Getting a teen to come along on a family vacation can take some work. Choosing the right hotel for teenagers is an important step. This is how it went when I headed to Puerto Vallarta to stay at an all inclusive hotel in Mexico on a Funjet Vacation with my 17-year-old daughter:
Says teen: I heartily approve of the music selection here.
Says me: Well, it is the Hard Rock Hotel.
Says teen: Oh right. That explains it.
Hotel Features for Teens
Connected teens need to stay connected. And, since we don’t have an international cell plan and every text message would be costing HER money, the key to staying connected in Mexico was wifi.
The wifi was free and really good throughout the resort–in the room, at the pool–we were never in place where we weren’t connected or the service was slow. This was a mixed blessing, of course. I took Tess to Mexico in part because we do not have international cell service, so she couldn’t call or text her friends. But the free, strong wifi meant she could FaceTime and Facebook them at will, at least in the hours when her friends were not in school.
Enough Food to Keep Teens Happy
The food was OK, but plentiful. The cook-to-order stations serving up fresh omelets, huge burgers and yummy fajitas meant the food offerings were a step up from the standard all inclusive buffet food. But the fruit was disappointingly bland–only the cantaloupe was more flavorful than the stuff I had been getting in the grocery in Chicago in the dead of a polar vortex winter.
While the breakfast and lunch were mostly buffets, the hotel has four fine dining restaurants that serve sit-down dinner in style. We enjoyed the Asian restaurant, Zen, and the Italian dinner at Ciao.
Nevertheless, the food at this all inclusive resort had that most important feature when traveling with teens: It came in an endless supply. Unfortunately, I was just recovering from a bout of flu that sapped my strength and appetite and Tess was eating light in anticipation of starting a new season with her synchronized swimming team the minute we returned to Chicago. So the unlimited food options were a bit wasted on us. Had my husband and 20-year-old eating machine of a son joined us, it would have been quite a different story.
Great Service at the Hard Rock Hotel
The Hard Rock Hotel staff was unfailingly pleasant and helpful. This is something you come to expect as a travel writer on a comped trip. But this trip was comped by Funjet Vacations, not the hotel. So word did not get around to the entire staff that I was to get the VIP treatment. (It happens. At one hotel where I stayed as a guest, I noticed my photo was taped up behind the counter at the restaurant like a mug shot on a Most Wanted Poster. The caption contained the ominous warning to staff that I would be writing about whatever happened to me during the stay.)
Entertainment at the Hard Rock Hotel
Service with a smile is a hallmark of visiting Mexico. I have been to Los Cabos, Ixtapa, Cuernavaca, Cancun and Riviera Maya (many times), and always have found the people to be warm, welcoming and wonderful. Puerto Vallarta was no different.
The entertainment staff was the epitome of this. They ran water aerobics classes mid-day, belly flop contests in the afternoon and beach parties at night.
The Hard Rock Hotel was only about half-full at the end of January. (I found it shocking that the 80 degree temperatures and constant sunshine din’t lure more Americans and Canadians to ditch the polar vortex of home for something much more pleasant. But I digress.)
The two huge pools, bars, restaurants and shows felt empty. Even with a fully booked hotel, I suspect it would be hard to feel crowded at this large resort.
Drinking and the All-Inclusive Vacation with Teens
This was my first time at an all-inclusive with a teen. My daughter was four weeks shy of her 18th birthday when we headed to Mexico, where the legal drinking age is 18. So the front desk clerk dutifully and conscientiously placed a purple wristband around her arm at check-in. That was supposed to signal to the staff that she is under age. But it made no difference to anyone. Not only did the staff serve her a drink when she asked for one, they offered her drinks.
For us, this wasn’t a problem. She had a couple of margaritas over the course of our five-day trip, but it was fine. A family with a teen who might get into trouble with all of the free-flowing booze might feel differently. Just something to watch for.
And, it’s important to note, there are two reasons I think my daughter was served regularly:
1. She looks and acts like she’s much older than 17.
2. The teen wristbands are a dark purple. The adult wristbands are black. It was almost impossible to tell at a glance that hers was not an adult wristband. Honestly, if the hotel is committed to not serving teens, it might want to change the color of teen wristbands to white or yellow or something other than a dark color.
The Room at the Hard Rock Hotel
Unfortunately, this otherwise lovely resort made a huge mistake in designing the rooms. Ours (and many of the rooms in the resort) included two double beds and a double tub. This made no sense to me. If you’re willing to soak in a tub with someone, aren’t you also willing to sleep with that person? And if you don’t want to sleep with him or her, do you really want to get naked in a double whirlpool tub with that person?
This trip was supposed to include my husband, so there would have been three of us in the room. Sleeping in the same bed with my 6-4, 220-pound husband who flops around like a fish at night requires much more than a tiny double bed.
If you are traveling with teens, it often requires more space than a regular hotel room offers. The Hard Rock offers a “family” option that requires booking two connecting rooms, which increases the cost of the stay.
I would prefer if the Hard Rock (and just about any other hotel) would instead create family rooms with one king-sized bed for parents and bunk beds for the kids. Even my teens would choose to sleep in bunk beds rather than share a tiny double bed with a parent or sibling.
The room’s balcony–the key to parental privacy when traveling with little ones–was tiny. It was possible to squeeze the two desk chairs on it facing one another, but it was hardly comfortable.
Pretend You’re a Rock Star with the Guitar Rental Program
This is the cool new program at Hard Rock Hotels. The hotel has 20 guitars on hand. You can choose one to take to your room–along with a mini amp and headphones–and pretend you’re a rock star. We picked the Elvis guitar, this gorgeous black and white Fender Stratocaster.
There’s no need to actually play it (although it would be fun if you were traveling with a teen rock wannabe), but at least check one out for a fun photo op.
Don’t let the rock star scene get out of hand, though. Renting a guitar requires a $1,000 deposit. It’s fully refundable assuming the guitar is returned in the same good shape it was in when you check it out.
Check out why a Funjet Vacation is even fun for moms.