Costa Rica was a wonderful experience. I rely on these reviews to ensure my vacations are well-spent, so I made sure to take notes and detail out all of our experiences. This is my pay-it-forward review:
The temperature was 35 degrees and sunny every day we were there. We arrived at the airport around noon and caught our shuttle van (TAM) which was pre-arranged by our travel agent. It's the dry season in Costa Rica, so all of the surroundings are dry and brown, often without leaves on the trees. This is because the vegetation goes dormant much like in our Canadian winters. The resort is lush and green however. I should mention that there weren't any timeshare sellers at the airport which I appreciated - which is more than I can say for at the hotel.
Although timeshares weren't being sold, we were "reminded" repeatedly by our travel liason who is stationed at the hotel to book a session to learn about the excursions. We had already decided to book our trips with the beach vendors (thanks to other reviewers), so the constant nagging was a bit annoying. It stopped as soon as there were new people to pester.
The decor of the hotel is modern, but we didn't mind it so much. The lobby is an 'under the sea' theme and yes, there is a bathtub in the middle of your room. Corners are sharp as other reviewers have suggested. The toilet is in its own room and separate from the shower and sinks. As the week went on, I began to wonder if this was on purpose as a way to minimize noise from other rooms as I never heard another toilet flush (could have been that we didn't have neighbours). We would close the door to the toilet but leave the light on as a sort of nightlight which helped avoid sharp corners and bathtubs if you needed to get up during the night. Everything echos in the hallway which is unfortunate, but probably unavoidable. We did have a problem with our shower drain, but maintenance fixed it right up.
Privacy could be an issue since the room is open-concept. We travelled with my 15-year old son but made it work by changing in the shower or toilet area when necessary. I should mention that when we arrived we had two double beds and a single 'cot' for my son. We asked for a king and they offered it to us, but in the end we decided to forego moving rooms and had them just push the doubles together. It worked out OK for us. Bring your own shampoo and conditioner - again a great tip from other reviewers.
Reservations are now only required for the Steakhouse restaurant and it was pretty easy to get in. Riu is listening to suggestions and making changes which is awesome! Each day at lunch they would setup a food station by the pools and dish out some pretty amazing fare. Restaurants were good, but having tried them all if I were to stay another week I'd only eat at the buffet because of the selection and live food stations. I ended up not having a great appetite the entire week - likely because of the heat.
There didn't seem to be any locals anymore on the weekends. Wifi signal was awesome and had a very wide range! Your code will expire after a few days and you will need to get a new code. Again, not a big deal.
We booked our excursions with Carlos Campos of Sweet Dreams Destinations (I hope that's exactly right) who wears a yellow shirt and can be found at the end of the path by the pool bar leading to the beach. Such a sweet man. We booked the combo tour and ATV tours with him. I want to point out that after we had agreed on price a situation changed last minute that gave Carlos the opportunity to charge us more than discussed. This man not only gave us the price reduction, but gave it unsolicited. Very honest and upstanding - I highly recommend using this company for your trips. On the combo tour, Ronald and Alonzo were our tour guides. Very patient and pointed out all the things that make Costa Rica unique. When doing the waterslide and ziplining, Ronald held our cameras and took all kinds of pictures for us (I'm in the pictures for ONCE!). Tips for this tour are to bring a set of dry clothes, water (from the hotel), running shoes and socks along with your sandals, and bugspray. I found that anytime I was off the resort I became dinner for the bugs. We ended up buying some bugspray at the resort store for $17. We also did the ATV tour which my son loved. VERY dusty - wear old clothes!! Gustavo was our guide on this excursion and he was a gentleman through and through. We may have had some money taken (or my husband dropped it), so just keep your bills close. If anyone took it, I would argue against it being our tour guides. My gut tells me it could have been staff at the places we visited. Again - we have no proof.
OK, now some random pointers and observations. Winds can be very strong - just to keep in mind. Wear sunscreen no matter what! You are 10 degrees from the equator and it doesn't matter that you don't burn in Mexico - you will here. Bring extra - it's very expensive at the resort store ($30-$40). I am a runner so I sought out the gym. There are only two treadmills, but they also have bikes and ellipticals. Sometimes I had to wait for a treadmill.
The sand on the beach is dark and very hot during the day so you will need something on your feet. It's soft though and nice to walk on once things cool off in the morning or evening. Next door is another Riu resort that you can visit and enjoy all the amenities (except dinners) and it seems to be much more lively than the Riu Palace (although things picked up somewhat once March break was in full swing). We preferred the quieter atmosphere at the Palace, but my son often skipped over next door and I never felt like his safety was in jeopardy. An item of note is that their pools are not saltwater like at the Riu Palace. We retrieved some lost items of clothing and sandals periodically as I can't chain these things to my teenager (but would have liked to).
If you walk on the beach away from the other Riu, you will eventually come to a little road with a sign for the Monkey Bar. Go here around 4 p.m. if you want to see monkeys - there must have been two dozen when we were there.
A few other things. . . The Cappucino bar in the lobby is fabulous. Don't forget to try it! The bartenders are great - Freddie and Edual in the lounge bar kept us entertained, but all the staff are great. Photographers circle the resort and take shots of you and your family which you can purchase near the resort store - very talented individuals. We found that the staff around the Riu were so accommodating and always cleaning. Tips don't necessarily improve service, which is refreshing. I kept my room key in the back of my cellphone case, and found this very handy.
I would suggest that you bring Tylenol or Advil with you. I never take anything like that - avoid it like the plague. However, I came down with body ache and chills that I couldn't attribute to a cold coming on. Others at the resort said they experienced the same and when I briefly googled it I found reference to extreme environment change maybe contributing to these symptoms. Seeing as we came from snow to 35 degree weather, I can justify why this may have happened. My son had something similar, but it was short-lived. My back got the brunt of this affliction so I tried out a massage on the beach to try to alleviate it. The massage was amazing and I would recommend you try it (I've never had a massage before). When I still was feeling sore I asked the front desk if they might have a hot water bottle. There was a language barrier but they were so sweet in trying to address my issue and checked up on me more than once.
Bring lots of ones for tips, but you can also get change at the front desk free of charge. Keep your valuables in the safe at all times - one couple we met with had things gone through and some money taken. A complaint to the front desk assured them that this staff member could be tracked through the door cards and would be terminated. You'll get that kind of stuff anywhere though. We had no problem and often left things out that I would have missed had they been taken. My final bit of advice is that the airport offers a vast selection of souvenirs which is great, but load up on food at the resort before you get there! The food is incredibly expensive at the airport. . . we bought two bottles of water ($10) and one bag of plain lays chips ($9). I can only imagine what lunch would have cost. And beverages are not allowed on the plane even though you bought it in the airport.
Costa Rica was beautiful and we'd go back. Read up on the country! Did you know they abolished their army? Did you know that they are one of the most environmentally conscious countries in the world? The people and experience were one to remember. We met so many awesome locals and fellow travellers - lots of memories. Pura Vida!