Puerto Vallarta: Secrets vs. Grand Fiesta

Once we decided that we would just go back to Puerto Vallarta instead of somewhere farther, I hit the ground running on our options. There was a checklist with our wants…All-inclusive, adults only, swim up bar with a swimmable beach. I went on all the travel sites comparing the only two resorts that checked off our lists and those two were Secrets Vallarta Bay and Grand Fiesta Americana. Since we had already been to Secrets, I really wanted to see a pros-cons list comparing the two, but never found one. So I am going to make one for future me and for anyone who wants a rundown on the differences between the two. Price wise they can be close to the same and other times it seems that Secrets is much pricier. I will say that both places had very low prices at one point but I hesitated to book, sigh…I wanted to wait until I knew that we were going to be vaccinated in time. Once I booked, the prices did climb a bit, what can you do? Better healthy than quarantined.

Secrets Vallarta Bay

PROS ( I have to preface this, we went during Covid and they weren’t at full capacity, things may not be the same anymore)

  • Free Covid testing upon departure. If you test positive they will PAY for you to quarantine and provide you with all your food and non-alcoholic beverages (you have to buy your own booze).
  • Close to town, walkable even.
  • Staff throughout the entire resort was exceptional. Bartenders especially!
  • No wristbands and no class/booking distinctions.
  • No problem getting chairs by the pool, again maybe because it wasn’t full capacity.
  • Drinks were good and what you wanted, no potential of being watered down.
  • Grounds were kept immaculate.
  • Plenty of pool games without silly “must-do’s” to win.
  • Clientele was more our age, maybe a little older and there was just a classy vibe, even when things were getting a bit crazy.
  • Had a more elegant and romantic vibe.
  • Horse back riding and tours available on the beach.
  • Beautiful rooms with large tubs and an ever bigger shower.

CONS

  • Beach not swimmable, rocky and strong undertow. The no swimming flag stayed up all week.
  • No nightly dancing or DJ/music by the pool (again maybe just because of Covid)
  • The resort grounds were split in half, one side was adults only and the other was for families aka kids. However the restaurants are spread out among the entire place. So some restaurants you might want to eat at will have children. On the plus side, the kids couldn’t come to the adults only side.
  • The food was just average.
  • Casino was closed (probably Covid)
  • Had a handful of suggestions of swinging and/or obnoxious advances.
  • A lot of vendors on the beach.

Grand Fiesta Americana

PROS

  • Views from anywhere were amazing.
  • Pool DJ daily.
  • Plenty of different restaurants and bars, no kids at all.
  • Food was pretty good.
  • Man made enclave in the ocean/bay. Perfect for floating and swimming. Free kayaks available.
  • Dance club/bar with DJ every night.
  • Free Covid Testing upon departure.

CONS

  • Rooms weren’t great. No bathtubs and the shower got the bathroom floor wet.
  • Outside room hallways weren’t cleaned very well, smelled like rotten food sometimes.
  • Color coded wrist bands were given out at check-in. We were told it was just to identify who bought what package through what company, ie. Costco, Expedia etc. But I don’t believe that was the truth. I think it has to do with how much you paid, or something along those lines.
  • Staff was good, but not exceptional and the service was not consistent.
  • Mojito and Martini bars weren’t open every night AND the bartender didn’t even know how to make a true mojito, so there’s that.
  • Pool chairs were taken super early in the morning. The sun didn’t hit the entire pool until 11:00am.
  • Alcohol seemed watered down and sometimes we didn’t get what we ordered.
  • More of a younger crowd that came with more of a “no f*cks given” vibe.
  • Farther from town, about 15 minutes in cab.
  • Drugs were offered, ha, maybe not a negative for some.
  • Pool games came with consequences ie. lap dances etc. No thank you.
  • Didn’t offer free quarantine if tested positive for Covid.

Now that I wrote it all out, it seems like there is a clear winner. We agreed that if we were to go back, we would go to Secrets. Secrets was just a bit more upscale, had a tad less of a party vibe, We brought up the Target vs. Walmart comparison while we were there, Secrets was Target and Grand Fiesta was Walmart.In the end, Secrets ended up having more of what we want in an all-inclusive resort.

Now the hard question…”are all-inclusive resorts worth it?” Who knows? I am an all-inclusive resort novice. I have been on my share of cruises and I have heard other peoples stories about how great these resorts are but I ask myself, is there something better for the same price?

The problem, if there was one, is that we live in an area that is home of the California burrito and the fish taco. We have Michelin star restaurants, craft cocktail bars, breweries and some amazing wine. So, when we go to these resorts are we actually downgrading from our norm? The answer is yes, sounds snobby perhaps but I don’t mean it to be. It’s just a realization that we have it good in San Diego and if we want the warm ocean water, amazing views AND great food and drink, it doesn’t come in an affordable all-inclusive package. But I am also not on board with paying a ridiculous amount of money for multiple meals daily and adult beverages hour by hour, day by day. So we get what we get.

I think if you are a simple person, and don’t spend much thought on food and are fine with domestic beers, then this is probably an amazing vacation. Me, I am a food snob and self appointed wine drinker, so I will go on these trips and appreciate the simple things on the vacation, sun, love and free flowing wine.

With that, a friend of ours that we actually met at Secrets PV, is a travel agent. He highly recommended the Hyatt Ziva in Puerto Vallarta if you aren’t as picky as we are.

In the end, no matter where you go and stay, it will be amazing.

Secrets Vallarta Bay

Grand Fiesta Americana

The Devil made me do it.

Isn’t it great when you stumble upon a great place by accident?

I knew nothing of this bar aside from some good reviews that I saw on Trip Advisor. I had some notes saved for days like these when we were going to be wandering around. It was an open air bar on the Malecón with around 12 bar stools, we soon found out that this was in fact a Sun Devil’s bar, yeah that college football team from Arizona. That took the illusiveness out of it but we stayed and we were happy with that choice. The owner of the bar graduated from ASU back in the day and then moved to PV and opened this place. It’s prime real estate so I imagine he is riding high on the hog. The bar menu was written on the walls in chalk, I ordered a passion fruit margarita, Shawna ordered a mango colada and we also threw in two flaming Dr. Peppers because somehow, she has managed to go through life without ever having one, truthfully she still hasn’t. Her amaretto never left the shot glass and she just chugged Modelo, ha!

Once we finished our drinks we decided that it was time to get some food. I don’t know why we chose the place we did but it was a good decision.

We sat to this view while chatting with an American man who just recently moved from Washington state to Puerto Vallarta with his wife. He went on about how good the food was and how great it was to live there. Then my molé enchiladas arrived and it went silent.

Happy and full we hopped back into a cab to our hotel and I bet you can guess what we did next.

That’s right, back to pool and this view.

Teleport me back!

Before dinner we popped into the Mojito bar where the service was slow, the drinks were worse but the spectacular view helped us swallow the poorly made drinks.

One drink at the Mojito bar and then we made our way to Gulietta, the Italian restaurant. The porcini risotto was the highlight, so good in fact, we would go back for more.

The next morning (day 3) we had coffee and breakfast delivered to the room and then….headed down to the pool. The fun pool, not the boring pool. The fun entertainment took place in the pool with the booze, the pool without the bar was for the boring people and the boring fun, well that’s what Emilio (see below) said daily .

We played Bingo and water volleyball and then we met new friends. Toby and Lord were from our neck of the woods aka California. We became fast friends and after dinner, which I am sure we had, we met them at their hotel room for some tequila. Sounds shady right? It wasn’t, they are really great people and they even convinced us to try this tequila that was….sippable. gasp! Still seems shady huh? Ha, we sipped and talked and talked and sipped and then went up to the sky bar. The people watching was on point, I am sure drinks were spilled but the laughing and dancing never stopped. I am sorry to say that we didn’t take a picture with them, but we will someday.

Wash, rinse and repeat. Same routine, different day. Day 4 and we had found our groove, we knew what activities we wanted to participate in and which ones we did not. For instance, I played Texas Hold Em’ and Lord was part of the Juego Loco.

I mean, what even was that? Ha, ha. After that brilliant and brave performance by Lord, we took a moment to salute the Mexican Air Force.

Mexican Air Force

We met another couple in the pool that day and they were self appointed avid Karaoke singers. They told us about a bar called Kooky’s in town that had Karaoke on Thursday’s and it just so happened to be….Thursday. We tossed the idea of leaving the resort around and decided to make a decision after dinner.

Dinner.

We ate well at the Japanese restaurant and committed to a night out, we called an Uber into town for some Karaoke.

We ordered some drinks, said hello to the ladies that invited us and took this all in.

AMAZING!

Fun times. It was a fun time to sit back and watch magic happen…. from a safe distance away.

Sadly, it happened. We woke up to our last full day of our trip. The people we had met and spent our days with were starting to disperse and new guests were arriving. We took advantage of one more day. We floated in the warm ocean water, enjoyed the slight chill of the pool and watched a pretty remarkable belly flop contest.

We had a really good lunch at the Cevicheria and an even better dessert.

The coconut ice cream was incredible.

We decided we needed to have the mushroom risotto one more time before we left, so off we went to the the Italian restaurant again. Finally, I ordered a really good drink.

The one and only, espresso martini.

We went up to the Sky bar thinking that since it was a Friday night and new people had rolled in that it would be a busy, great music situation. That was not the case. Turns out that most everyone went into town for their Friday night and we watched some musicians play instrumentals that lullabied us down to our room.

That’s it, that’s how it ends. We slept in, packed, ate one last meal, said our goodbyes and hit the road to the airport.

We had a great time. Cheers Puerto Vallarta, thanks for the fun!

Now…. Since we have been to both Secrets and Grand Fiesta, which resort would we revisit?

T.B.C.