Costa Rica Adventures by Disney

written by Jennifer Hart, specialist in Disney Destinations

My husband and I had the chance to experience our very first trip through Adventures by Disney.  Our tour was through the naturally beautiful country of Costa Rica. We spent six fun-filled days and nights in Costa Rica.  Most people don’t know much (if anything) about Adventures by Disney.  There seems to be a common misconception that Disney is all about characters, amusement parks and cruises. But that isn’t the case.  In 2005, Disney launched a line of vacation opportunities called Adventures by Disney.   These adventures would take families all over the world through various countries like China, Peru, Italy, Ireland, Norway, and many others.  Adventures by Disney does not revolve around Mickey Mouse, Disney World or Disneyland (unless you do the California trip that goes to Disneyland).  Instead, Adventures by Disney is a guided tour that provides opportunities for families to adventure together and see the world as a family.  With Adventures by Disney, you are engrossed in the culture of the land….learning the history, cultures, and lifestyles that each country has to offer.  The trips are geared toward families with something for all ages!   Junior Adventurers were treated to special opportunities especially for them.  Families had opportunities to spend time together.  Couples, young and old alike, can enjoy time alone while taking in some of the most beautiful scenery the country has to offer.  Disney takes care of every detail.  From the moment you arrive at your starting point until you reach your final destination, Adventures by Disney makes sure that you receive the superior service for which Disney is known.

I really couldn’t think of a better way to describe this trip other than a day by day journal summary….so here goes!

Day 1: Today was spent traveling to Costa Rica. After we went through customs in San Jose and claimed our bags, we were met by an Adventures by Disney representative.  They put us into a taxi and off we went to the Marriott Hotel of San Jose.  As soon as we arrived at the Marriott, our two adventure guides met us.  Disney typically has one guide who is from the USA and one who is local to the country/area where the tour takes place.  Our Adventures by Disney guides for the Costa Rica Coast to Coast adventure were Mike and Ronald.  The Marriott was gorgeous and nestled in the middle of a coffee plantation.  While Ronald, our local Adventures by Disney guide, checked us in, we were given a brief orientation by Mike.  We were told what to do and expect on day two, and then we were able to explore the beautiful hotel.  We took some time to see the grounds and go for a swim.  The water there was cold.  San Jose is located in the valley, so the wind is strong, causing it to be a little cooler in the mornings and evenings.  So instead of swimming, we lounged by the pool and had lunch.  Later in the evening, we ate dinner at Antigua, one of the hotel restaurants.  They had an amazing buffet full of meats, vegetables, and desserts.  After dinner, we grabbed some coffee (you cannot be on a coffee plantation without drinking a cup a coffee) and then returned to our room for a good night sleep.  Day two promises to be a busy and exciting day!

Day 2:  Our day started early.   We were to eat breakfast between 6:00 and 7:30 so that we would be ready for our briefing at 7:30.  We ate at Antigua again and they had another amazing buffet set out for us.  All meals from now on, except one, were included in our vacation and it was a great way to start the day.  After our big breakfast, we grabbed our carry-on bags and headed to the briefing.  We had a short meeting to go over the safety guidelines and to basically let us know some more details of the trip.  It also gave us a chance to introduce ourselves to our other adventurers.   Once the briefing was over, we loaded our bus and headed to the airport.  We were told to pack a separate bag for tonight because the rest of our luggage would not be able to be loaded onto the planes we were flying.  They divided us up onto two otter aircraft.  Each plane has a weight limit and so our other baggage was loaded on the bus that would meet up with us tomorrow in Arenal.  We boarded the planes and took a short 30 minute flight to Tortuguero.  The flight took us over some of the most amazing terrain.  We saw mountains, farm lands, plantations, rivers and the Caribbean sea.  It was a beautiful flight.

The country of Costa Rica is very environmentally conscious.  Ron explained to us that they were in a race with New Zealand  and another country to become the first carbon neutral country in the world.  “Carbon neutral” means that they know how much forest it takes to erase the carbon footprint left behind.  They are working to keep it in balance.  This naturalist mindset plays a huge role in the lives of the Costa Rican people. The country as a whole is HUGE into recycling and taking care of their natural resources.  Even in the schools, the kids are taught environmental education.  Today, we were able to see some of these efforts at work.

After a short boat ride to the Laguna Lodge for a bathroom break, we loaded back onto the boats and began our tour of the rainforest.  The beauty cannot be described in words:  we saw so many beautiful trees, plants and wildlife.  Probably the highlight for me was seeing a spider monkey.  We also saw several HUGE iguanas, cayman, birds of all kinds, basilisk lizards, butterfly’s….BEAUTIFUL!!  By the time we finished the tour, we were ready to return to Lagoona Lodge for lunch.  Again, we had a fabulous buffet featuring local foods.  After lunch we had a few minutes to go to our rooms and rest before the afternoon activities began.

We spent the afternoon in Tortugero, visiting the sea turtle conservancy center and the village.  We were honored to have Carla as our local guide.  She was raised In Tortuguero…but what makes her unique is that her family sailed there from Columbia and settled in Tortuguero as the first family.  Over time, others have moved into the village as well, but her family was responsible for settling the area.  Tortuguero is known for the beach being a nesting area for sea turtles.  The Costa Rican people used to harvest sea turtles for food until Archie Carr came to the area and explained to them the damage they were doing to the species and taught them how protecting them could actually help the village thrive.  Tortuguero makes a huge effort to protect theses amazing creatures from extinction.  They took us to the beach where Carla showed us a leatherback sea turtle nest that was just made last night.  Sea turtles crawl ashore, make their nest and deposit their eggs deep in the sand.  Then the mother goes back to sea and leaves the eggs to fend for themselves.  They take approximately 60 days to hatch and the little babies will begin making their trek back to the sea.  The nests are watched closely by the researchers and they will move obstacles out of the way allowing the turtles a chance to crawl safely to the ocean.  Nesting season for sea turtles usually is peak from July to September (during those months Adventures by Disney will offer sea turtle walks at night to look for nesting sea turtles).  Our group adopted a sea turtle and the junior adventurers helped us name him Rocko.  We now have a sea turtle in the ocean with a tracking band so that we can locate Rocko.

Our next stop was to the village. We were able to see the school, the shops, homes and daily life in the village.  Tortuguero is a busy village with tourists who come to see the turtles.  After our time in the village we loaded back onto the boats and returned to Laguna Lodge for a little time to swim before our Welcome Dinner.  We had a spread of Costa Rican food, a calypso band playing music for us and time to visit with the other adventurers.  Dinner was followed by a little stargazing on the beach. Tomorrow we head to Arenal…

Day 3:  We began the day with a buffet breakfast in the Laguna Lodge restaurant.  Once again it was a spread of Costa Rican food.  After breakfast we had a few minutes to walk around or get our bags before we met on the dock.  The only way to access Tortuguero is by boat, so once we arrived at the dock we loaded onto a boat and traveled down the river for about two hours.  The river went right through the rain forest.  We saw several birds and a troop of spider monkeys.  Since it was early in the morning they were pretty active…swinging and playing in1 the trees. Once we arrived at the location to meet back up with our bus, we loaded up and continued our journey.  The roads were rough, narrow dirt roads.  The roads went through villages and past several farms,  we even drove past several banana plantations.  They stopped for a few minutes for us to watch the banana harvesting process at the Del Monte plant.  Costa Rica is the second country in the world for banana exports.  They explained to us the process of growing, picking, transporting, cleaning, packaging and shipping the fruit.  We drove a couple of hours on the bus before we stopped at Roberto’s Ranchero Restaurant. For lunch we had the choice of chicken, steak, or tilapia.  I had the tilapia and it was delicious….and for dessert we had strawberry cheesecake and coffee.

Back on the bus we rode for about another hour to a pineapple plantation. When we arrived we loaded onto a tractor “limo” and rode into the fields.  The plantation consists of 3,700 acres. Sixty employees work the fields and pick 54,000 pineapples each day.  They pride themselves on being 100% organic and they do not use any Argo-chemicals. After they pick the pineapple the cut off the shoot and replant them. A worker can plant 10,000 shoots in one day!  It was so neat to hear all about their production, how much work it takes and learn how to pick the perfect pineapple. When we returned back to the main building we were treated to pineapple, piña coladas (non-alcoholic) and pineapple cupcakes.

I skipped a major event because it wasn’t about the pineapples….on our way to back to the main building, we saw a 3-toed sloth hanging in the tree.  We stopped and watched him.  It was so amazing to watch his slow movements and to see him hanging from the tree.

After leaving the pineapple plantation, we made our way to Hotel Arenal Manoa.  We got checked in and settled into our rooms, then we were able to enjoy dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Day 4: today was the day that we had been looking forward to the most….ZIP LINING!! After breakfast in the hotel,we loaded the bus and road to Sky Trek for our zip lining adventure.  We got all our safety gear on and then rode the tram up to the top.  Once at the top, we had a beautiful view of Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal.  We took a group photo and then the guides started our training instructions.  Sky Trek has 5 main lines, 2 “bunny” lines and a finishing line.  The bunny lines give you a feel for the procedure before the turn you loose on the real lines.  Each line was a little different and offered a different view and experience.  I had never zip lined before.  However, I have a feeling that experiencing it back in the USA, might be a little different than in Costa Rica over the canopy of the rainforest, with a view of Arenal Volcano.

After finishing the first three lines they had a refreshment stand on the platform where you could get a coffee or juice and view photos that they took of you on line 3….aka “Big Daddy”. It was a nice break from the adrenaline rush!  Then we finished down the last two Iines followed by the last exit line that got us back to the main check in point.

A couple of important notes about this adventure…

1) We wanted to video tape our ride and so we rented a GoPro camera.  The neat thing about the rentals, is that we could use the GoPro and then watch the video before agreeing to purchase.  They also let my husband and I trade helmets so that we could both video tape our rides and get the other one coming in. At the end we purchased the video for $45.

2) Kids had to be 8 to zip line…if there were any younger kids or adults who didn’t want to zip, they could do a nature walk back down from the top.

After we loaded back into the bus and headed into La Fortuna.  La Fortuna changed its name after the last eruption of Arenal.  When it erupted in 1968 the lava rocks only went down one side of the volcano and La Fortuna was spared from any damage. So they changed the name to La Fortuna which means good fortune!  We were given a couple of hours to eat lunch on our own, explore the town and to shop.  Our next stop was back to the resort for a craft with the Maleku tribe.  They brought gourds that we could paint and shared their culture with us.  The gourd painting allowed us to create a keepsake from our trip.

Our day wasn’t over yet….tonight we were taken to Hidalgo Hot Springs.  These natural hot springs are heated by Arena volcano itself.  They had five different pools.  Ranging from cool to hot.  They suggest that you gradually work your way up. Most everyone hung around the second pool because the hotter ones were too hot to stand for very long, but felt great for shorter periods of time. We were allowed to relax for about an hour and a half.  They prepared us a ice traditional Costa Rican dinner in their kitchen.   After an action packed day, we were driven back to Arenal Manoa to get rested up for the next adventure.

Day 5: We had to say goodbye to beautiful Arenal today, but more adventure awaits us.  Today’s big adventure is White Water Rafting.  We had to travel by bus for about an hour and a half.  We met a couple of drivers who transported us by trucks to the entry point of the river.  They divided us up into our rafts and assigned a guide to each raft.  Our guide was named Lorenzo, but his nick name was Chuta. They went over safety procedures and the Chuta got us in the water where we did a little training….then we were heading down the Tenorio River.  The rapids on this river were mostly class 3-4.  The scenery around the river was beatitude and packed full of wild life.  We saw a variety of species from howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, toucans, and basilisk.  The monkeys were abundant and very playful today.  The capuchin were very curious and would venture closer to see what was going on.  They were very entertaining to watch.  The rafting trip took about 2 1/2 hours.  When were were approaching our last rapid, we pulled over to a large rocky area where we had a picnic lunch prepared for us of fruits, sandwiches, chips, juice, and dessert.  After a quick lunch we loaded back in to our rafts for the last rapid and the. To the takeout point. Our guide was hilarious and decided that after our last rapid he would paddle us back over to the rapid and let the water splash over our faces.  The rafting company had photographers scattered throughout the trip to take our photos.  One was positioned on this last drop and he was clicking away taking pictures of us in the downfall of water.

We walked up the steps to the top where there was a changing area and a bathroom for us to get dry clothes on. We then had to load back into the trucks and traveled about 40 minutes back to our bus and we continued our trip to Guanacaste.  One of the prettiest resorts I have ever seen was located in Guanacaste…it just opened in January.  When we arrived they greeted us with wet washcloths and pineapple juice drinks.  We received our room keys and Instructions about supper.  Tonight was the Junior Adventures special night….and date night for moms and dads.  The Junior Adventurers had a special dinner and movie night while the adults had dinner out under the stars with a view of the beach.  We had a special table on the sand and a couple of chefs and waiters to take care of us. The dinner was salads, chicken skewers and steak sandwiches.  The adults enjoyed sitting around and getting to know more about each other.  After dinner we all went back to our rooms and geared up for our last day in Costa Rica.

Day 6:  after breakfast at the resort we headed down to the beach to begin our last adventure of the week.  We were treated to a morning on a private catamaran.  We sailed around the golden coast of Costa Rica for a while before stopping for some water fun.  We were able to swim, snorkel, paddle board, and enjoy the sunshine.  While we were on board we were served snacks and just enjoyed the day with our fellow adventurers.  After about 3 hours we headed back to the resort where we were given the afternoon to enjoy as we wished.   We opted to swim for a while and then rented a kayak to go back out on the water and soak up a few more minutes of the Costa Rican scenery.

To wrap up our fabulous week, tonight was our farewell dinner.  Mike kept telling us that they really do not like to call it a  “farewell” dinner , but prefer to say it is an “Until We meet Again” dinner.  It is amazing how much we have grown as a group this week.  We started out as strangers on day one and now we have developed friendships that we will carry back to the USA with us.

To start off the night we met at the bar area to learn how to make Mohitos.  Since we do not drink we were told how to make ours without alcohol.  The kids were taught how to make mango smoothies over at a separate area away from the alcohol.  We celebrated our week in a beautiful country with a performance by some local Costa Rican dancers. They shared some dances that are popular in different regions of the country.  Their costumes were bright and vibrant and the dances were beautiful. For dinner we were given menus the night before where we were able to select our menu choices in advance and they had our food ready for us.  After dinner, we were able to relive the adventures of the week as we watched a slide show that Mike and Rod put together for us.  We were given our departure times for tomorrow, said goodbye to those we would not see in the morning, and decided to spend a last few minutes hanging out with some of our new friends.

 Day 7:  Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.  Today we had to say good-bye to beautiful Costa Rica, our new found friends, and our amazing Adventures by Disney guides.  Adventures by Disney takes care of arranging your transportation to the airport for you.  Last night we were told what time the shuttles would pick us up.  With everyone departing at different times we had several shuttles going to the airport.  We were able to sett breakfast at the resort and spend a  few last minutes saying our goodbyes….or see you soons.  They picked us up 2 1/2 hours before our flight and transported us to the airport.

How do up you summarize a week that was so amazing and so packed full of adventures?  Disney is all about telling the story,  they tell stories in every tiny detail of their parks, cruises, and Adventures by Disney.  So this week we spent learning the “story” of the beautiful country of Coasta Rica.  It was a beautiful story and an experience we will never forget!

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