Costa Rica Adventure
Before I recap the trip, I have to say that I had extremely high expectations for this trip based on hearing about others’ experiences and the various trainings I have done on Adventures by Disney trips. My expectations were not only met on this trip, but far exceeded anything I could have believed was possible on a guided tour.
I will do another post about what we call the “Disney Difference” but the most important difference is by far the Adventure Guides! Our guides, Colin and Fico were just incredible and were the most important part of the success of this trip.
Each Adventures by Disney trip will have a minimum of two guides – typically a U.S. based guide that will be with you from start to finish (in our case, Colin) and a local guide who is an expert in the country or region you are visiting. Depending on the itinerary and the guides’ credentials, you could have multiple local guides to ensure you’re getting the person with the best ability to bring the destination alive for you.
Our local guide, Fico, was with us for our entire trip. A fountain of knowledge about Costa Rican history, culture, and geography he is also an accomplished naturalist and was incredible at helping us spot wildlife and teaching us about the local culture in an entertaining way.
Our U.S. based guide, Colin, had an incredible energy about him – immediately putting everyone at ease and helping the group bond quickly. He ensured we always knew what was next, what time we needed to meet and where, what we should wear, what we should or should not bring with us, whether or not our route would be challenging for those with motion sickness, what time to take Dramamine or other motion sickness meds for the best results, handing off sunscreen and bug spray as necessary and ensuring we got all the best pictures.
You could tell that both Colin and Fico truly love what they do and they shared their joy with us every day. Their energy was infectious and the group fed off it making everything feel extra special.
Our group consisted of 28 travel professionals (27 of them women) – all very experienced travelers who are very used to being in control. Colin immediately put us all at ease and by the end of the trip we were joking about having forgotten how to “airport” without Colin there to guide us through it!
It’s become cliche, but it really is true that travel is the only thing we spend money on that makes us richer. I feel truly lucky to have had this experience and to have met all the amazing people I met on this trip. My life has been enhanced because I met them and had all of these incredible experiences.
Day 1 – Tico Rhythm – Your Adventure Begins
Tico is a slang term for a Costa Rican. So day one was all about getting acclimated to the Costa Rican way of life.
My day began with an uneventful, direct flight from Newark, NJ to San Jose Airport in Costa Rica. Upon arrival at the airport, I passed through customs and was immediately met by a representative from Adventures by Disney who took my luggage and navigated me through the airport to a transfer to our first hotel – the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen.
Upon arrival at the hotel, I was greeted by Colin and Fico who introduced themselves, ensured we had each other’s cell phone numbers, gave me an overview of the hotel and the plan for the day. My friend, colleague and roommate for this trip, Amber, had arrived the day before so we met up and decided to take a walk around the hotel property before putting on our swimsuits and grabbing a drink and a snack at the pool.
That evening, our trip began with a welcome dinner featuring traditional Costa Rican food. Again, Colin gave us an overview of the trip and what to expect. He let us know what time we needed to have our bags outside our rooms the next morning, what time we needed to meet the next day, where and when to have breakfast and some tips for getting the most out of the trip.
We then went around the room introducing ourselves, sharing a fun fact about ourselves and what we were most excited for on the trip. We were warned to think carefully about our fun facts as this was likely how most people would think of you for the duration of the trip!
Although I’m sure this sounds painful for some of you, it really did help to break the ice and start the group bonding, which would quickly begin to happen more organically.
Day 2 – Make a Splash
Today was our first hotel transfer, so we were told to have our bags packed and outside our rooms before breakfast. Adventures by Disney provides luggage tags for your bags. The tags stay on your bags throughout the trip, and at each transfer the guides and bell staff at each hotel handle picking up your bags from your room and delivering them to your next room.
Once we had the bags handled, we had plenty of time to enjoy the included breakfast buffet before boarding a bus for the Sarapiqui River. Again, both the evening before and that morning on the bus Colin was sure to prepare us for exactly what to expect – what to wear, how long the bus ride would be, what food, beverages and restrooms would be available and when, how to pack our day bag and where to put it. I never once felt anxiety or uncertainty about what was happening. And it felt so luxurious to not be the one having to worry about what was happening and how we were going to get there.
After about 2 hours on the bus, we arrived at the rafting facility where we were greeted with fresh fruit, beverages and a chance to use the restrooms and change if necessary. This is where we had our first sloth sighting! Everyone was super excited to have a sloth sighting so early in the trip.
We were then fitted with helmets, life jackets and paddles and had a quick professional photo shoot. All photographs taken on the trip – whether they are taken by the guides or by professionals along the way are included in the package price and provided in a digital photo album after the trip.
We then had a safety demonstration before splitting up into groups and hitting the river in our rafts! Everyone in our group chose to raft, but for these more adventurous activities there is always an alternative (in this case, a boat ride on a quieter part of the river). If any guests choose the alternative activity, one of the guides would accompany them while the other guide sticks with the larger group.
When we got out of the river, we were handed towels and plastic bags for our wet clothes and we had a chance to change into dry clothes before sitting down to a lunch of tacos and burritos served to us by our river guides! We also had some more time to watch our sloth hanging out in his tree!
When everyone was done eating we got back on the bus for the ride to La Fortuna where we would spend the next three nights at the Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa. These rooms were amazing – each room had a picture-perfect view of the Arenal Volcano – and there were hot springs at the resort!
We had a little time to rest and explore the resort before we met back up for a Guaro Sour drink making tutorial (Guaro is a type of rum produced in Costa Rica). On trip with children, the adults would have the drink making class while the kids have an exotic fruit tasting. Although there were no kids on our trip, we still got to taste all of the exotic fruits!
We then had a private dinner complete with live music from local musicians followed by a dance performance and a dance lesson!
Day 3 – Call of the Wild
Today was all about wildlife! After breakfast, we took the bus about two hours to the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge in Los Chiles. When we arrived in Los Chiles we boarded a boat on the Rio Frio searching for wildlife. Since he was eminently qualified to do so, Fico acted as our naturalist. If Fico didn’t have that qualification, this is one of the places that a local naturalist would be brought in to supplement the guides.
Since this is just a protected wildlife refuge and not a zoo, there is no guarantee of seeing any wildlife. Fico, however, was amazing at spotting the animals and our boat captain was great at maneuvering the boat to give us the best views. We were able to see all three species of monkey native to Costa Rica (howler, spider and capuchin – including some baby spider monkeys!), giant iguanas, several different kinds of birds, bats and emerald basilisk lizards.
We spent a little more than 2 hours on the river before disembarking at a local eco-lodge for lunch. This itinerary covers a huge amount of the country. The downside of this is that there are some long bus rides. The guides do an incredible guide at making these long rides informative and fun! For portions of the ride, Fico would talk about the culture or history of places we were about to see or had just seen. After awhile, Colin would step in and play trivia or put on a movie. And there were always plenty of snacks!
On this day, we got some Costa Rican history on the way out to the wildlife refuge, followed by Disney song trivia. Coming home, we watched Pirates of the Caribbean.
After we got back to the resort we had some time to get changed and hit-up happy hour at the hotel bar before heading to a ceviche making demonstration, local craft beer tasting and dinner.
Day 4 – Reach for the Sky
For a lot of people, this was the day they were most looking forward to. For others, it was the day they were dreading — ziplining!
When we arrived at the facility, which was only about 20 minutes from our hotel, everyone suited up with helmets and harnesses and headed to the safety briefing. Then we were taken up the mountain in gondolas and there was a short, practice zip-line, which everyone did. After that though, a couple of people decided to do a nature walk with Fico instead of heading down the rest of the ziplines.
I’ve zip lined in Costa Rica before, but these were the longest, highest ziplines I have ever experienced. There are a total of 7 cables, the longest of which is nearly half a mile long.
After we finished the zip lines, there were juices waiting for us and a bar with snacks and drinks available for purchase on the most beautiful outdoor deck.
Once we had some time to rest and regroup we got on the bus back to La Fortuna. Fico had the bus take a loop around the town and he pointed out different places for us to pick up different souvenirs and where to eat lunch. Then we had some time to explore on our own and get some lunch. This was the only meal on the trip that was not included in the package price. Most Adventures by Disney itineraries have one or two meals that not included so that you have some time to explore the destination on your own.
Amber and I hit up the grocery store first – my favorite thing in any country – and then went to some souvenir shops, a coffee shop and a chocolate shop before grabbing lunch at a local restaurant.
We got back to the resort around 2:30. We were leaving for the hot springs at 5:00, and the hotel bar’s happy hour was usually 5:00 – 7:00. Our guides knew how much we were enjoying the happy hour, so Fico convinced the hotel to open the bar early and offer us happy hour from 3:00 – 5:00!
We left for the Eco Termales hot springs at 5:00 and had about 2 hours to enjoy the hot springs. By now, all of us had started to bond and we had a great time “playing mermaids” in the hot springs!
We had dinner at the hot springs. It was Mother’s Day in Costa Rica, and our guides surprised us with a cake! We also had a couple of birthdays on the trip, so we sang happy birthday and the guides presented the birthday girls with cupcakes, cards and celebration pins!
Day 5 – Hit the Beach
Today, we were leaving the beautiful Arenal Volcano, so we left our bags outside our room and headed out to breakfast. After breakfast we boarded the bus for the chocolate rain forest.
This tour is a fantastic opportunity to see how cacao beans grow and learn more about how our chocolate is made, but the real highlight of this tour was our host – El Chapguapo. While there are several hosts that give tours of the rainforest, Adventures by Disney only uses El Chapoguapo. There are really no words to describe this man, but he is charming, hilarious and passionate about chocolate and how it is made. He is truly someone you will never forget meeting and that you feel blessed to have met.
The tour includes a chocolate tasting in various different forms, and with lots of different toppings!
After the tour, we had time to buy ALL the chocolate and then we boarded the bus again for our transfer to Guanacaste. This is a pretty long bus ride, but they did a great job breaking it up and making it manageable and fun.
The first stretch was about an hour and a half. When we boarded the bus in the morning, our guides took our orders for fruit smoothies, which they had waiting for us at our first stop. This gave us a chance to stretch our legs, use the restrooms and check out a gorgeous view of Lake Arenal.
Then it was back on the bus for about 45 more minutes. Again, our guides had taken our lunch orders first thing that morning, so when we arrived at the picturesque restaurant at the side of a river our lunch was ready for us.
After lunch, we had one more stretch of road to cover – about an hour of driving. For this stretch of the ride we played a Jeopardy style trivia game. Categories included Costa Rica, Volcanos, Disney and our guides!
The winners were promised prizes, but of course they couldn’t leave anyone out, so we all received gifts from our guides – local coffee and Lizano sauce (a delicious, not-spicy, pepper-based sauce that Costa Ricans eat on everything).
When we arrived at our final hotel – the El Mangroove Resort – we were taken to a private reception area where we were greeted by several hotel staff members with cold towels and juices and were quickly checked-in to our rooms. We also made dinner reservations for that evening. Dinner was included in our package, but we were given the opportunity to eat when we wanted, and in smaller groups.
On a trip with kids, this gives the adults a chance to have a “date-night” as the guides will take all the kids for the evening, feed them kid-friendly foods like pizza and chicken nuggets, play games with them and watch a Disney movie.
Once we made our dinner reservation, we went to check out our room and our bags were quickly delivered to us. We changed and headed to check out the beach and the pool and then had a lovely evening relaxing and lingering over dinner with new friends.
Day 6 – Pura Vida!
Our last full day was maybe the most fun. We started with breakfast at the hotel, and then we all met on the beach where we boarded a catamaran! We sailed out of the bay for about an hour where we dropped anchor and had about 2 hours to play.
There was a slide off the back of the boat, the crew opened up the side of the boat so we could jump off, there was plenty of snorkeling gear so we could explore the coral and sea life, there was a beach to swim to and explore, and pool noodles if you just wanted to float. And besides all that, there was an open bar and snacks!
On our sail back, we had a blast just hanging out with all our new friends, singing and dancing, and then we were greeted by a pod of dolphins!
When we got back to the resort, we had the rest of the day to ourselves. We had an exclusive lunch menu, which was served pool-side, and time to do other activities offered by the resort. I elected to go paddle boarding and relax by the pool but some of the ladies made spa appointments and there were also kayaks, a gym, etc.
Then it was time to get ready for our farewell dinner. We were surprised with a traditional dance performance by local school children.
After dinner, our guides escorted us to a private room where we had a chance to talk about everything we had experienced that week and the guides gave us our last surprise – a slide show of all the best moments from the week!
Day 7 – Farewell
At our last breakfast together, most of us had time to linger over coffee before we had to leave for the airport and we all sort of meandered between tables chatting with each other and our guides, exchanging phone numbers and social media handles.
Many of us had flights around the same time so there were a lot of us in the same van to the airport and then we huddled together in the airport until we absolutely had to part to board our planes. Adiós Costa Rica! Hasta la próxima mis nuevos amigos!