All-Inclusive Resorts: Are They Right for You?
When I picture an all-inclusive resort, I visualize what you might find on a large cruise ship. There are plenty of similarities between the two. One is a floating resort and the other is parked on land. Included in the price of both is usually free-flowing booze, buffet food and activities galore. The idea of vacationing with thousands of other guests who eat and drink too much has never been that appealing to me.
My family had the opportunity to stay at the all-inclusive Marival Resorts & Suites in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, for a few days before we headed north to Sayulita. As I tend to prefer smaller boutique hotels, I was skeptical about my visit. While I went in with a preconceived notion about it being crowded and generic, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Marival is a luxury, 497-room beachfront property conveniently located just 15 minutes north of the Puerto Vallarta Airport. With a friendly staff, modern amenities and tons of activities, it is no wonder so many families choose to vacation here. This all-inclusive even has a special Family Emotion package that includes accessories for babies, children, teens, and mothers. Families receive a welcome basket with candies and snacks as well as gain access to exclusive areas within the resort.
The lodging choices at Marival are diverse, ranging from standard hotel rooms all the way up to spacious 3-bedroom suites. There are some major differences between room types and locations within the resort, so it is best to familiarize yourself with the accommodations before booking your trip.
Located farthest from the main area, you will find a collection of three-story buildings that house the older ‘Club Suites’. These are great for families. We stayed here in a two-bedroom, garden-view suite. It had two king bedrooms and a pullout sofa in the living room, plus three full bathrooms. There was a kitchenette with a microwave and a small refrigerator stocked with a few bottles of water and some soda.
These buildings have no elevators, so if you are traveling with young children, lots of gear and a stroller, you will want to ask for a room on the ground floor. These suites are located near the Kids Club and mini golf but the kids’ waterpark is on the other side of the resort. You might find this advantageous as it tends to be quieter.
The main building, often referred to as the ‘Grand’, has recently been renovated. The decor is a bit nicer than in the suites. Room choices here include a king, double or one-bedroom suite. Families can request connecting rooms but the hotel will not guarantee it. They are given out based on availability at check-in. There are elevators in this building that elderly vacationers and families with young children will appreciate.
There is an ample selection of restaurants at Marival. It is impossible to go hungry while you are there. The most casual choice is the Casa Bella buffet, where reservations are never required. Here you can dine indoors or out for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You won’t believe the selection! Crepe and omelet stations at breakfast and 15 different types of juice to choose from. At every meal, you could help yourself to fruit, salads, cheeses, meats, pastries and more. Even the pickiest of kids will find something to eat here.
The garden setting of Piazzetta Dei Forni is informal as well. This snack bar serves a buffet of brick-oven pizza and burgers all day long. Here, as well as in other places at the resort, our kids appreciated the all-inclusiveness of being able to help themselves to as much gelato as they wanted. They also delighted in ordering plenty of virgin smoothies at the bars.
There are four specialty restaurants at the Resort. La Bamba Rodizio, adjacent to the kids’ pool, is a snack bar during the day and a steakhouse at night. Las Palomas serves authentic Mexican cuisine, while La Pergola has an international menu. We ate Amalfi, the Italian restaurant, twice and felt it had the best food. Parents of younger children will appreciate the kids’ area within this restaurant with a tv, toys, and games.
There is no shortage of things to do at Marival. There are four pools, including a kids’ pool with slides and a pirate ship. Not surprisingly, this and the main pool are the busiest. Guests who use the pools closer to the club rooms were a bit more reserved. You will have access to kayaks, boogie boards, windsurfing, and sailing. However, motorized water sports equipment and off-site expeditions are extra. On land, play, tennis, go rock climbing, play mini golf, bocce or shuffleboard.
There are two kids’ clubs. One for kids ages 4-12 and a teen club for young adults ages 13-17. You can tell Marvial is focused on keeping families happy and playing together. During check-in, kids 12 and under receive a welcome bag which includes a map, designed as a scavenger hunt, to help familiarize them with the resort. For each new area, they discover they will get a stamp on their passport that earns them a reward at the end. Parents are encouraged to participate with their children, helping them to earn double the reward points for doing so!
After just a few days at Marival, we understand why families find this type of vacation appealing. All-inclusive resorts are marketed as money savers and convenient. Everything is paid for in advance and once you arrive, you shouldn’t have to think about a thing except enjoying yourself. Perfect right? Not always. It is important you do your research before you book a trip so you are not surprised when you arrive. Here are some things we found specific to Marival that we would have liked to have known in advance:
Alcohol – I am pretty certain that some folks never left the swim-up bar the entire time we were there. The free-flowing cocktails contribute to a ‘party-all-the-time’ vibe.
Smoking – If smoking bothers your family, you should know that, unlike in the United States, there is no designated area just for smokers. We were constantly bothered by the smell of smoke.
Golf – The all-inclusive package states that one complimentary round of golf is included. However, when we were making a reservation, we learned there is a $69 access fee, and cart rentals are mandatory. This means our complimentary round of golf would have cost us almost $100.
Dinner Reservations – Heed the resort’s suggestion to book dinner reservations ahead of time. Making the reservations online is simple. However, changing your reservation (time or restaurant) proved to be extremely difficult for us.
Gratuities – The tipping etiquette is confusing. We saw plenty of people tipping the restaurant captains, servers, bartenders and hosts so we wondered about it. The hotel confirmed for us that tips are included extra at your discretion, although we almost felt as though it was expected.
Wi-Fi – It is free in the lobby, but you will need to pay extra to get it in your room.
Guests vs. Owners – There is a distinct difference between amenities for guests and timeshare owners. Vacation owners enjoy exclusive access to a VIP beach club with much nicer beach chairs, cushions, and cabanas. They have special restaurant reservations, including a members-only breakfast at La Bamba.
Have you been to an all-inclusive resort? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
Disclosure: While the Riviera Nayarit CVB hosted our stay at the Marival Resorts and Suites, no other compensation was received for this review. This post reflects the honest opinion of my experience without outside influence.