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Hyatt began its foray into all-inclusives in 2013 and has only opened a few so far, including the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta. Pros: beautiful beach, spacious rooms, friendly staff, decent food. Cons: a lot of construction, cheap booze, exorbitant rates.

Hyatt first announced its two all-inclusive brands back in November 2013. Hyatt Ziva is geared more for families, while Hyatt Zilara is for adults. The chain has since opened in Mexico and the Caribbean, though the footprint is still quite small.

The four Hyatt Ziva resorts include Montego Bay in Jamaica, Cancún, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. Hyatt Zilara locations include Montego Bay and Cancún.

Although I have traveled to Puerto Vallarta roughly 30 times in my life, I still hadn’t had the chance to visit the Hyatt Ziva that opened in December 2014. I was down there for a few days in July, though, so I decided to check out just how Hyatt does the all-inclusive thing.

Booking

My biggest disappointment about reserving a room at the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta was the reservation process. Rates at the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta regularly top $700 per night.

Because I was going in low season, room rates were a more reasonable $301 per night. Hyatt was also inexplicably running simultaneous 55%- and 60%-off promotions that weren’t quite as good as the prepaid member rate. Award rates were available for 20,000 points per night, too.

I needed a room with double beds, which restricted me to a few categories, but rates were not different from those for rooms with king beds in the same categories. A three-night stay in an oceanfront double, the lowest category in which I was guaranteed double beds, would be $333 per night, or $999 total for my three-night stay.

It was hard to tell which room rates corresponded with which rooms at the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta, but I figured a quad room with two beds guaranteed would be just fine. Otel.com was listing those with free cancellation up to 10 days before the travel dates for just $214 per night plus taxes. My total would be just $717, nearly $300 less than booking direct through Hyatt!

The one reason I still wanted to book through Hyatt, though, was to earn World of Hyatt points and credit toward elite status, so I checked on getting a best-rate guarantee. According to Hyatt’s rules, to qualify for the best-rate guarantee, you have to book your stay through Hyatt, then find a better price on a competing site, lodge a complaint through a dedicated web page and wait to hear back. If your claim is successful, you’re entitled to a matched rate plus a $50 credit toward a future stay booked on Hyatt.com.

I called Hyatt about its best-rate guarantee, since I didn’t want to book a room with them first and risk not getting the difference refunded. They said I couldn’t submit a claim without booking through Hyatt, so I figured I could at least book a refundable reservation and take my chances.

Rather than booking on the website, I asked the agent I was speaking with to book an oceanfront double for me with the clear stipulation that I would be able to cancel it if I needed to. She reconfirmed the $333 rate and told me I had until a week before my trip to cancel.

Logging into Hyatt, though, I found that the agent had actually booked me into an oceanfront double for $374 per night — the 55%-off rate. So I had to call back and get another agent to change the booking, again confirming that I would be able to cancel if I needed to up to a week before my stay.


Then I submitted my best-rate guarantee request. Within six hours, I got a rejection email. The rejection was because Otel.com “required membership to complete the booking process.” Huh?

I called Hyatt and was transferred to the best-rate guarantee specialist who had responded to my claim. She told me that Hyatt considered Otel.com a membership site because you had to be a member to book. I replied that you did not, and merely needed to enter the same information you would to book anywhere. After all, Orbitz or Expedia, both of which qualified, required your name, billing address, phone and email address. She wouldn’t budge, and kept saying that Otel.com was a membership site. It was like listening to a recording on repeat.

Here’s what the actual terms and conditions said: “Rates that require a membership to complete a booking, regardless of whether the membership requires a fee, is free, or if membership is automatically created as part of the booking process. Examples of sites where these types of rates may be found include but are not limited to, travelzoo.com, jetsetter.com and vacationist.com.”

Am I wrong in thinking this could literally apply to any site where you enter any personal information? It’s clear Hyatt has put this language in so that it can unilaterally decide which rates to honor and which to ignore.

At an impasse, I asked to be transferred back to the reservations desk, where I was told my reservation was nonrefundable and I’d be liable for 50% if I canceled. Again, huh? I replied that I confirmed that I would be able to cancel with not one, but both, agents I had reserved through.

At that point, I was transferred to a supervisor, who gave me the same answer. I asked if she had recordings of my prior calls to confirm what I’d been told. She got rather huffy, put me on hold and eventually told me she’d had canceled my reservation with the hotel free of charge, but that it was a one-time courtesy.

Honestly, this was the worst customer service I’ve had with a major hotel company. To have two agents misinform me about a cancellation policy was bad enough. To have a claim for a best-rate guarantee rejected out of hand because of a loophole Hyatt created for itself was equally infuriating. But then to have a reservation manager scold me for not understanding the cancellation rules that her own agents had gotten wrong and to only reluctantly and rudely cancel it was enough to make me think that Hyatt might not be getting a lot of my future business.

I still wanted to check out the resort, though, so a few days later I checked rates both on Hyatt.com and Otel.com. Otel.com was no longer offering better rates on rooms with double beds, so I booked directly through Hyatt, where rates had dipped slightly. I reserved an oceanfront double for $317 per night and resolved to make the best of my stay.

I had the old Hyatt Visa from Chase, so I had Discoverist status. I hoped I might get upgraded to a better room but wasn’t holding my breath. I would earn 5.5x points per dollar on my stay, thanks to my status, and 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar (which I could also transfer to Hyatt) by paying with my Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Before my stay, I also received an email letting me know the privileges I was eligible for, which included a preferred room within the category I’d booked or a 10% discount on a room upgrade. I also received a 10% discount on 50-to-80-minute treatments in the spa, on wines, lobster dishes and tour services, and free access to the club.

Location

The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta’s location was both a drawback and an advantage. Many of Puerto Vallarta’s big resorts were on the north side of town between the city and the airport and then stretched further up into Nuevo Vallarta and Punta Mita. The Hyatt Ziva, on the other hand, was on the sleepier south side of town in Conchas Chinas. I liked it over there because there’s one road that winds through the jungle between the mountains and the ocean.

The Hyatt Ziva took over an older resort with two towers called Dreams and put it through a $20 million expansion and renovation back in 2014.

What also made the location great was that, compared to the huge beaches on the north side of town, where you got a lot of vendors and tourists, the beaches on this side tended to be small and you didn’t see too many guests from outside the hotel. The Hyatt Ziva’s beach, Las Estacas, was 1,250 feet long, very sandy and had gentle surf good for small children.

The downside was that, at rush hour, it could take an hour to get to the hotel from the airport, and the road also got backed up on the way into town. But it only cost 90 pesos (about $4.50) to take a taxi into town and 240 pesos ($12) to get to the airport, so at least it wasn’t expensive.

Check-in

I arrived at the resort around 2:30pm, went through a security check and passed under the road and to the main entrance of the hotel, which was in a building between the two guest towers.

The lobby had a typical open-air-resort layout.

Along with the concierge and reception desk were boutiques, a bar and a café.

The lobby was on the second floor, while two of the resort’s restaurants were on the ground floor and the fitness center and spa up one level.

The bellman who took my bags checked my name on the list of incoming guests and escorted me to the World of Hyatt desk.

After telling me about free activities like pool games and cooking classes and other amenities, the desk agent had me sign a check-in contract, where I noticed that I had been put in an oceanfront king. I pointed out that I had reserved an oceanfront double.

She looked into the mistake and confirmed me in a club ocean-view suite double, which would have cost $70 more per night than the room I’d booked. When I checked out a few days later, the front desk extended my stay to 2:00pm instead of the normal noon departure time.

The bellman escorted me to the club tower, down the length of the center building past the resort store and a silver boutique, then over a walkway on the south side of the property.

The club tower had its own lobby. Inside was a bar serving premium spirits, to which I was entitled as a guest (I was given a special hot-pink bracelet to prove it).

There was a small workspace with two computers.

A buffet was laid out with various snacks at different times of day, including pastries and hot wings.

The front desk here included reception agents and a concierge who could set up activities for club guests.

Room

My room was just a single level up, on Floor 12.

Walking in, I was impressed with the size. Though nothing looked brand-new or fresh, at least it was large and clean.

To the right of the door was the rather large bathroom with a sliding door. The large closet was in here.

There were two sinks in the marble vanity.

The walk-in shower had a rainfall shower head and a handheld one.

Next to that was a separate WC with its own door.

The bath products were by KenetMD.

Out in the main room, the two double beds were dressed simply in white linens with colorful headboards and cover spreads.

Across from them was the flat-screen television and a low cabinet.

The nightstand between the beds had switches to all the lights and both A/C and USB power ports.

The air conditioner was next to the beds and over the foyer. There was also an overhead fan.

Behind the TV fixture was a sitting area that included a couch with a pullout bed, a coffee table and an ottoman.

A narrow desk with plugs, the minibar and a breakfast table with two chairs were all against the opposite wall.

The minibar had a Nespresso machine, though it only included coffee capsules and not sugar or milk.

There were a few free snacks.

The refrigerator held free drinks including bottled flat and sparkling water, sodas, Dos Equis and Tecate beer, little bottles of whiskey, rum, tequila and vodka.

The door to the balcony was old and extremely hard to slide open. Guess that wasn’t part of the renovation. But the balcony itself was spacious with a small loveseat on one side and a breakfast table on the other.

The view of the beach was nice, too. Though I should have seen those awnings as a red flag …

… because the following morning at 8:00am I was awoken by the sound of drilling, jackhammering, yelling and a loud radio. The floor below was entirely under construction! It looked like they were adding plunge pools to the rooms on the first floor. The noise only got worse as the morning went on, so I resolved to talk to the front desk about it and see what they could do.

The Wi-Fi was free. When you logged in, it said the plan allowed for the connection of two devices, though in reality you could add up to five per room.

It was not fast, but at least I could email and do other light browsing.


Food and Beverage

As this was an all-inclusive resort, you could pretty much eat as much as you wanted whenever you wanted from any of the resort’s restaurants and room service. You did not need reservations anywhere. All the seatings were first come, first served, though we did not have to wait for any of our tables. The resort had 11 bars and restaurants, but I missed out on one.

The biggest was VivaZ, a buffet-style restaurant where folks tended to go for breakfast and an early dinner with the kids.

At breakfast, VivaZ featured various stations for omelets, grilled meats, waffles, baked goods and fresh fruit. The line for eggs was so long, though, that I settled for yogurt and cereal rather than wait.

At lunch, there were grilled meats, cold cuts, little desserts and a place to make your own salads and sandwiches.

The food wasn’t great, so I had breakfast here one day then skipped it the rest of the time.

For breakfast my second day, I ordered room service, including good chilaquiles, and eggs with bacon, a fruit plate, coffee and orange juice. The service was prompt, and it was nice to sit outside and enjoy it despite the construction going on below.

At the south end of the beach closest to the club tower was an outdoor restaurant with a thatched roof called BlaZe that served breakfast and then grilled items and Mexican dishes for lunch and dinner.

For lunch one day, I got a plate of chips and guacamole and shrimp fajitas, which were simple and delicious.

For lunch on the second day, I got sandwiches at the coffeeshop next to the lobby, simply called the Deli. It had pastries, fruit plates, wraps and sandwiches you could help yourself to during the day, and I came each morning to get coffee here because it was better than the coffee in the restaurants and via room service.

One evening before dinner, I stopped by the Sunset Bar, also next to the lobby and the Deli, for drinks. There was no drinks menu, but you could order what you liked from the list of house spirits.

I had a glass of wine while watching the sunset and guests releasing sea turtles on the beach. It was a lovely spot, and never seemed crowded at all.

There were three outdoor bars: Playa Bar near the main tower, the Pool Bar that you could swim up to in one of the main pools and Bar Tortugas near the adult pool. All operated from 10:00am to 6:00pm, and were bustling the whole time with people ordering tropical cocktails from passing waiters. The Tequila Bar near one of the main pools was a large sports bar that was empty every time I walked by. It hosted theme nights every evening, like one for karaoke and one for disco that were sparsely attended, if at all.

Speaking of drinks, I stuck mostly to the house wines, which included chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, merlot and syrah from Spain and Chile. All the bottles retailed for around $6, so the quality wasn’t great, but it wasn’t completely abysmal either. You could also order from the list of premium wines at most of the restaurants, which included nicer options from California, Mexico and France. I was also sent a bottle of Spanish sparkling wine as a Discoverist amenity.

For dinner my first night, I chose the Asian fusion restaurant at the north end of the beach, called Pureza.

It had a beautiful deck with powerful fans to keep a breeze going.

The menu included sushi rolls (well, with vegetables and fake crab), Chinese, Korean and Thai dishes like pad thai and curry prawns. The food was decent, if not remarkable.

My second night, I took a taxi to my favorite restaurant in town, Café des Artistes, as a little treat. For the final night, though, I went to the resort’s traditional Mexican restaurant, Casa Grande. The service here seemed a bit stressed, but still friendly, and the food was like eating at an average Tex-Mex restaurant in the US. I started with tortilla soup and had a simple piece of grilled fish for my main.

The one restaurant I didn’t try was MelanZane, which served Italian dishes for lunch and dinner including pasta and dishes like osso buco and chicken parmigiana.

My final meal was a lunch before checkout that I ordered from room service. I suggest staying away from the club sandwich, which looked like old pieces of ham jammed between slices of stale white bread, though the grilled-chicken sandwich was good.

Considering you could order as much as you wanted at any time of day from any of the restaurants (when they were open) or room service, I thought the food was adequate, if not great. And if you didn’t like something, you could simply order something else without having to worry about the bill. For families with picky eaters (or ravenous teenagers), the all-inclusive formula must be a real money saver.

The drinks were neither strong nor high-quality, but that’s to be expected of an all-inclusive, I suppose. And if you wanted top-shelf stuff, at least there was the option of ordering from the noninclusive drinks list.

Amenities

As I mentioned, my room ended up being right above a construction zone. The agent at the World of Hyatt desk in the main lobby was dismayed and said that the construction was supposed to be light and only take place from 10:00am to 5:00pm.

She offered to take half off the room rate for the last night ($158), use of a cabana for one of the days of my stay (a value of $40) and access to the spa relaxation areas with steam room, sauna and pool deck (a value of $25 per use). I said that would be fine and thought that was a decent resolution of my issue.

The agent, Yureny, was representative of the service overall: well-intentioned, mostly efficient and polite. For instance, the resort had several pools, including a main one where adults and kids tended to play games all day, like water volleyball. There was another one with a swim-up bar that seemed quite popular, and a quieter, shady pool by the main tower.

I chose to go to the adults-only pool closest to the club tower. By the time I arrived the first day, there were no clean towels left at the towel stand. An employee came up and told me there was another towel stand near the swim-up bar that I could check. I had no luck there, either, so I just ended up sitting at a chair with no towels … until the employee, Marilu, came running up with two fresh towels just for me. She also checked on me throughout the stay to make sure I had everything I needed, and basically was the reason I thought so well of the service overall.

The bar service at the adult pool, on the beach and at the main pool was also very courteous and omnipresent, though drink orders typically took about 15 minutes to appear.

They also came without straws. I noticed little signs saying that the hotel had decided to do away with single-use plastic straws, but it made the frozen drinks impossible to sip, and they might have considered getting paper straws. The fact that there were still plastic stirrers at the coffeeshop made the policy seem haphazardly enforced.

One thing to note about the pools: People seemed to come out super early in the morning to stake out chairs with towels and then disappeared for hours. No one came by to clear unused towels and chairs, and at least half the chairs by the adult pool were empty at any given time. Even when the resort was about half full, it caused issues, so I can’t even imagine how tense it gets during high season with people vying for space.

The beach was nice, with two areas with palapas.

The beach didn’t seem to be as popular as the pools because the sand was so hot, but also probably because there was only one beach bar by the main tower. Attendants from the bar near the adult pool did pass by from time to time to take orders out here, though.

I had a nice day in my cabana, with personalized service and a bottle of house wine. It included a shaded daybed and two lounge chairs just for me.

At the north end of the beach was a turtle sanctuary where guests could release hatchlings at sunset when they emerged from their eggs.

Next to that was a small kids club that was empty every time I visited. When it was functioning, though, you couldn’t get through the front gate without ringing a bell for an attendant to come get you and signing a visitor’s log, which were nice security features.

The spa and fitness center were up on the third floor of the building between the two guest towers.

The fitness center had old cardio machines (one of the ellipticals had a ton of rust on it), weight machines and free weights. I only saw one other guest using it during my three visits.

The spa area held a sauna and steam room, soaking pools, a terrace with loungers, an outdoor pool and Jacuzzi and separate locker rooms for men and women.

The spa worked with a Mexican brand called Agave Spa and had treatments incorporating organic Hungarian Éminence products. The prices were $100 to $140 per treatment.

Guests could borrow paddleboards and kayaks for free. There were daily kayaking trips in the morning at 9:30am that went toward town or down the coast and took around 90 to 120 minutes.

The resort had tennis courts near the club tower and a little medical clinic between the main building and the club tower. Finally, one night there was a glow-in-the-dark acrobatics show by one of the pools. Besides that, there was little else going on after 8:00pm.

Overall Impression

The hassle of booking the hotel and then the room construction nearly ruined this experience for me before it even began. Getting such rude, incompetent service from Hyatt agents, and then being given a room over a construction zone, were enough to put me off Hyatt for a while.

On the plus side, the resort’s facilities, though not fancy or luxurious, are well-kept and tidy. The pool areas are varied, and the beach is one of the best hotel beaches I’ve seen around Puerto Vallarta.

The staff members who helped me during my stay were all courteous and amicable, and made an average stay into a relatively good one.

While I wouldn’t come back if I had to pay $600 a night, I might come back for rates closer to $200, which you can find in late September and October. Still, for future visits to Puerto Vallarta, I’ll likely go back to noninclusive hotels to venture into the city and take advantage of its restaurants, boutiques and galleries rather than sitting by the pool drinking all day, as many of the guests here seemed to do.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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