Let’s pick up from my previous post where we had a wonderful ground and flight experience SFO – PVR. We landed, deplaned, and walked to immigration. There were about eight immigration agents checking passports and forms and the process seemed to take less than five minutes. Our agent was very kind – she even filled in a part of the form that was missing (the bottom of the form required duplicate data from the top of the form). But then a sinking feeling came – I forgot to bring my ATM card (which is normally in my passport wallet)… If you’re just jumping into the middle of this story, use the below links to catch up!
Trip Report to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta
Back to immigration…
I came to the realization of the missing ATM card in the middle of the agent stamping our passports and the Mrs. and I had a heated discussion about our options right in front of her. We caught ourselves when she seemed disinterested and was waving in the next people. We moved to a corner to search our belongings and verified that indeed we had left the best traveling debit card I know of at home.
We have a Charles Schwab Investor Checking account which not only pays interest with no minimum balance requirement (which checking accounts pay interest at all nowadays?), but also refunds all ATM fees on cash pulled from any ATMs, worldwide. It truly is amazing. We also have a brokerage relationship with Schwab (which is how they justify/make money to cover these great perks), but the T&Cs don’t have a trading requirement for having this checking account. So as long as you open both a checking and brokerage account, you can have these perks.
We only had cash to convert, so we decided the best option was to use one of the overpriced airport currency exchange counters to get enough Pesos for the taxi ride to the hotel. It was better than paying the USD equivalent for that ride, since that ratio was worse. We walked through the hall of hawkers on our way to the taxi stand – a narrow corridor of at least 100 time share agents vying for your attention. Just don’t make eye contact and walk fast, lest the next thing you know you have a time share that has already depreciated 50% in value in 24 hours. The outbound taxi stand is regulated and you can find the prices for the most popular hotels posted here. Ours was in Zone 2, which is 300 Pesos (about $20 USD). You get a receipt before entering the taxi, so you don’t have to worry about overpaying once you get to your destination.
On the way there we rode through the cobblestone streets of the “Romantic Zone” which is a popular part of town not just for tourists. The odd thing is that the area is known originally as Playa De Los Muertos – beach of the dead – because the area was once an indigenous cemetery. Thankfully, we didn’t see any skeletons wash up ashore. Nice job, tourism board, but no cigar. I see your Romantic Zone and raise you Altria!
We also passed by Walmart and Sam’s Club, in case you were wondering if the reaches of globalization and capitalism has infected this part of the world.
Ok, enough, tell me about the hotel!
The Hyatt Ziva, at only 20k Gold Passport points per night, is one of the best hotel values using a major loyalty currency, partly due to the embedded food and entertainment. The average cost per night was around $600 during that season and even if you conservatively valued the restaurant quality food and entertainment (for two) at $100, you are getting more than 3 CPM. Remember, you pay per room and the room can hold a max of 2 adults and 2 children. Extra adults after that do cost extra, but this sweet value for four is perhaps why we saw so many families of four…
We transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points (one of the transfer partners) for this stay. Even planning for this stay three months out, some standard rooms had already ‘sold out’. Most Hyatts don’t capacity control, but during peak times they don’t always abide by their own rules, so book early.
When our taxi arrived, our host, Beatriz, greeted us taxi side and said “welcome home.” I instantly felt at home. What a grand gesture that more hotels could employ. The checkin process was smooth – Jorge checked us in and his friend even made us margaritas.
The first thing we did once we got to the room was change into beach attire and lounge on the beach (to study the resort schedule/amenities of course). We knew we needed to setup our game plan before going to dinner.
Food overload, but it was by design, really.
I’ve never seen this level of frantic nature coming from the Mrs., especially on vacation. She was freaking out because there were too many restaurant/food options (including room service, mind you) and we only had 48 hours to try them all. Being the supportive husband, I supported the decision to have two of each meal (bad idea, not really, ok really, what? stop, please).
We were the first in line at the Mexican restaurant for dinner. The Mrs. had a delicious fish fillet (can’t remember the fish) and I had short rib covered in white sauce. That braised short rib was just the right proportion of fatty goodness to tender lean meat.
Then we had strawberry daiquiris before having our second dinner on the beach, which was more buffet style, but was followed by a ‘fire’ show where artists perform pyrotechnic tricks like this one:
We ended the day literally in a coma – we have no recollection after the second dinner of how we ended up back in our room. A quick fast forward to give you a scale of our project…when I weighed myself after returning home, I had gained eight pounds.
Redemption by Zumba?
On the second day, we knew we needed to ‘make room’ for more, so we hit the gym and joined a Zumba class in the morning. Elizabeth, our instructor, enthusiastically cheered all of us up from our stupors, but my mistake was trying to squat on a full stomach (from the night before). The internal pressure (from having proper form, of course) almost turned my innie belly button to an outie.
The day was more or less more food, interjected with some swimming in the ocean (rough waves) as well as the pools. One of the pools had a pool bar, which didn’t help because we just floated around with more pina coladas, desperately trying to hide the streams of ‘pina colada’ that was circulating back into the pool…
Furthermore, in the pool I felt like an iceberg because my head and upper body was only the tip of the behemoth beneath the surface. Did I mention that I gained eight pounds?
Later that evening, after two more dinners we enjoyed an aquatics show where dancers performed acrobat maneuvers both in and over the water.
Get me out of here!
By the third day we were ready to leave, but not before stuffing our face some more. Fresh deep-fried snapper drenched in lemon garlic butter with fries and a side of pina colada? Yes, please, x2.
And there was a stand that made fresh mango on a stick. You could drizzle chili sauce and lime on it, or eat it plain. We had about 5 of these throughout the trip. Did I mention I gained eight pounds?
I bid thee farewell!
In the next post, I will share our experience at the second hotel we stayed at, the Westin Puerto Vallarta. There was a surprise waiting for us right outside our window when we arrived.
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