Hotel Crashing: Westin Playa Conchal, Costa Rica

I’ve got an impressive assortment of bug bites on my legs (and, probably zika), a bruise from ramming right into a concrete stool at the swim-up bar, and a right ear that’s still ringing after a scuba dive.

I have survived another beach resort vacation.

(Actually, we got back from Costa Rica a week ago and luckily, all of those vacation-related injuries have subsided. Especially the ringing right ear, which went on for several days and had me all sorts of freaked out.)

We spent six glorious days at the Westin Golf Resort & Spa, (also known as the Westin Playa Conchal), Starwood’s first Costa Rica all-inclusive property. It’s on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, up north in an area known as Guanacaste. We flew into the Liberia airport, which is about an hour’s drive from the resort.

Yep, it really does look like that (Image courtesy of Visual Itineraries)

This was actually our third time at this particular property. We first went in 2012 (when I also sustained a few vacation-related injuries) and in 2014, where I don’t remember if I sustained any injuries, so that probably means I absolutely did.

Our first trip, in 2012, we stayed at one of the regular rooms/bungalows (“Deluxe Junior Suite”), which was located on the far northern end of the property (near the beach access).

Like one of these (Image via Starwood)

It was fine, but when we went back in 2014, we upgraded to the adults-only section known as the Royal Beach Club, which was fabulous! It has its own designated check-in area/lounge, adults-only pool and restaurant with no kids, other than the numerous, painfully young honeymooners we met over the six days.

RBC area (Image via

(I will say, the rest of the property is very family-friendly and I highly recommend this place for families).

The rooms at the RBC, as us hipsters call it, were pretty nice in 2014 (I think we stayed in a “Royal Beach Suite,” from what I can remember. We had a balcony with a Jacuzzi tub on it, which seemed a bit odd in a hot, humid, jungle/beach setting.

I’d show you photos except ALL of my previous Costa Rica photos were part of the Great Laptop Meltdown of 2014 and I, quite literally, have no Costa Rica photos…..not from 2012 and not from 2014. It’s all very odd. (And yes, I am currently backing up my photo folders onto an external hard drive as we speak. Thanks for the reminder, Costa Rica)

But, right after our 2014 visit, the property owners closed down both RBC towers and completely renovated the rooms. And they did an amazing job, incorporating lots of really nice (presumably local?) wood, updating the floors and furniture, and replacing the Jacuzzis with cool, modern bathtubs (I still think it’s weird to have an outdoor bathtub on your patio, but XFE used it and was happy).

A lot of the staff at the Westin Playa Conchal and at the Royal Beach Club specifically, remembered us from our previous visits and treated us like total VIPs. We felt really well taken care of.

Our favorite vacation game at our favorite spot: dominoes at the main lobby bar. 

We chose to return to this property because it’s just an easy fly-and-flop option for us. We know exactly what to expect. We don’t have to make a whole bunch of plans and reservations, which suited us fine since we’re belly-deep in planning our next big trip….to South Africa/Tanzania/Zanzibar.

We did go scuba diving again one morning, mostly as a refresher since we plan to dive in Zanzibar. We went with Pacific Coast Diving, which we used in 2014. Still a good outfit that’s responsive over email, is located close to the hotel, and picks you up and drops you off in a nice, air-conditioned van. Anyone who’s done a bit of scuba diving knows how rare an air-conditioned dive van is! The diving, however, was a bit meh, and the snorkelers said similar.

And there was the whole ear-ringing thing, which I could have done without. I noticed it after our second dive and it got a bit louder over the course of the evening. By the next morning, it had lowered to a semi-tolerable, steady, annoying pitch that could be drowned out in areas with ambient noise in the background (talking, music, dishes clattering). But at night, when things were quiet? Really, really distracting and disturbing. That lasted about a week or so.

We spent most of our time by the RBC pool, reading books, drinking frosty drinks (like the popular Dirty Monkey – a sort of banana/coffee/chocolate/rum smoothie) and avoiding direct sunlight so I wouldn’t spontaneously combust (ie: burn to a crisp).

We did, however, go to the beautiful Playa Conchal beach early one morning so I could try jet skiing for the first time. I’ve got to say: I’m not really a fan. I guess I just don’t feel the need for speed. Any activity where the instructions start with, “It’s much easier/better if you go faster,” isn’t likely to win me over. I prefer life in the slow-to-medium lane. Adventure-man and James Bond-look-a-like XFE, however, took off like a madman and was killing it all over the ocean waves. He’s clearly not afraid of the throttle (seriously, my hands and arms were so sore from squeezing so tightly in the slow, mid-throttle position).

So that’s it. A brief recap of our brief visit to the Westin Playa Conchal. Now the compulsive obsessing about South Africa/Tanzania/Zanzibar can truly begin (and has).

Oysters, Pistols and Tipsy Walking in New Orleans

October is a very big month for me, both personally and professionally, and we celebrated some seriously huge milestones this past month. In fact, we were so busy celebrating them, that I didn’t even have time to write about them! So just consider this the first in a three-part series. Or something.

First up was the birthday of my manpanion-for-life, XFE. We don’t usually travel for XFE’s birthday, what with Porktober® and all that being right around the corner. BUT, we decided to jump on some low fares and cash in some Starwood points for a quick weekend trip.

So, we went to New Orleans and acted like we were about 15 years younger than either of us are. We stayed up late, drank too much, ate too much, talked to random strangers, bought expensive artwork.

It's entirely appropriate to make finger pistols when buying artwork.
It’s entirely appropriate to make finger pistols when buying artwork.

Yeah, a little souvenir for my new office and to commemorate my first year of self-employment.

We saw this subtle little work of art while walking by the Hall Barnett Gallery on Chartres Street. They’re an LED reproduction of a neon piece called “Guns.” Supposedly, there were only three produced—one owned by the gallery owner, Holly, another owned by a couple in New York and then us.

They were absolutely unnecessary, but we just couldn’t walk away from them. I mean…neon guns? Hello? And they change colors! There’s even a remote control. We negotiated them down a teeny bit, but the final number still made me need a stiff drink afterwards.

(Update: They were damaged during shipping, so now we’re waiting for a new set. Or is it pair? Fingers crossed. Or is it guns crossed?)

Boo. Hiss.
Boo. Hiss.

Luckily, we were staying right across the street from the gallery at the W French Quarter. This is the infamous hotel where I cracked my head open five years ago. Actually, almost five years to the day. I know this because that super helpful Memories feature on Facebook popped up with that FrankenPoe picture right before we left.

Honestly, none of this is cute. The pout, the bags under the eyes, the airport bathroom stall. Oh, or the stitches.
Honestly, none of this is cute. The pout, the bags under the eyes, the airport bathroom stall. Oh, or the stitches.

Besides slippery dangerous showers, the W French Quarter is also home to SoBou, which is a Brennan’s establishment and therefore means: 25 cent martinis at lunch. (Note: if you ever do go this option—and you absolutely should—do not get one of the Kool-Aid colored/flavored pre-mixed martinis like a Cosmo. Get a classic, dirty martini).

I will say, we had a few issues with the W Hotel this time out. We were using points, cash and upgrades to cover our three-night stay, and they basically wanted us to move rooms each night. There was much finagling until they finally upgraded us to a carriage house studio type room that had definitely seen better days and had a non-working hot tub surrounded by cigarette butts on the patio.

W New Orleans Collage

The concierge also dropped the ball on the champagne I had ordered, despite the fact that I had filled out all the paperwork and called twice to order it and confirm that it would be in our room. There’s a whole litany of other annoyances (including XFE’s pet peeve: old, snagged towels with threads hanging everywhere), but, at least no one ended up in the emergency room, so that’s a half-hearted win. Sorry, W French Quarter.

We fared better in the eating category. On our first day we did a very scientific comparison/survey of two famous oyster places: Felix and Acme. We ate approximately four dozen oysters between the two places—raw, grilled and Bienville. XFE joked that we should have been pooping pearls after all that. Final consensus: Acme won by a shell sliver and honestly, it was their boo fries that had us coming back again the two days later (French fries covered with roast beef gravy and cheese).

Let's see, from left to right: oysters, oyster place, oysters, and oyster place.
Let’s see, from left to right: oysters, oyster place, oysters, and oyster place.

When we returned to Acme, we were not alone. We dragged along a couple of new friends we met during what was perhaps our very favorite tourist activity ever: the Drink and Learn Tour. We’ve been on a lot of tours in a lot of places, but this particular tour was hands down the best tour we’ve ever been on (and….didn’t take any pictures of. What can I say? I was too busy enjoying it).

The owner/tour guide, Elizabeth Pearce is a drink historian, fantastic historian, and an all-around hoot. You meet up (at a bar, naturally) and you receive a small, crossbody cooler containing four color-coded drinks. Then you take a short walk, stop, take a sip of your drink, and learn about the colorful history of New Orleans through adult beverages. Everything from how and why rum punch represents the early melting-pot days of the Crescent City to how praline liquor helped female slaves buy their freedom. It was so entertaining and we both learned a ton.

Then we went and got oysters and beer because that’s what you do in New Orleans. Or at least, that’s what we do there.*

(*We did a bunch of other galivanting and tomfoolery, but this is a family blog, so better left unsaid.)

New Orleans Collage

Why I’ll Never Be a Forehead Model

Sometimes it happens in meetings. Or at the nail salon while I’m getting a pedicure. Mostly it happens on the metro.

I’ll be looking down, writing on my notepad or reading a book or magazine, and all of a sudden I’ll feel it.

(Get your minds out of the gutter).

I feel someone looking at me. Staring intently at my forehead. When I look up, they usually have the good grace to look away, only to be caught again a few seconds later. It’s like they’re trying to figure something out, but aren’t quite sure….

I feel you, Maxwell. I feel you.

This morning, it happened at the dentist’s office (yes, again I was at the dentist’s office where I received the wonderful news that I have to get a gum graft for my receding gumline. Oh joy).

Only, since my dentist has the bedside manner of Frankenstein, instead of politely looking away, he just pointed and came right out and asked, “Did something happen to you there?”

I don’t even need to look to see where he’s pointing.

He’s pointing at my scar on my forehead. Who can blame him? It’s certainly one of the most, um, distinguishing features on my face.

I actually have two scars on my forehead. The first runs right along my hairline. It’s very white and deep like a chalky crevice right before my curls start up.

That one was acquired when I was very young, I think around 8 years old, but honestly, I couldn’t say for sure. My nomadic gypsy childhood coupled with my mother’s propensity to lying makes my personal historical timeline a jumble of real and imagined memories. (Did that really happen or is that something mom just used to tell people to entertain them/garner sympathy/get something out of them?)

Regardless, I think I remember what happened. I think it was winter. I think we were living in Arkansas or maybe it was Missouri. I think my mom was out with whatever boyfriend she had at the time, perhaps getting or cutting down a live Christmas tree. (This is how all my childhood memories work. Everything is just out of reach.)

I do know that I was doing — I was performing (what we called) pinwheels on the railing of a below-ground storm cellar. The railing was above ground (obviously) and I had hooked my leg over it, threaded my arms under it and clasped my ankle. Then I twirled myself over again and again, kicking my free leg out behind me to build up some really good velocity. I was a school yard, monkey bars, pinwheel expert and I was showing off for some other kids.

I don’t remember how many times I got over the bar or if I even made it over that first time, but at some point, my head hit the concrete base attaching the railing to the storm cellar. I was, to say the least, quite woozy but incredibly calm. Until the other kids started pointing out that I was bleeding. And I looked down in the snow and saw blood.

I have other vague memories – a terribly young babysitter wrapping my head in a quilt and waiting for some adults to get back and take us to the hospital (remember, there were no cell phones back then.)

I don’t know how many stitches I had, but I do remember the rather rakish bandage headband I was rocking when I got home later that day, where I proceeded to jump up and down on the couch (this was not what the doctor had ordered) singing, “Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed. One fell off and broke his head. Mamma called the doctor and the doctor said: No more monkeys jumping on the bed.” (Repeat at least 9 more times or until you get yelled at).

My more recent head decoration occurred not at the hands of a male stripper (as you might rightly imagine if you read this blog regularly), but while on vacation in New Orleans with friends.

We were staying at the W in the French Quarter, a lovely hotel with gorgeous bathrooms with very large glass showers covered in beautiful dark gray slate. Slate, let me tell you, is a very, very unforgiving surface.

So beautiful, so dangerous.

I slipped. It’s as simple and unexplainable and befuddling as that. One minute I was upright, doing normal bathroom beautification things, and then I was on my hands and knees holding my head.

Every time I think of the wet thud sound my head made against the slate, I get a metallic taste in my mouth. For several weeks afterward, I would jerk awake whenever I had that falling feeling you get when you fall asleep.

Initially, I had the same peaceful woozy feeling as the first time. And once again, I saw the blood, this time against wet black slate instead of stark white snow. Hmmm, not just a bump on the head and two ibuprofen then?

We made a frantic trip to the Tulane University emergency room, (that was an interesting car ride during which I tried to reassure and joke around with an understandably distraught XFE and our nervous hotel-supplied driver.)

The emergency room was surprisingly not busy at 7 am on a weekend morning. I would have expected there to be a lot of drunk, injured people so early in the morning, particularly in New Orleans, but no. Just us. Which provided ample opportunity for every person on duty to stop by and see the girl with the gnarly gash on her head. The reaction was always the same. I would remove the washcloth from my head, and there would be an “OHHHH!” It was fun the first few times, but the novelty eventually wore off.

I think I got seven or eight stitches this time. Despite XFE’s reservations, I waived my right to wait around a couple of hours for a plastic surgeon and opted for the on-duty doctor to stitch me up. I kept up the merry banter, trying to put everyone at ease and convince them all that I would be just fine. I was, after all, old hat at head injuries by this point.

I did not get a jaunty headband this time. I also did not jump on any beds. But XFE did take me on a fairly substantial shopping spree to make me feel better, complete with a splitting headache, a massive goose-egg and huge black stitches. The shopgirls were very kind, if horrified. It was a precursor of things to come.

The stitches stayed in for about a week, and you couldn’t really cover them since the injury was up near my hairline (again – only diagonal this time instead of horizontal – in fact the two scars almost touch). Bandages wouldn’t adhere. So there I was, with stitches just exposed. Made for some interesting times at work and on the metro. I felt pretty much like a monster.

Honestly, none of this is cute. The pout, the bags under the eyes, the airport bathroom stall. Oh, or the stitches.

Two months after the incident, we were visiting XFE’s family for Christmas. His mother tried to be reassuring, saying that the scar was hardly noticeable. His father, to my eternal mirth, shouted out, “What do you mean? It’s huge! It’s right there on her forehead.”

A year-and-a-half later, my scar is fairly faint, but I wouldn’t say it’s unnoticeable. The emergency room doctor this time did a much better job than the first time. There’s definitely less of an indent. Plus, I’m a quick healer, a skill that came in very handy when I was young.

I think when most people see my scar they think it’s a shadow from my hair or perhaps even a makeup line. Some sort of trick of the eye. I bet they wonder why they hadn’t noticed it before.

Except for my dentist, who’s been seeing me every three-to-four months for the past five years. He didn’t mistake it for anything other than what it is – a scar. Something with a story. A story he wanted to hear.

Maybe I should point out the other, older one and ask him if he knows what a pinwheel is.

You’re looking at my scar, aren’t you? I can tell.