Sunday,  September 27, 2020  9:32 pm

"You have to live it to believe it:" Canadian agents explore the charms of Velas Resorts


"You have to live it to believe it:" Canadian agents explore the charms of Velas Resorts
Left: Sophie Raymond, regional sales manager, Canada, Velas Resorts; top right, from left: travel advisors Anie Chevrier, Penny Ho & Barbara Scrocco.
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Staying at a Velas resort is like being in an upscale Mexican home.

That was the consensus, last week (Feb. 4-7), amongst six Canadian travel agents who were handpicked to experience three posh properties in the Velas Resorts collection along Mexico’s Pacific coast.

Travel advisors gather at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit in Nuevo Vallarta.

“Travel agents are our priority,” organizer Sophie Raymond, regional sales manager for Canada at Velas Resorts, told PAX, which covered the trip, exclusively. “We’re here because of them.”

The trip, titled “Fam under the stars,” is one that Raymond hosts three to six times a year to not only build new relationships with top-tier travel advisors, but to also give participants an opportunity to experience the pure luxury of a Velas stay, first-hand.  

“It’s a family-run, family-owned, authentic Mexican business,” Raymond explained. “When you’re here, you‘ll feel like you’re in Mexico.”

“Travel agents are our priority,” says Sophie Raymond, regional sales manager for Canada at Velas Resorts.

“You have to live it to believe it”

You’ll also, arguably, unearth some of Mexico’s best.

Velas Resorts operates six luxury properties in popular regions on both sides of the country, with each resort boasting its own unique set of high-end offerings.

In Puerta Vallarta, there’s Velas Vallarta (the first resort to open in the collection) and Casa Velas (a boutique property for adults).

Then, 20 to 30 minutes up the road, in the lush state of Nayarit, there’s Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit in Nuevo Vallarta.

(These three were the focus of Raymond’s latest trip).

READ MORE: PAX Checks In with Velas Resorts' Sophie Raymond

Sexy Los Cabos is where Velas Resorts operates two of its newest properties on the southernmost tip of the Baja California Peninsula – the 304-suite Grand Velas Los Cabos and the 48-suite, Greek Islands-inspired Mar Del Cabo.

Then, in Playa del Carmen, there’s Grand Velas Rivera Maya, a 449-suite sanctuary where the Mayan jungle meets the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

SWIM TIME. Poolside at Grand Velas Rivera Maya (file photo)

All properties are for all ages (with exception to Casa Velas) and are picture perfect thanks to manicured gardens, sprawling suites and an ongoing commitment to upgrades and innovation.

Velas also ranks high when it comes to service, dining and reviews – the hotels have, notably, earned more than 52 AAA Diamonds, including the prestigious Five Diamond Award, and routinely receives top accolades on TripAdvisor.

The Grand Velas properties, for one, have a minimum of four four-diamond restaurants on site, led by a team of culinary masters – at Grand Velas Los Cabos, for instance, Chef Sidney Schutte, holds two Michelin stars

Frida, one of Grand Velas Los Cabos' gourmet restaurants. (Velas Resorts).

The options on the wine lists soar into the dozens. 

But the intriguing part here, in all of this, is that Velas Resorts is an all-inclusive operation (with the exception to Mar Del Cabo, the brand’s only European Plan hotel).

And that, the brand will attest, is where the true value of a high-quality, service-oriented, authentically-Mexican vacation lies.

“Everyone’s a VIP,” said Raymond, describing the guest experience. “During the day, it’s about enjoying the beach and pool with concierge service. At night, you go to a gourmet restaurant that’s equal to the likes of one in a big city like New York.”

But only so many descriptions can accurately sum-up the Velas experience.

As Mr. Juan Vela Ruiz, vice-president of Velas Resorts, told PAX in a previous interview: “You have to live it to believe it.”

Travel advisors especially.

“[Travel advisors] are the number one factor around credibility when it comes to getting new clients,” he said. “I need somebody who can talk to clients and say, ‘This is true. I’ve been there. I know it.’”

“You have to live it to believe it,” Juan Vela Ruiz, vice-president of Velas Resorts, told PAX about his resorts. (File photo)

Velas Vallarta, where it all began  

With 345 rooms – a selection of deluxe studios, suites of one, two and three rooms, and Master, Oceanfront and Presidential categories – Velas Vallarta is where this all began. 

Thirty years ago, Mr. Juan Vela and his brother, Eduardo Vela Ruiz, founder and president of Velas Resorts, built the property as a condominium complex, a project that, unfortunately, didn’t take off as hoped.

And so, the ocean-facing compound – with its prized views of the Pacific Ocean and Sierra Madre mountains – was reimagined into a resort for families and the domestic market at large.

Velas Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta was originally built as a condo complex 30 years ago. (Velas Resorts)

“This is where everything was born,” Pedro Luna, Velas Vallarta’s director of sales and marketing, told PAX.

For Luna, who has worked for Velas Resorts for nearly 30 years, Velas Vallarta is much more than an all-inclusive luxury resort. 

“I feel like I was born and raised on this property. I’m very attached to it,” Luna said. “Home is here.”

Home – a word often used to describe Velas Resorts – is a feeling that immediately sets in as staff warmly greet you by name in the hotel’s majestic lobby.

Given that it was built as condos, the living spaces at Velas Vallarta, indeed, feel like a home, complete with kitchens, spacious living rooms and terraces blooming with brilliant, bright bougainvilleas.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME. An oceanview suite at Velas Vallarta. (Velas Resorts)

The suites, many of which can be connected, are “practically an apartment,” said Luna.

Barbara Scrocco of TravelOnly praised the “top-notch” food at Velas Vallarta’s Andrea and La Ribera restaurants, but also loved how the resort gave her “a true sense of authentic Mexico and Puerto Vallarta.”

“This sets the tone for a perfect family vacation,” Scrocco told PAX.

Travel advisor Anie Chevrier of The Travel Boutique added that Velas Vallarta “doesn’t feel like a resort.” But rather, “it feels like a small family community.”

SOARING VIEWS. The rooftop terrace of the Presidential Suite at Velas Vallarta. (Velas Resorts)

The property is just a 10 to 15-minute taxi ride to downtown Puerto Vallarta, home to bustling shops, galleries, restaurants, and a sculpture-laden Malecón, a famous beachside promenade.

“People are what make a good experience,” Sonia Cruz, a promotions coordinator for the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board, told PAX. “And the people in Puerto Vallarta will make you feel at home.  It’s an authentic town. You’ll always find a smiling face.”

Puerto Vallarta's Malecón, a famous beachside promenade, is just 10-15 minutes away.

Velas Vallarta is also just 10 (OK, maybe even nine) minutes away by car from Puerto Vallarta International Airport, speeding up the “plane to pool” experience, significantly.

And even though it was built 30 years ago, the property – with its magnificent gardens, koi fish ponds and roaming peacocks – is still kept in pristine shape.

“Almost half of the clientele are repeat customers,” Raymond told us, noting the abundance of parents, grandparents, grandchildren, and children, who pass through.

Velas Vallarta, with its gardens, koi fish ponds and roaming peacocks, is kept in pristine shape. (Velas Resorts)

Mr. Juan Vela himself maintains a residency at Velas Vallarta and can be seen, at any point, walking the grounds, a nod to the family’s hands-on approach to maintaining excellence.

He makes a point of visiting all of his hotels on a regular basis. (“He’s on top of every detail,” Luna told us. “He really cares.”)

READ MORE: Velas Resorts honours Canadian agents at Partner of the Year retreat

Especially when it comes to curating epic experiences around gastronomy.

One thing you won’t find at a Velas property is ho-hum hotel food – the kitchens, word has it, are given carte blanche to source ingredients and build mind-blowing menus.

“They want to compete with the best-ranked restaurants in the world,” Luna said.

From left: advisors Penny Ho, Anie Chevrier & Barbara Scrocco; Velas' Resorts' Francisco Renteria & Sophie Raymond.

“It’s all very exclusive” at Casa Velas

Down the street from Velas Vallarta, tucked away in PV’s upscale Marina Vallarta neighbourhood, the luxe life continues to unfold at Casa Velas, the brand’s adults-only property.

Geared towards guests aged 18 and up, this 80-suite, Four Diamond-rated sanctuary sits in the palm of a peaceful golf course and is surrounded by an oasis of natural beauty.

Casa Velas is a boutique, adults-only, golf-oriented oasis in PV’s upscale Marina Vallarta neighbourhood. (Velas Resorts)

Raymond describes Casa Velas as a wellness retreat, geared towards golfers, who can access limitless rounds at the neighbouring Marina Vallarta golf course by Joe Finger and Vista Vallarta by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf.

But even if golf isn’t your client’s thing, the pure serenity of the grounds – from the soaring palm trees, lily pad ponds, koi fish and strutting peacocks to the botanical gardens (where the kitchen sources many of its ingredients) to the Mexican haciendas – is gush-worthy enough to woo any luxury seeker.  

Geared towards guests aged 18 and up, Casa Velas is an 80-suite, Four Diamond-rated sanctuary.

“The room layouts are spectacular,” Raymond Surette, an advisor with New Wave Travel, told PAX, describing the property as “intimate and personable.”

The rooms (all of which boast their own unique design) feature original Mexican art pieces and sculptures.

Twenty-four-hour concierge service is the norm, and guests can choose from a variety of chic suites: Master, Grand Class, Wellness, Governor, Ambassador and Presidential.

All suites (with exception to the Master category) have their own private pool.  

Many suites at Casa Velas have their own private plunge pool. (Velas Resorts)

“It’s all very exclusive,” said Penny Ho, an advisor with Vision Travel. “There’s so much greenery, it gives off the sense that you’re at a luxury cottage, but within a city.”

Other noteworthy amenities include Casa Velas Convention Centre, which offers more than 3,000 sq. ft. of flexible space for meetings and events.

There’s the tranquil spa, ABJA, and a healthy offering of yoga, meditation and cooking classes, too. (Our group made a round of juicy ceviche in a tutorial led by Chef Issac Esparza Rodriguez, Casa Velas’ very own executive chef and food and beverage manager).

From left: Chef Issac Esparza Rodriguez, Penny Ho,  Anie Chevrier, Sophie Raymond, Iveth Heredia, Barbara Scrocco.

The property’s restaurant, Emiliano, serves exceptional international cuisine, poolside. 

Or, guests can hop into a shuttle and visit the Ocean Beach Club, a breezy, oceanfront, pool and dining facility, about four minutes down the road, exclusive to Casa Velas guests.

Casa Velas guests can utilize Velas Vallarta nearby, too, if they wish.

“The room layouts are spectacular,” Raymond Surette, an advisor with New Wave Travel. (Velas Resorts)

And, oh, in case your client overpacked and couldn’t fit their accessories, there’s the tempting Casa Velas Handbag Bar, where guests can borrow designer handbags – from Carolina Herrera to Tory Burch to Michael Kors to Pineda Covalin – for a special night out (at no extra cost!)

And remember, like Velas Vallarta, it’s all just minutes away from PVR airport.

“All the little touches” at Grand Velas Riveria Nayarit

Massive suites! All-star dining! Baby concierge! Oh my! 

It’s a similar, but bigger, ballgame at Grand Velas Riveria Nayarit in Nuevo Vallarta, a friendly community about 20 to 30-minutes from Puerto Vallarta, in the jungle-like state of Nayarit.

Grand Velas Riveria Nayarit.

This family-friendly, U-shaped property is everything like the aforementioned others, but grander in scale, exactly as the name suggests. 

The first of Velas’ three Grand Velas properties (and one that pioneered the luxury-included format in the region), AAA Five Diamond-rated Grand Velas Riveria Nayarit offers 267 posh suites (all 1,000-plus sq. ft.) covering Master, Parlor, Governor one-bedroom, Wellness, Grand Class, Family Suite two-bedrooms, President and Imperial Spa categories (all, of course, come with 24-hour concierge service).

Guests are greeted with massages and a glass of champagne (Veuve Clicquot!) upon arrival.

YES PLEASE. Guests of Grand Velas are greeted with a glass of Veuve Clicquot upon arrival.

Those beautiful pink and purple bougainvilleas (Velas’ signature touch) billow from all balconies, which face postcard-perfect gardens, a three-level infinity pool, an adults-only pool, and 656 feet of soft, buttery beachfront.

“I love all the little touches,” Anie Chevrier remarked, noting the phone charging docks offered by the poolside concierge staff, in particular.

The state of Nayarit, a relatively newer destination compared to Puerto Vallarta, offers a nature-rich experience fuelled by local activities (such as zip-lining, hiking, scuba diving and deep sea fishing) and homegrown produce.

“All the food and goods come from close by,” Francisco Cerro, a promotions and sales coordinator at the Riviera Nayarit Visitors and Conventions Bureau, told PAX. “We offer so much value for what you pay.”

Culinary and wellness experiences – much like at all Velas properties – rule at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit.

Four (yes, four) of the six stylish restaurants on site are AAA Four Diamond-rated: Frida (Mexican), Lucca (Italian-Mediterranean), Piaf (French) and Sen Lin (Asian fusion).

Italian-Mediterranean eatery Lucca is one of four Four Diamond-rated restaurants at Grand Velas. (Velas Resorts)

The gourmet experiences at these venues sizzle as teams of staff (many with ten-plus years of experience) prepare, present and fuss over every detail imaginable.

As witnessed at Lucca: women wearing black dresses will receive a black napkin (as opposed to a white one) so their outfits don’t clash.

It’s a level of personalized service that isn’t forced or over-rehearsed either. Everyone working the floor, at all times, seems to be three steps ahead of the guests, resulting in an impressive display of hospitality and professionalism.

READ MOREUnearthing the best of Mexico with Juan Vela Ruiz of Velas Resorts

Then there’s the skillfully-prepared dishes – artisan meals so pretty you’ll wanna take them home and hang them on your wall.

You may even feel guilty for sticking a fork in them.

But nosh away, friends, because if there’s an experience that generates an “mm!” with every succulent bite, it’s dinners at these superior on-site restaurants.

HUNGRY? Tortellone di Zucca is one of the many fine dishes served at Lucca. (Velas Resorts)

Did we mention that we’re at an all-inclusive?

“The service is outstanding and the attention to detail is phenomenal,” Barbara Scrocco gushed.

And because Velas properties work hand-in-hand, guests staying for a minimum of three nights at Casa Velas can dine at one of the gourmet restaurants at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, shuttle included.

READ MORE: WestJet, Velas Resorts talk luxury with high-performing agents in Toronto

“We try to personalize every experience a client may have with us,” Gina Jimenez, sales director for Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit and Casa Velas, told PAX.

Guests will notice this, in particular, in the two-storey Wellness suites offered at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit – the only ones of their kind in the neighbourhood – which include an exercise bike, a private terrace with a jacuzzi and massage beds, aroma therapy options, handmade soaps, rain showers with Vitamin C, privileges at SE Spa, a personalized daily menu, among other things.

The two-storey Wellness suites at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit include a private terrace with jacuzzi & massage beds (Velas Resorts)

“You can have an interview with our Chef beforehand and have a special diet prepared for you,” Jimenez explained.

Little and medium-sized ones are VIPs, too, at Grand Velas.

The property’s unique Baby Concierge service – led by certified baby specialists – lets parents enjoy this paradise on their own, worry-free (baby bath tubs, bottles, strollers and cribs included) and the teen club is lit (literally) boasting an illuminated, multi-coloured dance floor (the coolest we have ever seen at a resort).

And with more than 9,687 sq. ft. of flexible event space – including a well-kept, ocean-facing lawn terrace – you can bet that weddings and events is big business here.

From left: Nelson Martinez, Ray Surette, Paul Chin-Aleong, Penny Ho, Anie Chevrier, Sophie Raymond, Gina Jimenez Barbara Scrocco at Grand Velas Riveria Nayarit.

Allowing just one wedding per day, so all hands can be on deck, Grand Velas’ wedding department caters to all cultural traditions and communities, including same-sex weddings.

They've thought of everything. 

“Every property has something unique to offer clients and every detail is an authentic experience,” Scrocco said. “It really does feel like home.”

Want to learn more about Velas Resorts? Visit the company's trade portal by clicking here or by contacting Sophie Raymond directly at sophie.raymond@velasresorts.com


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