PAPAGAYO — I’ll admit it – I’m not quite ready for my close-up. Having landed in Liberia less than an hour ago, I stash my suitcase with the bell staff and, passport in hand, ready for check-in, stride through the front doors of the resort – and, evidently, onto the red carpet. Like, a real, actual red carpet.
Despite my less-than-celebrity-grade ensemble – well-worn cargo shorts and a loose-fitting golf shirt – photographers swarm, grabbing some shots as, a little stunned, I mug, just for a moment, the first flash of my week of star treatment, just ahead.
I’m at Planet Hollywood Beach Resort in Costa Rica, a brand new (October 2018) property that sits at the base of the Guanacaste Peninsula on the Pacific coast. All-inclusive and all-suite, with 294 keys, the resort is part of Blue Diamond Resorts, Sunwing Travel Group’s resort division, and the first of a series of Planet Hollywood properties planned for other sun destinations. The focus here: make sure guests have the opportunity to ‘Vacation Like a Star.’
I’ve been awarded STAR Class, a cut-above concierge level of service that guests can purchase, and after proceeding past the Green Room – an exclusive lounge just off the main lobby with snacks, drinks, and private check-in/check-out services – I meet my ‘agent’, Felipe.
Having an agent is one of the perks, and he shows me to my junior suite which is snuggled, like the rest of the resort, into a verdant hillside, showing me the room features – the Phabulous bed with its hand-crafted custom mattress, the ceiling-mounted rain shower, the balcony with a sweeping ocean view. All room classes also include the above, plus 24-hour room service, a daily-refreshed minibar, and PH Spa bath amenities.
And then, it’s time for the rider – just like a rock star. Rather than requesting that Felipe sort my M&Ms by colour or place a chilled bottle of Crystal by my bedside every night, I make a couple simple requests – a bottle of whiskey (one bottle is included in-room for STARs) and a bucket of ice. And while my rider may not run long, Felipe’s services prove invaluable throughout the week — we connect on WhatsApp, and requests that would have required multiple calls (dinner reservations, small maintenance issues) are resolved with a simple text.
My STAR Class status also gives me access to an exclusive pool and bar with upgraded beverages, and I make it a nightly ritual to finish each day by taking a dip then stretching out on a lounger there, a tumbler filled with Tallisker in hand as the long, tropical twilight stretches out.
The Hollywood-glam theme extends throughout the property. The brand owns thousands of pieces of movie memorabilia, and public spaces are adorned with costumes and other items you’ll recognize – a tuxedo worn by Daniel Craig as James Bond, whole displays devoted to Karate Kid, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Cabanas feature private plunge pools and a complimentary bottle of bubbles. And shows and events tend toward the glam, too – foam parties in the main pool, neon-bright ribbon dancers in the evening, as well as white parties down at the beach. Even the kids’ club has a full rack of costumes, and children can spend the week writing, directing and acting in their own little movie.
The entertainment theme extends to the dining, too – Guy Fieri, the host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, has a burger joint by the pool, one of six a la carte restaurants on property, from the Sunset Strip Steakhouse to the So Cal Gourmet Food Emporium. The most entertaining, by far, however, is East Sushi and Teppanyaki Bar, where, at individual stations surrounded by a small number of seats, Japanese-trained chefs juggle their knives and put on a show before slicing and dicing your dinner.
Costa Rica is an ideal destination to tour around – and the resort encourages guests to get out and explore through Sunwing Experiences and PH Experiences, their curated list of local adventures, of which I take full advantage.
On one excursion, joining with a group, we visit the flanks of the Miravalles Volcano, and en route our guide, Hoel, explains the essentially magmatic nature of his country. “Costa Rica is divided into two by volcanoes – they form the Continental Divide,” he observes. “We have 200 volcanoes, and five of them are currently active.”
We arrive to find plenty of activity, first hiking over gushing waterfalls on swinging suspension bridges, then winding through the dense canopy past orchids, plumeria, strange, strangling ficus.
And then we head to the mud pots, popping almost comically, as sulphurous steam rises from deep inside the earth. We slather on the greyish mud, said to have healing powers, and then wash it all off in a series of nearby hot springs pools, at the same time washing down a few cans of Imperial, the light, thirst-quenching lager pairing perfectly with the super-heated water.
And I get out onto the water, too, the next day taking a sunset catamaran cruise. Climbing aboard the double-hulled boat moored near the resort, the Imperial soon flows again, the Latin music pumping, and we make slice our way through the waves to a hidden cove for some snorkelling.
Joined by a couple others, I jump off the stern, bringing those beers into the tropical seas to float, and sip, simultaneously. Back on board, lounging on the bow, the sunset comes, but it has some competition.
Ahead of us, a huge, looping rainbow begins to develop, becoming more vibrant by the moment, turning into a double-rainbow, at one point looking like it will become a triple rainbow. Behind us, descending quickly to the sea, the sun becomes a ball of fire, illuminating the mountainous islands in our wake.
A tumbler of Tallisker, then maybe some teppanyaki await. But for the moment, I’m happy to down another Imperial, relax, and watch the all-natural light show on every side, feeling rather like a star.