We absolutely LOVED our trip. It was a terrific family vacation (kids ages 9 & 6), and we were so happy to enjoy so many special experiences - animals in the rainforest, gorgeous beach time, a daily sense of adventure and fun. The travel company did a great job addressing issues as they came up, and we very much enjoyed the guides and drivers who the agency engaged for us. Having an in-country agency gave us a lot of confidence to take our first big international trip as a family, and we appreciate their expertise in planning, as well as their customer service. Our agent worked hard to craft an itinerary that encompassed a variety of activities, and that incorporated some of the things we were most excited about doing in Costa Rica (seeing poison dart frogs!), and she revised the itinerary several times to adapt to our questions and comments. The Costa Rican people we met were universally welcoming, helpful, and kind. Most spoke very strong English, and it was easy to travel without exchanging currency at all.
We did have a few issues that came up both during the trip, and in the planning. It would have been good to get our final itinerary further in advance (it came a week before we left, right before Christmas) and we didn't pay close enough attention to the timing of the daily schedule. Our agent scheduled 3 days in a row of 7 am departures for activities, requiring 6 am wakeup and twice missing the included breakfast, which was brutal on our family. We ended up canceling a much-anticipated activity, planned for New Year's Day, simply because we were exhausted. We LOVED the lodge located in La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park, but had to leave it at 7 am - ouch! We arrived into San Jose at 5am, and didn't have access to our hotel room until check in scheduled for 2 pm. Our mistake in not requesting a hotel room, but would have appreciated if our agent had recognized the need for such given we were traveling as a family. Our agent had suggested we go to the newly-opened hotel at Playa Conchal. I had reservations about this, as the chain is not known for being family friendly, and there was just very limited information online about the hotel, and our agent didn't have much information on it as a family destination either, since it was new, but it all worked out well, and we were generally pleased with our stay there. (A note on the hotel: while they said they had a "kids club", we never used it, as it seemed closed the entire visit, and was a tiny facility). With all of that said, I would recommend both the agency and the agent again, with the encouragement to do a lot of research on your own (I found and requested two of the hotels where we stayed, which were both highlights of the trip).
Our day at the hotel in La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park was one of the most special times we've shared as a family. Hand feeding hummingbirds, experiencing butterflies landing on our hands, the excitement of our "night walk" with the frogs - all of these were highlights of our trip, and all happened within about 8 hours! We stayed in the Lodge Room, which was simply spectacular - the master bedroom was lovely, and the kids enjoyed sleeping in the loft and taking a bath on the balcony, just below a hummingbird feeder. The food was very good.
The hotel in La Fortuna was very enjoyable. Beautiful main swimming pool and the mineral springs hot tubs that wound down the mountainside were lovely and warm. Great setup for families. The Arenal area has so many activities that we barely scratched the surface, but we enjoyed the safari river float trip very much, as well as the zip lining activity. We did not do anything with the "Club" facilities as it seemed like everything was an extra expense and required advanced scheduling. It was nice to leave the resort to have dinner in town (thought it was a $40 transportation charge to get there - no Uber in town). Seems like a small thing, but very much appreciated the thoughtfulness and accessibility of the free laundry facilities.
Our guides were so good. Mauricio was very knowledgable (we were with him in San Jose at the Jade Museum and the city center, and with him en route to La Selva from La Paz, and from La Selva to Arenal). He knows SO MUCH about wildlife, especially the amazing birds. He's also kind, patient with kids, and speaks fantastic English. Sandra was another guide who we appreciated. She was so sweet with my children, she was thoughtful about our trip plans, and she is super organized. I don't remember the name of our guide on the safari river float, but we really enjoyed his conversation, howler monkey calls, and energy.
We LOVE Playa Conchal. The beach is one of the nicest I've ever been to: soft white sand, warm clear water, small waves just perfect for my 6 year old to enjoy, and beautiful shells for my 9 year old daughter to spend hours collecting and later (with some sadness!) return to the beach. Lovely sunsets. Not crowded. Terrific climate (we were there in early January). The included breakfast buffet at the hotel was spectacular.
As mentioned above, I would have a hotel room for early morning arrivals after a red-eye, for showering and naps, and I would have planned later starts for activities, at least on some of the days.
I would request a room at the hotel in La Fortuna closer to the pool facilities. I think we were as far away from the pool area as you could physically get and still be a guest! We really liked our stay at the hotel in Playa Conchal, but the service has a long way to go to validate the resort pricing that they charge.
I would request a room at the hotel closer to the main lobby. Again, it was as if we had been given the furthest room (5th floor at the end, tower 3). The hotel definitely needs to improve its service, especially if it is charging US resort pricing. For example, we sat at the main pool one day for 1 hour and 40 minutes without a single checkin from a server. We finally flagged someone down to order food for the kids and drinks for the adults. It took over 2 hours for us to receive all of the order. My daughter had given up on having lunch by the time it arrived at 2:30 pm. The Beach Club is a wonderful setup, but there was often a significant wait to get golf cart transportation back up the hill to the lobby, or even further, to our room in tower 3.
Travel Company Comments
First of all, let me thank you so much for your constructive feedback in regards to your family trip to Costa Rica. Your comments, will help me a lot to improve my services and to achieve the best possible experiences for my clients!
Also, I feel very happy that you LOVED your trip and that your kids enjoyed the different experiences that I selected during your stay! Also, that your choice of staying at the Lodge in La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park was so meaningfulness for your family and that you enjoyed your stay at the hotel in La Fortuna and I coincided with your friend that is perfect for families.
Besides, we are glad to learn that you enjoyed your stay at the hotel in Playa Conchal Costa Rica, regardless your concerned about staying in this hotel. The reason why I recommended this hotel, was that when you started with your travel plans on September 24th, for the Peak Season, most of the hotels didn´t have space or the available dates didn´t match to keep the logistics of the itinerary. To start planning a trip to Costa Rica for the Peak Season, it´s highly recommended to begin with travel plans early in the year. As mentioned in one of my emails, our Marketing Manager went on an inspection trip previous to the opening and was impressed with the property. We will pass your reviews to the hotel.
In regards to the issue of your day of arrival. I want to apologize for not encouraging you to pay for an extra night; considering that you had booked a red-eyed flight arriving at 5 am. When I received your flight information, I personally spoke with the Reservation Manager and requested for an early check in, but as informed to you over the phone, check in is until 2 pm and early check-in, is subject to availability. Unfortunately, the reservation Manager was on vacation when you arrived, and the hotel didn´t honor our special request. Fortunately, you were able to get a room and we were able to re-scheduled your city tour for the afternoon. Due to this inconvenience, we did reimburse you the $65 charge fee that you paid for the room at the hotel in San Jose.
I understand your discomfort of waking up early morning for each of the activities, during your stay at Arenal. But if you want to see wildlife, in the morning is when it is more active! So you need to start your day early for a better experience. If tours are booked on a private basis, we can be more flexible with timings leaving later in the morning and consequently this tours will be more expensive. But in your case, the safari float, hanging bridges, canopy tour all were on a regular basis so it is subject to a scheduled itinerary. When you were in country, I tried to make some changes but the suppliers had no space or if cancelled were penalized 100% (no refund policies). We are so glad that you were satisfied with the travel company´s guides services. Will pass the word to Mauricio and Sandra
Marcy, I highly appreciate your comments for future family trips requests. Some travellers don´t want to miss a thing during their stay in Arenal and want to keep the family busy. But, I will strongly recommend them to keep just one activity per day, and to book private tours… if they can contemplate this option in their budget. On the other hand, will let them know that room assignments during the Peak Season cannot be guaranteed, even though we always include a note to the hotel, requesting to be close to the pool, restaurant, beach when travelling with kids.
We hope that you can re-schedule a future trip with your family and explore other destinations that you were not able to explore this time, such as Tortuguero and Manuel Antonio that was on your initial wish list!
Wishing you a nice afternoon!
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