Recently I had the opportunity to join 8 other Canadian journalists from across the country to explore Costa Rica, and stay at the brand new Planet Hollywood Beach Resort for 5 days, with Sunwing Vacations. Starting in December 2018, Sunwing began offering DIRECT flights from Vancouver to Costa Rica for their Sunwing Vacation Packages – and now that the winter is here, I am thinking it’s time to head back.
Sunwing currently flies to Costa Rica from 7 airports in Canada. One of the things I love most about Sunwing Vacations is that they include flights, hotels and hotel transfers within their cost, streamlining the booking process so you can spend more time getting excited about your trip. I flew out a night early from Vancouver so I could get to Toronto and meet the group, before flying together to Liberia, Costa Rica on our Sunwing Flight the following morning. I wanted to make sure to showcase everything we were lucky enough to experience, so come along on my travel diary with me!
Arriving at the check in desk at Pearson Airport in Toronto, I followed the orange signs to the Sunwing Elite Plus check-in desk. The check in process was painless, especially considering I had approached the desk before even having a cup of coffee, which says A LOT. There are a plenitude of benefits that come with upgrading to Sunwing Elite Plus [at the cost of $50].
- Up to 6 inches of extra leg room
- Complimentary Advance Seat Selection
- Priority check-in
- Priority boarding
- Increased checked baggage allowance up to 30 kg
- Free headset*
- Priority baggage handling
The flight itself was comfortable, I had plenty of leg room, which isn’t always the case for someone who is tall like me. In-flight entertainment options had everything from musical playlists, as well as plenty of current movie and tv options. Upon arrival in Liberia my suitcase was already out and pulled to the side for me to pick up, there’s a certain civility and peace of mind that comes with not waiting for your luggage. As we exited the doors into the arrival areas we were greeting by a Sunwing Representative, and the first thing he said to me was “Pura Vida!”, which is spanish for “live pure” or “live simple”, a phrase I would hear several times a day during our trip. He directed us outside and ushered us to the PH Experiences shuttle, that would give us an airconditioned ride to the hotel.
Nothing is worse than when you step off a flight and you’re groggy and trying to find out how to get to the hotel, or waiting in a long queue for a cab. Thankfully with Sunwing Vacations your transfers are all included with your package.
Upon arrival at The Planet Hollywood Beach Resort, the first person I met was Esteban, who would be my Star Class™ agent for the duration of our stay. Entering the hotel felt like a movie premiere, while we traipsed our way down the red carpet, stopping at the media wall to grab a photo under the frenzy of camera flashes. The entire hotel plays to a cinematic theme; a modern take on old hollywood, with memorabilia from movies like James Bond, The Hunger Games and Jurassic Park.
This resort is the first all-inclusive resort in the Planet Hollywood portfolio in Costa Rica, and boasts 294 luxury suites. The hotel as of the date of our arrival, had only been open for a month, making us some of the first visitors to the property. There are several buildings of rooms located throughout the expansive property, offering various viewpoints. The Star Kids™ program, offering film inspired fun, is complete with a dressing room with costumes they can wear and get into character before their film debut. They actually take the kids around the hotel to film a mini-movie about their stay, which they get a copy of upon check out. Other activities include, but are not limited to, a “walk of fame” scavenger hunt, pool parties, dance classes, even a movie night under the stars. They also offer babysitting services so you can take a couple hour vacation from the kids and enjoy yourselves. They have shuttles running constantly all day and night which will drive you to whichever part of the property you like, you can also call ahead and have them pick you up at any part of the resort.
I entered my suite with Esteban in tow, telling me about all the features of my room. What I loved most about the tour was how proud and excited he was about the property and his job. Their PHabulous™ beds include mattresses that are handcrafted and made exclusively for Planet Hollywood, and had a great medium firm feel to them. I could feel the warm welcome when I walked in and glanced at the PHTV which it had been personalized to welcome me with my name. The PHTV offered TV, Movie options and tons of information about the resort. I also realized quickly that I can order room service [available 24 hours] directly on the PHTV and it get delivered to my “Star Box” which is beside the front door, so I don’t even need to get dressed to answer for room service.
The room itself featured a shower with a seat (for those mornings after one too many margaritas), a double sink bathroom with tons of light, a large closet with drawers, lots of hangers and a safe. When opening my little fridge Esteban told me they had pepsi products onsite, but if i preferred coke products he would run into town and get it for me. It was like customizing my own celebrity rider for my stay! One problem I had was that the pillows were feather filled, and I have an allergy which causes my skin to breakout as if I was a pubescent teenager again. I called Esteban and within minutes he came to my room with 3 pillow choices, ranging in firmness and fills for me to choose from. I was FLOORED. Once he knew that I had everything I needed, he just smiled and said “Pura Vida!” before exiting my room. My suite had a balcony that overlooked the pool with an unobstructed view, a place I would spend many mornings sipping coffee while watching the sunrise.
Our welcome dinner was at Blue Star Tex-Mex Cantina, located next to the main pool. The room is small, the walls are decorated with a mixture of traditional and contemporary artwork. Chef prepared an assortment of appetizers to start, which I followed up with the Lobster Tacos, which were succulent and melted in your mouth. There was a portrait on one of the walls of Frida Khalo, but it wasn’t until halfway through dinner I realized it was Salma Hayek as Frida, referencing the 2002 to film of the same name.
I woke up quite early because I was still adjusting to the time difference, however waking up in paradise – I had no complaints. I made my way to the breakfast buffet at So Cal Gourmet Food Emporium, just after they opened at 7am, and was surprised at the infinite options.
Pressed juices, check.
Build your own omelette or crepes stations, check.
A colourful array of pastries, check.
Authentic Costa Rican breakfast cuisine, check, check, check.
When I went to grab a couple more croissants, I was gone not even one minute and my plate was cleared, juice and water were filled, and my napkin was nicely folded for my return. After breakfast I passed by Fuel Coffee Co for an iced coffee and some gelato, because when you’re on vacation, there’s no rules, so why not have gelato for breakfast. The Costa Rican coffee had light milk chocolate notes with a slightly fruity finish, it was divine.
We got into the PH Experiences shuttle and set off to Diamante Eco Adventure Park for The “Adventure Pass Excursion”, consisting of a day of ziplining and exploring the Guanacaste Animal Sanctuary. The Diamante Eco Adventure Park is home to the longest dual action zipline in the country, as well as a mile long zipline known as The Howler – likely named after the sounds people make right after take off. There were a total of 5 lines, with photographers set up along the way to capture photos, which are available to purchase for $10 at the end. This wasn’t my first time ziplining, but I had never been on a zipline horizontally (“superman style”), to say I faced a little trepidation while I was strapped in, would be an understatement. Being able to fly above Costa Rica and see it from that vantage point was unforgettable, and the sense of accomplishment afterwards was euphoric.
After the ziplines we walked through the animal sanctuary, and got to see a sloth eat (They only wake up to eat and then go back to sleep – where can i apply for that job?). The butterfly enclosement was filled with hundred of Blue Morpho butterflies, but it was meeting one of my childhood idols, Toucan Sam, that really made the day. After our walk through the animal sanctuary we went to learn about chocolate and even got to make chocolate from it’s raw ingredients. After a busy day at Diamante Eco Adventure Park we walked down to the beach to paddle board and snorkel. While the rest of the group hit the water, I took advantage of a siesta in a hammock on the beach.
When we arrived back at the resort, we got ready to head to dinner at East Sushi & Teppanyaki Bar, being from Vancouver I was excited for a taste of home. We sat in a U shape around a large grill when Rolando approached and introduced himself. Rolando, a young native Costa Rican, was working in a japanese restaurant when we would hear the sound of the metal spatula clanging against the grills. These sounds would lead him to travelling abroad for 5 years living and working all over europe and asia, honing in on the craft of Teppanyaki. During this entire conversation he’s working with rice, and eggs and vegetables and next thing I look up and he’s spelled “L O V E” using the ingredients, creating a arrow out of omelette through the “O”. For Rolando, Teppanyaki is more than just a job, “Teppanyaki is my passion”.
We started our day poolside at Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint, which is the first time one has opened at an all-inclusive resort. I decided to go for “The Ringer” consisting of one of their signature “straight up” burger patty, S.M.C [Super melty cheese], Guy’s bourbon and brown sugar BBQ sauce, and a “righteous rojo ring”. The hand cut fries and “straight up” burgers are cooked to order, paired with a cold beer poolside, my day could of ended there.
We were picked up by Catamaran for our next Sunwing Experience, right at the beach in front of our hotel. The 4 hour tour included a bartender to keep us hydrated and a chef to make us a delectable lunch. We spent the day sailing around Costa Rica, went around monkey island and eventually setting anchor in Egg Bay. The view felt like we were living in a moving postcard. After we anchored off half of the group decided to go snorkeling, while the other half, myself included, decided to hang out in the water by the boat. After a lunch including fresh fruit, pico de gallo and mole, we set sail back towards the hotel as the sky began to blush with the most surreal sunset, we even encountered a double rainbow!
We sat down for a long table dinner at the Planet Hollywood Resort’s Sunset Strip Steakhouse, in their private wine room. Sunset strip has all the nods to a classic steakhouse, with dark woods contrasting against brick, with groupings of edison lights scattered throughout the room. The menu is a la carte and steak forward, but also includes chicken, pork ribs and burger choices, both beef and vegetarian. In my search for the perfect cut, I chose the petit filet, which is locally sourced right here in Costa Rica. I paired two sauces on the side to go with my petit filet; while arguably one cannot go wrong with a peppercorn demi-glace, the herbaceous chimichurri was nirvanic. The way our sommelier talked about wine was incandescent, and her ability to navigate all of our preferences to find something everyone would love, was most impressive.
It was a early start to the day for our last Sunwing Experience of the trip, a Volcanic Adventure to the foothills of the Miravalles Volcano (Meaning “see the valley”). We were greeted by our guide with an exuberant exclamation of “Pura Vida!”. During the hour long drive to Miravalles our guide, Jael, told us more about Costa Rica and its culture, and also gave us Costa Rican names which he would use to refer to us the whole day, I got to be Pepe.
Costa Rica has a longstanding relationship relating to sustainability. The entirety of Costa Rica recently went 300 days using ONLY renewable energy, with 78% of it coming from hydropower, followed by wind and geothermal energy. Costa Rica is home to more than 200 volcanic formations, but eruptions are very uncommon. Jurassic World used footage of Isla del Coco in the intro sequence to signify Isla Nublar, a fictional place off the coast of Costa Rica. For me, punctuation point the experience was riding horses up to the crater, while a mist of warm rain drops kissed my face. Upon dismounting the horses we took a hike through the tree-lines, crossing swing bridges along the way. Our hike was through a transitional rainforest, meaning that there is rain all year long. Jael warned us to be careful with where we place our hands, because you could get stung by a bullet beetle, which gets its name from the gunshot like feeling their bite resembles. After our hike we walked down to the natural volcanic mud pools and hot springs. The sulphuric smell at first was a bit jarring, but within minutes it dissipated away and wasn’t noticeable. We first opened our pores in a sauna before covering most of our bodies in mud – avoiding the eyes, inner ears, nose and mouth for obvious reasons. After the mud dried and cracked, we made a few “look at me I’m a statue” poses, before rinsing off and retiring to the hot spring pools to relax with a cold beer. I definitely noticed an immediate difference in my skin texture after the mud washed away. It was in this moment, sitting in a natural hot spring, away from screens, devices and the outside world, that I truly understood the meaning of Pura Vida.
There was definitely an overwhelming feeling of melancholy, during our final dinner. They set up a long table for us on the second floor, overlooking the amphitheater where they were having performances by local Costa Rican musicians and dancers. We all marvelled at the talent while eating family style italian cuisine from Gusto Italian Trattoria. What I loved most about this dinner is that by the end of this trip, we all had become so close. It literally felt like when I host a friends + family dinner at home, although my pasta doesn’t turn out even close to as good as it did at Gusto Italian Trattoria. Also the desert platter in the end had rolled crepes, tartufo and finished with spun sugar, and as usual I was the last one with a spoon in hand finishing it all. After dinner we had a couple drinks on the terrace off of the hotel lobby, and recapped some of our favourite moments from the trip.
After a long shower where I went through the various stages of grief in regards to the impending departure, before heading to the PH spa for a massage. After changing into swim shorts we hit the pool area, adorned with wooden lanterns that casted beautiful shadows. There is a infinity pool style hot tub above the main pool, with “bucket showers” flanking the entrance to the treatment rooms. The massage uses organic vegan oils throughout the service, and also includes a foot exfoliation, which was perfect considering all the walking we had done all week. There is also a gym on-site, PUMPED fitness, which offers not only a gym to work out in, but lots of classes both indoor and outdoor. Classes include Zumba, Yoga, Spartan Challenge obstacle race and TRX suspension training and yoga which uses weight resistance.
In the post-massage haze I went down to the main pool swim up bar for a cocktail and a dip before we had to set off back home. I wish we could have stayed longer to take advantage of the cabana’s, which offer champagne service. The cabana’s include both shaded and sunny seating, with private infinity pools at the foot of the entrance. Leaving the hotel all of our agents were there to see us off, all wishing us safe travels and “Pura Vida!”. The ride back to the Liberia airport was bittersweet, but it gave me time to reflect on the experiences over the last 5 days.
The one thing I took back with me, was the phrase I heard multiple times a day from the locals, hotel staff and tour guides. Pura Vida! Before I went to Costa Rica with Sunwing Vacations, this wasn’t a part of my everyday vernacular – or a way I lived my life. However it was those pure interactions with the people of Costa Rica, like with my agent Esteban, our main guide Jael, to the countless staff members I interacted with day to day, that left the biggest impression.
Thank you to Sunwing Vacations, Sunwing Experiences and Planet Hollywood Resort Costa Rica for showing us how to Vacation Like a Star™. I cannot wait to come back with friends and family very soon!
Vacation Like a Star with Sunwing Vacations to Planet Hollywood Luxury Beach Resort, with direct flights from Vancouver to Liberia, Costa Rica, are now available and are the perfect way to #VacationBetter this winter.
Make sure to follow along with on my Vancouver adventures via my Instagram account and my#DoTheDaniel adventures on the West Coast & around the world!
Until next time, dare to dream!
Photos provided by Sunwing Vacations, Sunwing Experiences, Planet Hollywood Resort Costa Rica, All Social Media Accounts listed above and Joshua Langston
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