Jamie’s Vallarta Group Adventure – part 1

It was about 18 months ago that we decided to plan a family and friends group winter holiday.  It’s something that we have been wanting to do for a few years as we thought it would be fun for all of our kids to get a chance to play and holiday together while us adults get a chance to spend time catching up.  We have quite a few families and most have 2 to 4 kids, so we were looking for a nice resort that was a good value and could accommodate large families in one room.

In the end, we decided on the Grand Marival in Puerto Vallarta and this week we have 35 people, including 15 children vacationing here.   The Grand Marival has 1, 2 and 3 bedroom suites, in addition to their regular hotel rooms.  All of our families are easily accommodated and there are many activities for kids of all ages.

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Welcome to the Grand Marival Resort & Suites

On January 1st we flew out of Saskatoon on Transat.  The check in process took quite a while as they have a new system and it was taking a while for the staff to get the hang of it so we were glad we were there the full three hours ahead of time. Our flight was on time and arrived a few minutes early.  All in all, the flight went well and I was impressed with Transat. They have a lot of extras if you sign your kids up for the free kids club.  The families with these kids get priority check in, priority baggage, free snacks on board and more.  We also selected the Option Plus with Transat which allowed us more luggage, priority check in, advance seat selection, two drinks and snacks on board.  For the extra $49, it felt worthwhile.

Unlike Last year when we went to Hawaii, the kids were great on the flight.  I would recommend when traveling with little ones to take lots of activities, stickers, books, snacks and games as well as their favorite tv shows on the Ipad to keep them entertained.  Sippy cups, favorite blankets, etc are also a good idea.

We had a few issues when we landed in Puerto Vallarta.  The strollers were not brought to the gate like they were supposed to be, so we had to carry our two year old twins, plus all of the carry on luggage and try to keep track of an eight year old, while waiting in some pretty long lineups for about an hour.  We finally made it through customs a bit grumpy and with sore arms, but by that time our luggage was waiting and we headed to our private group transfer, arranged by Transat.  It was a quick 15 minute ride to the Grand Marival where we were given a cold margarita or beer (which never tasted so good!) and we were checked in without much delay.  They probably could have used one or two more people at check in as those who got off the bus last had a bit of a wait, around 20-30 minutes before they were checked in.  Our luggage was delivered to our room 10 minutes after we checked in – very efficient.

We arrived around 6pm, so we were hungry and headed to the buffet.  The Buffet is the only disappointment so far.  It’s nowhere near big enough for everyone when the Club and Grand sides are both full.  There is only one buffet to serve both and it’s smaller than buffets that I have been to at much smaller resorts.  There were lineups to get in, to get a table and to get any of the food stations.  In the end, the kids were tired, hungry and screaming mad, so we left without really eating anything.  We found the Pizza restaurant nearby and it was not busy, so we ate there.  There is wood fired pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and really good salsa and guacamole and other snack bar type items as well as a bar.  It filled the need and we soon had the kids fed and off to bed.

Our room is a 2 bedroom suite.  It’s two levels with one bedroom and bath upstairs and one bedroom, two bathrooms, kitchen and living room downstairs.  Two bedroom suites get 4 free wifi devices; I think one bedroom and grand rooms get 2 free devices.   It’s very roomy and the cribs we had asked for were waiting in our room.  I had ordered welcome baskets for our guests and they were waiting or delivered shortly after check in.  Everything I had asked of the hotel was taken care of very efficiently.  They were very good to deal with, from a group perspective.

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A perfect sunset from the beautiful Grand Marival Resort & Suites

Our first day, we had breakfast at the buffet, which went better than dinner, but it was still just an “ok” experience.  I was able to make dinner reservations for the A la cartes with no problem, despite the hotel being full.  Transat guests are guaranteed three reservations.  We have a group reservation at the Italian and on our own we will also try the International and the Mexican.  They have a couple of gift shops if you forgot anything at home and a couple of bars as well as a disco.  The service has been phenomenal.  I wanted dish soap to wash some bottles and I asked at the front desk.  They called housekeeping and 30 minutes later dish soap was brought to our room.  I needed milk for the babies and any of the bars on the resort will give me a full jug of milk to take to our room if I ask, instead of just glasses of it or having to fill up bottles at the buffet.

The Marival has many pool areas.  They have an adults’ only pool, a quiet pool, a large and busy activities pool and a perfect kids’ pool area.  The kids’ pool has three little water slides and a splash feature and it’s quite shallow.  The kids – even the bigger ones – absolutely have a blast there and they literally spent all day – 8-10 hours in the pool and complained when we finally made them get out.  They are having so much fun playing together, it’s great to see and makes this all worthwhile – it even makes me forget about the long and tiring travel day.

The beach and ocean area great for swimming and lots of the kids spent time with the boogie boards and kayaks – free for guests.  The weather is a perfect 28 degrees and sunny and supposed to stay that way for the whole week!  (happy face)

We will keep you posted on our Vallarta Group Adventure as the week goes along.  In the meantime, a few tips for planning your own group holiday:

Book early to secure the best flights, prices and the resort you want. This also gives your guests time to plan, take time off work and save for the holiday.  Most tour operators will give you a onetime price drop guarantee for group bookings so there is little risk that you would get a better rate if you waited to book.

Take everyone’s needs into consideration when choosing a resort – do the room types work for you?  Is the flight convenient?  Are their activities that everyone in the group will enjoy?  Do you want all inclusive?

-Make sure you book with a reputable agency and an agent familiar with group bookings who knows how to get you the most for your group.  This will include things like communicating with the hotel in advance to ensure your requests are noted and your needs are met.

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