My wife and I are workationing our way down the California coast in our endeavor to avoid big swaths of Michigan’s winter. The journey so far included a 5 night stay at Hyatt’s all-inclusive adults-only Alila Ventana Big Sur. Regular readers may remember that I fell in love with Ventana two years ago and vowed to return often. My bottom line review at the time was summarized with this: “Wow. Wow. Wow. Did I say ‘wow’? Wow.” Since then, my wife and I tried repeatedly to return, but Covid and a California fire conspired to keep us away. Until now…
As we drove down the coast towards Ventana, I was both excited and nervous. I was excited to finally return, but nervous that my expectations were too high. It was possible that part of what made Ventana so great the first time was the novelty of staying in a luxury resort amidst redwood trees on the glorious Big Sur coast. I had no doubt that the return visit would be good, but would it be as great as I expected? I needn’t have worried…
The check-in experience was encouraging. When we first drove up to the outer gate, the employee who opened the gate called ahead so that the bellhops would be ready for us. We pulled up and bellhops swarmed our car to take our bags and to greet us by name and declare “happy anniversary!” [It wasn’t technically our anniversary yet, but we’ve learned that when asked if you’re celebrating a special occasion it doesn’t hurt to say yes. And, technically, this was the 2 year anniversary of our last visit to Ventana!].
Things got even better at the check-in desk when we were told that we were upgraded from the Big Sur Suite (which I had booked) to a two story Big Sur Villa. Score!
As an aside, regular rooms are rarely available to book with points at Ventana, but suites are often available at higher point prices. I booked the Big Sur Suite for 5 nights by booking two nights as suites and three nights in a standard room, plus I applied a suite upgrade certificate to those three nights. Then My Concierge helped tie the reservations together so that we’d have a single suite for the stay. For the record, this stay was before peak and off-peak pricing kicked in and so I paid standard rates, but here are the rates for stays beginning in March 2022 (expect to pay peak prices most of the time):
- Room: 30K points per night standard, 25K off-peak, or 35K peak.
- Suite: 48K points per night standard, 43K off-peak, or 53K peak.
- Premium Suite: 60K points per night standard, 50K off-peak, or 70K peak.
With room rates often north of $2,500 per night, even peak prices offer incredible value.
Update: Ventana is increasing to category 8, effective as of Tuesday, March 22, 2022, at 8:00 a.m. CDT. New pricing:
- Room: 40K points per night standard, 35K off-peak, or 45K peak.
- Suite: 61K points per night standard, 56K off-peak, or 66K peak.
- Premium Suite: 80K points per night standard, 70K off-peak, or 90K peak.
Big Sur Villa
This two-story unit was perfect for us considering that both of us had to work during the stay and so we could do Zoom meetings on separate floors to avoid bothering each other. We also appreciated that this unit (room 23) had a partial ocean view.
On our previous stay, we had been upgraded to an amazing Vista Hot Tub suite (see the original review for photos). That one-story suite didn’t have separate rooms to help with workationing (but we were truly vacationing that time), and it didn’t have an ocean view. But… it was much nicer than the Big Sur Villa. The Villa (our lodging for the latest visit) had a much smaller bathroom, it’s fireplace wasn’t as nice and furniture was awkwardly placed for enjoying it, and it didn’t have the outdoor hot tub or big lounger that were available with the Vista Hot Tub suite. So, yeah, the new suite wasn’t as amazingly awesome as the previous one, but it was still awesome and it fit our current needs even better.
When we last visited Ventana, food wasn’t included. At that time, we were thrilled to get free breakfast as a Globalist perk (Hyatt’s top tier elite status is called “Globalist”). Now, though, Ventana is all-inclusive. All meals and regular drinks are free. Alcohol and mocktails are extra.
All meals can be ordered as room service with no extra charge for delivery. Alternatively, breakfast and dinner are available daily at the Sur House restaurant’s outdoor terrace. Lunch can be ordered at the pool or at the Sur House restaurant.
We often got lunch by the pool, but for breakfast and dinner we enjoyed going to the restaurant. To get there, you can request a ride if you want (that wasn’t our thing) or you can walk the 0.3 miles on a magical path through the redwood trees. I love that.
At the restaurant, they seated everyone below heat lamps outdoors. Usually we were warm enough with a sweater, but once the sun went down at night a cool wind sometimes made us uncomfortably chilly. My recommendation is to look up sunset times ahead of your stay. The concierge team will contact you before your visit to book your dinner reservations and so you can try to book times when you can watch the sun set during dinner. If you get seated after sunset, you’re likely to be quite cold.
Oh and yeah, the food was delicious.
At check-in we were told that this was a no-tipping resort. That said, they still have you sign a check for meals even if you had a zero balance. On that form is a spot for a tip. This is confusing. Is this really a no-tipping resort? It doesn’t seem to be. We left tips, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for not doing so given what we were told at check-in.
This is one area where Miraval does things much better. During our recent stay at the Miraval Arizona, we similarly had to sign for meals, but there was no place to put a tip. At Miraval, when they say “no tipping”, they really mean it and enforce it by making it nearly impossible to leave a tip.
Update 2/15/23: The included activity list has changed since my stay in 2022. As of 2/15/23, included activities are:
- Morning Movement: 8am Daily
- Coast Ridge Hike: 9am Daily
- Bees & Big Sur: 1pm Sunday, Wednesday, Friday
- Foragers Hike: 1pm Monday & Thursday
- Wildcrafting: 1pm Tuesday & Saturday
- Redwood Hike: 3pm Daily
- Sur House Social: 4pm Daily
- S’mores: 8pm Daily
This is another area that has really been stepped up since our last visit. The resort offers many complimentary daily activities…
- Daily Complimentary Activities:
- 8am: Morning Yoga, Tai chi, or Meditation
- 10am: Guided Redwood property hike daily
- 3pm: Coastal View Hike
- 4pm: Sur House Social (Free specialty cocktail at the Sur House patio)
- 8pm to 10pm: S’mores
- Additional Complimentary Activities (not available every day):
- Falconry at 1:30pm Sunday and Friday
- Foragers Hike: 1:30pm Tuesday and Wednesday
- Beekeeping at 1:30pm Monday, Thursday, and Saturday (staring 2/22/22)
- Astronomy at 8pm on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday
There are also paid activities available, such as:
- Axe Throwing: $50 per person
- Wild botanical skincare (collect herbs to make your own skincare salves): $50 per person
- Classic cars (drive a vintage Porsche Spyder or other classic car): Half day from $400 per vehicle.
- Whale watching: $50 – $125 per person
We did most of the complimentary activities, but none of the paid ones. The Coastal View Hike and Astronomy were a couple of my favorites. Unfortunately, the Falconry class was already full when we checked in (but we’ve done it before) and so I recommend booking that in advance for your stay! Also, we really wanted to do Beekeeping, but our stay ended before they started that new option.
If you’re worried about Covid, I can’t imagine a much better place to stay than Ventana. All meals are served outdoors (or brought to your room). At the time of our stay, staff wore masks both indoors and out. Guests were required to wear masks indoors (other than in their own room), but there were very few occasions to be indoors anyway.
Service & Luxury
In my experience, the Ventana staff routinely go above and beyond to make guests’ stays great. Almost everyone seemed genuinely happy to interact with us, and went out of their way to help in any way they could. In this time when hiring and keeping staff is so difficult, this is an amazing achievement. According to one staff member I spoke with, Ventana has brought in staff from other Hyatts around the world that have closed or cut back staff due to the pandemic.
I also love that the resort’s physical characteristics are top notch. The grounds are absolutely gorgeous. The room interiors seem to be very high quality. They offer giant plush towels, ceramic mugs, etc. The particular unit we were in on this trip was a bit dated (and the rug was noticeably worn), but we’ve been told that Ventana is planning to update these units soon.
Not quite perfect
A very minor issue we ran into was that the information we were given at check-in was often incorrect. For example, the daily calendar showed beekeeping at 1:30 on several days, but when we showed up for it we learned that it wasn’t going to start until later in the month. The sheet also said that all hikes meet at the Social House only to learn that the Coastal View Hike meets at the Sur House restaurant which is a third of a mile away. You would think that the issue of having incorrect printed materials would be fixed by offering this information online but all menus are online and we learned that the online drink menu was wrong. You had to look at the printed menu for the drinks.
Another minor issue is that we didn’t know to sign up for Falconry in advance. It was only available on the day of our check-in and after our check-out. And the one on the day of check-in was full. The concierge team is proactive about getting guests signed up for dinner reservations (prime eating hours do fill up), but it would be great if they would be similarly proactive with popular and limited activities like Falconry and Beekeeping.
Again, these were extremely minor issues. Plus, after we mentioned the written calendar discrepancies to a staff member, he told us the next time we saw him that he had met with his manager to sort that out.
Ventana wowed us as much on our second visit as our first. Or maybe even more! If you want to get away from it all to a place full of beauty and luxury, this is about as good as it gets… especially within the United States.
See also my original review (updated with new info): Ventana Big Sur Hyatt. Bottom Line Review: Awesome.
Staying here later this week, am being told Falconry is not complimentary.. $200 per person.
good luck getting a award night room now!!!!
Apparently last week they released some new availability. Not much. I was able to snag 3 nights 1st week in January for 95000 points and used Hyatt upgrade cert for a Big Sur room. I’m afraid deals like this will not be easy to find going forward. Hyatt’s website will supposedly show availability and points per night, but when you drill down you often find nothing available.
Great post Greg! What’s the standard suite here? Is it worth using a suite upgrade (for 3 nights)? Just happy to sneak in a stay at “only” 35,000 points.
Standard is the Big Sur suite which I haven’t actually seen except in pictures and videos but it looks very nice. On the one hand, yes it’s definitely worth applying a suite upgrade. No question in my mind value-wise. BUT, the chance of getting a free upgrade is very high so it may be a waste from that point of view. Personally I’d do it just to be sure and then you’ll have a good chance of an upgrade to a premium suite.
Thanks! Sounds like a plan.
All-inclusive but no alcohol isn’t really all-incusive. Is this common? Part of the draw of “all-inclusives” is food and drink. At place where rooms go for $2,500/night I suspect alcohol isn’t cheap so could easy top $100/day for even just a few beers and glasses of wine.
I don’t know how common it is but I don’t think it’s unusual to exempt alcohol
We were there in December and yes they wowed us. I look forward to the next visit there. We got no upgrades but we enjoyed it just the same.
Enjoyed reading your posts/reviews.
Did you rent a car on this trip?
Planning to go in April
Thanks Joy. Yes I rented.
Big Sur is a gorgeous area. That being said, why would you pay an enormous amount of money to stay at a resort or glampground? The level of pretentiousness and ego amongst the resort crowd is insane. My advise is to try camping in the back country and maybe stopping at the taphouse or fernwood for a beer or bite to eat.
Also that part of the Los padres national forest is one of the the most privatized national forests I’ve ever seen. Big Sur is becoming harder to enjoy.
We Loved staying at Ventana – and have also enjoyed camping ( not “glamping “ ) at Big Sur’s many campgrounds. Have also experienced Esalen as well as staying at the Post Ranch Inn – What a great review and your pictures are breathtaking.
We visited last March based on your posts. We had a fabulous time and want to go back again. Incredible value proposition with points. Why didn’t you book 5 nights as a standard room. Were 5 nights not available?
Only three nights were available in a standard room
No biggie to you maybe but I will take chocolates over sage sticks every time!
P.S. I hear the AXE catching charge is much cheaper than the AXE throwing.
They offer S’mores every evening from 8 to 10 and the chocolates are individually wrapped, so go once early in your stay, grab a bunch of them, and put some on your pillow each night. Sorted.
Bottom line your total cost was
total. 211k hyatt points
for two people all inclusive, no tips for five nights?
I paid standard rates so it was a bit less than that but still that’s about right. I don’t understand your question about tips.
We went to Ventana last year. I wanted to go somewhere nice and nearby for a break since the pandemic prevented me from traveling. We spent Chase/Hyatt points on a premium room.
Maybe it was due to us going earlier in the pandemic (a lot was closed) or growing up in coastal CA (most likely both) but this place was very underwhelming. The service was good for a hotel in the US. The food was, “Not bad but really glad we aren’t paying for this”. Just felt like there are a lot better options for food, hiking, views of the water. If this place was cheaper or less points I would recommend it.
Your room looks a bit nicer than ours. Our was this rustic cabin that felt like they recently, and cheaply, refreshed it.
Stayed 4 time after the switched to all inclusive, never told it’s no tipping. Also based on their website they seems charge $90 / day service charge as tip per day for cash stay
@Greg, you were too spoiled with all of the free activities at the Miraval!
Pretty sure the other activities such as Falconry are not complimentary! We paid $200 each to do 😀 It was an awesome experience though. Quick video of a Harris’s Hawk flying between us: https://youtu.be/28AlwyWwPM0
Also, here’s from a welcome email I had saved from last time:
More descriptions / prices here: https://www.ventanabigsur.com/activities/alila-experiences
My last pro-tips would reach out ahead of time to book your dinner reservation timeslot: firstname.lastname@example.org and to definitely try out the on-site complimentary smoke house (you just charge to your room but you don’t see the charges when checking out)
They recently changed it so that Falconry IS complimentary. Bee keeping too.
Oh really? Wow awesome! We were just there in December 2021 so must be new!
Yep. New as if this week I was told
That’s a pretty awesome points redemption rate!
Great post. Very inspiring!
(The picture with the feet needed a bit of cropping just below where the fence line is. 🙂 )
Daily Complementary Activities= “complimentary”
FYI- The original post has a couple of those as well. -Jay
I’ve been considering sending (or taking) a Bay Area friend here. My friend is significantly limited in terms of mobility (only able to walk a couple of hundred feet).
Do you have an opinion whether this would be a pleasant stay taking that factor into consideration or would be difficult and frustrating? Are the activities that are not actually hiking (astronomy, falconry) accessible to someone seated or in a wheelchair? How about getting around and using the facilities?
Honestly, my guess is that it may be difficult. Your friend can definitely get a ride to and from the restaurant (many people do that even without mobility limitations). Astronomy and Falconry should be fine but it might be a little difficult getting to the Falconry area (not sure). A big part of my love for this place though involves walking paths through Redwoods which are not accessible. I’d probably pick a different place if I were you.
Thanks for the thoughtful and honest answer!
I’d ask them what they could accomodate with carts. The astronomy walk was all along paths that I think their carts could travel. But, the main walks probably not.
I’m nervous to spend that many points on a place that needs remodeling or updating as you say.
I definitely wouldn’t hesitate for that reason. Even the rooms that need updating are fantastic.
Mind you , since we haven’t had rain since early January, you were blessed with phenomenal weather. Best sunsets I’ve ever seen have occurred these last couple of weeks on the coast. But we need the rain. For the record I’m a 55 yo native Californian. Readers need to know winter weather in California can be fluky.
That’s a really good point that I should have mentioned. Weather was much nicer this time than our last trip (but we still loved the last visit even with less ideal weather)
Thank you for the heads-up(s), Greg – my Globalist Concierge booked us for sunset dinners & Falconry! Happy Anniversary to yoi both, too.
Awesome. Happy Anniversary!!!!
Sounds great that the food is included and probably don’t even need to leave the resort! Did the cost or points needed increase compared to your first visit?
No the award price has stayed the same with one exception: starting with stays in March, you’ll often have to pay peak pricing
This certainly does seem to be one of the most aspirational properties in the US. On my personal bucket list for sure.
Greg, you continue to amaze me with your travels, in-depth reviews, photos, articles and how much you’ve been able to travel during this time in which flights get cancelled, hotels close, and staffing can be lacking. My question: do you plan expecting delays and cancellations for airlines or simply have to time due to your unique job that time doesn’t come to mind? I know you mentioned you’ve focused more on domestic travel during this time. How do you allot time for testing if a place requires it for entry or boarding? Do you use the same method for COVID testing because you’ve found one that gets your results back at a predicted time or rely on testing at certain airport? Or, you strictly travel domestically to avoid that? I’m vaccinated (3 times so far), but the places I want to go require certain tests which require a lab and timing has been somewhat an obstacle. I hope for the time when just showing my vaccination card will be sufficient in order to get into certain countries. Some require so many hours before boarding and touchdown as well as testing even once you land (fees for their folks on … island). Some are very slow to move away from that even for the vaccinated because their making money as soon as you land. So, I’ve been thinking I’ll simply do it or avoid those locations. On top of all that, it’s been a rough winter in certain parts of the U.S. and that means even more flight delays and thousands of cancellations along with airline staff shortages for a variety of reasons especially vaccine mandates. We want to travel, but we are limited on time.
“do you plan expecting delays and cancellations for airlines”
Not really. I’ll deal with those issues if they happen. The one exception: if I have something that I absolutely have to get to by a certain date/time then I’ll book a back-up flight with a second airline that is freely cancelable so that if the first airline doesn’t come through I can switch to the other.
“How do you allot time for testing if a place requires it for entry or boarding? Do you use the same method for COVID testing because you’ve found one that gets your results back at a predicted time or rely on testing at certain airport?”
I’ve been mostly traveling domestically so it hasn’t been an issue. When traveling internationally, departing the U.S., I’ve just gone to the testing center a couple days before the flight and I’ve been lucky enough to get results in time. It is harrowing though! (this is another example where having a second and later backup flight is a good idea). For the return testing, you can often get tested at the hotel and they’re used to having to get the results back before your trip.