I have a confession to make.
I wasn’t able to pull off the surprise, not completely. I was just too excited and talked much too much about the trip. Maybe the fact that she isn’t the type to ruin surprises made me complacent. Either way, I was telling her about this amazing restaurant at our “destination”, and made the mistake of mentioning it was rated in the top 10 of all restaurants in Puerto Vallarta. The funniest part of that story is that I didn’t realized I had given anything away until I asked her why she had a huge grin on her face.
Though disappointed, I still had an ace up my sleeve. All along she thought we were going on our trip at the end of July. Since I was flying my mother-in-law up to watch the kids, I even faked the data on the plane ticket confirmation when I emailed it out to everyone. Even so, she became pretty suspicious when I was texting her mom the day she was supposed to arrive because of plane delays. Her reaction was good, though certainly not as good as this viral video that’s going around right now (odd since it’s 2 years old). Maybe I’ll get a better reaction next year.
Day 1 Sunday
After spending Friday and Saturday playing a remarkably perverse game of “how incompetent can you be?” with US Airways, we embarked on our first official “Fly Her Away” trip. I was certain that karma was on our side… until my radioactive wife caused the entire Kansas City Airport to lose power for the first time in 10 years. “Officially“, they initially said that the cause was unknown.
“Officially“, they said it was likely due to the bad weather we were experiencing while under a National Weather Advisory. But unofficially, they agreed that the timing was just too perfect. My wife walked into the body-scanner, lifted her arms, and BAM!, the power was gone.
Fortunately, our flight out of Dallas was delayed for approximately the same period of time it took Kansas City Airport to recover from my wife’s assault on the body scanner. The rest of the trip to Puerto Vallarta was uneventful.
Since we were staying at the incredible Rivera Del Rio Boutique hotel, they were kind enough to provide us VIP service to the hotel from the airport. I recommend that travelers to Puerto Vallarta utilize some sort of hotel service, if only to avoid the hassle of dealing with the sharks in the shark tank (aka ruthless timeshare sellers). After the baggage claim, but before exiting the airport, newcomers are herded through a “Shark Tank” that is full of “officially” dressed men. Forewarned is forearmed, so when they used such phrases as “Sir, I need to see your passport”, and “Sir, your ride is this way”, I was able to correct and/or ignore them. It is no wonder so many vacationers fall for the deception.
The ride from the airport to the hotel was rather uneventful, it lasted approximately 30 minutes. The Rivera Del Rio Boutique hotel is located in Zona Romantica (aka Romantic Zone), an older part of Puerto Vallarta known for the great food, great clubs, authentic cobblestone streets and historical architecture.
We were met by the very hospitable Rosie who had us drinking margaritas and eating chips with fresh guacamole within just a couple minutes. After visiting with Rosie for a while we were shown to the Alejandro Suite, which the hotel kindly upgraded us to for a very reasonable fee.
The suite was amazing, but we were hungry and wanted to explore. We walked the Malecon, watched some amazing artists, saw a Mexican clown show that was pretty funny, and bravely ate some street food. The roasted corn with lime was actually delicious.
We also took advantage of the ATMs to retrieve pesos, since they provide the best exchange rate from US dollars to pesos.
On a completely unrelated note, I have never seen so many stray cats before. We saw well over 20 in the first mile that we walked. I also found innumerable geckos and even a couple of toads.
Day 2 Monday
Ahh, the joy of sleeping in without waking to a crying baby, a hungry toddler, or an alarm announcing that yet another day full of chores and responsibilities has arrived. Here, we have no responsibilities. Here, we can sleep in until after 9am, an impossibility at home.
We woke up to a fantastic breakfast at Rivera Del Rio. The fresh squeezed orange juice was surreal.
From there we wandered over to the Farmer’s Market a couple of streets behind Rivera Del Rio. It is a local market and not a tourist trap like the markets closer to the beach are. With the exchange rate of 15 pesos to $1, we were able to walk home with bags of guava, rambutan, nance, finger bananas, mangos, and tamarinds for around $10 total.
After dropping off the fruit, we spent the morning checking out local shops and eventually made our way over to the Los Muertos Brewery. We were excited to hear that there was a local brewery since we’ve jumped on the craft brew bandwagon. There were a couple of decent offerings, but I was underwhelmed overall. In fact, it is the first flight I’ve ever bought where I was unable to finish all of the offered beers…
When in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do, so we set off to find some margaritas. Based on the advice of my brother and Kris at Rivera del Rio, we headed for Café de Olla. We had margaritas, chips with salsa and pico, and guacamole. The homemade chips were great, and the Pico and guacamole were amazing. The margaritas, on the other hand, were strong for the sole purpose of being strong and good only if your intent was to get drunk as quickly as possible. They lacked the taste and refinement of most of the other margaritas we had on our trip.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon were spent on the beach. I relaxed and dozed on the beach under an umbrella, while my wife swam in the bath-warm ocean. Even though Puerto Vallarta is on the west coast, it is far enough south that the water isn’t cold like it is along much of California coast. In fact, in the heat of late June, the water was almost too warm to be a relief from the heat.
Later that night we ate at Vitae, an Italian restaurant on the Malecon that has a nice storefront and a great view of the sunset. The food was excellent. The frog legs were the best we’d ever had, sautéed in a garlic and herb sauce. Even after we finished the frog legs, we kept the butter sauce on the table to use with the shrimp part of our Filet Mignon and shrimp main course.
We meandered down the Malecon again because the artists were just incredible. There was a guy that did a fantastic job dressed up like an alien from the movie Aliens , there was the spray paint artist, and there was a guy that does caricatures. If artists can make money anywhere, it’s here. We had skipped alcohol the rest of the day after the terribly strong margaritas, but were drawn into the Devil’s Bar (owner is a HUGE Arizona Sun Devil’s fan) on our way home. This was the best hidden gem of the trip. The bartender, who had a fun and disarming personality, made the best margaritas we had ever had.
Day 3 Tuesday
Up early (isn’t it great that 8:30am is early?), we were excited about our morning appointment to learn how to Flyboard. We met up with the trainers on the beach at 9:45 and had a blast. Getting up and flying around like Iron Man wasn’t as hard as it looks, and both of us experienced a good bit of success for our first time up. We liked the experience enough we seriously considered doing it a second time while we were there.
We ate lunch at another place recommended by the staff at Rivera Del Rio, Langostinos, and it was delicious. The local Mexican dish similar to ceviche, called aguachile, was amazing! It was one of the best dishes of the trip. The fajita was great too. The guacamole and pico however, were not as good as those at Café de Olla.
Walking was becoming a way of life for us. We spent the afternoon browsing the multitude of shops. Rather, “she” shopped while I scoped out shops with a/c or fans to help battle the heat. Heat or no heat, the incredible amount of artistic talent on display was remarkable. We found amazing glass blowers, painters, and beadwork that even the local kids do a great job with.
Eventually, we meandered back to our hotel where we showered in cold fresh water and recuperated from the heat for a couple of hours. We wanted to feel refreshed when we ate at Bravos, the #1 restaurant in Puerto Vallarta on TripAdvisor (see my review here).
Bravos was great. Who would have thought you could find legitimately good risotto in Puerto Vallarta? I love risotto, but it is a dish that is rarely done right. Either the rice is too dry or too soupy, overcooked or undercooked. Bravos did an excellent job. The service was excellent, the atmosphere appropriate, the a/c effective and, most importantly, the food was fantastic.
Day 4 Wednesday
When making plans before the trip, Wednesday was going to be the most exciting day. I planned to eat lunch at Ocean Grill and then take my wife on the famous Rhythms of the Nights tour. Unfortunately, we were unable to get a seat on the tour. That said, the day was still fantastic.
Ocean Grill is located on a remote promontory south of Puerto Vallarta. To get there, one must catch a local bus and travel 30 minutes south to Boca de Tomatlan, and then
catch a boat to the restaurant. It sounds complicated, but was rather straightforward and we were able to navigate the transportation without issue. The Ocean Grill is the #2 restaurant on TripAdvisor for Puerto Vallarta (see my review here), and deserves that spot. The food was excellent but, more than anything, the view and the atmosphere were incomparable to anywhere else we dined on the trip.
Upon our return from Ocean Grill, we showered (sensing a pattern yet?) to cool off and clean up before our spa appointment. Using the Groupon-like site Cuposity.com, I had secured hour long massages for my wife and I for what equated to just over $15 US dollars per person. It was pretty nice, the hour went by much faster than I thought it would. Typically I’m too cheap to spend money on stuff like that, but it was worth it. The oil that they use made the heat seem worse after we were done with the massage, so…we went back to our room and showered again 🙂
That night we went to eat at Layla’s, another very nice local restaurant with good reviews on TripAdvisor. In this case, I found a coupon on Cupocity.com for 50% off the main course, and used it. As a result, dinner was even more reasonable than it would otherwise have been. What made this experience especially nice was that the restaurant owner, Rodrigo, was out and about and is a very charismatic and fun individual. He gave his recommendations and told us about the story behind the restaurant. While it isn’t one of the top rated restaurants on TripAdvisor (highly rated, though not near the top), we were both glad we went. Rodrigo even let us try out a new desert he was thinking about putting on the menu, on the house, and it was pretty awesome. See my review for the restaurant here.
Day 5 Thursday
Even though we had already been in town for a few days, it was sobering to think our vacation was almost over. After all, it ‘felt’ like we’d just arrived. We wanted to make the most of it though, and left the hotel early to grab breakfast at Café de Olla. Once again we had the guacamole. For the amount they bring to the table, it was one of the least expensive places for guacamole compared to the other restaurants we ate at, and was marginally better than anywhere else. The guacamole is so fresh down there that it is pretty amazing no matter where you get it.
Once we finished breakfast, we were off to go zip lining. This was another deal we scored on Cupocity.com, though we quickly learned that not all companies are honest about their discount campaigns through that site (see my review on TripAdvisor here). We did the Canopy River Zip Lining tour, which is supposed to consist of 11 zip lines and a burro ride at the end. Even though they cut our trip short, the part that we did do was enjoyable enough. My wife absolutely loved flying across the valley 300+ feet above the ground at 25-30mph. The fact is, we still received a good deal for the 8 zip lines we were able to go on, and it would have been a much better experience had the company been honest going into it. As it stands, I would recommend using another company, like Vallarta Adventures, for your zip-lining fun.
If Tuesday morning was the best “activity” of our trip when we learned how to flyboard, Thursday night was the best “meal” of our trip. This is significant if one considers the fact we ate at the three highest-rated restaurants in Puerto Vallarta. Café de Artiste, once the highest rated restaurant in all of Mexico, is currently rated #3 on the list of best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta. As far as we were concerned, the food was by far the best on the trip. Everything about the food was incredible. I had the best fish I’ve ever had in my life, and my wife had filet Mignon with a burnt pork belly crust on top that was perfectly cooked and unbelievably tender. Café de Artiste also gave us free desert on the house…
…and we finally figured out why…
Every time we mentioned to one of the nicer restaurants that we’d heard about them on TripAdvisor, they ended up bribing us with free desert on the house hoping that we would provide them a positive review. I doubt this is something that TripAdvisor would be happy knowing about, but we certainly benefited from it. As you’ll see from my reviews, should you care to read them, I still attempted to remain as objective as possible.
Day 6 Friday
Friday was a sad day and a happy day. Sad to be leaving, but happy to be able to see our kids again. We spent the morning finishing up our shopping for gifts, showering again, and packing to leave. We will miss Rivera del Rio and the incredible suite that we had there. We will miss the beach and the fun activities. But now, it is time to fly her back home and take a vacation from our vacation. Once recuperated, I will start planning for the next time I will fly her away.