The Marriott Los Sueños

Whenever we go to Costa Rica to visit family in San Jose, we try to go somewhere else and visit other parts of the country. It may be a weekend in Manuel Antonio or a day trip to the Poas Volcano National Park. This time we only had one night we could get away, so we decided to go to the Marriott Los Sueños, on Herradura Beach, about 2 hours drive from San Jose.

Los Sueños is a hotel and residential complex very popular among well to do locals. Many have their beach homes or apartments in the same complex as the hotel. To get to Los Sueños from San Jose, go past the airport and follow the signs towards Jaco, until you start to see the signs for the hotel itself. Go pass the complex’s security gate and drive to the hotel.

We got there around 1:00 pm on a Sunday, and our room wasn’t ready. Check in time is 3:00 pm, by the way. Instead of waiting for the room, we left our luggage and drove to Jaco for lunch. Jaco is the biggest town in the area, and is very popular among young American tourists for its surfing. It has seen tremendous development over the last few years, with new hotels and residential buildings having been erected since the last time I was there.  Jaco is maybe a 15 minute drive from Los Sueños, so it’s really convenient for a change of scenery and to go to a restaurant for lunch or dinner. We had a very good pizza at Rioasis and went back to the hotel.

View of the hotel's rooftops

View of the hotel's rooftops

Once back at the hotel, we checked in and went to our room to rest. As you can see from the pictures, the hotel is built in a Colonial style, with red and yellows being the dominant colors. It really gives it a nice, rustic feel to it. The rooms are ample and comfortable, with most of the amenities you would expect. Wifi, however, hasn’t made it here yet, and wired Internet costs $12/day (charging for Internet is still something I can’t understand from hotels that call themselves 4 or 5 stars). It goes without saying to be careful of the minibar prices. If you want to get some snacks or groceries, though, there’s a very well stocked super market not far away (at the turn off from the highway into Los Sueños).

Hotel Grounds

Hotel Grounds

Even though the hotel is on the beach, the hotel’s main attraction is the pool, which extends across the gardens and almost into the restaurants. There are plenty of loungers around the pool and in the garden itself, and some hammocks as well. The morning we were there, they were playing slow,  relaxing music, which was then replaced by high energy music during a water aerobics class.

The beach itself is a disappointment. The sand is dark and coarse, and is just not very appealing. It’s no wonder there was no one there that morning. Everyone was by the pool.

View of the hotel from the pool area

View of the hotel from the pool area

In conclusion, this is a very nice hotel for a relaxing night or 2, and its pool is definitely a big draw. It’s closeness to San Jose  is a plus, especially if you want to stay somewhere outside of the city before an afternoon flight home. There are also plenty of tour opportunities in the area, which can be arranged in advance or at the hotel. This includes ziplining, fishing, and visits to several National Parks.

If you’re beach people, though, you’d better pass on this and go to Guanacaste or Manuel Antonio. In fact, that’s what most of my clients do.

View of the hotel from the beach

View of the hotel from the beach

Costa Rica is one of my favorite destinations for the variety of activities it offers, and the Marriott Los Sueños is a fine hotel to experience part of your stay from, but there are definitely other locations in the country that I like better than this one.

If you’d like help planning a vacation in Costa Rica, or anywhere else, please contact us.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Flying with a Baby

If you ask passengers what are the things that annoy them the most while flying, misbehaving children and crying babies are sure to be close to the top of the list. After all, it’s not fun to be stuck around a young one crying her lungs out for a 4 hour flight. It’s not fun for the parents either, especially if they have any respect for the people around them. It’s not easy to quiet down a baby whose ears are hurting, or who can’t fall asleep on your lap.

I recently had the experience of flying with my own baby for the first time, and my wife and I tried to prepare as much as we could. I have to admit things went much better than we expected, and I want to pass along a few tips.

Tip #1 – Leave plenty of time to get to the airport: It goes without saying that traveling with a baby entails more work: more bags, more stuff to carry with you, more checks to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything, and to make sure you have all you need for the plane. It doesn’t help the stress when 2 lanes on I-95 are blocked on your way to the airport either.

Tip #2 – Moving through security and on to the gate: Keep in mind that you’ll have more stuff to carry. In our case, laptop, camera bag, diaper bag, extra bag with more stuff, purse, stroller, and yes, the baby. Going through security will take longer than when you just travel with your own carry on. And you have to keep track of it all. Take the laptop out of the bag, take your shoes off, empty your packets, fold the stroller and try to fit it in the X-ray machine, show all your liquids, water and formula. You get the picture. By the way, I tried to find out if we’d be allowed to go through security with baby bottles with water (not mixed in with the formula). There is no clear answer on TSA’s site, and American’s Gold Desk couldn’t find out either. Their advice, which we followed, was to take the water and dump it or mix it it with the formula if they wouldn’t allow it. For the record, they did let us go through with it.

Tip #3-  Boarding: Take advantage of pre-boarding, if you can. Be ready to navigate around people jamming the boarding area waiting for their turn to board. I was quite pleased when the gate agent actually had people who were trying to board ahead of their group stand aside and wait their turn! You know you’ll have to check the stroller at the gate, right? Well, let’s say the strollers may not be handled with white gloves (broken guitars, anyone?). Make sure you don’t leave anything in any of the stroller’s pockets or compartments, including the net at the bottom where you keep stuff for months before you even forget it is there. Also, if your stroller doesn’t keep closed by itself or is easy to unfold, take something to tie it so it doesn’t open while being send down to the cargo compartment.

Tip #4 – The flight! We asked all our friends for tips and got very good ones. Taking stuff to keep the baby occupied is an obvious one. Keep the baby’s short attention span in mind when thinking of how much stuff you’ll need. Our girl was content watching out the window for a while, and then playing with us and listening to music. An iPod with a small set of speakers (at a volume where only we could hear it) worked wonders. Give your baby milk or water while the plane takes off and during the landing process. Swallowing helps alleviate the effects of the pressure changes.

Tip #5 – at your destination: Be aware of changes to your baby’s body and demeanor. Our baby started crying a couple of hours after we arrived. We finally discovered she had a colic and was very gassy, which is not usually her. We had to call a doctor to prescribe something for us. The problem was solved 30 minutes after she took the medicine, but reappeared a few more times over our stay. Why did this happen? Maybe the effects of the pressure changes in the plane, different composition of the water, different environment…who knows? Just be as prepared as you can. Talk to your pediatrician before traveling, especially if you’re going to another country, as medications may be different. Also, it’s much better to trust your own doctor to one called by a hotel, which you don’t know. We were visiting family, so we used their doctor, but you not always have that choice.

Tip #6: Enjoy the trip. Your baby will see a lot of new things and new people. New people will see your baby. Some may even want to hold him. Try not to stress over little things, accept help when offered, and remember, you’re also on vacation, different as it may be. So, make the most of it.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Valuable as Sand

You usually don’t think of sand as a valuable commodity. However, when your livelihood depends on it, things change. Such is the case for beach destinations like Cancun and the Riviera Maya (the area immediately South of Cancun).  The Quintana Roo State Government and Tourism Secretariat has announced plans to restore beach fronts in the Cancun, Riviera Maya, and Cozumel areas. This is needed because the last few hurricanes that hit the area eroded the beach to the point that some hotels no longer have a beach, or it becomes impossible to use in high tide.

Retaining Wall at the Playacar Palace

Retaining Wall at the Playacar Palace

I saw this last year when we visited the area. Our hotel, the Playacar Palace, in Playa del Carmen, was almost perfect in every way, except for the beach. At its biggest point, the beach was maybe 30 ft wide and 6 ft deep. You could certainly take the steps down from the pool area for a dip in the ocean, but lounging was definitely out of the question. Ironically, the same is true for the Beach Palace Cancun. When we visited, you couldn’t even go down to the ocean because of the high tide.

View of the Beach Palace Cancun Pool Area and Beach

View of the Beach Palace Cancun Pool Area and Beach

Not all hotels suffer from this, though. I took the following picture at the beautiful Sun Palace, also in Cancun.

Beach at the Sun Palace in Cancun

To remedy the situation, the government will add sand to widen Cancun’s beach to 44 ft. wide, Playa del Carmen’s to 33 ft. wide, and Cozumel’s to 22 ft. The project meets established environmental protection norms, while the responsible entity has pledged to make sure environmental measures are respected and the local fauna and environment protected. For this reason as well, sand will only be extracted from certain areas and only between six and seven percent of sandbanks will be touched. Work will begin in the Riviera Maya’s Playa del Carmen this month, where 2.5 miles of dunes affecting the beachfronts of local hotels and condominiums will be filled in. Sept. 13 to 15 are when a 875-yard coastal sandbank will be created. Similar work in Cancun will extend from Sept. 30 to November.

The fact that the government is taking hands in the matter is a good thing. The alternative is for hotels to do it on their own, such as the Gran Caribe Real complex was trying to do. They got caught and their beach was cordoned off. Apparently, the hotel was pumping sand from the sea floor onto the beach, and had also built an illegal breakwater to prevent erosion. According to authorities, the hotel owners had refused previous requests to destroy the breakwater. The result was some very angry clients, who went to Cancun and couldn’t use the hotel’s beach, even though reports say they reopened the beach a couple of days later.

Cancun and the Riviera Maya, as well as Cozumel, continue to be some of the most popular beach destinations for American tourists, mainly because they offer beautiful beaches and additional activities for every age group. If you’re considering a beach vacation, please let me know and I’ll help you find the best resort for what you need. Most resorts, including Palace Resorts, have great offers, like free stays for kids 17 and under.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Go Behind the Fun with Carnival

Carnival Cruise Lines has just introduced a “behind the scenes” tour that takes guests to areas that are usually off limits.  The tour, called “Behind the Fun”, is currently available on the Carnival Valor and Carnival Conquest only, and will be extended to all ships with sailings of 7 days or longer by September.

Carnival Valor

Carnival Valor

Ship tours themselves are nothing new. Most cruise lines offer tours of the theatre backstage area and the main galley. Carnival’s tour will also include crew areas, such as their gym, galley, dining room, and training center, as well as the ships’ laundry rooms and galley. The biggest draw, however, are bound to be the engine room and the bridge.

The tour is also unique in that it will let guests interact directly with several officers, including the captain, chief engineer, chef de cuisine, and other department heads. Since groups are limited to 16 guests per tour, they afford a great opportunity to interact with them in a more intimate setting. Guests also receive souvenirs from the tour, including a picture with the captain on the bridge.

The three and a half hour tour costs $95 per person and can be booked through the ship’s excursion desk.

There are currently great prices for cruises into the Fall and Winter, so there’s no better time to go on a cruise and experience this tour. Prices are as low as $489 per person + taxes. Feel free to contact us for details and to book your next vacation.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

United Woes

The last couple of weeks have been loaded with news from United Airlines. And not of the good variety. After all, you’re talking about the airline with one of the oldest complaint websites around, untied.com.

You see, a couple of weeks ago, some travel agencies received a letter from United stating that they would no longer be able to process credit card payments on behalf of the airline. So, if you bought a United ticket from them, the agency would have to process payment through their own merchant account, and then send payment by check or some other form to the airline. More on this later…

In late June, United announced they were issuing bonds for $175 million. The bonds were issued at a discount for lack of buyer interest, even paying over 12% per year. The fact that they were secured through a lien on maintenance parts didn’t help either. Do you really want to buy a bond who can’t offer better security than spare parts?

If its financial picture is not bright, they’re not doing much better (at least on the PR front) operationally. On July 2nd, their Chicago hub was practically paralyzed due to a failure of their check-in systems.

Then, in what has become one of the latest videos forwarded around the world courtesy of YouTube, Dave Carroll, of the band Sons of Maxwell, sings about how United Breaks Guitars. If you haven’t heard the song, you should, it’s pretty good! The story behind it is about the saga of trying to get United to pay for the damages to Mr. Carroll’s $3500 guitar. You can read the story here.

Now, back to the credit card issue. To summarize, a small number of travel agencies (with very low sales volume of United tickets, by the airline’s account), received a noticed that they won’t be allowed to process credit card payments through the airline. Normally, when you buy a ticket (or cruise, or tour, etc.) thrugh a travel agency, the credit card payment is processed by the airline, cruise line, etc. That’s why your statement would say “United Airlines” and not “KC Travel”. United is trying to change that around. So now, your travel agent, if affected by United’s letter, would have to charge your card plus a 3-5% fee charged by the credit card company (which the airlines most probably get a discount on), and then send the payment to United. Since the airlines are no longer paying commission on tickets, it’s not like your agency could absorb the merchant fee, so you’d be paying more.

Even more freightening, by not processing the card payment themselves, United may be released from its liability as a service and product supplier. If you have an issue with them, your credit card company would not be able to help, because the transaction was with the travel agency, not the airline. If you dispute a charge, the travel agency gets hit with it, not the airline. You’re due a refund from them? The refund would have to be paid in cash or check to the agency and then to you, not just credited to your card.

The implications of this change are so severe, that several Congresspeople have asked United to at least delay the policy’s implementation to investigate its repercussions. United just agreed to do this.

Why all the fuzz if this just affects a small number of no-name agencies? Well, airlines have a habit of testing the waters like this to measure the response or opposition to something, and then go full scale. They also have the ahbit of copying one another’s “cost saving measures” and fees, so even if you don’t see this affecting you because you don’t fly United, keep an eye open for what happens next.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Don’t Trash your Hotel Room

I saw this report in the Sun Sentinel this morning and found it interesting. Apparently, there have been incidents across the country where hotel guests have been called by people pretending to be hotel employees, instructing them to intentionally damage their rooms.

What happened to the Kantorski’s at their hotel in Orlando is just an example, apparently. The Kantorski’s got a call, ostensibly from someone at the hotel, telling them there was a gas leak in the hotel, and to break the window with wathever they could find, which according to the paper, was a toilet bowl. He was then told to break the wall to the room next door, throw the mattress out the window, and jump to “safety”. By the time the hotel manager showed up to address a noise complaint in the room, the Kantorski’s had made $5000 worth of damage.

Other similar cases have involved the “testing” of fire alarm systems by breaking windows and the activation of sprinkler systems for fires that didn’t exist.

According to the article, hotel corporate offices are notifying their properties to be alert to these costly pranks. If you’re going to stay at a hotel soon, I’d advice to be alert as well. If you receive one of these calls, or if you suspect there’s something wrong at the hotel, call the front desk to verify . Also remember that in most likelihood, the best escape route on a fire would be using the hotel’s staircases and emergency exits, not the window.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Couples Opens Couples Tower Isle

Couples Resorts, one of the premier lodging companies in Jamaica, has announced the reopening of Couples Ocho Rios, now renamed Couples Tower Isle.

Couples Tower Isle

The resort, which was unveiled back in April, and is now officially open, underwent a $30 million renovation, which resulted in enhancements such as:

  • Ocean-view suites with zero edge walk-in showers
  • Renovations to the main lobby, piano bar, and 3 restaurants
  • A new wedding gazebo
  • A new vegetable and juice bar, and a pool grill
  • Upgraded the pool, gym, spa, and game room

Couples, as the name states, is directed to couples and romantic vacations, honeymoons, destination weddings, etc. Each Couples property includes bold design elements and local inspiration to create a laid-back natural setting infused with an authentic Caribbean spirit. For over 30 years, Couples has delighted guests with outstanding service, exceptional dining and unparalleled value-added experiences.

Couples Resorts

Their resorts are on the smaller side of the scale, and are more boutique-style unique resorts than the usual cookie cutter hotels you may have seen.

Couples offers not only some of the best All Inclusive resorts in Jamaica, but is also at the forefront of ecological responsibility. The resorts use eco-friendly paint and encourage guests to conserve energy. Among their achievements are:

  • 100% environment friendly cleaning products
  • Freon-free air conditioning units
  • Use of low energy light bulbs (90%)
  • 85% of the products used to prepare the food is obtained from local growers and farmers

The best thing is they achieve all this without sacrificing on customer experience and on the quality of the product they offer. All the clients I’ve sent to their resorts have come back happy, wanting to go back.

Couples Fall in Love

If you’re thinking about an intimate Caribbean vacation, I encourage you to look at what Couples has to offer. Through the end of the month, they are offering a very special “Fall in Love” promotion, with up to 50% savings and $500 credits. If you’d like to get more details, please contact us.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171