January 3, 2010
Got back home to Los Angeles last night. So much to write about and say and I promise it will come soon in installments! I unfortunately spent most of my time stuck in my room coughing and feeling horrible, but I was able to rally on a few days and have some amazing experiences bird watching in the Sierra Madre Mountains and whale watching in the bay. All my photos are up on flickr so take a look if you have the chance, but I will also post some of my favorites here over the next week in smaller pieces focusing on individual parts of the trip.
We stayed at the Dreams Hotel, about a 10 minute drive from downtown Puerto Vallarta. It’s location is perfect and it has a beautiful private stretch of beach for the guests, but I found the hotel to be pretty lackluster and not really up to par with some of the other tropical hotels I’ve stayed at. If you are feeling healthy and out doing activities every day as my sister and her boyfriend were (they went zip lining, scuba diving, para-sailing, hiking and even bungee jumping) it doesn’t matter as much how nice the accommodations are and the location takes precedent, but if you are stuck in your room for most of the time the Dreams Hotel is more of a nightmare. We unfortunately couldn’t get into the concierge tower, which was supposed to be nicer, the rooms in out tower were nice, but needed some major improvements. I am a big believer that luxury is in the details and minor improvements make a major difference. There were little bugs scurrying around my nightstand that could have easily been taken care of with some bug spray, but no matter how many times I called no one seemed to care to come up and give me spray. The bathroom also had permanent scum and brown marks in the tub that needed some cleaning, and there were brown spots on the mirror and smudges that were never cleaned off. The tub was also so low that you couldn’t really take a bath in which is one of my favorite vacation activities- a long bath with a book. They also provided only shampoo, one of my pet peeves, but sold conditioner in the gift shop. The tv’s were also pretty much useless- they were very old and most of the stations didn’t work and were very fuzzy. They have wifi, which you can buy for $60 for the week, and while it worked perfectly in my room, it hardly worked in my parents room who were at the end of the tower as they got a room with a balcony. I am a big fan of balconies, and love them on cruises, but I do not think its worth it here. The layout of my parents room was much smaller and more cramped with the balcony and the room was all the way on the end. The best part of the rooms, and what I thought to be the best part of the hotel, were the windows in the rooms without balconies. They were like the balcony doors- floor to ceiling and they slid completely open in the middle, with a plastic saftey rail on the outside so you wouldn’t fall out your windows, it made the whole room feel like a balcony and watching the ocean and listening to the waves was delightful. I slept with the window open every night.
The hotel is all inclusive, meaning all food and drinks are included in the room rate and unfortunately this meant for very sub-par food and drinks. The Italian restaurant was definitely the best, which is where we went for New Years Eve. Oceana, the seafood restaurant is the second best and was the most crowded, but the food was simply average. The Mexican restaurant had a few redeeming items, but felt like Disneyland’s take on what a Mexican restaurant should be, and the drinks were made from instant mixes. Under no conditions should one ever eat at the barefoot grill on the beach, we made the mistake of going there right after we got in when I was feeling very sick. We were given nachos that looked worse than movie theater nachos, bright yellow circular chips with pump cheese. My Pina Colada had soap dripped in it from the dishwasher standing next to the bar tender. I basically wanted to burst in to tears and fly home. The buffet is your best bet if you want a snack during the day, the food is cafeteria style and some of it is pretty good and the bar by the pool is much better.
Basically the hotel is all inclusive because they know that if they weren’t no one would eat there. I suggest going into town for dinner as often as you can. Unfortunately I was feeling so sick I was only able to go twice, but there are some great places in town! I highly recommend The Bistro Jazz Cafe right on the river. Great food, drinks, and ambiance, definitely my favorite night! They have an amazing selection of dessert drinks- i highly recommend the Pomeroy, it tastes like a strawberry milkshake, but with an awesome adult kick! They also serve a great lunch, which I had last time I was in Puerto Vallarta two years ago.
The Italian restaurant Treo is also great. I was so sick that night I could hardly taste my food, but my family loved it and the staff was so polite and attentive and the chef even came out himself to speak with us and help us choose our food.
Service and Staff
The service and staff was the hotels weakest point and could use a complete overhaul. My parents kept excusing them by saying “well thats just Mexico” but I completely disagree. I know that Cabo is much more of a resort town than Puerto Vallarta, but the staff at both hotels I’ve stayed at in Cabo were amazing, the staff at the Dreams were basically incompetent. I knew something was a bit off before we went. We called at Thanksgiving to ask the concierge something. Someone picked up and in a very heavy spanish accent said “Hello my name is Esteban how can I help you?” My dad, not being the best with languages, thought he was speaking spanish and yelled into the phone “Hello I’m calling from America, does anyone speak english?” Esteban responded, “I am speaking english.” I knew from there that there would be trouble, but I was not expecting the complete lack of service that met us there. First we had arranged a car through avis and we were told there was an avis office at the hotel, the office was a small room that was empty when we got there, and we soon learned that it was not a real office and they had to call someone in to get the car, the office remained closed all week. The concierge consisted of three people who were all completely useless and seemed to look very angry when you asked them questions, they also refused to book any tours for you outside of Vallarta Adventures from which they were clearly getting a large kickback. The maids were also not great and didn’t really clean, by my last day I could have built a sandcastle in my room with the amount of sand on my floor that would stick to me from the beach everyday and would not get vacuumed up. They also didn’t get the concept of the Do Not Disturb sign, which was a pretty little moon you hung on the door and I was woken many times by a disgruntled maid or a man coming to pick up room service that had already been picked up by someone else. The piece de resistance was the last day the hotel neglected to inform us that you need a pass to get out of the hotel to prove you paid the bill and they wouldn’t let my sister and rhys leave, holding them at the gate for 15 minutes and making them late for the airport. Some retraining of the staff (and chefs) and a few minor renovations could easily turn this hotel from 2/3 stars to 4 or 5.
The activities were wonderful and were another redeeming quality of the hotel. The hotel had a list of fun activities everyday for both kids and adults- everything from water aerobics to blackjack. I didn’t partake in too many as I was so sick, but I did go jet skiing which was AWESOME! My sister and rhys both para-sailed right from the hotel also. At the hotel there are also three pools, and of course the ocean to swim in. The water got a little rough towards the end of the trip because of the full moon, but I spent the first few days happily floating in the bay watching jumping fish and pelicans fly overhead. They also put out a gigantic raft and inflatable rock climbing wall in the ocean. Beyond the hotel grounds are amazing activities as well. Unfortunately I was unable to do many, but I would highly recommend anything with Eco Tours their guides are really smart and informed and they do a great job. I will do some individual posts later this week on details of the excursions I did. Other things to check out is the little town Nogalito, just a 10 minute drive from the hotel, the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens, a boat ride to the tiny picturesque town Yalapa, and of course spend some time walking around downtown Puerto Vallarta itself.
Overall I give the hotel 3 stars, and think it is probably the best choice for Puerto Vallarta because the nicer hotels (like the Four Seasons) are in Punta Mita, which is about an hour drive from downtown Vallarta. Happy New Years everyone and expect many many awesome photos to come soon!