From the print edition
Take “Dirty Dancing,” add five decades, the tropics and the Pacific Ocean, and subtract the botched abortion. There you have the Westin Resort & Spa in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.
Ensconced on a 2,400-acre compound by the aptly named Playa Conchal (conchal means shelly in Spanish, and shells are everywhere), the all-inclusive Westin, which was recently taken over by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc., makes you feel as though you’re part of some eternal summer in which all things are possible. In addition to food and alcohol being included with accommodations, there’s a nightly dance and lip-synching performance put on by a full-time entertainment team, for whom just about any guest would be delighted to carry a watermelon.
Upon arrival at the towering, open-air lobby, guests are presented with virgin mojitos and plastic wristbands to identify them as the luckiest people around. Once the band is secured, a guest has access to innumerable bars and restaurants spread over the property, in addition to 24-hour room service, non-motorized water sports, tennis court usage, nightly shows and a variety of activities coordinated by the staff.
The check-in process should be immediately followed by the first of many non-virgin mojitos, which can then be taken aboard the resort shuttle to one’s quarters. Housed in crème- and beige-colored, Spanish-style buildings, many of the modern, tropical-chic units feature whirlpools and ocean, garden and pool views. All include flat-screen televisions, safes and powerful air conditioning – a necessity in the toasty Guanacaste province.
I stayed in a Royal Beach Junior Suite, which stood out for its multi-level marble floors and prime location across from the Abalone Sports Bar. Never having stayed at an all-inclusive before, I was overwhelmed by the idea of unlimited drinks over the course of three days (don’t ask what went down on day one, I just couldn’t tell you). Pacing oneself is key, obviously, as is continually feasting at the seven restaurants scattered throughout the property.
It’s also important to reserve dinner early, as not all the restaurants are created equal, and the most popular – the Italian, the Mediterranean and the French – sometimes fill up. The lobster at Mediterra was small and underwhelming (as you might expect at an all-inclusive), but the beef Carpaccio at Faisanela was so good that I ordered it again for dessert. For breakfast and lunch, you cannot go wrong with Mitra, an open-air international buffet that has everything from ceviche to steak to a personal pasta chef.
At some point – a point will be different for every guest – yet another free mojito or meal will begin to deliver diminishing returns. This is when it’s time for an activity (proof you went somewhere!), be ocean kayaking, a round of golf, a massage at the spa, a hike around the active Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, or a snorkel trip at sea, where giant rays, puffer fish and turtles can be spotted. The guys at the activity counter on the resort property will hook you up with pricy but high-quality tours, and the less-official salesmen on the beach are said to offer reasonably good, slightly more affordable iterations.
Once you’ve gotten a decent sunburn, eaten yourself immobile and drank yourself incoherent, you are in perfect condition to plunk down in front of the stage and watch the attractive, agile entertainers busting moves in flashy costumes while lip synching pop songs such as Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la Vida Loca.” There are also some Cirque du Soleil-style performances, including a stellar silk trapeze act. The show each night ends just like “Dirty Dancing,” with the performers cajoling audience members into joining the dance party, and eventually the whole place is up, celebrating the right to have and do whatever they want.
Rates range from $338-$1,148 a night. Sansa and Nature Air flights land you at the Tamarindo or Liberia airports, from which a shuttle will transport you for $25 and $90, respectively.
For more info, call 2654-3500 or visit www.westinplayaconchal.com.