Many years ago, I visited Puerto Vallarta and stayed at a property called the Marriott Casa Magna. It was a fine property, but I honestly didn’t remember much about it beyond the lovely bougainvillea that cascaded down from many of the patio ledges around the resort. So I was interested to try out the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa on a recent trip, to see how the two differed.
Was I in for a surprise! The hotels were one and the same—except that they’re also worlds apart. The property has just finished a $20 million renovation project that spanned its lobby and common areas, guest rooms and suites. There was also the slight name change (dropping Casa Magna), but this is a totally different experience.
Most recently, the resort unveiled a spectacular upgrade to its infinity pool and relocated the swim-up bar for full 180-degree views of Banderas Bay and its iconic mountains. By day, guests can enjoy cooling off with a beverage at Nosh, a new and more modern swim-up bar concept with a second level that serves amazing sunset bites (and views) by night.
The renovated rooms are modern and comfortable, with bright white walls, lovely earth tones in the bathroom and splashes of tropical color throughout. My large balcony afforded a wonderful view of the pool areas, the ocean beyond and the mountains that ring Banderas Bay. Staff members here are friendly and welcoming, and I immediately felt at home.
The food here was top-notch. From great al fresco lunches poolside at Las Casitas to an expansive buffet breakfast at La Estancia, the service was good and the quality consistent. Nosh Sunset bar + Bites is dramatically perched above the pool overlooking the ocean and combines great seafood with memorable sunsets.
MORE Hotel & Resort
Two experiences at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa stood out and really took the concept of local to a new level—a tequila tasting and a sea turtle release program. Many large resort hotels throw up some regional art and say they’re all about the local vibe and experience, but the Marriott excelled with these programs.
Interestingly, this is the only Marriott in the world that produces its own tequila! The tequila is only sold there in the resort, but it is definitely worth bringing a bottle or two home with you. The tequila brand has kept the old resort name of Casa Magna and is available in blanco, reposado, and añejo.
We did our tequila tasting—they started these back in 2006—in a lovely private dining area near one of the resort’s restaurants. It was actually incorporated into a dinner, so each course was paired with different tequilas. The in-house tequilera (think sommelier) is Audrey Formisano, and she explained how the tequila-making process is a long, artisanal one. In fact, it takes 10-12 years to grow the agave itself!
We learned a lot, such as that the white tequila goes well with seafood or fresh cheese. The reposado has more caramel flavor and is sweeter. (You wouldn’t use this in a margarita, only the white tequila.) Tequila itself is from Jalisco, which Audrey said is the “most Mexican.” Americans will also know it as the state where Mariachi is from, as well as traditional Mexican food.
The resort will be launching this type of dinner and tequila tasting for guests in the coming months. It can even be booked through Open Table. Alternately, a more basic tequila tasting is offered free as part of the resort fee.
My other memorable experience was participating in the resort’s sea turtle release program. The property hatched 100,000 turtles last year and released 85,000 of them. The program is free for guests, and the night I did it, about 50 guests participated. We had more than 70 turtles that had hatched that day, so everyone got their own turtle to release.
We walked down to the beach at sunset, aided by the resort’s marine biologist. We each held the turtles in a half coconut shell and were encouraged to name our turtles (I picked Whitney for mine). Once letting them go about 25 feet from the ocean, we weren’t allowed to help them any more than that. However, they all quickly motored toward the waves and we watched them disappear into the sea. It was a moving experience, and some of the guests shed a tear or two.
This was a local treasure of an experience, and one I’ll never forget. Whitney is due back in about 10 years, but I think I’ll return much sooner for some more magical Mexican sunshine at the Marriott.
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