Hilton Isla Nublar Resort & Spa: Like No Other Resort on Earth
Day 1: Getting to Isla Nublar
“Mom, how much longer ‘til we get there?” sighs my 8-year old daughter about an hour after we board a large ultra modern catamaran, now speeding across the white capped waves, taking us to Isla Nublar, an exotic island just off the west coast of Costa Rica. We are on our way to the brand new, 5-star Hilton Isla Nublar Resort & Spa and Jurassic World, the much-talked about, one-of-a-kind theme park with live dinosaurs and other unbelievable attractions. Jurassic World was built on the remains of the original Jurassic Park (opened briefly in the early 90’s before closing due to operational issues). Both the hotel and park are set to officially welcome their first guests on June 12, 2015, but we are among a lucky group of travel writers and media selected to preview the island and write about our experience.
Our trip started at 5 am this morning in our hometown of Chicago, where we boarded a flight to Miami, connecting to Costa Rica’s international airport in San Jose. After a several hour car ride, we reached the Pacific coast and the catamaran that was waiting to take us on the last leg of our journey.
It’s now late afternoon and I can feel that everybody is getting tired and cranky. I’m about to say, “It has been a long day, but it will all be worth it, you will see!” when my tween son who has been absorbed in his iPad for the last two hours exclaims, “Look guys, I see the island!”
As we reach land, we are greeted by a group of smiling resort staff handing out ice-cold towels smelling of eucalyptus and two-color tropical drinks with cute dinosaur umbrellas, which make us quickly forget about our fatigue. We check in at the magnificent open-air lobby, where we can immediately see that Hilton spared no expense in order to make this resort extraordinary. Each of us receives a special wrist watch which, we are told, will act as our room key, interactive resort and park map, schedule for special events, photo pass, intercom with resort and park staff (should that be necessary) and more. It feels like we are in a sci-fi movie!
Then Meredith, a member of the Hilton team assigned to us for the duration of our stay, takes us to our two-bedroom suite. Entering the beautifully appointed accommodations, we can’t help but gasp at the spectacular views of the lush, hilly island that houses the resort, surrounded by the glistening Pacific Ocean. We see a monorail weaving through the tropical rainforest and what appears to be an extinct volcano on the far north side. “Welcome to Hilton Isla Nublar Resort & Spa,” beams a friendly voice from the interactive flat screen in our living room, “For the first time in history, man and dinosaur share the Earth together. And it only happens in one place – Jurassic World. These incredible animals were recreated after millions of years of extinction for you to see, hear and even touch in person. We promise that your stay here will be the adventure of a lifetime!”
After a quick, but delicious dinner at Sunrio, one of the many restaurants at the resort, we are ready for bed. You can imagine our excitement when, upon returning to our room, we discover turndown chocolates, each shaped as a different dinosaur with a note providing fun facts about it. Hilton really thought of every detail! Tired, but thrilled to be here, we fall asleep listening to a tropical downpour and odd sounds of thunder.
Day 2: The Park, oh the Park!
At 6 am the next morning we are standing on the terrace outside our room, wide awake from our three-hour jet lag and excited for the day ahead of us. The fresh morning air smells of rain and wet rainforest and we can hear lovely tropical birdsongs. Prompted by our watches, we head down to the lobby to meet Meredith, who takes us to the hotel’s helipad in a golf cart, explaining, “Hilton Isla Nublar Resort & Spa offers several packages to its guests, depending on their adventure preference, comfort level and budget. The helicopter tour is a part of our Adrenaline Package, designed mostly for families with older kids and teens. It will be a great way for you to get a quick overview of the island and the attractions to help you with your article.” Our kids’ eyes are bigger than the moon. I’ve never seen them this excited, not even when we visited Disney World for the first time.
Meredith introduces us to our pilot and Brian, Isla Nublar’s resident paleontologist, who is accompanying us this morning. During the short flight over the island, which gives us an even bigger appreciation of its beauty, Brian points out the various Jurassic World attractions and shares interesting stories about the creation of the park.
About 30 minutes later we land in the beautiful Gallimimus Valley to experience our first adventure in the park, the Safari Breakfast. As we settle on a blanket, a delicious spread in front of us, a deep, moo-like sound comes from the wooded area close by and soon, several more follow. “Are there cows here?” asks our daughter slightly confused. “No,” laughs Brian, handing each of our kids a pair of binoculars. “What you are hearing are Apatosauruses. Soon you will see them too. They are heading this way.” Indeed, a couple of minutes later in a completely surreal scene, they appear. At first, we only see their long slim necks, then the entire heard of enormous, but friendly looking creatures is standing just a short distance from us in all their mightiness. I can see Brian is enjoying the stunned looks on our faces. “Apatosaurus is one of the largest animals that ever walked the Earth. They are herbivores, but did you know that they can’t chew? They have to swallow all of their plant food whole,” he says as he turns to our kids. “There are hundreds more fun facts about each of our dinosaurs on your watches or the interactive screen in your room.” After about an hour the helicopter takes us back to the park entrance so that we can experience a few other attractions. Our kids sit in complete silence — something that never happens at home — looking through the windows and still recovering from the amazing experience.
But there is a lot more to come! Joined again by Meredith, we head to the Gentle Giants Petting Zoo where we pet and feed baby triceratops, one of the gentlest dinosaurs despite the scary looking horns on their heads. We are told they love to be scratched behind their frills. Our kids giggle when their rough tongues lick their hands. We then take the monorail to the Aviary where we observe Pterosaurs, the world’s only flying dinosaurs, spreading their massive wings and flying. Afterward, we stop by the Innovation Center where families can spend hours viewing fun and educational exhibits.
Then we experience our big finale for the day. One cannot visit Jurassic World without seeing Tyrannosaurus Rex, the king of dinosaurs! I have to admit that I’ve been feeling slightly uncomfortable about coming face to fangs with this giant aggressive creature, but Meredith who must have sensed this, assures us, “Safety is our biggest priority at Jurassic World! You will be watching from a specially designed, highly protected observation area.” After a mandatory security training, we are first led to the kitchens where park staff is selecting various cuts of meat to be placed in a paddock. Excited and slightly nervous, we sit down and wait. When the snack is delivered into the enclosed habitat, the legendary dinosaur appears almost immediately. It is even bigger, scarier and more awe inspiring than I could have ever imagined or seen in movies. As I hear its deafening and chilling roar, it hits me: that strange sounding thunder last night was not thunder at all. I was listening to a T-Rex!
Day 3: Back for More!
Pumped with excitement about more adventures to come, we board the monorail as soon as the park opens the following morning. We begin our second day with a Cretaceous Cruise, a paddle down Isla Nublar’s river that was specifically designed to provide the most natural prehistoric experience imaginable. Our friendly tour guide Ruben leads us to large double kayaks in dark green, a color we are told which was specially designed to be unobtrusive for wildlife. After a short safety briefing we start paddling down the lazy river, taking in an amazing array of flora and fauna. We come up close and personal with a giant Apatosaurus herd that is in the midst of their leafy breakfast. We take pictures of the spectacular Edmontosaurus who seems to be posing for us, and we laugh at hundreds of tiny Micoroceratuses who are hopping along the banks following our kayak group. The highlight, however, is spotting the highly elusive Pachychephalosaurus. Ruben tells us this is a very rare sighting due to its shy nature and protective colors. Must be our lucky day!
After lunch our watches prompt us that it’s time to head to the next great adventure, a guided Gyrosphere tour, which is one of the most popular attractions in the park and had to be reserved in advance. “Wow!” exclaim not only our children, but also my husband, as we board giant bubble-shaped vehicles, holding two passengers each. “How do we drive this thing?” says our son examining what appears to be a control panel. The park attendant tells us not to worry, our in-sphere monitors will help us navigate the area, identify the dinosaur species we encounter along the way and provide fun and interesting facts about each one. Unbelievable!
After visiting a few more attractions, we head to our final adventure of the day, the Mosasaurus Feeding Show. We are warned that “the entire viewing area is a splash zone,” meaning we will most certainly get soaked. It’s hot, so we don’t mind. We are also told that “some viewers may find the show disturbing.” Thirty minutes later, after we witness a terrifying 60-ft marine reptile weighing approximately 60 tons appear out of the depth of the ocean and swallow an enormous white shark in one bite, I can understand why. This show is one of the shortest, yet one of the most memorable ones in the park. As I check our belongings to make sure our camera did not get wet, still processing what just happened, I hear a ping on my resort watch. I glance down at the message on the screen: “Your family pictures are now ready for viewing.” A second later I see a photo of our family, our eyes and mouths wide open, and the fierce looking sea beast just about to swallow the shark. “I have to post this on Facebook!” exclaims my husband. “Nobody will believe this!”
We go to bed that night unable to sleep, our minds reliving the incredible adventures of the past two days. My husband’s Facebook post has 435 Likes and 207 Shares.
Day 4: Wrapping it up: T-Rex Hatchery, the Creation Lab and Mesozoic Stone Massage
Our last day on the island is reserved for R&R and experiencing more of what the exquisite Hilton Isla Nublar Resort & Spa has to offer, something we almost forgot to take advantage of with all the excitement of the park.
Shortly after a delicious buffet breakfast, my husband and I drop off our kids at the Jurassic Kids Club. Everybody at the club is excited because on the program for this morning is a visit to the hatchery where kids will observe tiny T-Rexes emerge from their eggs, something that doesn’t happen every day. Later on, the older kids will visit the Creation Lab for a behind the scenes look at the geneticists sequencing Jurassic World’s next evolution from paleo-DNA rich amber, while the younger ones will return to the club to create their own stuffed dinosaurs. We then part ways for the morning, kids excited about the adventures awaiting them and parents about their upcoming spa appointments.
A few hours later, after our amazing 90-minute Mesozoic stone massages and a long relaxing soak in the mineral bath, it’s time for lunch. My heart sinks a little as I open my locker, immediately noticing an alert on my resort watch: “You have one video message from the Jurassic Kids Club waiting.” Trying to suppress that instant worry every parent receiving a phone call from their kids’ school knows, I press the play button only to see my son’s beaming face and hear his excited voice, “This place is da bomb, Mom! Can we please stay longer? After lunch we will collect Apatosaurus teeth to make our own souvenir necklaces. Just press ‘Yes’ at the end of this message if it’s OK, they said they need your approval.” Relieved, I press the icon and a few seconds later I receive a text from the friendly club supervisor, Doralica, acknowledging my permission and wishing me a relaxing afternoon.
So instead of picking up our children, my husband and I head to the infinity pool where we continue to relax for the rest of the afternoon in the shade of spectacular red-blooming flamboyant trees. Our bliss is complete when the always-smiling pool attendant Luis comes by, offering us a choice of frozen fruit-kebabs or tropical fruit sorbet. We decide on some refreshing mojitos and toast to the best family vacation ever.
In the evening, our family is reunited again, sitting down for our last dinner on the island at Fossil, the resort’s trendiest restaurant. Its outstanding gourmet cuisine (you must try the Chilean sea bass!) is further elevated by the remarkable 360-degree views of the island, especially striking as a majestic sunset breaks out over the western sky. What a perfect ending to our extraordinary vacation!
Beyond excited and proudly wearing their new Apatosaurus-tooth necklaces, our son and daughter are talking over each other telling us about their amazing day. In order for us to make this trip work, our kids had to skip a few days of school and I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant given that it’s the last month, filled with tests and final grade presentations, especially for our 6th grader. I’m so glad now that they did. Our trip was not only filled with non-stop fun and unimaginable adventures, but also worth more than an entire semester of science and history classes.
I love seeing my family so happy and invigorated. I look around the dining room and realize Isla Nublar must have this effect on all of its guests. What an adventure of a lifetime! There really is no place like this island and no other resort like Hilton Isla Nublar.
A native of Slovenia, Vera moved to the U.S. 20+ years ago after meeting her American husband. Together with their two children they live on the North…