We are travel agency owner/managers who just had the pleasure of staying between Christmas and New Years at the all-inclusive RIU Vallarta (opened in 2006), a four-star resort with 550 standard rooms, junior suites and suites.  This “classic level” resort is part of the RIU complex in Nuevo Vallarta on Flamingos Beach, just eight miles from the Puerto Vallarta International Airport.  The adjacent RIU “ClubHotel” Jalisco opened about five years ago and the “Palace” Pacifico opened nearby in the fall 2008.

There are three inter-connected art deco-style towers set back somewhat from the beach in a U-shape with the lobby/shopping/restaurants in the center. The standard rooms are more than adequate for two people and have many connecting room accommodations available for families with children.  They are entry-level priced for value-conscious families but somewhat more than the Jalisco next door.  All rooms have balconies.  The junior suites and suites have hydro-massage bathtubs – a big plus – with sitting areas and large balconies.  We stayed in junior suite #0068 in the corner on the first floor and enjoyed being out of the hall traffic as well as easy walking access to all of the public facilities. 

There are a limited number of categories and it’s the luck of the draw as to how close or far you are from the action in the plaza, the two main pools or the dining venues. All of the 18 suites were booked throughout our stay so we cannot comment on them.  They are located on the oceanview inside corners of the complex near the elevators so request one on the upper floors to avoid the noisy guests shouting in the halls as they climb stairs or catch elevators on the lower levels.  There is no room or turn-down service in the RIU Club or Classic level resorts so, if this is what you expect, discuss a “RIU Palace” level resort with your travel agent.  Look for an agent who is a “RIU Partner Club” member and who has been to some or all of the RIUs in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Situated on a beautiful long beach with clean but tan grainy sand, gentle surf and many palm trees for shade,  the RIU Vallarta has more than enough lounge chairs both on the beach and at the two pools. Beach towels are tightly controlled with a card system and the towel hut is supervised by friendly staff.  Lounges in the many prime shady locations are often taken by guests just after breakfast so stake your claim early.  With no coral reefs and with the typical Pacific surf, there are no snorkeling experiences from the beach.  There is a PADI Dive Center with windsurfing included and other water activities available nearby.  There are a few vendors on the beach with jet skis and parasailing offered at your own risk. 

There is an enthusiastic group of coordinators called the “Animation Staff” organizing endless activities.  Those holding the microphones tend to scream when they get excited directing the adult’s activities and the DJ tends to turn up the volume a bit too high. 

The Kids’ Club is a supervised program with a small playhouse and playground.  A full-service Renova Spa has a small but adequate fitness center, two Jacuzzis and a sauna.  The theater has seats for almost everyone and offers nightly local entertainment with lots of involvement of the RIUs staff and guests.  There is a sports bar with internet access for a very reasonable charge of $8/hour.

The quality and variety of the food and beverages are very good. The elaborate, air-conditioned “Don Rafael” is the main buffet with show cooking stations at all three meals. We enjoyed the wide selection but found the traffic pattern to be a bit chaotic.  Three specialty restaurants require reservations made before breakfast time each day for only that day and all have two seatings – 6:30 and 8:30p.m – a RIU policy that we do not favor.  The Asian themed “Nirvana” is a buffet.  The Flamingo serves continental breakfast, is the only lunch venue, and is the “Grill Steakhouse”  – an al fresco semi-buffet dinner.   Our favorite dining spot was the “Sir George,” an air-conditioned, refined, dining experience.  It is a bit  small and is always the first of the dinner venues to book solid. 

There are bars everywhere, including a swim-up bar in the adult pool, all serving Corona beer, blended drinks and house brand spirits served up by a friendly bar staff.  Every room has a refrigerated minibar and a liquor dispenser.  NOTE: Get used to Nescafe if you require decaffeinated coffee – they do not brew it.

When you check-in, sign up for the free RIU Club card and get special discounts and offers.  Tour and excursion operators have desks in the lobby and offer a variety of fun excursions and experiences at extra cost.  We enjoyed a guided city tour along the Malecon, Puerto Vallarta’s beautiful beachfront walkway.  We loved the beautiful three-hour horseback ride through the nearby Sierra Madre mountain range that we arranged through an excellent company, the Rancho El Ojo de Agua.

The public areas are imposing and beautiful with imported tile floors. There is an abundance of lovely, well-manicured gardens.   The formal promenade is spectacular -especially at night – the pathways are well lit, and the signage is excellent. The dining, activity, and pool accommodations are easily accessible for the physically challenged.

As the sun sets, the resort begins to pulse with salsa rhythms.  Live music starts to play everywhere.  The staff shows warm Mexican hospitality with “Hola!” and a smile awaits you at every turn.  American tourists and US dollars are welcomed in Puerto Vallarta.  This resort is part of the RIU family owned and operated chain of 120+ hotels worldwide and every attempt is made to satisfy guests’ needs.  We will be recommending it highly to clients of our travel agencies.