When rocker Eric Clapton donated a Fender Lead II guitar to mark his favorite seat at London’s Hard Rock Cafe in 1979, he did more than permanently reserve his perch at the quirky American diner. The axeman extraordinaire sparked what is today an enduring Hard Rock tradition of displaying authentic music memorabilia at its cafes, hotels, casinos and live music venues around the globe.
We roll in to check out the newest among these 177 “museums” at the beachfront Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta, the former Vallarta Palace that was upgraded, reflagged and re-opened in August 2012. The 348-room Riviera Nayarit resort joins Hard Rock’s expanding all-inclusive portfolio that launched in Punta Cana before hitting Mexico’s sunny shores in Cancun and Vallarta. Riviera Maya’s rendition is set to premiere later this year.
setting the stage
Equal parts rock shrine and resort, the property plays up the decadency tune with its “All day, all night, all included” mantra. “We didn’t want Hard Rock to fall into an all-inclusive sea of sameness,” says Frank Maduro, v.p. of marketing for the All Inclusive Collection. “We’ve differentiated the brand with exotic experiences, authentic experiences, iconic architecture, lavish dining options and upscale ambiance.”
Since music is considered the universal language, you’d expect Hard Rock to sing its message loud and clear. The resort nails it across the board, from guitar pick employee nametags to the signature Hard Rock tattoo created by hundreds of instruments mounted on a lobby wall.
At check-in, the staff encourages us to indulge our fantasies and live a vacation life of excess. They jump-start the process by providing a code for downloading a 15-song playlist with Hard Rock’s The Sound of Your Stay program. We could also tap into our inner rock star by requesting room service delivery of a Fender guitar, mini-amplifier and SOUL by Ludacris headphones.
It’s easy to linger inside even on a sunny day. The 7-story, atrium-style lobby sets the stage for gawking at such memorabilia as Mick Jaggar’s fringed leather vest, Katy Perry’s diva dresses, Prince’s “cloud” guitar, and a dramatic photo row starring Madonna, Rihanna, Elvis and James Brown. Hard Rock keeps it edgy by refreshing displays with items from its 73,000-piece collection that just keeps growing.
The star of the lobby show is a massive 70 ft. x 40 ft. mosaic of Carlos Santana playing guitar that’s composed of 2,800 LP record covers. This one is a hit especially with vinyl-era guests who spot covers from their own collections.
On each floor, elevators open to a large-scale photo of international legends in full concert glory. Guestsrooms and suites are garnished with double jet spas, stocked mini-refrigerators, four-bottle premium liquor dispensers, LCD TVs, French balconies, complimentary WiFi, nightly turndown service, and unlimited telephone calls to the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
To max out your clients’ star power, recommend the solo Rock Star Suite. With 2,511 sq. ft. of retro-vibe luxury, this 2-bedroom number ramps up the decadence with a full kitchen, spacious outdoor terrace, double jet spa and exclusive memorabilia.
VIP treatment and themed touches flow to recreation and dining as well. Guests can regroup on shaded loungers along the resort’s stellar stretch of beach, work out in the Body Rock Fitness Center or indulge in organic treatments at the Rock Spa.
While Maduro notes that U.S. business is skewed toward couples aside from holidays, the resort accommodates kids with an activities club, and separate wet area with waterfalls, pool and slides. Adults can plug into a pair of jacuzzis and pools, with the most active sporting a swim-up bar.
“Our international chefs make our cuisine standard also a step beyond,” Maduro says. Choices include contemporary Mexican at Frida, Asian flavors at Zen, Italian specialties at Ciao, grilled churrasco at the Brazilian-style Ipanema, an international buffet at The Market and brick-oven pizzas prepped poolside at Pizzeto. A room service menu is also offered around the clock.
After dinner, guests gravitate to hotspot Sun Bar, Hard Rock’s version of a British pub that hops with live music every night. An outdoor amphitheater hosts themed night shows and big name concerts scheduled throughout the year.
“We prefer adding value with our food and beverage quality, and what we include in our all-inclusive amenities,” Maduro says. Rather than discounting, the brand extends up to $1,500 resort credit based on consecutive 5- to 8-night stays per room. Credit can be applied toward upgrades, tours, spa treatments, golf outings and select wedding packages.
Through Dec. 31, 2013, nightly rates range from $468 dbl for Deluxe Rooms to $2,624 for the Rock Star Suite. Maximum occupancy is up to four and six, respectively, with additional guest fees from $208 nightly.
When Nuevo Vallarta was rebranded as Riviera Nayarit in 2007, the CVB’s goal was to differentiate this 192-mile Pacific coast stretch from neighboring Puerto Vallarta to the south. “It just made sense to refer to it as Riviera since the area covers 15 coastal towns that are each diverse,” says Richard Zarkin, Riviera Nayarit Convention & Visitors Bureau’s public relations manager.
Framed by the Sierra Madre Mountains and Banderas Bay, the region encompasses the historic colonial town of San Blas, exclusive Punta Mita, picturesque fishing villages, a 200-slip marina, championship golf courses and eco-tourism that’s off the charts.
Vallarta Adventures is the go-to source for booking your clients’ excursions before they arrive. Among its biggies are extreme ziplining through treetop canopies, jeep safaris, seasonal whale watching tours, eco-cruises to the Marietas Islands and the spiritual “Rhythms of the Night” dinner show.
Many visitors launch their cultural quest at bohemian Sayulita, where colorful cobblestone streets attract an eclectic mix of surfers, artists and U.S. ex-pats. The emerging stand-up paddling (SUP) craze attracts a flurry of ocean rec lovers to the town, with March’s Punta Sayulita Classic touting a deep pool of pros for SUP and longboard events.
Other annual Riviera Nayarit events include the Banderas Bay International Regatta, Punta Mita Gourmet & Golf Classic, San Blas International Fishing Tournament and Festival Gourmet International that links global chefs with local culinary masters to celebrate the region’s gastronomic scene.
Riviera Nayarit is located 10 minutes north of the recently expanded Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR). Service is available from major U.S. and Canadian gateways via US Airways, United Airlines, American Airlines, Frontier, Alaska Airlines, Virgin America, Aeromexico, Volaris and WestJet.
A dedicated satellite terminal caters exclusively to international flights (some seasonal) to and from Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.
apple’s taste of vallarta
“We think Vallarta is a great destination for all travelers—couples, families and girls’ getaways,” says Sandy Babin, v.p. of marketing for Apple Vacations. “On one hand, it’s authentic Mexico. And on the other, you find modern resorts like Hard Rock Vallarta for anyone who just loves rock and roll.”
In addition to Apple’s exclusive PVR service from Chicago and Denver this summer, the company also operates summer flights from Minneapolis and Dallas. “Our robust scheduled air program makes Vallarta easily accessible from many cities across the United States,” Babin says.
She notes that Apple has seen a surge in both first-time and repeat business to Vallarta for 2013. “It’s a strong destination that’s growing stronger. And there’s a loyalty that’s unique. With a growing culinary community, world-class golf and exciting day excursions, Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit are becoming one hot combo.”
Apple assists with seasonal package promotions and such resources as an HD video of Vallarta-area hotels, excursions and destination vignettes. Agents are encouraged to log-on to the Travel Agent Cafe (travelagentcafe.com) and embed these videos on their website, e-mail them to potential clients and share socially. “You can really feel Vallarta’s charm and depth when you view this video,” says Babin.
Babin adds that Apple also supports agents with escorted and independent FAMs. “We find that once agents see Vallarta for themselves, they can confidently convert new customers to the destination.”
(800) 517-2000; applevacations.com
Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta: (888) 762-5002; hrhvallarta.com or allinagents.com
Riviera Nayarit Convention & Visitors Bureau: rivieranayarit.com or rivieranayarit.com/travel_professionals_nayarit
Vallarta Adventures: (888) 526-2238; vallarta-adventures.com