In lieu of an actual post about Costa Rica, I am posting a review I wrote for Trip Advisor for the place we stayed. In CR, we did the usual touristy stuff. You lining, horseback riding, holding 17 ft long snakes, chasing rats. That sort of stuff.

So here is my review of our hotel in Costa Rica, Toad Hall.


"It's never the wrong time to call on Toad. Early or late he's always the same fellow. Always good-tempered, always glad to see you, always sorry when you go!"
- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

At 3:00 a.m. on June 28, 2012, I sent an e-mail from our rental home in Nicaragua to Lydia at Toad Hall. "I'm hot, tired, there are bugs everywhere and my wife stepped on a bat (the fuzzy, flying mammal kind...not the Louisville Slugger kind). How much would you charge if we showed up at your place 5 days early????" I hit "SEND" and went to sleep. At 7:00 a.m. that morning, I had a reply, "Come on down early. We'll be glad to have you. We have glorious air-conditioning!" 

Right then, I learned two things. One, I should never write e-mails in the middle of the night when I'm exhausted, hot, frustrated and slightly tipsy. Second, I learned that Toad Hall is where I really wanted to be!

I spent months researching and making plans for our monthlong trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica. My wife and two young children, 6 & 8, were very excited about our pending trip and VERY excited about staying at Toad Hall. The pictures and descriptions were terrific. I purposely planned it for the last week of our journey because I knew we would want a nice, clean place to relax after spending 3 weeks in Nicaragua. Plus, anything with the word "Toad" in the title sends my kids into apoplexy because they think frogs are the greatest things since sliced bread. Which, when you think about it, is kind of a silly expression since practically no one can remember when bread was NOT sliced. 

My wife convinced me to stick it out in our hot, bug-filled house on the beach in Nicaragua and it ended up being pool notwithstanding. So, I told Lydia we'd arrive at Toad Hall on July 5, 2012 as scheduled and we did so as planned. 

Our drive from Nicaragua to Arenal was beautiful. Toad Hall is not exactly in Arenal, it appears to be in a place called La least that's what my iPad locator kept telling me. Who cares. Find it and go there. 

Lydia met us at the front door with warm welcome, as if I were a long lost relative. Of course, after the late-night e-mail, she was probably concerned I was a little crazy so maybe she was trying to be nice in case I was an ax murderer or something. Or worse, French. Shortly thereafter, we met her husband, Jeff. If you were to go to central casting at a movie studio and tell them you needed a Southern, Marlboro Man looking smooth-talker, they would send you Jeff. 

From the time we arrived, we loved the place. I won't bore with details about the beautiful, well-maintained rooms or the groomed grounds because the pictures tell that story. I'll sum up my take on the place like this...I have never stayed in a place so reasonably priced where the owners put so much thought, effort and time into every detail. Even the toilet paper rolls in the bathrooms were cool. Seriously. 

We had an amazing week. Typical Costa Rica, horseback riding, volcano trek, etc. Blah, blah, blah. Let's get back to Toad Hall. 

The place runs like a well-oiled machine. And even if it doesn't, the amazing staff makes it seem so. Jeff and Lydia worked constantly while we were there, making sure that meals were perfect, rooms were clean, lawns were maintained. I've never seen a staff work so hard, but seem so family-like. Jeff and Lydia are not taking advantage of cheap Costa Rican labor and sitting around on their butts doing nothing. Everyone works and everyone has fun. Hell, while we were there, Jeff even put a lame horse to work, dressing him up in a sombrero and hooking his ass up to a beautiful hand-painted cart in the front yard so people can stop and have their picture taken with him! No one on Jeff and Lydia's staff gets away without pulling their weight!

If you want to make a positive impact on my wife, Polly, and I, be nice to our kids. Jeff and Lydia treated my son, Grady and daughter, Annie, as if they had known them all their lives. True afternoon, Jeff told Annie and Grady to make me and Polly stay in our room and then come down to the kitchen. The kids eagerly awaited 6 p.m. and then ran downstairs to the beautiful outside cocina. About 20 minutes later, I snuck down to check things out (OK, I really went down to get a beer...) and Jeff had them in the kitchen, making grilled cheese for themselves and dinner for us. Jeff had them actually working in the kitchen and they were having a blast. Jeff and Annie told me to go away. Shortly thereafter, they brought dinner up for us and we sat on the balcony and ate, overlooking the beautiful Lake Arenal. HUGE points on the scoreboard for Jeff and Lydia.

Jeff found out how much the kids like bugs, frogs and other creepy crawlers. On 2 different mornings, we came outside our rooms only to find containers on the balcony supposedly containing some kind of large insect. Of course, Jeff struggled with figuring out how to actually keep the bugs INSIDE the containers, because they got out both times! But how many places have you stayed where the hosts take the time to catch bugs for your kids?

The food was wonderful. On the first night there, Jeff asked "What do you want for dinner?" I asked him what they were having. He replied, "You didn't hear me. I asked 'What do you want for dinner?'" He and Lydia and their chefs went out of their way to make what we wanted and when we wanted it. It's a small hotel, so you need to be considerate of their time, but whenever we asked, they seemed to accommodate our every wish. 

They have a small farm down the road where they raise chickens, goats, pigs, etc. On our second day there, in the rain, Jeff took all of us down to the farm and showed us around. In the middle of all the work that is always going on, he took the time to again entertain my kids, thus scoring even more points on the scoreboard for Toad Hall.

Jeff and Lydia even planned a special dinner for the four of us one night while the kids stayed in the room and watched TV...or lit things on fire in the sink, I'm not sure which. Anyway, for a couple hours, Jeff and Lydia regaled us tales of their life adventures. I won't go into details, but suffice to say, I am boring and have apparently done nothing interesting in my life. And if you think you've done a lot of cool things in YOUR life, sit down with Lydia and Jeff over a beer during your visit and ask them this, "So, how did you two meet and what have you been doing the past 15 years?" Then, sit back and enjoy the show!

I "retired" (my wife says I'm a slacker and quit) from business 4 years ago to become a teacher so I could travel with my family. My wife teaches also, so we have summers off. We like to travel to interesting places and meet interesting people. Our week at Toad Hall has been a Top 3 stop along the path of our journey. Perfect for young kids, older kids, teens, couples, honeymooners, and anyone else who wants to visit a place where people treat you like family and you never want to leave. 

So, Jeff and Lydia, this is our late thanks for a great week in July. We'd love to come back some time, with or without the kids, so make sure you don't do something nutty like run off to Kenya and open a yurt motel or some sort of weird treehouse hotel. But if you do, let us know when you open so we can be your first guests! And when we come, we will bring our own container for catching bugs and we will make dinner for y'all!

Adios....Thomas, Polly, Grady and Annie!