Aces Abroad Blog

Posted on February 2, 2013 at 9:43 pm by Julie in Uncategorized

Paradise Found

I am not sure if this was my seventh or eighth visit to Costa Rica in the last ten years but once again I left the country longing for more.

After ten perfect sun-drenched days on the Guanacaste Peninsula, I can’t say enough about this country. They have tourism figured out. This Central American crown jewel combines perfect weather with rich wildlife, well-educated guides, keen hospitality, exciting excursions and activities and drop-dead resorts to create impactful, exciting, and luxurious vacations for families and groups! I organized an incentive group with family in tow in March of 2010, amounting to 487 people, most arriving on a Monday to spend 7 days, and 6 nights together. The country didn’t bat an eye.

My family, including my husband and two children less than four years of age, landed three days before the bulk of the group. We had one full day to get our bearings before I had to put on my hospitality hat and welcome the group’s VIPs.

Liberia, the closest international airport to the Guanacaste beaches, is little more than an open air hanger. When we arrived around eight in the evening, the humidity was 85% and the temperature… also 85. I tried to visualize 460 people (give or take) arriving midday, enduring peak heat and customs in this ramshackle airport. I said a prayer, and was mildly comforted knowing the airport accepts 3-5 large jets from the United States around noon, every day of the week in high season. After a mildly painful customs line, due in large part to our overtired children, we gathered our bags and were recognized by a jovial guide. He quickly whisked us away to our cooling minivan complete with toddler and infant seats (always a concern when traveling abroad with babies). In about one minute the kids were asleep and my husband and I were able to enjoy the ride along a fine, well-marked, newly-surfaced road that seemed to lead directly to our resort. It took 50 minutes.

Upon arrival, the lobby, again open air and breezy, leapt into motion welcoming our groggy kids and musty bodies. It took no more than 4 minutes to register and load onto a golf cart to be transferred to our “home suite home” for the next ten days.

The next morning came quickly as the excitement of an undiscovered place riled our tots out of slumber at an ungodly hour. No problem… we knew a midday nap would surely cure any frazzled nerves caused by this early morning wake up call. We all hurried to the door to discover what wonders lay immediately outside. Our oversized junior suite was located on the ground floor and opened onto a spacious verandah surrounded by perpetually blooming gardens. As if someone had their hand on the volume dial, the chorus of the gardens increased as the sun rose above the horizon. Heaven! What was the temperature in Chicago when we left, 10 degrees? Who cares now? Our forecast called for 90 and sunny with intermittent fluffy clouds for the duration of our stay.

When we darted back inside to lather sunscreen on our wintery white skin, I noticed some of the thoughtful gestures made by the resort to welcome our children. Next to mini terrycloth robes I found kid sized, clear backpacks filled with tiny toothbrushes, mini-visors, sunscreen, and inflatable beach balls. I went to the fridge for a bottle of water and found, in addition, milk and cookies. Smart.

As we stepped off our verandah a stretch golf cart pulled up. “Are you on your way to breakfast, Ms. Julie? Hop on; I’ll give you a ride! I am Alejandro”. Although I was looking forward to the walk, there was no way my son was going to let us miss this ride. And that is how it went. Every step we took, it seemed someone was busy anticipating our needs. This went on as my VIP’s arrived… and beyond as the bulk of the group arrived. All needs anticipated and whims answered. Smiles all around!

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The all-inclusive resort was large and spread over 2,400 acres. Still it was not overwhelming. We, even the kids, quickly learned our routes to the pool and beach, or to the huge breakfast buffet. Although I knew well over half of the occupants of the resort on this particular week, I noticed it wasn’t difficult to escape. The grounds and gardens and even the pool itself offered numerous nooks and crannies where you could enjoy some privacy, or if preferred, where you could be found. The swim up bar during the day and the outdoor dance club and casino at night were especially popular.

Off-resort, we organized multiple activities and tours every day. As any trip manager knows it’s much easier to manage a busy schedule of activities than a group of bored travelers! We offered kayak trips down bubbling rivers, surf lessons along safe and sandy shores, Tarzan-style canopy zip lines, crocodile and monkey safaris, snorkel trips and off-shore fishing excursions satisfying both nature lovers and our adrenaline junkies. When appropriate for the children, extra attention was paid to provide special-sized safety equipment and car seats. No one was bored.

In the evenings, the seven resort restaurants were bustling with activity. It’s generally understood that food can be an issue at all-inclusive resorts…. but not here in Costa Rica. Colorful, creative, and fresh dishes tempted all tastes. Buffets, tapas, full-service restaurants, and 24-hour room service meant you may need to spend a little more time walking the beach each day. Okay!

As the week wore on, our group felt more and more at home. The guests befriended the resort employees and relationships were built. The bartenders enjoyed banter with the regulars at the swim bar and outdoor night club. My kids dashed out of the suite in search of their new friends and I made regular rounds to insure my VIPs, local partners, and the resort had what they needed to do their respective jobs. I began preparations for our departures and was well supported by the resort and logistics company. Overall I felt confident the constituents and their bags would make their planes.

Early on the eve of departure I had my regularly scheduled one-on-one with Mother Nature to arrange for passable weather in the US. This time it paid off. The morning came early and many were half asleep when they arrived in the breezy lobby to find their bus. They exchanged hugs and high fives and bid each other farewell. With confidence they exclaimed “Best trip EVER…. see you next year!” knowing full well they’d have to work hard for the next 12 months to earn this annual incentive.

Towards the end of any trip, I find myself looking forward to doing laundry at home or plucking weeds from the garden. I will typically crave a cup of coffee from the café down the street. I usually miss the day-to-day monotony that is upset by such an international excursion. Not this time. This time, in this country, I could have stayed. I left in love again with Costa Rica and her people. Her lush landscape and rich wildlife continue to fill my children’s imagination. On behalf of my client, I will seek to top this, and will be hard pressed to do so.

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