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December 9, 2009

Solmelia, Puerto Vallarta - Review Style

Looked for a nice family vacation where stressed parents could get a break and just lie at the pool, get some nice food, drinks, swim and relax. Initially I searched for Hawaii trips but all kids programs seem to start age 5 and up. Googling further I found about 5 vacation spots within 8 hour flight distance from Seattle providing kids programs for kids under 5 years - one of these: Solmelia Puerto Vallarta.

After reading about 100 reviews online I booked our trip from Sunday 11/29 to Sunday 12/6. One room M-Experience (reviews!) for us four (2 parents, 3 and 1 year old) including food, drinks, kids program, pool, beach, activities, shows. Still affordable and if something won't be 100 % perfect - 'all inclusive' still leaves you with free alcoholic beverages to forget about it. ;-)

We arrived after an ok 4,5 hrs flight, took a taxi for 180 pesos without talking to any timeshare people in the airport. The taxi was a little small for 2 chunky carseats plus me, but it worked. Ride took 10 minutes and we arrived in a warm and friendly lobby. CheckIn took 5 minutes. An assistant took care of us, introduced us to the hotel, gave us a map, time tables for the restaurants and kids program (every day 9-6 pm - Hurray! +Thu/Sat -9pm), invited us to a timeshare presentation and sent us off to our room.

Our room was at the end of an open hallway in the M experience wing of the hotel. The room was about the regular size of a king bed room with a little extra hallway for the carseats and shoes. Already waiting for us, a crib and a rollaway bed, requested with booking. I was impressed. Usually we have to call down to the frontdesk to get the crib up. The bathroom was spacious with tub, shower, toilet nook, lots of space on the washing table in a nice ambiente. The room also had a balcony with a stunning view over hotel beach, city and open ocean framed by palm trees. Could not be better. Needless to say, watching dolphins and enjoying sunset while chilling in the little hammock seat was my favorite activity during this week. Marco was happy too. We had free wi-fi in our room. Hotel website mentioned wi-fi in public areas - public as in our room? So we got lucky. Our room and whole complex smelled a bit musty (read a review about this before), but not really bad bad - just seaside, humid musty. We did not notice it after day 2 but if you are picky on this one, it might be a deal breaker. Just mentioning... opening our suitcases at home, the smell was pretty intense.

We went out to grab a bite before dinner starting at 7.00. Hungry at 5.00 pm? Bad timing. There is almost always something open but at that time the only option is the Snack Bar. We got chicken nuggets, taquitos and a hamburger and everything was dried-out-bad-cafeteria-style. One review mentioned food was horrible, so we really longed for improvement later for dinner. We walked around the premise, pool, beach, restaurant, lobby, gym, shops, massage studio, theatre, playground. Everything was in a 5 minute max. walking distance.

For dinner we went to the Palapa Grill - open 7-10 pm depending on occupancy. A la carte. Kids menu. We ordered Soup, Steak and Tuna, beer and picked something from the dessert bar and were happy. Not outstanding, but good. Service was friendly and quick. Kids were welcomed. Strawberry Margaritas and a visit to the Mini Disco (Kids animateur dancing with kids on stage) sealed our first day.

The following days we enjoyed the rich Breakfast Buffet at Quetzals (7-11.30 am) and Lunch Buffet at La Palapa (1-5pm), Dinner Buffet at Quetzals (7-11 pm) always accompanied by very attentive, friendly service. Breakfast stations: bakery, cereal, yoghurt, canned fruit, sausage & bacon, pancake/french toast, egg to order, salad. Lunch stations: Pizza, pasta, nuggets, mexican, fish, meat, veggies/sides, sushi, soup, salad, dessert. Dinner stations: Pizza, pasta, meat, fish, veggies/sides, salad, dessert, nuggets, cereals. Snack bar: Nuggets, chips, taquitos, hamburger, beans, ice cream. Lobby bar (5pm-1am): big big cocktail menu, popcorn. Pool bar (11am-5pm): Drinks - my favorite Rum Margarita, Pina Colada, Cerveza

One night we went to A la Carte Azulejos/Mexican (service: 7-10pm, opened at 6) - food was ok, service ok, but not as fun as the Quetzals and our kids were wiggly and wild. Our last night we went to Vitrales without the kids. The A la Carte Italian restaurant requires reservations at the front desk ahead of time. We were impressed. It was really nice and really good food. All week we never had the feeling the hotel would keep us low on anything. Service was always quick in refills, removing plates, bringing out generous portions, giving out 4 cocktails at a time, ice cream, cookies, soda for the kids. So really no need to cry, besides because I gained 2 pounds. ;-)

The kids program is separated in age groups 4 months-4 years, 5-12 years and 12 and up. Our kids were both in the first - a nice, very clean kept air-contioned, foam-padded room with lots of baby and toddler toys, easels, TV, cribs, play kitchen, jumperoo. There are 2 kids program assistants (won't call them teacher) in every group. In our group one was sick, but our week was low occupancy (35-50 %) and our kids the only ones in. When we first dropped them off, the cleaning crew was still working and the back door open. Invite for Sarah to run out without any notice, so we had to instruct the assistant to keep a close eye on her. She is really fast. We seemed confident enough in the program to leave them there, but we are also a little more late back than most parents as our kids are wild and indestructable. I can see some over-cautiously Moms having a problem letting go, leaving their kids there. In fact I saw a couple, having same-aged toddlers sitting on a sunloungers in the shade next to them and was wondering why they don't bring their kids to the program. Sunlounger might work too, but only if your kids stay in a chair for longer than 1 (!) minute, which ours don't. If you are picky about your kids activities, you have to let them know exactly what you what and don't want. Sometimes it seems a little difficult giving instructions because of language barriers. Tim mentioned Spider Man/Bad Man and the assistent offered to get him the movie from the older kids club, which is nice, but we usually don't let him watch rated movies. Also finding him in the arcade playing video games wasn't our first choice either in age appropriate kids activity... The other assistant asked me if he is really able to play them, which seemed odd. Yes, he can, but he shouldn't, especially not unsupervized. Ok, won't happen again.

No wonder, Tim loved it there. He got to pick movies (Nemo, Flintstones, no Spider Man) and joined the older group for activities (crafting, cookie baking, arcade). Sarah cried for the first 3 minutes whenever we left, but was fine as Korina was carrying her around and playing with her all the time - lots of 1-on-1 attention we would not be able to give her anyway while kayaking, archery, aqua aerobics (guess what, even my husband joined), swimming, drinking, sleeping. ;-) Kids in Baby Rock Club have to get picked up for lunch, so we would leave them there from breakfast (10 am) to lunch (1 pm). The older kids would go to lunch together, sitting next to us, enjoying themselves, talking to their litte buddy Timmy at the next table.

Tim would prefer to go right back to the Kids Club after lunch and Sarah would stay with us for playtime in our room and naptime with Dad. I would enjoy my freedom with a workout (all these food and drinking), reading, ocean watching in my hammock seat, picking Tim up around 3.30 for ice cream cone from the Snack Bar, Sprite from the Pool Bar, a short swim in the pool and getting ready for a late nap, recovering for dinner, Mini Disco and Showtime.

Mini Disco was surely one of the highlights of the day for Tim and Sarah. Music, kids, dancing, games, sometimes Fred Flintstone, pirates, candy. Shows were always nice to watch, but sometimes a little to scary for our kids. The Le Cirque Show was very impressive. There is some program after 11 pm, but we were out as a light by that time, so no ideas or comments on that one.

One day we released baby turtles to the sea. We thought we have to book a tour for it, but they just announced it over the pool speaker, so we went to the beach in front of the hotel. Great vacation family moment. We also went to Downtown one evening. It was very crowded and not really stroller-friendly (lost a wheel), but nice to see. Taxi from Melia to Downtown is 80 pesos.

Would we recommend it to families? Yes. Would we go again? Yes. Did we have a good time? Yes. Was it 5 stars? No. Was it comparable to vacationing on a cruiseship? No, food is good, but gets boring after a week. They do a great job, but it's not high end, same with entertainment/shows/childcare. Did we have any health issues from food? No, we were fine, almost better than home. Everything seemed fresh and chilled/hot, but we avoided the salad bar and stayed with bottled water - just in case. Did we spend much money extra? No, just for taxi transporation and photo session, everything else was included. Was it a good value for the money? Yes, I think so.

Melia, Puerto Vallarta

Posted by tini at December 9, 2009 2:20 PM


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