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A family trip to Westin Playa Conchal (all inclusive), Liberia, Costa Rica

A family trip to Westin Playa Conchal (all inclusive), Liberia, Costa Rica

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Old Oct 10, 13, 5:02 pm
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Location: YVR - Vancouver, with most winter weekends in Whistler.
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A family trip to Westin Playa Conchal (all inclusive), Liberia, Costa Rica

A family trip to Westin Playa Conchal (all inclusive), Liberia, Costa Rica

YVR-IAH-LIR-EWR-YVR




Links to my previous trip reports:

Buried Treasure: UAE Empty Quarter and Beyond to Huvadhoo Atoll, Maldives (UA Y, EY J/Y, Q2 Y), Nov 2012
The Time Share Presentation, F RTW, Spain, China, Thailand, May 2012.
A visit to Macchu Picchu and Valle Nevado, Peru and Chile. Sept 2011
Travel after the Revolution of January 25, 2011. Egypt. May 2011
A Step Back in Time: The Twilight of Burma, a visit to Myanmar Sept 2010

Trip Planning / Preparation / Introduction:

Greetings again. Myself and the newly minted Mrs WT73 had taken some time off between personal (but not work) travels since we’ve recently moved houses in Vancouver and needed to get settled before another adventure. This time it was a family trip to the “all inclusive” Westin Playa Conchal in Liberia, Costa Rica.

We ended up here because she has been after me for several years now do to an all inclusive resort “where we don’t have to pack up every 4 days to get to the next place”. The Westin fit the bill and as their first “all inclusive” resort, I was keen to give it a try. I should also mention that my nine year old son was traveling with us as well and we wanted a good solid somewhat normal home base to call our own.

Our holidays were schedule restricted due to work commitments and we ended up going during the rainy season in the last week of August 2013. The unlimited sparking wine offered by the resort certainly assisted with helping to convince my wife this would be wonderful experience, despite the gloomy weather. The resort did not end up disappointing.

In this report:


Fairmont Hotel Vancouver International Airport
Vancouver Airport Transborder Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge
United Economy. Vancouver - Houston
United Club - Houston International Airport - Concourse E
United Economy - Houston International - Liberia, Costa Rica
Westin Playa Conchal Resort "All Inclusive", Costa Rica
Playa Conchal Beach / Playa Brasilito Beach & Town
Costa Rica Animals
Zip Lining
United Economy - Liberia - Newark Liberty International
Marriott Hotel - Newark International Airport
United Club - Newark International - Terminal A
Air Canada - Newark International - Vancouver International
Conclusion

Last edited by worldtraveller73; Jan 12, 14 at 1:35 pm
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Old Oct 10, 13, 5:31 pm
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Fairmont Vancouver International Airport
Deluxe 2 Queens NS


We had a 6:57 AM departure and faced a US Customs Pre-Clearance Screening before the flight, AND we were traveling with a nine year old so we opted for a night at the posh Fairmont Vancouver International Airport. This hotel is directly attached to the airport and is immediately and conveniently above the US Departures area of Vancouver International Airport.



We crossed the overhead walkway from the airport and had a polite check in process in the somewhat dark lobby.





We were upgraded to a North facing room. These are better than the south facing room as the North Rooms offer a view of the North Shore mountains, and of the US and International (partial view) aircraft operations area. If you end up on the South Side, you get a view of a rather boring parking lot, elevated subway line and a very long view to the South runway at YVR (usually used for take off’s). This is the view from of the North Side airside operations.



The hotel was built in mid nineties and having stayed here a few times, has been refurbished over the years. I liked it more than my wife. I found it to be very comfortable. My wife wasn’t too impressed with it and found the Grand Hyatt at DFW to be much nicer for an “in airport” hotel.

Each room was equipped with the standard Fairmont amenities, including a telescope which made for some entertaining sightseeing and entertainment.

















Overall, the stay at the Fairmont made for a very pleasant transition to the flight downstairs the next morning. Vancouver has several other airport hotels, but none are directly attached to the terminal. Unfortunately, Fairmont only awards loyalty points on their top rates. Most discounted rates do not earn any miles, compared to the other hotels in the area (Westin, Sheraton, Delta, Hampton and Holiday Inn). If only Fairmont was a bit more competitive on the reward loyalty program, this would be my number one choice for an airport hotel in YVR.

Last edited by worldtraveller73; Oct 10, 13 at 5:43 pm
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Old Oct 10, 13, 5:37 pm
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Vancouver Airport Transborder Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge


UA’s Premier Access check in a mess when we approached at T-90. The business check in was chaos although UA staff were proactively issuing baggage tagging for those that had checked in via kiosk but hadn’t made it to the front of the two agent line.







We dropped bags and headed to USA pre-clearance. All the checked bags at YVR for USA bound flights are dropped and scanned on at the same area for all carriers together with a built in scale into the conveyor belt. No weight problems here and we were cleared through US Customs quickly with Nexus / Global Entry (both machines are available). There is a dedicated lane for Nexus holders, but unlike TSA Pre-Check, the security process is still the same (laptops / liquids out, shoes off and belts off).

We made a quick stop at the Vancouver Trans-border Maple Leaf Lounge. My favorite lounge in Vancouver, it’s never fully occupied, appropriately sized, and there is always room to find a lounge chair. A quick 30-minute stop for us of which I was involved in getting my son fed and watered.

AC has taken down the Maple Leaf Lounge business hours from the website so here are some current ones…



Plenty of seating and an abundance of lounge chairs make this place a favourite for me.









The usual offerings here for breakfast. Toast, oatmeal and a few muffins along with a selection of juices.





Great reverse views of the Fairmont Vancouver Airport as seen from the lounge.



At about this time, my son became strangely pre-occupied with tornadoes that were going to "wipe us out "on approach to Houston. It was entertaining to see the trip from the eyes of a 9 year old and the worries that they may have compared to the usual adult worries.

Last edited by worldtraveller73; Oct 10, 13 at 6:07 pm
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Old Oct 10, 13, 6:12 pm
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United Airlines
Economy Class
YVR-IAH (Vancouver International Airport – Houston George Bush Intercontinental)
UA 1267 – Economy Class (V)
06:57 AM – 1:31 PM
August 25, 2013
Booked: Boeing 737-800
Flown: Boeing 737-800


Leaving the lounge, we headed down to gate E73. Boarding was done without issue and before we knew it, we were underway.







The flight down was a typical UA experience in the back. Unlucky enough not to get Economy Plus seating this time around making us much further back than I was used too...



Before we knew it, we were on the ground in IAH taxiing to gate.




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Old Oct 10, 13, 6:41 pm
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United Club Houston George Bush International Airport Concourse E.

Houston International Airport Concourse E



We stopped over here at the UA Club Concourse E as we had a 4 hr layover in Houston. I have to say I was pretty impressed with this place. Some of the regulars here might laugh at being impressed by a United Club, but I should clarify, I was impressed with the facility – instead of the wonderful silos of mediocre snacks that the United Clubs are known for. Instead of the usual worn and beat up furniture, this place was sparkling bright clean. It always seems like the EX-Continental Lounges are in much better shape than the UA ones. I’d even go so far as to say it is one of the nicer UA clubs I have been to in the North American System. It also has one of the most strange entrances - what's with the 80's televisions surrounding the outside atrium?



What made this club so impressive?? – a great spacious layout on 2 seating levels, escalators up from the entry (no waiting or sharing the usual dark elevator rides with anyone else), heaps of natural light, a great view of aircraft operations, large comfy chairs all around, a family room with two TV’s for the kids to freak out in, and a large seating, bar area. A quiet area (by design, not official designation) was also found upstairs.





Upstairs area



Great view of airside operations:



We spent a good two hours here during our connection while my wife watched Sex in the City DVD’s and my son was fixated on Home Alone 2 on the laptops.
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Old Oct 10, 13, 7:29 pm
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United Airlines
Economy Class
IAH-LIR (Houston George Bush Intercontinental - Liberia Daniel Oduber Quiros International)
UA 1510 – Economy Class (V)
5:43 PM – 8:17 PM
August 25, 2013
Booked: Boeing 737-800
Flown: Boeing 737-800


A short walk to the departing gate in the bright and spacious “E” concourse and we boarded our aircraft. My son proclaimed to the gate agent “I’m headed to Costa Rica!!!” with only the thrill that could be had of a new traveler. The gate agent couldn't have looked more dis-interested, probably having heard such a comment a hundred times over during a day of work.





A super light load with perhaps 60 seats filled on Boeing 737 service down to LIR. We arrived to a completely dead and generally closed airport on arrival. In 2012, Costa Rica had recently invested $35 million in a new airport terminal for Liberia so the facilities were spacious, if not a little sparse at times. We cleared Immigration with a green stamp entry stamp for 20 days, and arrived into a non air conditioned baggage hall.

Daylight saving time not recognized inn Costa Rica so clocks went back one hour from Houston.



On our way out, all our bags were X-Ray’d at Customs before we hit the door. My son was a little worried that the Costa Rican’ Custom’s officials were going to seize his Nerf rocket projectile gun, not fully understanding of the food and drug checks usually associated with Customs Inspections. Walking into the public area, it was pretty dark. No where to eat on the public arrival side of the airport and nothing really seemed close to pick up any snacks for the road. There were lots of advertising signs for a Hilton Garden hotel across the road from the airport which we saw was not walking distance with bags.

To get from the airport to the Westin Playa Conchal, I had initially considered renting a car but learned that the van transfer through Servicio Transfer offered by the Westin was only $90 for all parties (3 persons). Instead of trying to navigate the dark Costa Rican’ highways after dark, we hopped in to the van.

For those that are considering driving, the hotel is marked with government signage at the decision points (intersections) along the way. However, it is a dark route with lots of hazards (cyclists riding on the road with no reflectors, stray dogs, pedestrians walking along the roadway after dark etc…) There are a few 24 hr gas stations but very view areas to ask for directions if you get lost. The Costa Rican highways are paved but are a bit bumpy and soft- similar to those paved roads over boggy areas back home.
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Old Oct 10, 13, 8:22 pm
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Westin Playa Conchal, Costa Rica.
Deluxe Junior Suite

After a bumpy 1 hr transfer, we arrived at the resort. The Westin Playa Conchal shares its property with some up and coming luxury resort condominiums along the Playa Conchal Golf Course that were marketed by Sotheby’s. The hotel, although marked at the entrance gate, was not visible from the highway.

We had terrific first impression with the resort and a nice giant open air lobby with circular propeller style fans slightly reminiscent of the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The lobby was sleek and contemporary in the usual Westin style was the theme, with gorgeous (but faux) shells behind the counter made for a nice locally themed statement. The Playa Conchal translated means Shell beach, and the resort is named so for the millions of sea shells that make up its orangey sandy beach.



We were offered a welcome mojito from the lobby bar (including a non alcoholic one for my son) while the formalities of the check in process was completed at the SPG Gold counter. We were offered free internet as the SPG Gold amenity under the "open web browser / click accept to pay / deduct charges at check out" method. We later learned that the 250 gold amenity point bonus also credited to our account along with free internet. The check in process took approximately 30 minutes, not super speedy but it probably felt longer since it was about 9 PM at that point and we hadn’t had a proper dinner other than the usual United Abuy on board items.

We were then transferred to a smaller open air cart for the transfer to the room. On check in, the front desk told us that as an SPG Gold, they had put us an SPG preferred building “36”, which was more conveniently located near the pool and most of the restaurants. The building itself was not marked as SPG building but had a really useful glass enclosed balcony, similarly featured to the ones you see near Senior Citizen’s homes near you. Most of the other units did not have the enclosed balcony. This area proved to be a great area to hang out and have a glass of wine after I had put my son to sleep for the night as it was partially air conditioned, bug and (for the most part) insect free save a few ants that passed through, and separated from the main part of the room by a double layered curtain. I saw these units only on building 36 (8 units per building – 4 per floor) so it definitely wasn’t a standard feature. I’d recommend requesting one of these enclosed balconies if they were available if you were traveling with kids in the same room.









The enclosed balconies:





The room itself was comfortable, had extended cable / Sattelites TV (70+ channels) and a mini bar with cokes, domestic beers and 4 waters restocked daily.

We participated in Make a Green choice on 4 nights and took an additional 500 SPG’s a night (or alternately a $5 credit for spa since food and beverages was already included). It turns out I needed to manually follow up several times after the fact to get these points to post.

Westin was a bit sneaky in their advertising of the Queen Beds. They were pretty tiny – more like Twin’s and my wife and I felt like we were back in our twenties and sleeping together in a single bed.



If I was travelling again with family, I'd probably put junior on the fold out couch and myself and the wife in a king.

When we arrived it was on the tick of 930 PM and we were hoping for some dinner at the buffet. Thankfully the resort offers 24 hr all inclusive room service, and the menu is almost identical to what you’d see at a paid Westin property in the Americas. The room service was free, with no tray or delivery fee and took about 45 minutes to arrive. I had a club sandwich, my son had spagetti, and my wife a turkey burger.

Resort:

The main pool was large and well featured. As with many other resorts, there was a kids club, and many activities (aqua fit, basket weaving, ) planned throughout the day.

Deluxe Queen Suites - Building #36













The Westin Property overall was really good, if not excellent. Whomever is managing the resort has done an excellent job training the staff. So much so that we were on a first name basis with many of them by the end of our holiday. With the staff being Spanish, I also found that they, as hosts, were exceptionally accommodating of children in all occasions, making them feel welcomed and listened too – even if my son didn’t speak perfect Spanish.







The included food was of much higher quality than I expected. My last all inclusive experience (in my twenties) consisted of mass hysteria at a soggy and tired looking buffets, watered down liquor in small cups and stacks of twenty something foreigners behaving badly. I’m happy to say that the Westin di not fit into this stereo type.

During our Playa Conchal visit, there were 6 restaurants, of which the buffet was open only for breakfast and lunch only. Dinner was at themed table service restaurants (Italian, Mediterranian, Asian, French and Latin American).

The restaurants were small and limited in size, making for a more pleasant dining experience with only 12-15 tables per restaurant. While it would have been easy for Westin to cheap out and serve all it’s guests at the buffet for dinner, it kept the atmosphere pleasant by having more exclusivity by serving at the plated dinner tables. We certainly did not expect to be eating Truffle Oil Risotto, Beef Tenderloin with Porcini Mushrooms or Salmon Carpaccio with Lemonette Drizzle with no additional upcharges on our nightly dinners.

Menus from Faisella – Italian Themed Restaurant.





All in all, we were fans of the resort. It was a great “stay put” location. It made for a perfect family holiday and had enough amenities, restaurants and features to keep us entertained. Of course, the unlimited sparkling wine kept MrsWT73 entertained at all hours, but I digress.

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Old Oct 10, 13, 8:46 pm
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Playa Conchal Beach:

The beach that was attached to the resort, “Playa Conchal” is so named as it consisted of millions of tiny beach shells that have been crushed to a pulp to make a white / yellow sand beach. The beach was a public area, with a public road access both north and south. The hotel would bring down kayaks and beach chairs on request as included activities. It was made very clear by Westin through signage that the beach vendors were not associated with the hotel. The beach had several beach massage vendors – some there one day and gone the next.









There were several local vendors on the beach selling somewhat reduced prices for souvenirs. There was a small amount of bargaining (10-15%) off the initial asking prices but nothing like the 60% discounts you can get off merchandise in South East Asia.

I found that although there was the initial assault of “welcome, need a tour?” as you first stepped off the property, the experience was not any worse than any other beach in Colombia, Peru or Mexico.

We had brought our own snorkel gear with us but after 30 minutes of trying to find some fish, we were almost totally shut out. We did see a single tiny grey and black fish that took interest to us, but didn’t see any others of any quality. The visibility was terrible for snorkeling due to the waves churning against the shore, and despite trying on both the beach areas and near some tidal pools we completely struck out. I anecdotally heard from other couple that the sunset / snorkel cruise was not much different in terms of seeing fish.

While we out on the Playa Conchal beach, snorkeling and looking for fish, I did interrupt an attempted theft of our shoes. My wife was getting a beach massage ($10/$15/$20 per hour – price depending on weather and the time of day) and while we were snorkeling, an older Costa Rican man decided to root through our towels on the beach and take my son’s Lego Crocs and my Teva Flip Flops. I saw this from the water and charged after him. I asked him for the shoes which he pulled out of a bag he was carrying. He kept saying something like “Disculpe” which meant excuse me, but I didn’t really stick around to hear it or find out his reasons as he didn’t look like he spoke any English at all and my Spanish is limited at best. I chalked it up to him being a broke person looking to re-sell the stuff. It was quite obvious with the hotel towels and snorkel bags that the shoes were not abandoned. Nevertheless, I didn’t really feel in any danger, the beach was really populated. Worth mentioning as I was on a bit of edge for a few days, but nothing further ever happened the other 6 days we were on the beach so I’d say it was an isolated incident.








Playa Brasilito.


After the 5th day, we ventured off property again via the road on the Playa Conchal and walked up the beach to Playa Brasilito in search of the real Costa Rica. Being on the resort, we were pretty insulated as to the life in the surrounding towns and wanted to see a little bit of what Costa Rica was really like.

The walk was pretty easy and the beaches were no where near as nice as Playa Conchal. There were a lot of ATV tours that passed across the beach through the town.









We did find some souvenir shops but again, there was very limited bargaining and the prices were almost no different than the souvenir vendors outside of the hotel beach gate.








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Old Oct 10, 13, 8:49 pm
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Costa Rica animals

One of the unique parts of staying at a resort in Costa Rica are the animals that are everywhere. Costa Rica was reported to have 600+ species of animals per square mile compared to 158 species of animals per square mile in the United States. It also meant that the resort served limited food items near the pool area as the animals would become the ultimate foragers, knocking over backpacks and searching through unattended bags.

It was a unique treat to be sharing space with these creatures and the joy of being able to see my son's expression when interacting with these animals on an almost daily basis was entertaining. It was different than the resorts in South East Asia / Hawaii as you never knew what surprises were lurking around the corner.

These were all taken on the resort property
























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Old Oct 10, 13, 8:51 pm
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Zip lining

After several days of lounging around on the Westin Property, we decided to do a zip line tour. The Swiss Travel (on resort) Activities Manager “Vernay” was excellent. We booked a half day tour of 11 zip lines for $50 per adult and he waived our son’s participation fee ($30 face value saved). I’m guessing this was because it was low season and booking were not too busy. I thought this was quite a good value since the Zip Lines in Whistler charge $199 CAD per person for 5 (likely but albeit longer) zip lines.

After half an hour of travel up and on bumpy unsealed roads, we hit the zip trekking center. It was a bit touristy but at the same time, it was quite surreal to be zip lining on platforms on the upper tree top canopy. The difference here is that the lush foliage in Costa Rica really means a different eco system at the top of the trees compared to the forest / jungle floor. You don’t realize how high you are until you look through the gaps and see the forest floor 40-60 feet down. A zip line is a must do experience if you can make it if you visit Costa Rica.

My nine year old was initially a bit freaked out by the whole thing, despite seeing some videos of the zip lining in the waiting area of the zip line center. He thought it was really high – but in reality the first line was probably only 10-15 feet off the ground. I should mention that this is a kid that’s fortunate enough to spend almost every winter weekend up at Whistler sitting on a chair lift at 40-60 feet of the ground. He ended up doing the first one zip line solo, and then went tandem with the instructor for the remaining 10 lines. He found it a neat experience which I'm sure he's telling his friends about at school, but that he probably wouldn't repeat again tomorrow.












Seemingly, not a lot to see when you're up in the canopy, but if you look closely, it's neat to see that you're in an entirely other eco system than what's on the valley floor.







The "long line" spooked my son out a bit, but I really enjoyed it. It was probably at least 1 km long. Super views on this one zipping along at probably 25 mph or 40 km/h. Here you had the opportunity to see how lush the forest is and how thick the vegetation was.





The staff here were super great and patient with those that were skittish. For those that have never done this before, you are roped / clipped into the tree top platforms cables at all times with your harness so there is no risk of falling (or an extremely slight risk as a result of equipment failure).

A totally worthwhile experience.

Last edited by worldtraveller73; Oct 12, 13 at 11:08 am
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Old Oct 12, 13, 11:30 am
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United Airlines
Economy Class
LIR-EWR (Liberia Daniel Oduber Quiros International – Newark Liberty International Airport)
UA 1446– Economy Class (V)
1:11 PM – 8:25 PM
August 25, 2013
Booked: Boeing 737-700
Flown: Boeing 737-700



Before we knew it, it was sadly time to return home.

We used the hotel transfer services again from Servicios Rizo from the hotel to the airport. As the hotel is well on the gated golf course property, and behind a security gate, there weren’t a lot of taxi’s lined up for guests (or other obvious cheaper options available). My son was sick upon arrival at the airport. He wasn’t sick from the driver’s driving style, but likely because he was in the middle of the van and the paved roads were no where near as smooth as the highways in North America. The highways seemed to be not always engineered properly with uneven paved surfaces filled with boggy drops causing an comfortable bouncing along the way.





We walked into the air conditioned terminal and got a bit surprised with the airport tax. Liberia still requires payment “in advance of check in” of airport tax $29 USD per passenger. The collection of the Departure tax was sponsored by a local bank and payment required prior to entering the check in queues. Of course, this caused a massive amount of passengers blocking the check in queues while the airport ground staff checked departure tax receipts, and so any efforts of getting through the queues without tripping over people confused about the non signed process was non existent. The departure tax accepted Visa and MC (No Amex) but strangely was charged as a cash advance instead of a purchase. We scrounged up $87 US Cash for the three of us to avoid paying unnecessary cash advance interest thankfully.

In exchange for the departure tax, the airport at Liberia was in good condition. It was much nicer than many of the touristy airports that I have traveled to.



This was first time in my worldwide traveling career that I have checked in anywhere underneath a beautiful cow motif.



United checked us in for both of our flights, with bags tagged to Vancouver and Air Canada boarding passes issued on United ticket stock.

No lounges here on the secure or public sides with only a Quizno’s, a tiny hidden duty free shop near gate 1 & 2, and two giant Café Britt shops monopolizing the secure airside portion of the concourse.







Since there was no lounge, and we’d just gotten word of a 2 hour flight delay, we opted for a sit down lunch at the Café Players. It’s a good thing I whipped out the xe.com calculator. This was the most expensive airport lunch that I’d had in a while. Even the outdoor menu had it’s prices hidden.







Lunch was cheaper in the Maldives at the Mahe airport last year where food is outrageously expensive due to the transportation cost. Today’s lunch was $95 USD for 2 beers, a Pepsi and three entrees.



We hung out here as long as we could and eventually made it to the gate, which had another pleasant animal providing "overwatch".



We had a pleasant flight up the eastern sea board, passing over Cuba and had a nice sunset on the way up. United was nice enough to turn on the Direct TV to all on account of the delay, so that kept my son entertained.









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Old Oct 12, 13, 11:45 am
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Marriott Airport Newark Liberty.
Deluxe View Room.
300 sq feet


A few thunderstorms on the way back but otherwise an uneventful return back through the USA.

We arrived at Newark and zipped through US Customs with Global Entry. My son pronounced “Holy guacamole!” when he saw the number of US customs wickets at Newark Liberty International Airport. Immigration lines were pretty much dead and fortunately, the GE kiosk even was able to register my nine year old’s fingerprints through his Nexus application. The talking holograph face on the public side of the arrivals hall as you exit was also entertaining.

We collected our bags and located the free shuttle to the Marriott Hotel. Altought the property is situated in the middle of the three Terminals, it is not walkable from the arrivals hall and shuttle bus stops (despite appearing to be so). Ring roads with guard rails surround the property making passage difficult with large suitcases. Here's a dark snapshot from the aircraft on arrival.



On check in, we were upgraded to a Deluxe View room on the Top floor corner. We were offered use of the Concierge Lounge, but it was closed during the duration of our short stay.



I’d have to say that this was one of the tiniest rooms that I’ve had in North America in quite some time. At 300sqft / 27 sqm, it seemed tiny for the three of us.



My son already took to jumping on his bed.









MrsWT73 considered it a “dump” although it was much better than a shuttle to an off airport property as we only had an 10 hour layover. It was obvious that this was an older property with smaller rooms that been refurbished. had been re-configured. Despite being a dump, it was much nicer than the dismal and dark Fairfield Inn at SEA-TAC where I’ve stayed with Marriott in the past. Hey - I was happy earning 2 miles per dollar with a Marriott property versus the 1 mile per dollar that I get with the Fairfield Inn.

We had a quick and efficient sleep here before we were due back at Newark Terminal A in 8 hours.
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Old Oct 12, 13, 12:01 pm
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United Club – Newark International – Terminal A

A personal rant here: Air Canada continues to irritate and annoy me. It’s super noticeable when it's compared to United, who’s tired and dirty aircraft are forgotten when you deal with their (for the most part) wonderful staff and impressions that they genuinely care about you.

After an 8 hour turn around, we were back at Newark Terminal A at 5:30 AM. We checked in at the Priority Check in and were met with a surly and grumpy Air Canada Employee who was obviously more interested in controlling the masses congregating in the short economy maze than dealing with us.

Despite my wife’s Air Canada Elite 75K (Star Gold) status, and entitlement to 3 checked bags at 70 lbs, the check in agent insisted on only tagging one of the bags as hers, with the rest under each of our respective tickets (Star Silver for me and no status for my son). We tried the presenting her Star Gold Card and saying that she had three bags but he wouldn’t budge. What’s the point of benefits if you can’t use them? We’re all going to the same house anyway. Might as well tag none of them as priority bags if they are going to end up on the belt separately. We didn’t bother fighting this as our bags were headed down on the conveyor belt before we realized that two were missing the orange priority tags. We’d had 5 hours sleep and this served more to irritate us than to upset us. Further reason to stop flying this carrier and move more business elsewhere. Ok – rant over!!

Since we hadn’t had any breakfast, we headed over to the separate UA Club in Concourse A at Newark. Newark Terminal has 3 pods of terminals that branch out from the main concourse. Each terminal has it’s own security checkpoint. We cleared security twice to get to the club, then had to return to the public side and get back over to gate A17 where we were leaving from. TSA had no issues with this, surprisingly, as it seems that they do this on a regular basis here and it was offered as an option at check in.



You can tell the terminal was built before security became an issue – the security screening wall almost blocks off the entrance of the club from any public view. The configuration of the club was likely built before large scale security screening requirements were the norm.



The Newark UA Club was like a Singapore Hawker Center – full of nooks and crannies.



Pretty standard United Club fare here. Although I think before sunrise, the dark wood makes the place look a little dreary.







Leaving here, we re-cleared security to head to gate A12 in another concourse.
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Old Oct 12, 13, 12:19 pm
  #14  
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Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: YVR - Vancouver, with most winter weekends in Whistler.
Programs: Aeroplan, Alaska MVP, Marriott Platinum / Lifetime Gold
Posts: 4,161
Air Canada
Economy Class
EWR – YVR (Newark Liberty International Airport – Vancouver International Airport)
AC549 – Economy Class (V)
8:00 AM – 10:04 AM
September 2, 2013
Booked: Airbus 319
Flown: Airbus 319


After re-clearing security, we located Gate A12. Not much over here on the secure side as far as food so we were happy we picked up some firm bagels at the United Club.





More difficulties at the gate – getting on the plane, the gate agent decided to enforce the Star Gold boarding zones. For some reason, the status did not get issued on the United BP’s issued at Liberia (despite showing on the way down and the cards showing Boarding Group 2). Big pause, hold up the line until we could pop the cards out.

We settled into familiar economy product. No upgrades available or left so we managed in row 12 bulkhead with a peek a boo view of business.



On the way out, taxing to the departure runway, we managed to pass gate A17. Gate A17 was where United 93 took off, destined for San Franciso on September 11, 2011 before it crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. A sole American Flag flies above the gate, in memorium of the brave passengers and crew of this flight that departed from this location. I happened to be sitting on the correct side of the aircraft and managed to snap a quick photo. Today the gate was occupied with a Jet Blue flight headed to San Juan.

Of note, if you’re spotting this gate from the inside, the gate looks like any other and there are no markings or other historic notations. There are also reportedly American flags flying above Boston Logan’s gates B32 and C19. A bit touching to put this into a family trip report but it's a bit of aviation history I've been wanting to see for a while and its totally worthy of recognition in my opinion.



We had a straight forward return to Vancouver. I followed along on the in flight entertainment system map.



We landed in YVR, and aside from waiting for the extra "non priority" bags, we had no issues with the flight back.
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Old Oct 12, 13, 12:26 pm
  #15  
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Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: YVR - Vancouver, with most winter weekends in Whistler.
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Posts: 4,161
Conclusion:

We had a great holiday overall. I would highly recommend the Westin Playa Conchal as a family destination. The food was of better quality than we expected and the activities available made the stay enjoyable. Although we travelled during rainy season, we were able to get some sunny days (60%) during the trip. It was also unique to see all the animals in their environment.

Thanks for reading - 'Til next time.



Coming up:
A trip to Kenya, South Africa and Mauritius (UA J, SA J, LX J, AC J)

Last edited by worldtraveller73; Oct 12, 13 at 2:03 pm
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