Getaway Review: Dreams Villamagna Nuevo Vallarta
Aiming at the traditional (and far from the dangerous border) vacation spot of Puerto Vallarta, I stay at the Dreams Villamagna All-Inclusive resort in Nuevo Vallarta – a newer area just north of Puerto Vallarta. The resort is part of the Dreams family of properties that even has another location in Puerto Vallarta. Right on the beach, the comfortable property has picturesque views, a smooth stretch of beach, and enough things to do when you aren't resting under a palapa drinking a fruit filled mixed drink.
A high-end luxury locale Dreams Villamagna is not. Though for young couples and working class families the resort has a lot to offer and certainly will be luxurious in their book. Those who frequent five star luxury resorts around the world will find the place a bit too much on the family-friendly side, without some of the higher-end amenities they might expect, as well as a lack of exclusivity common in shelled-off luxe resort locations.
The promise of "all-inclusive" can be tempting, but it doesn't always actually mean "all-inclusive." Typically, the terms don't include alcohol, as well as a number of other premium services or food offerings. At Dreams Villamagna ("Dreams") the promise of "all-inclusiveness" was rather generous. It pretty much includes everything you want. This includes beer, tasty mixed drinks, relatively good spirits, and many wine selections. Unless you want to purchase specific bottles of wine or champagne, you are pretty much guaranteed no bills for booze.
All food is also included. This even includes room service and the mini-bar. The resort has a handful of restaurants, including a buffet style option for each meal. Unless you want a 'romantic' beach-side table on the sand for a couple's dinner, you won't be paying for food either.
Other than some wine and items in gifts or sundry stores, you are left with three major things that aren't included in the price. These include spa and massage services, as well as a few off-resort day trips in the region that max out at about $140 per person and last most of the day. So the good news is that "all-inclusive" pretty much is a solid promise at Dreams Villamagna.
Located along a row of similar resorts, Dreams is one of many locations that share a piece of a long public beach. Opposite the beach are a series of new (or under construction properties) in the "vacation property-esque" Nuevo Vallarta location. On the one hand, there are check-points and municipal police at the entrances to the area, on the other hands, there really isn't much else to do there than visit the beach – unless you want to sneak into other resorts. At dreams, you are pretty much secluded to the resort and the beach. Of course you can take a taxi or (if you want an "adventure" the bus) into the tourist or shopping part of Puerto Vallarta. You'd think that being so secluded would add to the feeling of exclusivity, but instead you are surrounded by other resorts that make the area feel an enclave of vacation properties as opposed to some place special that your hotel happens to have found a place.
Dreams has a variety of rooms – some better for families, and others better suited to couples. If you opt for a couples room, get ready for serious intimacy. Each room is essentially a rectangle with a balcony on one end. Bathrooms are less rooms, and more areas partitioned off by a thin curtain. You can almost fall off the bed into the bath tub. As for the shower or toilet closet, you have all the privacy of a public restroom. Each has a partially opaque glass door between you and your roommate. So make sure you stay with someone that you know well.
The rooms are appointed nicely. Nothing tacky or cheesy, that you might imagine when picturing a resort on the beach (no sand colored sheets or pictures of sea shells and boats on the walls). The rooms are big enough to include ample sitting room with a king-size bed, and a bathroom-area with a full tub and a separate shower area. The counter there has double sinks, and nice touches such as daily incense and robes. Each room has a mini bar with drink and water, but not much to snack on. Being Mexico, you are going to be hesitant about drinking the water, so keep asking for bottles of water. While the rooms might not have everything you need by default, the staff is pretty good about getting you what you need after asking.
Puerto Vallarta is a humid, warm place, and it is nice to be near the ocean breeze. You'll want to frequently keep the balcony door open for the sound of the waves and the sea-side atmosphere. Problem is that in combination with air conditioner (that you'll want on all the time), condensation will form all over your room. Most annoyingly is on the smooth tile floors, that obviously get slippery when covered in water. While the condensation or humidity isn't the resort's fault, I would take issue with the flooring material choice that is arguably a slipping hazard when wet, which it often is. At least a few non-slip rugs would help remedy the issue. Personally, I kept laying out towels on the floor that kept mysteriously disappearing each time housekeeping came in.
"Preferred" suites at Dreams get some added upgrades, such as a built-in Jacuzzi on the balcony, and ocean view, and a dedicated concierge. There is a certain pleasant feeling of indulgence to be in a private hot tub overlooking the ocean while hearing the waves – that little feature makes it all worth it.
One feature I personally require at all hotels is Internet access. Dreams features free wireless Internet in the lobby, and wireless Internet access in all rooms at an extra charge per day, or included if you are in a Preferred room. This sounds good, only the system for getting Internet access in preferred rooms doesn't make sense. Upon checking-in you don't get any information about how to access the Internet. Boot your computer up and try to go online and you'll be presented with a log-in screen. Unless you have the right information, you'll have to pay (about $15 for 24 hours) for access. Knowing Internet access was supposed to be included in my Preferred room I contacted the front desk. To make a long story short, only one person in the entire hotel has the Internet access codes, and they had already left for the day (it was a Monday at 3pm). So I had to pay for access until I caught up with the noble holder of the precious Internet access codes the following day. That was a serious annoyance, and didn't feel like good service. On the other hand, perhaps I was unique in need Internet access all the time. Most people on vacation tend to leave such things behind, but for some people, constant access is a necessity, not a luxury - and when you visit a resort that claims to offer Internet access in rooms, you might just be visiting that specific resort because of that feature.
Overall, the rooms at the Dreams are comfortable and clean, with a modern feel, and only a few annoyances that are common at most such resorts. They are best suited for couples who are past the casual phase of their relationships.
Imagine you are a hard working local in your city or town, and you work at an all-inclusive resort where foreigners on vacation are constantly demanding things from you while you watch them indulge in gluttonous behavior. This pretty much sums up what most resort workers need to deal with. So expect staff to be smiling, but not having as good a time as you are. That being said, I have to give high marks to the service at Dreams. Service usually came with a smile, and a genuine desire to make your stay as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. The service staff may not recall each request or demand you have, but they do put forward good effort in entertaining your specific needs.
Tips aren't required or even demanded much of the time. Often times, even small tips will result in gestures of surprise or hesitation to accept the money. It seemed as though Mexican nationals staying at the resort did not tip, leading me to believe it was simply not common practice in the area. Though can tip, and it will help you a bit in getting serves faster.
While it is good to be served on, sometimes you just want to do things yourself. Say, some ice for your room. Dreams seemingly has a "total service" policy, in the sense that they prefer you don't do things by yourself. For some people this is perfect, but those of you who like getting things yourself might be a bit frustrated by having to ask people for things all the time.
Catering to mostly Americans, Dreams' staff has a good command of the English language, but won't always start a conversation in English. Knowing some cursory Spanish terms or phrases will help, but isn't necessary. For the most part, the service staff at Dreams (which includes bar and restaurant staff) is very polite and pleasant to deal with – getting you what you need with relative haste and efficiency.
You might assume that free food isn't good food. That might be correct sometimes, but Dreams feeds you pretty well. The food there for the most part is like wedding cuisine – above average and tasty, but feels a bit pre-manufactured. While there are several restaurant at the resort, I got the feeling that there was a central cooking facility the prepared most of the food. It is important to note that fruits and vegetables where almost always fresh and ripe, with meats being well prepared, along with enough local seafood.
Among the various places to eat at Dreams include a buffet style venue serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a slightly rotating menu. There is also a seafood place closer to the water, an Italian place, a Mexican place, as well as a sushi bar that is part of roof-mounted bar/event space. If you are sitting out by one of the three pools, you can opt for an out-door snack area that has hot food available even for those in dripping swim drunks.
A lot of people will get a kick out of the included 24 hour room service. While the menu isn't vast, there is nothing like ordering room service at all hours of the day and not worrying about it resulting in added costs on the bill. Taking about an hour, room service is a good way to stay in your room if putting sandals on is too much of a hassle. Room service is also the only way to eat late at night – given that Dreams doesn't have a late night life.
There is enough food variety at Dreams for about five days of eating before you have to start going back to places you have already been. Menu items are surprisingly good, with certain dishes being particularly desirable. Local meats, produce, and seafood will have the best results. In addition to food that is prepared behind closed doors, enough of the time you'll see an outdoor grill preparing your meals – making it feel more authentic.
Of course Mexican and other Latin-inspired dishes are going to be the best at Dreams given its location. American's used to Mexican food on our side of the border will feel at home with enough familiar items, but there are also culinary treats that aren't common in Americanized Mexican food. A few nights a week there are special dinner events that occur outdoors. Particularly nice is the Mexican Fiesta night that combines a wealth of traditional Mexican cuisine with dancers and music. This is all done buffet style, with more options than your waistline will prefer.
Kids and those with dietary restrictions shouldn't have too many problems finding things to eat. In addition to specially made dishes, there are often enough choices for picky eaters (myself included). At the same time, Dreams isn't the best place for the strictly "healthy" eater (from a caloric standpoint), as meal-size salads, and other similar low fat, or low carb options are harder to come by.
Clearing the plate on the topic of food, the majority of eaters won't be disappointed by the gastronomic fare that awaits you there. Just don't expect too many customized meals or exotic food choices that aren't common in the region.
For busy city folk, the allure of spending time on a warm beach without anything to worry about save for what drink to have next or what to eat later sounds pretty good. Then again, after a few days of just eating, swimming, and sleeping, you might get a little restless. Dreams is designed as a place for couples and families to relax, but like a cruise ship, has daily activities and entertainment.
Activities on the resort include an assortment of games and sports, as well as pool and beach toys, along with a few other miscellaneous activities (some that include extra charges). You'll also be exposed to on-going upbeat music from speakers around the pool areas. Top things to do are loan a kayak for two people and go out into the water, play giant chess by the pool, engage in pool or beach volley ball, or simply play catch on the beach. You can also take a basic SCUBA diving lesson in the pool, or rent jet skis, and similar water sport activities (though most of these are operated by people not associated with the resort that occupy the beach and have prices associated with them). Bike rentals sounds like a good idea, but the bicycles they have aren't in the best condition (or maybe I am showing my bike snob self here), and there really isn't anywhere glamorous to ride to.
Puerto Vallarta's beaches are sandy with mild waves (where Dreams is located). This means softer sand, and water than isn't dangerous for most people to play in. Most of the year the water is quite warm, and a pleasure to swim in - from a temperature standpoint (some of the year is jellyfish season). The beach shoreline from water to the resort property is probably about 30 feet in depth, and populated with enough seating for hotel guests to enjoy. During the week you'll have a lot of the beach to yourself, but during or close to the weekends some of the locals come out to the well-kept beaches of Nuevo Vallarta. Depending on what you are looking for, this is good or bad. Like I said, the resort is well-placed, but doesn't have a serious feeling of "exclusivity," from a location perspective, with private beaches. Expect some local merchants to be strolling the beaches offering their goods, and the possibility of light or moderate crowds on certain days. I should add that the merchants are friendly without being too pushy, and sometimes offer things you might actually want to buy. Plus, there is a distinct feeling of safeness on the beach, where you don't have to constantly worry that items left behind will be taken if you venture out into the water (of course, use prudence when deciding what to carry to the beach with you).
Dreams has nightly entertainment or shows. More the type of events that you sit and watch, or listen to. Nothing very interactive. A few nights a week there might be free shuttles to local clubs or dance parties, that you can choose to attend. Oftentimes these excursions have some hotel staff to accompany the group. Dreams has further partnered with a company that offers a variety of daily excursion activities into town or the wilderness. These are more active, than cultural themed, and offer a healthy variety of day-trips for people who want to explore the more wild parts of the region. Again, these excursion involve addition costs.
People looking for a lot of things to do will get a bit bored at Dreams unless they really want to focus most of their time off the property. The resort is meant as a relaxing vacation property with enough variety to ensure that each day spent there isn't identical. As the same time, Dreams is best suited for people primarily interested in relaxing, enjoying the beach, and spending time together. While the scheduled entertainment (that includes some shows and performances) are pleasant diversions, they aren't reasons in and of themselves to visit Dreams.
Using a sweet deal booked through Costco, 5 nights including airfare and transport to the resort was just over $2,200 for two people. Throw in a bit of extra money for tips and a few off-base excursions, and you've got a fantastic deal in store for you if you want to brave down past the border. Directly booking with Dreams Villamagna Nuevo Vallarta will likely involve higher prices, as will changing political conditions in Mexico as things become safer for travelers. Still, the promise of a relaxing, quality all-inclusive resort is realized here. While it isn't the most luxurious or activity filled vacation that money can buy, Dreams represents a solid value, and a good time to be had.
Ariel Adams publishes the website aBlogtoRead.com.