A Mexican Getaway by Marcie Pickelsimer

Marcie Pickelsimer, founder of Grown in My Heart and a member of the Villa Group travel affiliate network, got the chance to visit Nuevo Vallarta and shares priceless vacation memories and tips.
PV Mexico 2010 226.jpgI’m beginning to think that living in Mexico might not be so bad as long as I can live at the Del Palmar Flamingos and had my food delivered to me poolside everyday. I don’t think Jenny Craig would go for it though and with all the money I’ve been paying her lately it would be such a waste, wouldn’t it? Oh, but I could dream.
The entire family returned home last Saturday from Mexico, sun drenched and beer logged (at least the adults, that is). After literally living in paradise for seven days the leaves on the ground were not a welcome sight.
But I digress…Since this is a review I’ll make it easy and outline a few things.
The Food:
While the resort only sports two restaurants and two bars (open at different times), the food is fabulous. The Bellavista Restaurant offers a causal breakfast buffet or menu dining, à la carte lunches, and buffet or à la carte dinners with themes such as lobster, Mexican, Argentinian grilled meats, and pasta. The open air Cafe is both pool and beachside and serves pizza, burgers, sandwiches, Mexican items, and tropical drinks (and beer and liquor) from late morning to early evening. The Cafe turns into an Italian restaurant, La Trattoria, at 6 pm for beachfront dining. They serve fabulous pizza, onion rings, quesadillas, and fruit plates. They also have the most incredible gelato.
During the day, servers cater to quests every whim: one only has to raise an empty glass or lift an eyebrow to signal their attention. Servers are hospitable, kind, gracious, and very child friendly. Although the all-inclusive information states no tipping the servers do expect tips and because the minimum wage in Mexico is so low we actually didn’t mind. It is the way they make their living.
The all-inclusive package:
My family chose the all-inclusive package because we took two young children and knew they would want to snack during the day. This was actually a great deal for us and in my opinion the only way to go if you eat more than one meal and drink more than two drinks at the resort per day. The daily cost for the all inclusive is $70 for an adult and $35 for a child under 12. When you add up food prices and drink prices it makes complete sense. Additionally, the all-inclusive package includes all of your non-motorized water sports, kids club, and the fitness center.
Children’s activities:
DSC_0702.JPGI have two boys that LOVE the water but they can only get so much of the beach and the pool. SO, it was a great option for us that the Flamingos had a Kid-Certified Staff. Everyday there were age-specific activities for our seven year old (two was too young). He could make bracelets, paint ceramic animals, play bubbles, join movie time, or even join in some good Pirate fun. During Prime Vacation season they also have Kids Nights that include dinner, arcades, discos and movies. My boys were exhausted by 5 pm because ALL they wanted to do was surf the waves or play in the pool waterfalls.
The resort also offers babysitting services which we used once. The service is $15 an hour and if you use it after 10 pm you will also need to pay $15 for a taxi. Pretty reasonable. The babysitter we used was the concierge from the hotel next door (also part of the Villas) who had a child the same age as our oldest.
The BEST activity of the week was the Sea Lions. Every Tuesday the resort brings in a Sea Lion named Maggie for all of the hotel guests (and neighboring hotel guests) to see. (It’s part of a tour promotion) Maggie was absolutely gorgeous and super sweet. She smiled, gave kisses to Gus, and was a blast to see.
Adult Activities:
My husband loved the adult activities, as he was able to play some vigorous beach volleyball, pool volleyball, and water polo.
The resort also has theme dinners on Sunday nights. It’s a little over the top but they have interesting Mexican entertainment, good food, great drinks, and entertainment for the kids.
Additional Activities:
Because my family was at the resort to review the property the General Manager offered us some fabulous extras so that we could see all the resort had to offer. I would not generally pay for these activities because, well, we can’t really afford these extravagances on just my husband’s salary. However, I do HIGHLY recommend that if you get the chance to try one or two of these please, do. They were absolutely fabulous.
Spa treatment;
My husband and I were offered the Honeymoon spa treatment at the Tatewari Spa that would include a European Seaweed Facial, Therapeutic Hot Towel Massage, Tropical Exfoliation, a bottle of champagne and Hors d’oeuvres. It is valued at $225. However, my husband is not really into spas. So, I offered to take my mother who was along for the trip with us. We were able to choose whatever treatment we wanted and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The spa is absolutely beautiful, a little pricey (but they are always offering deals), and the treatments are incredible. We both chose the mud massage and a facial and I honestly LOVED it, as I had never had either.
Dinner at La Casona;
Um, Heaven? We hired a babysitter for this evening because we wanted to be able to have at least one dinner without a child on our lap or food flung at us. It was well worth it. Chef Eugenio knows his way around organic foods, raw foods, gourmet delights, and even fabulous desserts. The menu includes specials like Kobe beef and his own specialty, Creme Brulee. Dining at La Casona is not included in the all-inclusive.
En Villa Dining with Chef Eugenio
The Villa La Estancia directly next door to Flamingos is an ownership community that is absolutely divine. We were invited to tour THE Penthouse and enjoy dinner created by Chef Eugenio and his staff. I can’t explain how special this was to my family. We were able to enjoy the sunset from the top of the resort, sip a cocktail, and dine with one of Mexico’s premier chef’s.
Cooking Lessons with Chef Eugenio
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The last day of our trip Eric and I had the unique opportunity to have an afternoon cooking lesson with chef Eugenio. Yes, me…the one who does not cook. I actually learned to cut vegetables the correct way, learned a fabulous secret to REALLY good guacamole, and I now have an incredible recipe for Tortilla Soup (that I can’t wait to try!).
The afternoon included a Personalized Chef Jacket, lunch and wine, a recipe book, diplomas, and the lesson. The afternoon is valued at $200 per couple.
You can take a tour of the entire facility online at the Villa Del Palmar Flamingos.
*As a member of the Villa Group Travel Affiliate Network, The Villa Group Resorts gave my family the spa treatment, several dinners, the cooking class, and a portion of our stay in return for this review.
Visit Marcie online at Grown in My Heart, an adoption community where everyone can grow together.

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Vacation 411: Answers on Mexico Travel & Safety

DSC_0006-1.jpgAs an avid traveler and lover of amazing places and deals we can share with your our readers, we are thrilled to be working with Villa Group Resorts as we help spread the word about their gorgeous resort properties in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta and coming soon…Cancun and Loreto Mexico!
Offering families, couples and singles incredible and affordable getaway options throughout the year, this season, Villa Group has introduced ultra-inclusive vacations that include dining and beverages, a kids club, babysitting options, spa packages, golf getaways, dolphin excursions, water sports and much more!

Having stayed at Villa la Estancia in Nuevo Vallarta, I immediately felt like I was being welcomed into the lap of luxury – receiving a hand massage the moment we walked into the lobby. We stayed in a two bedroom suite complete with marble floors, private bathrooms, cozy living room, dining room, massive kitchen and sweeping balcony with a wet bar…can anyone say…margaritas? While I’m culinary challenged (no need to cook since there are fabulous restaurants on the premises including the award-winning La Casona), it’s great knowing that while we’re on vacation, we can store refrigerated snacks, drinks, and breakfast items if we want to sleep in and the kids are in the mood for cereal and cartoons. And the granite countertops, state of the art appliances and sweeping views of the ocean and pool and bathrooms to die for, are not so shabby either!

As you contemplate where you’d like to go for your next vacation, the Villa Group Affiliate Travel Network, comprised of nearly two dozen dynamic parenting and lifestyle bloggers, will offer a series of helpful articles that will give you the inside track on all things Mexico. For our first post, we’re tackling important questions that most travelers ask when they travel to Mexico. Hopefully, this will help guide you as you plan your next vacation!

Q. Is it safe to drink the water in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas?
A. In Puerto Vallarta, you should be aware that incredible efforts have been made to provide safe water to residents and tourists. Over the last two decades, the Mexican government spent millions of dollars developing a safe water purification system in the area. As a result, this state of the art system has greatly reduced water-induced illnesses for travelers visiting Puerto Vallarta.

According to CaboExpo.com, for visitors to Cabo San Lucas, the resort location has never had the significant water quality problems that mainland Mexico as traditionally experienced:

“Sitting at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula, the fresh water in Los Cabos is some of the best in Baja. The local waters start thousands of feet above Los Cabos in the very tall mountains north of Cabo, drain down into local aquifers, and then are treated locally and then often treated again at the hotel or restaurant level. Tourism is just too important to let bad water become a factor.”

Q. Is it safe to travel to Cabo and Puerto Vallarta? Where are the dangerous parts of Mexico anyway?
A. According to AOL, which recently devoted extensive coverage to Mexico and issues relating to safety and even gives an overview of the places you should avoid, you’ll take comfort knowing that both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas were ranked as being incredibly safe for travelers. As a precaution, always avoid streets that are not well lit (as you would in any country), but for the most part, your experience should be safe, relaxing and enjoyable!

Q. Are there any safety tips you can offer to a traveler who has never been to Mexico?
A. When you arrive at the airport, make sure you have made provisions for yourself and your traveling companions to take you to your accommodations. There will be many individuals offering you a ride or claiming to be your driver – while they are friendly and it is safe to ride with them, you will be better served if you book a car in advance.

If you decide to leave your resort and travel to a location in the evening, make sure when you are walking at night that you are aware of your surroundings and that you traverse well lit streets. Or, arrange for a car to pick you up after your evening is over. Better to have someone waiting for you to take you back to your hotel then go off exploring in the middle of the night!

Take precautions while swimming, snorkeling or surfing! The surf can be rough – especially in Cabo San Lucas and if you are not a strong swimmer, you may want to take precautions. Or, book an excursion that will take you on a guided water tour with experienced lifeguards on board.

Q. What about taking a road trip – is it better to book a tour or can I go on my own and explore?
A. While you can certainly rent a vehicle and explore Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas on your own, your experienced will definitely be enhanced if you register for a tour that is led by someone who truly knows the lay of the land and the water! While it’s always nice to discover new things, you can accomplish that by being a part of a guided tour and traveling with a group of vacationers like you. Of course, if you’ve been to either resort town many times, then you may feel more comfortable venturing out and returning to a favorite destination – suddenly you’ll be the expert offering tips to new travelers. But if it’s your first time, we suggest consulting with your hotel concierge who can offer some great tour options for you and your family.

Q. Are there parts of Mexico we should avoid due to the BP Oil Spill?
A. Here’s a quick geography lesson: The BP oil spill is nowhere near Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta. While the spill has contaminated many US cities located near the Gulf of Mexico, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta are located on the west coast surrounding the Sea of Cortez. While travelers may believe that Mexico might have been affected by the recent environmental disaster, the hardest hit regions have been in the United States.

125x125.jpgIf you’re interested in finding out how you can book an unforgettable vacation in Mexico, visit Villa Group Resorts and check out this special deals page exclusive to our readers – where they’ve got some incredible vacation options this summer or check out the Villa Group home page for tons of great vacation options for you, your partner, girlfriends and family! The offers run through December 2010 so you can book now and still save on your vacation!