Puerto Vallarta is not only one of the world’s leading vacation destinations, it’s also a culinary center where the food rivals the best gourmet experiences you’ll encounter anywhere else in the world. Juliann Kelley, a One Smooth Stone associate producer, can attest to Puerto Vallarta’s reputation. During a recent site inspection, she sampled some of the best dining that the city has to offer. In the following interview, she shares her impressions of the city. Learn more about Juliann on the One Smooth Stone website.
One Smooth Stone: What project were you working on when you were in Mexico recently?
Juliann: I was in Puerto Vallarta to do a pre-site inspection for one of our clients. The client is holding an event in October to reward its sales associates for their hard work. One Smooth Stone’s role includes not only managing the event but the broader incentive program, such as the creation of an online scoreboard allowing sales people to track their performance in order to qualify for the event. Only the Top 3 percent of the sales force qualified.
Naturally, we want to make sure the attendees feel rewarded. So I was onsite for a few days to meet with the host hotel, dining establishments where some social functions will occur, and the destination management company to walk through the experience that will happen in October.
The event will occur at the Hard Rock Vallarta at Nuevo Vallarta, whose rock-and-roll vibe was chosen to appeal to a millennial audience. During the site check, we inspected every detail ranging from the beach where a fireworks display will happen to an outdoor amphitheater where a meeting will be held. It’s one thing to inspect a photo of an outdoor amphitheater. It’s quite another matter to inspect the site and get an appreciation for little details such as where and how the sunlight will bathe the theater depending on the time of day, which has an impact on questions such as whether you will try to complement the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation onscreen.
This was my first visit to Mexico.
What were your perceptions of Mexico before you visited Puerto Vallarta, and how did your experience compare?
Juliann: I always knew about people going to Mexico for spring break. It’s hard to ignore the stories about the political climate in Mexico and the crime. I arrived in Puerto Vallarta expecting armed guards and beaches. But the city was very safe and friendly. And the landscape around the city consists of lush mountains.
Personal safety was not an issue. On our third night, we went downtown Puerto Vallarta to inspect three restaurants. Upon arrival in downtown Puerto Vallarta, we got dropped off at the Seahorse sculpture and walked to the restaurants where we were to dine. I never felt unsafe. Security was present but not in your face. The only time I saw overt heavy-duty security was during our ride to the hotel from the airport, I think I saw one military van go past with guys with machine guns, but seeing them was only by happenstance.
Puerto Vallarta has a reputation as being a tourist destination. Did the city feel touristy?
Juliann: Downtown Puerto Vallarta has its touristy aspects, such as street vendors selling crafts. But once you wander off the boardwalk, you see a different Puerto Vallarta. The city beyond downtown felt European, with cobblestone streets, whitewashed buildings, open balconies, clay tiled roofs and wrought iron fences, as you see in Europe. And I did not encounter cookie-cutter houses like you often find in the United States. Puerto Vallarta presents an interesting mix of architectural styles if you are willing to explore.
What was the dining experience like?
Juliann: Puerto Vallarta is known as a foodie destination in Mexico. The city hosts the International Gourmet Festival for world-renowned chefs to show off their best work at the city’s restaurants. The site team and I had the chance to do a dine-around at a few restaurants to sample the experience that attendees will get. At Trio, we sampled grilled octopus, rabbit salad, an artichoke soup, and Lebanese beet salad, which is a grilled beet covered in a beet puree with a mixture of parsley and other fresh herbs and spices and topped with marinated goat cheese. At La Palapa, we had jicama spinach salad, a coconut shrimp that was out of this world, and great desserts such as chocolate lava cake and a chocolate ganache that included salt that looked like a graham cracker crust and was sprinkled with pepper. It was spicy and sweet all at the same time! Oh, and we enjoyed a South African dessert that included almond cake and fresh berries.
We did not eat one taco, quesadilla or enchilada. What a nice surprise!
The restaurants themselves were an experience unto themselves. At Trio, we visited the rooftop, which commands a stunning view of the city, including the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe church, which is a local landmark.
What are some impressions you formed of Puerto Vallarta as you spent time there?
Juliann: The people are all extremely friendly and helpful. Everyone has been a joy to work with. The people who live there just love living there. You could tell the pride people have living and working in Puerto Vallarta. One our dinner guides was so full of love for the city; he regaled us with local stories, such as the time Elizabeth Taylor carried on a romance with Richard Burton when he was in Puerto Vallarta to film Night of the Iguana.
The beauty of the area overwhelmed me. Our hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta, was right on the beach at Nuevo Vallarta. We had mountains in the distance and the beach in front of us. The fireworks on the beach will be spectacular.
What happens next?
Juliann: We are in full planning mode. Our team will head back to Puerto Vallarta in October, and showtime happens when the guests arrive on October 19.
What lessons did you learn?
Juliann: When you travel to a new place, always put aside your expectations. Don’t let what you read in the news color your perceptions.
And if you visit Puerto Vallarta, be ready to work with wonderful people who will impress you with their genuine joy and love.
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