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My now-husband Tyler and I recently went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for our honeymoon and stayed at the all-inclusive resort Buenaventura Grand Hotel and Great Moments. If you’re looking at resorts in Puerto Vallarta, I’ll share my honest review of this hotel and our experience there.
What We Loved About It
The Buenaventura Grand is located in downtown Puerto Vallarta just before the city’s iconic Malecon boardwalk. This means you’re in the heart of town, and lots of great restaurants, shopping, bars, entertainment, and more are within walking distance – including Old Town Puerto Vallarta (also known as the Romantic Zone). You also have easy access to buses that can take you south and north of the city for daytime excursions. Of course, staying in the city isn’t for everyone, but if this sounds like something you’d enjoy, the Buenaventura’s location is unmatched.
The service here, particularly from the waitstaff in the restaurants, was incredible. Every time I go to Mexico, the kindness of the Mexican people is always one of the best parts. Every time we had a meal, the servers went above and beyond to make us feel welcome and cared for.
One of my favorite things about travel is the food, especially considering the food in other countries is way more fresh. With Puerto Vallarta, not only do you get access to authentic Mexican dishes, but you also can indulge in delicious seafood that would otherwise cost a fortune back home. The Buenaventura Grand’s food selection was impressive, but the access to fresh seafood really stood out for me. The food here was unbelievable, from ceviche, mussels, and seafood pasta at lunch to an entire night dedicated to seafood dishes. Other specific foods at the hotel we loved were the tortillas, soups, French toast, and fresh fruit (the papaya especially!). Honestly, though, there are so many great choices, including the two specialty restaurants, that you’ll never go hungry. And if you need a break from hotel food, just walk out the door, and you’ll find dozens of local restaurants in the city to check out.
The Honeymoon Suite
When traveling on a particularly special trip like a honeymoon, it’s nice to feel special. So we booked the honeymoon suite for this trip and were really happy with our room. The Buenaventura’s honeymoon suite included an ocean view room, private balcony, in-room jacuzzi, king-size bed, unlimited toiletries, and a complimentary mini-bar with daily refills on soda, water, and beer. Best of all, you could hear the ocean at night while you sleep – not a bad way to relax after a busy day. The only downside was that there was likely a second honeymoon suite across the hallway that had a better view that I had seen in pictures online. Also, the hotel advertises their honeymoon suite as including a canopy bed, but that isn’t accurate (it’s a standard King-size bed).
What Could Be Improved
Better Welcome at the Hotel
When we arrived in Puerto Vallarta, we took a bus from the airport to our hotel, but we weren’t entirely sure where to get off. As it turned out, we saw a couple of Buenaventura employees on our bus (they were wearing their work uniforms with the logo, which was how we knew). They were on their way to work and were more than happy to help us get there, even taking my luggage as we got off the bus and bringing it to the resort.
After a smooth check-in, though, we were immediately greeted by one of the timeshare salespeople. Somewhere along the lines, these hotels figured out that the word “timeshare” scares off people, but I knew that’s what the conversation was about. Here’s the thing: rather than trying to sell us a sales pitch, we would have preferred to be given a tour of the hotel grounds. No one explained to us where things were, particularly the specialty restaurants, and we felt kind of lost those first few days.
Daily activities at the Buenaventura are much like any resort, but the nightly entertainment left much to desired. The only night they had an actual “show” was the Mexican-themed night. Other than that, it was just music in the hotel lobby or sometimes karaoke. The nice thing about being downtown is that you can just go out on the town after dinner, but one thing I’ve always loved about all-inclusive resorts is the nightly entertainment. That being said, I think the resort’s location probably makes it difficult to stage nightly shows since they don’t have the space for a permanent stage area.
More Pool Access
OK. So this isn’t necessarily the resort’s fault, but it is something to keep in mind. Toward the end of our trip, the majority of guests at the resort switched from families with lots of kids to big groups of older adults who’d reserve a bunch of pool chairs for themselves as early as 8 in the morning. That means if you’re not the type to ‘reserve’ your chair at the crack of dawn, you may be out of luck if you want to lounge by the open pool areas. However, there were more available chairs on the beach, so when the pool areas were full, we’d just head down to the beach.
The Rockiness of the Beach
While the beach was lovely, if you plan to actually go in the water, you’ll probably want some water shoes as the ground there was very rocky. Again, this isn’t a fault of the resort itself, but if swimming in the ocean is a high priority, this could be a drawback.
More Dairy-Free Options
My husband is vegan, and while the hotel had some things he could eat, the options were very limited. So, if you have food restrictions like that, you should look at Puerto Vallarta hotels that are explicitly marketed to provide more vegan or dairy-free options.
Would I recommend the Buenaventura Grand Hotel and Great Moments for a honeymoon?
We had a great time regardless, but I would suggest looking into more romantic Puerto Vallarta hotels or even ones catered specifically for couples. The vibe at the Buenaventura was more fitting for families and groups of older adults. We were one of just a few couples here.
Guest Article by Jim Zwarensteyn
Ordinarily you might see a column by Jill about her frequent travels around the world, but today I am taking advantage of an invitation to write a column of my own. I happen to be her father; a member of an outdoor group who regularly get together for hiking, biking, kayaking, cross-country-country skiing, and cultural activities.
24 members of the group had an opportunity to take a trip to Austria for a bike and barge cruise. As long as we were there, many of the group took trips before or after. I did both! So, on August 24 I hopped a Delta flight from Grand Rapids to Vienna with stops in Detroit and Amsterdam. I arrived to meet four others from the group with a rented car and drove about 5 hours to Karnten (Carinthia) in the Austrian Alps to a “hutte” at about 5,000 feet. We stocked up on groceries and began our hiking adventures the next morning.
We spent three days hiking and exploring our mountain area; generally eating breakfast and hiking about 1.5 hours until running into a mountain hutte (they turn up often out of nowhere), where it was strudel and coffee time. We'd hike again until lunch (another hutte) and hike more until we arrived home for dinner. One day we rode a cable car to the bottom of the mountain to an alpine lake where we took a boat ride around the lake. Eventually, we visited a beautiful waterfall and later a schnitzel lunch and back to the cable car.
Day 5 took us to a remote area where Austria meets Italy and Slovenia. Then it was another ride up a mountain and hiking the area to another alpine lake, the “Weissensee”, where a couple of us took advantage of the beautiful weather to jump in. It was cold but bearable. The next day we paid a visit to a castle high on a bluff, and the following day was rain, so we drove through a national park that took hours and then back to Vienna.
Vienna is ground zero for culture. For me, this was Nirvana. I am a retired music teacher and still actively performing. This is not only the home of Mozart and the Strauss family, but also the seat of the Hapsburg Empire. What can you do in a 1.5 days? Turns out a lot. Pretty much alone here, but got to see palaces, a concert, the city, and even the end of summer festival with music and food. I met so many nice people there just sitting and striking up conversations with anyone who might speak English!
Saturday we embarked on our Danube cruise on the Merlijn, a tiny Dutch barge converted into a comfortable ship with only 24 berths. Our group had the boat. Each morning we would have breakfast and then get our lunch, travel bag, helmet and assigned bike, and then we'd ride along the Danube with our guide, Ilsa. We rode through small towns, vineyards, and forests each day, stopping for breaks, food, and a lot of sightseeing. There were more castles, palaces (the Hapsburgs were everywhere), and wineries than I imagined. We would meet the Merlijn later in the day when we could clean up and have dinner. Each day we rode anywhere from 25 to 40 miles. We debarked in Passau, Germany. Passau is a gem of a town. They have a gothic cathedral where there is a daily pipe organ recital. If you do nothing else, do this. Get there early, though, because the church fills up. I stayed in a hostel that was a converted fortress. $30.00 for a dorm room that had two of us and a breakfast that was more than adequate.
Then a fellow group member, Paul, and I took off for a week of traveling. We spent time in Salzburg, where we saw the birth house of Mozart, a mountain fortress, everything Sound of Music, and more beer and food. In Munich (Octoberfest time), more downtown sightseeing and of course, a liter of beer at the biergarten. In Bamberg, we visited another brauhaus (I know, it sounds like we had a lot of beer!) and joined a walking tour of the town from a river cruise group.
From there we made or way to Bad Durkheim where they claim to have the largest wine festival in the world and I believe it. It’s a tiny village, but they fill up with people. Every tent was packed. We sat at tables and met the friendliest people you can imagine. And did I mention wine? Lots of wine; white, rose, red and more white. With German brats and bread to soak it up.
From there it was off to Trier, which is a UNESCO world heritage site to behold. It was the seat of the western Roman Empire for a time and is chock full of Roman architecture and ruins, including an amphitheater. This place is jaw dropping beautiful. The next day we were off to Schiphol to catch a ride home, but not before meeting up with a cousin of mine from Rotterdam, Netherlands. She took us to an Indonesian buffet restaurant where we talked and laughed and made a promise to see each other again.
A few things about the trip. For our stay in the Carinthia, we bought a Karnten Card. It got us free unlimited rides on the cable cars as well as boat rides on the lakes and admission to castles, national parks and trails. For 50 euros, it is a deal. Also, hostels are clean and affordable in Europe. On our Germany portion, Paul and I stayed at Airbnbs. Each one turned out great, even though a couple looked a little dingy from the outside. Our hosts were all nice and had directions to get the property and ideas on what to do. Getting from town to town was by rail and really simple to navigate. We used the Deutchbahn site to get our tickets and it was very user-friendly. The Merlijn is part of a small ship group that does their own marketing. Small barges are so much more personal, and they specialize in biking and have their own web site. This was a 25 day adventure that I may never be able to do again, but the memory will stay with me forever. A special thanks to my daughter for watching her mom while I was out playing and to her mom, Cathy, for letting me do this. Auf Wiedersehen.
Whether you’re considering visiting New Orleans or have already booked your trip, you’re probably wondering if there are some specific things you should be aware of before you go. I recently visited Nola and learned some helpful New Orleans travel tips that I’d like to pass on to you. These tips include things I learned along the way and things I think made our New Orleans vacation worth it.
1. Bring Cash
While there are plenty of places to use your card in New Orleans, you should also bring some cash.
There were two specific instances in which we needed cash. The first was when we visited Cafe’ du Monde, a popular Nola eatery known for their beignets. The cafe had signs that read ‘Cash Only,’ and since this is a tourist hotspot that might be on your bucket list, you don’t want to miss out.
The second time we needed cash was to purchase a day pass for the original New Orleans street car that runs on St. Charles Street, which cost us $3 per person. Furthermore, small bills are best since they only accept exact change. The good news, though, is that we could also use the day pass on other streetcar lines.
2. Don’t Walk Alone in the French Quarter Late at Night
This tip was actually given to us by the man who checked us into our hostel. Truth be told, we did notice the French Quarter was pretty quiet at night – though I’m guessing this may not be the case during Mardi Gras. According to the hostel employee, many people can be robbed there late at night. Therefore, if you plan to spend time in the French Quarter late into the night and are traveling solo, take an Uber back to your hotel. If you’re with a friend or group and want to walk, you should be fine as long as it’s not too late. We walked back to our hostel following a ghost tour, and we were okay since it was only around 10:00 p.m. As travelers, it’s important to always exercise caution, so if you can take an Uber or Lyft, that’s your best bet.
3. Visit the Cemeteries Early
New Orleans is known for their elaborate above-ground cemeteries, and if you want to see some while you’re there, make sure to do it early enough in the day. For example, we went to Greenwood Cemetery shortly before 4 in the afternoon. However, once we got there, we found out the cemetery closes to the public by 4:30 p.m. (though they ended up kicking us out at 4:15). Therefore, double-check the hours online if you have a particular cemetery in mind, so you avoid missing out.
4. Take a Ghost Tour
New Orleans has a lot of spooky history, which is further emphasized by the 18th Century architecture in the French Quarter. We took a nighttime ghost tour of the French Quarter, and I have to say, it was one of my favorite experiences. While this historic part of town is fascinating during the day, seeing it at night adds an element of eeriness that’s perfect for this kind of activity. We did a ghost tour through New Orleans Ghost Adventures Tours, which cost about $30 per person. The tour group met just outside the Quarter near the Red Door Tour booth located outside Landry’s Seafood on the corner of Decatur and St. Peters.
5. Spending Money on the Local Food is Worth It
Experiencing the local New Orleans food is an absolute must during your stay. I would add that you should try to eat local southern dishes every chance you get. The foods and flavors are so delicious and well worth it. You don’t have to spend a ton of money during your Nola vacation, but one thing you should feel free to indulge in is the food. My favorite dishes were charbroiled oysters, crawfish etouffee, cheese grits, and a classic buttermilk biscuit.
Frequently Asked Questions about New Orleans
Is New Orleans safe to visit?
Yes, New Orleans is generally safe to visit, especially if you stick to popular areas like the Garden District and French Quarter. However, we recommend not walking alone in the French Quarter at night. We noticed it was very quiet around there (for reference, we visited in August, so it was not as busy a time for tourists).
How much will 5 days in New Orleans cost?
This depends on where you stay. A decent hotel may cost more than $100 a night, leaving you out $500 on accommodations alone.
We stayed in a nice hostel on Canal Street that’s walking distance to the French Quarter for only about $28 per night. Regarding food, your biggest expenses will probably be nice dinners out, which can average $20-$30. But the good news is that you can save money on budget-friendly breakfast spots and popular inexpensive pastries like beignets. And if you stay in the HI Hostel in New Orleans, they have free breakfast every morning.
What’s the best time to visit New Orleans?
Weather-wise, the best time to visit New Orleans is in the Spring. And if you really want to get the full experience, traveling here during Mardi Gras should be an exciting time. However, not everyone is into busy tourist events either. We traveled to Nola during August, and while we encountered some rain, it wasn’t as bad as we anticipated, and we even had several days of sun. Another advantage of traveling here during the non-peak season is cheaper rates and fewer crowds.
Is New Orleans worth visiting?
Yes, I think New Orleans is absolutely worth visiting! This city is unique; there’s no other place like it. New Orleans has everything from history and architecture to food and music.
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer and comedian who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Sleep Advisor, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com