Bahia Principe Varadero Page 2 – Cuba Hotels – Debbie's Caribbean Travel & Resort Reviews

Bahia Principe Varadero – Reviews Posted – 33

Bahia Principe Varadero Craig & Sandy — Ontario

January 2004

We went to the Bahia Principe for the week of Dec. 13 – 20th, this was our first trip to Cuba and we loved it. We are in our mid 40’s. We booked through Sunwing and flew on Jetsgo. The Bahia is a beautiful hotel, the lobby is gorgeous, very clean. We did pay the extra for an ocean view room and it was well worth it – ours was on the 4th floor – we could lay in bed and see the ocean. The room had tiled floor – a little cool on the feet and we wish we had brought slippers- queen size bed with a day bed on the opposite wall, there was a t.v. in the room that got some English speaking channels (CNN, etc.) The only complaint with the room was the shower was usually cool – luke warm in the morning -we would usually shower about 9:00 a.m., it seemed to be warmer in the afternoon and evening.

The beach was gorgeous, well taken care of, clean, there are huge rocks jetting out into the ocean on either end and it was a little secluded. There were no resorts close by so it was very private. You could walk down the beach past these rocks if you wanted, there were paths over them and you could see other resorts in the distance. The weather was great the first three days we were there, we spent most of those days down by the ocean. The last three days the weather was windy and colder so we spent those days by the pool, it is a little sheltered there and there was always something going on, contests etc. We did usually get out early (about 9:30 a.m.) to find a spot and leave our towels by the pool as the spots would go quickly.

The food was a little different, lots of pork and fish, fruit, breads and desserts. We did like the food, there was always something different on the buffet that we liked, some things were a little different, octopus, etc. We went to two of the a la carte restaurants, we did like the antipasto buffet (salmon was wonderful), we found the portions of the actual dinner were not huge so the antipasto was good – the service at both these restaurants was great.

We did tip the servers at the restaurants, bars when we received good service, we found the service at the morning buffet was not great, we would usually get there about 9:30 or so and most of the tables were not clean – if they were clean they would not be set up with cutlery, cups, etc. The service for lunch and dinner was better, we were usually there when it opened, at 1:00 for lunch and 7:00 for dinner. After dinner we would usually go to the bar beside the pool, there was good entertainment and a nice atmosphere, it is also right next to the theatre where the show is at night. The piano bar was also very nice, they do make the best drinks there, the pianist was very good, they also had a gentleman playing the guitar one of the nights who was also very good. There is a nice gym a the resort – it over looks the pool area. It rained one afternoon and we went and used the equipment, it is a good size – again very clean and well maintained. There are also tennis courts, sailing, kayaking, scuba diving, etc.

We would recommend seeing your family doctor before you go – we did get a prescription and both of us got sick. I spoke with someone else who got sick in Cuba and bought a prescription there for $75 US – mine was $17 Cdn. Do bring traveler mugs – they do use very small cups for drinks and sometimes there was a bit of a wait for drinks at the bar so we would usually ask for two of what we wanted. There was a problem a few days getting fresh towels, we held onto ours until we could get fresh ones rather than handing them in for the tickets.

We did trip to Havana and the Tropicana – it was wonderful, the guide (Ignacio) spoke very good English and was very informative, we learned alot about Cuba. We did a walking tour of old Havana – it is gorgeous, lots of old historical buildings and churches, went to a cigar factory, lunch, flea market, tour of new Havana and then went to a five star hotel to relax, we were given a room to shower and change, we had a buffet dinner there and then were off to the Tropicana. The Tropicana was great – live orchestra, singers, beautiful dancing girls in costumes, it was alot of fun and well worth the $129.00 US

The last day was rather overcast so we took a taxi into Varadero, there is a market there, some stores, a beautiful beach. We found some souvenirs which were really reasonable priced – they are cheaper at the markets than at the hotel store. All in all we loved the Bahia, it was great, at the end of our stay when the bus pulled up some of the staff had a send off, played music and said goodbye – I didn’t see this at any of the other resorts we went to after that to pick people up. We would definetly recommend this resort – it was great and we will definetly be back!

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Bahia Principe Varadero Canada

December 2003

We just returned from one-week stay in Bahia Principe Varadero The tour operator was Sunwing, we flew with Jetsgo, in Toronto the flight was delayed by 2.5 hours, in Vardadero by 2 hrs. Plane was awful, space very limited, I was sorry for anybody taller then 5’8; there was no movies, no blankets. When we landed in Toronto we waited for almost an hour inside the plane for the gate. Will never fly again with Jetsgo. Skyservice is a luxury airline comparing to Jetsgo.

Resort:
Property is very small, with very narrow walking paths, steps everywhere, in one place more then 10 of very steep steps, making it is impossible to use bikes or baby strollers( I saw people with small kids were struggling to get over those steps, having to carry a baby, a stroller, some bags and towels). Very inconvenient. We stayed in main building; room was very nice, very clean. We had mini fridge in our room, hair dryer (very bad), safe ($17).

Beach:
The beach is probably around 800 –1000 m in length but very narrow, on both sides of beach there are huge rock outcrops, so there is definitely no way to walk and explore “wonderful Varadero shore” unless one climbs over, but again, on one side where it borders with Sol Palmeras resort there is a fence which goes down to the ocean, and is inaccessible. Very disappointing.

Pool:
There is only one pool, which is not big enough for the number of guests hotel had. Everyday there are planned activities in the pool (scuba diving lessons, water ball, aqua) and then it cannot be used at all. To get a spot near the pool is virtually impossible, as even at 7.00 almost all chairs are taken.

Food: The food was usual Cuban buffet, we did not pay a lot of attention to food itself as visit to Cuba (or any other resort destination for that matter) was not a gastronomical journey for us, but dishes were always dirty, on several occasions we had to go through 5-7 plates to find relatively clean one. If you get into buffet 45min- 1 hour after it is open, there usually no clean tables, that why there usually a line up for lunch and specially for dinner, as people try to be first. For dinner there was crowd at the doors at 6.30pm waiting to be open at 7pm.

There are 3 a la carte restaurants – Italian, Seafood and Gourmet. Nothing special about food, it consists of pathetic salad bar and main course, which is not bad, but service is horrible. Italian was overbooked, we had reservations for 8pm, when we arrived at 8.05 there was a line of at least 10-15 people with reservations for between 7.30 and 8.00, we waited until 8.30 to be seated. I cannot say anything about the food there as we left before getting main course, as the wait time was ridiculous – 1 hour. I saw several guests walked out too. In seafood restaurant it took 45 min to serve us main course and it was actually excellent. Italian and Seafood are the same restaurant and same staff but serving one day Italian and the other seafood.

Entertainment:
Nightly entertainment was good, but all the time it was dancing shows. One day they presented show titled Riverdance, the dancers were members of animation team, and it was very unprofessional and laughable. I would prefer to see more like variety shows then just themed dancing. The aquatic show in a pool was not bad. There is no entertainment for kids.

Staff:
The worst and most disappointing part of all was staff attitude. It was not our first trip to Cuba, and we adore Cuban people – always smiling, friendly, accommodating and we always had excellent service, which was a kind of compensation for some deficiencies in Cuban tourist industry. But in this resort we were just appalled and shocked at how indifferent and unenthusiastic all member of the staff were. Nobody smiled when they see us, nobody greeted us. On our previous trips to Cuba just on the way to beach we were normally stopped by gardeners who greeted us and made some fanny things from plants for the kids or doing some jokes or tricks, by other members of the staff, everybody was smiling, dancing, singing … In Bahia Principe everybody is just doing their job, and in most cases doing it good, but you do not feel that special touch that so characteristic for Cubans. You can walk by a dozen of staff members; they would talk to each other, sometime just looking at you without even saying Hola, but in most cases even not looking at you. Kids especially were disappointed, as animation staff was really really unenthusiastic, as was water sports staff. It looked like everybody was expecting tips, but even that did now warrant you good service. Children had especially difficult time to get service in any of the bars, as barmen just ignored them serving-tipping customers. Although there is kids club and brochure says there are kids activities they are almost non-existent. 30 min a day mini disco, kids club looks so dismal that no parents would be so cruel as to send its kids there. This resort is very bad for kids.

The most appalling things happened when one of the guests forgot some personal belongings after a show, and staff members actually went around asking whose that was. The owner had already left the show and could not claim it. Two days later other guests told that lady that one of her belongings was found and she went to reception to pick it up. To everybody’s shock not just her belongings were not reported to reception (in violation of the resort policies), but also staff including public relations representative categorically denied ever having it in possession despite having eye witnesses who saw someone from the staff members with the item. And that was really scary as we did not feel ourselves secure anymore.

Overall:
We tried not to pay attention to many disappointing details and that why we still think that we had a good time there, but it is definitely not 5 stars and it is not a place you would want to return. And it seems to be a general opinion of almost everybody we talked at resort and later on the plane and many people felt that this resort does not live up to all advertising, recommendations and suggestions of travel agents, that overall it is way overpriced and it is not worth the price paid. For family of 4 it is $6000… I saw on discussions board suggestion that this resort is overrated and its sudden increase in popularity is a result of a massive advertising campaign and I totally agree.

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Bahia Principe Varadero Halina

December 2003

Just got back from 2 weeks at Bahia Principe Varadero. My husband and I have been to Cuba 4 times. This resort is the old Club Med. It has been renovated but the bungalows are not done yet. The resort has it’s own stretch of beach that is very private as at both ends there is a small cliff, you can walk over the cliff but to get back a man ask to see your wrist band. So very few beach venders. The lobby is lovely. The rooms are built around a atrium that is open to the sky. Don’t worry it rained when we were there and you don’t get wet. The rooms are a good size with a mini bar and a safe. You pay for the safe but the mini bar is stocked each day with 2 beer 2 pop and 2 water. There is a separate toilet, large vanity and a deep tub. There is a balcony with 2 chairs. The air conditioner works very well. (on a side note I came in one day and I had no power, so I called the front desk and a man was there is 5 mins. Turns out the maid bumped the little card that turns the power on and off.) The beds are comfortable and over all I had no complaints. There is no iron or coffee maker.

The pool is large and clean with steps leading down. There is no swim up bar. The loungers are very nice as they are a dark wood with thick pads. Always something going on at the pool.

The beach is great and there are so many huts for shade, and about 500 loungers. We NEVER had a problem finding a seat in the shade. The resort was about 35% full, but unless they were full you have nothing to worry about. Lots going on at the beach, volley ball, soccer, games. On Thursday they host a little party by were you get the hobby cats, they bring down drinks and dance. Real nice.

Bars, well there are lots. Cohibas is in the lobby it opens later in the day and closes at 11 p.m. A girl will play piano, and the drinks are top shelf. There is a beach bar, lots of seats sun or shade. This bar is busy. There is a beach bar, dixie cups and not fully stocked. There is also el mohitos. Love this place, it’s in the little plaza they have and it’s open at night. A 2 piece band players there as well. You can get wine and beer with lunch and dinner in the buffets. And when they have the band play on stage they do table service. That’s a star right there for me.

Entertainment: something is always going on, but you are never pushed to play if you don’t want to. They have a show every night at 10 p.m. there good, not great, but good. The one thing I really like about BPV is that after the show is over 11ish, you walk over to this other stage and a band starts playing there till about 12:30. This area is open air, but if it rains there is cover close by.

Food: this is a personal thing. There are 3 al a carte rest. Palma Real which has steak, surf and turf, chicken. And the Italian which breaded chicken and pasta, and the sea food. For us the seafood was just plain weird. Smelt funny and looked bad. But that’s just my opinion. All 3 rest. have a anti pasta help yourself station. With cold cut, and sometimes smoke salmon. This I just loved.

The buffet. O.K. breakfast, eggs bacon muffins pancakes fruit yogurt. All the normal AI food.

Lunch, lot’s of great breads, cold cuts, cheese, salad goodies, and the every changing rice and veggies combos. Meat and fish always both. And there is a pasta station made to order. I liked there pasta, many people say in Cuba the sauces taste funny, but for me I thought they were very good.

At dinner they always have a carving station. Could be a turkey or fish or a pork roast. Something different everyday. This is one area were they fall a little short. Things are not always as hot as they should be. But I did notice a man come around and check the tempeture of the food. I assume this if for health standards, but maybe there will work on getting hot things HOT.

Some nice touches for me was that every bathroom be it by the pool or beach or lobby has a staff of cleaning ladies. Never a wet floor, or no paper. This is another star in my book.

And fresh flowers everywhere, this place looks nice.

When we went most of the guest were not from Canada. They are from Italy, Spain and other parts of Europe. This could change as the resorts gets busier. It does not matter to me, but some might find it a challenge to meet people just to talk to in english.

Oh, I forgot there is a disco, the DJ seems to have everything, and will play something if you ask. It’s busy some nights and not others. Again this all depends on who is there.

In the main buffet rest, there is often some form of entertainment. A magician or a band or some dancers going through.

All in all, I had a very good 2 weeks, and I recommend this resort. If you have any other questions, please post and I will do my best to answer you in a timely manner.

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Bahia Principe Varadero Ian — Canada

December 2003

Four of us from Toronto flew with Air Transat to the Bahia Principe Varadero at the end of November for a cheap weeks getaway. The flight was good and customs clearance and baggage claim was average for Cuba. This was my first trip to Varadero but not to Cuba having stayed at the Melia Cayo Coco and Delta Las Brisas in Holguin before. We were the last people (majority of the people on the bus were going to the Principe) to get off the bus, check-in was quick managed to get an ocean view room at no charge !!! The rooms are beautiful, I was worried at first because Club Med accommodations are usually quite sparse but they did a fine job of renovating after Bahia took possession of the property. I can’t get over how clean everything was , I have travelled extensively and this resort rates at the top for cleanliness. The weather was not good for that week but you can’t fault the hotel for that ! The food at the buffet was pretty good, wide selection, pasta made to order, quick service. The 3 a la carte restaurants were very disappointing not for the food itself but because it wasn’t served hot , it wasn’t just us who noticed, everyone’s food was cold, it wasn’t the waiters fault, I think they just don’t have the heating lamps necessary to keep the food warm ( or they are all being used in the buffet restaurant ), but no big deal we just went back to the buffet to fill up ! Cuba produces great coffee beans and because the weather wasn’t so warm the poor service staff were making cappuccinos by the dozen !! I love the pool, it is a large rectangle , perfect for laps not like alot of the other resorts with circle type pools running all over the place. The piano bar and cohiba bar were our favourite hangouts, good drinks, great service. The beach was nice but because of the rough sea, it was being eroded and exposing the rock underneath, I am assuming they will have to bring in more sand to put on top. The entertainment was good, especially the synchronized swimming ! We did one tour to Havana but an "unofficial" tour organized by some people we met there for which we paid $30 US each , we went through the towns you will never see on an official tour, to see how the real Cuban people live, we stopped at a local restaurant and had amazing lobster in garlic butter, we stopped at the flea market, hustler central, but if you firmly say no they don’t bother you again. I bought a beautiful oil painting for $30 US – make sure you pay the extra $2 to get the stamp or it will be taken from you at the airport, even the first 25 cigars you need a receipt and the hologram on the box ( never needed a receipt of hologram before for the first box) or they will be taken away. Overall for the price point the Prinicipe is first rate and deserves more than a four star rating ,it is way better than the Melia Cayo Coco ( a sad excuse for a 5 star resort) and for the price point better than the esteemed Barcelo Maya in Mexico (which we love). We were so happy with the Principe that we are making it an annual trip for our friends and us, just not in December!

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Bahia Principe Varadero Atinuke

December 2003

I stayed at Bahia Principe the week of Dec 13 – 20 2003. 5 women. All of us are in our mid twenties. We have all been to Cuba before at different resorts and agreed that this was the best stay so fay.. (Previously stayed at Breezes Jibacoa and Villa Cuba). I would recommend this resort to anyone. The grounds were beautiful. The staff was very friendly and helpful. Here is a breakdown of the resort.

RESORT: Very clean. Beach and pool area were always clean and there was always someone picking up any cups or garbage around. Rooms were clean spacious and air conditioned. You could control the temperature in your room. Blow dries in room are not that great so I suggest bringing your own.

Clean towels provided by pool area and you could exchange them as many times as you wanted at no cost.

FOOD: The food was better that I expected. The selection at the buffet was excellent. Large selection of fresh breads at all meals. Morning buffet consisted of every breakfast food you could think of (omelets, bacon, pancakes, French toast, fresh fruit, fruit smoothies made to order etc.) Lunch and dinner at the buffet varied daily. At lunch there was always a pasta bar at the buffet area. There was also a beach grill with burgers, chicken/ steak/grilled veggie or ham and cheese sandwiches with fries. I enjoyed the selection at the buffet more that the a la carte restaurants, of which there are three; Italian, Seafood and International.

There is also a 24hr snack bar with the same menu as the beach grill.

DRINKS: Alcohol is available 24hrs a day. Five bars in total. Excellent specialty drinks at the Piano bar. Try the daiquiris. Piano bar has the best drinks. Imported alcohol available at some bars at no extra charge. Beer is pretty good. Mini fridge in room with bottled water, beer and pop is stocked daily.

ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE: There were daily activities by the pool daily and two shows nightly. Excellent -very professionally done. Even had a synchronized swimming show one night.

Night club at the resort was usually empty so we opted to go off of the resort. Going off resorts to party is safe in Varadero. Here are my club reviews. All off resort clubs are $10 to get with unlimited drinks included

Pirates Cave – Directly beside the resort. Crowd is 75% tourists. Music is mostly North American but they played a lot of the same songs over. A lot of Eminem and 50 Cent.

La Rumba – $7 cab ride away. A lot of fun. Not very big. Mostly locals. Music was mixed. 80’s hip-hop, R&B, some salsa

The International – $5 cab ride. The best club we went to. Attached to Hotel International. Large with a lot of seating. There is a salsa show first before the dance floor opens. Great music. Hip-Hip, R&B, reggae, pop etc. Crowd was half tourist half locals.

Mambo Club – $5 cab ride away. The last time I was in Cuba this club was packed but this time it was dead. We only stayed for a few minutes. Mostly older couples. We went on a Wednesday night and apparently it gets buys on weekends.

Club Havana – $7 cab ride. Mostly tourists. Great music. Not that big. Gets busy around midnight.

Scuba Diving – There are dives avaiable daily. Bus picks up every morning at 8:45. The Bay of Pigs is a must. $70 for two dives.

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Bahia Principe Varadero Greg — Toronto

December 2003

About us:
My wife, 21-year-old daughter and I just returned from two weeks (December 13 –27) at the Bahia Principe in Varadero, Cuba. It was our first ‘all inclusive’ trip and our first family vacation outside of North America. So, we are certainly not travel experts. I can tell you right off the bat – we’ll do it again and would love to return to Varadero and the Bahia – although likely not over Christmas as the weather was a bit disappointing.

Booking the Vacation:
We were really traveling blind here – didn’t know where we wanted to go – just knew how much we had to spend. The travel agent suggested reading Debbie’s Travel Reviews and that helped us select Cuba and the Bahia Principe. One suggestion I had read on an earlier review was to e-mail the hotel and request an ocean front room – I did this and we got one – I’m not sure if the two are related but hey, it worked so I certainly advise it.

Trip down:
It was an on-going game of hurry up and wait. Got to Toronto airport at 4am (darn that’s early) to join a long but relatively fast-moving line-up at Air Transat. The plane was about an hour late leaving because of a small problem with the plane. The trip was pleasant enough – the cabin crew were very helpful. Everything I had heard about tour groups being squeezed into an airplane was true. I’m 6 feet and my legs were sure glad to reach Varadero, as it was a pretty tight fit in the plane. We had pre-booked (and paid for) seat selection and I’m glad we did because it was nice to sit together and through more good luck than good management we were among the first off the plane which allowed us to proceed through Cuban immigration very briskly.

The Cuban’s insist that each individual go through immigration separately (as compared to going through as a family in Canada). This was a bit slower than in Canada (and must have been very slow for those at the back of the plane due to line-ups). But we arrived at the baggage carousel before our luggage. The baggage experience was our first taste that things were gonna be, er, different, in that they had a guy taking the luggage off and stacking it before it had a chance to come to you. However, all our luggage arrived (which is the only important thing) and we proceeded through customs – which was surprisingly unobtrusive – didn’t really even get a glance from the customs types.

I was still on Toronto mentality and quickly found out our bus number and hurried to find it. That was just silly as we sat for exactly an hour waiting for the bus to fill up with its assigned passengers before leaving. The trip in took about a half hour and was an interesting ride through Varadero.

I would recommend that you divvy up tasks upon arrival at the hotel (one getting the luggage, one getting in line to check in) as we waited for our luggage before joining the end of a long and sluggish check-in line. After a long day, little sleep and arrival in Cuba in Canadian clothing – a long line-up was frustrating. After about a half hour I reached check-in and my heart sunk when I was told our room would not be ready for about an hour. I came back to wife and daughter and dejectedly told them we had made a mistake – this was not fun. We went down to the buffet restaurant to pass time.

I went back after about 45 mins and got our keys. We were taken to a bungalow on the west side of the compound – and upon entering the mood changed – and we fell in love with the Bahia and Varadero. The bungalow room was quite spacious for 3 people. It was clean, bright and looked out at the Ocean. My wife and I just sat smiling at each other for awhile.

Bahia Principe
Although at first there were a few frustrations (five trips to the front desk before I could get a key for the room safe, seven trips before we could get beach towels) it shortly became paradise on earth.

The beach is about a km long. It is secluded and has minimal vendors disturbing you (the few they allow on added to the fun for us – a lady taking pictures for souvenir t-shirts, a guy chopping coconuts to drink from….fun stuff). Even during the busy Christmas week we never found it over-crowded. The water was warm. Some days the ocean was smooth and some days we had enough surf for my daughter and I to body surf.

Bars and Restaurants
The buffet restaurant was fine. The serving staff was especially helpful and friendly. They certainly did appreciate a tip but it wasn’t necessary. During Christmas week with the hotel at full occupancy the lines at the buffet could be quite long but there was lots of good food to go around. It took us a few days to learn to just pick what we wanted and not try to take a bit of everything. They have a wide assortment of salads, entrees and the desert table made my waist expand every time I looked at it.

We went to each of the a la carte restaurants twice (we were there for 2 weeks). It really is advisable to book your reservations with the public relations staff in the hotel lobby sooner rather than later to assure your get the nights and times you want. Our favourite was the Italian restaurant ‘Mamma Mia’ but all three offered tasty food, great service and a fine ambience. My wife made a mistake ordering the lobster (an addition $18) at the seafood restaurant as it came burnt and over-cooked. But that was the only complaint. The lamb at the international was very good. The wine at all three was nice. And the anti-pasta buffets at all three offered a wide range including marvelous smoked salmon (Norwegian I think).

We spent a lot of time at both the pool and beach bars. Both are very informal. The food at the beach bar is great (the ham and cheese sandwiches we loved). One of the earlier reviews had suggested bringing your own glasses as the cups they give you at the beach bar (and the pool bar during the daytime) are tiny. Of course I forgot to do this but quickly remedied that with our first trip into Varadero. The bartenders laughed when they saw me approach with my newly purchased mugs but filled them right up. I’m not kidding – otherwise the cups are tiny.

The pool bar at night was good fun to sit around and meet people. Some nights the line at the bar could get quite long but I found having an American dollar bill on display could speed that up.

One warning – there is smoking everywhere – the restaurants, the bars, the lobby, the airport.

The entertainment
Our only complaint was that the entertainment started too late. During the daytime they had activities going on (beach volleyball, trivial pursuit, other stuff) but we were far more into laying on the beach and avoided all of that. In the evenings they had mini-disco at 8:30pm for the kids. This was led by a very exuberant young lady in a clown outfit. It was good fun for both the kids and the spectators. Some nights they would have a show at the pool bar at 9pm. This was usually ok except for the night they had the animal act (goats, dogs and a pony jumping through hoops). It was so bad that it was hilarious.

At 10pm every night they had a young troupe of dancers at the theatre who put on various themed shows. We enjoyed the more Cuban entertainment while my daughter loved the salute to music videos.

At 11pm the Pueblo Cubano opened. We only went a couple times because of the time but really enjoyed each evening. The Cuban band was sensational – really getting the audience involved and dancing. The Mr. Bahia contest was hilarious. One of my fav nights. And a Canadian won!

The disco started at midnight but it was obviously just for young singles. Apparently the entertainment went on til 4am but I only know that from hearsay.

One thing I must mention is the song ‘Bahia Principe’. It is still going through my head. I loved it so much that I tracked down the cd from the disc jockey ($13) and will play it for years. I’m not a dancer but nobody can sit still through that song.

The weather
We were there for 14 days. Seven I ranked as nice. Seven I ranked as not nice. Some days it was cold or windy or rainy or all of the above. We soon learned to head into Varadero on the not so nice days. Nothing can be done about the weather but I suspect when we return to Cuba it will be in March not December.

Varadero
I met a guy I knew from Toronto at the Bahia. A seasoned traveler to Cuba. He asked what we found to do in Varadero. I think he was surprised when we said LOTS. The flea market (and the two pseudo flea markets) were fun to poke around. Unlike Havana the vendors weren’t all over you. We bought some neat stuff – my wife found a stained glass lamp, some ceramics and a beautiful crocheted blanket that she loved. I’m more into kitsch and there was certainly lots of that (now decorating my home office). My daughter got her hair braided at one of the local’s houses. The Cubans are incredibly friendly people. The level of English is low but the level of effort and smiling is certainly 100%. I always felt very safe in Varadero (not Havana).

After a string of buffet days we decided to try out the local cuisine in Varadero. We had a great lunch (hamburger, pizza, and bar-b-que’d chicken with soft drinks for $8 total) one day. And also enjoyed a wonderful Christmas eve dinner of great tasting lobster with lots of alcohol for a very reasonable price at an open air place with a peaked thatched roof around 55th avenue.

There is also a mall known as Plaza American. It has a fine assortment of clothing and gifts. In particular I’ll recommend a T-shirt shop located on the north end of the courtyard. It had quality shirts and sweaters (which we needed to buy) at good prices. We also fell in love with the grocery store. My daughter’s eyes lit up at seeing Pepsi (Cuban pop is pretty, er, generic). My wife loved the crackers and cream cheese available. I had fun picking up various munchies.

Side Trips
We took two – Havana and the Dolphin cruise.

Havana: Rather than pay the $65 a head to do the formal Havana tour we rented a taxi for $150 for the day. The taxi driver spoke decent English and certainly knew his way around Havana. We enjoyed the sights (Hemingway’s bar, old Havana, new Havana, Cigar Factory, etc.) and had a delightful lunch at a backyard restaurant that the driver knew where they grilled pig over an open fire – delicious! I’m a baseball nut so I had asked the driver specifically to go to Latin-America Stadium, which unfortunately was closed but did have a small souvenir store where I went a bit crazy. The only downside of Havana was the flea market. I felt hassled, confrontational and frankly, unsafe. The vendors and individuals around were very pushy and didn’t take no for an answer very well. My fav memory is one guy asking me “Did I want a girlfriend?”. No, I replied. He then asked “How about Cigars?” I thought that was an interesting transition.

My wife got into quite an argument with a local lady who changed her price halfway through a transaction but my wife can handle that sort of thing quite well. I wouldn’t go back to the flea market.

Dolphin Cruise: The highlight of our two weeks was the catamaran trip. We had a beautiful sunny day. My daughter loved the dolphins. My wife and I loved the private island beach we stopped at for lunch, swimming and sun tanning. It was a perfect day. The crew was very entertaining and it was just perfect in very way. I felt sorry for those who took this trip on the cold or rainy days but apparently you can cancel right up to the last minute if you happen to get a nasty day. The cost for three of us was $225 US. Worth every penny.

Miscellaneous
Some random thoughts:

  • Although the Bahia was mostly Canadian, there were Germans, Italians, Poles and French there as well. Made for interesting people to meet.
  • Whoever wrote that the atmosphere was conservative in beach customs – wasn’t there when we were. Let’s just say that bikini tops appeared to be very optional.
  • We brought presents to give the maid each morning. Chocolates, toiletries, Christmas Stuff. She seemed quite grateful but I suspect it makes no difference in your maid service – they really run a clean hotel.
  • Tip the mini-bar guy or he tends to disappear for a few days. No biggie as there was more than enough alcohol to suit us at the bars, restaurants, etc.
  • Don’t buy cigars at any place other than the recognized humidors. Although it seems like half the population will try to sell you ‘cheaper’ versions they really are quite strict about this.
  • I found it handy to keep a few one-dollar bills on me at all times. You can go to hotel reception and they’ll break a $20 or whatever anytime. Probably not necessary to tip as often as I did but it didn’t hurt.
  • You will be hard-pressed to spend much money on a vacation like this. Aside from the day trips into Havana and the Dolphin cruise we spent very little. I was pleasantly shocked to find how much we returned with.
  • Here is no interac. If you want to take money out it has to be done through a non-American credit card. Do not count on accessing your chequing or savings account.
  • Toilet paper – anytime you are away from the Bahia you will be glad that you brought your own.

Overall
I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending the Bahia and Varadero to anybody. Although we a bit disappointed in the weather we had a truly wonderful time. There is something there for everyone. The other guests were friendly and easy to have conversations with (although the main one seemed to be ‘What part of Toronto are you from?”). The pool is huge and was never crowded. The staff is helpful and very friendly. We have nothing but fond memories and suntans. Cuba si!!!

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Bahia Principe Varadero Nadia — Toronto

December 2003

My boyfriend and I went down from the 22nd-29th. We flew down with Sun Wing. It was a good flight going there with the exception of being sprayed (fumigated?) just before we landed. I have no idea why the stewardess sprayed us. Maybe too many people were coughing.

It took us nearly two hours to clear the airport. Most of the time was spent waiting in line. I have no idea why some people took longer to clear than others. It almost made me not want to come back to Cuba, it was just that ridiculous. We were dropped off last so it gave us a chance to see the other resorts. They weren’t very nice looking. Our mouths dropped open when we finally saw the Bahia. It was absolutely gorgeous. We were greeted with a cold drink while we checked in. The foyer is large and all marble/tile flooring and very very clean. For the rest of our stay we would see maids cleaning EVERYTHING. Our rooms weren’t ready yet so we stepped in to the Cohiba bar. Wow! This was our favourite spot. It’s a very classy place and they make a good stiff drink. It’s very quiet in the afternoon, but gets packed just before dinner time.

We finally got to see our room. We were once again very impressed. It was quite spacious. On one side there was a daybed and a vanity table and the balcony and the other side a door led to the bathroom and bedroom. Of course it was really clean. We met our maid, she was wonderful. She wrote us on our first day to welcome us which I thought was a nice touch. Our fridge was always restocked regularly. A different person supplies the water so I would leave a little tip on the fridge with a note (in Spanish) for more water because you will need it. Getting water was a problem, more at night than at any other time. They have water coolers everywhere but they were always empty. Even the bars ran out at night.

The food was okay. Very European influenced food. The only good thing that came out of that was good bread and good wine. I am not knocking Europeans, it just a bit of culture shock. I am only preparing you Canadians. Their cuisine is a little different than ours. For instance they like cold cuts and olives for breakfast. And they are big fans of deviled eggs and egg salads. I’m guessing because those were the kinds of foods that were served. If you are a picky eater, you will be eating a lot of bread and pasta. The desserts were really good. The beach bar had some pretty tasty burgers and fries. They take a while to come but it is worth the wait. I actually preferred the beach bar at night the staff was friendlier and it was good chilling time. Due to small number of people the beach bar has become the 24 hour snack bar. The Mojito bar in the pueblo cabana is the real 24 hour bar.

I got very ill during my stay. I don’t know what caused it. Thank god for the satellite TV I actually got to see a lot of good movies. There were two English movie channels, CNN and MTV.

I am so sorry to say this, but the beach was disappointing. I was dreaming of white sand and clear blue waters. I think there was a big storm just before we arrived and it wrecked the beach. Palpas were on the ground, the beach itself needed a good raking. The water was pretty rough the first few days we were there, so that may have contributed as well. The nice thing was there was staff on the beach that got your beach chairs and cushions for you. Okay, the very worst thing was the fact that the beach bar was so far away from the beach and the service was slow. There was only one bartender. It was really annoying to wait ten minutes for a drink and make another 5 minute trip back to your beach chair. It was actually faster to go to the bar in the hotel.

I only went to the Disco once, it was really fun! They played a decent mix that would please everyone. I heard the Cave was pretty good too.

The clientele (this week) was mostly French, Spanish, and Italian. There were very few English speaking guests which made it very hard to socialize. Even the bartenders spoke little English. It made me wish that I had practiced my Spanish a little more. The resort in general was a little too quiet. The staff is friendly but they seem a little more cautious, especially the entertainment crew. I think the language barrier was the problem. Whenever games were announced, it had to be translated into 4 different languages. I think when the resort reaches the proper capacity, things should become livelier.

Overall, the resort is wonderful. For me the overall look of the resort is my number one priority. I really felt like I was on my honeymoon. We are in our early 20’s so it wasn’t the intention, but oh well. Next time we will bring a group of people with us.

TIPS Learn some basic Spanish, you will need it. Hoard as much bottled water as you can When asking for water (agua )say (agua mineral) or they will assume you want soda water (agua con gas) Stay away from weird looking sauces if you have a weak stomach

This resort isn’t the best place for kids, my b/f disagrees but if you saw what the called the kiddie pool you would know why. Its too quiet

IMPORTANT When buying cigars you must have your passport with you. Your tour rep will tell you that you will never need your passport but he is lying. The sell cigars in the resort, but since they had no humidor, we went to the Plaza Americas and bought them there instead.

The passport law was enforced in October.

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Bahia Principe Varadero Luanne — Wallaceburg Ontario

November 2003

About Us
My husband & I along with another couple just returned from the Bahia Principe Varadero. November 8-15. We have been travelling the same week every year for the past 6 years. Our previous trips have been to the Dominican Republic. (Playa Naco & Playa Dorada, Puerta Plata, Club Viva Dominicus & Viva Dominicus Palace, Bayahibe and Occidental Grand Flamenco, Punta Cana) This year we decided to try Cuba. We are in our mid 40’s. We prefer the beach to the pool. We are early risers and night life isn’t really an issue because with the beach and all the activities we are exhausted and usually in bed early. Because there isn’t much information on the Bahia Principe, I decided to write this review since I always find the reviews on this site very helpful.

Booking/Airline
We booked our trip 3 weeks prior to departure with Sun Holidays. Got a good price $820 pp taxes included. We booked with Sunwing/Red Seal and the airline was Jetsgo. We were told that it was a no-frills airline. No food, no pillows, no blankets, no in-flight movies. Food would be available at a cost. This was no problem, we came prepared. To our surprise we received a meal & drink compliments of Sunwing both ways. The service was great. That was probably the best flight we’ve had. Nice smooth landings. I don’t really like flying, but if all flights were like the one with Jetsgo…No Problem!!

Varadero Airport
When we landed in Varadero there was a long line-up at customs. An Air Transat flight had landed just before us. It was a long slow process. We landed at 10am and didn’t get to our resort until 2pm and our resort is only a 30 minute drive! A guy came on our bus while we were waiting at the airport and sold us beer for the ride which we appreciated!

Check In/Rooms
Check in at our resort went very quickly. The receptionists were pleasant and could speak good english. They did keep our passports but I had read about that in some reviews so I wasn’t too concerned. We picked them up the next morning. We got the rooms we requested, top floor, cathedral ceilings, king sized bed, adjoining rooms, balcony. They look just like the brochure. They were very clean, comfortable and roomy. Bathrooms were nicely laid out with a separate room for the toilet. We always had nice hot showers and the maid left 4 nice bath towels and a washcloth every day. The maid did a great job and we left her gifts everyday, soap, shampoo, toothpaste. She left thank-you notes and always made swans or hearts with the towels. The sockets are 220. We brought a converter for our razer, curling iron and to charge the batteries for my digital camera. There is a hair dryer on the wall in the bathroom.

There are no dressers to put your clothes in but there is a good sized closet with lots of hangers and large shelves. There is a long padded bench that was perfect for leaving our suitcases on. In the closet there is a safe and a fridge. The safe was $2.50US per day. The fridge is stocked every day with 2 beers, 2 pops, 2 waters. If you happen to be there when the guy comes to restock, you can easily talk him into leaving you extra or choose the soft drinks that you like. That was great because every afternoon before supper the 4 of us sat on our balcony and had a few beers. We didn’t have ocean view but faced the entrance to the resort. It was a nice view, although it was a bit noisy from the air conditioning unit. The air conditioning in the room worked great.

The Resort/Layout
I was impressed with the main building. All the walls are brightly painted, some with murals. The floors are marble. There is a large staircase in the main lobby and two glass elevators which are handy for taking your luggage to your room. Otherwise, we always used the stairs to help wear off all the food and drink we consumed. The building is closed in with large windows. We found this different since in the Dominican, most buildings are open air concept. After experiencing the strong winds all week, we understood why the buildings were closed in.

We were given a map of the resort at check-in, but is was a poor photocopy and I could hardly read it. The resort is quite large and I suggest walking around and seeing what’s there your first couple of days. There were a few things that we didn’t discover until later in the week. There are lots of pathways through the resort. Be careful because when they get wet, they can get slippery.

There are a few shops in the Pueblo Cubano section. They sell snacks, liquor, cigars etc. The buildings are very cute and colourful.

The Weather
Unfortunately, we did not have good weather. The winds were strong from morning until night. It rained every day. On Wednesday it rained 7 times just during the daylight hours. The rain never lasted too long, but when it wasn’t raining it was cloudy. There were a few sunny breaks now and then. We would watch the clouds and say "Here comes about 10 minutes of sun…get ready" Then it was very warm. Friday was our last full day there and that’s when we saw the most sunshine. We still managed to get a tan.

We always travel the same week in November every year and this is the first time we experienced weather like this.I’m not sure if this is the norm for Cuba in November or we just hit a bad week. I was cold on a few occasions and wished I had a light jacket.

The Beach
I have read other reviews that commented on how beautiful the beach was so I was looking forward to it but the weather really spoiled it for us. We were quite disappointed because the beach is our favourite place to be on vacation. We love to swim in the ocean, kayak, play games on the beach or just lay and sunbath.

It seemed narrow and there were rocks along the shoreline where the beach bar was. Where was the soft white sand? The winds were very strong, the water was rough. The red flag was up most of the week and there were no water sports. A lot of the beach was washed away and many of the beach umbrellas were tipped over.

We spoke with some people that were on their second week there and they said that the beach was calm and there were no rocks the first week. On Thursday and Friday the weather started getting better and the beach was looking nicer. The sand was getting softer and whiter and many of the rocky areas were getting covered with sand again.

We walked way down the beach as far as Sandals. There were many resorts along the way. We couldn’t really check them out because there is so much vegetation & trees between the beach and the buildings. We saw a few vendors selling their goods.

Just a warning…if you’re on the beach and you go up to the bar or the washroom, wear your sandals!! There are little burrs that stick to the bottom of your bare feet. Ouch! It was funny to watch people walk through the grass and have to stop every couple of steps to pick the burs off the bottom of their feet. I’m sure someone was laughing at me the first time I did it!!

The Bars
The drinks were excellent. The service at the Beach Bar was great. They had blenders and would mix up a nice banana drink if you asked them to. They also had great snacks. You order them from the bartender (they have a list ) and they make them fresh. Hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches. I loved the ham & cheese sandwich. The chicken breast sandwich is also good.They serve them all with french fries. There is a bar with all the fixings (tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, mayo, ketchup etc)

Our favourite bar at night was the Piano Bar in the main building. They have the best drinks & the best variety and they serve them in appropriate glasses, no plastic. The pianist is very talented. The songs she plays are all familiar(Elton John, Bryan Adams, The Beatles,etc.) The decor is very interesting. Wooden floors, many pictures on the walls, lots of old trunks and cabinets. The furniture is comfortable and spaced out nicely so it is not crowded at all. It was a very relaxing place. People did tend to dress up in this bar. You wouldn’t go in there with your bathing suit on.

There is another piano bar in the Pueblo Cubano section. We didn’t discover it until Thursday evening. It was very quaint and the bartenders there were great. Again, the drinks are in glasses. They even brought a bowl of peanuts and a bowl of olives to our table.

We really didn’t use the bar by the pool much. It seemed to be the busiest bar.

The Food
The food was really very good. We booked all 3 a la cartes our first day at the customer service desk in the main lobby and were able to get the days and times we wanted. The other days we ate at the buffet. There was always a good variety of food. There’s a pasta station where they cook the pasta to your liking. The bread & buns are very fresh and they have quite a variety. There was a carving station with meat & fish. Lots of vegetables, salad, potatoes, rice, fresh fruit. My only complaint was that the food was never hot. Things that we normally eat hot were actually cold, even if you arrived at the buffet when it first opened.

The desserts were amazing and they had so much to choose from! For breakfast there was a station where they cooked eggs to your liking or omelets. (They were hot.) There was bacon and sausages and (cold) homefries. The food was still good regardless of the temperature. Most days at breakfast there was champagne available and at supper there was some type of special drink at the entrance.

The service was pretty good. There are many servers working in the buffet and they serve you water, coffee, pop, and lots of wine. If there was something missing from your table (napkins, forks, salt & pepper) they were always quick to get it for you.

The a la cartes were amazing. There is a Seafood, Italian and Gourmet. The only downfall is that if you go you can expect to be there for 2 hours. The service is great, but they really space it out. First you get appetizers (self serve), then a soup, then the main course, then dessert. Every dish was served on a large white plate and the presentation was nicely done. The servers were very attentive. It seemed like everytime I took a few sips out of my glass of water or wine, they were right there filling it up again. The wine was pretty good and you always got a welcome cocktail when you arrived.

Side Trips
We took the bus into Varadero 3 times and really enjoyed it. There is a double decker bus you can take (bus schedule at the service desk in the lobby and at the entrance to the resort where you catch the bus.) It runs from 9am until 9pm every day. It makes several stops and you can get off and back on as many times as you want. Just show your ticket ($2US/day) There are signs and times at each bus stop. We got off at Central Park where there is a large flea market. There are a few more flea markets and little shops and restaurants along the way. We felt very safe walking downtown. You can purchase a can of beer for $1US. They allow you to get on the bus with it. Actually, at one bus stop a man got on the bus will a tray of drinks for sale.

I was really impressed with the items for sale at the flea markets. They were very reasonably priced…no need to barter and the salespeople are not at all aggressive. However, if you bought more than 1 item they always knocked a few bucks off. There were many wooden items like animal carvings, (I bought dolphins for my daughters), flowers, ships, vases, and cars. I also purchased a wooden flamingo about 3.5 ft high. Very nice! There are t-shirts, jewellery, many crocheted items, purses, etc.

Other ways to get to town are mopeds (rented at the entrance to the resort for $9US/hr), funny little beetle-like cars, a train, horse & buggy or taxi. There are bicycles at the resort for use. The highway is really not that busy and they drive pretty sane. I enjoyed the old cars that we saw driving around.

We booked the catamaran trip for Tuesday. It would have been a wonderful trip BUT the weather didn’t cooperate. It looked like it was going to be a great day! The sun was shining at 7:00 until the bus picked us up at 9:00 in the lobby. It was only a 10 minute bus ride to the catamaran. It was a huge boat and we were the first ones to get on so of course we ran right to the front bench. There were about 35 people on the catamaran and 3 people running the boat and serving drinks. There was a bar in the centre of the boat with a cover over most of the seating area (except where we were sitting). The dark clouds started rolling in and off we went. When you looked at the sky, where it looked the darkest that’s where we were heading. The waves got bigger. Some had to be 12ft. It started to downpour. We were so glad we brought towels with us and I had taken a gravol before we left. Our towels got soaked but they still helped to keep us warm. I had goosebumps. Some people were drinking and dancing and it didn’t seem to bother them. The 2 bartenders were ducking behind the bar. I couldn’t get the song from Gilligan’s Island out of my head. Finally after about 20 minutes the rain stopped and the clouds started to break. We got to a large penned in area where the dolphins were. There was a long dock and a small building where they sell souvenirs. There were 3 dolphins. They put about 20 people in the water and the dolphins swim around, do flips, and kiss everyone. There is a photographer there if you want your picture taken with them. For $10US you can get an 8X10 glossy. They deliver it to your hotel the next morning. Ours was actually quite good and was worth the money. After the dolphins, we sailed by some small islands and ended up at an island with a white sandy beach. This is where we had lunch and refreshments. The lunch was lobster and shrimp or chicken with rice vegetables and rolls and dessert. We spent a couple hours at this island which was too long, but because we didn’t stop to snorkel ( it was too rough) we had extra time. On the way back to shore they put the sail up. What a smooth ride. It was much calmer. Then they played music and the bartenders were dancing and singing. It turned out to be a fun time considering how it started. I would love to go again with good weather. It would be an awesome time.

Other guests
There were lots of Canadians at the resort which we enjoyed. We met many people. It’s so nice to chat with people at the bar, at the table next to you etc. I’m guessing that 80% of the guests could speak English. The workers at the resort could speak and understand English pretty good too. This is what we found different from our previous trips where English speaking people were always the minority.

Activities/Shows
There was an activity sheet posted everyday. We didn’t really see many going on. We usually always get involved in the activities, but there was nothing going on at the beach other than volleyball. On Thursday there was suppose to be a beach party at 4:30. We waited by the beach bar until 4:45 then walked down the beach trying to find it with no luck. Other than the guys playing volleyball, we didn’t participate in any events which is unusual for us. One day we sat by the pool and noticed a dance lesson going on, but they didn’t announce it. We started to watch shows on 3 different occasions, but they were costumes and dancing. Other people we spoke with really enjoyed them, they just weren’t our thing. We did watch the Mr. Bahia contest and it was quite entertaining.

Overall
The resort is beautiful and we were very satisfied with everything. The weather really let us down, but we can’t fault the resort for that.

This trip was much quieter than our previous ones. Maybe it was the weather? Maybe it was the mixture of guests that week ( there seemed to be a lot of seniors.) The music was never loud enough for me. One day at the beach bar they were playing a Celine Dion CD (soft, background music). I love her music, but I can listen to her at home. I want to hear Cuban music in Cuba! Some people may not like the loud music or activities so this would appeal to them. There was no music in the restaurants either, which I think would add a lot to the atmosphere.

Varadero is very clean and the roads are in great shape. The people are friendly and not aggressive, very reserved. They seem very educated and professional. However they didn’t seem to let loose and want to party the way Dominicans do. The bartenders weren’t singing and dancing and doing tricks. However, they provided great service. We always get to know the activity people, servers, and even the gardeners by name. That didn’t happen this trip. However, this was our experience and I hate to generalize.

We will return to Cuba some day and I would not hesitate to go back to Bahia Principe.

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Bahia Principe Varadero from LC — Toronto

November 2003

Overview
My boyfriend and I spent a week at the Bahia Principe Resort in Varadero, Cuba the week of November 1st. We are in our late 20’s / early 30’s and wanted to share our thoughts and experiences! Previous all-inclusive holidays include: Copacabana, Acapulco, Mexico; Iberostar Paraiso Del Mar, Mayan Riviera, Mexico; Grand Flamenco Occidental, Punta Cana, Cuba; Rendezvous Resort, St. Lucia. We have also been to Jamaica, Barbados and Tobago. This was our first time to Cuba.

Booking / Flight
We booked online last-minute (well, phoned the toll-free number). We had never booked this way before, and were quite hesitant. No problems! We picked up the tickets at the SunWing counter at the airport with no waiting. We flew Jetsgo from Toronto. I had read some reviews on Jetsgo prior to the flight and got rather scared that the flight may be delayed or some other disaster would occur. The check-in was the fastest I have ever seen. There was NO ONE in line!! The flight was great. We had been warned by our travel agent that there would be no movie and no dinner. We came prepared with snacks. To our surprise, the tour operator, Sunwing, sponsored the dinner and one beverage! The attendants were great, very attentive and cheerful. We got smiley-face lollipops and buttons going and returning. The seats were very wide with tons of leg-room. The flight was better than all other charters that I have flown.

Hotel Transfer / Check-in
Unfortunately, once we got on the bus to go to the hotel, we couldn’t leave right away. I’m not sure what happened, but I think there was a delay in getting some people’s bags off of the plane. The tour guide said that they couldn’t leave without a busload of 40 people. We had 39 people and had to wait for almost an hour until the manager said it was OK to go!! By that time we were tired.

Check-in was smooth. We arrived at the hotel just as the buffet restaurant was closing (10 pm) so they encouraged us to go eat prior to checking in. Apparently, they kept some people’s passports overnight (I don’t know why), but they didn’t keep ours. A bellhop helped us with our luggage to our room. We got there to discover the key didn’t work in the lock. After 3 people trying, and going back to the hotel desk, we finally got a new key cut from the master key after 45 minutes. Be aware, the room numbers are etched into the key, so if you lose it everyone will know exactly which room it is for! I looked at the number and they had actually given us the wrong key. They figured that they gave our key to someone else….

Rooms
We e-mailed the resort ahead of time to request a top-floor, ocean-view room with a queen/king bed. We received a confirmation e-mail that stated they received our request and would do their best to accommodate us. To our surprise / disappointment, we were brought to a room on the first floor, with no view and 2 separate beds!! After leaving our bags in the room, we went back to the front desk. They had a paper with our flights’ room assignments, and most people on our flight were given a first floor room. There were other people there explaining that they didn’t get their choices either. The front desk staff was taking everyone’s names down on a piece of paper and said that we may be able to change rooms in a day or two. The resort was full. The hotel bungalows weren’t completely finished, but I think they meant capacity of the rooms that were ready. After one night in our first-floor room, we decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle to move and we cuddled in one bed instead!

We saw some other rooms when the doors were open and in comparison ours seemed quite small. It was on a corner. Nonetheless it was clean. One of the beds was quite firm, the other quite springy. Both were overall OK. Unfortunately, the pillows were really flat and hard…..

The bathroom was nice — clean and bright. The toilet is in a separate little room. The shower curtains extended only half-way across the bar, so be careful or you’ll get water on the floor! The room was well sound-proofed and we didn’t hear ANYTHING from above or beside us.

The electric sockets are 220V. We bought one converter before leaving. I don’t think you can borrow them from the hotel.

The room has a safe. You have to pay $2.50 US / day ($15/week) for the key. We got it, but don’t know if we needed to… I didn’t bring a lot of cash, our biggest valuable was the digital camera which was always with us. Oh yeah, and we brought a laptop to download the pictures. We kept it in the bottom of the suitcase as the safe isn’t big enough for it anyway. We didn’t lock our suitcases.

Our room was cleaned daily and the mini-bar restocked. We received 2 waters, 2 beers and 2 orange pops and/or colas. On two days we didn’t receive any new water. Unfortunately, bottles of water are not available at the bars during the day. I’m not sure why, but they are only available after 10 pm. As a result, we would hide the water in our suitcases whether we drank it or not, to ensure that our fridge was restocked. I kept hydrated with juices and other drinks! Good thing I wasn’t watching my weight!

Restaurants
After reading a variety of reviews on food in Cuba I prepared myself for the worst. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. The food was quite good – I definitely found myself eating a lot of it. Beef is scarce in Cuba. There is a lot of pork and chicken. No problems with under-cooked food. If anything, it was slightly overcooked, but this made me quite happy… better than it being undercooked! Not gourmet but easily edible. I loved the fresh orange juice maker. I never realized how much I liked guava. I ate a ton! The breads were awesome, as was the super-strong coffee. We bought lots of coffee to take home. Sometimes it was hard to find a clean table (especially at breakfast), so eventually we’d just sit somewhere whether or not it was clean, and eventually they would notice that your table was dirty and you had no utensils. They did their best, I think that they had a spike in occupancy the week I was there (all previous posts said the hotel was not full) and they clearly did not have the staff to accommodate the increased volume. I’m still not sure if you are expected to get your coffee yourself or if they routinely serve it for you… finding mugs was tricky…

There are 3 a la carte restaurants: the Seafood, the Italian and the International. The International was our favourite and we had “surf and turf” – steak and lobster. The seafood was the next best. As a part of the appetizer buffet there is awesome smoked salmon. The appetizers were actually the best part of the meal (followed by the soups). Book your reservations in the lobby beside the check-in desk. We booked on our second day, and had no problem securing our choice dates and times at each restaurant. You can book for dinner at each restaurant once. Bring nice evening clothes for the restaurants. They create a nice atmosphere with candles and dim lighting. Men are not allowed to wear sandals and must wear long pants.

I didn’t get sick at all. They warn you not to drink the tap water. It is safe, but foreign digestive systems may not be accustomed to it. My boyfriend developed mild diarrhea, as did some other people we spoke to. I gave him an anti-diarrheal, which worked, but he still had cramping over 1 week later. He started antibiotics after returning home. I’m not sure what went wrong with him and not me. I’m very careful about constantly washing my hands and brought some hand sanitizer for when I was out. He laughed at me at first…

My only problem was that the breakfast buffet closes at 10 am and lunch doesn’t start until 1 pm. We were not early risers, so missed breakfast twice. I guess they need time to clean up and prepare, but it would have been nice if lunch could have started at 11:30 or noon. There is always food available in the interim at the beach bar, but not a lot of variety – mainly sandwiches. Mind you, the sandwiched were very good and very fresh!

Bars
There is a beach bar, a pool bar and an indoor, air-conditioned piano/cigar bar. In the evening there is a bar in the Pueblo Cubano section and in the disco. Some people brought travel mugs for their drinks – we forgot ours. The cigar bar made the best drinks, but they give them to you in real glasses, so I don’t think they like you to bring them to the beach!! The cigar bar doesn’t sell cigars. Someone plays the piano in the bar in the evening, which creates a nice atmosphere. This bar and the pool bar are open until 11 pm. I think the beach bar, the bar in the disco and the bar in the Pueblo Cubano section are open later. I never stayed up that late!

Some people regularly tipped the bartenders. They get served first. We saved our tips for others… the guy who cut us a new key, some of the waiters etc.

Beach
Oh so nice. Warm. Clear. Blue and green. Perfect.

There are TONS of beach chairs. I can’t imagine them ever running out. There is a lot of shade. Apparently, they only have 200 pads for the chairs, so not everyone can get one of these.

Yes, there are rocky outcrops at the margins of the hotel property. There are stairs so that you can walk over them and continue as far up or down the beach as you like. After seeing some of the other hotel’s beaches side-by-side with loud music and beach vendors, I really appreciated the seclusion of our quiet stretch of beach.

There are a lot of free activities. We went out on a catamaran with one of the hotel guides. They will let you take the catamaran out by yourself, if you tell them that you are experienced. Beware, however, we saw a group go out claiming they were “experienced sailors” and the hotel people had to go rescue them after over an hour. The winds can get strong so you have to know what you are doing. There are also kayaks, banana boats, paddle boats etc.

Hotel Entertainment / Nightlife
The nightly shows (10 pm) were great and the dancers are very good! As a former dancer, I can vouch for their technical dancing abilities. They did a synchronized swimming show in the pool one evening, which was a nice change.

After the show, there was often a live band in the Pueblo Cubano section. They were very lively and the hotel staff would take guests up to the front to dance salsa with them and the band. Waiters provided table service. There is also a bar in this section that is air-conditioned. It has a small stage with a guitar players and/or saxophonists.

There is an on-site disco, which was apparently very popular. We didn’t go. There is a variety of music played here. “The Cave” one of Varadero’s popular nightclubs is right at the end of the entranceway to get to the hotel. Again, we didn’t go, but for $10 USD you can get it and get unlimited drinks until 3 am. Another good one, I heard was “Mambo Club”. You can get there by taxi and I think the entrance fee is the same. Tourists and locals frequent each.

Weather
When we were there it was quite warm – 27 to 30 degrees Celsius. A little humid, but not unbearable. Unfortunately, we did have some cloudy moments, and one day the sun never really came out. It often rained in the evenings (8 pm-ish) or through the night. A few days there were short (15 min – 1.5 hr) sun-showers. Most of the time people just kept doing what they were doing, unless there was lightning. During this time, they organized a huge bingo game by the pool bar.

Tours
We took one of the tours to Havana – one that involved seeing Old Havana by foot, new Havana by bus and ended the evening at the fabulous Tropicana show!! It was well worth it. It just gives you a tiny flavour of all the rich culture, but better than nothing. Cost was $100 USD. My boyfriend HATES guided tours, and another couple talked him into this one. In the end, he LOVED it. He originally wanted to take a taxi or rent a car and drive to Havana, then tour on our own. If you plan to spend a day or two there, this may be an option. But, there is so much to see that you’d have to really know where you are going to take it all in. Our tour guide was great and answered everyone’s incessant questions!! He was humorous and genuine. He worked hard to ensure that everyone was having a good time.

Only problem were the people in the museums and elsewhere in Havana. I know that Cubans are not as wealthy as us, but I found that they really begged for tips. They would be really nice, insist on taking your picture for you, then ask for money. We were quite generous with tipping, but didn’t like that we felt forced.

We rented mopeds on two occasions. The cost is $ 9 USD for the first hour, and $3 for additional hours. Maximum cost is $25 per day. I rode on the back, I actually own a motorcycle and have my license, but am uncomfortable driving without a helmet. Bring your driver’s license and you are set! There was always at least one available, but if you are planning a big outing, you may want to reserve one. The first time out, we drove to the nearby village of Cardenas. An interesting town, there are tons of horse-drawn carts and bicycles. Neat to see, but you don’t need to spend more than an hour driving through here. After over 3 hours, we put $2 of gas in the tank and over-filled it!! The second day we drove around Varadero and did a little shopping at the big “Plaza America”. There is a grocery store here, which also doubles as a liquor store and also a cigar shop. There are lots of international clothes and accessories as well.

Other tours included a jungle tour, helicopter tours, jeep safari tours, swimming with dolphins, catamaran tours etc.

Many people took the bus from the resort to Varadero. It is $2 USD and covers you for the full day. I hear that it can be tricky, ‘cause the buses come only once per hour. Little yellow Co-co taxis are a fun way to get to and from Varadero.

Hotel activities
My boyfriend brought his racket to play tennis on one of the eight nicely-maintained courts. The hotel will supply rackets, which are of good quality. Many people seemed to play – mostly early in the morning (8 am-ish) before the sun got too hot.

There are bicycles available to borrow at the hotel. We planned to do this, but didn’t have time. They have a lot of them available!! They all looked very new and in great condition.

They have daily dance classes, water aerobics, ping-pong, beach volleyball… you name it! There is a gym and it is huge and air-conditioned. They have a stretch class at 10 am, followed by a step class at 10:30 am. I thought about going… but decided to sleep in instead.

There was enough music and activity around the pool that you didn’t get bored. However, not too much noise as to be a disturbance. Volume was good, loud enough that you knew what was going on, but not blasting, so you could tune it out and sleep if you wished!!

A male masseuse is available for massages.

Demographics
When we were there approximately 75% of the guests were Canadian. Others were from Germany, Italy, and Belgium. There were very few children there, I saw no more than 3 or 4 the whole week. Most were young, aged 2 to 5 years old. For the most part, there were couples. Most were in their late 20’s, mid 30’s and early 40’s. We saw very few seniors. There were a few female-female pairings. Not many large groups of people. Everyone was so friendly.

Check-out
Check-out was smooth. You have to check-out at noon. Our flight out wasn’t until 8:30 pm. Our luggage was locked up and we went back to the beach! At 4 pm, we checked at the front desk and they had a large number of hospitality rooms so we could shower and changed. They had placed numerous towels, soaps and shampoos in the rooms and they were very clean.

Packing Tips • I wished I had brought more snacks. I brought a total of 6 granola bars. For the tours and mid-day I would have loved something else to snack on. Apparently, there are chips and snacks available for purchase at the store in the hotel, but we didn’t go into the stores. • Many people brought travel mugs. Not a must-have, but probably would have been nice. • We didn’t bring an umbrella, and were caught in the rain in downtown Varadero. If at the hotel, they have many umbrellas available for loan. • Hand sanitizer. • Squares of toilet paper or tissue. I got tired of dropping a dollar every time I needed to use the bathroom outside of the hotel. • A few bottles of water. My dehydrated boyfriend hogged all the water from our fridge.

• If I had room, I would have brought a pillow….

Check with your flight to confirm weight allowances. We were apparently 20 kg overweight! Anyhow, we were told that this would cost us over $100 USD. However, he quickly offered to waive this and we could just give him whatever we thought was fair. My boyfriend, confused, turned to me and asked, “Is it OK to tip him?” (being an airport counter employee). He quickly piped in, “OH YES! You can tip me!”…

Overall
The staff was nice and friendly. Not as friendly as in the Dominican, but the difference is likely due to culture. Most spoke some degree of English, so with their English combined with my attempts at Spanish, we got by! If I couldn’t ever express myself, there was always someone nearby who was fluent.

For perspective:
The beach was really nice. The sand in Punta Cana can’t be beat, but I liked the secluded nature of the beach at the Bahia and the fact that people from other hotels weren’t constantly walking by.

The food was better than the Dominican, that’s for sure!

I felt nice and safe both on and off the resort and didn’t worry about theft. I didn’t get hassled the way I have in the Dominican and Mexico.

In my opinion, there wasn’t much to buy, and the stuff in the stores was very expensive. Things at the market in Havana were cheaper than in Varadero. The people in Varadero won’t barter with you. I’m a souvenir shopper, and bought a lot more in the Dominican and Mexico. Postcards were $1 USD each! I wished I had bought them in Havana where I saw them for 2 for $1. It costs $0.50 for stamps to Canada.

We spoke to many people who had been to Varadero before. One couple said they had been 6 or 7 times and that the Bahia was the “best resort in Varadero”.

FYI, we met a group of 7 ladies who went from Saturday to Saturday traveling from Toronto. They told us that when they landed (the day before us), they got on the bus to transfer to the hotel and were told that the Bahia was overbooked. They were taken to the Barcelo Solymar!! This group actually spent one night at the Barcelo and then insisted on being changed to the Bahia. They said the Barcelo was not as nice – and that it was very quiet and boring. They spent the morning calling around (the tour operator and travel agents, I guess) and finally got rooms at the Bahia. Apparently everyone else stayed at the Barcelo… I hope they don’t continue to have problems with overbooking.

To be truthful, everything negative I have said simply to provide fair balance. We went with great attitudes and didn’t let any of these problems bother us. We didn’t really hear other people complaining either. We had an awesome, relaxing yet culturally stimulating time.

I would definitely go back to this hotel.

If you have questions, I can try to answer via e-mail: travel99girl@yahoo.ca

See pictures at http://community.webshots.com/user/travel99girl

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Bahia Principe Varadero Nathalie and Tony — Oakville

November 2003

My Husband and I just returned late last night from Veradero and thought we would share with you our experience. We are in our early to mid 30s and booked our trip, for the first time, doing last minute. As always, before booking a resort, we read many reviews on Debbie’s Dominican to see where the best place to stay may be. For many reasons…many having to do what we read on this site, we were left to decide between 3 hotels. Sol Palmeros, Breezes Veradero and Bahia Principe. Being that we had stayed at Bahia Principe in Mayan Riviera and loved it, we decided to stay at the Bahia Principe.

First and foremost, we were a bit worried about going at the end of October and booking a last minute trip. Would we do it again….definitely!!!! There is something to say about traveling off season…..no delays at airports.

We arrived in Veradero at 8:00pm and went through customs fairly quickly. Let’s put it this way, the buffet in our hotel closed at 10:00pm and we were able to check in, go to our room and make it in time to eat something (this is after a 45 minute drive to our hotel). I wanted to thank the person who told us that the hotels would want to hold on to our passport overnight for paper purposes as we were not worried to do so as most other guests were and we were able to reassure them that this is expected and to not worry. I also want to thank the person who told us to bring toilet paper for the Airport….there is no paper in the stall and someone is there to sell you some…unless you have your own.

Rooms- being off season, we did get the oceanfront view as requested and worth it…the view was beautiful. The room was a good size and the bed was surprisingly comfortable. The air conditioning worked-> most nights we had to turn it off.

Staff- Our only complaint was the Receptionists. Being that this is a new resort, we got the sense that they were not familiar with the resort. As well, we didn’t receive the usual "cocktail drink" and welcome we usually did on past trips…it was almost like we surprised them with our arrival. I am sure that during peak season this will be different. Other than that, the staff was very friendly. You can’t help but feel compassion for them as they do not make a lot of money a month, yet they are very intelligent people. Working on a resort is one of the top jobs there as they get the opportunity to make more money with tips….so tip away…or bring stuff with you… clothes you don’t wear anymore…especially name brands, sunglasses you don’t like anymore and stuff like toothpaste, Advil/Tylenol, shampoo/conditioner, shaving cream and razors. We had bought a student pack that had it all. The person we gave it too was sooooo grateful and happy to receive it….especially the shaving cream.

Beach- The beach was gorgeous… white sand, blue/green water. Being that it was off season, I can’t really say if there are enough chairs for everyone, but I think there will be. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to enjoy it as much as we would like too as from Thursday, the ocean was very choppy because of the weather…..not something you would most likely experience during the peak season. We knew that’s the risk you take when traveling when we did.

Weather- before booking, my husband and I kept looking at Veradero weather forecast for the week (www.weather.com) we were planning to go away (being that we had never gone away in hurricane season). It was forecasting partly cloudy for most of the week with anywhere from 10 to 30% chance of precipitation. So, we were not disappointed when we woke up and it was cloudy. The beginning of the week was excellent. As mentioned above, Thursday the weather changed a bit. It did rain early in the morning but by the time we had finished breakfast, it had cleared up. It was comfortably windy, but unfortunately, with the wind, came the waves in the ocean. Overall, no complaints with the weather. Mostly, we had good weather…it was usually sunny with a few cloudy moments and a bit of rain.

Pool- there is only one pool for the resort but it is a very good size. We are not usually pool people, but we got to spend a lot of time there and had a great time. Our only complaint is that, when they did have events, that the music and microphone was not loud enough, so we were not "feeling" it.

Food- Anything that I had ever heard about Cuba from anyone who had ever been there, including my husband who’d been there once before, is that don’t expect anything from the food. Well, I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised because the food was actually very good. This resort has a Seafood, Italian and International A la Carte Restaurants plus Buffet. We enjoyed everyone of them except Seafood (it was all booked so we got to enjoy the Italian Restaurant twice….p.s. the menu changed as well so we got to enjoy something else the 2nd time around). The buffet had a "Cuban food" section and we found this food to be very good. So, Enjoy!!!

Drinks- They were plentiful but served in very small plastic glasses. By the time you walked from the bar to the pool, your drink was done and you had to go back (and believe me the distance is not far) So, we would suggest you bring your own Glass/Cup.

Entertainment- The shows were good. My husband and I travel quite a bit and this was the first time either one of us ever saw a "water" show at a resort. It was done in the pool and we were very impressed with the synchronize swimming. The shows were on every night at 10:00pm to 11:00pm then, this was usually followed by a live band at the Pueblo Cubano found on the resort…..we got the opportunity to hear great talent, we highly recommend it. On a few occasion we made it out to the Discothèque on the resort. If you want to see some great dancing, this is the place to go….well actually anywhere in Veradero. P.S. the DJ also played "North American" music.

Overall, we really enjoyed this resort and would stay there again. Being a new resort, there is always room for improvement but considering it only opened in August, they are well on there way to being a 5 Star hotel (keeping in mind that is Cuba and you can’t expect the same standards as you might in other resorts somewhere else). What we did like was that they realize that they are new and got us all to fill in a quick questionnaire asking us to rate their hotel and our feedback as to what needs improvement. That, is always a step in the right direction.

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Bahia Principe Varadero DP — Ontario, Canada

September 2003

Hotel: Bahia Principe Varadero (own rating: 5 stars)
Location: Varadero, Cuba
Vacation date: Sept 2003
Travelers: 2 adults (mid 30s), 1 senior, 1 child (2.5 years old)
Previous all-inclusive experience: Iberostar Tainos (Cuba – Varadero), Iberostar Tucan (Mexico), Radisson (Bahamas), Melia Juan Dolio (DR)
Ratings before this trip: 1. Tucan; and far behind 2. Radisson; 3. Tainos; 4. Melia
Ratings after: 1. Tucan; 2. Bahia; and far behind 3. Radisson; 4. Tainos; 5. Melia Important items on our comparison list: beach, night life (resort and outside), beauty of resort and pulse day/night (usually defined by music), drinks, food, and value for the price. Items not important for us: pool, pool activities, kids activities, evening shows

Summary: – Formerly Club Med Varadero, renovated and opened as Bahia in August 2003

– On a scale of 1 to 10, Bahia scores an 8 (influenced by a full 10 obtained by Tucan and its unique layout).

Beach/water: long, private, clean, beautiful, lots of umbrellas, no need for water shoes Night life: good and great variety – kids disco (needs more kids ;-); evening shows (saw only 2 and they were OK), live band (by the pool for listening; on the second entertainment stage for dancing, piano bar (live music), jazz bar (live music), disco (fun, with a mix of Latin, techno, hip hop)

Resort: nice layout; beautiful hotel/gardens. We had rooms 4216 and 4217 (interconnected, 4th floor, ocean view – perfect!): minibar with daily water, soft drinks, and imported beer; vaulted ceilings, big rooms, nicely painted and decorated, big balconies. Can’t comment on the bungalows as they were closed due to low occupancy rate, but I would go for the hotel as bungalows are too far away from the main action. Pulse: lots of activities and music (on the beach, by the pool, and by each bar).

Drinks: good, some international (not all bars have the same variety).

Food: Cuba ?? If they were trying to impress us, they succeeded. Very good, lots of variety, well cooked, no re-heated items. During lunch time, they also have an a-la-carte opened, on the beach, beautiful view, great food. Snacks are available 24h being prepared fresh on demand.

Value for the money: 685 CAD/pers – 1 week – best value for money on my list.

Highlights: Good night life (2 entertainment stages + 2 bars with live music + disco); felt no need to go outside.

Negatives: On the beach, the bar is located at one end instead of in the middle – depending on your beach location, be prepared for some walking. No Jacuzzi (maybe we didn’t look very hard).

Others:
Occupancy rate while we were there: 30%, but services were not affected.

Weather: very good, not humid – no rain, lots of sunshine

Flight: via Air Transat from Toronto – excellent and on time both trips

Mosquitoes: not too bad, one night was more humid and needed repellent

For pool lovers: Olympic size/shape (no swim up bar), lots of shade and palm trees on the side. Always fun and plenty of activities, games, dance, dance lessons….

For gym addicts: it’s a good place with a nice view.

Airport + hotel check in/out: good

Final conclusion: We would go back without hesitation.

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