening entertainment (the staff performs most shows), and some a la carte restaurants.
I’m just back from this resort, which recently completed a major restoration. It is a well-maintained, attractive property on the lovely bay where John Huston filmed Night of the Iguana, the 1964 movie with Richard Burton. (Liz was along for the ride.) The food is fresh and tasty. I loved the margaritas made with fresh lime juice, and the ice cold Coronas were memorable.
Huong Le and Thang Do, from South Coast Metro in southern Calif., stayed here with their 10-month-old son, Samuel. For them one of the best things was having babysitting available at any time. “Anything we needed, they brought to us,” Huong enthuses. “And they let me keep our baby’s food, which we brought from home, in the hotel freezer. The bellman brought it whenever we needed it.”
The resort center is landscaped with palm trees, bright hibiscus, and plenty of pools (four free-form with waterfalls, one with a swim-up bar, plus two hot tubs). A favorite feature was hearing the morning squawks of jungle birds and the far-off crowing of roosters. I’d go back in a flash.
- eight miles (about a 15-minute ride) south of Viejo Vallarta (Old Town Puerto Vallarta)
- 317 suites in two nine-story buildings
- kids’ club for ages 6 to 12.
This Mexican chain believes that when kids are happy, everyone is happy. Facilities include a water park with pirate ship, castle, and nine water slides.
- in Marina Vallarta, five miles from Viejo Vallarta
- 254 rooms in three four-story buildings
- care club for babies and toddlers; kids’ club for ages 4 to 12.
Like the Barcelo, this secluded resort is bordered by the green jungles of the Sierra Madre Mountain range. It features a contemporary Mexican decor and has a nice beach with soft sand, lush gardens, and three pools (one is an adults-only tranquility pool).
- eight miles south of Viejo Vallarta
- 337 rooms and suites in two 11-story buildings
- kids’ club for ages 3 to 12.
Said to have the largest pool in town, this resort also has a Flintstones-theme area with supervised activities for children.
- in Marina Vallarta, five miles from Viejo Vallarta
- 321 rooms in one five-story and two 10-story buildings
- baby club for toddlers 4 and younger, kids’ club for ages 4 to 13.
Spread over more than 30 acres (golf carts shuttle guests around), with tall palm trees and mature gardens, this hacienda-style resort has fountains and cobblestone paths and seems more like a village than a hotel. It features a wide sandy beach and has its own disco. All-inclusive is optional.
- in the hotel zone, near Marina Vallarta, eight miles from Viejo Vallarta
- 312 rooms in one four-story and eight three-story buildings
- kids’ club for ages 4 to 12.
The uphill walk to see the outside of Liz and Dick’s compound, with its two sections joined by an archway over a narrow cobbled street, is enjoyable, but do take your time — or take a taxi.
Often kids’ clubs at all-inclusive resorts operate only during summer vacation and long holidays. Be sure to find out before you book.
You must book holidays early. Reserve Christmas and New Year’s in the spring.