Have breakfast with characters from the television show “Raggs” at Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa. // © 2015 Chelsee Lowe
Feature image (above): Recent renovations at Marival Resort & Suites Nuevo Vallarta include the addition of a pirate-themed water park. // © 2015 Marival Resort & Suites Nuevo Vallarta
Cancun and Riviera Maya welcome the vast majority of Americans vacationing in Mexico, but a recent trip to Riviera Nayarit helped put the Pacific region on the top of my list for family trips south of the border. Not only is it easily accessible — flights from Southern California to Puerto Vallarta take less than three hours — it’s diverse in its relaxation, cultural and adventure options.
Following are three resorts families might consider making their home away from home.
Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa
Those willing to drive a bit further north from the airport (about 20 miles) will find Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa, another all-inclusive with tons of perks for families.
The resort’s setting makes it stand out from the crowd. Its lobby is a sight in itself, a giant, circular room with a towering thatched roof. Once checked in, guests access their rooms via winding pathways shaded by dense tropical foliage and thatch-covered breezeways. There’s even a small menagerie, where monkeys, chickens and colorful birds wait for visitors to say hello — or to stop by with bananas taken from the breakfast buffet.
It’s not just the monkeys that like Palladium’s breakfast, either. Kids who adore the Emmy Award-winning television show “Raggs" should pencil in the resort’s weekly themed breakfast, during which all five canine characters from the show pose for pictures and lead group sing-a-longs and dances in the center of the dining room. Even the pancakes are in the shape of Raggs’ adorable face.
Specialized kids’ clubs are another big draw for the property. Teens can congregate at the Junior Club, which offers computers, video games and nightly disco parties. In the sprawling Baby Club and Miniclub areas, miniature Crayola-colored furnishings, toys and arts and craft supplies make for heavenly kid spaces. The straightforward water park is a gem for little ones, too.
Iberostar Playa Mita
For a family vacation that doesn’t skimp on luxury, head to this beautiful all-inclusive property on Riviera Nayarit’s Playa Mita. Large-scale Huichol art and pineapple chandeliers greet guests in the lobby. From there, take your time perusing the well-manicured grounds as you walk to your accommodations. There are 452 rooms and suites in total.
Children’s amenities at Iberostar include a poolside kids’ club and splash park, as well as a club for teens. There’s also a separate pool set aside for water volleyball and basketball.
A brief walk down a paved pathway brings guests to the surf and sand of Playa Mita, where lounge chairs, umbrellas and a bar keep everyone happy. Along the beach here, kids of all ages bounce in the waves and watch sand crabs scramble into holes in the sand. Opt for a beachfront room if you’d rather spend more time in the ocean than walking to it.
Another bonus: Iberostar is less than 10 miles from the trendy yet quaint town of Sayulita, popular with surfers and shoppers alike. The family-friendly seaside city makes for an excellent daytrip option from the resort
Marival Resort & Suites Nuevo Vallarta
Parents looking for the shortest route from baggage claim to the beach might consider Marival Resort & Suites Nuevo Vallarta. The resort is located just 7 miles from Puerto Vallarta International Airport; I hardly had time to ask my taxi driver three questions before it was time to unload my luggage at the 497-room property.
Without exploring beyond the lobby, Marival’s active and family-friendly nature is clear. Room key in hand, I walked across the open-air lounge area near the check-in counter and looked below to the property’s Grand Pool. In one corner, throngs of teenagers played water polo, with colorful headbands denoting teams. Adults paddled to the swim-up bar, indulging in neon mixed drinks; others followed the lead of Marival staff members as they danced on the pool deck.
One of the property’s newest amenities sure to catch the eye of children is the pirate-themed water park set between the Grand Pool and La Bamba restaurant. With multiple waterslides and splash features, it’s the perfect place for little ones to while away hours while parents enjoy the Pacific sun.
Other on-site perks for younger guests include build-it-yourself sundae bars, mini-golf and an array of complimentary kids’ and teens’ club activities. Adventurous groups can book off-property excursions with the reputable Vallarta Adventures; the tour operator runs a small stand near the Grand Pool. Should adults seek a little peace and quiet, bring a book and cocktail to less raucous adult pool.