For a bit of adventure we went on an ocean safari with Punta Mita Expeditions. We booked this through the St. Regis for $125 per person however if your able to book through the website they may offer a lower fare. There are two ocean safari’s (one at 10am and one at 3pm) and we chose the earlier one which starts at 10am and went till 1pm. There was another couple from the St. Regis with us and two other couples already on the boat when they picked us up. The maximum is eight people per trip which is nice since you can get some individual attention if need be. There was also a captain and two other employees on the boat. One employee went with a couple that was actually diving and another employee Joshua accompanied the six of us on the safari.
It was very fun as we got to snorkel and paddle board. We snorkeled through a small cave like opening that you actually have to swim under water for a brief second in order to get to a small “secret beach”. Its best to go early as we beat two other boats that had 50 people each!!!! We also got to see the blue footed Booby bird which only resides here and the Galapagos Islands. Punta Mita Expeditions have GoPro cameras and as part of the service, provide you with free pictures of you throughout the trip. To obtain the pictures you simply need to like them on Facebook and save the pictures you want to your computer.
I will say compared to our Maui trip just the month before that the snorkeling is not as good. When we snorkeled Molokini it was crystal clear and amazing! While here it was more murky and after about 25-30 feet it was harder to see in the water. A nice touch is that Joshua would dive down and find some sea life for our group and bring it to us to hold or touch! He grabbed a huge puffer fish and my wife got to touch it and we got a close up look of that and an ocean spider like creature!
We were very fortunate to spend 5 nights at the St. Regis Punta Mita! This property is more than amazing and we were very impressed! I am going to showcase a lot of pictures in this post (that’s your warning) that will hopefully give you a feel for being at the property. The St. Regis Punta Mita is now instantly one of my favorite properties and just a few days ago they were named the number one resort in all of Mexico and the number eight resort in the world by Tripadvisor.com and I can certainly see why! You can see their list here.
On arrival we were greeted by the bellmen and checkin staff that are outside the arrival area. They immediately offered us tea or a margarita (guess which one we chose). The margarita was just what the doctor ordered! They confirmed our names and walked us into an arrival or lobby area and offered us a seat on one of their couches and let us enjoy our drinks while they got all of our paperwork in order. They confirmed our reservation and payment details and we met our butler and he then walked us to our room which was not far from the arrival area. We were not upgraded as gold members but this was certainly not a garden view room in my opinion either.
Our butler went over all the details in the room and asked if we wanted a NY times or a USA Today delivered in the mornings. I chose not to get a paper but if you stay here I would advise to get a paper because they also give you a daily activity paper which I then had to ask for separately to know what was going on around the property. The room was very nicely appointed! I was not disappointed at all with this standard room. The rooms are typically all casita style with 4 units to a casita. We had a ground level room which offers the benefit of an additional outdoor shower. On the flip side the the upper units have a better view of course. So its a matter of personal preference if you want the additional space and shower or the higher view.
Sheraton BunganVillas Resort and Conference Center
Our first night and last two nights of our vacation were spent at the Sheraton Buganvillas Resort and Conference Center. The reason for this was that we did want to spend some time in Puerto Vallarta and we were arriving in the evening around 8pm on our fist night. This property is very close to the Malecon so we could walk right there from the hotel and back. It was about 15 minutes to get into the heart of the city via walking. I debated staying at the Westin but that is a 15 minute shuttle drive to the Malecon so being able to walk right there was the deciding factor instead of waiting on shuttle buses.
On arrival to the property via a $12 taxi ride we were greeted by the bellmen and they were happy to grab our bags and walk us up to the checkin line. The lobby is nice especially for a Sheraton. Its open and airy and just off the back of the lobby is the pool so you get some of the ocean air in the lobby. Checkin was smooth and they upgraded us to a club level room on the 22nd floor. On our last two nights of the trip they also upgraded us to a club level room on the 21st floor with a slightly better view. We are only Starwood gold members so they didn’t have to upgrade us and it was appreciated.
Our bellman quickly met us after we received our room key and escorted us up to our room and showed us around. Sheraton is not my favorite brand in SPG family so I am always a little hesitant when selecting one but this one was very pleasant.
22nd level floorplan
Our room 2229
Welcome amenity on our table
View from the window
View on the left side
Shortly after getting settled we had a visitor arrive and present us with two glasses of champaign which was a nice unexpected gesture. He advised he was our butler and would be taking care of any of our needs. On our 2nd stay however, the last 2 nights of our trip this service did not happen. Who staying at a Sheraton is expecting or needs a butler? I hate to judge but I am pretty sure 99.9% of the guests here don’t have or use a butler at home so maybe a little overkill for this type of property considering room rates can be found for under $100 a night. The champaign was pretty bad and my wife didn’t finish hers. We never used the butler needless to say.
A very nice feature of the room is that the window is floor to ceiling and the windows slide open to create a very wide opening bringing a lot of sun and ocean breeze. So no balconies at this property but the open window is very nice and you can hear the ocean waves loud and clear with the windows open from our rooms on the 22nd and 21st floors.
Our complimentary champaign
Cruise ship in the distance
Video walkthrough of our room below:
On two occasions we did stop over to the club lounge on the 23rd floor for free breakfast. It is just a continental breakfast so don’t expect eggs and bacon or any hot items. On one morning they had bananas but the next time they didn’t. I like bananas in my Frosted Flakes!! I had some cereal and pastries and my wife had a hard boiled egg and toast. There was orange juice and milk or they would bring you coffee which my wife said was good.
Part of the breakfast spread in the lounge
Pastries in the lounge
Here it is, the breakfast of champions.
Try to get one of two tables next to the window in the lounge
Club lounge entrance
We did use the modest gym our first morning since we have stopped paying for a gym membership so why not get in a quick workout. There was only one person in the gym when we entered and she was on the one and only elliptical machine so my wife and I took the two working treadmills (one wasn’t working). We did about 30-40 minutes of jogging then about 10 minutes of resistance training. The gym is basic but they had free weights and most things to get an adequate workout.
Free weights section of the gym
Common area’s and exterior
The property has some very nice tennis courts. I am a tennis fan and I was quite surprised how nice these hard courts were maintained. They have four courts complete with umpires chairs too! Too bad I didn’t bring my stick because they have many clinics for people of all ages and skill levels. In the afternoon the courts were very busy with players.
Nice tennis courts
Have to pose in front of the properties
Pool and beach
We checked out the pool and the beach although we didn’t spend anytime there at this property because we had plenty of beach time at the St. Regis in Punta Mita which is the next installment of this report. The pool was pretty big and it never appeared over crowded. There are a lot of rooms and guests at this property and the sun chairs are numerous!! I noticed by about 10am there were people claiming their spots but there are so many chairs I don’t think you would need to worry about finding a spot around the pool. I did notice there is not much beach seating however. It appears the beach is public and the locals are free to stand on the beach and sell their wares (trust me you will see plenty of this throughout Puerto Vallarta). I would assume most people don’t want to lay or sit on the beach due to those constant distractions.
Here you can see the guy dressed in white with the backpack is trying to sell something.
Notice the rooms and the floor to ceiling windows
We were never offered a timeshare presentation which I was glad about however we did receive a random phone call at 10am in our room. The lady caller was downstairs and mentioned she had $100 in coupons and a free beach bag at one of the counters next to the elevators. I didn’t bother because I assumed there is something attached and frankly we didn’t need either offer.
I didn’t take pictures of our second room on the last two nights because it was almost identical aside from the sink fixtures and the room had the TV wall mounted instead of inside a cabinet or hutch.
We chose not to eat on the property at all since there are so many local restaurants just a few minutes walk away. We did however stop at the bar to use up our two free drink coupons provided at checkin. We chose two Pacifico’s and we couldn’t believe the crowd and how crowded it is (the bar area is small). It was like a spring break scene for 30/40 year olds. We got out of there fairly quick!
The biggest negative of this property is the internet connectivity!!! If you need to have a reliable internet connection at this property-FORGET IT! It was possible to connect after a few moments and maybe send or receive email. Anything past that you may want to look at another property. My iPhone always showed a strong 2-3 bar signal however the connection speed was pathetic!!
Another annoyance is the water pressure from the sinks is very weak. I hated washing my hands or taking a shower in the rooms because the water pressure was too low to make it enjoyable. So between the wifi and the water pressure issues this could potentially be a property to skip but you have to decide how important those things are.
In general this was a slightly above average property in a good setting/location. If you want the weather and water and to be close to the Malecon in PVR then this is a solid choice. The staff was friendly and helpful and for 2 or 3 nights this was perfectly fine to allow us to be close to the action and experience Puerto Vallarta.
So to recap, we stayed one night on arrival in Puerto Vallarta and two nights at the end of our trip to be close to the airport and see the town. I decided to use Starwood’s “cash and points” option.
The normal cash rate for this property when I checked on several weeks was about $130-150 a night. If it was under $100 a night I would have probably just paid cash. So using cash and points I was able to redeem 3500 points per night to get a cash rate of $55. So the total cash and points was 3500 points and $55 per night. Again the other option was to pay around $140 plus taxes for the three nights and I just didn’t want to do that.
Here are the cash rates of all 3 Starwood properties in Puerto Vallarta on our first night in Mexico about a month prior to the trip
Email confirmation for our first night in Puerto Vallarta
Email confirmation for our last two nights
Email confirmation showing rate details for our last two nights
So instead of paying over $400 cash for three nights including taxes we paid about $190 and 10,500 points all in. The points saved us over $200. Plus we earned about 2700 SPG points for the stays and redeemed 2 free drinks. The cash and points option is nice when you don’t have a lot of points or don’t want to shell out a bunch of cash. The SPG points were worth just about $0.02 cents per point. I try to redeem SPG points for no less than $.02 cents per points and frankly didn’t want to spend a lot of cash. As I said earlier if the property was $100 a night I probably would have booked it so the $40 a night difference was just enough for me to say lets just redeem a few points. There are times throughout the year where you will be able to book this property for $100 a night or perhaps less but usually not in the winter time typically!
Thanks for reading and the next installment will be the St. Regis Punta Mita (don’t miss it)!!!!
During our layover in Dallas on the way to Puerto Vallarta we had the chance to visit The Centurion Lounge. This is one of the nicest airport lounges in the United States however compared to many other international lounges it pales in comparison.
Have an any other American Express card and be willing to pay $50 per person.
My spouse and I both have the AMEX Platinum card which we obtained in January 2013 when for about 36 hours there was a 100,000 Membership rewards bonus offer! However we are canceling our Platinum cards this year as there is a hefty annual fee coming due on them! So we were able to gain “free” entrance due to our platinum cards.
American Airlines flight AA3178 Milwaukee (MKE) to Dallas (DFW)
We arrived at our hometown airport, General Mitchell International, at around 11am for our 12:45pm flight to Dallas. We brought along two bags and a backpack and my wife wanted to check both the bags and keep the backpack and so for this trip we checked two bags one of which could have been a carry on. Normally I will always take the carry on bag with us however I knew in advance we were flying a small regional jet and overhead space can be tight so I was ok with checking the bags.
For the first time, we finally received TSA Precheck on our boarding passes! It has been kind of a pain because for about a year we have had Global Entry and Precheck clearance however our boarding passes were always without the Precheck and it was getting annoying. I realized on our previous trip to Maui that our British Airways frequent flyer number was showing up on our boarding passes as we were redeeming and booking with British Airways. I finally realized I will need to call BA each time now after booking and have them manually remove their frequent flyer number and add our AA frequent flyer numbers (if anyone knows an easier way let me know)!
Finally got TSA PRECHK on our boarding passes. PRIORITY AACESS is due to our AA Citi credit cards that give you priority boarding.
Anyhow checkin was a breeze and due to the Precheck getting through security was amazing. Just dropped the backpack on the conveyor belt and walked over to pick it up. We both felt kind of weird/shocked when we went through because we were used to stripping down to go thru the nude-o-scopes and with me often times needing to get my hands wiped for explosives due to metal buttons on some of my jeans!
We arrived at the gate with just a few people seated in the boarding area.
One of my go-to’s for hotels in Atlanta is the LeMeridien Atlanta (Dunwoody). Its right off the MARTA and you can walk through Perimeter mall to get right there. The prices are normally pretty good. We paid $99 for this one night stay on a Saturday night so there will be no points pinnacle breakdown on this one.
I first stayed here last year and the property is still very fresh and stylish. At the bar they serve several good cocktails. The basic rooms are a generous size and for the price and I think a good value. I actually like this property more than many W hotels because the functionality of the room is still there as well as the style. Sometimes W’s can get too fancy that the functionality is lost.
The staff are always nice and welcoming and acknowledge that I am SPG gold and thank me. They always make sure to go over my welcome gift whereas some properties just give you a drink don’t give you an option unless you ask. They also have a free shuttle to areas close to the hotel but did not need to use that for this stay.
If you need a SPG hotel on the north side of Atlanta and I know there a lot of choices in the greater Atlanta area this property is definitely worth a look! See our room number 1008 and some more of the hotel below.
About a week after we got back from Maui we had a quick weekend trip planned to Atlanta to visit some friends. We usually get to Atlanta at least once a year to visit my old childhood buddy and his family. In 2013 we got down there twice! It worked out great because my wife had only a few thousand Southwest Rapid Reward points left and her companion pass was expiring at the end of the month. So we used the last of her points to book the way down there and then I used my points and companion pass to get back home.
We actually flew Air Tran since Southwest doesn’t fly MKE-ATL directly. When you redeem points for AirTran operated flights they give you boarding position 8 or 9 which is the last call to board! Our seats were also not together as my wife had the window one row ahead of me and I had an aisle on the opposite side of the plan one row behind. That is ok for us for a less than 2 hour flight. We arrived in ATL and grabbed two quick roundtrip Marta train passes for around $6 per person and took it north to Dunwoody where my buddy picked us up at our hotel.
We got to see him and the rest of his family and their daughter is our god daughter. So its nice to catch up and see whats happening down there. They had a get together as the Adrian Broner fight was on that night so we met several other people that night and shot the breeze and watched the fight and whatnot.
Our friends kids with the mini cheeseheads we brought them from the MKE airport.
We hated leaving Maui! It was time to go back to cold Wisconsin and the nasty winter weather. We had an 11pm flight out of Maui and landing in LAX early the next morning. Then we had to connect in SFO and then finally land in MKE at 4:30pm in the afternoon.
In the beginning I was curious to compare Maui vs Kauai. Now that we have been to both islands and had a pretty good chance to explore each (10 days in Kauai in 2012 vs 6 days in Maui) we both concluded we liked Kauai better. Maybe because it was our first time in Hawaii? The natural beauty of Kauai is just so hard to top. The scenery is amazing there. Now Maui has great variety and also many, many amazing locales but the smaller Kauai is just better to us. Maui has “more to do” as far as shopping and food and beverage. We felt Kauai had more to do “outdoors” even though it is smaller.
If its someones first time to Hawaii a great idea would be to split these two islands maybe 4 days each. That would be just enough to do a lot of the “must do’s” on each island. Our next Hawaiian island will be the big Island and then Oahu last. Perhaps we could do Molokai and Lanai together on a separate trip as well.
Kauai sunset 2012-Hanalei bay
Maui Sunset 2013
We were so very thankful to be able spend this time together and to see another beautiful place on earth. This trip was not close to being free between the many meals and excursions there are still many costs to a trip like this however to pay less than $20 per ticket for our airfare and five of hotel nights being free aside from the $30 per day valet parking fee is what makes it possible. That is only due to points and miles. A Thanksgiving trip like this to me is taking miles and points to the pinnacle and the reason I am writing this blog! I want other people to be able to see these amazing places with their own two eyes!
I hope you enjoyed our trip report and let me know if you have any questions about planning your own Hawaii trip. Thanks for reading!
We ate at several establishments around the island. This blog entry is simply going to highlight a few of the places we ate outside of our hotel.
Mama’s Fish House
We both LOVED Mama’s Fish House!!! This place is very popular and very expensive but I will say upfront it is very worth it! We made reservations a few days earlier and ended up canceling our Thanksgiving day reservations and instead ate here the day after Thanksgiving. We arrived slightly early and had a mai tai at the bar. This place had the best mai tai’s of any place on the island!!
Our server Steve was very professional and attentive. He later came over and discretely passed me a very lovely lei to give to my wife which was a nice touch.
The food was the star of the show. I had the best calamari I have ever had in my life here!! It was simply amazing!!! My wife had a fish dish that she really enjoyed and I had a Hawaiian sampler type of dish with several different Hawaiian delicacies which was very good!! The place was crowed and I understand it has some great ocean views however it was pitch black when we ate (due to our late reservation) so we couldn’t see the ocean. So next time we would try for a 5-6pm reservation for the sunset. Mama’s Fish House is a MUST DO in Maui.
On our very last night in Maui we stayed at the Westin Ka’anapali. I wanted to experience the western side of the island and also obtain another Starwood hotel stay. The hotel was available on cash and points and was a decent redemption so it worked out good.
We arrived and the bell staff took our bags and asked if we wanted to self park and I said yes as we were paying for mandatory valet parking of $30 at the Andaz so it was nice to get “free” parking here. There was only one person checking people in so there was about a 10 minute wait to checkin in. She was able to get us into a newly refurbished room. From the outside you can see there is construction going on and they are renovating rooms section by section.
The room was clean and nice-typical Westin rooms. Nothing extraordinary but nice and gets the job done. The view from the balcony was pretty good and had ocean and pool views to our left. Once in the room I called back down to confirm 4pm checkout as I forgot to ask at checkin. They confirmed that would be OK.
The common areas were pleasant and there are a lot of different pools around the grounds. The grounds are expansive and the property feels more like a mega resort compared to the Andaz. Many more rooms+cheaper prices=more guests. Be prepared for a lot of people in and around the property. It appears Ka’anapali is very touristy with many hotels and timeshares. The plus side to that is there are a lot of bars and restaurants in the area.
On our last day in Maui before flying home in the evening we spent the whole day at the beach sun bathing and having a few drinks. We did go swimming in the ocean and the beach is nice. There is a bit of a riptide and the waves are kind of strong but the beach is clean and the sand is soft. Below are some pictures of our room.