Costa Rica Trip Review: Day 1

This is the second post in my Costa Rica series. You can find the other posts here:

Costa Rica Trip Review: Hotel & Flight Planning
Costa Rica Trip Review: Day 2 Part 1- The Rental Car Drama Continues
Costa Rica Trip Review: Day 2 Part 2
Costa Rica Trip Review: Day 3
 Costa Rica Trip Review: Day 4 – Part 1 – Getting to Manuel Antonio
Costa Rica Trip Review: Day 4 Part 2 – Manuel Antonio National Park and Beaches
Costa Rica Trip Review: Day 5 Volcan Poas and La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Costa Rica Trip Review: Day 6 Arenal Volcano, Arenal Hanging Bridges, and The Arenal Lodge


The day had finally come! We had been waiting anxiously for this day and now it was finally here. The kids and the dog had been shipped off to grandma’s house, the bags packed, and we were ready to go. Wednesday morning was a cold morning here in South Dakota. If I remember right, I believe it was about 20 or 25 degrees.

We arrived at the airport at about 6 am and within 20-25 minutes we had cleared security and were eagerly waiting to board. Quick security lines are one of the few perks of a small regional airport!

Our flight to Dallas (DFW) left on time and was pretty smooth and uneventful. The flight lasted about 1 hr 50 min but as we started to pull onto the tarmac the plane stopped about 30 yards short of the jet way.  After waiting 10 minutes the pilot came over the speaker and notified us that we had to wait for someone to come pick up a piece of luggage that was laying in the middle of the tarmac. That was a first for me! After another 10 minutes the pilot came back on and let us know that we were now waiting on someone to come man the jet bridge. After 30 minutes waiting on the tarmac we were finally ready to disembark from the plane.

We had just enough time at DFW to eat a quick breakfast at McDonald’s before boarding our flight to Ft. Lauderdale (FLL). As I’ve mentioned before, flying first class just isn’t a big enough deal to me to shell out the miles it requires, especially on shorter flights. This was another smooth flight on a Boeing 737 in economy class. It was kind of cool to see the mouth of the mighty Mississippi from 38,000 feet up. Unfortunately there was some frost on the window so the pictures didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped.

The Mouth of the Mississippi River

The Mouth of the Mississippi River

We arrived in Ft Lauderdale at 2:15 with 6 hrs until our flight from Miami (MIA) was scheduled to leave. We considered several options to get to MIA including a cab and a rental car and then spending an hour or two checking out Miami and getting supper. But in the end we decided we would just take the cheapest option to MIA and then spend a few hours eating and relaxing in a lounge at the airport.

Tri-Rail From FLL to MIA

Tri-Rail From FLL to MIA

The cheapest option was to take the local train, Tri-Rail. At $3.75/person it seemed like a no-brainer. What we didn’t realize was that Tri-Rail only had a train stopping at MIA once per hour during the afternoon. There is a shuttle that takes you to the train station from the airport. We arrived at the shuttle loading area at 2:50 but unfortunately the shuttle had already left for the 3:17 pm train causing us to have to wait until the 4:17 train. By the time we actually got to MIA and through security it was after 7 pm leaving us no time to use the lounge. Sometimes the cheapest option is not always the most efficient!

The final flight from MIA to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) was in a 757 and took just under 3 hours. My wife fell asleep shortly after take-off along with many of the other passengers. I’ve never understood how anyone can sleep in an upright seat, especially in economy. I spent my time playing Angry Birds. I know, it’s pretty sad but I was hooked on that game the entire flight.

San Jose, Costa Rica from the Sky at Night

San Jose, Costa Rica from the Sky at Night

By the time we touched down at SJO I was wiped. I was looking forward to getting to the hotel and hitting the bed. Little did I know it would be a lot more stressful getting to the hotel than I had imagined.

I had booked the rental through Thrifty. I know several people who feel the budget rental companies such as Thrifty, Budget, Sixt, and others have lower quality vehicles and therefore won’t rent from them. In my experience the difference is negligible and does not justify spending the higher amount that the big names command. Keep in mind that whenever you rent a car, you need to check for any bonus airline mile promotions with your rental. There is always several bonus mile options for rentals at any given time. Also make sure you are signing up for the car rental loyalty programs as well.

In this case I had booked a full size SUV for 7 days for only $257. The next best price for a full size SUV was coming in at over $400.

A week prior to our trip I had noticed that Thrifty closes at 10 pm and our flight wasn’t scheduled to land until 10:15. I didn’t want to run into the issue of not having our car when we landed so I called the rental office and was assured that they would have an agent there until 11 so there would be no problems. Thrifty didn’t have a location at the airport but the agent was scheduled to meet us in front of the airport when we landed.

As we walked out the airport doors at 10:30 there was a circus of drivers with signs picking up their passengers along with a mob of taxi drivers trying to get customers. Very few of them spoke any English as Spanish is the official language in Costa Rica. We scoured the crowd looking at every sign trying to find the Thrifty agent. But he was nowhere to be seen… Within a minute we had 5 or 6 taxi drivers trying to get us to ride with them.

One man came up and asked who we were looking for and I told him Thrifty. He acted as if he was with Thrifty and said, “come with me”. We walked to the edge of the crowd and stopped and he started looking for more people. As we stood there I began to get the feeling this guy was not a Thrifty employee, so I asked him. He informed me that the Thrifty agent wasn’t there and that we should take one of his cabs. What a swindler! We continued to look and wait and finally at 11 pm it was clear the rental car was not coming. I was fuming but my wife was exhausted. We had no other choice but to take a cab to the hotel and just wait to figure out the rental car situation in the morning.

Little did I know the rental car drama wasn’t over… More on that in my next post.

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