I have stayed at a number of Varadero resorts in Cuba over the past dozen years but lately regularly visit only three, including Arenas Blancas which has been one of my preferred destinations due to location, beach, layout and amenities. Unfortunately, the best I can say after my most recent week, Nov 29-06 2009 is that the resort is still on a nice stretch of beach. Perhaps I was "a week early".
Problems I encountered: Some of the reviews I’ve been reading from visitors over the past six months or so have been very negative and I’ve tended to disregard the usual comments about "bad food", "poor staff attitude" and "run-down conditions" because my own experiences have been contrary. Not this time. This was for me, probably the second-worst experience in a Varadero resort since 1996. Of course some "deficiencies" are "normal" : the main lobby outside elevators that have a pool-view have never worked as far as I know, the "pool side" extension and serving windows at the lobby bar were abandoned the year they opened and the lobby "water feature" was not working. These are givens. What surprised me was the attitude of many of the staff, even those who remember me from many past visits, the serious lack of maintenance in this ten year old building and the really poor selection and quality of the food. Now I’m one of those frequent Cuba visitors who hear the complaints about "inedible" food at Cuban resorts and wonder "what do these people eat at home?" There is always (normally) lots to eat on a resort buffet in Cuba. If you claim to be reduced to eating pizza and cheese sandwiches you are either lying (and I have personal experience of folks who do) or you eat nothing but packaged noodles, Kraft Dinner and peanut butter sandwiches at home. On this occasion I had been quite disappointed with the buffet fare at my (normally excellent) Havana hotel and was looking forward to the (normally excellent) fare at Arenas Blancas but it was not to be. The first few days, there was barely enough food available for the "half-full" status of the hotel and the selection and quality were minimal and poor. Granted the quantities improved as the hotel filled over my week, but never came up to the Arenas Blancas "normal" quality and variety I’ve enjoyed since 1999.
I could continue with a detailed description of all the problems I encountered as a guest (especially a supposedly VIP "returning guest") at what has been a favorite resort but here are some of the things that will make me consider taking Arenas blancas off my Cuban resort list.
– the beach bar/restaurant is gone, replaced by a tiny makeshift bar and tables tacked on to the back of the International a la carte restaurant. The once lush grounds between the pool area and former beach bar area are totally screened off, bulldozed up and inaccessible as they construct a massive concrete structure that will become a new beach bar/restaurant complex. this may take years. What a mess.
– not only the perpetually "out of service" lobby elevators are broken. One of the two elevators at my end of the complex was marked ‘for staff use only’ but never worked. The other elevator had a hole in the floor through which you could look down the shaft. By the time I left, you could stick your hand through but not to worry, that elevator broke down too. The elevators on the other end of the building were creaking and groaning. This is a 5 floor hotel.
– despite a major paint job in 2006 and what was reported as extensive room renovations, the hotel is very drab and tired. Dirt and marks on the walls, graffiti scratched in the elevators, ponds dry, no spoons in the restaurant, no ashtrays in the bars. My own room was almost totally lacking electrical services. When I arrived, there was a working fridge but that failed on day 2 because the outlet failed. They ‘fixed’ this by unplugging my only working bedroom light to serve the fridge. My bathroom light failed the day before I left. I had no aircon only one day and no hot water only two days so that was a ‘plus’.
Booz: – not only has the food situation deteriorated but the booze selection is poor as well. At one time, this resort like most of the all-inclusives above the 2-star level served international brands and a good selection of quality Cuban rums. Perhaps the new 5-star resorts still do but Arenas Blancas does not even serve the flagship Havana Club except the $4/litre Blanco in mixed drinks. Weak mixed drinks. There is NO 7 yo aÃ±ejo and the 5 yo is a lesser brand. The lobby bar only serves the really low quality ‘Santero’ brand that I think was invented for tourist all-inclusives. It’s CUBA!!! The rum is CHEAP!
Yes, it’s cheap enough that you can buy your own bottle for sipping but then, why are you paying top dollar for an ‘all inclusive’ package?
They laid off many of the staff for seven months this summer when the hotel was in ‘low season’. I believe that next summer they would do well to totally shut down the hotel during this period and make some serious renovations. And hey- get L-G to send a couple of guys from Korea to fix those elevators.