Back in November, Adam and I stayed at the Crown Paradise Golden, an adults-only all-inclusive resort (with a sister property next door that is geared towards families) in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was a very budget property, very very affordable. Which I like--those views, that beauty, shouldn't only be accessible to people with money! But there were some downsides. The rooms were not fancy. The shower head hit me in between the shoulder blades (I'm tall, but I'm not THAT tall). Things were clearly kind of worn out.
The nice thing about the buffet, though, is that we were essentially eating outside. The breeze would come through from the beach, and we could look at the ocean, but there was a ceiling for some shade (and ceiling fans). It was beautiful.
I was a little nervous about eating at a buffet during a pandemic, but again, it was kind of outside, everyone was required to wear masks when away from their tables, and everyone was also required to wear a plastic glove when serving themselves.
Breakfast was the best of the meals. We sat there each morning for a solid hour, eating things (toast with jam, cereal, fruit, some things are hard to screw up), enjoying the view, and drinking cup after cup of tea. (Plain Lipton black, but after having literally no tea our first travel day, given what tea--and caffeine--addicts we are, nothing had ever tasted better.) We also enjoyed wondering about the other guests: I made up the whole plot of a novel about these three sisters, we wondered why a woman came to breakfast by herself but carrying an enormous bucket, we named a pigeon, I felt a kinship with a blue-haired woman who had no idea I was also blue-haired until recently.
There was a bar right on the beach, and a swim-up bar at the rooftop pool, and we ordered lots of cocktails. They were pretty weak, which was something we'd seen complaints about in reviews, but actually we appreciated it. We wanted to be able to drink plenty of them, but not get wasted.
We found that it was better to think of the resort as a partially inclusive instead of all inclusive. We dealt with the food there better when we knew we'd be going out for dinner or lunch. And indeed, two of the places we had meals at (Pipi's and Margarita Grill) were absolutely amazing.
Masks were required inside the resort, but really we were outside nearly all the time. We opted to wear them in the spaces that were sort of unclear if they were inside or outside, but not everyone did. We didn't feel especially angry at these people, as it seemed reasonable either way.
The resort also had activities (we walked past a pool Zumba class one day) and nightly shows, but we weren't interested and didn't partake. But those are also included in the price, FYI.
The town: Our resort was north of the city center. We took cabs down into the center (the zona romantica)--they were about $5 each way, and easy to find. It was so pretty in the zona romantica. We loved seeing all the shops and market stalls and art galleries. I ate the best guacamole of my life, and we drank the best margaritas of our lives. Next time we visit, we want to spend more time in Puerto Vallarta itself, not just on the resort, because we were so charmed by it.
The excursion: I went on a tour led by biologists to swim with wild dolphins. It was INCREDIBLE. There are a few pods of wild dolphins that live in Banderas Bay year-round, and we went out in a boat, and got in the water with them! I'd expected the dolphins to be like golden retrievers, delighted to meet us, but in reality they were totally indifferent to us, which honestly I respected. They were like "OK, cool, man, I'll swim past you, I've got stuff to do, I'm on my way now." They are also so, so, so fast. I'd swim as fast as I could toward them, and it felt like I was just swimming in place. Life jackets were offered, but the biologists recommended against them for decent swimmers, since they make it hard to maneuver. I opted not to wear one, and felt totally fine (plus, the salt water makes it easier to float--physics!).
Dolphins are huge, btw! One swam right under me, so close that a woman on the boat said she thought I was going to pop out of the water riding it.
It wasn't intended to be a whale watching tour, but we were approaching the time of year when humpback whales head back into the bay (they spent the summer off the coast of Oregon), and when our guide spotted some, we were all eager to go see them. They are EVEN BIGGER! We weren't allowed to get in the water with them, because they could accidentally hurt us. They're like 40 feet long. Amazing! We saw a group of five of them. The guide recognized one of them with a weird tail and said he comes down every year, an old friend.
The traveling details: This was our first time traveling after getting Global Entry, and omg did we love it. Tempted to get TSA Precheck? First of all, yes, it's AWESOME to breeze thru security (on the American side, to be clear--TSA precheck is a U.S. thing) without taking off shoes, without removing our laptops or our bags of liquids. But getting Global Entry made it even better. Going thru customs was unbelievably easy. No form to fill out, you just step up to a machine, lower your mask so it sees your face, it spits out a printout for you, you take it, give it to the airport employee, and proceed. Easy peasy.
Also easy, upon arrival in Puerto Vallarta, grab a taxi to your resort. Do NOT get sucked in by the friendly people offering to help you get a taxi. They want to sell you a timeshare! They will act helpful, lead you to a desk, offer you a welcome shot of tequila, chit chat, then try to get you to sign up for a presentation where as a thank you, you'll get two free massages. (We knew the timeshare people were aggressive and yet still ended up talking to this person before we escaped.)
The resort, once we arrived, also tried to get us to agree to go to a timeshare presentation and receive two free massages. No, thank you. Let us lay on the beach, please. Don't be afraid to cut off anyone trying to sell you a timeshare.
(When I told Adam there was going to be a presentation to learn about dolphins and whales at the start of my excursion, he asked if I'd get offered two free massages after listening to it, lol.)
BTW, at the time we were visiting, the U.S. required a negative covid test within three days of returning home (for vaxxed people--within one day for unvaxxed people. But I'm sure you're vaxxed, right?). Currently, as of writing this, everyone entering the U.S. is required to have a negative covid test within one day. But regulations change all the time, so always double check. We recommend Sherpa as a great resource for pandemic-related travel regulations.
Our resort offered tests onsite, and we signed up for one, got our results within three hours, and uploaded them to American Airlines' Verifly app, which theoretically makes departure easier, because it's linked to your account and they can see that you are all set, without you having to show your negative results at the airport. Other airlines have similar apps or features within their main apps (the Travel Ready Center, for example, is United's version).
Also, had we not stayed somewhere that offered onsite Covid testing, there were plenty of places around to get a test, including at the airport itself.
Overall takeaway: AMAZING. AMAZING. My God, it was gorgeous. The sound of the surf at night! The sand, the sun, the waves, the margaritas--it was everything I needed in the middle of a dreary midwest November. The resort is definitely cheap and budgety, but as long as you go in aware of that, not expecting a four- or five-star experience, it's great. We're not snobs, and we don't need every experience to be fancy. (BTW, if you want actual hard numbers, for a non-travel agent rate, for an oceanfront room like we had, it would have been about $275 a night for 2 people, which includes all the lackluster food and delicious-but-not-very-strong drinks you want, too. Note that pricing is just what it was in November 2021--pricing can change any time.)
OK, all this said, if you want to stay there (or, hey, somewhere with decent food, haha), hit me up! I would love to help you book a similar trip for yourself.