After LoungeBuddy's triumph at Concur's Perfect Trip pitch competition, our CEO, Tyler, announced that we would all be going on LoungeBuddy's official first-ever company-sponsored retreat. There was one catch, however. He would not actually specify where we would be going until the actual morning of the trip, right after we receive our boarding passes.
Needless to say, our eventual destination was an excellent choice. And after having recently returned from our amazing, fun-filled retreat, with visions of palm trees, infinity pools, and perpetual sunshine still fresh on our minds, we decided that now would be as good of a time as ever to give you a sneak peek into what it's like to work at LoungeBuddy for a week. Well, let's get started, shall we?
The First Morning
We arrived at San Francisco International Airport, bright and early, meeting up at the spacious International Terminal for our upcoming trip. After a bit of friendly banter and speculation on where we would be headed, we walked over to the check-in counters of one of our favorite carriers, Alaska Airlines. This was where we would receive our boarding passes. Where would we be headed? Could it be Mazatlan? Acapulco? Cabo, perhaps? As it turns out, it was none other than the jewel of the Mexican Riviera, Puerto Vallarta!
Prior to boarding, we toured a variety of lounges, including Cathay Pacific's well-designed space in International Terminal A.
Waiting for our flight at the airport
The Flight There
The flight down south lasted just a bit under four hours, and we're happy to say that it went very smoothly. One of the more interesting highlights was experiencing Alaska Airlines' new streaming video entertainment product, Alaska Beyond Entertainment. This product, powered by Gogo Vision, allows passengers to stream movies, TV shows, and free exclusive content to their own devices. Access to Alaska Airlines' own website was free, giving passengers the opportunity to check the status of their Mileage Plan accounts, play with potential booking scenarios for future trips, or even sign up for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card on the spot. If you need it, Gogo provides access to the wider internet in exchange for payment of a one-time or monthly fee.
Alaska Airlines plane on the tarmac
Landing In Puerto Vallarta
Once we landed at our destination, the weather outside was just about ideal: 80 degrees fahrenheit (roughly 27 celsius), lots of sunlight, and comfortable levels of humidity. After dodging waves of timeshare salesmen and taxi providers on our way out to the world's friendliest city, we got into a nice little taxi van, and off we went.
Driving Through The City
A picturesque city nestled between the endless sea and lofty green mountains, Puerto Vallarta has emerged from humble beginnings as a sleepy fishing village in the 1960s to one of Mexico's most sought-after tourist destinations. As we drove through town, past a flurry of famous sights from the town cathedral to the beautiful waterfront boardwalk, the captivating scenery lulled us into a sense of complacency. An intoxicating, nostalgic scent hung in the air, as the slight, cool breezes glided slowly past, all while warm, healing sunbeams of light glistened against the windows of the vehicle. Not quite euphoria, but definitely very close to it.
Coastal cliffside highway on the way to the resort
Welcome To The Resort
We made our way up the ascending coastal highway, with fancy tourist resorts and lovely condominium towers lining the sides of the road. Minutes later, we reached our destination - The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta in all its splendor. Soon after, we found out that this resort had just opened for business the month before in December 2014, and it certainly showed.
Front lobby of the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta
If you close your eyes and begin to ponder about what little slice of heaven would look like, this place may be remarkably similar. This all-inclusive resort is tucked along the edges of the sparkling blue Bay of Banderas, in a secluded cove with its own private beach.
View of the resort from one of our suites
As we checked in to this luxurious beach resort at the Club Level lobby, we were warmly welcomed and treated to generous glasses of freshly made margaritas. Surely, this is the best way to kick-start a week-long vacation.
Time To Check In
Snack bar at the Club Level lobby area
Now, it was time to take a look at our rooms, and we could not have been more excited. We made our way upstairs, and lo and behold, the quality of the suites exceeded our expectations by a considerable margin.
One of the first things that we noticed was that our suites provided the most spectacular views at the resort. Each suite came with a private balcony, with a personal hot tub to boot. This was just what we needed to take full advantage of the stunning panorama.
Another view of the resort from one of our suites
Each room was very spacious, and came with two large beds and a sitting area. The spa-style bathrooms included a comfortable shower and a tub that was perfect for taking a nice, soothing bath. We also had one of the penthouses, which included not only an extra floor that you could access by staircase, but its very own plunge pool.
Sitting area inside our suite, with sofa, chairs, TV, and a well-placed painting of a blue fish
The opposite corner of the same suite
Two double beds in our suite
Recreation At the Resort
Over the course of the next week, we had plenty of time to chill by the the pool and enjoy ourselves. And given the beautiful weather, it was the perfect time to soak up some vitamin D and get a suntan.
View of the pool area from the buffet restaurant
A number of pools, including just the right number of infinities, dot the length of the resort. The central pools were made for activity, while those to the side were implicitly reserved for relaxation. The pool bar was a nice touch, though it did not seem to be open much during our stay. This was probably related to another pleasant surprise - crowds were relatively sparse, and we typically had the pools to ourselves.
Scattered throughout the resort, you'll find a number of stations that offer a variety of snacks and meal options. One of our favorites was the mango cart, where you could get a mango on a stick, seasoned with lime, salt, and chili powder.
One activity that we all had been looking forward to was kayaking in the open seas and exploring the beautiful rugged coastlines surrounding our resort. Unfortunately, the waves were not on our side for most of the trip. One auspicious afternoon, when they dialed back to a more manageable level, we were finally given the green light to head into the crystal blue waters, and we took advantage of it. Once we got out far enough, we had a picturesque front seat view of the resort.
Beautiful expanse of deep blue waters
We explored a number of the entertainment options that the hotel provided, including a bartending workshop, Mexican dance performance, karaoke night, and an incredible circus show. One interesting event that stood out was the Mexican night market, where a collection of local vendors made their crafts by hand while potential customers walked up to examine their wares. All sorts of souvenirs were available, including framed sports logos made of straw, painted dia de los muertos skulls, and freshly rolled cigars. Seeing the vendors producing the souvenirs by hand was certainly intriguing.
View towards the ocean from the central lobby of the hotel
The resort also has the indoor Sunset Bar, a coffee place, a kids zone, a fitness center, and a packed schedule of hotel-organized activities on a daily basis, from yoga to scuba diving demonstrations. Other hotel amenities, that are not included with the all-inclusive package, include a gift shop and boutique, babysitting services, medical services, beauty salon and spa services, a currency exchange, a car rental, and a laundry and dry cleaning service.
View of the poolside area from just outside Casa Grande, the Mexican-themed restaurant at the resort
Delightful Dining Options
As an all-inclusive resort, the Hyatt Ziva provided five different settings to cater to our dining pleasure, including a Pan-Asian restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, a buffet, and a seafood and steak grill. The restaurant with the best views, and arguably the best food, was Blaze, the seafood and steak grill that hugged the southern cliffs of the resort.
View of Blaze, the steak and seafood grill, from the beach
A table at Blaze with great views
Scallop dish at Melanzane, the Italian restaurant
Special dessert selection from Melanzane
While enjoying our food at some of these fine establishments, one thing that stood out in particular were the consistently high-quality ambient mixes of some of our favorite songs from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, from the Beatles all the way up to 80s classic rock.
While dinner customarily includes an appetizer, soup, main entree, and dessert, there were no strict limits on what we could theoretically order. Therefore, if you can't figure out the first world problem of which entree to go for, you could always order both, or all three! If you want, you can even order broccoli and asparagus for dessert, though you may receive some unconventional looks for such a request.
Still hungry after making the most of all three meals? The hotel offers 24-hour complimentary room service.
One of the many excursions that we went on during our trip was another surprise that Tyler had planned out. After a suspenseful 15-minute car ride, we pulled up to the storefront of Estigo Scooters, where we would start a five hour ATV tour of Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding area. Interestingly, Estigo Scooters has a 99% rating on TripAdvisor. In fact, out of 232 potential activities in Puerto Vallarta, their ATV tour was ranked #1. And we were about to find out why.
ATVs all parked outside and ready to go
We walked into the shop and signed a couple of waivers before coming back out for a quick demo on operating the ATVs. Following a quick trial run, we were rarin' and ready to go.
"Okay, and this is how you shift into fifth gear..."
"What is going on back there? It's been like 20 minutes already, geez..."
"Alright, let's do this!"
Making a turn out near the waterfront
Is it just me, or are the trees growing sideways?
Driving past one of Puerto Vallarta's many landmarks
After about an hour of fun and excitement, racing through the center of Puerto Vallarta and towards the outskirts with the cool breezes propelling us forward, our first official stop was a spot along the side of the road with a number of charming souvenir stands. What really made this spot stand spot was the tremendous view of Los Arcos, two picturesque granite islands that are very popular as a snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking destination. If you're interested in marine life, they're also a huge biodiversity hot spot.
A tremendous view of Los Arcos islands
After a quick break to walk around and take a bunch of selfies for our Instagram accounts, we covered ourselves with some exotic Thai bug spray with extra DEET and headed off into the peaceful jungle hinterlands, complete with dirt roads, winding creeks, and green vegetation. Along the way, we passed by Mister Tequila, where the proprietor waved to us as we drove by on the way there and back.
Whipping up a dust storm along the rustic dirt roads
The sun permeates the thick layer of lush vegetation
Our second stop was the El Eden Eco Park, which was the spot where Arnold Schwarzenegger filmed his box-office hit "Predator".
Welcome to Canopy El Eden. Be sure to like us on Facebook.
Once you walk down to the restaurant area, you'll find a chopper placed conveniently to the side of the path.
Sitting inside the chopper
Getting out of the chopper
At the bottom level of the restaurant is the waterfall, which is a great place to cool off and get some relief from the sun.
The restaurant is a great place to admire the beautiful scenery
And to take a selfie
Don't go chasing waterfalls, unless it's this one
The water gets deeper the closer you get to the waterfall
The best way to enter the water here is through the patented rope swing.
Carrying a big stick like Theodore Roosevelt
Be sure to pull back to create a stronger pendulum effect
Getting ready to make a big splash
Attempting to make an even bigger splash
The swimming cap comes off - time to go off-script
If you cross the bridge here, you'll get to the place where the El Eden Canopy zipline tour, which takes you through the movie set, begins.
This bridge is wide enough for one person at a time
After breaking here for roughly forty-five minutes, we drove back out towards the coast and continued on a bit further south.
Striking a quick pose for the camera in the ATV
Our final stop was Boca De Tomatlan, a sleepy fishing village on the south coast of the Bay of Banderas. Quaint, with dirt roads and very picturesque natural features, it would be difficult to imagine that downtown Puerto Vallarta is only ten miles away.
Admiring the white sandy beaches and open waters up ahead
Parking on the side of the road
The pace of life here slows down to a more relaxed, manageable rhythm, with dogs, cats, roosters, and children alike all running about in a carefree manner - very idyllic and tranquil.
Personal residences on the hillside, water taxis on the shore
Looking out into the harbor from the oceanfront restaurant
While we were here, we stopped at an outdoor restaurant located right on the beach where the water taxis anchored themselves.
Restaurant Bar Mi Ranchito
Ocean front seating for lunch. What could be better?
If you find yourself at the Restaurant Bar Mi Ranchito, be sure to ask for a Pineapple Surprise. As you would expect in a fishing village, the seafood was par for the course, fresh and delicious.
A special pineapple surprise, of course!
Exploring The City
A relatively sparse stretch of the Malecon
Of course, no trip to Puerto Vallarta would be complete without taking some time to explore the city center. The Malecon is the boardwalk, the main stretch where clubs, restaurants, souvenir shops, tequila shops, and pharmacies all blend in with one another to create a cosmopolitan vibe.
The Cheeky Monkey - the place to go for one dollar margaritas
On this stretch along the coast, you'll find a number of impressive sand sculptures lining the beach, as well as statues - it's truly an artistic hub.
One of the sand sculptures on the beach
Sand pyramid, local equivalent of a sand castle
A well-known statue to look out for is one with a boy riding a seahorse.
Boy riding on a seahorse. One of PV's more prominent landmarks
Amphitheater in front of the four arches
At the southern end of the Malecon stood Los Arcos, one of the city's landmarks. These arches were originally brought over from a colonial hacienda in Guadalajara, though the current arches are a replica of the original. Directly in front is an outdoor amphitheater, where a diverse array of performances occur on a regular basis.
Los Arcos, the famous arches of the city
Our final stop along the way was the iconic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
A view of the church from a distance
Looking towards the sky at the front of the church
A look inside the church
Of course, one thing you can't afford to miss while traveling anywhere in Mexico is the incredible street food, whether it's tacos, tostadas, or hamburguesas. The little stands with plastic chairs and umbrellas are great places to get an authentic meal for a reasonable price, and you can even brush up on your Spanish with the locals while you're enjoying your meal.
Enjoying ceviche tostadas on the side of the road
Freshly made carne asada tacos
At the coconut vendor stand
On the last day of the trip, we awakened in a nostalgic mood, longing for just a bit more time in paradise. It had been an awesome whirlwind of a week, and it just goes to show you how some of the best moments can be so fleeting and ephemeral.
One thing that really lifted our spirits was what we saw when we opened our windows. As we looked down towards the wet sand, the LoungeBuddy logo, written in our trademark font, magically appeared before us below. Who wrote it and why was it there? We have no idea - but it was a miracle, and we'll take it. To say that we were beyond exalted would have been quite the understatement.
What a surprise!
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In retrospect, this company retreat to Puerto Vallarta was an awesome adventure, and exactly what we needed at this point. In addition to providing each of us with a novel experience, the retreat gave us a bit of time to refresh our minds, relax, and prepare ourselves to face the challenges ahead.
Over 600 airports and counting
We realize that many of you out there may be looking for a career change, so if any of this sounds like what you would be potentially looking for in your next job position, be sure to apply for any of our openings, which are listed here.