For those of you interested in our Cuban experience, I will attempt to review our week in Varadero Cuba as objectively as possible, and compare the all-inclusive experience to cruising where applicable.
Departure, Halifax Nova Scotia, Saturday March 12, 10:30 am; cold, windy, rainy and miserable. Precisely the reason why we are going to Cuba!
Chartered flight on Sunwing airline, direct flight, including welcome aboard champagne and a delicious hot meal. Arrival in Cuba at Juan G. Gomez airport, very small, very crowded.
Much confusion at one of two luggage carousels. One of my bags did not appear for 45 minutes. Drug sniffer dog running up and down carousel, checking all luggage. Heavy security everywhere. Check-in and security clearance very serious, one at a time, buzzed in through a single door, unsmiling agents.
Eventually herded out into parking lot where a row of surprisingly modern buses awaited. (imported from China). Comfy, air conditioned, complete with travel guide on board. Approximately 40 minute ride to resort area, with many stops along the way at other hotels. Most of ride had a lovely view of the sea on one side or the other, as Varadero is a narrow penninsula.
Last stop was Blau Varadero, our hotel, with its distinctive architecture.
Door attendant greeted us with champagne and orange juice - nice welcome!
Main lobby area similar to a ship's atrium, although much bigger. The hotel and atrium is 14 stories high, each floor hung with trailing vines under a bright sky-light.
Glassed in elevators, also similar to some ships', took us up to our 5th floor room. Upon entering the room, our bellboy instructed us to insert our key card into a slot on the wall, which turned on not only the lights, but the air conditioning. This is a practice to help conserve energy, AC does not stay on when you are not in your room. Apparently, this is a practice quite common in parts of Europe. We also noticed that for the most part, no lights were on in the14 levels of hallways during the day, only at night, another bid to conserve energy. There was usually enough light from the full skylight to see where you were going.
Our full wall of window/sliding door faced the back of the hotel, with a breath- taking view of the pools, grounds, the childrens' play area, and beyond the trees, the sea.
We were situated directly above a little bridge that crossed a sort of "moat" which surrounded the hotel, with fountains sprouting out of large chunks of sea rock.
The room itself was quite large, especially in comparison to a ship's cabin! Large, airy, immaculately clean, with a King size bed, 2 comfortable chairs, desk, bureau, TV, roomy closet, safe, bar fridge, and adjoined by a large clean bathroom, with full tub/shower, sink, toilet and bidet! The roomy balcony also featured 2 chairs, a small table, and a small clothes- line for drying your bathing suit. We were pleasantly surprised at how nice our room was, and it was kept immaculately clean throughout the week.
We soon set off to explore the resort, and the more we saw, the more impressed we were. The grounds are absolutely beautiful, with lots of greenery, flowers, trees, and the tremendous 4-part swimming pool.
There were busy sitting areas near the pool and bar, and quieter sitting areas away from the hustle and bustle, on the way to the beach.
The main grounds were joined to the beach by a long boardwalk, affording a view of the many palm trees, flowering bushes, and finally a glimpse of the sea.
As we had arrived in late afternoon, it was already getting cool and cloudy on the beach, with very active waves, but it was still a beautiful sight!
Dinner was available every evening in the large indoor dining room, buffet- style. The buffet area itself was huge, with several different food stations, for breads, soups, salads, meats, vegetables, pastas, and a "Healthy Corner".
The dining area was large and open, and serviced by waiters and waitresses who were quick to remove your dirty dishes between courses, pour you some bottled water, or re-fill your wine glass, all for no extra charge.
After dinner, we followed our ears down to the lobby area where there was a duo on sax and synthesizer, playing some very lovely relaxing music. This was followed by the unmistakable strains of "Crazy Frog", from the animation/stage area adjoining the lobby. Suddenly, children of all ages came out of the woodwork and ran to the stage to join in their very own nightly "Kiddie Disco", led by a very energetic woman who had them dancing, singing, playing choo-choo, musical chairs, and just generally having a lot of fun. It was a delight to watch!
The kiddie fun was followed at 8:30 pm by a Music Quiz, a sort of Trivia game with music sound bytes. We of course joined in the quiz, and amazingly won a 26 oz. bottle of Cuban Rum! At 9:45 pm our attention was directed outside to poolside, where rows of plastic chairs were set up for the Aquatic Ballet performance. I don't know what I had expected as far as entertainment was concerned, but I have to say I was immensely impressed with the quality and caliber of this, and subsequent nightly performances. The male and female ballet/synchronized swimming performers were nothing short of amazing. The acrobatics, the gorgeous costumes, the music, and all in a very chilly pool in the cool night air!
At this performance's end, it was almost 11 pm and we were beat. Time to head back to our lovely room for a good night's sleep, and eagerly look forward to Day 2!
to be continued.....
Last edited by Kuki; March 25th, 2011 at 10:49 AM.
Super--thanks for the report. Looking forward to more.
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Rollerdonna, sounds like you and your "hubby" had a great time in Cuba. I would love to go there, someday, especially since many of my father's students were originally from Cuba, in West New York, New Jersey. Unless you are with the press or go through Canada, it is illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba. I would have love to have been there in the "glory days", when Meyer Lansky ran the casinos, and when Cuba was the top destination in the caribbean to visit!
Donna thank you for the review. I am impressed so far. Always enjoy reading what you write when you travel. Eagerly waiting for the next installment.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.“
Thanks for the comments so far. Henry43, no I did not meet any Americans, which was strange because we're used to cruise ships full of Americans!
The predominant nationality funny enough, was Canadian, and every single one we met was a teacher (of course this was our March Break week!).
There were also many many British and German tourists as well, and even some Russians.
RD, that sure is a great review. Nobady does them as well as you do.
I am very impressed with all the things you wrote about. That is why most people who visit Cuba usually go back.
I am looking forward to read part 2.
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Cuba is a big vacation destination for Europeans, and then Canadians.
The place looks nice so far, except that bed doesn't look like it has much of a mattress. Reminded me of beds in may European hotels.
The balconies look like the ones on the Grand Class princess ships, where you can look down on all your neighbors. Though with lots of Europeans visiting there you may get more of an eyeful looking down on them from your balcony.
On this first full day in Cuba, we were up early and excited to explore some more. Breakfast was in the buffet/dining room, and it was very good. We did not find it crowded, and I would say the offerings were interntaional in flavour, basically something for everyone. Cereals, yogurts, lots of fresh fruits, breads, toast, eggs of all kinds, hot meat, cold meat, the choices were many. One of the tips we'd taken from Trip Advisor was to take our own tea bags, as we are particular about our Canadian tea. On the one or two occasions when we didn't have our tea bags with us, we tried the Cuban tea, and I must admit, it was pretty good. I really enjoyed the large, sunny, airy dining room in the mornings, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the sea. Sometimes there were small birds flying around the dining room; it was nice to hear their chirping in the mornings. I especially liked the hanging light fixtures, with each bulb covered in a hand-painted shade. Very pretty.
By 8:30 am, we were headed out to the beach. Unfortunately, this first day was rather overcast and a bit chilly on the beach. So chilly in fact that we found ourselves wrapped in sweaters and blankets. Only us sun-starved Canadians would be foolish enough to lie on the beach in this weather!
The surf was rather wild today too. The red flag was up, indicating no swimming, no water crafts. I saw this wheelchair on the beach belonging to a young man who was relaxing in a beach chair. The surf behind it gives you an indication of just how wild the waves were!
At 10 am we went inside to the Piano Bar area to meet with our Sunwing tour representative Manuel, who was most friendly and informative, and helpful in booking us an excursion for Wednesday, and in finding us an electrical adaptor for James' video camera charger. We had brought one with us, but it did not fit the plugs in our room, and Manuel was nice enough to lend us one for the whole week.
Back on the beach from 11 - 1, where it warmed up gradually, enough to do away with the blankets, and take pictures of our pelican visitors.
Lunch was in the "outdoor" buffet. It had a roof, with open sides, was very large with lots of seating. There was also seating outdoors if you preferred. As with the breakfast buffet, there were lots of choices, from different kinds of pizzas, to burgers and dogs on the grill, french fries, fish, rice, vegetables, other hot meals like beef or veal stews, and many types of salad fixings, but strangely, no actual salad (lettuce). I found this strange all week, as I love my salads. There was potato salad, shredded carrot, shredded cabbage, shredded onion, pickles, olives, peppers, pasta and vegetable salads, even salad dressings, but never any actual lettuce! Desserts were a little less plentiful. Daily, they consisted of jello, fresh fruits or fruit salad, one type of cake or pastry, and 3 flavours of ice cream. We opted for the ice cream, with 3 flavours of sauce or sprinkles available.
After lunch we headed back to the beach for an entire afternoon of sun, sand, and surf. Most enjoyable.
One of the first things I noticed at the resort and the beach was the complete lack of noise. No people shouting, no loud blaring music, just blessed peace and quiet. It was this difference that I noticed most in comparison to cruise ships. Once a day, there was music piped onto the beach for the daily salsa dance lesson, and Happy Hour or a game around the pool bar was announced with a particular song played for a few minutes, but never any long-term loud music anywhere. It was refreshingly calm and peaceful!
Dinner this evening in the buffet/dining room was excellent. We were greeted at the door with a (free) glass of champagne, and your choice of (free) red or white wine was served with your meal. This was another major difference between all-inclusive and cruise ships.
There were choices of chicken, roast beef, lamb, pork, potatoes, vegetables, and surprise, surprise, a Caesar Salad station! You were able to watch the salad chef prepare a huge bowl of Caesar salad, although I suspected the "lettuce" was not Romaine, but spinach. Still, it was nice to have a salad with dinner!
Desserts were plentiful and absolutely delicious. We sampled various pastries, tarts, mousse, cream cakes, and in particular, a very sweet, light and delicious honey-dipped donut. Yum!!
Again after dinner, we followed our ears to the lobby bar area, where tonight a violinist was playing, along with computer/synthesized background music. His repertoire included Beatles to El Divo, Broadway to Classical, and it was very relaxing and enjoyable. He was followed by a 12 piece mariachi band who were also very good, lively and entertaining. So far, I was very impressed with the musical entertainment offered by the resort. Sometimes on a ship, it is "hit and miss", especially with the pool bands!
There was no big stage show on tonight, so we sought out some peace and quiet in the Piano Bar, with a very good pianist and a late night drink before retiring for the night.
to be continued....
Last edited by rollerdonna; March 28th, 2011 at 09:09 PM.
THis sure sounds like a class kind of place, an abundance of food and lots of choices, just about like a cruise ship...I hope to someday have the option of taking a vacation here in Cuba....there is always talk about it, but nothing ever happens.
I enjoyed your review so far. ( I also just read James' post on Tripadvisor ) Unfortunately the food in Cuba may appear bland to some as they do not have the seasonings etc that can be found in the US and Canada. I believe they have Cuban Ketchup which is very different from "Heinz"!!!!!
We are also thinking of heading to Cuba in the near future and the Blau is one of the hotels on our short list.
Keep on writing your experiences.
I think Bruce and I might be a tad bored after dinner..I would have to duct tape him down to watch and listen to the violinist...this is where a ship kicks into high gear, at night. I hope you got to Havana!!
Trip, with her book & tea!
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I have a few things to address to those of you who commented or asked questions. Kuki: despite appearances, those "stacked" balconies did not look over onto the ones below. hard to believe, but they were actually very private, including either side as well as up and down.
Also, I agree the bed did not look very comfortable, nor did the pillows, (they were certainly not Carnival's plush bedding), however, we both found the bed surprisingly comfortable and roomy!
Trip: No, we did not get to Havana, and I will explain why later.
Day 2's evening entertainment was not exciting, but the rest of the week certainly was. One could never be bored!
JennC: regarding the food; I was afraid that Cuban food would be too spicy for me (I don't do spices!), however, the opposite was true.
Most dishes were rather bland, not in flavour, but regarding spices.
There was always a dish of hot jalapeno peppers, or a bowl of chili spice in the buffet to add a little "caliente" (HOT!) to your food!
Anyone else who has any questions, I will be glad to try and answer them!