On June 22nd, we drove to Ft. Lauderdale to start our Costa Rica Adventure. We spent the night in a hotel near the airport, and in the morning we got on our Southwest flight to San Jose Airport in Costa Rica.
The staff with Disney helped with our bags, and I waited in line to get some Costa Rica SIM cards for our phones. We rode a van to the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel about 15 minutes away and Fico greeted us by name when we arrived. Fico took a pic of us together, made sure our luggage got sent to our room, then we met with Gabby for introductions and to get our room keys and ABD name tags, duffel bags, and first day pins.
We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, then we swam for a bit in the pool and walked around the property. It was tropical like Florida, but the mountains in the distance were definitely a change of scenery.
In the morning we woke up and got ready for the day and Andrea decided to take our emergency stash of Azithromycin that we have had stashed. Her throat had been hurting a little on Friday and by Sunday she was concerned she had strep throat, so decided to start the antibiotics. We went to breakfast and then met with Fico, Gabby, and the other tour members that we would be traveling with. Each family introduced themselves, then Fico and Gabby went through the itinerary and details of the vacation. We boarded the bus and rode to the Sarapiqui River for some white water rafting. The rafts held six guests plus a river guide and we were together and were joined by Ellie and Kylie for the tour.
We got the hang of the rowing pretty quickly, and since the water was fairly fast moving we really didn't have to do a lot of paddling. We did fairly well battling our way through the rapid areas, but some of them did have low hanging branches or rocks and we were instructed to just crouch down in the raft and hold on as the raft bounced around. It was a fairly warm day, and when we got drenched going through a few of the rapids it actually felt pretty good. We were also encouraged to splash everyone in the other boats any time they came near, so we all got pretty wet by the end.
After rafting, the staff setup a taco buffet and we feasted on plates of beef and chicken nachos and tacos. We'd worked up an appetite and although it was definitely not the fanciest meal of the trip, it may have been one of my favorites.
Once we finished lunch, we boarded the bus and drove for quite a while to our next hotel.
We drove through some very hilly terrain up and over the continental divide to the Hotel Arenal Manoa. It was situated on the side of a hill, with the rooms and restaurant all facing towards the towering Arenal Volcano. When we arrived, the clouds were low in the sky, and we couldn't really see much. We got changed, checked in, cleaned up, and then went to the Welcome Dinner at the hotel restaurant. The dinner was a buffet, and we sat with a nice family from Ohio. The kids were good about trying some of the local cuisine, and surprisingly Connor really loved the cow tongue and went back for seconds and then thirds. He actually asked if it was on the menu everywhere we went subsequently throughout the trip. To me, it tasted like very tender beef. It wasn't bad, but definitely not something I wanted after my initial taste.
During the meal, we listened to a local singer and guitar player, and after dinner they brought in a pair of dancers to show us a variety of Latin American inspired dances. After the demonstration, the guests were invited on to the dance floor to try the dances. I danced a little with Paige, and both kids practiced a few of the dance styles with the professionals.
On Monday June 25th, we ate breakfast and then boarded the bus to go to the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge for a guided boat tour. We relaxed on the boat as it took us down the river and we all scanned the trees and river for wildlife. Fico and our boat captain were amazing at spotting the animals hidden around us. We saw sloths, caimans, bats, and many monkeys. We would often hear the howler monkeys hooting at us before we saw them. Most everything was fairly well camouflaged, so we would have missed the animals if they hadn't been pointed out to us.
During the boat ride, Paige started hanging out with Kylie who turned out to be just two weeks older than Paige. They both had a lot in common, including the fact that Kylie was part Asian as well. Her mother is Korean, and Kylie had an older sister Tyler on the trip as well. After the boat ride, we ate lunch at a restaurant on the river's edge and then boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel.
The river cruise was enjoyable, and the lunch was delicious. However, it was a long 2 hour ride to the river and then a 2 hour ride back afterwards. It would have been nice if it was a bit closer since the 4 hour bus ride seemed a bit much.
As we were approaching the hotel, we saw that the clouds had started to clear for the first time and we could see the entire volcano. As soon as the bus stopped, we jumped out and got our picture in front of the volcano. We'd heard there are some tours where the clouds are so thick the entire time that they never get to see the volcano, so we were excited that we got lucky with the weather.
We were jumping for joy that we got a chance to see the volcano! Gabby was great about taking pics for us and suggested a fun jumping picture and it turned out to be cuter than our normal standing together pose.
Back at our rooms, we got to appreciate how beautiful the view was from the floor to ceiling windows.
The kids loved the big blanket animals in the rooms.
We went swimming and got some virgin strawberry daiquiris to celebrate the day during happy hour.
The rooms turned out to be kind of interesting. We had two rooms, which were connected in the same duplex-like structure, however there was no interior door connecting them so we had to walk outside and over a long connecting sidewalk to go between the rooms. The rooms were also not exactly luxury accommodations. The beds were a little creaky and the blankets were just so-so. When it rained at night it was surprisingly loud and we got woken up quite a few times. The views were spectacular from the rooms though, and we slept better than we'd expected.
On Tuesday morning we rode the bus to our zipline adventure. It was a short bus ride to the zipline and after we got suited up we rode a Sky Tram gondola up the side of a mountain near the volcano.
At the top of the mountain we took a few pictures overlooking the lake before starting the ziplining.
There was one very short test line at the beginning, and Connor was the first to jump off and get going. He rode all of the lines by himself except for the second one, I think they were worried he was too light and would get stuck. Paige was pretty nervous about doing the activity at all and Gabby told her that she could ride with one of the guides she was very hopeful she could ride along with someone else. It turned out that Kylie was more than happy to ride along with Paige and they were a cute pair riding every zipline together throughout the day.
Andrea and I have been on quite a few ziplines in different areas, but the Costa Rica lines were definitely the best. That first real zipline after the test zipline was amazing. As you get going, the trees beneath you fall away with the cliffside, and suddenly you're flying out in open air hundreds of feet off the ground. We went back and forth between the sides of the valley and we've never been on such high or fast ziplines before. It definitely spoiled our kids for ziplining in the future.
After ziplining we stopped in La Fortuna for lunch and then went back to the hotel for the afternoon. That evening we went to the Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort to experience the hot springs. The area was definitely improved upon by humans, but still had a wild feel to it and it was fun to climb up the waterfalls and enjoy the steaming water.
Unfortunately we only had a little over an hour in the springs before dinner. It was really the only time during our trip that anything seemed a bit rushed. Dinner was at the resort and then we went back to our hotel for the night.
After breakfast, we loaded all our luggage and set out on the bus to the west coast of Costa Rica. On the way, we stopped off at a chocolate rainforest to learn how chocolate was grown and made in to something yummy.
After the tour we rode the bus the rest of the way to the El Mangroove Resort in Guanacaste. It was a bit of a painful ride since it was through some extremely windy roads. One of the kids got sick, and Andrea and I took some carsickness medicine. Connor and Paige watched their iPads the entire time and it didn't bother them a bit.
We checked in to our rooms and checked out the pool and beach. It was our first time with the kids in the Pacific Ocean. The beach was nestled in a bay, so the water was very calm and warm. For dinner, the kids went with Fico and Gabby for a junior adventurers dinner and movie night. The adults participated in a guaro sour making class, and then enjoyed a nice calm adult dinner.
On Thursday morning we set out on a private catamaran with our tour group.
We went through the bay to a deeper area where we anchored and did some snorkeling.
The kids struggled with their snorkel gear, so that didn't last too long for them. Andrea and I lasted a bit longer and saw a moral eel and lots of fish. Once we got back to the boat, we split up for a little while. Andrea and Connor stayed on the boat to jump and dive off the side while Paige and I rode one of the smaller boats to the beach so we could explore the cave.
On the way back, Paige and the girls decided to start a spa business and got busy giving everyone massages out on the deck. Andrea enjoyed her royal deluxe spa treatment.
After returning to the hotel, we hung out with everyone in the afternoon and the kids had fun playing with their friends. It was neat to see how well they all got along by the end of the vacation.
That evening, we got dressed for our farewell dinner. We enjoyed a short show with a local dance group and then our last dinner with everyone.
Fico and Gabby put together a slideshow with some pictures and a video they took from our vacation. Everyone went around and said what their favorite memory was from the vacation. I had to go first and I said that I loved watching Paige and Kylie doing the ziplines together. Both kids said they liked the ziplines best. Andrea couldn't choose and said that it was a tie between the ziplines and whitewater rafting.
On Friday, most of the ABD guests left to go home. We'd opted to add an extra night so we had one more day to enjoy the resort and do something else. We signed up for an ATV tour in the morning through the hotel, and it was nice and close only about 15 minutes down the road. We had a brief orientation and then we set off down some roads and then in to the woods.
The ATV ride was great, but I was a little worried Connor or Paige would fall off the back. I'd been hoping they could sit in front of us, but the guides said that wasn't a good idea. We went through some pretty rough terrain and had fun going four-wheel drive through some fairly deep and wet areas.
It was a good way to start the day. The rest of the day we relaxed at the pool and actually got a little bored by the end of the day. We definitely would rather be out doing stuff than laying around a resort. It was nice to have a slow day though, and I'm glad we had one more day together before heading home.