This is a rather extensive review that I hope will help people who have never been here before and are thinking of staying here some day, so I hope I don't bore the rest of you This is the fourth year in a row that we have gone to the CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, and I think our stay this stay was our best so far. Here is a link to more pictures of the hotel and Puerta Vallarta area:
PRIOR TO THE TRIP:
Our stay started off with very thorough emails welcoming us, from both Denise U. (Vacation Planner and Concierge) and Simon C. (Chief Concierge), making sure any needs we had were taken care of.
For those of you who are not sure what time of year you want to go, there are several things to consider. First, there is a special rate that we really like, that you can find by going to the hotel website and looking for the Sand Dollar Special. The rates are the lowest through the summer months and up to the 1st of November, because the summer is warmer and you may have to deal with storms. The hot weather gets better, and things stabilize and the tourists start really showing up the first of November. We particularly like the last 2 weeks of October, because the storms are usually past, the weather is starting to drop, and the hotel is not really full yet, so you get even better than the "already wonderful" service. The Sand Dollar special is a great way to go because you get low rates, and on top of that, every 4th day is free, and you get a $50 US resort credit every day (even on those free days). You can use that resort credit for food or drinks, or other things around the resort. This really is a big part of why we keep coming back year after year.
When you make your reservation, specify that you would like the pickup from the airport. The price is not that high and you'll find the taxis cost almost as much because of the taxes at the airport, and you'll have a lot more hassle if you try to deal with that, and you really don't need that pressure if you're new here, or new to Mexico.
ARRIVING AT THE HOTEL:
When you land and have cleared customs, you will have to go through several areas of people that will try to convince you that they have been waiting for you and will try to get you to come and listen to what they have to say. These are usually high-pressure timeshare salesman that you should try to avoid. We try to politely say no and just keep going until you're almost all the way out of the airport. The nice part about having the Marriott pick you up, is that you will see someone with a sign that has your name on it, and then you will know that you have the right people. The Marriott people usually bring you into a room and confirm who you are and then put you in a taxi with your bags, and they will take you right to the Marriott. The charge is billed to your room, so all you have to worry about is tips. We firmly believe in tipping, and you will find that many of the employees are not paid as much as you might think, but depend on the tips from a nice establishment such as the Marriott, to make it a more desirable job. I have always been absolutely thrilled with the service of almost everyone I run into at this hotel. The last few years, showing up as a Platinum Member, we have not had to wait at the check-in desk, but have been greeted by the doormen with our key and had our bags delivered right up to the room. The doormen at the Marriott are exceptional and some of the friendliest I've met. Here is a picture of one of our favorites Guillermo (nickname Memo), who we really enjoyed chatting with, and getting travel tips from.
The breakfast at La Estancia is a feast and goes till about noon. There are two big islands, where you can get things made like Chicken Chilaquiles, Squash Blossom, Mushroom, and Cheese Quesadillas (with fresh made tortillas they make by hand as you watch), and a lot of other yummy local dishes. Another part has 6 large covered pans that have bacon, sausage, potatoes, beef tamales wrapped in banana leaves, some Mexican casserole that changes every day, and Refried Beans. Another part has about 8 fresh cut fruits (such as papaya, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and a couple of other fruits. There is a whole selection of some of the best juices (about 12 different ones to choose from). There is also a large portion dedicated to more standard dishes such as cereals, pancakes, waffles and made to order omelets, and eggs made to order. This is a meal you can fill up on and the all you can eat breakfast runs about $23 per person, but is worth it. We didn't have a dinner at Las Estancia, so I can't speak to that. Here's a picture of Patricia, Restaurant Supervisor, and some of the other friendly staff we met each morning.
Reyna and Jose
A nice place for really special dinners is out at the Las Casitas. They present some marvelous dishes and you are sitting in a nice covered outdoor restaurant as you watch the waves lapping at the beach in the dark. They also do a great job of helping you understand tequila tasting at the bar, and make it a very enjoyable experience. Sometimes we ask them for a bucket of beers and some peanuts and go sit in the dark by the shore on the lounges close to the pool. So relaxing. This is also the restaurant that takes care of the pool during the day, along with the swim-up bar in the pool.
Another very enjoyable experience is Mikados. This a nice place to feel relaxed and enjoy a lot of good food and sushi. They make you feel really special in here and at the other restaurants as well.
Champions is probably the place we go the least, only because it's too much like what we would find up where we live. It is a nice place to go if you want to watch a game and have some beer and burgers, and things like that. I have to say that Chef Fred Ruiz does a wonderful job making sure all the restaurants at the Marriott serve really wonderful food!
Executive Chef Fred Ruiz
Some of the most fun places to eat are out around town and everywhere you turn. I can't even begin to
cover all the great places to eat. Over the years, we've gone less to finding expensive restaurants and have gone more to finding those little local restaurants where tourists don't go as much, and even the little street taco stands are hard to beat! It is safe to drink the water in Puerto Vallarta area, since they are off a centralized filter water system. When you start traveling farther out like we have started doing, then you may be safer drinking the bottled water.
This part of Mexico is far safer than any of the large cities in the US. The things people seem to be worried about are around the drug areas, and have not impacted this area at all. When an area depends almost solely on the tourist industry, they work hard to take care of the tourists and make sure they want to come back again and again. There are one or two cruise ships landing here every couple of days. If you look at any State Advisories, you will see that this is not an area of concern. We ride the local buses for a couple of hours North, South, and East, and have never had any issues or concerns.
This is a great place for buying Silver, Tequila, artwork and many souvenirs. There are shops all over Puerto Vallarta, and several nice ones at the Marina that is just a few blocks from the Marriott. We prefer to buy our silver at the shops, but buy trinkets from the street vendors. The shops won't bargain as much, but the street vendors will start sometimes as high as 4 times the value of an item, so be aware that a lot of bargaining skills will be needed. Try not to try and bargain with the street vendors on the days the cruise ships are in, as they won't go as low on the prices.
We like the Rhythms of the Night the first year we went to it, but didn't enjoy it as much the second year. If you go to this, a few tips are to make sure you do the night one, and not the afternoon one. It is totally different to show up on a dark island with all the beautiful candles and torches for lighting. The food is good and the show is great. Outdoors with no electricity with an open starlit sky makes for a great show. The second year we went in the afternoon, not realizing there were choices, and it rained continually show we all watched the show in a downpour with umbrellas. Not much fun at all.
This year we took the San Sebastian tour and it was great! A little over an hour bus ride (air-conditioned) up into the mountains to see an old town that was established in 1604. This was an old Colonial Silver and Gold mining town that died after the Revolution. It went from about 30,000 people down to about 600 now. Very quaint with lots of history and a beautiful really old church. The tour also went to a Hacienda of historical significance, a coffee plantation, and a tequila factory. A continental breakfast was included, and so was lunch. Great value and one of the best tour things we've done so far.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
My wife had never wanted to have a massage prior to this trip, but when she won a free Swedish Massage at the dinner we were invited to, she had to try it and added a facial too. She absolutely loved the experience at the Ohtli Spa and is now ready to do this every year.
One of the great things about being in Mexico around Oct 31 to Nov 2 is the Day of the Dead Festivities. If you stay around this time, you won't be disappointed! There is so much going on around this time and it can be summed up as a celebration of life, not a mourning of the dead. The altars are all over, and you will see several in the Marriott as well. These are marvels to see, and this year we were privileged to get to help judge the altars in the Marriott. We got to see the ones even down in the laundry and back offices and can't even begin to give these justice. This was one of the highlights of our trip! I have included several pictures in the photo album we are starting for Puerto Vallarta. Here are a couple just to show some of the altars in the hotel.
OVERALL HOTEL STATUS
One of the things that can use more improvement is the consistency of the wireless connection. It can be hit or miss. I had some problems with the wifi in my room, but a call down to the front desk, and an IT person was up and they put a booster in our room to increase the reception. This is the best response I could have hoped for, and when I later mentioned that the reception by the pool was slow, they replaced the booster out there the next day, and I had a lot better connectivity out there after that. While this is an older hotel, the staff are what make this place so exceptional for us. When we are they, we feel totally relaxed and pampered, and I think that is what we all want on vacation. I can't say enough about what a nice job Simon, Denise, the rest of the Concierge team, and all the other wonderful people at the Marriott did to make our stay so enjoyable. We have already booked our stay for next year, and I will be looking forward to it through the whole cold winter!
Sounds like a very nice, very relaxing, happy vacation. You posted a lot of really helpful tips, and it is much appreciated. Will keep all of these in mind when planning a trip here. It sounds like there was much to keep you occupied and entertained, or not as your preference might have been on any given day. I can see why you spend two weeks there each time! This place seems like the perfect meld of a relaxing, pampering, riviera vacation without the stress that comes with some of the more spendier properties (because of the great 'Sand Dollar' deal). I like that. I imagine that we would enjoy visiting some of the less fancier dining venues out on the town as well. We loved sitting outdoors sipping a margarita or cerveza while enjoying tacos and a view most of all, when visiting Mexico. Everyone in the service industry in Mexico seems so friendly and easy going. My husband wants to go back to Cabo San Lucas, but I told him, 'Okay, but we have a choice between the Fairfield Inn and the - Fairfield Inn!' Haha!
Very thorough review!
Why not do both? Get a lot of points from 2 weeks at Puerto Vallarta, and then use those points at Cabo San Lucas Fairfield. Have you stayed at the Fairfield Inn there yet? I saw that it is pretty new, seems to have fair reviews, and to top it off, it is a Category 1, which means only 30,000 total points to stay on the points saver for 5 nights. Add in a free category 1 - 4 night or two if you have some, and you get another free vacation that you can take in the cold months, with only working out the airfare. A free benefit from a couple of weeks at the Casa Magna Marriott in Puerto Vallarta, on an already great special Sand Dollar deal. I love getting a good deal free from another already great deal!
You know, that's not a bad idea! It's not a resort, but still there's plenty to do in town. With the Alaska Air companion fare on top of the points deal, we could do Cabo super cheap. Or have the money to spend on the fun stuff. There's a lot that I love about Cabo, but one of the best things for me (that you can't find anywhere else except a far corner of the earth - NZ) is being able to sail the America's Cup racing yachts. Super fun.
Lots of potential fun in the sun. You're really on a roll with great ideas (the platinum challenge too that we talked about), Tryt. Thanks a bunch!
As I mentioned, my first preference will always be Puerto Vallarta, and then taking the points I get from that nice long relaxing stay to treat myself to an extra vacation we might not have taken (to Cabo) with the points we got from the PVR trip. We have already booked our 2013 Sand Dollar (code S29) stay in PVR for the same time next year. I always try to book way in advance when I see it is available, and then keep checking back every couple of weeks to see if it is available yet, or if the price dropped. Once you get that first reservation, you can always use that as a baseline to change from, or use if nothing better comes along.
Thank you, lakersfan. I copied this over to the regular review section of this hotel, since all the hotels are now included, and I added a tiny bit more, and also added a link to my Puerto Vallarta folder, which has a whole bunch of pictures of both the hotel and Puerto Vallarta. We will be going back there in the last week of October, again this year. I hope you enjoy your trip back. Let me know if you have any questions. Simon and Denise are very helpful, and have told me to refer people to them and they will help make your stay special.
I am a big follower and user of this insider group.-----They have helped tremendously on 3 trips to Western Europe over the last 10 yrs. I am a platinum elite card guy and now taking kids and grandkids to PVR over easter 2016----have rooms and airfare---your review is awesome----is it still the same? are u still as happy with it?------may I pick your brain as things develop (how to email concierge, types of rooms,restaurants, getting ground transport to the hotel, use dollars ,pesos or credit card?--loved my Marriott rewards card in paris this summer!)----hope u are still part of this great group--I realize the review was 2012 but we are 20 yr St. Thomas Marriott people so thanks again and I hope we can touch base soon.---clark3
As one who just returned from PVR and the CasaMagna I will happily to you it is better than ever. Simon is still there with his smiling face and very very helpful from the first time you email him until you leave the property on the way home. The hotel was not damaged at all from the passing hurricane last October and all is well with the beach also.
Here are a few photos I took last week.
thank u so much---the place looks awesome---how do u get simons e-mail?-------what kind of money should we carry?.....rooms........have 2......but would a suite be better?.........guests are, I and my bride (late50's) 2 daughters (28 and 26) one son-in-law, and 2 grandkids 6 yr old girl, 3 yr old boy---we have stayed in St Thomas in the vacation property but are not "owners"----are platinum elite and used this group and Marriott to travel Europe last summer---thanks to jerry coin!! (this guy is awesome)---give thoughts if possible but thanks for current info---clark3
I used my credit card for most transactions or charged things to the room. The hotel gives a fairly good exchange rate if you want to get Pesos however; every place we ventured to accepted U.S. Dollars yet you'll receive Pesos for change. The cab ride from the airport cost $20 and they also will take Dollars.
Hard to say about the room situation, but simply for the number of folks I'd have to pick two rooms. The largest suites will be on the end of the hotel closest to the beach and just to the right of middle photo. Not sure how many rooms so ask Simon for his suggestion and I will send you a DM with his email address.
I Actually intended replying to this post yesterday while sitting on my balcony listening to the waves that hit the shores at the resort. Unfortunately the wifi is rather slow so i decided to wait. I checked out this morning (had 5 nights) and is now back at home.
Honestly, I don't know what the fuss is about when talking about Casa Magna at PVR. I traveled there with my dad, my wife and my son who turns three in March, so we are a comparable family to yours, I'd say. The plan was to relax by the beach/pool and building castles in the sand. The big pool is 4-5' deep (or so) and the kids pool was under renovation with noisy machines (and also a quite boring area). I guess we were just unlucky but ithe kids area might be better when you arrive. The ocean is not calm and the waves can be 3-4' high, at least too high for small children (Maybe only this time a year?). I might sound a little piicky but since we spent a week at a HGVC in Waikiki beach last January where everything was almost perfect we expected something similar from a MVC resort (First timer for us). I am both gold member with Hilton and Marriott and my son has been on more than 30 airplanes so we have a huge reference list. There was also noise from the lobby bar Saturday night (until 9'ish or so - my son is in bed around 7:30 pm so a little inconvenient). I don't think we will come back to this resort (but the Marriott resort at Aruba or Bahamas looks pretty good). We wanted to get back to Hawaii but didnt want such a long flight (thus we chose PVR).
i Don't want to sound too grumpy about our trip because we did have fun and the weather was gorgeous. It was all just a little different than we expected (and I am making this comment for you to prepare better).
Remember to get a room with seaview (not necessarily ocean front, but you don't want the balcony to face the back of the property).
concerning currency don't make the mistake of paying with US dollars outside the resort. They will screw you over. Do some math in advance so you know that 100 pesos is about $6 U.S. They will make it 'convenient' for you to pay with USD but it is a very bad exchange rate. Find an ATM and get some local currency from a debit card (I paid a total fee of about 8-9 USD of which $6.5 was from Bank of America). I got a true exchange rate. I also used my Marriott rewards credit card at restaurants outside the resort. Don't use your Marriott credit card to withdraw cashm(will become very expensive).
If I was traveling on my own I could have walked from the airport to the hotel. We paid $30 in a big taxi (van, 2x price of normal taxi) and only 200 pesos back in a same size vehicle (=$12). Fares out of the airport are just pricey and they take advantake of you not knowing the currency nor how far you need to go.
feel free to ask about anything - everything is fresh in my memory :-)
I do not actually believe what I just read. I've been to this hotel twice in the last year and once to the Owners Club Villas at the golf course across the street from the hotel and will say much of what you wrote is just completely different than what myself or others have experienced in PVR.
So sorry you did not completely enjoy your time in PVR. And my experience is very fresh in my memory as well even at my age!!!
I'm glad you enjoyed it better :-)
concerning the taxi the general fare is 240 pesos and higher (doubled) if you need a bigger Van. We took a bigger van (7 seater) thus the increased price. There may be cheaper options and I know we overpaid (but didnt want the hassle for $5). The Marriott hotel page says $15 for a regular cab.
When I talk about using USD vs pesos I am not referring to developed grocery stores but instead the shops at malecon (boardwalk), souvenirs and people wanting to sell you tours from a booth etc. Also remember to negotiate the tour rates with those people.
my comment about the ocean was my lack of research -that's why I informed about it so others don't do the same 'mistake'. We have been to Cancun, Hawaii and some islands in Thailand with the same objective where it has been nice and calm. When I was at Copa cabana in Rio I was also surprised to see that they don't recommend swimming due to the strong currents and tall waves. It is a matter of doing research, which I didn't :-) and I think these pages are about sharing experiences.
I enjoyed listening to the waves at night, but just saying that they were bigger than expected. Not a big deal if you don't have a three year old ;-)
I might be wrong that it is not a MV club but they have all those posters on site and even invited us for a tour at the property to encourage us to be a vacation club owner. They also gave us a MVC card which gave us 10% all restaurants in the resort (Look for that also - it gives you great savings for a huge family).
just got an email this AM from Simon at PVR---he suggested ground transport from the airport billed to the room at $11/person. Since we have a party of 7 (5 adults and 2 little kids and 2 connected rooms at $3307 for the week)he suggested a 50% rate discount for platinum status members at $65 for a Jr. suite or a $75 up charge for an emperor suite. As a rule we just sleep and shower in the rooms with a nap before dinner.------is it worth the extra $450-520? thanks to all for the info----clark3