Costa Rica with Tammy Uecker & Natasha Persha

To begin our adventure we had booked our flight with Apple Vacations’ on their Frontier Airlines charter.   We had booked a 4 night stay here using Riu Points.  When we arrived into Liberia Costa Rica Airport, we had set up one way transfers with Central America Tours, which is only a 35 -40 minute drive from the airport to the resort.

Check in went quickly and smoothly.  We had a junior suite room with a balcony facing the mountainsRiu Palace Costa Rica Beach and overlooking the back part of the resort, where the hotel’s shops were located. The room was very nice and clean, and had a contemporary style look to it – identical to the updated Palaces in Mexico and Punta Cana. I really like the new look that the Rius are converting to! They do have free Wi-Fi throughout the resort but due to the exotic location it’s very difficult to stay connected, which can be frustrating at times.

The Riu Palace Costa Rica has 4 specialty restaurants in which we ate at two- the “L’Antora” Italian Restaurant and the “Tokio” Japanese Restaurant.  Surprisingly, the Italian Restaurant was our favorite, plus no dinning reservations were required to eat here.  Overall, the food and service were excellent with several good choices on their menu.

The Riu Palace Costa Rica is set back from the beach area, so it takes a little walking to get to. WeRiu Palace Coasta Rica Beach 2 took a stroll and decided to walk down to the Monkey Bar, which is about 15 minutes up the beach from the property. Here, you could see bunch of different kinds of monkeys in the trees, such as Howlers and Capuchins. It was a very neat experience, but also nerve racking at the same time because they were all wild, and we could hear them howling and see them swinging in the trees.  The best time to see all the active monkeys is early morning OR 4 to 6 in the evenings.  At dusk, you will see amazing sunsets at the resort and on the beach- just gorgeous views.

The Riu Palace has a little shopping area that you have to walk outside and down a hill to get to.  There were several shops where you could buy some souvenirs or any extra amenities that you may need.   Across from the shopping area is where the disco, spa and the casino were located. We were very surprised by how large the casino was.  Although it was not huge, it was still much bigger and nicer than the ones in Punta Cana.

During our stay we booked an excursion through TAM (Delta Vacations).  We booked with their rep, Melvin, who was so helpful in trying to find the right excursion for us. We ended up choosing the Blue River Experience and hiking through the Rincón de La Vieja National Park. During our tour we got to Rincon de la Vieja National Parksee and experience so many things! We did about a 30 minute easy hike through rainforest area and saw a few waterfalls. We stopped for 20 minutes so we could take a refreshing dip in one of the main waterfalls of the area. On our way back we had stopped at the Blue River Resort and Hot Springs.  We had about 1 hour to explore on our own, so we chose to take a look at the Botanical Garden. The garden had over 800 different plant varieties, orchid garden, humming-bird center, frog, fish and turtle ponds. There we also visited the butterfly garden with 15 different species of exotic local butterflies, including the Blue Morphis, Costa Rica’s famous butterfly. We also enjoyed the volcanic springs- which included four natural mineral green hot springs pools, and one large fresh water pool with a Bullet Water Slide. (The slide was fast and lots of fun!) For this excursion, you did Rincon de la Vieja National Park 2have the option to zip line instead of hike. I would definitely recommend this excursion to others.

We booked our transfer from the Riu to the Dreams with Central American Tours. CAT gave us an excellent rate. The ride between the two properties was just over 2 hours, 30-40 minutes of which was on a dirt road leading up to the Dreams – not the best situation for someone with motion sickness. We were told by our driver that there are plans to pave this within the next year. The transfer was private, and our driver was so friendly! We were very impressed with their services.

As we approached the Dreams, I knew this would be what I had hoped for in an all-inclusive, Costa Dreams Resort Costa Rica balconyRican retreat on the beach – completely different than the loud hot pinks and purples of the Riu. The resort is nestled in the hills, sprawling to the beach cove. It is contemporary yet traditional in style.   The luxurious, authentic design was accentuated with dark tiki wood accents and an aesthetically appealing fusion of earthy tones.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a refreshing passion fruit cocktail and a cool, pleasantly scented Dreams Resort Costa Ricatowelette. Check in was a breeze and very personalized. It was not in a huge, oversized lobby, but a quaint, tastefully decorated, windowed room with two small check-in desks with comfy chairs. It almost seemed like what you would expect for preferred check in – but it wasn’t, this was for all guests.

We booked an ocean view, and it was on the top floor, so the vista was pretty spectacular, even though we were set back. Staying in the resort required a lot of walking, and it’s not flat because it’s built into the knolls. While our building was far from the beach, it was very close to the main buffet, most a la carte dining, lounges, the Coco Café and shops.

The property has a total of 447 guest suites, which each include a private balcony or terrace with either Jacuzzi or swim out access – (swim out rooms cost more, of course). The rooms definitely live up to the “Dreams” standard- spacious, beautifully decorated, clean, and comfortable.  There is complimentary internet access and phone calls to the US and Canada!Dreams Resort Costa Rica hotel

Everything I ate was delicious and fresh!  Buffets and menus offered a lot of variety – I really felt that even picky eaters could find something they liked. The property had 24 hour room service which we made use of a couple of times – once early morning before our Nicaragua tour, and once late at night after our tour.  Guests can also choose from 5 specialty a la carte restaurants, the main buffet, a snack bar and grill, and a café – all of which are typical of the AM resorts brand.  No reservations are required, except if you want the hibachi show experience at Himitsu. Now onto the AMAZING bars: Top shelf spirits and refreshments are offered at their five bars/lounges.  Pool and beach wait service were also available (AND FREQUENT!  They work so hard, especially considering the heat! TIP THEM, PEOPLE!!!).

As with most Dreams, this property offered a wide variety of beach, land and water activities such as:  Ping pong, board games, pool/beach Olympics, yoga, volleyball, non-motorized watersports, fun ‘classes’, live music and shows, movies on the beach, themed nights/parties, etc. They advertise ‘two’ swimming pools, but really there are multiple. There are several smaller infinity pools that are ‘connected’ with a waterfall wall.This property even had a waterslide!  I was told it’s for kids, but I saw ‘grown ups’ enjoying it one day. Speaking of kids, the Children’s Club (ages 3-12) and Teen’s Club (ages 13-17) offered plenty of options to keep the youngsters busy throughout the day.   The Kids’s Club is supervised by CPR certified staff members.  Activities there include: hiking; children’s playground and pool; building sandcastles on the beach; arts and crafts; science, nature, and exploration; toys, games, and videogames; weekly camping; etc. The Teen’s Club offered:  Euro-Bungee; table games, video games, and pool games; weekly bonfires; and a late night [non-alcoholic] Disco mixer. For the adults looking for rejuvenation and pampering, the Dreams Spa by Pevonia boasts a complete spa menu of body treatments, a full service beauty salon, indoor and outdoor therapy cabins, a hydrotherapy circuit, and a relaxation area.

I have no complaints about the service at the Dreams.   I felt it was excellent and that the staff members went above and beyond to make our experience great!  I would highly recommend this property as I feel it is the best all inclusive option in Costa Rica right now.   It’s a resort that will appeal to the multigenerational masses.    More often than not, this option will appropriately accommodate families, couples, and friends alike.

On one of our final days we booked a Nicaragua Treasures Tour. We booked this tour in advance because it was something we both knew we really wanted to do. The Dreams property is only 40 minutes south of the Nicaraguan border. The Morning of our tour we were picked up at the property at 7am and didn’t return until 9pm – so it was a long, exhausting day.  I would not recommend this tour to families with small children- not only because it’s long, but also because I don’t think they would fully appreciate the experience. You have to go through customs and immigration at the border twice, there and back- and it’s not the easiest process. We also did a good amount of shopping in the local markets of Catarina, Masaya, and Granada. We each bought a cute pair of sandals for cheap!   The highlights of the tour though were driving up hardened lava fields to the crater of the active, steaming volcano, Masaya, AND a boat tour around the islets of Lake Nicaragua, which is the largest lake in all of Central America and also home to an abundance of bull sharks. The experience was well worth what we paid for- and it’s another country I can now check off my bucket list!  We were just paranoid the whole time we were going to lose our passports the day before we were set to depart for home! One last note- Nicaragua requires your passport to have a 6 month remaining validity, as does Costa Rica.

Contact a Travel Consultant today to book your own Costa Rican adventure!

Nicaragua Treasures Tour 2Nicaragua Treasures Tour

 

The Ultimate Austrailia Bucket List

great-barrier-reef

1. Diving and Snorkeling Ningaloo Reef.

2. Cruising through the Kimberleys.

3. Wildlife, Indigenous Culture, and rock art in the Northern Territory.

4. Dine under the stars.

5. Spectacular views and uncaged wildlife in South Australia.melbourne-australia

6. A walking tour of Melbourne.

7. MONA & Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart.

8. Hiking in Tasmania.

9. Snorkeling and sailing in the Whitsunday Islands.

10. NYE fireworks display in Sydney.

10 Reasons to Stay at the Bristol Panama:

1. The most unique and exclusive culinary experience thanks to the creativity of the Chef Cuquita Salsipuedes RestaurantArias and her contemporary Panamanian cuisine.

2. One of the “2012 Top 5 Hotels in Central America” by Conde Nast Traveler.

3. One of very few Virtuoso and Signature hotels in Panama.

4. Recently-built new tower by world renown Zurcher Arquitects and Watermark Design Studio.

5. Conveniently-located in the heart of the Financial District.

6. The only member in Panama of The Leading Hotels of the World.

7. Luxurious and stunning guest rooms.

8. A spectacular full-service Spa located on the 25th floor with panoramic views of the city.The Spa front desk

9. 24-hour butler service.

10. Internationally-acclaimed Molton Brown bathroom amenities.

Contact a travel consultant today to book your stay at The Bristol Panama!

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) Guide to Gratuity Rates

The American Hotel & Lodging Association is the sole U.S. association representing all segments of the lodging industry has released a guide covering gratuity rates. Released just in time for the busy holiday travel season, the guide helps guests determine voluntary monetary ranges for services rendered by hotel staff throughout a guest’s stay.

Hotel Courtesy Shuttle Driver: Tip $1-2 per person of $4-5 per party.

Valet/Parking Attendant: Tip $1-5 when your car is delivered. Tipping when your car is parked is optional.

Bellstaff/Porters: Tip $1-5 per bag when you are escorted to your room (especially when your luggage is heavy or they prepare your room or show you around). Tip the same if you request bell staff service checking out.

Doorstaff: Tip $1-2 for getting a taxi. If they unload your luggage, tip in proportion to the amount and weight.

Concierge: Tip $1-5 per night. The tip should be left daily (preferable in an envelope or with a note so that it’s clear it’s for housekeeping).

Delivery of Special Items: For special requests (like an extra blanket), tip $2 for one item, $1 for one more. Tipping is not required for someone fixing something broken or brining something missing.

Room Service: A gratuity of 15-20% should be added if the hotel did not already include a room service charge on the bill.

Bartender: Tip 15-20% of the total beverage tab.

Waiter/Waitress: Tip 15% of the total bill, up to 20% for excellent service.

India with Colleen Alsberg Part II

India

India 7Colleen Alsberg, of Fox World Travel, recently went on a trip to India. It was filled with so much adventure, she had to break it into two parts!

It was a long day’s drive, so when I was shown to my room by a gracious young man, I was again, overwhelmed!  I actually had a 5 room suite with 4 balconies overlooking the tremendous gardens and pool with the entire city of Jodhpur as my backdrop.  To the left I could see the Mehrangarh Fort, hidden ever so slightly in a light haze.  Below were the colorful houses that give Jodhpur its “blue city” status. To the right the city sprawled out, dotted with the domes of temples.  It was so quiet on our hill overlooking the city, it’s quite evident why this location was chosen for such a grand palace.

In the late afternoon, Vivek took us down the hill to Maharani Textiles & Handicrafts.  After walking through a dusty “junk” shop, we continued to an even dustier basement laden with fabric.  Until now, I thought I’d only get the hard sell from the street people!  This Mushek Jain puts on quite the show.   One after another, large scarves, duvets and fabrics were tossed in the air, only to land gently (and I’m sure specifically orchestrated) at our feet. Made for the finest houses in the world (Hermès and the like), sold to us at rock bottom and set prices.

The Taj hosted our dinner that evening and it again was one of my favorites.  We dined al fresco on the back patio, the Pillars Restaurant, while the lights of Jodhpur sparkled in the distance.  It was a beautiful, candle lit night, warm breezes, delicious food (non-Indian for a change) and good company.

My Most Favorite Day: With a wonderful breakfast to start my day, I should have known that it was destined to be my favorite day of the trip.  I dined al fresco at the Pillars again, this time with lovely flute music playing, a handsome dining companion (my new friend Tom from Houston), a handsome waiter in colorful dress and yummy blueberry pancakes!  Every attention to detail was noted, right down to the young man walking back and forth on the steps with a really long flagpole, keeping away the pigeons.  I imagine those birds could ruin a lovely breakfast!

This morning I put on my adventure shoes as we headed out on a countryside safari.  Before we departed, Vivek gathered 500 rupees (or whatever we wanted to donate) from each of us.  Our kitty was earmarked for bake goods, cookies and fruit to hand out to the nomads along our route.  It’s India 9amazing how much you can buy with only 500 rupees (about $8 USD).  After picking up our items at a shop and a street vendor, we continued out of town, looking for children and mothers in need.  It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.  The first children to come along were a little shy and didn’t know what to think of our offerings, but eventually accepted with huge smiles.  Some were afraid and ran away, most swarmed our bus, grabbing and gathering as fast as we could hand them out the door.  The tattered clothes, gaunt faces and poverty is very real, it does exist.  But those smiles, now that’s something that will stick with me forever!

On we rode (and rode and rode) to our first stop, a local potter.India 8  He was a brilliant artist, crafting pots for us on a stone wheel, balanced on a pyramid-shaped rock, spun not by electricity, but manually.  How perfectly balanced that huge potter’s rock had to be to continue to spin long enough for him to craft one item after another.  He did it effortlessly and his wares were beautiful.  His grandchildren came out to greet us too, looking for gum, but gleefully accepting a box of cookies instead!  They were so happily playing that you just wanted to join in all the fun!  It’s amazing how much joy young kiddos get out of a paper tube!  They escorted us back to our bus, smiling and waving, etching a special memory in my heart.

Now the fun begins!  Our next stop was a local farm for a very special opium ceremony!  For the sake of research, I had to partake in this traditional tea.  It was quite the contraption that our host used to brew the tea, pouring from one side to the other, until the final product was complete.  If I remember correctly (bear with me, I was partaking), he said a few chants and then came to each of us individually.  We held out our cupped hands as he poured the tea 3 times, and then instructed us to elegantly slurp it out each time!  Boom! I’ve had opium!

I don’t recall if it had any unusual effects on any of us, but we were pretty happy the rest of the day! Our host’s little charcoal-eyed grandson came out to hang with us. Man, I just wanted to steal that little cutie away in my carry-on (maybe it was the opium?). Our host was quite the character, showing us how to wrap an incredibly long, colorful turban and wrapping a few of us ladies in a beautiful scarf. There was talk of some new wives, so I skedaddled out of there as soon as the bus turned the corner!

Our final safari stop was to a local rug maker.  What a colorful character he was! In near perfect English (which he was very proud of) he showed us his method of weaving beautifully designed rugs.  This skill was passed down from many generations and you could see that the method was not all that different from years past.  Mostly silk and cotton, they were quite extraordinary.  Our host was quite philanthropic as well, giving a portion of his proceeds to the people of his community.  He was also very proud to announce that he had a “western” toilet!  Now we’re talking…..no more holes in the floor!  It was also home to the largest gecko I’ve ever seen!  It was the surprise factor that made me scream…..not that I’m afraid of geckos or anything!?!

A late, quick lunch was hosted by Hotel Vivanta by Taj – Hari Mahal.  I’m a Pan-Asian food lover so this was a happy break from the Indian food.  After a delicious meal, we sped back to the palace for a glorious few hours of down-time.  My new friend Gail from the Boston area, and I explored the grounds to take pictures, then we had a quick, private tour of the museum, located the indoor pool (rather subterranean!) and spa, walked through the gardens and followed the pergola to the beautiful pool.  The pool boy had to bring us a refreshing drink because it was such a hot day.  I don’t remember what it was, but it WAS refreshing and it’s lovely to be doted on!

For dinner, we all gathered in the gorgeous Risala dining room at the palace for another delicious Indian inspired meal.  A good night sleep was ahead after a lot of activity, travel and fresh air!

India 5To See the Sea: Oh what a lovely morning it was; a bit of a sleep-in and then another beautiful day to have breakfast outside.  There were a lot of miles to cover today, but fortunately we were scheduled to fly most of them.

Before departing Jodhpur, we spent the morning visiting another grand structure, the Mehrangarh Fort.  Construction of the fort began in the 15th century, mainly as defensive stronghold, and progressed over a period of 500 years.  It sits on a rock, 400 feet above the city of Jodhpur.  One of the best preserved forts in India, it is known as the “Citadel of the Sun.”  Inside the fort you will find temples, shrines and palaces, changed many times during the eras of different tribes and maharajas. It is amazingly ornate and is now a museum, housing many priceless relics and keeping their treasured history alive.  To me it was a photographers dream. Around every corner was a new colorful or architectural experience. When reading about the fort, they described it with this sentence and that’s exactly how I found it!  “The abrupt transition from one era to another, as you progress through the buildings, is one feature that makes a visit so remarkable.”  Perfection!  I could have spent many more hours exploring this extraordinary place!

A very important bit of information I learned at the fort, key to my trip; it is not an elephant saddle, it is a howdah! The howdahs featured in the gallery looked much more comfortable than the flat-mattressed twin bed strapped to my elephant’s back in Jaipur!  But you can’t change an elephant’s stride, so really, how comfortable can any howdah be?  That’s a fine howdah do!  Sorry, you knew I had to go there!!

After some spice purchases and people watching outside the fort, we made our way to the Jodhpur Airport for our flight to Mumbai, via India’s Jet Airways.  There’s not much to the airport, departures on one side, arrivals on the other and in the middle, the guy that takes his sweet time bilking money from us for our overweight bags!  With only 33 pounds allowed on Jet Airways flight, I was already overweight before I left Wisconsin (34 pounds).  I did pretty well with only 4 kilo overweight at 500 Rupee per 2 kilo, so basically 20 dollars to not have to carry on all my extra Indian goodies!  I had flown Air India many years ago and didn’t have the best experience, so was a little concerned about another India-based airline.  Once onboard this B-737, I found the seats to be comfortable (economy), the service was excellent and they even fed us on our one-hour flight.  Those Indian folks, always feeding us!  It was quick, smooth and an on-time arrival in Mumbai.

We arrived in the domestic airport in Mumbai and were met by another A&K rep that had porters ready to collect our bags.  Before we knew it, we were making our way through another big, crazy city, this one located on the gorgeous Arabian Sea!  It was refreshing to see so much water.  The weather was spectacular, sunny and the views with all the boats were as colorful as the people.

We were delivered promptly to another amazing hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace. Since it was a long day already, Vivek had our bus driver take us to Fab India and a mall for some shopping. We then had dinner at the hotel in their excellent Indian restaurant, Masala Kraft.

I’m sure you are bored with me telling you how beautiful my rooms were, so I’ll be brief.  Yes, another gorgeous 5 room suite! This time, in my living room, I had bowls with as many cashews as I could eat, but that wasn’t even the best part!  At about 10:00 pm, I get a knock on the door from a young man with my footbath!  To be honest, it freaked my out a bit because I wasn’t expecting it.  He asked what temp I wanted the water, then drew the water in a beautiful copper bowl, poured in the jasmine salts, gave me a loofah and a magazine and left.  What? No leg massage?!?  After that, I plopped into my cloud of a bed and slept like a princess…..

Bombay….aka Mumbai: Mumbai has over twenty million people inhabitants and isn’t even the mostIndia 4 populated city in the world. Twenty million people in one city is very hard to fathom….until you go on a city tour! After meeting our local guide, a lovely spirited lady, we dove deep into the traffic and made our way through this very animated city.  Mumbai has a very “confusing” history.  Maybe it’s just me, but it seems to have changed hands quite often and until 1996 was known as Bombay.  Let’s just say it started as a fishing village and has long been a major coastal trading port.  With that come a variety of unique architecture throughout; traditional Indian, Gothic, Victorian, Greek, Venetian and more.  I found the Islamic structures the most fascinating and ornate. The city really grew during the Art-Deco years, so you can see that style in many of the buildings as well.

One of the stops we made was at the Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai’s laundry slum. Much of the city’s laundry is hand washed here, beat against large concrete vats and then hung to dry in the hot sun.  Families and businesses have used this service for hundreds of years.  This is also a spot where the locals know tourists will be stopping, so they are ready for you with their “made in India” wares. And they were ready for us nutty impulse buying tourists! I have the blue bedazzled elephant tablecloth/wall hanging to prove it!

Mumbai, even though big and crazy, seemed much cleaner to me than other parts of India.  From theIndia 3 slums to the very rich areas, we saw much of the city before ending our tour at the former residence of Mahatma Gandhi. Now a museum, this very unassuming bungalow on a side street, was not what I expected.  I’m not sure I ever thought about where he lived, but this place was very residential, almost Wauwatosa-like!  Safe to say though, I did not get any vibes of Gandhi grilling out in the backyard, cracking a Kingfisher with the neighbors.  Inside was a library where I found the letters he wrote to Roosevelt and Hitler the most interesting.  On the other floors were his living quarters, very simplistic and quite uncomfortable-looking, lots of memorabilia, and several rooms full of dioramas depicting his entire life.

Maybe it was just me, but when we got off the bus and walked to the house, it seemed like all chaos subsided. There was no noise, no cars, just a peaceful little street.  Peaceful, like the man and the India he hoped for.

We ended our tour learning a little more about our guide’s personal life.  She told us that arranged marriages are still prevalent in India, but hers was not.  SHE got to choose! Smart lady!

Back at the hotel, we had a little time to relax before our final dinner together; Indian food of course.  It was a nice night to have a last chat together as a group.

And then all of a sudden it was over.  The final morning was an early rising and quick breakfast at the hotel.  After our sad good-byes to Vivek at the Mumbai Domestic Airport, we continued to the new Mumbai International Airport.  Staff from A & K took care of us through check-in and then we were on our own to get to the Business Class Lounge and do our final India gift buying.  Off we go….bound for a quick layover in Dubai and back to the continent in New York City.

In Conclusion: When you’ve been in the travel industry a long time, I think you tend to get a little India 2jaded with some of the trips you take.  The excitement is not like it used to be.  But then there are those places that renew that energy and give you back your faith in adventure.  Isn’t it wonderful to be excited, nervous, have a sense of the unknown and mostly, get the “Wow, I can’t believe I’m here!” feeling that new destinations give you!

 

Interested in planning your own trip to India? Contact an expert today!

Exotic Costa Rica with Dawn Zarnoth

werDawn Zarnoth, of Fox World Travel’s Greenbay Office recently went on an exotic trip to Costa Rica.

PURA VIDA – meaning “Good Life” to the Costa Ricans. That is the common saying when conversing with the locals. Spanish is the main language. There were many times where there was a language barrier. However, the main service people as well as tour directors all spoke good English. I found the locals to be very proud and happy to be living in the country that they do ~ Pura Vida!

Our journey started flying out of O’Hare to Liberia on the direct, non stop charter flight thru Apple Vacations using Frontier Airlines.

LIBERA AIRPORT – What a pleasant surprise! It is nice, modern with air conditioning and clean bathrooms not to mention easy to get around. Immigration was what you would expect, slow. From time of landing until the departing hotel shuttle leaving was over two hours. Remember, there is a $29 departure tax that you have to pay prior to check in. US Dollars are better. If you use a credit card you will be charged as a “cash advance”. You can also pay this fee at some resorts. The Riu charged $32 vs $29 at the airport.

GUANACASTE AREA – Located on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. This is the only area I visited. The scenery was pretty flat compared to other areas and consists of mostly farm land. This time of year (March) is dry season. Few leaves on the trees, country side brown in color. Not like the green, lushness I was expecting (which we did see in the Cloud Forest).

SEASONS – Average rain in the Guanacaste area is 80” a year. The Monteverde area, 125” a year! This is where the Cloud Forest is located.

January thru mid May is “dry” season. No rain and as stated, very brown and dry.

Mid May thru Mid November is “rain” season. The heaviest rain comes during the fall months of September and October. It rains everyday, all day. I would not recommend traveling to Costa Rica during this time.

Spring thru summer the normal weather pattern is to have dry/sunny mornings and rain on and off in the afternoons.

RIU RESORTS

The Riu Guanacaste and Riu Palace Costa Rica are situated next to each other.1

Guanacaste on the Left. Palace on the Right  (You can see in the background how dry it is)

There are shops as well as a Casino that both resort share. If staying at the Riu Palace you have exchange privileges at the Riu Guanacaste.

They share a long stretch of black sand beach. Huts are set up on the beach by the locals for shopping. As well as massage tables to get a very relaxing, inexpensive massage. (Price is pretty negotiable!)

RIU GUANACASTE3Stayed here three nights. This is the older of the two Riu’s so the grounds are much more lush and tropical. Pool area is beautiful! As you can see rooms have not been “modernized”.  Food was good. Service was good.

2

RIU PALACE COSTA RICA – Stayed here four nights. Being a newer resort the grounds are not mature and lush like its sister. Give it a few years and it will be as beautiful as its sister.

4As you can see this resort as well as the rooms are the modern styles Riu’s are turning into.

(This is how all the Palace resort rooms now look.)5

The food was much better than Riu Guanacaste. More selection as well as fresh made sushi on the lunch buffet along with all different sea foods and fish. Fresh carved Prime Rib, smoked salmon, tuna steaks, pork tenderloin as well as a long assortment of other cuisines. Still all on the Lunch buffet! The specialty restaurants were nice but the “Krystal” was my favorite. I still am craving the Lobster Risotto!

Service at the resort was better but could use a little more customer service training in the public areas and restaurants.

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Here are a few distinct differences between the two properties:

  • Riu Guanacaste – No coffee makers in the room. Palace, coffee makers
  • Riu Guanacaste – Large step up into bathtub/shower. Palace, walk in shower
  • Riu Guanacaste – Very small and limited toiletries in the room. Palace, larger and more offerings of toiletries
  • Riu Guanacaste – Free Wi-Fi in Lobby only. Palace, Free Wi-Fi throughout resort
  • Riu Guanacaste – Pool chairs nice. Palace, pool chairs deluxe and more comfortable
  • Riu Guanacaste – No drink service around the pool or beach. Palace, service at both locations (pool and beach)
  • Riu Guanacaste – 24 hour Sports Bar. Palace, No sports bar, Lounge 24 in its place

Both Resort:

  • Advance dinner reservations at select specialty restaurants. These are made 2-3 days in advance at a designated area and time
  • Lars Transportation Service in the lobby – Use this instead of taxi service
  • Howler Monkeys! Live in trees next to the Riu Guanacaste. With the dryness they moved 15 minutes down the beach and more inland. The “Monkey Bar” is accessible from the beach located in the jungle. Catch a cold drink and listen/view the monkeys in the jungle. Pretty neat!
  • Boat Shuttle to be pre-booked at the cost of $15 per person to get to the local town of Playa Del Coco. Takes 15 minutes by boat. 30 minutes by taxi at the cost of $45 per person. This is fun little town with all local shopping, grocery stores and a fun open-aired bar owned by a local man from the Appleton area called “Coconutz”.excur

EXCURSIONS

There are so many neat excursions to book in Costa Rica. Canopy Tours are the best in this country due to the height of the lines. White Water Rafting is offered in many different levels. Surfing to hit up the big waves. Take a day tour to the country of Nicaragua. Visit the many different National Parks. Don’t forget to visit the Hot Springs. How about the Arenal Volcano? What a sight to see. High Rope tours or Hanging Bridges is another excursion to consider.

The excursions I chose where Monteverde Cloud Forest and the Palo Verde National Park. (I booked these excursions in advance with Pleasant Holidays, as they offered the most variety of tours.)

11MONTEVERDE CLOUD FOREST – was a 13 hour tour from the Riu Resorts. The drive to this area   takes up most of the time. Roads leading out to Monteverde started smooth but the last 2 hours were on a gravel highway. Climbing up the steep mountain range, on basically a one lane gravel road is time consuming. Not to mention hard on the body. Our guide called in a “natural massage”. Coming down was no better.

The views were stunning but the final destination was beautiful! Starting with viewing many different species of hummingbirds at the Hummingbird Gardens.33

Our walk thru the Cloud Forest was amazing. All the different plant life as well as tropical birds. Not to mention lizards and snakes. We were very fortunate to see a Sloth sleeping in a tree top! Our guide was very excited about this finding. We walked over 8 Suspension Bridges of all different heights and lengths. Viewing the forest from high above was a neat experience.22

monPALO VERDE NATIONAL PARK – was a 6 hour tour. As we drove to the river to it was like we were driving thru farmers fields. These were dirt roads running between crops. Many times we had to stop due to a farmer herding his cows down the road. After another “natural massage” we arrived at the Palo Verde Wetlands where we caught the boat. We moved up and down river and saw many iguanas, crocodiles, and different species of birds, bats and white face monkeys.

INTERESTING FACTS I LEARNED

  • Costa Rica is the first Latin American country to ban Sport Hunting
  • Mid Class worker makes $20/day
  • Not many can afford cars. Motorcycles or the public bus system is most common
  • Average rent is $650/month. It is not uncommon for kids the age of 30 or younger to live with parents due to the cost of living
  • Very few European travelers come to Costa Rica. Mainly because of the language barrier. If they do come they visit the “Caribbean side”.
  • Farming is the main source of income. Pineapple, Sugar Cane, Coffee and Melons are exported.
  • It is safe to drink the water
  • Nicaragua is a short drive away and safe to visit with a guide
  • Lots of American’s retire to Costa Rica

To learn more about planning your own trip to Costa Rica, contact a travel agent today or visit us online at gofox.com.

India with Colleen Alsberg

Colleen Alsberg of Fox World Travel recently went on a trip to India.  Hear what she has to say here!

IMG_7010In all honesty, I never had a strong desire to visit India, but with the many compelling arguments from several of my co-workers, I applied for the Signature trip.  The application was a bit daunting, but in the end it worked as I was accepted!  I was one of only 6 recipients that would be traveling.  What an amazing honor!

Travelers Woes: Working in the travel industry, we really like to experience everything that our clients would (the good, the bad, the ugly) as they go along and we had that in spades at the start. The journey began from JFK Airport on Emirates.  We met in the Emirates Lounge as we were scheduled to fly Business Class on their new and huge A380.  We boarded and then were informed of a minor outbound delay that turned into about 4½ hours.  As we sat on the tarmac, I settled into my seat, watched movies and enjoyed warm nuts and champagne and was all good on my end.  Apparently there was a mutiny going on in Economy on the lower level.  They had to disembark about 30 passengers and bags which delayed us longer, but eventually we took off, bound for Dubai.  Long story short, we missed our connection, spent many hours in the Dubai lounge, got a dayroom at a questionable local hotel and eventually found an airplane that would fly us all to Delhi!  With patience and humor, you can survive any situation!

IMG_7016Colorful Chaos: It was an immediate immersion into Indian culture from the moment we arrived in Delhi.  A virtual sensory overload!  India was everything I imagined; traffic jams, honking horns, throngs of people, dogs, horse carts, camel carts, electric rickshaws, buses packed tight, dirty garbage-filled streets, slums, a cacophony of odors, elephants, monkeys, peacocks and so many cows! Everywhere!  I loved every minute of its wonderful, colorful chaos!

Our journey would not have been as wonderful as it was if it were not for our Abercrombie & Kent guide, Vivek. From the moment he met us at the Delhi airport, he was a new friend, taking the best care of us.

Our time was abbreviated in Delhi because of our delays, but we did get to enjoy the beautiful Hotel Taj Mahal for a few hours. The property was stunning, as were the public areas.  My room was lovely and comfortable with a picture perfect view of Delhi.

On to Agra: Talk about mutiny! There was some chatter that we might miss the Taj Mahal, but A&K did some shuffling of transportation and made it happen for us.  After our few hours in Delhi, we jumped right into the swing of things, boarded our comfortable sprinter bus (equipped with wi-fi and plenty of bottled water) and started the trek to Agra.  We made our way outside the city and onto the new, smooth highways, through wheat-farming country.  It’s like stepping back into time, watching the locals cutting and stacking the wheat into sheaves, women tossing baskets of grain into the air to remove the hulls, literally separating the wheat from the chaff, shepherds herding goats, and camels pulling carts full of undefinable goods packed tight in burlap.  Grey colored antelope shared the fields with workers, everyone tending to their own business.  Smoke chimneys as far as the eye can see, producing red brick for the construction of endless high-rise housing.  There was so much to take in that I never grew bored, even on the longest of rides.

IMG_7112(1)The city of Agra was a mini version of Delhi with the same craziness.  Winding our way through the city streets, we came upon a bus park to switch to a different ride that took us to the gate.  How overwhelming it was to catch first glimpse of one of the “new” 7 Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site!  The Taj Mahal was brilliantly white against the blue-gray sky! Commissioned in 1632 and built over 20 years, it is a mausoleum to house the remains of the beloved wife of Shah Jahan.  As well he should, considering she died giving birth to his 14th child!  We arrived midday, but were told that the most popular times to be there would be either at sunrise or sunset, when the color of the marble changes with the sun.  From a distance, it looks rather plain, but up close is where the magic begins.  To be able to touch the smooth, cool white marble with the inlaid gems (jade, crystal, blue lapis lazuli, amethyst and turquoise) was nothing short of amazing.  The intricate marble carvings wove around the entire structure.  We donned our shoe coverings and explored the inside where the tombs were centered, but the real beauty was outside.  This was also where my first experience with the paparazzi began.  The Indian boys (in the age 5 to 6 range) were entranced with my “whiteness!”  They were so polite asking me for my photo, then whipping out the latest and greatest iPhone for the shot.  I even caught a few older gentlemen grabbing “selfies” with me in the background.

After the Taj Mahal, we were treated to lunch and a site inspection at the Gateway Hotel by Taj.  This was my first experience with real Indian food.  Indian food is spicy, but not hot spicy (unless you want it to be). It’s a melding of spices that is almost magical. How do they know that oodles of different spices if cooked with lentils for hours are going to create an amazing dish? I’m now a huge fan of dal and garlic naan and could have made my every meal of that!  American dishes are truly bland in comparison.

Before departing Agra, we visited a marble factory, where we saw workers with fairly simplistic implements, carving and inlaying gems into marble slabs. “Just for us” everything was 20% off and we could have had our own little piece of the Taj!  Just a little pricey and heavy for my taste, but I have the memories and those are free!

Our long day continued as we did a little city tour, passing the gate to the famous Red Fort and thenIMG_7203 on to the train station.  To get us back on track (pun intended) with our schedule, we had to head to Jaipur right away to catch up.  Vivek booked us in a first-class car, so it wasn’t stuffed to the rafters with travelers hanging out the doors like we’d seen everywhere else.  The Indian people sure love to feed you.  In the 4 hours on the train, we had 2 meals, tea and ice cream.  With that came naps, as we were all trying to catch up a little bit.  Vivek was also a bit of an instigator, making me hold a banana by the window to taunt the monkeys at a couple of the stops.  Those monkeys were NOT happy with me (but the baby monkeys were sooo cute)!

IMG_7318A Grand Palace Greeting: The Rambagh Palace by Taj became my favorite quite quickly.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by elegantly dressed doormen, pink petals thrown under our feet, women in traditional saris marking us with a bindi and a jasmine blossom necklace.  Smiles and Namaste from everyone! I asked what the bindi symbolized and was told peace to you and welcome.  Through the trip we had red bindis (vermillion) and yellow bindis (saffron) at all of our Taj stops.

Since this was our first real stay with the Taj properties, I’ll give you a brief history.  The first Taj hotel opened in Mumbai in 1903 and Taj has since been recognized as one of Asia’s largest and finest hotel company.  They were active in converting former royal palaces in India into world class luxury hotels such as the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur and Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, two properties I had the extreme pleasure to reside for a few nights.  They have grown a lot and now consist of 93 hotels in 55 locations across India with an additional 16 international hotels in the Maldives, Malaysia, Australia, UK, USA, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Africa and the Middle East.

My very gracious bellman took me to my suite and was delighted with my reaction upon entering.  It was absolutely the most beautiful room(s) I have ever stayed in! I was in the “Sheesh Mahal Suite” which was quite literally my reaction when I saw it!  SHEESH!  It was dazzling!  The ceiling was domed with backlights and a beautiful chandelier, the walls were decorated with mosaic mirrors and the four-poster bed was elegant as were all the furnishings and soft goods!  It smelled of jasmine and could quite easily become my home for a good year or two! Spoiled-City Sister!  It was late and my first chance in quite a few days to get a good night sleep…..and yes, I did get a good night sleep in my palace!

The Great Wall of Jaipur: We hit the road running in the morning; lots to do, lots to see.  We started  our day driving out to the countryside and let me tell you, every drive to anywhere in India is an adventure.  Nothing is ever a short jaunt!  Our destination this morning was Dera Amer, a small elephant “farm” for breakfast and an elephant safari.  We enjoyed a lovely breakfast with made-to-order omelets and as much fresh juice and champagne as we wanted. IMG_7122 AND NOW…. IMG_7124I’m now officially an elephant rider! To mount up, you had to climb stairs to the top of a stone structure, then ever so gracefully (NOT!) hop into the, I guess saddle for lack of a better word.  You sit side-saddle on these plodding pachyderms with your feet on a little shelf.  Hanging on for dear life, we slowly made our way up and down sand hills, through trees, carefully avoiding the branches and trying not to fall off this small building of an animal.  Not since my camel ride in Cairo have I felt so uncomfortable or fearful of falling!  But hey, I survived and can check that off my list!

IMG_7238With my elephant riding days behind me, we continued back to the beautiful pink city of Jaipur to visit the Amber Fort.  Here we traded our bus for some Jeeps and took off through the bustling streets and what a fun ride it was!  After passing a few elephants and stopping at a very official military-run card table to pay our fee, we made it up the great hill to the Amber Fort gate.  Set into the rugged hills of Jaipur, the fort and walls go on forever, hence our claim that it is “The Great Wall” of Jaipur.  It’s an ancient citadel, originally a palace, built with white marble and red sandstone.  It was reputed to be the treasure vault of Rajasthan, but I thought it was a treasure in itself.  There were courtyards, gardens, a temple, private chambers and a most spectacular mirrored-hall. The architecture, art and especially the views were stunning.

After one of my favorite lunches on the whole trip and a site inspection at the Jai Mahal Palace, we saw more of the sites of Jaipur including the Hawa Mahal. We returned to the Rambagh Palace for the afternoon to explore its beautiful grounds and relax in its calm serenity.

After our lovely afternoon, we did a quick tour of the palace and saw some of the even more incredible suites.  Later, we were never to go hungry as the Taj hosted drinks in the Polo Bar and a wonderful dinner in the most spectacular Suvarna Mahal.  We dined like kings, or should I say maharajas?

Trekking India: On to Johdpur, via a bus and a very long ride!  I was a bit melancholy leaving my beautiful suite and the Rambagh Palace, but there were new ventures ahead.  Vivek made arrangements for us to leave a little early so we could visit a true Hindu Temple, the Birla Temple.  Fairly new, built in 1988, it is pure gleaming white marble with intricate carvings all around the exterior.  The three marble domes of the temple represent the three major religions of the country. The Birlas have thus attempted to keep the temple out of religious bigotry and made it a place of secular worship.  You will even find a carving of Jesus among the many Hindu gods and goddesses.

We made our way across the continent, taking the occasional “diversion” around road construction.  That could prove to be a comical if not frightful venture.  Our bus driver was prone to taking a more convenient, time saving route by driving on the wrong side of the road, on-coming traffic and all!  We had both a driver and a water boy with us the whole route, who got a kick out of Catherine (Emirates Rep) and me in the front seat with our very vocal commentary about head-on collisions among other subjects.  I believe our driver was Sikh, so we were in good hands, because as their religion dictates……. “Sikhs think religion should be practiced by living in the world and coping with life’s everyday problems.”  Rock and Roll!

Some of our diversions took us through small villages that we would have totally missed were it not for the construction.  The friendliness of the people was never more apparent until we started going through these villages.  It was neat to see the school kids in their uniforms, holding hands as they walked down the street.  The women walking….somewhere, dressed in saris every color of the rainbow. The kids especially were intrigued by this bus full of Americans, waving with huge smiles on their faces; all just beautiful people.

After lunch at the Country Inn & Suites (somewhere between Jaipur and Jodhpur), we rolled into the overwhelming Umaid Bhawan Palace.  Home to the current Maharaja Gaj Singh in one wing, the rest of the palace was ours! Again the greeting was over-the-top, all the same bells and whistles, but this time drum music greeted us too!  As I walked up the red carpet and entered the palace, I was overcome with “WOW!” This was the most castle-like of all the palaces we’d visited so far.  The interior was spectacular, winding spiral staircases, marble pillars, tall domed atrium and lovely people greeting you along the way.  Namaste!

Stay tuned for part two of Colleen’s  Indian Expedition next week! View her photos here.

Interested in planning your own trip to India?  Contact a vacation travel consultant today!