Arrived on direct flight from Denver, luckily it was an easy travel day. Seated up front so got off the plane and through customs quickly. We took prior advice and after clearing customs walked past the blue shirt folks to the right to get to the transportation desk. Tickets for the shuttle to secrets were $11.40 each. Within 5 minutes of getting in the white van out front, we were on our way to Secrets Aura.
We arrived at 4:30 PM and after we were quickly checked in we walked to our room. We were in room 1226, ocean view in the back corner, but did still have a nice view over the grounds and a little bit of the ocean. The deck had two wooden chairs and a table and was a good size with glass see through railings, we were on a corner so it felt very open. Room was large with a couch and dining table with two comfy table-side chairs. It was clean, furniture in relatively good shape, white cushions on one of the table-side chairs had a couple stains on it but not surprised since they are white. Nice rain shower in the ceiling. For us there seemed o be plenty of storage space, but it's just located in various places rather than just one wardrobe or dresser. The bar was stocked with beer, soda, juice and water. There was a coffee maker.
We briefly unpacked and then walked around half of the resort to get familiar with the layout and watched the sunset at the skybar. At that time of night the skybar was filled with a bunch of drunk partiers hanging out in the hot tub, which just isn't my scene.
Had a quick snack at coco cafe, no gluten free options, but my hubby liked his sandwich. Coffee is a good Costa Rica brand called Café Britt, but the barista still has some skills to learn about coffee making.
We ate dinner at Oceana the first night. They were able to accommodate my food allergies. The octopus appetizer was cooked well, but I think the bar-b-q type sauce wasn't quite the right pairing, but still tasty. The grouper entree was altered for me since I can't eat wheat so they just gave me a grilled piece with veggies, and it was so delicious (albeit small) that I ordered a second plate of it instead of desert.
During dinner a guitarist played on the beach with both an electric and acoustic guitar for various songs, lots of Santna, Eagles, Beatles, Metallica and other well known songs. It was very entertaining and romantic.
Off to sleep, the bed is very comfortable. No turndown service occurred by the time we turned in at 10PM, perhaps we were going to bed too early for them.
Woke up in the AM to find the Sundial had been put in our doorway. We ate breakfast and lunch at Windows which was tasty and Angel was our server and was super friendly. I had a green juice drink called El Mexicano, that blended apple, pineapple, spinach, cactus and celery that is refreshing and slightly sweet.
Decided to hang by the pool today. Eugenia started making rounds around 10AM and was very nice. Water was slightly cool in the pool and ocean at first, but once you get in it is just fine. Measured the temperature of the pool water to be 84 with my husband’s watch, and the ocean was reportedly 78, but that varies depending how close to shore you get.
My husband was sick but we thought joining the bocce ball on the activity schedule would be great, the entertainment folks never showed up and after 30 minutes my husband went to the front desk inquiring and they started making calls, 10 minutes later one of them shows up and says Luis is supposed to be out there, 5 minutes later Luis (AKA Rico on this day as he changes name tags) finally shows up with a volleyball, which was scheduled to begin one hour later after the bocce and zumba. Never saw any zumba either unless there was a mistake on the location in the program, which has happened in the Sundial in regards to activity locations. Luis proceeds to walk ¼ way down the beach in an attempt to recruit other players, he stopped and spoke to one guy for about 30 minutes, and then came back and said he couldn't get anyone to play with us. Two days later he left after the first game and then was missing in action again another time until my husband went to inquire about it. He clearly doesn't take his job very seriously. Luckily that doesn't seem to be the norm here.
That evening we went next door to Sunscape Sabor to eat at El Patio, the traditional Mexican restaurant. They were understaffed unfortunately, but the guys worked hard to keep you happy. Guests had to wait for a table as they only had two restaurants open at Sabor as it is their slow season. My husband ordered a seafood trio with calamari shrimp and scallops and it came out cold, but tasty. I ordered the flank steak, tasty but a little under done which seems to be the case here. If they ask how you want it, go one level up from what you would order in the states. I ordered medium rare and it was essentially rare, another night I ordered Chateaubriand in Bordeaux and decided to ask for medium and it came out perfectly medium rare.
We ordered room service this AM, some good looking options on the menu, but were much less exciting when they arrived and were cold or cooked improperly (the poached eggs were essentially hard boiled), same experience the next morning with room service, so we decided it best to make time to go back to Windows the rest of the week even if for a quick bite at their small buffet.
After that there was an activity to go bicycling, so we thought we'd check it out. No one else showed so we had our own free guided bike tour to El Cedral, the town in the middle of the southern part of the island, with Ivan. The bikes were in good condition, but were only single speed mountain bikes without shocks and didn't have any water bottle holders, so bring a pack you can take water in. They provided helmets and orange safety vests. Biking felt very safe, but I am used to riding on the road. The trip took about 25-30 minutes one way and we spent some time taking photos around El Cedral. Luckily we were there when the were having the annual festival of El Cedral, so things were decorated with banner flags, but it was before the crowds were there for the day too, so we didn't see any of the action that was going to happen including horse races, carnival rides, and concerts.
That day we ate lunch at the barefoot grill, ate a hamburger called the virgin with pepperoni, bacon, jalapenos and cheese but this was only available during their special April promotion of the top 10 burgers.
That afternoon we went Snorkeling in front of the resort. Most of the larger fish are under the dock including some angelfish, and we saw a small stingray there too. We drifted north all the way to the end of the sabor resort and saw a trunkfish, lots of young versions of snapper, parrot fish, sergeant majors and other small fish as well as a brief encounter with a barracuda. A very tiny amount of coral and a couple anemones.
That night we ate dinner at the resorts Beach Gala dinner, they closed the other restaurants. There were 4 themed buffets set out with related beverages including, Mexican, Italian, Asian and American. They had the guitarist playing again, this time accompanied by a singer who was just ok, I would have preferred to hear the guitarist again alone as he was fantastic.
This morning was predicted to be rainy so we opted to rent a car to tour the Island. Happy to say rental with Fiesta was hassle free and the guys working for them were friendly and helpful. We did take the comprehensive collision and liability insurance for the extra $25 though to avoid any major hassles. We just rented a compact and it was fine even on the dirt road to the beach in Punta Sur National Park. The cost for gas was $10 for our one way trip around the road south and east and then across the middle back to town and the back to the resort.
Punta sur was good, but too windy and wavy to safely snorkel on this particular day and I think I'm a strong swimmer. We took the free boat around the Columbia Lagoon there and saw a few birds and crocodiles, then went to the lighthouse and museum there before departing. Would be a good quiet beach to spend the day on if we had more time as they had a restroom, food and drink, hammocks and lounges, volleyball net, and the sand was super soft white, better than most of the resorts on the west side. The east side of the island was pretty and since it was a windy day, the waves were big. We stopped at Chen Rio for lunch and had the fish, which was fine, but overpriced and not as good as the fish at Aura. We skipped going to coconuts for drinks due to time, and we had locals tell us the food at Chen Rio was better. Next our plan was to go to the ruins at San Gervasio, but since I had seen much greater Mayan ruins in three places in Central America and we were short on time, we opted to skip it as we wanted to do some shopping in town before returning to the resort. Of all the shops we went into looking for souvenirs, the nicest with a lot of options that are still very affordable was at Los Cinco Soles. It's at the north end of town near the airport and is in walking distance to the town square, where we felt most shops were a lot more pushy, didn’t often list prices so that they could just make a ridiculous price to see if you would take it. I saw/heard offers for clay spoon rests that ranged from $8 to $26, the lowest and yet best quality being at Los Cinco Soles. Park on the side streets for free as the front oceanside road has pay meters that only takes pesos.
This night we ate at Bordeaux. The duck was fantastic and we consider ourselves duck connoisseurs, but when we went back the next day it was overdone. The endive salad and escargot was also good. The scallop gratin was fine, but not the highlight. The snapper entree was decent, the snapper was overdone, but the scallops and shrimp were perfect in a creamy white sauce. I tried ordering this in lieu of a salad on my second night which confused them and they ended up bringing me it at the same time as my duck entree even though I told them in Spanish that I wanted it as the second course. Various deserts looked enticing, crème brûlée was decent had a caramel type sauce on top rather than the hard sugared crust, but on the second day they did some strange thing where there was fruit in the bottom of the cup and no caramel top and it was thicker on top and watery on the bottom. I think that this was actually their cheesecake served in similar cup and they got confused on what they were serving.
Beer on tap is Dos Equis. Their house wine wasn't so great and only two options, a Mexican white table wine and a red by the same brand that was a blend of tempranillo and Grenache. These were barely passable and only when drank with food. The wine list looked ok, but very over priced as an American Chardonnay (Hess) that usually ran about $10 in the US was $55 here. They actually didn't have a lot of the bottles on the list in stock as we had 3 of our choices rejected. The staff in bordeax didn't have a clue about the wines either as when we asked for a recommendation to go with the chateaubriand and the duck he recommended an Argentinean Chardonnay. I don't personally know anyone who would pay a lot of money for wine and want to pair their beef with a chardonnay. Best bet is to go with cocktails. Several creative options there even for me who doesn't know what to have and they list a drink of the day in the Sundial too. Currently I'm having a tamarind daiquiri, unique and tasty.
We started the day off doing the Yoga class. They had brought in an expert from the states for two weeks and she would have two classes each morning. This was nice because when we had done the yoga at Secrets Maroma a few years ago it was clear the instructors knowledge was limited and it was more like a stretching class than yoga. She
was clearly an expert and was helpful to those with little to no experience.
Afterward we had breakfast at Windows, I had the Sopa, which was not soup but a corn cake with beans and then topped with eggs, some fried green bell peppers and onions and salsa verde, and it was tastier than many of the omelets or other breakfasts I had tried. For lunch that day we ate at Windows again and I again got the grilled grouper as it is tasty, but there is a limited menu, which becomes more limited when your on a gluten free diet like me. The veggies served with dishes in Barefoot Grill, Oceana, and Windows for lunch and dinner are getting pretty mundane though, everything seems to be served with julienne carrots, zucchini and onions. It would be nice if they changed it up to some broccoli, peas, cabbage, squash, brussel sprouts or something else.
This evening there was a movie in the courtyard by the Coco Cafe that they put up on a white canvas, a few people showed up this time for the showing of Ted, good choice!
Breakfast at Windows, Smoked salmon omelet, again with the carrots, but there was some sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese this time too, just ok. Their buffet inside while small, has the essentials: Champagne, orange, grapefruit, and pineapple juice, meats and cheeses, yogurt, cottage cheese, cereal, variety of fresh fruit, toppings for the above include nuts, coconut, raisins.
We went snorkeling with Dive Palancar this morning. Don't look for anyone at the tiny wooden booth wit a dive flag at the south end of the resort near the lobby pool as there is rarely someone there, instead go to the water sports area at Sunscape Sabor next door and book there with the same dive shop. Our three reef snorkel trip cost $32.50 a person, but was pretty short, only in the water for just barely over an hour total. They didnt show up until almost 10:15 and then after we stopped at two more resorts to pick up gear and other passengers, and then drop them off again, we were back at the resort by 12: 30 for when they had their next trip. The first reef was Hollywood, only a few small to moderate coral size formations, but did see lots of fish that we didn't see snorkeling near the resort including: Spotted eel, many large starfish, a barracuda, trigger fish, grunts, angelfish, sergeant majors, parrotfish, blue tangs, wrasse, damselfish, snapper, and what I think was a school of Sennets. Next we went to columbia Shallows and saw much of the same, but also Porgies, Chubs, Jacks, butterfly fish and two hawksbill turtles. The reef here was much larger, one long strip for a good quarter mile or so, but also much deeper, closest part to the surface may have been 6 feet but a majority of it was 12-20 feet. Lastly we went to Palancar Reef, here the reef is even deeper most near 30 feet and the it drops off to the west side beyond visibility from the surface.
After our return, we ate at Barefoot Grill/Oceana again I had the grouper again and my husband had the shrimp and fish tacos which he thought were just ok. Luckily they had flan for desert which was pretty good.
Dinner at Windows, they had menus for Portofino there tonight, I think they had brought over the chef and staff from Portofino at Sabor to serve at Windows, which was a nice treat to not have to go all the way to the other end of the Sunscape Sabor resort to eat Italian food. Both the Chicken and pork saltimbocca dishes were excellent. My husband also ordered a half portion of the lasagna and loved it. Tonight we were recommended to try a bottle of Mexican brand of red wine and made 3 suggestions that he had tasted and thought were good to go with our food. We chose the 2007 Nebbiolo by La Cetta as we generally liked that grape by Italian wineries and it turned out to be a great choice at a reasonable price of $38 (minus the $10 coupon).
A note about the resort coupons and the "Time Share/Vacation Club" sales people. First of all we didn't realize that our package booked through Cheap Caribbean even came with them although when booking this trip I did see those offers at certain websites for $400 in resort coupons. They are broken up into small usable amounts (max $40 off a massage at one time, but three of those, max $10 off wine at a time, and 4 of those). It's clear they help sell services that you might not buy anyway since the prices are nearing ridiculous. Turns out the lady who provides them to you is with VIP services, if you miss her on check in she leaves you a note in your hotel door telling you to come down and pick them up, so we did. The VIP services is their Vacation Club Promoter. She tries to get you to agree to sit down with one of their representatives in order to get other free stuff while she's giving you the coupons. She's a pretty good sales person too, knows how to find angles around any barriers or reasons you say your not interested. For some people this could be a good deal to sit through this in exchange for car rental, snorkel trips, or other tour discounts, but we despise sales calls and would rather pay cash value.
Sky bar was supposed to have Karaoke tonight, but when we showed up it was energetic club music. Most of the folks who looked like they were there for Karaoke eventually left as no one wanted to change the current vibe by being the first one to sing. Staff could have again done a better job of encouraging guests to participate in the theme of the night as posted rather than derailing it, I bet you can guess who was running it...Luis. The bartender was working hard taking care of the numerous rounds of shots ordered by a couple of the groups up there, and I didn't really see him get tips from them much either. He's clearly a hard worker, and his drinks were good too.
Started the day with a light breakfast at Windows and then Yoga again, ohmmmmm. Much more relaxed and ready for a bigger breakfast of Chilaquiles and a Mimosa, tasty!
Then sitting by the back pool was quieter this morning since the wind was really kicking up the waves out front and luckily the partiers were still in sleepy mode in the back pool at this time, which lasted until 11:30 when the 80's heavy metal music would start playing. Another item worth mentioning are that there are many "Pool float hogs" who don't seem to understand the concept that if everyone freely shares the floats there wouldn't be a scarcity of them and that when they put them aside either at their chairs or on their swim-out decks it creates a scarcity mentality around the resort.
We were lucky to find some folks to play beach volleyball today, luckily we had our own ball as Luis and the resort ball was no where to be seen this morning. We played again later at 3PM in hopes to go to the Margarita class at 4PM. At 4:05 Luis showed up at the volleyball court and said the margarita class was already over as he decided to start it early. My guess he was only coming to the volleyball court in hopes to see no one there so he could take the net down and call it a day rather than actually showing up 20 minutes early for the scheduled 4:30 game. We were a player short, so it was good of him to at least play a game with us instead.
Sunsets were generally fabulous, and you can't go wrong watching the from the beach or one of the beachside restaurants. The view of the pier and water with the sunset makes for even better photographs.
Tonight we had dinner at Windows indoors as the wind was too strong outside tonight. Miguel was our server again and he was fantastic and always eager to serve and make guests happy. He and another waiter were helpful in recommending wine again. Seems like the wait staff here are more familiar with the wine list than those a Bordeaux. I ordered the veal osso bucco which was delicious! They even substituted the cous cous for risotto due to my allergies, and that worked out well with the dish.
Tonight it was country night at the skybar, well attended and we and other people danced some too. Fun without too many drunken obnoxious guests.
Leaving today, so had breakfast at Windows, my husband got to have his favorite dish of the week one last time, the french toast. We packed and then had our last meal at Oceana/Barefoot grill where I got to have my favorite dish one last time, the grouper and a mango daiquiri! Enjoying the music and the last views of the blue waters on a wonderfully sunny day.
Overall, despite some of the fine tuning the resort needs, we had a great time at Secrets Aura!
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