ADVENTURES BY DISNEY;
Path to Pura Vida
Boy, were we excited! Disney developed a whole new palette of land tours around the world, and we were eager to to sample the Costa Rica eco-tour. The promotions told us that we would be traveling "first class" with concierge service every step of the way (Yeah, Baby!) And, when we received our pre-trip documents, we became believers. Check out the backpacks that came with our papers.
So, backpacks filled and passports in hand, we literally "traipsed" to the airport for Day One of our adventure, affectionately referred to by Disney as:
Path to Pura Vida; tico day
Tico Day is mainly a travel day. We arrived at the San Jose airport in Costa Rica and were delighted by the VERY short immigration and customs process as well as the guides Disney had set up at every juncture to greet us and send us along the appropriate path. VERY concierge transition, imho At the Marriott Hotel,
we were greeted by our Adventure Guides, Jayms and Bernal
who greeted us and got us registered into the hotel. As you can see, these are a couple of fun-loving adventurers who added all the right ingredients for making our adventure a rich and laughter-filled experience. After a short description of what to expect and where to go, we were led to our room...
And a delightful room it was! We loved the architecture of the resort with its many lush courtyards
but, especially, we enjoyed the open-air dining venue surrounded by tropical gardens. Tired as we were from the rigors of a traveling day, Alan is NEVER too tired to eat Eager to sample the local cuisine, we tried Fish Tacos
and plantains (which you will be seeing on every dish hereafter; >) With plans to meet the rest of our group in the morning, we settled into our rooms for an evening of surfing Spanish TV
day 2: The Tropic's rainbow
We were up with the sun and ready for adventure!
The group gathered for introductions and an overview of the week's travels. Our guides explained to us that we would be on our way to higher elevations. Showing us a map, we got a good sense of where our travels would take us in Costa Rica.
We moved to the balcony for a lovely buffet breakfast. The buffet included both local and more American-style offerings, but once I tasted the ripe, sweet fruit and the traditional Costa Rican fare of Pinto Gallo (seasoned rice and beans) with plantains, I never looked back.
Did I mention how much I like Costa Rican food yet?
We played an 'ice breaker' game at the table that helped us get to know our fellow adventurers better, and it was apparent to Alan and me that we could look forward to alot of giggles (Yay!). After breakfast, we climbed into our Mercedes tour bus (which Alan became very fond of as the week progressed). Alan and I hadn't toured by motorcoach before, and we discovered just how pleasant it can be to sit back and watch the countryside while someone else drives. Our local guide, Bernal, provided interesting and educational information throughout the journey from San Jose into the Arenal Volcano area. He filled us in on everything from agricultural practices to political ideologies of the Costa Rican. I do believe I learned a few things! Our first adventure of the day was the Paz Waterfall Gardens. Located in the "Cloud Rainforest" (Yes, this is one of the things I learned... there are SEVERAL types of rainforest), Paz offered a waterfall hike that descended 1000 feet to the floor of the rainforest as well as a butterfly and hummingbird sanctuary. First stop, butterflies
We saw butterflies eating,
butterflies decorating people; >)
and butterflies breaking free of their cocoons
Yep, we saw LOTS of butterflies. Little did we know, though, this was just a prelude to the real hike. While we only traveled a mile or so horizontally to view the waterfalls, we made up for it vertically. We went down and down and then down some more to where the waterfalls created the clouds (aka mist) that made these rainforests feel like we were walking in clouds. This picture was taken at about 1000 feet down, and - I telly you what - I needed the walking stick by then
This was right around when the rain started falling. Yep, there is a direct relationship between rainforests and rain. And we got to experience it in a very real way during this adventure. Our guides handed out ponchos, and the hike continued. The camera went inside the backpack until we reached the covered area where lunch was served...
another buffet with lots of traditional Costa Rican items. The Empanadas were the best I've EVER tasted. And for the folks who wanted more familiar foods, there was pizza and hamburgers. After lunch, we had a short time to visit the hummingbird garden
I must have seen at least 50 hummingbirds, and I LOVE hummingbirds! It was a very happy way to end the visit for me:) We climbed back into our motorcoach to finish the drive to the Arenal Volcano. It was a pleasant ride along winding mountain roads from the Paz Sanctuary to our destination, the Arenal Kioro Hotel at the base of the Arenal Volcano. After the waterfall hike and tummy-filling lunch, we were grateful to sit back and leave the driving to Fredericko. We were continually impressed by this mastery of the narrow mountain roads in a BIG Mercedes motorcoach, AND we enjoyed the after lunch nap; >) We arrived at the hotel eager to check into our room.
Lovely, n'est-ce pas?
and every room looks out on this view:
A VERY live and active volcano, Arenal spouts a display that looks like red fireworks every night! At least, that is what our guides told us. We chanced to find ourselves in the midst of a storm that dropped almost 10 inches of rain over the three days we were there and kep the volcano wrapped in blankets of mist. The above is the clearest view got. Oh well... just another reason to go back, I guess. And we definitely got a full-on understanding of the term "rain" forest
The Kioro Dining Room gave us a section of the restaurant for our group and provided us with a most delightful presentation of traditional Costa Rican foods to sample. It was my favorite meal of the tour, I think. After dinner a group of local students danced traditional dances of the region for us. It was a great way to end the day!
day 3 - the road to arenal
Morning was a buffet breakfast
and off we traipsed to zip-line the volcano. First, we rode a tram over the canopy of the Rain Forest to the zip-line take off point. Anyone who didn't want to proceed with the activity was invited to ride the tram back to the starting point... but we were a mighty group of adventurers, and all of us opted for the "Line".
Here I am in my gear enjoying the 'overlook' at our starting point. Yup, we are a longggggg way up, and we are going to ride a series of 7 lines down to the base. The longest line was 2500 feet, and we traveled between 25 and 30 miles per hour.
See how that is? Safe landing
Was it scary at first? You betcha! But, once I relaxed into it and started breathing, it was like soaring and I LOVED it! And I really enjoyed the camaraderie that developed as our group cheered and encouraged each other on. It was one of my "highlight" experiences, for sure.
Back to the resort for a buffet lunch; the afternoon activity was a Rainforest Canopy exploration on suspended bridges. Sounded like fun, but it was raining full-on and we did have an evening activity at Hildalgo Hot Springs (heated by the volcano) so Alan and I opted to spend a leisurely afternoon at the resort catching up on our emails and - um - napping; >) It was wonderful to have such flexibility in the itinerary. The Hildalgo Hot Springs was AMAZING! We had 5 pools to choose from, each a different temperature and, afterwards, we were fed a DELICIOUS meal on a covered patio (Thank Goodness.... it was still raining buckets). Unfortunately, because of the rain, my camera had to stay tucked away so you'll just have to take my word that the pools were surrounded by lush rainforest and the meal included homemade tortillas, indescribably delicious entrees, and an excellent salad bar. OK, this might have been my favorite meal.
day 4 - The jungle cruise
We're just over half way through our adventure and going strong! We are up early for another full day of activity and - YAY! - the rain stopped. However, the river are scheduled to either raft or float down this morning (depending upon preference for action or scenic reflection) is running so high and strong that even the "float" route is too fast for Disney's standards. So our trusty guides did a little magic and changed our itinerary to accommodate Nature; we'll be doing the Pineapple Plantation in the morning to allow the river to slow down by afternoon. This is just one example of how the guides stayed on top of our itinerary, making everything flow smoothly (no river puns intended here; >). Indeed, they were so efficient at getting us through the day with everything we needed for each activity that I stopped looking at my own booklet and just did whatever they said to do. When I have that much trust in someone else's organization skill, you KNOW they are good.
When I first read about the Pineapple Plantation tour in the brochure, I wasn't overly enthused... rather, I thought I'd just 'go for the ride' on this one. Boy, was I mistaken! This tour was another highlight of the adventure.
First, we toured the fields in this contraption, learning about the growing cycles and agricultural methods of growing pineapples. Did you know, for example, that it takes over a year to grow one pineapple?!
We got to taste yummy, fresh-off-the-plant golden pineapple as well as view the packaging plant. Every single part of the pineapple is recycled... for example, the plants that aren't "pretty" enough for sale are made into juice and their tips are replanted. How cool is that?! The farm we toured is in the process of going 100% organic. In Costa Rica, there is a strong focus on environmentally-friendly agriculture. AND they showed us how to pick a good pineapple... information worth a trip to Costa Rica, n'est-ce pas? The tour ended with delicious pineapple and coconut milk beverage
(a real pina colada; >) That was fun! We piled back into our motorcoach and headed to the river. Disney arranged for the River Rafting company to serve us a picnic lunch by the river (alas it was sprinkling again so no pictures). The meal was simple, but tasty - homemade burritos with all of the fixings, chips, cold drinks, and cookies. The view was definitely the highlight of this meal, but it sufficed. After which, the real fun began! The river was still running fast, and the "rapids" section was too exciting by Disney's standards so everyone was routed to the Float trip
(and we still got class 2 rapids; >)
It didn't take very long, though, until the splash fights started... We were going to get wet one way or the other, I guess.
I admit it... I was not near as a good a splasher as I was a splashee so I devised my strategy early: If approached on my side of the raft, I yelled, "Truce! Alliance!"
When approached from the other side, I screamed, "Get Em!" Hehhhhh. And -- when we weren't playing 'Survivor'-- we some some amazing
wildlife along the river
The ended with fresh fruit, and a happy tired group climbed back into our 'chariot' for the ride back to the hotel. It was a quiet night of private family dinners at the hotel, and Disney paid the bill. We packed our belongings and got them outside our door by 11PM so that Fredricko could drive them in the motorcoach across the mountains to our next stop on the Pacific coast while we slept. In the AM, we'll be climbing into small planes to take the fast route; >)
day 5 - Pacific Journey; arenal to Manuel antonio national park
We're flying over the mountains to the Pacific coast today
It's a 40 minute flight, and we flew low enough in this well-decorated baby that we got an amazing view of the various terrains. Disney has been giving us pins after every excursion, and the plane ride was no exception; >) Straight from the plane, we headed to a catamaran for a lovely ride up and down the Pacific coast.
Within the first 20 minutes, we found a couple of dolphin pods - mamas with their babies - who wanted to play with us. Nothing is quite as special, I think, as watching a baby dolphin! As you can see, they played very close to the boat and stayed with us for about a half hour. We headed then to a bay for some snorkeling... not the best snorkeling, I admit (Go to Hawai'i or Belize for that; >), but I did manage to spot a baby Mornay Eel, and we got good exercise swimming to and from the catamaran. Our excursion hosts served a simple Fish Kebob and hot dog lunch right on the catamaran before we headed back to land
with Alan in his favorite 'post lunch' position
We checked in for our final three nights of the adventure at the Hotel Parador. A destination in itself, Hotel Parador is built at the top of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Fredericko earned big bucks and all our admiration driving the curvaceous and narrow road (that he had to share with construction trucks heading the other direction!). Yep, while Quepos is still a sleepy little fishing village in most respects, vacation condos are going up fast and furious along the cliff... I mean it - RIGHT on the cliffs. All of us were very happy to arrive at the resort.
The room was light and large,
the view from the balcony amazing.
and the towel animals in our room each day were a delight to behold. Our luggage was waiting for us, and we used the couple of hours we had before dinner to unpack, take a tubbie, and relax.
We gathered for dinner in the private dining area
Check out the sunset over the Pacific through the 'open-air' windows. What a beautiful setting! We ate from a menu for this meal. Alan and I chose the "appetizer" salad..
a very interesting Costa Rican interpretation, n'est-ce pas? For our entree, we both selected the Arroz Con Pollo (rice with chicken). This is another traditional meal, and it was MUY BUENO!
Alas, the one and only area where Disney fell short of the mark on this tour was in the area of special meal accommodations. Though we were assured that Diabetic aka sugar-free accommodations would be handled for all of our meals, we were left watching others eat dessert at every meal. Of course, this isn't an issue when meals are ala carte, but when a tour is 'all-inclusive' then all courses of a meal are included. Well, long story short, I got over it (after lengthy comments on the comment card; >), but I made my stand and refused to take pictures of the sugar-full desserts.... Sorry, y'all. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do is my story and I'm sticking to it. This won't stop us from signing up for more adventures, but we will bring a stash of sugar-free goodies so that we can join in the treat fun.
day 6 - forest of Life
Morning was personal time at the resort. Alan and I found a small exercise room and got some good, old fashioned weight training in; then we had two of the BEST massages we've EVER had (and we've had a few; >) at the resort spa. Lunch was at the restaurant, and - hands down - it was the most delicious lunch of the tour! I had the Costa Rican traditional lunch plate:
It included rice, beans, plantains, local farmer's cheese, salad, fried egg, and chicken breast. Alan got Quesadillas which he LOVED, but started eating so fast I couldn't get a picture. After lunch, we rode our amazing motorcoach into town for a quick bit of shopping... way too quick! I was just starting to find my way around this delightful little town when it was time to reboard and head to the Mangrove forests for our eco tour. Climbing into very shallow boats, we traveled the waterways that flow with the tides around the Mangroves.
We saw some amazing wildlife like this Mangrove Hawk that lives ONLY here in the entire world. And this little baby.. You can't see here, but he is stalking dinner.
We were just ready to head over to see the Caymans and Crocs when the sky opened up (Rainforest, remember?) so we opted to climb into our "dry" motorcoach and head home to our resort. The kids were taken to a separate dinner (and I think that was where all the fun was; >) Us adults had a quiet dinner in the restaurant and called it a night.
day 7 - pura vida!
The last day came (It was inevitable, I guess), and our tourguides promised the best was saved for last... BEACH DAY! After breakfast, we headed to Manuel Antonio National Park and hiked towards the ocean.
We spotted some very cool creatures, including sloths and a variety of birds. My favorite, though, was this fella...
Such a sense of wellbeing and peace in his demeanor... Pura Vida! It was a good long hike in the summer heat and - by the time we reached the ocean - we were VERY ready to jump in!
As you can see, this was a 'wild' beach... not a manicured 'citified' beach. And so it should have come as no surprise to me when I reached for a snack from my backpack that I was IMMEDIATELY surrounded!
I'm serious.. these guys were within feet of my food in minutes! I had to use my most impressive horse training finger-pointing commands to get them to stop before eating the food OUT OF MY HAND! So, the irony of this story is that we'd just spent the morning hiking the edge of the forest hoping to spot wildlife, and all we ever had to do was take food out of our packs and they would have rushed us. Even funnier though (and I was in the water when this happened and didn't have my camera available - sorry) was the troupe of monkeys swinging from tree to tree on the beach and sneaking up on peoples' packs to see what goodies they could find. Watching folks run through the sand to get back to their bags before the monkeys absconded with something was a hoot to watch. We saw monkeys dropping lots of valuables as they ran back for cover.
After a couple of hours on this beach, we climbed into our trusty motorcoach and went to a more 'civilized' beach for a picnic lunch.
What a view, eh?
There was a 'live' grill set up for us
After lunch, we enjoyed the view while the kids played in the waves (Alan included; >) until it was time to return to the resort... and pack:( We met again for one final dinner, and everyone could feel the air of sadness that we were soon to be leaving our Pura Vida adventure. After dinner, we gathered and laughed together one more time as we viewed the 'candid' pictures our tour guides took of us during the week.
Day 8 - hasta luego
Traveling back to the airport in San Jose, the transitions were handled (once again) with Disney thoroughness. Alan and I were already dreaming and scheming about our next Adventure by Disney
What we LOVED about our Path to Pura Vida adventure:
All travel transitions were smooth and flawless
All expenses (including gratuities) for dining, travel, and excursions were covered in the prepaid cost
People who love Disney like to be happy, and it was great fun traveling for a week with DisneyKin
All excursions were well chosen for interest and safety by Disney
Our tour guides were an excellent combination of knowledge and fun-loving
In conclusion... pura vida, baby!