Looking at the beach from the Now Amber resort in Puerto Vallarta

Looking at the beach from the Now Amber resort in Puerto Vallarta

By Eileen Ogintz

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico (DAY 2) – Puerto Vallarta is known for its galleries and its food but it is probably known more as a cruise ship stop and for those visiting the all-inclusive resorts.

We’re staying at Now Amber that is designed for families–check out the swim up suites where families can play just outside their rooms!

I love the dinosaur murals—hand painted by a local artist—that decorate the expansive kids’ Explorer’s Club where pre school teacher Karla Gonzalez is in charge. I also love the outdoor space—climbing nets, swings, water play, climbing wall—there are daily activities from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. and parents get a pager so no worries if you don’t hear your cell phone.  There’s also the CoreZone for teens that is staffed but really is a hang out space with internet access, video games, air hockey, ping pong, etc…

Backpack full of activities at the Now Amber resort

Backpack full of activities at the Now Amber resort

There is something to be said for the convenience of all-inclusives—no signing every time a kid wants a smoothie or a snack, no worries if they don’t like what they’ve ordered for dinner.  They can have something else.  You have several restaurants to choose from here and at the adjacent adults-only Secrets Resort (the kids can eat at the Explorers Club so you can have your date night!)

I was impressed with the breakfast buffet—made to order omelet’s and smoothies as well as plenty of Mexican offerings like huevos rancheros, fresh tortillas, mango and pineapple.

For lunch at Castaways Seafood overlooking the swim up bar and the beach, we sample different kinds of ceviche.  There is also freshly made pizza and the distinctive fruit water—watermelon and cantaloupe.

Angela Manna, here from New York City with her family including nine and 11 year-olds from NYC says they aren’t typically fans of all-inclusives but now that she is here for a wedding: “It’s great everything is effortless!” Nor is she worried about feeling safe in Mexico.

They typically would choose a non all inclusive place, she explained, looking for a higher level of food and service but then her husband hates all the additional charges that pile up.

Here the kids can have what they like–including unlimited ice cream.”

“Great for families,” agrees Leigh Needham, also here for a wedding with her family—including six and eight year olds from San Diego.

This is their fourth trip to Mexico in the past year and half.  “We feel totally safe in Mexico,” she said.  “We’re not really all inclusive people…we like to see and experience the food and the culture. But here, if the kids don’t like something they can get something else and we’re not paying for $15 pina coladas!”

And if you aren’t one to sit around on the beach, you can start your day with a morning yoga class or tennis clinic, take a Spanish lesson, go kayaking, play pool volleyball and end the evening with live music.  No worries about staying connected to those at home—calls to the United States and Canada are free!  You can upgrade to a preferred room with your own breakfast buffet, all day snacks and private bar. Come from mid-August until mid-December and kids are free!

Sandra and Nathan Hayes, here with a 10 month-old from the Chicago suburbs wouldn’t typically choose an all inclusive but with baby Ashlynn, “we knew we wouldn’t want to go anywhere and being able to get food at all hours is a real plus when dealing with a baby’s unpredictable  schedule.”

“We’d definitely do this again,” Nathan Hayes said.

Pool view at Melia resort in Puerto Vallarta

Pool view at Melia resort in Puerto Vallarta

Nearby is the 318-room Melia, less expensive but the only resort on the Pacific Coast with a designated program for infants starting at four months.  I loved the Kids and Co. family rooms with built in bunk beds and kids’ amenities including sand and bath toys, kids shampoo, toothpaste, soap and sunscreen. No wonder these 41 rooms are so popular!

The kids activities manager Antonio Garcia–who said he got started on his career by being an au pair in Massachusetts– is about to open a kids spa.   Here too you have morning till night activities that end with a live family show at 9:30 pm.  Thursdays are Mexican day which means there is a piñata workshop and Mexican games.

Meeting the Flintstones at the Melia resort in Puerto Vallarta

Meeting the Flintstones at the Melia resort in Puerto Vallarta

You’ll meet the Flintstones here—they are the resort mascot and extremely popular in Mexico.

There’s a batting cage, 18 hole mini golf course, archery, pool; diving clinics and dancing classes for adults—more than 80 weekly activities!

Think of it as being a cruise ship on land where everything has been designed with the kids in mind—and Garcia is always thinking up new ways to entertain them.

If you think all inclusives are not your deal, certainly you can rent an apartment, opt for a small  beach front hotel or an upscale resort like the Westin Resort and Spa with 280 rooms just five minutes fro the airport and 15 minutes from downtown Puerto Vallarta.

Here you can opt for an all inclusive package that includes meals, kids club and more but the majority don’t.  Can I just sink into one of the  lounge chairs? No wonder this place is so popular with cruise passengers.  (There is a small fee but they also get a resort credit.)