January, the month that just screams for a warm vacation. You are past the holidays, and the weather in the Northeast US is cold and wet. Planning for a winter vacation means thinking about locations that bring a variety of activities and the right climate to allow for relaxation and fun.
Since I work full-time, I can usually only take long weekends. That means four or five days away from the office at most. We lucked out for this trip. My boss allowed for three days out of the office, which meant a 4 night trip in the sun. This meant we wanted to a reasonable distance from Newark airport, our airport of choice. From searching on Skyscanner, I was able to find an awesome non-stop flight to Liberia, Costa Rica which had a 5 hour flight time allowed for a quick getaway.
We had an early morning flight on United. I pay a single subscription price to get exit row seats on all United flights for me and a companion. You pay one price and can book any extra legroom seats on a United flight. United has a few options for the flight subscription.
Travel Tip: The United Subscription renews automatically every year, so if you decide you want to cancel it, make sure to cancel at least a day before it renews.
Luck was with us on this full flight. On this full flight a single seat was open. That seat was the seat between my husband and myself in the exit row. This gave us the whole row to stretch out during the flight. A five hour flight literally flew by.
I also have the Platinum Amex card which gives me my first $200 back on my in-flight purchases on United flights. The Amex gives other travel benefits such as lounge access at certain airport lounges. I used my Amex card to get snack boxes for both of us which further helped to pass the flight.
Upon arrival all US Citizens must go through Customs in Liberia. US citizens need a valid passport to enter the country and you are asked to complete a customs form. They never collected our form, but maybe they do sometimes.
While I am usually a planner, I did not plan a transfer to our hotel even though our hotel recommended booking one in advance. I figured we would just grab a cab to the resort which was only 25 minutes from the airport. Unfortunately, the day before flying to CR, I read that cabs are hard to come by and very expensive. When we arrived there was only one taxi waiting and it was taken almost immediately. That left us with trying to find an alternate arrangement. I approached the Amstar transfer rep to see if we could get a transfer to our hotel. We really lucked out as they were able to accommodate us. We waited for two other couples going to our hotel, but the price was right and we didn’t have any other options.
Travel Tip: Plan your transfers ahead when visiting Costa Rica.
We stayed at Secrets Papagayo in Papagayo Bay, which is part of the AMResorts chain. What a gorgeous resort. We were greeted cool towels and glasses of champagne. Secrets is a luxury all-inclusive resort where everything is included, right down to free WiFi and phone calls home. Our room was Preferred Club Bungalow King Ocean View room. With that we were whisked off to the VIP check-in, but not before a quick stop to see the resident howler monkeys. So cute. Even got to see the mom and baby and took some very cool pictures.
Check-in was a breeze. Handing over our passports along with completing a short form agreeing to the resort’s policies was all that was required. They didn’t even take a credit card. With almost everything included, this luxury resort is just the place for people that want a no hassle vacation. Some of the exceptions to the free inclusions were upgraded bottles of wine and the spa. The VIP check-in is also the VIP lounge which is one of the VIP benefits.
A bell man took us up to room 227. The ocean view was spectacular and even the shower had a window that allowed us to see the ocean while showering. Preferred rooms also give you an upgraded minibar and upgraded room amenities. They also have a pillow menu that gives you options of the types of pillows they will deliver to your room. We kept the pillows in the room. The room also had a nice balcony to watch sunsets with chairs and lounges to sit and read or have a drink. There were double sinks and robes available for use during our stay. Always a nice touch when you get back from the pool or beach and want to get out of a wet swimsuit.
Secrets has a variety of bars and restaurants. Market Cafe is their buffet restaurant and it was still open for lunch when we arrived. The resort does a great job with food allergies. My husband has celiac and they asked in every restaurant if either of us had food allergies. Buffets which are typically difficult for people with food allergies had labels to indicate gluten free items which made the food selection easy. The food was fresh and service was very personable. There was a chef on hand to ask our questions and they could not have been more accommodating. Drinks came quickly and they were cold and refreshing.
The resort has two pools, a main pool and a quiet pool. Both are quite lovely. At the main pool they have a variety of activities during the day. Pool games and trivia were easy to join or just watch at the main pool. They even have a swim up bar.
Live music is all around the resort and it is fantastic. We were serenaded at breakfast by a live guitar player on some days and by a keyboard player on others. Bingo was a night-time activity and yes we won. Ok, not we, my hubby. He got a full card and won a bottle of champagne that we left for our maid. I couldn’t take it home and there were so many other drink choices we never had time to drink it. They also had trivia, black jack and dance lessons. Lots of fun stuff with the entertainment staff.
Or Just Relax
Or you could just relax. If you have a preferred room, you have access to a cabana overlooking the beach to chill out and read and watch the ocean. We reserved one for one of our days there. You need to reserve one a day in advance. The spa pool is quiet and relaxing. There are plenty of places sit and relax. Grab a drink at one of the five bars, chill in the pool, read in the shade or watch the sunset on your balcony. Five days relaxing for the sake of relaxing.
We did get a chance to indulge in the serenity of the Secrets Spa. We booked a couples massage. They had a resort special that gave us the Swedish massage for $209 instead of $309. You could not beat it. The room was soothing and they used aromatherapy during the treatment. There is a dry sauna and whirlpool for you to use either before or after your massage. They also have separate shower facilities for men and women.
Secrets Resort has a nice variety of restaurants. There is a special sit-down restaurant for preferred club visitors for breakfast and lunch. This was the Seaside Grill. They were an open-air restaurant overlooking the ocean and they served the best fresh fruit smoothies. We ate there for breakfast and lunch most days. Although the Market Cafe buffet was very good, I much prefer a sit-down meal. Call me a princess, but I prefer to be served on vacation.
The Resort also has an Asian restaurant and an Italian restaurant. They all checked for food allergies. They had gluten-free bread for my husband and even gluten-free soy sauce. We had some amazing meals while on the property. They allowed us to order as many courses as we wanted. The salads were free and the steaks were amazing. We had a tenderloin at the Italian restaurant with risotto. I highly recommend Secrets for people with food allergies. They did an amazing job and my husband has a few. They were very accommodating.
Basically, we never left the property the four nights we were in Costa Rica. That was for two reasons. Firstly, there was so much to do at the resort, that it was hard to leave. We saw a variety of wildlife on the property. WE saw howler monkeys twice, a cuddly kitten that befriended us, a skunk (not so friendly), beautiful birds and iguanas. Secondly, because the excursion we booked got canceled. We had booked a full day Arenal Volcano Day Tour. The tour did not get enough people to run so it was canceled. We really wanted to see the volcano, so it just means we will have to go back. We met a bunch of people that had been to the volcano and heard nothing but good things about the tour. We were really sorry to miss it.
This was an amazing four-day trip and I highly recommend Costa Rica. The people could not have been nicer. Beaches, wildlife, relaxation, good food and good people. Costa Rica is a short distance from many major US cities and it does not require a visa for US Citizens. My biggest regret is that we didn’t spend more time there, but that just means we have to return.
This is a Super Travel Bitch Recommend!