Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Costa Rica: The Springs Resort and Spa

18 hours after we set off for SFO to start our vacation we arrived at the beautiful Springs Resort and Spa in the Arenal/La Fortuna area of Costa Rica.

From the airport in San Jose it was a long three hour ride to the hotel.  I was adamant about not wanting to rent a car so we had a private driver from the airport to the hotel (so glad we did it this way this time - next time I would probably rent a car).  Our driver was fantastic and gave us great information about all the the towns we were passing through and Costa Rica in general.  Side note - you can drink in the car in Costa Rica (as long as it isn't the driver) - that made the time go faster too.

A lot of reviews I read about Costa Rica mentioned how terrible the roads are.  All I will say is the yellow line down the middle tends to be "cautionary" and that you get what the drivers referred to as a "Costa Rican" massage.  Also, you need to watch out for the 50 or so cattle or the pig in the street but I think that is part of the experience!

Finally we arrived!

As I mentioned, when I saw this hotel on the sixth episode of "the Bachelor" this past winter it was love at first sight.  It lived up to (and exceeded) my expectations in so more ways than one.  

Here is my detailed review of the resort based on the following scale:

5 = Excellent
4 = Great
3 = Good
2 = Fair 
1 = Poor

Pools = 5+

What first attracted me to the resort was the 18 different pools and hot springs on the property.  The pools ranged in temperature from 83 - 103 degrees, some had waterfalls, some were secluded, some were big, some were small.  These pools were completely emptied, cleaned, and minerals replaced every night so the water was always fresh.  The property only had 40 rooms and even though they allowed non hotel guests to purchase day passes to use the pools, there were many times we found ourselves with a pool to ourselves.  

 Every pool (as with everything at the hotel) had a beautiful view of the Arenal volcano.

Of course there was a swim up bar.

With my favorite bartender William!!
Nestled among beautiful flowers and rainforest trees, plants and vines sometimes I forgot we were at a resort.  The pools were spread out amongst three different areas - 12 at the base of the lobby, a handful of others in a more secluded area called "the lost springs," and a few others down by the Arenal River where you you could go tubing or kayaking (unfortunately we ran out of time to do either).  When we were down at these pools we were literally the only ones there. 
The service was outstanding and there were ample lounge chairs so seating was never an issue.  The pools at this resort alone are worth staying here!

Rooms = 5+

This hotel was built around the Arenal volcano so everywhere you go on the property (pending the clouds) you are treated to a beautiful view.  The bedroom was no different.

Lying in bed you looked out these windows and saw . . .

And we just had a standard room.  I can't even imagine what a suite would look like.

The room was huge, the bed was comfortable, the bathroom was amazing large with a beautiful jacuzzi tub.  We got turn down service every night complete with chocolate.

We had a beautiful patio with two hammocks we spent some time relaxing in.

There was a mini bar with anything and everything under the sun, more towels than we knew what to do with, high quality shampoo, conditioners, lotions, etc and even umbrellas in case it was raining.  One of the absolute best (standard) hotel rooms I have ever had!

However maybe someone can answer a question for me, this was not the first time I had seen it but why do they put telephones next to the toilets in the bathroom?

Drinks = 5 for taste, 4 for value

What would a tropical vacation be without a fruity drink?  I don't have "a drink" that I always get so I love it when restaurants/bars, etc have some pre-made ones to chose from.

Everything I had was excellent, however, I give a 4 for value only because sometimes I questioned whether or not there was that much liquor in them.

Food = 3/4 Taste and 2/3 Value

My only complaint about the whole trip was the food.  I don't know what I was expecting, I read the reviews of others but I guess I hoped it wasn't true.  The hotel was about a 20 minute cab ride (or $30 - $40) to the town so we were pretty much confined to staying at the hotel.  While the food in town might have been better (and cheaper) combined with the price to get to town would have cost more.  Addi-tonally, the town was not that big so it wasn't like there would have been other stuff for us to do there besides just eat. 

When I travel I want to eat what the locals eat.  I can eat a burger or a club sandwich anytime, give me something authentic.

There were three main restaurants open for dinner and an additional 4 others that will open until about 7:00 pm for lunch and snacks.  As for the non-dinner restaurants they had the standard fair - burgers, club sandwiches, burritos, etc.  One day for lunch we decided to split a burrito and since it was $18 we figured it would be enough for two.  Nope, it was literally the size of an average size hamburger.  There was a "fancy" restaurant ("Las Ventanas") we never ate as they only served fish, steak and pasta at extremely high prices ($27 for pasta - no thanks) and all were things I could get at home.  The sushi bar was good, a little expensive for the amount you got, but it was very fresh.  The other restaurant had a buffet for every meal, always for $25 a person.  The food was good and they had a lot of variety, but at $25 a person a meal that adds up.  Again, there was nothing about the buffet I felt was "authentic" - all the food was stuff I could eat here.

Come to find out authentic Costa Rican food is black beans, rice and a meat.  For breakfast the beans and rice are combined, for lunch and dinner they are separated.  They have a special salsa called, "lizano" but that is about it in terms of hot sauce (that we got to experience anyway). 

Funny story, when we were transferring from one hotel to the next we asked our driver to stop for lunch at an authentic Costa Rican restaurant.  We all three sat down to order.  We both got a rice and beans meal and our driver ordered chicken fingers.  *Sigh* we tried.

I do have to say the coffee was wonderful, the juice was always fresh as was the seafood (and I am not even a big seafood fan and I thought it was good).  Another thing I fell in love with was the plantains - which I had had before but it had been a while.  There was grilled plantains at every meal and I always loaded up. 
However, overall, none of the food was bad, just nothing stood out.  I had heard about people going down and getting huge meals plus a beer for around $5 bucks but they must have been in the non-tourist areas as we never found those deals.  I left most meals still hungry (minus the buffets - clearly I have a portion problem) and we never walked away from a meal for under $50 if we both ordered something (at least at the hotel) which unfortunately because of the location of the hotel we were confined to.  On the upside, I actually probably ate less on this vacation than I do at home and came home with no guilt about my vacation eating!

Service = 5

From the minute we got out of the car we were spoiled with superior service.  The staff bend over backwards to grant every request we ever had.  We never had to wait for anything.  Everyone was super friendly and you really felt like royalty.  Whenever you asked for coffee they made it for you - asked you if you wanted milk, how many sugars, etc - I started to feel bad.  Some of the nicest people ever.

Extras = 5 

Usually, I am not one to exercise too much on vacation but this half ironman isn't going to run itself.  I tried to get in a run every other day and with views like this (of course of the volcano) it was pretty easy.

There was also an extensive weight room and fresh fruit, towels and water available in the gym.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to take advantage of the spa but there was one available with what looked like and extensive amount of services available.  The women's locker room was huge with a sauna, steam room, etc available to everyone and like everything else it was very spacious and clean.  

Wild Life Preserve
On the hotel property there was a small wildlife preserve with animals that were confiscated from people who were keeping them as pets or donated by zoos, etc.  One day we went down as saw a feeding.  There were several large jungle cats as well as monkeys and birds.

Club Rio
Again, something we didn't to take advantage of but Club Rio was the resorts outdoor center where you could rent kayaks, rubber tubes, etc and go down the river and also go horseback riding.  We did go down and swim in the river and hike around it a bit but we didn't do any of the activities.  I just keep telling myself next time. 

Game Room
The resort had an awesome activity center with pool tables, dart boards, table top chess and checkers, ping pong and a variety of wii games on a huge tv.  While we only shot a little pool and threw a few games of darts, and maybe a mean game of checkers, the room was always packed and a great place for families to hang out in the evening. 

Overall, aside from the food, I can't say enough great things about this hotel.  It was the perfect romantic resort I was hoping for but it also seemed like it was a wonderful place for families.  It was very quiet and intimate.  Although, I figured if it was good enough for the Bachelor it would probably be good enough for me.  We actually asked some of the workers about the show and they said they had rented out the entire resort to film the show and that Brad was actually extremely nice.  They said it has had a huge impact on their business.  Well, it worked on me!

Phew, did you get through all that?  I promise they aren't all this long.  Now I wish I was sitting by the pool with a drink in hand.

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  1. A-MAZ-ING! I want to go on a fancy vacation.

    You totally deserved this trip and I'm glad it lived up to your expectations.

    PS Super cute swim suit.

  2. I love that you booked this after you saw it on The Bachelor. And a raving review! I'm glad you had such a great time.

  3. Hi there! Thanks for your review and honest opinion. I'm getting married in June and we're just now putting our deposit down for Costa Rica and staying at the Springs and Spa Resort. After reading your own personal opinions, I'm more excited now, if that's possible. Thanks!

  4. I'm at the Springs now, AMAZING! Food is great but we had local food for lunch on backstreets in town (or local guide took us). If anyone comes tours from hotel are overpriced if you have more then one so do research (tripadvisor, etc) and get a private guide or driver you see so much more or much less (we did Hanging Bridges, Waterfall, and Danaus ECOCENTER for 90 guide fee, 65 driving fee for 8 hours). They have a phone in the bathroom in many hotels in the US as well (in case you have an accident, medical emergency, or fall down on slippery floor and need help)


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