Costa Rica Trip Report - Land & Sea Part II

Old Jul 21st, 2003, 08:38 PM
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Costa Rica Trip Report - Land & Sea Part II

After Xandari, we turned in our car and were shuttled to the Courtyard by Marriott hotel near Escazu. This 1-night stay was included as part of our cruise package. The Courtyard caters primarily to business travelers, and I will never stay there again. The hotel is your typical American-style hotel, which was to be expected. What I didn't expect was the incredibly rude and unfriendly service we received from the reception staff. This treatment was so unlike treatment I had received at other hotels in Costa Rica, it was unbelievable. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that I hope the Marriott will invest in some serious customer service training.

From the Courtyard, we boarded a bus to the Los Suenos Resort on Herradura Bay, where we boarded our home for the next 6 nights. While she may not be fancy like the larger cruise ships, the Pacific Explorer is clean, comfortable and well-equipped. The crew is entirely Costa Rican (with the exception of 3 Panamanians) and English speaking. We were joined by 3 incredible naturalists during our voyage: Giovanni Bello (former director of the Monteverde and Los Angeles Cloud Forests), Stephen Weston (Emmy-winning shark researcher who has provided material for the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet) and Sio Guie (a very accomplished 26-year old Ecologist). They guided us on walks, helped us with shore excursions, educated us about their respective areas of expertise and treated us like family. The breadth of their knowledge and experience was so impressive, and their passion for their subject areas was contagious.

Over the next 6 days, we traveled to Curu Wildlife Refuge, Isla Tortuga, Corcovado Conservation Area, Golfo Dulce (including Casa de Orquideas), Isla del Cano, Drake's Bay and Manuel Antonio. We swam off the stearn of the ship, snorkeled at Isla del Cano (amazing!), sea kayaked at Isla Tortuga, and spotted dolphins and humpback whales on our way to Golfo Dulce. The cruise is totally relaxed and super casual (formal wear is forbidden) and the food was delicious! This was billed as a family cruise, and kids of all ages were on board. Some of the kids bonded so closely after only a week, that tears fell on the day we had to disembark. Some of them were mine.

Final thoughts: (1) The small cruise ship experience was incredible, and I can't imagine ever traveling again on a large cruise liner. However, the small cruise ships can be somewhat problematic for those who suffer from sea sickness. Many of the passengers on our ship wore patches and they were just fine.

(2) We rented a 4WD 4-Runner (diesel, 5-speed) from Europcar (through Tico Travel). I can't rave enough about both of these companies. We only paid $465 total for 7 days, including all taxes and mandatory insurance.

(3) I found driving to be a little stressful at times, but also a lot of fun. I much preferred the "secondary" roads to the Interamerican Highway, where you are likely to get stuck behind a monstrous truck traveling at 20 km/hr.

All in all, it was an incredible trip and I cannot wait to return next year!
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Old Jul 22nd, 2003, 05:29 AM
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Thank you so much for the great trip report. Even us more seasoned travelers down there can learn about new and exciting things.
We have done the touristy things and now like to just get away down there for quiet nature viewing and the little place you found near Arenal sounded beautiful and just perfect for us. We have been to all of the places you went to on your cruise but it might be worth it to revisit them with people so knowledgable. Wonder though if we could stay with friends in Escazu instead of the Marriot.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2003, 09:38 AM
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HI! Thanks for your trip report! We're going on our late honeymoon in Sept and I am interested in finding the Hanging Bridges in Arenal....are they easy to locate? I can't do any zip lines since I am pregnant, but would love to go on the bridges. Thanks! Sarah
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Old Jul 22nd, 2003, 11:15 AM
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Thanks for a great report, the cruise sounds wonderful. We're planning to do the Hanging Bridges this summer as well so please do post more on those. I take it the weather cooperated at Arenal and you actually saw the volcano? We only have 3 and 1/2 weeks left till our trip and I can't wait.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2003, 12:25 PM
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The hanging bridges are just across one of the dams for Lake Arenal. Your hotel can give you directions to them. Very easy to get to. The paths are very easy to walk on and the bridges are very secure. The views of Arenal are amazing. A mom to be shouldn't have any problem (except for the lack of bathrooms on the trail? LOL-been there done that). They have excellent and very modern bathrooms by the parking lot.

Hey Iza didn't realize your trip was coming up so soon! Anita is counting down the hours and will be off soon. You will be off before you know it. Hope you guys give us a trip report and bring us all back some of that wonderful Pura Vida.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2003, 03:38 PM
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Hi,
I really liked your trip report. Will definitely look into this cruise you took. I am so glad you had a good experience with Europcar, as did we. We only paid around $460 including all insurance options, but had a smaller 4WD (Daihatsu Terios, not bad). This rental company has awesome customer service.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2003, 08:39 PM
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Suzie: You will love Villa DeCary! I don't see any reason why you couldn't stay with your friends in Escazu if you wanted to do the cruise. You could probably just have them drop you at the Courtyard before the charter bus for Los Suenos arrives.

Iza: We did see the volcano pretty clearly during our visit to the Hanging Bridges, but observed no activity. We talked to other people who were staying closer to the volcano (Arenal Lodge and Tabacon) and they said they were able to see some activity from their hotels during the night. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. I so envy you getting to go back in August! I've noticed that with each trip, it gets harder to leave Costa Rica.

Rungirl: I second everything Suzie said about Hanging Bridges. It's a beautiful and easy hike. If you're traveling from the Tabacon area toward the lake, the turn-off will be on your right just after you cross the dam.
Terri
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Old Jul 23rd, 2003, 10:23 AM
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Hope they don't sell Villa Decary before I can get there! It does look like a nice quiet place. Beautiful views of the Lake!
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Old Jul 23rd, 2003, 10:59 AM
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I am traveling to Coasta Rica in August from the 8th to the 24th. I was not able to find anyone to go with me on the trip. Most of my friends are married or engaged and thier spouse will not let them go alone. My other friends are not able to afford the trip so I am forced to go alone. I am wondering if there is anyplace for me to find out if other people are going at the same time so I have a travel partner for part of the time.

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Old Aug 21st, 2003, 12:48 PM
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ttt
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Old Jan 14th, 2004, 08:56 PM
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ttt for ss and percy
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Old Jan 15th, 2004, 08:20 AM
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To TA Griffith:

My husband and I are going on the Pacific Explorer this summer with our 8 year old son. Cruise West is advertising the cruise as a family cruise and states that it gears the trip towards the kids and the family. Is this the cruise you went on? Can you tell me the following:

How was the accomodations?
What stuff does the trip have for kids?
Is the food kid friendly or is it a lot of fish and local specialties?
Is the staff interactive with the guests and the kids?

We are also staying at Xandari for three nights. How is that place?

Thanks for all your help.

Kathy
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Old Jan 15th, 2004, 02:33 PM
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I missed when you originally posted this trip report of last July, so of course, had to search for "Part I" ... it sounds like a great visit. For others who also may want to read, here's 'Costa Rica Trip Report - Land & Sea Part I'
> > http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...6&tid=34434148
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Old Jan 16th, 2004, 11:42 PM
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Tess: Thank you for topping Part I - I meant to do that with Part II and got distracted.

Klgallo: The cabins are small, but perfectly comfortable. In fact, the bathroom was larger than the bathroom I had on a Carnival cruise ship when I did the Mexican Riviera several years ago. We had a AA cabin on the lower deck. The AAA rooms are identical, but are one deck higher. The rooms are air conditioned and include a picture window that opens. Each room has a television and VCR (no TV reception, but they have a really decent video library where you check out videos for free - good selection for adults and kids alike).

If your son likes the water, he won't be bored since most of the activities are geared around the ocean. Depending on that day's destination, the kids can sea kayak, waterski, go for banana boat rides, snorkel, play games on the beach, or just swim and play off the stearn of the ship. Kids could also go horseback riding or do a zip line for an additional fee. The zip line was under maintenance during our particular cruise, so unfortunately this activity was not available to the disappointment of some of the kids. We were to do a boat tour up a river in the Golfo Dulce one day, but there was a severe lightening storm that day and the crew decided to cancel the river cruise in the interest of safety. (Sidenote: It rained at least part of every single day, but this and the beach BBQ were the only activities we were unable to do due to weather.) There is one particular area of the Pacific just off the Osa peninsula where it's common to see whales and dolphins. The kids had a blast watching them from the ship. There is also a lounge where the kids could hang out and play games or watch videos. The crew is great at interacting with the kids. In fact, one evening the kids, under the direction of one of the guides, did a surprise presentation that was adorable (and educational). Each evening, one of the guides would do a slide presentation on his area of expertise (birds or sharks, for example) and the kids often attended these. Last, but not least, there is an children's activity leader aboard the ship whose sole purpose is to interact with the kids. It was amazing to me how quickly the kids made friends, so that by the second day they were hanging out together in groups according to age. Of the 88 passengers on our sailing, I would guess at least 20 were kids. The ages ranged from one infant to several teenagers. I would say most of kids on our sailing were between the ages of 7 and 14.

A wide variety of food is offered at each meal. Each day about 6 am there is fresh fruit and some kind of danish or pastry available on the upper deck. Breakfast would follow about 7:30 and was usually buffet with fruit, scrambled eggs, gallo pinto (Costa Rica's rice and beans - delicious!), assorted juices, cereal, yogurt, etc. Lunch is also usually buffet style. I honestly can't remember the lunch menu, but I noted in my travel diary that the food was delicious. For dinner we had a choice between the fresh fish of the day, chicken or some kind of beef. If none of these were appealing, we could also order a steak any night of the week. (I love fish, so I couldn't tell you if the steak was good.) I believe hamburgers were also available, but I can't swear to it. I should say that since I wasn't traveling with a younger child, I didn't pay much attention to what was available for kids, but I do remember that the kids seemed to really like the food. Meals are at set times, so you don't have food available 24 hours a day as you would on a large cruise ship. However, snacks like cookies, chips and crackers were always available in the lounge and the observation room and the kids could order sodas or juice at the bar day and night at no charge. I remember that on one of our last days they put out some homemade chocolate chip cookies that were heavenly - I think I ate at least 10.

I absolutely love Xandari. I've stayed there on both of my past trips and plan to spend at least one night there this trip.
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Old Jan 17th, 2004, 10:22 AM
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Thank you very much for your info. I look forward to our trip.

Kathy
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