Submitted on 04-24-2016
We booked through Costco Vacations. Here's a play by play.
Gray Line picks you up at the airport. Getting out of the airport is just as bad as described--tons of people in your way trying to get your attention so they can try to sell you a timeshare. We made it out, and silly me, I was looking for a gray colored sign. I said "gray line" and there was someone right there holding a sign that said "Costco/Expedia". He was wearing a bright green shirt, and was the gray line rep. The gray line peopl...
We booked through Costco Vacations. Here's a play by play.
Gray Line picks you up at the airport. Getting out of the airport is just as bad as described--tons of people in your way trying to get your attention so they can try to sell you a timeshare. We made it out, and silly me, I was looking for a gray colored sign. I said "gray line" and there was someone right there holding a sign that said "Costco/Expedia". He was wearing a bright green shirt, and was the gray line rep. The gray line people were very helpful and friendly, and gave me a brochure with the name of the local gray line rep for the hotel. I realized later that the idea was to get me to have an appointment with the guy so they could try to push their adventure tours, etc.
We drove to the hotel in a minivan. Once we hit "Riviera Nayarit" it wasn't all that impressive. there was a road with a string of resorts. The scenery is kind of bleah, not what I was expecting. There was another party with us getting dropped off at another resort. Then we got to Estancia. It looked very nice. The lobby was very impressive. A bell man helped us right away, and whisked us to the check-in desk. A man walked up with a tray of ice cold bottled waters and glasses of wine. We gladly accepted the waters. There were fresh apples on the desk (you sit down to check in), a nice tough. Check in went fast and smooth. Not sure why others complain about this. Staff was polite. No hand massage done or offered (I was glad). They then sent us to the next desk so that someone could tell us about the property, and I thought uh oh, here it comes, the time share crap. The person at the desk saw me and our kids and realized we needed to get to our room and said as much and asked me to drop by later, which I appreciated. So we checked in to our room.
We did the A side 1-bedroom suite. First you put your card into a metal gate to open it, then the A side is on the right where you again insert your card to get in. The suite was beautiful. 2 full baths, with showers, and then a jacuzzi in the bedroom. Sofa bed pulls out. TV in each room. As others have noted, shared balcony which seems like a very poor choice although we never saw the B people out there. Well-appointed kitchen--plates, glasses (bring your own plastic cups for kids), silverware, knives, even scissors (nice), some kitchen tools (e.g. large plastic spoon to stir pasta), toaster, blender, can opener, even a few random tupperware items. No dish soap as people have noted, and no sponge, so we came prepared with our own. There was a microwave, and while functional, a somewhat outdated coffee maker. (Note to estancia: surely with the prices we are paying you could spring for a $100-150 Keurig in each room). They provided coffee packs each day, both regular and decaf. They also provided free bottled water, 2-4 liter bottles a day for us. Nice touch, I was wondering what we were going to do.
I went back down to the table in the lobby to get my map and info on the property. The person asked how I booked my trip (Costco) and they she said, oh, there is a Costco special right now. She gave a spiel about how people were going over to Flamingos to do the time share presentations and then getting coupons, so Costco now had a program where people could do a milder presentation with no pressure, and get %30 off. I listened politely and then politely declined. This was the ONLY time anyone even alluded to the time share thing, but really??? I am not an idiot. Clearly she made this up on the spot. All of the stuff I got from Costco (travel docs, emails) strongly urge people to stay away from any time share presentations. So yeah, not buying it.
The property was beautiful. You can see the pool from the lobby and my kids immediately wanted to get in. The layout was designed very well, such that each unit has an ocean view and pretty much just sees the property and ocean from the balcony. However, when you look over the rail on your way to the elevator, you see the surrounding area which is rough scrub bush, nothing to write home about. You can also see a side road as you drive up, which is apparently where the "help" park. This made me a little sad, like I was exploiting people as I go stay at the fancy resort. On the one hand, kudos to the developers for making you feel like you are in paradise; on the other hand, you look around a bit and realize you are not.
The pool was great, although a smidge cold if you are standing around in it, even on very hot days. Pool staff was very attentive, especially the famous Oscar. Almost all the staff at the resort speak great English, by the way. Plenty of towels available, and if you got some wet, you just get more. (unlike a place we stayed in Maui where you had to give them a room card to get a towel, then bring a wet towel back to get another, etc.) chairs were hit and miss--we always got a few, but not always in the shade/sun as we desired, but usually we did. I only saw a couple chairs with the "owner" card on there. I didn't see any evidence of people hogging/reserving chairs at 8 am or anything. People that got there in the morning and stayed all day obviously had first pick, whereas we tended to go in about 10 in the morning, then again after lunch, so in the afternoon we would have to start over. They have a small number of inflatable rings, pool noodles, etc. for the kids. Incredibly, we saw some adults using/hogging these while drinking from the bar. Really people?!
There are 4 hot tubs, which increase in temperature. Kids can go in the first two (not too hot), with parents of course. The pool staff also has a few magazines and books to read, and also some sunscreen (not sure if they charge for the latter but I doubt it--I think it's there for you to use a little, not take the whole bottle).
The beach is okay, but very hot sand on hot days, and lots of little rocks. It wasn't great for walking along the wet sand, since there is a line of tiny rocks, then a few yards of really soft mushy sand where your feet literally sink--not a good feeling as waves come and go--then as you go a bit further out, the sand becomes hard again, and you can go out a ways and still not hit waist-high water. The water was very cloudy though. As to walking to Bucerias--the Costco materials say it is a 15 minute walk--ha!--and the hotel told us 35 min-ha! maybe if you powerwalk...we tried to walk with small children, and walked about 30 min and didn't get probably even 1/2 way there before we went back. So much for that.
Our intention was for the kids to share the sofa bed, but we ended up with one in the sofa bed and one lying on the 2nd couch. Housekeeping set it up with sheets and a blanket so that was nice. Housekeeping staff was very helpful, although they came for "turn down" kinda late (after 8 pm) some nights. We never actually took them up on it but they would bring little treats and ask if we needed anything--we'd get more coffee, towels, etc. The room was kept very clean. However--design flaw--no fan in the shower. What? I did notice a bit of mold in the tile grout in the shower, no wonder, without a fan or a window that opens. There are plenty of toiletries--nice L'Occitane ones, verbena scented which I love but it got a bit tiresome after a while. You get shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, lotion, soaps, with plenty of extras around the suite. There are also shower caps and sewing kits. There is a table and chairs and two lounge chairs on the A balcony.
There was a stackable washer and dryer. As people have noted, no laundry soap, so we came prepared. It was nice to have, the only issue was we washed bathing suits on the cold setting and they always felt hot when they came out of the washer. I hope we didn't ruin our stuff washing them on "cold" all week.
Wifi: based on reviews, I thought the issue was the wifi in the room was weak. Well, I tried to get it on my phone in the room just for laughs, and saw I had 2 of 3 wifi bars. Excellent! so I entered the password, and it kept telling me I had the wrong password. So I called the front desk to say that the password wasn't working and I was told, oh, the wifi is only for the pool and lobby. What? So even though there is a signal, you can't use it? At any rate, later I noticed (after having logged in at the pool), that I could connect at times in the bedroom sitting close to the balcony, and at the balcony, but not always. Strange--I would expect in 2016 at such a luxury resort that you'd have wireless wifi in the rooms. There is ethernet wifi in the rooms though, and they provided a cable if you want to hook your laptop up.
Noise: so. I am a light sleeper. Based on reviews I expected a quiet place, not a party zone. Well, voices from the La Casona restaurant (there are tables outside) REALLY carry. We were on the 7th floor and it seemed like people were shouting. And they are open til 11 pm, so we heard what sounded like shouting until then (with all sliding doors shut). Fortunately we brought the sound machine for the kids and ear plugs for us, but still. Then, we were on the side closest to Flamingos, and a few nights we heard loud music late at night and one time, fireworks. So that was disappointing. Also, the 2nd set of people we got on the B side slammed the entry gate a few times, very loud. For no reason...
Also: clearly not a party hotel, and it wasn't all that crowded when we were there, yet a few (not young) fools were drinking booze and whooping it up *in* the pool in the middle of the day while several families were in the pool with their kids. And while there is no smoking in rooms, apparently it is allowed outside. Some fool was smoking a cigar one day at the pool, right near a bunch of kids. How considerate.
Food: we're vegan so we planned to mostly cook. We actually packed a small cooler in our suitcase with vegan cheeze, Tofurkey slices, and vegan margarine. We also brought shelf-stable Just Mayo and some Fantastic Foods mixes in our suitcase as well. Took a cab to Mega and back to stock up. They had soy milk (several brands, including Silk); plus a few almond milks, but that's about it--didn't see any tofu, faux meats or cheeses, soy creamer, etc. Note: non-dairy milks are all shelf-stable, and NOT near the cow milks. Lots of fresh and frozen veggies, fruits, pasta, rice, beans, cereal, bread, etc. We also bought a few things at the La Palmita market at Flamingos. Pricier than Mega, but not as bad as I expected. They had soy milk (refrigerated section)! But--the Ades brand which I found kind of yech. Market had pasta, bread, rice, chips, cereal, jelly, a few fresh fruits and veg that seemed expensive, plus a few frozen veggies too. We went to La Casona once, based on a recent review saying the chef made them a vegan meal. We requested the same, and even got to speak to the chef, who was happy to make vegan meals. He said he had tofu cheese, and we got excited expecting Daiya or something, but it turns out he was referring to just tofu itself. He made the kids penne with marinara and made us a delicious special meal with cous cous, delicious veggies, potatoes etc. Caution: not all wait staff understand vegan--they brought us a plate of different cow-based butters. We paid for the meal with our resort credit. We also got a couple salads to go from the poolside restaurant later with our resort credit.
I used the rest of the resort credit at the spa. I got a Swedish massage, 30 min, and actually got 37 min, and it felt like an hour, and was wonderful. Price was $75 and well worth it. Lots of special touches--music, aromas, etc. Just great. Also did the hydrotherapy circuit which comes with it. Sauna was very hot--I lasted 2 min. Steam room way too hot--I am in excellent health in mid 40s and thought it would kill me if I stayed any longer than the 30 sec I was in there. As in literally kill me. Only quibble was I never got the cucumber slices. Anyway, I've read reviews where people say the spa is way overpriced, but people you are at a luxury resort. I thought the prices seemed about right. And you get so much more than the beach massage from random, unregulated people with questionable sanitation. I had no problems making a reservation. And the hydro therapy circuit is segregated-women and men separate, which is nice. You can also take a shower after your treatment and they have shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, lotion, Q-tips.
Checkout was easy--I didn't have to prompt staff to give me the resort credit--they were already on it (note: cannot be used for tips). They give you a checkout card to give the bell man when you leave (not sure why).
I had to call Costco Travel to find out when Gray Line was coming to get us. They actually came about 15 min earlier than scheduled, no problem.
One thing I noticed was that different sources of info had conflicting hours for things like the gym, spa, etc.--cards in room, web site, etc. were not consistent. Also, the menu online for the poolside restaurant was not current. I would have liked to go the gym but the web site said it closed at 6 (and the room info book said 5) so I didn't bring my stuff--I would have only gone after kids were in bed, and it closed too early (or did it? the sign at the spa said it was open til 8. who knows?)
Overall, a lovely stay, although I wish it had been quieter at night. Would have given 5 stars otherwise.