NAYARIT, Mexico -- The towering cranes might never leave Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta.
Expansion and change have been at the ethos of one of Mexico's largest resorts ever since its roots as a single boutique hotel. Today, the sprawling, 2,500-acre resort is home to one mile of beaches, 38 bars and restaurants, 27 pools and 2,200-plus rooms spread across five tower hotels.
Grupo Vidanta, the resort's owner, is investing big in its future. The development company, founded by Daniel Chavez in 1974, plans to debut the world's first Cirque du Soleil theme park/resort in 2018. An exclusive partnership agreement with the Hakkasan Group announced in April 2016 will lead to the development of new concept beach clubs, nightlife venues, restaurants and a hotel at various Vidanta Resorts throughout Mexico as well.
Vidanta Golf -- Mexico's largest golf operator with six courses throughout the country, all managed by KemperSports -- will be an integral part of that growth. The official grand opening of the new Greg Norman Signature Course at Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta was held Nov. 14, 2016. More golf is in the works -- a 10-hole, par-3 course, five new holes on the Norman Course and a new facility for the golf academy in 2017 and a third championship course in the long-range plans. The resort, recently named a "Silver Medal Resort" by Golf Magazine, will only get bigger and better.
Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta: The resort
I've been to Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta twice in the past four years, and I still get turned around walking the nine miles of secluded, wooden-plank walkways cut through the jungle. The place is just massive, all connected by an elaborate system of golf-cart shuttles that whisk guests from one spot to the next.
The Grand Luxxe, where I stayed both visits, delivers one of the most luxurious timeshare price points available on property. The rooms are exquisite. My ninth-floor balcony view spanned miles to Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding Sierra Madre Mountains.
Every morning, it's a short walk to Cafe de Lago's most amazing breakfast buffet. I've never been to one with pizza, sushi, tacos and desserts in addition to the usual fare. I didn't need lunch afterward to say the least.
Elegant dinners at Havana Moon (Cuban food) and Costa Arena (seafood) allowed me to sit right near the beach. The shrimp and cheese tacos served at the Ameca Social House in the clubhouse might have been the best I've ever eaten. La Cantina put on a popular light show in the mist sprayed over the lagoon (ala Fantasmic! at Disney World). It is also a popular night-time hangout with a sports bar inside. Live acts attract more night owls to Santuario, a huge indoor-outdoor bar and lounge.
Although the new Cirque du Soleil component of the resort has some property owners nervous how it will affect their lives, it will operate separately with its own lodging options and entrance for the general public.
How popular this "immersion" experience will be remains to be seen, but count me among the people who want to be first in line to see it. It sounds like a cross between a Disney theme park and a Las Vegas show. The high-flying acrobats and performers will interact with guests during the day in various themed areas of the park and perform in large-scale shows at night. My 12-year-old daughter loves the idea that it will include classes on how to use the trapeze and learn other Cirque skills.
Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta: The golf
As good as the new Norman-designed course is currently, it is already scheduled to change again.
It is located across the Ameca River, which separates the Mexican states of Jalisco (and Puerto Vallarta) and Nayarit (and Nuevo Vallarta). Golfers ride over the world's longest suspension bridge to reach the course and temporary range where Norman held a grand-opening clinic.
The current par-73 layout was set to open several years ago when the river overflowed its banks. Then last year rains from Hurricane Patricia caused more floodwater delays. None of those setbacks were on display during the grand opening round. The course, covered wall-to-wall in paspalum grass, was in pristine shape with lightning-fast greens. It had a clean look with a nice mix of lakes, waste bunkers and more traditional sand traps.
To ensure the course's life long-term, the first five holes -- including a pair of average, parallel-opening par 4s and two watery par 3s -- will be replaced by strong new holes in a more flood-resistant area. It's not ideal that the current 15th hole will see everybody's first swing of the day on the eventual new routing. It's the hardest tee shot on the course with water up the right side.
Overall, however, the changes will enhance the experience. There should be more risk-reward decisions off the tee, especially on a short, drivable par 4 -- the only thing missing in the existing course. Two par 3s over water and a good par 5 will be championship-caliber tests.
Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta's Jack Nicklaus Course isn't as glamorous (or expensive) as the Norman, partly because it has been carved up and rerouted several times as the resort has expanded. It's still a solid, 6,668-yard, par-70 course that most guests enjoy. Seven lakes, 49 bunkers and Bermuda rough will keep you engaged.
The Vidanta Golf Academy, run by Tom Stickney II, a Golf Magazine Top 100 teacher, will eventually move into a new facility featuring four hitting bays and all the latest Trackman technology.
The lighted, par-3 course (scheduled to open in 2017) looks like a great addition. All 10 holes will be walkable to cater to all ages from beginners to buddies. Once it opens, there won't be a more versatile golf destination in all of Mexico.