We started the day with a buffet breakfast at the Hotel Kioro Arenal. Through the panoramic windows, we had breathtaking views of steam and ash boulders being emitted from the top of the volcano. Our Adventure guide Mike told us that there were only a few dozen completely clear and sunny days in the area. We were lucky enough to have two of them.
Our first activity was the zip line excursion at the opposite side of the Arenal volcano. While the bus ride there was not long, we did travel over some unpaved "roads" and I was again grateful that we had a highly skilled driver. Upon arriving at Sky Trek Adventures, we were shown a video about zip lining and given instructions about what the activity would involve.
At this point, we were given the option to zip our way through the rain forest or take a nature walk to see the area's flora and fauna. About half a dozen members of our group opted out of the zip line experience, including a 6-year-old girl who was too young to qualify for zipping (the minimum age was 8), one other child, and a few of the adults.
The nature walkers took off with our guide Bernal who gave them an informative tour that including sightings of sloths, giant butterflies, and countless unusual plant species. The rest of us got suited up with helmets and harnesses and headed off for a Sky Tram ride (picture the old Skyway at the Magic Kingdom) over the jungle to reach the first zip platform.
We had two brief practice zips in which we were taught the proper position to ride (in a tuck, with your back to the ground), how to slow down (open your legs), and what to do if you get stop short of the end platform (turn yourself around, then go hand over hand to pull yourself in). Then we were off for the thrill of a lifetime. Each of the next six zip lines were different, the longest line was 2,500 feet, the highest was 524 feet above the rain forest floor, and the total distance covered was nearly 2.5 miles.
The children were required to ride the lines with Sky Trek guides so that their weight would be enough to propel them across the full distance of the lines. The children were also the first to go over the lines because the guides needed to circle through quickly to assist the maximum number of guests. I don't have words to describe the sensation you get when you see your nine-year-old daughter flying on a thin cable over the jungle at 30+ miles per hour. She was laughing with glee, but I had to choke back a scream.
Before long it was my turn to ride. My harness was clipped on the wire, an attendant gave me a push and all of a sudden I was hurtling through space. The wire buzzed and trees were zooming past. I was afraid of not stopping in time and afraid of stopping too early. And most of all I was wondering what on earth I was doing swaying in the wind over the treetops at automobile speeds. In about a minute, I had made it to the first high platform. My overall impression was, "mmm, I don't really think I need to do that again." But once you decide to take the first line, there's no turning back. Our tour guide Mike acted as cheerleader and therapist and made sure we all were happy as we continued the adventure. The next five lines each got progressively easier and I was finally able to look around while I was flying and enjoy the majesty of Lake Arenal, the volcano, and the lush surroundings. Back on terra firma, I met back up with my kids who were begging for more. They loved every minute of it!
We returned to the hotel for a buffet lunch of chicken, fish, vegetables, and the ever-present rice and beans. Various members of our group spent the next several hours at the hotel napping, swimming, or enjoying the services at the spa.
In the evening we were transported to the nearby Hidalgo Hot Springs. This multi-tier natural spring had areas that ranged in temperature from well over 100 degrees to a cool 75 degrees. We happily hopped from one pool to another while enjoying a beverage and the company of our tour mates. Surviving the zip lines together was a fabulous opportunity for bonding. Dinner at the springs was steak with tortillas and homemade guacamole.
We started with another breakfast buffet. Rice and beans with Lizano were now as familiar in the morning as Rice Krispies and milk (though those were available too).
Our first stop of the day was the Coriscana Pineapple Plantation, one of the largest in Costa Rica. Here we learned the Costa Rica is the largest pineapple exporter to the US, supplying Dole, Del Monte and other brands. And sure enough, since I've been home, every identified pineapple I've seen has been from Costa Rica.
Our tractor tour of the plantation included a lesson in pineapple production, from planting the tiny buds (they look like soft pink pinecones) to harvesting and packing the ripe fruit.
Of course the best part was when our pineapple guide plucked fruit off the plant, hacked off the rind with a machete and then served us slices right there in the field, delicious and juicy. At the end of the tour we were treated to fresh pineapple juice served in hollowed out pineapples, so sweet.
We then continued on the bus to the site of Aventuras del Sarapiqui, for a river rafting experience on the Sarapiqui River. Our hosts provided us with a picnic lunch of tacos with fresh tortillas - one of the tastiest meals of the trip.
The Adventures by Disney materials advertised the rafting experience as being in class 2-3 rapids. Because of the earthquake I mentioned previously, we were unable to experience the section of the river with the class 3 water, so our tour was a more gentle class 1-2 float, with only small sections of white. All the members of our tour from the youngest to the grandparents were easily able to participate.
My husband was a bit disappointed that we didn't have more water thrills, but I was perfectly happy to use the raft ride as a chance to get a closer look at some of the Costa Rican wildlife. It was thrilling to see a dozen species of birds and hear howler monkeys in the trees. Our raft guide, Mau, beat on his chest like Tarzan and the howlers would mimic him back. After our trip we learned the Mau was the raft guide filmed in the Travel Channel program Disney's Best Kept Secret, if you happen to catch a rerun of that program you can see our jungle friend.
To spice things up a bit the raft guides and our Adventure Guides staged an impromptu cross-raft water gun battle. The splashes were a great way to cool off!
For dinner, each family was on their own. Most of us chose to have a simple dinner from the menu at the hotel restaurant. We finished the evening with a dip in the hot tub in our room. While soaking, we enjoyed an amazing view of the Arenal volcano at night.
We left our luggage outside our hotel room at 7:00 a.m. Our bus driver took the bags on a six-hour drive over mountain terrain to our next destination.
Meanwhile, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of, you guessed it, rice and beans (again, other choices were also available). Then we took a quick jaunt to a tiny airstrip where our group piled into two 19-seat prop planes.
The plane ride was a half-hour hop over the mountains to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica with stunning scenery every moment of the way. We were at our next home, the Hotel Parador, just outside of Quepos. We were greeted by staff with cool washcloths and cold fruit drinks. So refreshing!
Lunch on the terrace was grilled-to-order sandwiches, burgers, chicken, or steak, accompanied by a lovely selection of salads and fruit. Our companions during lunch were a group of giant iguanas, some as big as my arm. Although I'm sure we were not supposed to do this, many in the group (OK, me too) ended up feeding them. Their favorite appeared to be carrot cake, though they actually took lettuce from one of our tour-mate's hand.
After lunch we were shown to our rooms. While the rooms were smaller and less well appointed than those at the Arenal Kioro, they were still perfectly fine and here too the views were incredible.
We had the option to go on a hike in the afternoon, but the entire group opted to relax by the pool. Adventure guide Mike played a spirited game of Marco Polo with the kids, chatted with all the adults, and generally made sure that everyone got a as relaxed as possible.
For dinner, the children were invited to a Junior Adventurers dinner in a private room at the hotel where they munched on pizza and chicken. Mike and Bernal had planned to show them a movie after dinner, but the kids voted to have a mini talent show instead. So our Adventure Guides got to enjoy karaoke and hip-hop performed by my kids. They are my heroes! While that was going on, the adults in the group were downstairs at the Parador restaurant feasting on shrimp kebabs and salmon.
After breakfast (rice and beans!) we headed out to Manuel Antonio National Park. We had nature guides accompany us through the forest with scopes to help us find and identify the wildlife. During the one-hour stroll we saw several sloths, bats, land crabs, and countless bird species.
By mid-morning we were at the Manuel Antonio beach, an absolutely perfect stretch of sheltered water that was the warmest ocean I had ever encountered. After cooling off, we were joined at the edge of the ocean by a family of more than a dozen capuchin monkeys. They were everywhere, climbing overhead, jumping from tree to tree and sometimes just lounging on the branches. Many times these incredible primates were only 5 or 6 feet away from us. We even got to see a mother carrying her baby on its back.
Being in such close proximity to such intensely beautiful and strangely human creatures in the wild was an experience I'll never forget.
After more time in the water, we walked back to the National Park entrance where our guide Mike treated us all to fresh coconut milk. A local vendor hacked the top off a coconut for each of us and we slurped up the juice inside with a straw. Very refreshing!
Lunch was on our own. We chose to eat at a local spot called The Marlin and then followed our meal with some shopping at a beachside bazaar for local trinkets and handicrafts.
My husband and two of our girls chose to stay at the beach for more water time, while I took our tour shuttle back to the hotel with our other daughter to have hot showers and cool drinks.
For our final group dinner, there was an extensive buffet including such treats as grilled lobster and decadent made-to-order crepes. As an after-dinner surprise, Mike and Bernal treated us to a slideshow of shots they had taken of the group throughout the trip. I barely even noticed them taking the photos, but they got some priceless shots of our vacation time together.
Day Seven: Departure day.
After breakfast, we loaded back into the tiny prop planes and were taken back to the airport at San Jose. Mike and Bernal dropped us all at the main terminal where we said our goodbyes to them. Everyone hugged and exchanged email addresses. A few members of the tour group were staying on in Costa Rica, but the majority of us went on through passport control and security at the airport to wait for our flights home.
Even before we left, my family began debating which Adventures by Disney tour we'd do next. My husband wants Alaska, one daughter wants the American Southwest, one wants Ireland, and the other the Galapagos Islands. I'd still like to try France or Italy, but I'm sure no matter where we end up, it will be an adventure to remember.