Jamie’s Vallarta Group Adventure – Final Blog

Wow!  Once again, we managed to pack an awful lot of fun into our last few days in Puerto Vallarta.  Our entire 7 days were sunny, 27 Degrees and not a cloud in the sky.  You really can’t beat the weather here!  The highlight of our last couple of days was getting to release baby turtles into the sea.  This normally takes place earlier in the fall, but this year there were still baby turtles hatching in early January, so we were lucky to be able to participate in this event.  The Concierge at the Marival let us know that they would be releasing the turtles at the Luna condominium complex, about a 20 minute walk down the beach at sunset.  We took a bunch of the kids down and for 32 pesos per adult (government fee) and a donation, we got to listen to a biologist and some volunteers tell us all about the endangered species of sea turtle that lives in this bay and how they are helping to repopulate them.  They hold the newly hatched turtles in a safe area until sunset as their chance of survival is best at this time of day – with less threat of being eaten by birds or fish on their way into the sea.  It was truly an amazing experience and my 8 year old has been talking about it for days.  If you are interested in this type of activity, just inquire with the concierge at the Grand Marival and they will let you know when/if it is taking place.

We also had the chance to try two other a la carte restaurants, the Amalfi Italian Restaurant and Las Palomas Mexican Restaurant.  For the Amalfi, we had a group reservation that the hotel was kind enough to reserve in advance for us.  It is a very good, but very long dining experience.  It would be fantastic as a romantic date for a couple and they have tables overlooking the sea and sunset.  It took about 2 ½ hours for our 5 course dinner, which was just a little long for the kids – we had everyone from our group, all 35 at this restaurant so there were lots of kids.  The service was also outstanding and they were very accommodating of the kids.  The Las Palomas, we enjoyed just the two of us, with no kids.  It was a very nice dining experience.  The restaurant is very Mexican in feel and they start you off with an assortment of appetizers to share as well as fresh guacamole made tableside.  After that you pick your soup and salad and main course and then there is desert samples for sharing.  They change the menu here several times a week – we had the Baked red snapper and a soup that had chicken and rice and avocado – the food was very good and it was probably my favorite meal of the week.

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Table-side Guacamole (we were too excited and ate most of it before taking a picture)

We considered using the services of the doctor at the hotel as one of our twins had a fever and bad cough for a few days and we wanted to get her checked out before our flight home.  When we went to the doctors office on site, the doctor wasn’t in yet.  By the time we could have gone back, she was starting to feel better, so we decided against going.  The doctor is on site from 11am-6pm most days and the cost to visit the doctor is $50 USD, plus additional if medical or additional services, etc are needed.  It was very convenient having the option to see a doctor right on site.

A few other observations and tips about the Grand Marival – there is a kids playground at the kids club that you can use anytime and it’s right beside the Mini golf.  The Mini golf is shaded most of the day, so a good activity for kids to get out of the sun for a bit.  There is also an Arcade/teen area with pool tables that lots of our kids enjoyed, even if they weren’t quite teens.  They allowed kids of all ages in this area, but younger kids needed to be supervised.  They have an area by the quiet pool set up every day where kids can paint a piece of pottery for $10 USD and they will finish it and glaze it and you can pick it up the next day.  The kids liked this and it was a nice keepsake.  Last but not least, the pool bar at the quiet pool had bartenders who make the classic Caesar drink and they made them very well.  This was a nice surprise for us Canadians who enjoy our Caesars!

Our return trip home was pretty smooth.  The shuttle was right on time and it was only 15 minutes to the airport.  The check in and security lines moved pretty quickly.  Once through security, there were lots of dining options and duty free, but it was BUSY!  There were a lot of flights leaving late afternoon on the weekends and there were a lot of long lineups to get food and it was hard to find a place to sit.  Otherwise, the flights were pretty close to being on time and the biggest hiccup was a long wait for luggage at the Saskatoon airport – again with no strollers as they didn’t bring them to the gate.  That was probably the biggest annoyance of the whole trip was having to do the Customs and baggage waits with no strollers both ways.  All in all, it was a fantastic trip – as my 8 year old said “best trip ever!”.  We loved experiencing this destination as a group and getting to spend lots of time together and the kids had a blast.  Looking forward to the next one already!

If you enjoyed hearing all about my vacation feel free to check out Uniglobe Carefree Travel’s Instagram page where our whole team shares photos of their best vacation moments.  You can find us at @UniglobeCarefreeTravel.

 

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Jamie’s Vallarta Group Adventure – Part 2

Let’s see, where did I leave off?  I think we had just arrived and had our first of many great days at the Grand Marival in Puerto Vallarta.  We have had so many fun adventures since then, it seems like it’s been longer than a couple of days.

On Tuesday nights, the resort has a Mexican Fiesta.  I have been to a few Mexican Fiestas and this was one of the best.  The setup was gorgeous in the courtyard.  They close the Buffet this night, so they suggested we go early to the Fiesta.  We arrived about half hour before it opened and one of us stood in line to get tables for our family.  We were one of the first tables seated and they opened the Fiesta and the food right on time.  We were one of the first to be allowed to eat because they keep track of who arrived first.  The food was fantastic – for a buffet for many, many people (I estimate around 800 or more), they did such a good job.  The food was fresh, hot and tasty.  They had made to order taco stations and the waiter service for drinks, etc was so fast and efficient.  I would definitely recommend that you take this in, if you can.  They had Mexican Mariachi bands and dancers.  It was a fun night out.

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Mexican Fiesta

We had a few of our kids try the trampoline clinic.  It is 50 pesos (less than $4 per child).  They harness them in and they get to jump and do flips – they had a great time.  I would highly recommend for the low cost, it was great entertainment and the kids loved it.

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Trampoline clinic

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Trampoline clinic

We tried the Pergola International restaurant last night for dinner.  The food was really good and so was the service.  They have everything from surf and turf to coconut shrimp and BBQ Ribs.  I would recommend that you order one thing from eat category (appetizer, soup, salad, main, etc) as the portions are small, but we really enjoyed our meal.  We will try the Italian and the Mexican restaurants later this week.

The buffet has improved as the resort has become less busy.  Breakfasts are good and quick with a couple of made to order egg stations and lots of choices.  Lunch and dinner have not been as busy or lined up either – so a much better experience.

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Beautiful Pool at the Grand Marival

I will mention that tipping is widely expected at the resort, but 20 pesos (around $1.50 CDN) goes a long way and they really do earn it.  The service at the resort has been fantastic – everyone from the housekeeping to the bar tenders has been as good as or better than I have seen at most resorts.  All in all, the Grand Marival has been exceptional value for what we paid to come and we are happy with it.

Thanks for following and more to come!

 

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.

Celebrating 2016

2016 has been a year full amazing travel experiences and adventures.   We thought we would share some of our favourite personal travel moments with you.   This is such an amazing world we live in and we are so happy that we get to share it with you!

Karen’s Visit to Club Villain at Walt Disney World

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“The one thing I have learned about Disney from my past trips is to never pass up a special ticket event. My favorite that I have been to so far is Club Villain. There is themed food and cocktails. A Dj and his dancers entertained us throughout the evening. We were given an opportunity to socialize with several diva Villains. There were no lines awaiting you to meet up with Maleficent, the Queen of Hearts, Cruela De Vil and the Evil Queen.  This is an event not to miss!”

Amanda’s Jamaican Vacation

“Beautiful water and great weather.  The Jamaican people are the friendliest and most accommodating I’ve ever been around.”

Correna’s Search for Charlie Brown in Hong Kong

“My great adventure in Hong Kong began when I tried to locate this Charlie Brown Café in downtown Hong Kong.  One piece of advice, do not think you can get by with land marks in Hong Kong.  There just happens to be a Rolex store on every block!   It was well worth the search!”

Casie’s Trip to Puerto Vallarta

“It’s fabulous”

Joanne’s Blue Lagoon Plunge in Iceland

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“Iceland is the perfect destination or people looking for the unexpected.  It has something for everybody.  I was lucky enough to experience the Aurora Borealis, take in geysers and glaciers and bath in the Blue Lagoon.”

Jamie’s Family Vacation to Kauai

“Kauai Hawaii. Land of flowers, sunny beaches and Jurassic Park movies. Poipu had perfect weather and we loved the quiet, laid back feel of this Island. “

Elena’s Romantic European River Cruise

“Life on the ship is amazing.  They say food fills the soul, well your belly will be happy also.  I went on the galley tour while on board. For a kitchen so small the meals are impressive. No soup or dressings are made from powders or pre-made starters, everything is from whole natural foods, it’s evident in every bite.

The cabins are comfortable and take your breath away.  I highly recommend paying the extra to upgrade your cabin from the lead in category. You may not think you’ll spend time in your cabin but when the sun comes up around 5am or you’re leaving port then you can just draw back the curtains and doze off and on while watching the views as you sail by.  Sailing past countless Vineyards and castle is great way to start your morning if you ask me.”

Kyra’s Family Camping Trip to Banff

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“I went to the beautiful Moraine Lake and Lake Louise.  I had never been to either of those lakes before and I just fell in love with how pretty they are!”

Heather’s Destination Wedding Travels

“In 2016 I was lucky enough to travel not once but twice for amazing, beautiful destination weddings.   My brother was married in Puerto Vallarta and a dear high school friend was married in Ucluelet, British Columbia.  The first trip was another amazing family vacation but even more special.  The second a bit of a high school reunion and a road trip with two of my very best friends.”

Stephanie’s Costa Rican’ Adventure

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“Kayak and paddle boarding on Lake Arenal in Costa Rica, with beautiful views of the Arenal Volcano is one of my favorite travel memories in 2016. “

Colleen’s Bucket List trip to Newfoundland

“Ales, Whales and Newfie Tales is what is waiting for you in Newfoundland and so much more.  We went for 2 weeks but could have stayed for a month.  The people, the hiking, the music, the scenery even their own winery are just some of the things that are waiting for  you.  From Iceberg Beer which you can only get in Newfoundland to the East Coast music heard at every pub it’s a must return destination.  Oh, yes don’t forget the Puffins. “

It has certainly been a memorable year.   We can’t wait to see where 2017 takes us and hope to share it all with you along the way.    If you would like any help planning your own amazing vacation please feel free to call our office at 306-242-TRIP (8747).   We would love to help you have amazing travel experiences too.

*If you enjoyed this blog and would like to continue to follow our team as they have amazing travel experiences check out our Instagram @UniglobeCarefreeTravel
https://www.instagram.com/uniglobecarefreetravel/?hl=en

Steph Visits Puerto Vallarta Part 3

Wednesday we said goodbye to the beautiful area of Mismaloya and the Barcelo, and now it’s time to head up to Nuevo Vallarta to spend the next 2 nights at the Occidental Grand Nuevo Vallarta. Nuevo is in the state of Nayarit, just on the other side of Puerto Vallarta city, and is about an hour drive. Buses always put me right to sleep, so I settle in and wake up in a new area.

Nuevo is very different from Puerto Vallarta and Mismaloya. The resorts are larger, and a lot closer together. Everything is more modern, but still has a touch of colonial Mexico. There is lots of mall shopping, rather than markets (there are still markets though, don’t worry!)

After check in, we tour the hotel with the the staff. In addition to the deluxe room we are staying in, we also get to see a junior suite. These have a larger sitting area, a separate bedroom, and a very large bathroom with a soaker tub. The hotel only has 4 junior suites, so they sell out pretty fast. My favorite feature of the hotel is the beach; it goes on forever. If you wanted, you could walk several kilometers to Bucerias uninterrupted.
This afternoon there is finally some time for sun and sand without having to rush. I suit up, and head for the ocean. The water is warm, and there are some light waves to body surf in. Every time I get in the ocean, I always wonder why I don’t live closer to one – I’m just in heaven.
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Wednesday evening brings us to Rhythms of the Night, which is the most popular excursion in Puerto Vallarta. We go by boat for roughly an hour to Las Caletas, where they have a beautiful outdoor theater for the show. There is also an private area for weddings, which I think would be absolutely beautiful. The show is fantastic, with amazing acrobatics, dance, strength and singing. Everything is in Spanish, so I don’t really know what is going on, but it doesn’t matter because everything is just so mesmerizing. After the show, a buffet dinner is included before we head back to town.
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Our final day in Puerto Vallarta leaves us with a full day for free time. I hummed and hawed about what to do, and finally settled on an excursion to the Marietas Islands with a few others from the group. I heard a rumor that the government is going to close down the Hidden Beach part of the islands to tourists, so I figured I better get in before they do so. The main draw of the Island is Hidden Beach, which is a beach in the middle of the island that can only be accessed by going through a cave. It was truly beautiful, and got some great photos. There was also time for snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding before lunch and drinks were served. Once back at the Occidental, the rest of the afternoon is spend by the pool getting as much sun in as I can before I have to say goodbye.

 

The Occidental treats us to a great farewell dinner at La Hacienda, their Mexican restaurant. There is a huge buffet spread of salads, tacos, enchiladas, rice and beans, vegetables and desserts. I don’t know how we could possibly eat this much food. We spend our last few hours together laughing, taking photos, and enjoying the amazing sunsets of the Pacific coast. After dinner, as I’m up in my room packing for my flight home tomorrow, I’m sad to be coming home so quickly. The past 4 days have just flown by. Adios Puerto Vallarta, but don’t fret as I will be back to see you soon!
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Steph Visits Puerto Vallarta Part 2

I always knew I loved the ocean, but waking up at the Barcelo Puerto Vallarta confirms it even more. With my patio door open, I can hear the crashing waves from bed before the bustle of resort life kicks in. This is a sound I never want to let go of. Well, I guess it’s back to reality now.

The day is full as we start off with a presentation from one of the 2 Westjet Vacations destination reps. She tells us about what guests will experience from them when they arrive – the morning briefing, recommended excursions, emergency contact details and more. I find her very helpful, and I’m happy she is here to take care of our many clients in Puerto Vallarta. Next, we are on to see all the Barcelo has to offer.

We are given a tour of 2 excellent room categories; a Family Suite that has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and a Master Suite with a huge sitting room and separate bedroom. I think the Family Suite is absolutely perfect for those larger families that need a little extra space. The Master Suite is stunning, and would be my top choice for a wedding or honeymoon couple. After an update from our local Canadian rep on all things Barcelo and Occidental, there is a bit of free time for lunch before we are at it again on a city tour.

We are shown the Our Lady of Guadalupe church, which is gorgeous. We are also taken along the Malecon beach boardwalk where our guide points out some of the local art. There is a stop for shopping at a local silver shop, and a local candy store.

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Lady of Guadalupe Church


After dinner tonight, myself and a few other ladies venture back into town by local bus, which is only 8 Pesos (less than $1 CAD). We walked the Malecon, and stopped for a couple of $1 USD margaritas. It’s getting late now, so we figure its time to head back to the resort to get some sleep, as tomorrow is another jam packed day.

 

Steph Visits Puerto Vallarta Part 1

Buenos dias my amigos!

My next adventure brings me to the beautiful Pacific Coast city of Puerto Vallarta for the next 4 nights. I will be spending my first 2 nights at the beautiful Barcelo Puerto Vallarta. The hosts have been gracious enough to provide an upgrade to Club Premium, which gives an array of extra amenities at the resort – a private lounge, best room location, a bottle of tequila, room service, wifi, unlimited a la carte reservations amd more! I’ve met several other travelers from Saskatoon. So far my afternoon has consisted of exploring the hotel grounds, eating tacos, and maybe a cervesa or 2.

My evening includes meeting with my hosts from Barcelo and Occidental Resorts, and the rest of the group of agents visiting from across Canada. We had a lovely custom 5 course dinner on the deck overlooking the ocean. This would be such a perfect setting for a small wedding group or family reunion. I just love hearing the sound of the waves. I’m really looking forward to what the next 4 days have in store for me while I explore a new part of the world.

 

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Barceló Puerto Vallarta