Have you ever wondered about those incredible-looking trips and vacation packages on Groupon and Living Social? Have you wanted to travel to new and exotic locations, but think you can’t afford it? Do you know where you want to travel, but don’t want to plan all the details? Then you definitely need to read this blog post!
I have booked multiple trips now through Groupon, including our honeymoon in St. Lucia and all-inclusive trips to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and Riveria Maya, Mexico. Our trip to Costa Rica, however, was the first time that I have purchased a flight and resort combination package through Groupon (previously I had only purchased the resort stay). There were some definite pros and cons to purchasing a vacation package that also included the flight. Be sure to read this blog post before booking a vacation package using a discount website.
Admittedly, let me begin by explaining how impulsive this trip was from the beginning. My husband and I usually take one big trip each year. We were leaving in two weeks to travel to Spain and Italy (where we experienced the most amazing wine tasting), so that was definitely supposed to be our big trip for the year. But, my husband prefers all-inclusive beach vacations, so I was already feeling a bit guilty about this European trip that was definitely outside of his comfort zone.
So, one day I was scrolling through the vacation packages on Groupon (already a dangerous activity for me) and came across a deal for an all-inclusive resort vacation in Costa Rica! I had always wanted to visit Costa Rica (because, sloths), but they do not have many all-inclusive options, and the all-inclusive resorts they do have are fairly pricey. However, here was a heavily discounted 5 night stay at Dreams Las Mareas in Costa Rica. I quickly texted my husband and said “want to go to Costa Rica in December?”, and said “yeah!” and then I clicked purchase! We were headed to Costa Rica!
Con #1 – You cannot choose your flight details with a hotel/airfare combo package
This was the first time that I had purchased a vacation package that included flights, so this was definitely a learning experience. Typically, Groupon (or whichever discount travel website) will tell you which flight you can use, putting you on whatever flights are most difficult for the airline to fill (usually the least desirable options). This can often mean very long layovers cutting into your vacation time.
The flight options for this Groupon flew out of Chicago (we live near the Detroit airport), so I figured we would just purchase a quick flight from Detroit to Chicago before the Chicago>Costa Rica flight (and then purchase a late flight home from Chicago>Detroit after we landed in Chicago). What I did not realize is that I could not choose which flights when we purchased the combination hotel/airfare package. They gave us the earliest flight leaving Chicago and the last one landing in Chicago on the return trip. So we had to fly to Chicago a day early, stay the night at a cheap hotel near the airport, then leave the next morning out to Costa Rica. On the return, we landed in Chicago, had to spend another night in that cheap hotel, then fly home to Detroit the following day. This added a lot of time, hassle, and cost to our Costa Rica vacation.
Do this instead: For just a little extra effort to follow my Secret Tips and Tricks So YOU Can Buy Cheap Flights! you can avoid all this hassle buy booking your flights yourself.
Con #2 – Chain all-inclusive resorts cost more than independently owned resorts
This trip was also the first time that we had stayed at a resort that is part of a larger chain. The Dreams resorts have multiple locations under their brand. The Dreams Las Mareas resort was very beautiful (more on that later), however we have definitely stayed at other all-inclusive resorts that were every bit as good for less. I hate the idea of spending more money on a vacation just to get the “brand name”. I could put that additional money toward an extra night (or a couples massage, or an excursion, or the next vacation)!
Con #3 – Costa Rica’s roads and infrastructure are lacking
I had a difficult time coming up with another con for this Costa Rica trip, because I truly loved it, overall. My husband mentioned how bad the roads and infrastructure were as a con, so here it is. We definitely were not prepared for this, so it made the 1.5 hour drive from the airport to the resort pretty rough. By the time we finally arrived at the resort, our anxiety and motion sickness were kicking.
Do this instead: Choose a resort closer to the airport if you have any difficulty with anxiety/motion sickness when staying in a country lacking paved roads.
Pro #1 – Costa Rican flora and fauna is spectacular
Groupon allowed me to see Costa Rica when I otherwise may not have, and for that I am grateful. I had always wanted to visit Costa Rica for the wildlife. The jungle landscape and exotic animals always seemed so different from anything I had yet experienced. The reality did not disappoint! Our resort was surrounded by lush jungle and beautiful green views. The plants throughout the resort were beautiful as well.
The first night at the resort, as darkness fell, I heard some of the strangest sounds I have ever heard coming from the trees! The best way I can describe them, is the sound that the spitting dinosaur makes in Jurassic Park. Very jarring, and very bizarre. Later I learned that it was the night call of one of the exotic bird species there. So cool!
One day, we went on a zip lining tour that included a hike through the jungle. The hike was very enjoyable, as our guide pointed out different plants and animals we encountered along the way. Sadly, we did not see any sloths. We did see several packs of howler monkeys high in the trees though! I have never seen monkeys in the wild, so that was such a treat. Our guide even got the howlers to howl back! The sound was so incredible as it filled the jungle air. I was able to capture a couple short clips below.
Pro #2 – Dreams Las Mareas
Dreams Las Mareas was a beautiful all-inclusive resort. The rooms and staff were average, but that is the biggest of my complaints of our stay at this resort. The best part was the location, aside from being over an hour from the airport. The resort was situated right on the beach, with lush jungle-covered mountains on either side. Each morning, a yoga instructor led yoga on the beach. At times we synchronized our breathing to the waves of the ocean, which is the most magical way to spend any morning. Check out fabletics for some of my favorite yoga gear.
The beach is public, although not busy, which was the best of both worlds. There were two women (I wish I remembered their names) a short walk down the beach who set up massage tables in the shade under a tree. I am a bit of a massage addict, and these women gave some of the most incredible massages I have ever had.
The food at Dreams Las Mareas was also fantastic. We ate most of our meals at the buffet, although the resort also offers several sit-down restaurants (just be sure to bring attire fitting of the dress code. They actually enforce it.). Again, I have seen quite a few breakfast buffet spreads throughout the Caribbean, however Dreams Las Mareas had the best breakfast buffet I have ever seen. The resort had several pools to choose from, with plenty of lounge chairs for relaxing. They charged extra to reserve the cabanas, though, which I hate! Good thing we were able to sneak in a cabana for free for an afternoon. Shhh! Don’t tell.
Pro #3 – Sunsets
I am a complete sunrise/sunset aficionado. I often choose our accommodations based on the orientation to sunrises and sunsets. Dreams Las Mareas is located on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica, so our view was of sunset. I can say without hesitation, that Costa Rica has the most spectacular sunsets I have seen anywhere in the world. Hands down. No competition. Every single night we stayed there presented us with a glorious show of color. I always feel so calm, peaceful, grateful, awe-inspired, and connected to the earth while watching the sun set on the day. I am quite agnostic, however if I had to describe my higher power, it would be visible in the sky each morning and night.
Overall, our vacation to Costa Rica is one of my absolute favorites. I could name many more pros than cons. I still stand by using Groupon and Living Social and other discount vacation planning websites as my favorite way to travel the world at a discount, without sacrificing experience. In the future, I will not purchase a package again that includes airfare. Have you ever purchased a vacation through Groupon or Living Social? What was your experience?
Leah Little has a full time job as a social worker, and has managed to travel the world while wearing beautiful clothes by knowing how to score deals in travel and fashion. Learn more about her journey here. Join the Leah Little Travel and Fashion tribe by entering your email to subscribe to be the first to learn new ways to enjoy the best in travel and fashion for less. Say hi and send her a message! Contact