By: Frank DiScala Jr.
My brother Johnny Jet emails me to see if I want to spend a weekend languishing under the Mexican sun and enjoying supreme hospitality at an all-inclusive resort on the gentle beach of Banderas Bay. I can barely type the word Y-E-S fast enough on my Blackberry. I figured I was about to bask in a dreamy mega-hotel in ultra luxury, while my friends defended themselves from the onslaught of a merciless bitter winter in New England. It would be a quick trip, a long, cross-continent flight with a connection, but it would be relaxing. After 2008 I had, I needed to relax. Even if I didn’t deserve it.
Soon enough, I had my ticket in hand and my marching orders: Go there and let the Mexican Riviera cure all that ails me.
Airbus to Airbus travel to the beachfront Grand Velas Five Diamond member of the Leading Hotels of the World is an-all day adventure from New York’s JFK airport. I started with 6:20am flight, transferred in Phoenix with a two-hour layover and then the two and a half hour flight across deserted mountains and Mexican farmland to Puerta Vallarta. Final destination: Nuevo Vallarta. Be ready for over 3000 miles of air travel. Spicy food and ocean swimming; a promise to my frozen New England body …
The “all suites” hotel features 267 ocean view suites, a 16,500 square foot spa, five restaurants – three gourmet, French, Italian and Mexican cuisine. The resort claims to be family-friendly and there are three infinity pools, including a children’s pool. There are tennis courts and a fitness center. It sounds too good to be true. It is true.
The temperature ranges from high 80s during the days and low 60s in the evening. Attire is sport resort casual during the day and formal casual at night, meaning no shorts and flip-flops in the gourmet restaurants.
DAY 1 ACTIVITIES
Grab a chaise and head to one of the stunning vanishing pools, elevated directly above the beach of Banderas Bay, and just wait for the sun to set. Each of the many quality lounges have clean terry cloth wraps on the comfy mattresses and at the foot is a tightly rolled Egyptian cotton towel, actually an enormous bath sheet – bigger and heavier than any towel I’ve ever owned or even seen. Next, settle down and let the food come to you. You won’t wait long. Relax by the pools. Is that an activity? It is if you want to indulge in the booze and food and stuff yourself while listening to the music accompanying the nearby beach volleyball. Accept a pina colada and pass out from the excessive food and drink.
When I awoke, I resumed my pursuit of delicious nutrition, including forms dubious, frozen in glasses, slippery with condensation from the frozen coconut concoctions that, thank you, Jimmy Buffet, help me hang on.
Going to Mexico to eat fresh delicious food is a good enough reason to visit Mexico. We all know what good quality, no-compromise food is and we hate to get tricked. And something about an all-inclusive resort makes you think a trick is lurking around the next corner. And when you don’t get tricked, you feel more relaxed and more like a kid again than at any other type of resort. All your primal worries are removed. Maybe it’s because our survival instinct isn’t the undercurrent telling us to find food. Food is there. At Gand Velas, it’s everywhere. And it’s good. You get up, you eat, you play and you eat again. And when the food is this good, you’re always hungry for more.
Service is so good, it’s almost quizzical: Why do these waiters keep coming by? Not one guest tipped any of them, they never present a bill and they never circle the table with the odd expression of want, like that coming from an ill-trained but friendly dog. Service this good, I can honestly say, I don’t remember experiencing at any other pool or at any other buffet. These people have clearly drunk the service-God’s Kool-Aid. As public relations manager Margarite told me, the owner, Mr. Velas, recently met personally with the entire staff and instead of scaring them about the half-vacant, recession-hit tourist problem developing in Nuevo Vallarta, he told them NOT to worry because they provide such great service, such great value and occupy the highest end of this market, that they should just continue to work even harder to make sure the guests are happy. A great motivational speaker he must be.
I ate at the poolside bar the first day and had fruit salad, chips and salsa, one cerveza and a shrimp ceviche. The fresh fruit was fresh cut and ice cold. The shrimp, sharply spiced and thinly sliced, tasted like the waiter had caught it as he walked to the table. For breakfast, I went to Azul, the buffet beneath my room at the end of the building. With too many selections to mention, I took my time and discovered with patience and endurance, there were not too many selections to taste … from four different kinds of ceviche to traditional and local Mexican desayuno, I porked out. Stuffing my mouth and washing it down with enough strong black coffee to run the hotel back up generator. Why? Because today was exercise day! Was I going to play water volleyball with the fat cops at the police convention?? No way. Golf, baby!
Don’t miss the golf. Even if you don’t play. Get out and see the course and the views. OK, don’t go if you don’t play golf. But even if you do play badly like me, you can’t help but marvel at the bougainvillea flanked fairways and long hillside approaches to tightly manicured greens, which are maddeningly slow in the morning and turn ice rink hard as the sun appears from behind the Sierra Madre mountains to the east. $195 for rental clubs – good top of the line Taylor Burners, cart, and green fees. Balls not included. $20 cab from the hotel takes 15 minutes to the driving range.
How can you truly play on vacation unless you’ve gotten a massage at the spa? I am not really interested in an all-day spa experience, but I will admit, I love the idea of spa and then a pool day. However, my spa experience consisted of the 9am hydrotherapy (dip in hot bath, cold bath, Jacuzzi hot tub, steam room and two temperature saunas and then at 10am, 80 minutes of massage, which included warm oils poured on the scalp, hot stones rested on the abdomen.) I was so relaxed, I was disoriented and my masseuse had to lead me by the arm to the steps. But my flip-flop clad feet failed to negotiate the fifth step and I fell up the step, dumping my honey-apple tea and sprawling out across the stairs like a drunken spring breaker.
The sparkling sunshine blasted the incense and spa music from my mind and I was determined to resume the endless food orgy, followed by a pina colada-fueled swim across the largest infinity pool I have ever seen, to hang my weary arms over the edge and stare at the beach, the waves and the whales breaching in Banderas Bay. I did just that. Still confused from the spa treatment, I indulged in my usual breakfast at Grand Velas – a sampling of all things hot and cold, Mexican and American. Usually, this consists of a three-tiered assault: first the cold iced buffet of fresh cut fruits, four different ceviches and smoked salmon and capers. Next, the hot Mexican egg preparations and any other apparently indigenous and delicious looking steam item under the chrome dome buffet heaters. Finally, a venture to the dessert area, an incredible array of fresh baked pastries and tarts, all made by an uncompromising, obviously five-star European trained pastry chef. Just as good as the Swiss dessert array I had at my wedding at the Riffelalp Hotel on the top of the mountain inZermatt, Switzerland.
This time my sampling of something called menudo nearly cancelled my third visit to the buffet. Tasting a bit like a soft-boiled and breakable rubber band, I had to ask the waiter to find out if I was eating the Mexican equivalent of tripe – cow stomach. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Volleyball on the beach and more pool hanging, while others took a 30-foot pontoon boat into the bay to become intimate with breeding humpback whales. I suddenly felt anxious to have to leave such a friendly and delicious place.
Each night, we would venture to and dance at the nightclub where a band played random 80s hits. It was fun to dance, while looking at the band and laughing, because these people looked so out of place playing 80s rock and roll. Put sombreros on them and they could easily have passed for a traditional mariachi band.
I didn’t get to see the whales and I didn’t get to see the quaint fishing town slowly eroding into a tourist resort town. But I did get to buy some serious hot sauce and managed to get it past the Mexican equivalent of TSA and onto the plane. But once I got to Arizona, I got busted. It went a little something like this:
“What you got in yer bag, sir? Some good Arizona hot sauces?” she said as she dissected and eviscerated my luggage. She pulled put with her blue-gloved hand, a bag containing …
“That’s my Mexican hot sauce!” I replied in a humorous, well-what-do-we-have-here kind of voice.
“Well, that’s got to stay here,” she said humorlessly.
“But I got it this far and no explosions,” I replied, looking for a smile. An edge. A crack. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll even taste it to show that it’s not explosive.” I gestured to her to give it here.
“That doesn’t mean anything! You could be suicidal and wouldn’t care if it was poison.”
“OK. Well, it’s under three ounces.”
“No, it’s not. Says here it’s four ounces.”
“Then pour half out and we are on our way.”
“Nope. Can’t do that. Got to go by what it says on the label.”
“Well, suppose the label says 2.5 ounces. Then what?”
“Look, don’t be a wise guy. You have two choices. You can come with me and check your bag or you can throw it away.”
“OK, let’s go for a walk.”
We wandered back through the back door into the general, unsterile populous of that main terminal. “Good luck,” she said and waddled back toward her station, ready to enforce arbitrary rules, which cannibalize our common sense. I approached the gate agent and gave her my bag, telling her about my problem. She said, rather unsympathetically, “Oh, sorry. $15 for the bag please.”
So there I was. Stuck with $6 worth of hot sauce that I was not prepared to give up and stuck with $15 to pay for the bag. “Well, you could just go to the drugstore right there in the terminal and pour the contents of the sauces into the little bottles that they sell for air travel but you still have to check the bag because it’s too big.”
“No. I am not checking the bag. If it doesn’t get past the gate I am going to throw away the clothing that is inside and that will be that.”
I grabbed my bag and walked across the terminal to the drugstore. I was overdressed and boiling hot from the stress and exercise. I quickly bought the little bottles labeled “perfect for airline travel” and set up my laboratory and transfer station. In 20 minutes, I had them full and packed and along with the empty bottles, I was back in line awaiting the vicious assault and inspection. The female officer was nowhere in sight. The bag went right through the machine while the attending officer looked the other direction, not even noticing me, my bag and my carefully packaged Mexican hot sauce. I was disappointed. But hungry for more Mexican eggs … enough to keep my Mexican memories alive for months!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
International Recreation Expert. Francis J. DiScala (Frankie D) was born to do it differently. On his first camping trip at 10 years old he was sequestered from his group for talking and forced to sleep in an open field away from the safety of the tents. He immediately realized that the moon was much clearer out under the stars and has been “out there” ever since. Never one to say no, Frank has been to Mountains of Montana, Idaho, Arizona bow hunting and sleeping outdoors, fishing off-shore amongst the whales for giant tuna, skiing and snowboarding almost every major mountain in North America, racing motorcycles on international racetracks in New Hampshire, and scuba diving reefs from Australia to the Red Sea in Jordan. fun and games are often interrupted and trips cut short by his need to return to his beautiful wife and to his legal career. He hasn’t stopped talking and often can be seen and heard giving strange opinions on television shows including CNN’S Headline News/Nancy Grace and Court TV. Despite a hectic schedule, Frank has also found time to travel and write and in recent years has become an enthusiastic contributor to JohnnyJet.com, one of the most comprehensive travel resources online.
Note: This trip was sponsored by Grand Velas.
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.