The Disney folks came to Costa Rica in 2006 and liked the place so much they not only decided to stay, they chose to plant firmer roots here two months ago.
The company of Mickey Mouse, Disneyland and Disney World fame launched a new tour concept called Adventures by Disney in 2005. After test-marketing fully escorted family-oriented tours in two U.S. destinations that year, Disney went big with the concept in 2006, inaugurating tours to seven new destinations, including Costa Rica.
Disney’s Classic Family tours of seven days and six nights (or thereabouts) have now expanded to 22 itineraries in 14 countries.
“Costa Rica has turned into one of our most popular destinations,” Kristen Blair, Adventures by Disney’s marketing director, told The Tico Times. “We’ve decided to branch out with new tours.”
New as of January are Disney’s Gateway tours, slightly more moderately priced and a bit less structured. Costa Rica is one of three inaugural Gateway offerings, along with Italy, London and Paris.
“We’ve built more free time into the Gateway tours,” Blair explained. “There are families who want that.”
The Gateway to Costa Rica tour still employs the services of two guides for groups of fewer than 50 participants during the entire itinerary. A glance at that itinerary reveals a few more “Afternoon at leisure” or “Evening at leisure” designations than seen in the Classic tours.
The Classic tour, now four years old, takes in San José, the Arenal Volcano region in north-central Costa Rica and Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast. The new Gateway tour replaces the Manuel Antonio offerings with a trip by van and boat to Tortuguero on the northern Caribbean coast and a day at the Rain Forest Aerial Tram, north of BraulioCarrilloNational Park on the Caribbean slope. The new tour also eliminates the two charter air transfers included in the original tour.
Both take in a visit to a coffee plantation, a zipline canopy tour, Class II rafting or a Class I river float, and a hot-springs excursion.
The Gateway tours make use of the Hotel Indigo in Santa Ana, southwest of San José, Laguna Lodge in Tortuguero and Arenal Manoa near Arenal Volcano.
For the time being, the Gateway tours operate during the June-to-August North American summer vacation season, which coincides with prime turtle-nesting season in Tortuguero. The Classic tours run year-round, but departures are beefed up during the North American summer season.
A few tour companies operate excursions with the family market in mind, either as the entirety of their offerings, as with Adventures by Disney, or among the selection of their itineraries. All tours listed below begin and end in Costa Rica; none include international airfare.
Adventures by Disney (800-543-0865 or 714-520-5100 in North America, www.adventuresbydisney.com) offers its Gateway to Costa Rica tour (seven days, six nights) with a focus on moderate activities. It combines San José, Tortuguero and Arenal. Prices are $2,489 adults, $2,239 kids. Budget extra for a few meals that are not included. Departures take place June to August. Disney’s Classic Vacation tour (seven days, six nights) also focuses on moderate activities, with visits to San José, Arenal and Manuel Antonio. Prices are $3,309 to $4,049 for adults, $2,979 to $3,669 for kids. Departures are year-round. The minimum age for both tours is 4; Disney recommends 6 and above.
Backroads (800-462-2848 or 510-527-1555 in North America, www.backroads.com) offers several variations on its Costa Rica Family Multisport tour (six days, five nights) with a focus on hiking, biking, rafting and wildlife viewing. It takes in Arenal, Los Angeles Cloud Forest and Manuel Antonio; Playa Esterillos, Savegre and Punta Islita; or Dominical, Savegre and Playa Esterillos. The recommended minimum age is 9. Prices are $3,398 to $3,798 for adults, $2,218 to $3,328 for kids. Departures take place December to April and August.
Gap Adventures (416-260-0999 in North America, www.gapadventures.com) offers its Costa Rica Family Adventure tours (12 days, 11 nights) with moderate activities appropriate for most fitness levels. It combines San José, Tortuguero, Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio. Prices are $1,499 adults, $1,429 kids. Slightly less active is the Costa Rica Family Experience tour (nine days, eight nights) with light walking and taking in San José, Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio. Prices are $1,149 adults, $1,099 kids. The minimum age for both tours is 5. Departures take place December to September. Budget for many meals and optional activities, which are priced à la carte.