By Allison Tibaldi, Taking the Kids correspondent
Iberostar Playa Mita, Mexico, Day One — The Spanish hotel chain Iberostar has just opened its first property on Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit. If you think all-inclusive resorts are nothing but rowdy sun-seekers, conga lines, mediocre buffets and cheap liquor, meet the new Iberostar Playa Mita. The resort is easy to reach, located 25-miles north of the Puerto Vallarta International Airport on the Pacific Coast.
A vacation here should do wonders to change any preconceived notions you may have about all-inclusive hotels. My family and I have been to quite a few of these resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean. I like the basic formula. Food, beverages, activities, kid’s club and entertainment are included in the price, so there are no surprises when it’s time to pay the bill. I don’t like the crowds, the noise or the openly inebriated guests that we have encountered on some previous visits.
I immediately noticed how peaceful the vibe was at the Iberostar Playa Mita. The giant lagoon-style infinity pool was full of families, but the pervading air was calm. Kids were frolicking, but it never got boisterous or overly loud. I read my book without interruptions as I relaxed in one of the comfy poolside lounges. I was able to swim laps of my beloved backstroke without banging into anyone. There are three large pools on the property. Unlike some resorts, the pools don’t have slides, but this didn’t hinder anyone’s fun. Children may romp at the Splash Park water playground, but even there the mood was mellow.
Something else missing from the Iberostar Playa Mita are life-sized characters from children’s television shows roaming the grounds. Several resorts have partnerships of this sort. For every child who enjoys these characters, there is another one who is frightened to see these creatures come-to-life. I think part of the laid-back air here was that these characters, and the screams of joy and fear that they bring, were missing.
The hotel enjoys a stunning beachfront location. The unspoiled sandy stretch is breathtaking, with crashing Pacific surf set against a lush, mountainous backdrop. There is a lifeguard on-duty, but the surf can is often rough for young children. If you are traveling with thrill-loving tweens and teens, they will be happy to jump the waves and perhaps give boogie boarding or surfing a try.
The resort pays attention to detail. Public areas are graced with colorful masks made by the indigenous Huichol people. In the entrance, hanging chandeliers festooned with pineapples, a symbol of hospitality, made me feel welcome. Fresh fruit juice and cool towels before check-in are a refreshing touch.
Donuts in the oven!
Many of the 452 modern rooms have sea views. All include WiFi and 24-hour room service. The configuration with two double beds should work for many families, and all rooms have an additional futon-style sofa bed. Adjoining rooms are available for families requiring more space.
There is a Kid’s Club for ages 4-12. You may drop your child off all day, but you are required to stay on the hotel grounds. I toured the bright, sparkling clean facility. The staff was warm and seemed to genuinely enjoy spending time with their young charges. Private babysitting for younger kids or at night may be arranged through the concierge for $15 per hour. Teens 13-17 have their own reserved space, stocked with video games, computers and a foosball table.
If food is an important part of your family’s vacation experience, you have come to the right place. There are buffet dining options, but the hectic feeling that I usually experience at these unlimited meals was blissfully missing. An elegant but never stuffy air pervaded. The food looked beautiful, and servers were constantly tidying and replenishing. Fresh seafood and a fabulous ceviche bar are standouts. Foods with kid-appeal include French fries, hot dogs and pasta. A rainbow of tropical fruit, a copious salad bar and a juice bar are health-conscious options. At breakfast, the staff prepares lighter-than-air churros and fresh donuts, as you can see in this short video.
Non-buffet dining choices require a reservation, but incur no extra fee, and are all kid-friendly. The Japanese restaurant features entertaining tableside cooking. Try the Mexican restaurant or the steakhouse. My favorite was Pacific Express, where food is served in a charming railroad car. It is not to be missed if you’re traveling with a Thomas the Tank Engine fan or a train buff.