A few months back I gave Erica Tu, of Love Tu Travel, a holiday challenge: find a warm spot where I can do what I like to do on vacation (sit on a beach or by a pool with a book and a margarita) with what my kids want to do on vacation (same things but add in many more activities, day and night). Within 24-hours she came back with a top-10 list and miracle of miracles, all four of my kids agreed that the Westin Playa Conchal met all of our collective criteria. That was months ago!
Finally Christmas week arrived. We flew into Liberia and took a short hour coach bus ride to the resort. The young man organizing us handed out some pamphlets: so many things to do! Excursions galore. I was, of course, looking forward to settling in and maybe taking a nap. Getting up and to the airport for 5:30AM is for the birds!
We got ourselves all checked in, somewhat oriented and unpacked in our rooms then it was off in search of the beach. (Nope, no nap!)
We made it through the vendors – which were a surprise. I was told the beach is public and they wait outside the Westin property line. They are not as relentless as the vendors we’ve experienced in the Caribbean but it was still a surprise to have to say “thank you, no” we didn’t want a massage twenty times before hitting the water!
The property is HUGE. I easily got my steps in every day!
There was plenty of distraction on our way to and from the pool/beach. The wildlife is incredible – birds of all variety squawking and singing everywhere, lizards big and small, coatis (tropical raccoons) roaming, monkeys high in the treetops. The trees and flowers were abundant and beautiful, it was like the pools and buildings were carefully placed so as to not disturb a tropical rain forest.
The setting is lovely and sprawling. Though a little hot for me (31C each day) I managed to find shade, enjoyed the regular breeze and didn’t go into the ocean until after 4PM when the sun was almost set for the day.
The best part was, of course, my children catching up and bonding – when they weren’t bickering. They also managed to meet a great group of friends – almost on our last day, but better late than never!
We got used to the “system” and had our morning meals at Mitra or Caracola, the buffet. Lunch was often forgotten or haphazard with everyone going every which way. There were a couple of days when the energetic and upbeat Julio would bring us personal pizzas (and margaritas or pina coladas or strawberry daiquiris) to our chairs poolside. Dinner reservations were made each night with Manglar (Mediterranean) coming out as the clear family favourite. In general all of the food was good and it was fun to discover flavours new to us. Cole is a new Mahi Mahi convert. Now to get all of my kids to eat fish! In the end it was the inconsistency of service that was make or break. For me it was that combined with the cleanliness and the tired décor of Faisanella that dropped it to the bottom.
In general, there were certain details (hello double Virgo!) that left me wanting. Tattered beach towels were often discoloured or with holes. Dirty chairs and tables by the pool (I sat next to one table clearly covered in ketchup my first day and sacrificed a magazine page to cover it. On the third day I finally walked up to the bar and asked for a rag and washed it – and those close to me – myself.) In the sit-down restaurants, often menus were falling apart or had to be shared because there weren’t enough. Confusion over where guests were to sit on the beach – and then when offered a refreshment whether the person offering was a hotel employee (therefore making it part of the all-inclusive) or if you had to pay. The daily activity sheets were critical to staying oriented as there was some inconsistency in information from the general check-in received upon arrival at the front desk and the reality of how things worked.
The rooms were fabulous with comfortable beds, clean sheets, fluffy towels and a regularly re-stocked fridge. The shower had plenty of pressure. There is a “green” initiative and we all participated. We even had enough hangers. I think Cole’s most favourite part was the 24-hour room service. The internet was so good we were able to live stream the crazy junior hockey game played in the snowstorm in Buffalo. So much more enjoyable to watch in heat with the only sign of freezing found in my drink! I loved that we had to dress for dinner. Not fancy, but certainly elevated from daily wear. I was so happy to see my boys in polo shirts (they hate them) each day! So easy and tidy. Given the sprawl of the resort it was nice to catch a lift from the ever-circling shuttle. As for the night life, the kids would be the best to ask about that. Though I had intended to go out, all I managed was to read and be in bed by 10PM each night! I return home happy and very well rested.
Overall, value for time and money, I’d give this experience 4 out of 5 margaritas!
Some more photos: