About six months ago, I decided to splurge on a three-night wedding anniversary getaway to Costa Rica. I came across this beautiful place near Arenal, called Nayara Resort, Spa and Gardens. Normally, their bungalows run at $650 per night, but since August/September is low season, I was able to score a rate of $308, which included breakfast and dinner. It was a fancy treat, but appeared to be worth it, at least according to reviews.
I was really looking forward to this trip. We’ve had an incredibly stressful summer where both of my in-laws needed surgery and subsequent medical care. After numerous hospital and doctor visits, I was worn out mentally and emotionally. Plus, my kids were off school, which added an extra layer of stress.
Alas, things have calmed down to the point that I felt we could leave everything behind for a weekend and jet off to another country. But just a few days before the trip, both of my kids got sick. That tends to happen when they first start school. Then my father-in-law ended up in the hospital (again). But he came home and I was cautiously optimistic that we would be able to go to Costa Rica after all.
And then Dorian happened.
To go or not to go?
When I booked this trip, I knew that there was a risk of a hurricane ruining my plans. But I figured the chances of something happening during that three-night window were relatively low. I was wrong. By Thursday, the cone of uncertainty included Fort Lauderdale area, and that’s where we were flying from. We could leave without issues, it was being able to fly back to Florida on Labor Day that was iffy.
But my in-laws insisted that we go and not worry about anything. The hurricane wasn’t supposed to have a huge impact on our county in Central Florida. Plus, my husband took Tuesday off. So, even if we were delayed an extra day, it would be OK in theory.
I saw a notification on Jet Blue website indicating that I could cancel my return flight without penalty. My husband let me make that call. He said he would support me either way. I went back and forth and decided to go. We set out on our three-hour drive to Fort Lauderdale and settled at Hyatt House Fort Lauderdale Airport for the night.
I won’t write a detailed review, but here are a few thoughts on the hotel. The room is well designed, breakfast is quite good, but cleanliness leaves a lot to be desired. We found a fry near the sofa, and multiple hair strands on beds and in the shower. Gross. I won’t be staying there again, but perhaps my experience was a fluke.
I booked this hotel when it cost 8,000 Hyatt points per night (it’s 12,000 points now), and it allowed me to get closer to free night via “Brand Explorer” promotion. #SilverLining
Our flight was scheduled for next morning. I kept tossing and turning all night wondering if I’ve made the right decision. I didn’t want to be stuck in Costa Rica for several days, which was a distinct possibility.
My husband absolutely had to go back to work on Wednesday. He is responsible for maintaining company’s IT systems. If there was damage from the storm and he wasn’t around, it could really jeopardize his job. And of course, first and foremost, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my kids under those type of circumstances.
So, I decided if the forecast was the same in the morning, we would stay home. I checked, and it actually looked worse for FLL. There was my answer. My husband said that he wished we didn’t drive all the way to Fort Lauderdale just to stay one night in a filthy Hyatt House. Fair enough. Overall, he was extremely kind and sweet about the whole thing. He said he just wanted to make me happy. I think I will keep him. 🙂
In retrospect, my initial decision to go showed an incredible lapse in judgment. We have young kids, elderly parents with health problems, and various other obligations. When a monster hurricane is barreling down your state, it’s not the right time to roll the dice.
I often encourage readers to seize the moment and take that dream trip as long as finances allow it. However, it’s also important to recognize when to cut your losses and move on. It was a hard lesson, but I’m glad I came to my senses before getting on that plane.
Let’s cancel everything
I was extremely disappointed, but there was no time for self-pity. I quickly reminded myself that so far, I’ve lived a relatively charmed life full of adventure, with hopefully many more adventures to come. First order of business: cancel our Southwest flight to Costa Rica, which was scheduled to depart in a few hours. I got my points back, and $44 went to a travel fund which I probably won’t be able to utilize before expiration.
I also called Jet Blue, and the points were redeposited without penalty. The agent said I could wait and see if our flight will be canceled, which would result in a refund. At the time, I just wanted to get it taken care of, so $119 in taxes went to travel bank instead, and will expire on August 30th, 2020.
In hindsight, I should have waited because our Jet Blue flight (and the flight the next day) was indeed cancelled. But oh well. At that point, I didn’t care. My gut feeling was spot on, we would be stuck in Costa Rica for days.
I wrote Nayara hotel and told them what happened, not really expecting a refund. To my surprise, the agent emailed back a few minutes later and said that his upper management has approved a full refund as a goodwill gesture.
I also pre-paid $300 in transfers to company called Costa Rica Shuttle. Once again, I didn’t even ask for a refund, but the agent offered it anyway. I wasn’t certain whether my trip insurance policy would cover the hotel/transfer losses, so I’m extremely grateful to both companies for their compassion.
At this point, it looks like my losses are limited to Hyatt stay+Southwest credit, which will expire in six months. I will probably utilize Jet Blue credit towards a flight from Orlando to Washington DC in 2021. I’m thinking about filing a travel insurance claim to get $44 back. It’s not much, but still. While I’m at it, I’ll ask what is the policy on lost award stays. Developing…
Plan B, then C, then D
Since it looked like the weekend was in the clear, I figured we might as well spend two nights in Key Largo, located only 1.5 hours from Fort Lauderdale. As long as we went home on Sunday, we would avoid the hurricane. I was already planning on staying two nights in Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo and had $250 resort credit from Hilton Amex Aspire upgrade at my disposal. I figured I would simply reschedule the reservation. It was a great consolation prize. And then I got a call from my sister-in-law…
She told me my son’s cough got worse, so I contacted my pediatrician and asked if they could see him. Apparently, they needed a notarized form allowing my in-laws to bring him in. Ugh. I pleaded with the nurse and told her I’m currently three hours away, so they made an exception. Turns out, my son had bronchitis, so I had to coordinate his medication over the phone as well. Hilton resort was out at that point, we had to get home. There is no way I could enjoy myself now. Plus, I needed to be nearby in case he got worse.
My in-laws were planning to take the kids to Fanning Springs state park and stay in a cabin for two nights (see related post). Since my son didn’t have fever, they decided to keep the reservation and wanted us to come with them. That meant we had a 6.5 hour drive ahead of us, since Fort Lauderdale was on the opposite coast. Unfortunately, all the cabins in the park were reserved.
I looked at various options and had a choice of Days Inn (terrible reviews), Quality Inn (slightly better reviews) and Otter Springs Campground. The last one looked interesting, plus the advertised weekend activities included bingo and quilting. How can I resist? I called and the manager said they had one cabin (with queen bed) still available for two nights. I would soon see why.
Based on website photos, I knew it would be rustic. I didn’t know it looked like a prison cell. A prison cell that I paid $200 for. Oh, did I mention that when we were close to Fanning Springs, the manager called and said that due to Dorian, the park would be closing the following day and that my in-laws could only stay one night? Anyway, back to prison cell, aka “cabin.”
Plastic bin with (maybe) clean sheets
First, the bed was full-size, not queen. Not that it mattered. Second, the mattress had several dips in it, like a camel’s back. The cover was plastic and had black spots on it. Mold, rat droppings… it’s hard to say. To top it off, the pillows had blood stains on them.
It was a fitting end to a crap-tastic day. We were supposed to stay in a 5-star resort, only to get this instead. I looked at my husband and said NO WAY. So, I wrote a note saying that the bed is full-size not to mention nasty, and that I would be filing a chargeback on my credit card. The next day they called me and said I would get a full refund. The lady admitted that the bed is indeed horrible. No kidding.
Anyway, at that point my in-laws already drove off, so I called them and asked them to pick us up. I would make a reservation at a Quality Inn after all. They said they would check in at the state campground and come back to get us. After I made the reservation, my sister-in-law calls and tells me that we could all fit in the cabin. She found a cot and insisted on sleeping on it in the living room, and graciously let me and my husband get the bedroom with two twin beds. Her parents got the second bedroom with a queen bed.
This cabin looked downright luxurious compared to our previous lodging of choice. If you are not too picky, I recommend Fanning Springs campground. For $110 per night, it’s an excellent value for families, especially during spring months.
So, I called the Quality Inn and asked the manager if they could cancel the reservation without penalty since I literally just made it 5 minutes ago. She obliged. For those keeping track, that’s a third place I’ve reserved for the same night that I wasn’t going to sleep in. I went to bed exhausted from everything that happened that day.
Making lemonade out of lemons
After getting decent sleep, I woke up in the morning determined to be happy no matter what. But it wasn’t that hard. The cabin had a beautiful screened porch with a picnic table in the back. We sat there and had breakfast from McDonald’s, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. I’m not lying when I say that there is nowhere I would rather be at that moment. My son seemed to be doing better.
The biggest attraction of the park and the main reason we came are beautiful natural springs.
Afterwards we drove to Cedar Key, a small island that is special to my husband’s family. It’s sort of like Key West minus the kitsch. Twenty five years ago my father-in-law had a small plane and would fly his family here on weekends. We were even able to eat in the same restaurant on the water that they used to frequent.
Overwater bungalow, Florida style
We had a wonderful time, and my mother-in-law kept telling me how happy she was that we “sacrificed” our couple’s getaway to be with them. We had a good laugh talking about the series of unfortunate events that led us to this place, to this moment in time. I will always look at this short trip with fondness.
While the weekend started out as a total bust, it ended on a high note. And looking at the devastation in the Bahamas, it would be downright disrespectful for me to complain about a missed trip. First world problems, indeed. Plus, I think I would prefer to go to Costa Rica as a family, in-laws and all. Well, assuming they are in decent enough health, of course. It’s just more fun when we are all together.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.