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Resort Spotlight: Barceló La Jolla de Mismaloya

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is a great destination for families seeking a little adventure on their vacation. One of choicest travel finds in this area is the quaint town of Mismaloya, where the mountains and lush jungle swoop down to meet the sea. This is the setting for the Barceló La Jolla de Mismaloya, an expansive all-suites resort that offers families a tropical, stress-free base for a family vacation. 

Fresh from an $8.2 million renovation, the Barceló La Jolla de Mismaloya all-inclusive resort has been named a AAA Four Diamond Award winner for 2009. The resort's location on its own private bay provides a picture-perfect spot for a tropical family vacation. Secluded from all of the high rise resorts, cruise ships, and tourists in downtown Puerto Vallarta, but just 15 minutes away by cab, the La Jolla de Mismaloya is perfect for families seeking a low-key, relaxing escape. The resort sits on a small, golden sand beach along one of Puerto Vallarta's most beautiful coves. It's a historic setting in Hollywood terms, for at the far end of the cove sits a location used in 1963 to film "Night of the Iguana," the movie that sparked the love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. 

The property's 316 guest suites, many of which have been completely renovated and refurbished recently, provide guests with plenty of family room to spread out and unwind. This property is a particularly good choice for parents who want the privacy of their own bedroom, as well as for families with 'tweens and teens who want to share vacation time together while still maintaining their own space. The hotel's 179 new one-bedroom suites each have two rooms. The bedroom has a sleeping area with plush bedding, a desk, and a sleeper sofa. The second room is a living area that also includes a second sleeper sofa. Flat screen plasma televisions, private terraces with ocean or garden views, and high speed Internet access are provided in these guest suites. For large families and multigenerational groups seeking even more space, 109 two-bedroom family suites as well as Grand and Presidential suites are also available. The resort's spa offers massages, body wraps and facials, and a complimentary air-conditioned fitness center allows guests to stay fit while on vacation.

As a Barceló Premium hotel, all dining, house cocktails, wine and beer are provided free of charge on the resort's all-inclusive plan. Guests may choose from five restaurants: Don Quijote, a fine dining venue featuring classic Spanish cuisine; the Los Arcos grill offering steaks and seafood; an Italian-themed dinner restaurant called Capri; and two buffet restaurants. El Patio's buffet is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and also provides light food and hamburgers at its snack bar. La Cantina, the other buffet restaurant, services Mexican favorites.

The lush gardens and mature vegetation in the center of the property give the grounds of the Barceló La Jolla de Mismaloya a delightful, tropical feel. The resort features 4 pools complete with waterfalls, a water slide, Jacuzzis, and a children's pool. A free Kids Club program for children ages 5-12 operates between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. Plenty of air-conditioned space is available in the Kids Club area for arts and crafts, games, video programs, and more. Babysitters can be arranged with at least 24 hours advance notice through the hotel concierge. Babysitting rates start at approximately $10 per hour, but can vary depending on the number of children and time of day requested. An on-site shopping promenade is available for purchases of sundries and special souvenirs.

The resort's new Club Premium Service gives guests the opportunity for more personalized service and easier access to resort's many dining options. The service provides individualized check-in and check-out; early check-in and late check-out without an additional fee subject to availability; a private VIP Lounge for exclusive use by Premium Club guests; concierge service; upgraded in-room amenities; unlimited access to a la carte restaurants; and preference for all types of resort reservations including dining reservations. This service is available free of charge for those reserving Premium ocean view suites. The service provides a "club within a resort" feel to your vacation stay and makes it easier to obtain multiple specialty restaurant reservations and other services. Open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, the resort's Club Premium lounge provides afternoon tea, a daily sunset cocktail reception and free Internet access, as well as attentive concierge service. All guest suites on the Premium Club Level also have upgraded amenities including bathrobes, slippers and deluxe bath amenities.

Activities and Adventures Abound

Although the Barceló La Jolla de Mismaloya is a relaxing tropical oasis for families, there are lots of activities and adventures available both on and off property. Families can take advantage of the resort's tennis court and fitness center, as well as a wide variety of water sports are also available. Play tennis, take out a kayak, go diving, take a snorkeling trip to Los Arcos, or head out on an invigorating hike to a variety of locations, such as Chino's Paradise, where you can have lunch and swim in the natural rock pools. One of the sets from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "Predator" is located up the road by El Eden, also the site of an exciting canopy tour. One of the largest canopy tours in the area is Canopy Tours de los Veranos, with a total of 14 cables offering families the opportunity to zip through the trees and across the river gorge at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. Children must be 6 years of age or older to participate at Canopy Tours de los Veranos and 7 years of age to ride at El Eden.  Other restrictions apply, so make sure to check the canopy tour websites for more details.

Beach, boating and water-based excursions are plentiful in the Puerto Vallarta area. One of my favorite day cruises is a catamaran sail to Yelapa and Majuahuitas. Yelapa is a quaint old fishing village set in its own natural cove. Here you can relax on the golden sand crescent beach, have lunch, and take a swim. Active families can hike up to a nearby waterfall, but check first to make sure it hasn't disappeared during the dry season. If you're lucky, the local Pie Lady will come down the beach carrying slices of her pies on her head. Try some -- the chocolate coconut variety is delicious.

Las Caletas is another magical destination for families. Once the private tropical hideaway of famous film director John Huston, this exclusive beachfront preserve is now available for day or evening excursions. Las Caletas is a privately-owned sanctuary accessible only by the sea. During the day, families can relax on the secluded beach, take paella cooking classes, go diving or kayaking, hike along jungle paths, or even have the opportunity to snorkel with playful sea lions. A full buffet lunch is served and a variety of spa treatments are offered at Las Caletas' hilltop spa. In the evening, a special "Rhythms of the Night" program is available for adults and children ages 10 and older. The tour includes a spectacular cultural dance show and a candlelit buffet dinner. If you come in the evening, bring along a light jacket and some bug spray in case you need it.

Other popular tours in the Puerto Vallarta area are the dolphin swim and dolphin encounter experiences, the America's Cup sailing adventure, jeep and ATV tours, Marietas Islands snorkeling and whale watching cruises, and sea safaris around Banderas Bay. The La Jolla de Mismaloya's tour desk can help you find the perfect adventure for your family. Make sure to meet with tour representatives early in your stay, as some popular excursions sell out quickly.

Shoppers and art lovers will find many areas to explore in the nearby colonial city of Puerto Vallarta. Hop on the bus or take a quick cab ride to the downtown area, where you can stroll along the malecón and admire the beautiful bronze sculptures, visit art galleries, shop in the many stores along the city's cobblestone streets, or browse the vendors' craft and souvenir stands in the Rio Cuale area. Puerto Vallarta is filled with an enchanting array of architecturally stunning buildings, stores, galleries, and seaside vistas. On Sundays, you'll find lots of local families walking along the malecón and enjoying the antics of the street mimes and clowns.

There are many good restaurants and snack shops downtown, so plan to stop for lunch along the way. If you can, take time out to sample the wide variety of ice creams and fruit sorbets at La Michoacana. I've been known to walk several blocks out of the way just for a taste of their coconut ice cream.

If You Go:

* For more information or to make reservations at the Barceló La Jolla de Mismaloya, visit their website at www.barcelolajolla.com or contact your favorite travel agent.

* Stop by the concierge desk in the lobby to make your specialty restaurant reservations as soon as you arrive at the resort, as popular dining times fill quickly. Club Premium guests have unlimited access to a la carte restaurants, while other guests typically are allowed 2 a la carte reservations for a 5-7 night stay. Restaurant reservations should be made as far in advance as possible, but they can also be made on the same day you would like to dine. If you do not get the dates or times that you want, check back with the concierge periodically, as cancellations do occur. Travel agents can make dining reservations for their clients in advance, so if you make your vacation plans through an agent, ask them to make your dining reservations for you at time of booking.

* Try to reserve one of the renovated Premium ocean view suites, or even a larger suite if your budget can handle it. They are particularly spacious and the water views are lovely. In addition, those rooms include the Club Premium Service. The suites in Tower One of the resort have just been completely renovated. Tower Two was renovated about three years ago and the suites in that building were not part of the most recent renovation. Make sure to communicate your room location and bedding preferences to the resort in advance via fax or e-mail, or have your travel agent do it for you. Crib requests should also be made at time of booking.

* The resort is located near the mountains and jungle, and sometimes no-see-um bugs come out early in the morning or at dusk. Bring along some Deep Woods Off wipes or other bug repellent. I brought along some carry-on insect wipes and we had no problems.

* If you're going to be at the resort for more than a few days, stop by the hotel's tour desk early in your stay to see what's available. Some tours make special pick up stops at the resort on selected days, so you may want to plan to go then. Also, make sure to pick up a copy of the resort's daily activities calendar. You'll find out about daily theater shows, exercise programs, sports activities and other events.

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