Have you ever stayed at an all-inclusive resort? They sound really enticing, right? All-inclusive. Just pay for your room and then you’re good! No need to carry around cash for drinks or food. Previously, our only all-inclusive resort stay was for a music festival with some of our favorite American bands. It’s a slightly different experience when the resort is packed to the brim with people who are all there for the same purpose.
Recently, Sasha surprised me with a stay at one here in Puerto Vallarta as an early anniversary gift. This is an honest review of the Barcelo Puerto Vallarta All-Inclusive Resort and not a sponsored post in any way. We just wanted to provide an honest recap of our experience that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Idea for a Staycation
Sasha first got the idea to check out the Barcelo when we were riding by on the bus one afternoon. They were advertising day passes for $799 pesos per person ($43).
The day passes allow you access to the pools, restaurants, and cantina. We thought it would be a fun way to feel like we were on vacation for a few hours. Hit the buffet, lounge on the beach, and make several trips to the swim-up bar. There are certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon.
The day we went, I thought we were just buying two-day passes. However, Sasha had already booked a room for a night months before. He found a great deal on a weekday night ($160 for a night as opposed to the normal $250).
We’re pretty flexible thanks to our jobs with VIPKID, so he thought “Why not?” Plus, our cost of living in Puerto Vallarta is quite low so he thought it was time to treat ourselves.
He also loves a good surprise. He’s been surprising me since our first anniversary when he booked a stay at a new, boutique eco-resort at the base of the Great Wall. I was shocked when he proposed at a Phish NYE concert in Miami. Now, he had done it again as an early wedding anniversary gift. I was so excited for a nice stay-cation.
Read More: 31 Kickass Things to do in Puerto Vallarta
Not wanting to ruin the surprise, Sasha insisted on getting there as early as possible. Day passes only give you access from 9 am – 6 pm, so he had to get us out the door early to keep up the facade. The nice kid who checked us in couldn’t have been older than 18. He still had braces and such a babyface.
He gave us a pocket map of the grounds that also had the opening and closing times for the pools, spa, restaurants, and buffet. They told us all about the grounds and described their four restaurants in great detail. He gave us a spa brochure and recommended the most popular treatment for couples celebrating something (like us) which included a couples massage.
Only having one night, we asked for their recommendation of the best restaurant. The young boy, as well as the spa manager, agreed that we should definitely try the Spanish restaurant. Before heading up to our room, they told us to be sure and not miss the show at 9 pm.
They let us check in early which was great.
The room was beautiful – much bigger than your average hotel room with a little sitting room at the front and a balcony overlooking the pool in the back. The bed was huge and so soft.
As nice as the room was, though, we found that the booking came with some false or exaggerated promises. The booking said a room upgrade would be given if available.
On a weekday in the summer, there were plenty of empty rooms available. They also said we’d be given a 25% off coupon for any spa treatment, along with a bottle of bubbly and some sweets in the room.
We tried calling the front desk to inquire about a possible upgrade, book a spa treatment, and make a reservation for the Spanish restaurant. They told us the concierge was on their lunch break and to call back later. It seemed odd that a fancy resort like this wouldn’t take care of guests immediately but ok, sure. She’s on her lunch break. We’ll try again later. Plus, we’re easygoing and have a good time. “Una mas cervesa, por favor!”
We hurried downstairs as soon as the lunch buffet was supposed to open. We were starving from not having eaten much so we could take full advantage of the buffet. It was closed. They pointed us in the direction of the snack bar. Thinking it was just opening late, we headed to the spa to try and book the couples package that they recommended.
When we told the spa manager we wanted to book the couples package, she told us that she only had one therapist working that day and therefore couldn’t get a couples massage. This was the same spa manager that had just suggested we book this particular package.
I found it somewhat annoying that she had just suggested we book it a few hours before. Sasha asked if we could apply the 25% discount they promised. “Oh, no. Sorry! This package is already cheap. The champagne and strawberries are pretty much free.”
Since we were still feeling pretty stoked about the whole idea of being tourists for a night, we booked it anyway, just without the couples massage. “We can’t hang out during a couples massage anyway!” – is how we justified it as we walked back down to the buffet……….. which was still closed!
Frustration Setting In
The buffet was still closed even though they had a sign advertising that it would open at 12:30 pm. It was well after 1:00. Again, they pointed us in the direction of the snack bar which only seemed to have tacos.
Don’t get me wrong, I love tacos. But when you’re excited about stuffing your face with buffet food, it’s disappointing to only be able to eat the same food you have on a near-daily basis.
After a few tacos and beers, Sasha returned to the front desk to try and make a dinner reservation for the third time. This is where things really got frustrating.
As it turned out, the only restaurant open that evening was the Japanese restaurant. The Spanish restaurant wasn’t even an option. And the buffet? Only open for dinner. Oh, and there wasn’t a show that night, either.
One more thing – the restaurant had a dress code. Pants and shoes for men and closed-toe shoes for women. They did not include any of that information anywhere in the booking or on their website. We checked and didn’t see it anywhere.
Enough Is Enough
Sasha got a bit irritated and told them how he felt. He didn’t get angry (so he says), but he just made it very clear that he was unhappy with the situation. He even canceled our spa treatments out of frustration.
And I don’t blame him. They knew we were only staying for one night when we checked in, and they knew it was for an anniversary. So why not just be honest with us? I don’t understand the logic in telling us we should try the Spanish restaurant when it won’t even be open, or in mentioning the show if there wasn’t one.
Why suggest we get a spa treatment for a couples massage when you know you only have one therapist working? If they had just told us all these things at check-in, we wouldn’t have been upset. After all, we had a hotel room bigger than our apartment, a handful of pools to choose from, and all the beer and fruity cocktails we could ever want. I personally hate being lied to. Maybe they weren’t exactly lying, but they were misleading us, and we didn’t appreciate it.
Making It Up To Us
To say we were angry is an overstatement. Irritated and misled would be a better way to describe how we felt about the whole situation. Having traveled extensively in China and Southeast Asia, we’re pretty used to being flexible and going with the flow.
It makes sense that they didn’t have everything open on a Thursday in the low season. I’m sure they have everything open every day during the high season. If we had been sticking around for the weekend, it wouldn’t have been a big deal.
We grabbed some drinks from the swim-up bar and found a place to relax in the sun. We both agreed that it was probably better that we canceled the spa treatment. All we really wanted to do was eat, drink, and chill by the pool anyways.
The next thing we knew, a staff member was waving for Sasha to come over. He went and spoke with a woman who must have been a manager. She apologized for the fact that we were less than completely satisfied and asked if a room change would make it up to us.
Sasha explained that we weren’t that angry and a room change would have been nice earlier but at this point, it didn’t really matter. I mean, we were in the pool with drinks in hand. There’s no point in dripping pool water all over one room just for the sake of moving to another.
Instead of changing rooms, we asked for a late checkout. They agreed! Being able to sleep in, enjoy breakfast and swim under the waterfall a few more times is better than a bigger room, in our opinion.
Kind Gestures and Amazing Food
Still wanting to do something to make up for our frustrations, they brought the champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries that we would have gotten with the spa package to the room. On the bed, there was even a cute swan made of towels and flowers to boot.
They set a table outside by the beach for our dinner reservation, even though we couldn’t comply with the dress code. Fine with me! I’d rather sit closer to the water anyways!
The food was delicious! We miss Asian food all the time, so it was nice to dig into a bunch of yummy sushi covered in soy sauce and wasabi. They even made us an amazing piece of cheesecake with a “Happy Anniversary” message written out in strawberry jam.
There’s just one other thing we want to gripe about. After dinner, we jumped back in the hot tub for an evening soak. The guards tried to kick us out, stating that the closing time was 9 pm.
Sasha had to go all the way up to the room to get the pocket map of the resort that clearly stated that the pool was open until 10 pm. They let us stay after we showed them, but that shouldn’t have been necessary.
As it turned out, there was a show that night. It just wasn’t taking place in the entertainment hall. They had a band playing in the Cantina and they sounded awesome. So we went down to check them out.
We had the best time chatting with bartenders as they poured us beer, after beer, after tequila shot. They made sure we were having a good time and never without some booze in our glass. It was so much fun we totally closed down the Cantina and were the last guests to go to bed.
The next morning, the same manager who had helped us the day before asked us where she could find us that afternoon as she had a gift for us.
When she found us sitting by the pool, she presented us with our own bottle of tequila! To make things even better, she told us we were welcome to stay by the pool even after we checked out of the room.
We had a blast that afternoon going down the water slide and chasing iguanas around. How cool is it that they have their own iguanas living in the plants around the waterfall?!
Check out how much fun we had in this video Sasha made:
All in all, we’d say our stay was a pretty great success. We would definitely recommend a stay at the Barcelo Puerto Vallarta for anyone who’s considering it. We can definitely see the appeal in the all-inclusive travel style. Maybe we’ll try it again if we find another amazing deal like we did this time. I mean, where else can you order White Russians in a bathrobe at 1 AM? The Dude abides.
Use our code on Booking.com to receive a discount and we’ll get some cash, too! You can use it even if you already have an account. It’s a win-win for everyone!
12 thoughts on “Barcelo Premium All-Inclusive Puerto Vallarta: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly”
Thanks for the insite, heading there this December.
Your website caught my eye, I’m a Deadhead from New Jersey.
Thanks so much for the comment!! How was your trip to PV? Too bad neither John Mayer or Bill can make it to Playing in the Sand.
Awesome review Rachel, I really like how you turned a potentially negative situation into a positive. Having worked in hospitality it’s great to see your other half didn’t go in angry when speaking to them but just expressed his frustrations which gave the team an opportunity to impress you. It sounds like overall you had a blast!
P.s. Love how detailed your reviews are!
Thanks for the kind words, Jamie! We definitely did have a blast overall! It was a lot of fun and we now see why so many people enjoy AI style travel. I agree that it’s always best to not get angry but still let your frustrations be heard. I also worked in restaurants for a long time. It makes such a difference when people can talk things out and not just get angry. Thanks for reading!
Wow! You guys have given such a detailed review. I’m yet to do an all inclusive, but I’ve thought about it. I’ve also thought about visiting Puerto Villarta so this review covers both. I’m making my travel plans for next year and this just may make the list now.
But not necessarily all inclusive. Unless I found a great deal like you guys did. I must say the closed buffet and the odd hours would be frustrating to me. Maybe I’m spoilt. HA!
Thanks for reading, Alicia! We love Puerto Vallarta. We only planned to stay here for one month but now we’ve been here for five! It should totally make your short list for travel destinations. There are some beautiful homes on Airbnb (we’re renting one for our last two weeks) and delicious restaurants. I don’t think staying all-inclusive is necessary here. Let us know if you are planning a trip and we’ll be happy to offer some recommendations!
This was a great review Rachel, and I’m happy the staff rallied and made up for all the negative experiences. We’ve had a number of friends stay at the all-inclusive resorts on the Pacific coast in Costa Rica. When living abroad, it’s a nice treat, but many of our friends have had similar experiences, and shockingly even worse!
It’s often a game of chance. Will there be a well-trained staff member in management (who has the authority, motivation, and ability to turn your experience around) be working if you run into trouble? Maybe, maybe not. Your experience could have easily been very different, so I think your post is great! A recommendation with all available info, so folks know what they’re getting into.
Thanks, Penny! I was definitely pleasantly surprised at the way they tried to make up for the frustrations. I’m well aware it could have been very different. Have you ever stayed at an all-inclusive resort before?
I visited the Barcelo in Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) early this year. The dress code for restaurants was as you said surprising. The staff was amazing and there was a whole concierge office will about six staff (very icy a/c which we loved) for planning dinner reservations on site and our excursions. My room while very nice wasn’t in the same league as yours – wow! The property was monstrously huge, but never did we encounter lazy staff or problem of any kind. Barcelo seriously tries to make it worth the $250USD a night they charge for all inclusive. Thanks for your article and happy anniversary!!
Thanks for the comment, Cindy! We’re actually considering a visit to Punta Cana this December for a music festival. It’s going on at Breathless and Now Onyx so we’d stay at one of those if we decide to do it. We’re not huge on the AI resorts, but if some of our favorite bands are there that’s a whole other story!
Great, great review! I felt like I was right there with you two! Thanks for sharing all the details and for the honest review that was very fair and informative.
Thanks for reading and for the kind words! 🙂