Barcelo Solymar Beach Resort Reviews Page 2 – Varadero – Cuba – Debbie's Caribbean Resort Reviews

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Barcelo Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero  ~  Reviews Posted – 12
Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero UK

February 2005

We asked to be accommodated within the main hotel building, following comments read on the internet.

The rooms in themselves were fine. Clean with reasonable facilities. Clothes storage space was in short supply, and my clothes were laid onto the suitcase in the bedroom. A coffee machine was provided, although in our first room no coffee cups were provided. The safe appeared to be well fixed, and reasonably secure. The linen was clean, although the mattress was as soft and lumpy as you would find in most other hotels. The TV was ok, with all the usual foreign channels plus CNN and a couple of movie channels.

The biggest problem with the room was the noise. Some of the rooms in the hotel open onto open walkways overlooking the hotel’s main lobby area, as did ours. This is a large cavernous area containing the reception desk and the hotel’s main bar – known as the Lobby Bar. This bar is open 24 hours every day, and the constant noise of singing, laughing, talking, shouting, clinking glass, birds squawking etc. carries right into all of the rooms that are adjacent to this area. We tolerated this for a couple of nights before approaching the First Choice rep and asking for a room change. We asked on Wednesday, and were given a different, much quieter, room on Friday. We suspect all Tour Operators know of the problems with these rooms…

Not really sure how the food in the restaurant compared to other all-inclusives, as haven’t done one before. There was always plenty to choose from – the problem sometimes was finding something appealing. On offer for breakfast was the usual selection of breads, and eggs. Cereal and juices were also on offer; however finding a cereal bowl or a fruit juice glass was sometimes a challenge. They did seem to run out quite quickly, and were a bit slow to bring clean ones out. If you really wanted, you could try the previous night’s vegetables, as they were usually available. Even sprouts! They also serve the worst coffee you will ever taste. Lunch was generally the time when the best and freshest food was available, as they never appeared to offer the previous night’s food. Also, lunch was when they cooked fresh chips. Those not eaten lunchtime were generally offered again in the evening – but warm (ish). Mmm. The biggest problems with the food was not a lack of choice, but a failure to fully appreciate how non-cubans liked some of their foods cooked and presented.

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Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero Jamie & Andrew ~ Canada

February 2005

First of all I would like to comment about the staff and the food. I did not find rude staff or crappy food.. We found the conditions completely different. Our experience at Solymar was very pleasant and we would return. My husband delt with the front desk staff many times over the course of the week….he found them extremely busy….but never ever rude. He thought they could have used a little more staffing help actually and felt badly for them. A couple times that I was there with them, I found the guests extremely rude, and impatient and spoke to them horridly. I imagine they must take a fair bit of abuse from travellers who are tired, cranky and expect to be treated as they are the only ones on the resort… a perfect world this would be nice but not realistic. He never had one complaint about the front desk, but expect that a times there is a bit of a wait as people are coming and going and they have their hands full. I found them no different than here in Canada depending on the hotel and the flow of traffic in them and the people they have delt with for the day. Except they were there for long days every day, a little consideration for them went a long way for us. As well due to their life conditions in Cuba and the little money they make and for how long they have to work to make that little money, we figured that once they helped us, we gave them a small tip. One peso. It’s amazing what this little amount of money will do the next time you are at the desk. This type of tip would be an insult to someone working in a hotel in Canada… meant the world to them.

The food was different from here. I was travelling with an 8 year old and a 13 year old and they had no problems with it. They ate lots and they liked it. If kids can eat different food then it can’t be all that bad. I am a picky eater, and a fitness enthusiast, so I am not there for tons of food and desserts ( which were awesome by the way, I snuck some in) Yes, the food at times was cooler than we are use to here, and yes sometimes you had to wait in line if you wanted a specific dish. My husband was in line and he never complained about the wait, because he was on vacation and wasn’t in a hurry to get to work, and he wasn’t cooking and neither was I, and we realized there were others and we thought they did a great job considering how many people they had to serve. Again important to leave a small tip as it went a very long way. We had heard this was the same in EVERY resort. We heard from others on the plane that they found the food at their resorts the same as ours but no one cared, and everyone loved their resort and their trip. I heard no complaints from anyone. We enjoyed the Italian a la carte, the staff were excellent there and took pictures with our son and daughter and made jokes for us. The food was awesome. By the way, the staff in the buffet room were incredible to us, and even waved us over and made a table for us, and came to our table many times. We did notice other people seemed unhappy, but they tried to come in to dinner with shorts on(it clearly states in hotel information and in the welcome greeting from your rep, that long pants needed for men, jeans are okay) and were rude to the staff who reminded them they were to wear long pants, or there were people who were demanding and rude as they felt they should not have to wait for anything or anyone….so I guess these people would have poor reviews, and after they left not even one peso for being served after their rudeness, the staff still continued to smile and hurry around and serve the guests with smiles.

The rooms….they were very clean, lots of clean towels, extra water bottles, clean floors, thank you notes from cleaning staff every day thanking us for the gifts we left, (hand me down clothing from my kids, in good condition, soaps, shampoos, etc, we divided and left some each day in both rooms as our children had thier own room, and we had our own and again, both rooms were incredibly clean, and were cleaned before we ever returned and needed the room) The cleaning staff would even wave to us if we passed them in the halls. I found this a good experience for our children to think of others even vacationing and bring something to these people who we found worked so hard for so very little and had so very little. We were treated incredibly the entire week by everyone at every spot.

The beach was warm, white beautiful sand and a breeze so you were not too hot. Expect some cups and a few cigarette butts here and there during the day, as many people don’t throw out their garbage. They clean it later in the day though. We walked up and down the beach and found all the resorts had the same cups so it was not just ours. It didn’t bother me though. When we used the boats and went snorkelling the staff treated us very well and took awesome care of us. They were helpful and really friendly and fun as well.

Shopping was close by. About a ten minute walk. There are lots of buggies if you don’t want to walk. The little yellow cabs that women drive we were told to stay out of as they were crazy drivers! The area in town is very safe. We walked at night and went to an outdoor bar with live music where many were dancing in the street. Not overly crowded just a nice amount of people, where you could have a drink and watch a live performance with great music.

Shopping though…..was great. No pressure to buy like some other countries we visited. You could barter with them on prices but we found the prices so extremely reasonable and the Cuban people so friendly that we just didn’t bother to barter here. It was already so much cheaper than we expected to pay for gifts for ourselves and friends.

I forgot to mention that we went to the cuban a la carte as well, that was different, the food was very good there too, even my children liked it, and children can be afraid of newer foods. Everyone in that restaraunt seemed to enjoy their meals. We did not get to the seafood a la carte.

They have a games room. Our family had a great time with air hockey. You can get drinks in there and play pool and the wait is not long for games. We did a bit of that, especially for the kids.

The evenings were cooler. Bring some warmer clothing. That would explain why the pool was colder than the beach. But we read on the review it was that way so we were expecting it…..however my children swam in it many times over and over and others were in the pool. The beach was beautiful so everyone was in there and the water very warm so people enjoyed the beach. We enjoyed our stay at Solymar very much and would recommend it to anyone. We would always suggest to count on spending tips for your various services. We tip no matter where we go and find that our services have been incredible. We tip here too, and we found that taking some extra money to tip was still cheaper than tipping here.

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Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero Jill ~ Toronto, Canada

January 2005

My family and I have travelled extensively and have travelled to many 4 and 5 star all inclusive resorts. We have only repeated a resort once and then decided not to anymore because you can’t capture the same experience twice…better to have new!! We always travel at Christmas/New Year mostly because of the school break but also because you get what you pay for. The prices are at peak but the hotels usually pull out all the stops in terms of festivities, food and extra entertainment. The atmosphere is usually much better (we’ve travelled off season too.)

My husband and I (and our two teenagers 16 & 19yrs) prefer a larger resort with international guests and enjoy the lively atmosphere that the holiday crowds provide. Solymar is one of the largest in Varadero but smaller than some of the nice ones in Dominican Republic. Frankly, while we need and appreciate our time relaxing by the pool or beach…we are not "nice quiet" resort type people and enjoy all of the entertainment a hotel will offer.

Solymar fell into the "nice quiet" type of resort. We were all disappointed that the hotel had no disco on site as this is usually a highlight for us. Instead you had to go by taxi to which ever club in Varadero was being promoted (the animation staff help with that) and pay $10 each (all inclusive but meaningless to people like me who don’t drink!) on a 2 week vacation for a family of 4…..becomes too costly. Personally, I like an onsite club….I may wander in for a song or two but the kids will stay and I know at least they are on the hotel property! I found many young people (including my own) hanging around the lobby looking bored in the evenings.

This hotel tries but doesn’t quite hit the mark. They offer 2 shows in the evenings, one in the party room and one by one of the pools. Both were poorly attended and this was peak season. I think if the stage were more central in the resort, they may have been more successful. The shows in these hotels whether Mexico, Dominican or Cuba are all basically the same…like they all studied the same handbook, but they are usually packed and a pleasant way to pass the time after dinner and before the club (or Casino…..but of course, not in Cuba!).

The animation staff lacked the drive and zest that I have seen at other resorts and were virtually undetectable during the day.

The food was like any other resort……some good, some bad. None of us got sick. The lobster was plentiful. The birds were eating the buns in the restaurant by the beach (watch for bird stuff on the food). If the meat was undercooked (a common complaint among these resorts) the chef was happy to cook it longer. We were very unimpressed however when my son found a very large broken piece of glass in his rice at the buffet, made me question the sanitation in this restaurant (it never did look shiny clean). One of the best places to eat was at the poolside restaurant…great cappucino, good breakfast and the burgers were not too bad.

We stayed in the bungalows and were very happy with the location. They were basic but spacious and lacked drawers so we lived out of our suitcase for 2 weeks. The shower pressure was fantastic and we never ran out of hot water. My daughter freaked when she saw a cockroach in her room….twice, (we never did) however these were the big outdoor types (as opposed to the smaller resident types) and sometimes they do get inside…..just like the odd junebug might at home, so we didn’t hold it against the hotel.

Another reviewer of this hotel referred to Solymar as a good 3 star, I would have to agree. If I had never travelled and seen what other resorts in the 4/5 star category had to offer, I might have been impressed but I wasn’t….in fact, I spent 2 days trying to move to another resort but after seeing the other resorts that Signature Tours offered and speaking to guests at the other hotels, we decided to stay. I must add that the Signature rep was more than helpful to us.

We found the employees were not very happy here (and we were very generous tippers and the staff always referred to us as "my friend" or "my sister, etc."…..but a local reminded us that we have "no friends" in Cuba, Cubans are just "friends" with your money!). Is it Cuba or is it Solymar? This was our 4th trip to Cuba and I think it’s Cuba……people are nice enough, they just seem miserable!

This will be our last trip to Cuba…… for awhile anyway……..we’ll try Morocco next year.

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Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero Maribel from Montreal, Canada

January 2005

I read a couple of reviews on your site about this hotel, some of them good, others just OK, even though we went and we were more than amazed of the service, the food, the very nice beach the hotel has but mostly because of the people! They are just wonderful, for a country with all the limitations and special situation in which they are currently, people was quite nice!

The hotel is a quite new hotel in Varadero, 4 years old for the bungalows that were very quiet as we expected (even if ours didn’t have sea view), they are not luxury but are quite nice, ours was quite clean, had a TV, a nice bath and shower, a safe box, a nice fridge and we didn’t need any thing else because the food was amazingly good, the hotel has 2 buffets, 3 a la carte restaurants (1 Italian, 1 Cuban, 1 seafood), and 3 good bars with snacks; The hotel rooms are just 3 years old (we didn’t see them but people said that they were nice)

The shows are very good for a Hotel, at night you can enjoy folkloric dance, ballet, aquatic ballet, life jazz, all in different nights. More than we expected and of very good quality.

But the most of our trip was the people, the service was amazing, if you ever happen to go you need to meet these legends:

In the main buffet go and ask for Eber, Yandi, Ana Maria and Cari. In the Italian Restaurant don’t miss your chance to meet Onay and Lizbeth; in the criollo go and ask for Gretty and the bartender Pavel; in the seafood ask for Raul; all of them will amaze you with their kindness. Go and listen also Beatriz the piano lady in the lobby bar and don’t miss the banana flambé specialty where the fruit lady will prepare the best for you (I regretted never asked her name). Connecting with this people was the best thing it happened to us in our trip!

One last suggestion… before your trip, go and buy some stuff for them in any dollar store, this is a country where you can not find luxury and some candies, nylons, notepads, pencils and colors will be very useful for them. At the hotel, they never ask for that but if you give it to them they will be very grateful!

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Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero Dana — Toronto

December 2004

Flight – Kelowna Flightcraft – I was reluctant at first, because I’ve never heard at all about them, but the flights turned to be better than other charters we took so far. They offered headsets free, both ways, wine with dinner free not 5$/glass (maybe because it was X-mas).

Booked – I booked on-line, last minute and I got a great deal for 2 adults and a kid ($2,475).

Checked-In – We stayed at the hotel. The room was ready when we arrived. The drive was not 10 min like the brochure and others had said, it was more along the lines of 30-40 min. The bus was in good condition (a Volvo), clean and with working air-conditioner. The bungalows cost much more, they look nice from the outside but I don’t know if it’s worth paying the difference.

Room – It had clean, new furniture, and it was big. We had a king bed and a cot and still a lot of room around. The maid kept the room clean and tidy. From each room you get a bit of ocean view (so no point of paying for it). Varadero is a peninsula and so narrow so you can see the ocean either way.

Food – If you are a seafood lover, this place is for you. We do eat some type of fishes and they had chicken and beef, pork a big variety. It didn’t compare with a 5* in Mexico (Puerto Adventures) witch was exquisite, but I would rate it a 4 out of 5. The “A-la-carte” restaurants were much better than the buffet. We went to the Italian one for X-mas Eve and we found that the food was excellent. The seafood one and the Cuban one was not our type….again if you love lobsters and other seafoods, you will enjoy the food.

Beach – Well maintained and lots of activities for kids. Two days we had red flag (no swimming or water activities), but after that, we enjoyed the ocean and the waves.

Night entertainment – I wasn’t impressed. I’ve been to the Dominican twice and it was much better…

Overall – We had a great time and we would go back to Varadero.

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Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero Scott — Canada

December 2004

My wife and I just returned from a fantastic week(Nov. 28-Dec 5) at the Barcelo Solymar resort in Varadero.

Sadly, this was the only low-point of the trip. The out-going flight was with Zoom Airlines from Ottawa, ON to Varadero with a stop in Montreal. Upon arriving at the airport in Ottawa, we discovered there was an issue with the aircraft. Instead, we flew with First Air to Varadero. The plane was much smaller and therefore much more cramped. We had also paid extra for pre-assigned seating so it was annoying we did not get a seat with extra legroom. The service on the flight was very good and we did arrive on-time. The return flight on Sunday was cancelled due to more technical problems with the aircraft. We didn’t depart until the next morning. Unfortunately, the decision to cancel the flight was not made until later in the day so we spent most of the day just waiting around. Once, we finally got on board the next day, we had our pre-assigned seats and the flight went smoothly.

Quick and efficient. Our room was not ready at 3pm, but was ready at 4pm as promised.

The overall service was fantastic. The staff are very polite and friendly. We developed great relationships with a few a of the staff while we were there. The man at the hotel switchboard was especially understanding when we had to call home to make arrangements because of the flight cancellation. We left goodies for the chambermaid everyday and she in return left us extra bottles of water, extra towels, and some very nice notes expressing her gratitude. It also seems the whole staff love children. They always made a big deal out of any of the kids.

The room was very clean, everything worked, and we had hot water.

We were pleasantly surprised with the variety and the quality of the food. This was our second time to Cuba and we knew the food isn’t quite what we are used to, but the food at Barcelo Solymar is excellent. The ice-cream is delicious! The food at the buffet and the beach buffet was always fresh and delicious. We ate at all 3 a la carte restaurants. My favorite was the Cuban restaurant. I had a Cuban soup which is like a stew. It is very very good. My wife’s favorite restaurant was the Seafood. She had grilled lobster and it was excellent. My food (seafood "platter") at the Seafood restaurant was very good, however, I thought the portions were a little small. The Italian restaurant was classy, but the food didn’t impress us.

Evening Entertainment:
They had 2 shows per night, one at the pool bar and the other inside. The show at the pool bar was a group of musicians performing traditional Cuban music. We enjoyed this so much we attended every night and bought one of their CDs! The music always drew a large crowd so make sure you a seat early. We never made to the entertainment inside.

Daytime Activities:
There is lots to do at the beach. The staff organize dance lessons, soccer games, and volleyball games. There are kayaks, paddle boats, banana boat, and snorkeling available too. I took out a kayak and went on the banana boat which is a lot of fun. We didn’t spend any time by the pool, but it appeared there was lots to do there as well.

Excellent. No rain, no humidity, and a gentle breeze the whole time.

Overall our holiday was outstanding. I would recommend Barcelo Solymar to anyone. We met a couple who stayed at Sandals in Varadero and they said it didn’t offer as much as Barcelo. The resort is geared towards couples and families alike. When we go back to Varadero, we will definitely spend it at Barcelo Soly

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Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero Vivian — Canada

November 2004

Very quick and efficient. Rooms not ready at 11:00 am but no problem locked our luggage with the bellboys. Our room was ready when promised at 3:00 PM.

Had emailed the resort prior to going, and requested a bungalow in a certain area. We got exactly the room we wanted, simply for the location in the resort. Very clean, everything working well. As of Nov 1, they only put 2 bottles of water in the mini fridge, no more juice, pop or beer. Not a problem, those are available 24 hrs a day at the various restaurants, bars even if you want to purchase in the store.

Once again, service was excellent. Most of the staff members we knew where still there, only a couple had left. And many remembered us from previous visit in February of this year. With the currency situation, they were very accommodating. The exchange service at the front desk was quick, and no gouging. After the 14th I changed my US $$ with only the 10% service charge. Many other Cdns changed the Cdn$$ for the World Bank rate only, no other charges (I have read other hotels charging 5%+ as a service fee).

We felt the food was actually better this time. They have improved overall, using a bit more spices and a little more variety. There is always something for everyone there. The only slight problem was sometimes in the morning only one cook at the grill doing the eggs. Most of the time he was super, managing to get people through the line quicker then 2 cooks! But still, a little odd to see one grill sit idle. For the Italian restaurant, we had the steaks and they were great. Did not go to any other ala Carte restaurant.

They were having 2 shows per night, one outside at the smaller pool area and one indoors. We saw a little of both. The piano bar across from the indoor show did not have piano player there, just the automated piano that was a disappointment. There is a piano player in the lobby in the evening, but difficult to sit and relax to listen with all the noise. I did mention this to the public relations team and the end of our stay, who agreed, and made notes to submit to the management when they have their meetings.

For those that want activities there is plenty. From pedal boats, snorkeling, biking, tennis, the list goes on. For us it was a relaxing week on beach and pool, the biggest decision was which one first?

Very good. It became windy on the 3rd day, but calmed daily after that. A small and very quick thunder storm rolled through on the 3rd day around 5PM, which caused hydro to flutter for about 10 minutes but after that no problems at all.

Well, again we came home very happy. In fact are planning to return for visit number 4 in February. The location of this resort is great. It has the widest stretch of beach on the peninsula; you can walk into town in 10 minutes, close to the golf course and the resort itself is very well kept, from the rooms to the grounds and gardens.

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Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero Daniela — Canada

November 2004

In June, I, along with four other girls (all 20 years old), spent a week at the Barcelo Solymar resort in Varadero, Cuba. I couldn’t ask for much more from the resort; we had an excellent time!

ROOMS – The resort is about half an hour away from the airport. Check in was easy, despite the fact that we were given two of their bungalos rather than two hotel rooms (which we had originally requested). We’re easygoing girls so we didn’t mind at all. The bungalos were beautiful, and so spacious! We ended up only using one of the two for all five of us. Although there are quite a few cockroaches in the bungalos, I recommend them over the rooms. The pools and outdoor bars are right outside your front door, and the balcony was great for lounging. Cockroach traps would be a good investment, as we killed 8 in our room throughout the week. But if you’re going anywhere down south you have to be prepared for creepy crawlers.

SERVICE – Overall, the service was great. There was only one bartender that I can think of that just stood around and ignored us. The rest were so friendly and greatful. We all took turns tipping a dollar or two and we spent about $40 between the five of us over the whole week.

FOOD – The food isn’t the greatest, but there’s no way you’re going to get much better than the Solymar anywhere in Cuba. Each room has a mini fridge, so bring snacks! The dinner buffet has a lot of selection, and everything looks appetizing, but it doesn’t taste the greatest. The buffet is really nice though and the chefs really make the best of what they have to work with. We didn’t get a chance to check out the à la carte restaurants because we didn’t find them until the second last night! Take a walk around the resort the first or second day.

ENTERTAINMENT & CLUBS – There is a show every night at the resort, and we went to almost every one before we went out. The evening entertainment isn’t the greatest because there isn’t much to do after the show ends; however, there are so many clubs around the resort, which really surprised us because we heard that Cuba was not a party place. We went clubbing 4 out of 7 nights, and we went to a different club each time. There are shuttles from the hotel to the clubs, which we thought was great because our friends staying at Arenas Blancas right next door had to catch the shuttles from our hotel. The shuttles are $1 or $2 round trip depending on how far the club is. But we even skipped the shuttle one night and walked home from the club instead, and it was only about a 15 minute walk. Remember to ask the hotel staff members which club is good on which night because if you end up at the wrong club it will likely be dead. The clubs are $10 to get in and that includes all drinks for the night. We recommend La Rumba.

DAYTIME ACTIVITIES – There are a lot of beach activities, and most of them are free! We did sailboating, paddle boating, banana boating, and snorkelling (which was $15 or $20). We also rented mopeds and drove them into town, where we got a lot of really great gifts.

WEATHER – The weather was absolutely beautiful. Since we went in the summer we were expecting it to be unbearably hot, but surprisingly it wasn’t because it’s not humid in June. It rained every single day of the trip around dinner time, but the rain cleared up totally within half an hour or less, so it didn’t affect us at all.

OVERALL – Our friends from Arenas Blancas turned their wristbands inside out and spent a lot of time at our resort. We also visited theirs and it wasn’t as nice. If we go back to Varadero, we’ll definitely be back that the Solymar.

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Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero Family of 4 (kids age 13 & 15) from Calgary, Alberta, Canada

November 2004

My family spent a week in October at the Solymar in Varadero. We studied this website when deciding which resort to choose. We liked what we read about the Solymar and found 95% of the reviews to accurate. We loved the resort!! We highly recommend it to anyone!

Flight – Air Transat. No problems….on time…good service.

Arrival – Slight wait for our baggage…30 minutes…not bad.

Check-in – Our resort was the second bus stop. The bus ride was about 30 minutes. Check-in took about 20 minutes. We had requested by e-mail that our room be close to our kids room (max occupancy per room is 3 so kids had their own room!). Our request had been granted and the kids unit was right next to ours. The resort has a large hotel and numerous bungalows. We were in a bungalow that was a five minute walk from the hotel. It faced the beach and we never found the short walk to be a problem. I’ve read others complain about it ….but with all the eating involved at this place we were glad for a bit more exercise!

Rooms – The rooms were plenty big. We each had 2 double beds. Rooms were very clean. A few very small ants here and there…but no worries. Clean towels each day. Beer, cokes, and water in the fridge..they were replaced each day. We left small gifts for the chambermaid each day. She was very appreciative each time we saw her. Air conditioning worked well, except one night. Not sure what happened there, but we survived. No hot water on the first night, but suspect the heaters just hadn’t been turned on yet. Great security around the resort…day and night!

Food – Lots of food…good selection…good quality..just not a lot of spice! They tend to have very bland food, but we always ate well. Best breads and ice cream ever! Breakfast was always great. Superb croissants…omelettes cooked to order…great yoghurt. Not much of a fruit selection though….bananas, watermelon, and passion fruit. Good juices. Coffee was okay…BUT the lobby bar has wonderful cappuccino’s! The waiters will get it for you if you ask! We tipped $1 at each meal and always had excellent service. Most people in Cuba only make about $15 US/month so they really appreciate the tips! They work hard! The waiters were all wonderful. They always remembered exactly what each of us would order for drinks. Some reviews said the bartenders weren’t as friendly. We didn’t have any trouble. We tipped the waiter $1 each morning and had great service all day! Lunch was a favourite with the kids. They really enjoyed ordering from the pool bar restaurant…..hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken and fries…..all very good. We would order and take the food to our lounge chairs! We only had lunch twice in the buffet, but it was good. Suppers were great. We did the 3 A la cartes (kids choose not to come along….they preferred the buffets). Dress code is in effect for these restaurants. Not fancy…but men must wear long pants. The a la carte choices are Cuban, Italian, and Seafood. All meals were wonderful. We had lobster 3 nights. Nice salad and soup choices. Desserts were always good. Be sure to book the a la carte dinners the first day you arrive. They do fill up. The supper buffet had loads to choose from. Really good fish dishes. Veggies tended to be overcooked and lacked taste. Always lots to choose from. Again……best breads ever! Dessert table was fun. Lots of choice and the best ice cream! I read some complaints about flies in the restaurants….yes there were a few… but hey….it’s the tropics and it’s an open air room!!

Weather – We had fabulous weather. It was 30 plus each day. Never saw a rain drop! It was rather windy each day (it was hurricane season), but it wasn’t a problem. We weren’t able to do any of the included water sports on a few days due to the wind and rough conditions, but those days we enjoyed body surfing in the waves!

Activities – We were never bored. Kids loved the water volleyball and water basketball, ping pong, archery, kayaking and swimming. Upon arrival you are issued one beach towel each, and these can be exchanged daily. The pools are wonderful. The first pool nearest the lobby is the quiet pool. Nice music….great for relaxing. The second pool has the action. More music, water games, dancing lessons, bingo, etc. We enjoyed both. The beach is just as beautiful as the pictures in the brochures! White, soft sand with Caribbean blue and green water! It was spectacular. Water was very warm. Spotted a few jelly-fish in the water, but didn’t hear of anyone getting stung. We generally spent the first half of the day at the beach (with great Cuban music), then would head to the pools when the wind picked up in the afternoon.

Excursions – We did the Catamaran Dolphin Tour (swimming with the dolphins) and the single day Havana Tour. They were both fantastic….well worth the money. The total Catamaran tour was $75US per person and the Havana tour was $67Us per person. They both are a must!! The catamaran was a 1 1/2 hour ride out to the Dolphin enclosure. It was a great ride….fun crew. The dolphin swim was amazing. We swam with them for about 15 minutes. The dolphins kissed us each on the cheek, then swam around us so we could pet them. It really is long enough! Then they do a quick show of tricks. They took pictures of us at the end….individual photos with 4 dolphins kissing us. We purchased the photos for $10 each. They turned out perfect! (The photographer delivers them to your hotel that evening). The afternoon is spent on Cayo Blanco…the most beautiful beach in the world! We had a lobster lunch, and had 2 hours of free time. Did a stop on the way home for snorkelling, but not much to see. (Did however see a sting ray while snorkelling around Cayo Blanco!). Arrived back in Varadero at 5pm. Great day. The Havana tour was worth every penny also. Great for the kids to see the ‘real’ Cuba. Spent time in Old Havana…walking tour of the area ….rum factory, cigar store, lunch, and 1 hour at the market. Not much to buy in Cuba. Purchased a nice set of Ebony statues and a few watercolour prints. Then headed to New Havana. Saw Revolution Square and Hemmingway’s Pub. Had an hour to wander ourselves. People are so friendly. No trouble with begging at all. Great trip. Good insight into the country and their government….our guide was a little defensive when we asked about wages, politics, etc……she just talked about the "triumphant revolution!!!"

Overall – Highly recommend this resort. We never return to the same place twice…but would consider it here! We loved it. Definitely deserves the 4 1/2 star rating!!!! Adios!!!

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Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero Derick — Canada

October 2004

My wife and I (27 and 29) just returned from a great week at the Barcelo Solymar (Sept 25-Oct 2, 2004)! This was my first time to Cuba and my wife’s second. We have been to a number of other all-inclusive in the Caribbean, and we would definitely recommend it! Our tour company was World of Vacations, and the tour company they work with in Cuba is Cubanacan. The weather was great we had 7 sunny days of 30+ degrees. NO HURRICANES !!!

Flight: The Air Transat flight was on time out of Toronto

Arrival: This is where the problems were, we cleared customs and immigration very quickly then proceeded to baggage claim, It took over 1 hour to get our luggage. Next we were directed onto a bus, where we waited for another 30+ minutes for the bus to depart, then a 20 min drive to the hotel, with a tour guide giving some information about the area. As we pulled up to the front of the resort the line up for check in was all the way out the door, down the stairs and around the corner, it took over 1.5 hours to check. Bell boy brought our luggage to our room at approximately 6:00pm, so we only had time to freshen up and go to dinner.

Room: We were in the Ocean View room with a king size bed. Pretty basic room, but it was kept clean, A/C worked well, clean towels every day. There are lots of clothes hangers. There is no iron, but we were prepared thanks to other reviewers, we took a travel iron and power adapter. Hot water was never a problem (and usually we wanted a cold shower anyways!). The mini-fridge has 2 pops, 2 beers, and 2-1.5L bottles of water. These were replaced if we drank them. We left a tip and a small gift for the chambermaid on the last day, she was by far the hardest working individual in the resort.

Service: We thought it was the worst out of all the other places we have been. We did tip a lot (we brought a lot of $1 US bills), at all meals. I did not tip any of the bar tenders, they were the most miserable bar tenders I have ever come across and there is no way I was going to tip them with that kind of attitude. The waiters and waitresses were awesome, they treated us very well, so we tipped them a lot.

Staff: We found most of the staff to be pleasant and accommodating, the only difficult ones were the bar tenders. Food: The food was good, actually better than I had expected. My wife is a vegetarian so it is always a challenge to find good food for her, but she managed to get by with what they had. For breakfast I stuck with eggs cooked to order, my wife did the egg white omelets everyday, the croissants were awesome. Lunch was actually the best meal, we found that they had good variety and the self made sandwiches were a good choice. For Dinner we did the buffet and the Cuban restaurant, the buffet was always OK, never great, my wife stuck to the pasta bar. The Cuban restaurant was very good, but not really authentic Cuban cuisine.

Drinks: The drinks like the bar tenders were not very good (if you are a rum drinker you are fine), they only had mint to make mojitos the first night we were there. I couldn’t believe that they did not have the signature Cuban drink always available. I am not fond of the Havana Club rum and neither is my wife so she stuck to the Pina Colada’s made with the coconut liquor, I stuck to beer and Cipirinia’s which was made with another white rum.

Entertainment: The dance shows at night were good, and the dancers are very talented, as is the band. After the first couple of nights the shows started to seem repetitive. The entertainment crew arranged nightly visits to the local clubs, we went out one night and had a really good time, and cost is usually $10USD all you can drink. The beach: It is absolutely amazing!!!! (but still not as good as Cancun). The water was rough for the first few days, but was nice and calm towards the end of the week. Havana trip: We did the Colonial Havana trip, which was $67. Our guide was great, gave us lots of info about Havana and the history of Cuba. The tour took us to Old and New Havana; we spent a lot more time in Old Havana, which was really nice. The lunch was very good, my wife had a nice Cuban veggie meal and I had chicken. This tour was well worth the $67USD.

Shopping: Downtown Varadero is about a 20min walk from the hotel. The locals in the markets are very friendly and do not hassle you. The prices are already very low (compared to D.R. and Mexico) so there is no need to bargain.

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Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero Laura Jane — Vancouver

July 2004

My boyfriend and I (both age 26) just returned from a fabulous week at the Barcelo Solymar (July 17-24, 2004)! This was our first all-inclusive holiday, and we would definitely recommend it! Our tour company was Air Transat Holidays, and they tour company they work with in Cuba is Cubanacan (so when you go on tours in Cuba, it’s Cubanacan that runs them)

Flight: A long 7 hours from Vancouver, including a 1 hour stop in Calgary. The flight was with WestJet, and the only problem was that there is no movie, so it’s hard to fill the time!

Arrival: Directed onto a bus, then a 20 min drive to the hotel, with a tour guide giving some information about the area. A short wait to check in as there was half a bus load of us arriving. Bell boy brought our luggage to our room.

Room: We were in the standard junior bungalow. Pretty basic room, but it was kept clean, A/C worked well, clean towels every day. There are lots of clothes hangers but no dresser. A hanger with clips to hang up skirts would be useful (bring a couple from home). There is no iron but it is so humid that none of your clothes will have wrinkles! Hot water was never a problem (and usually we wanted a cold shower anyways!). The mini-fridge has 2 pops, 2 beers, and 2-1.5L bottles of water. These were replaced if we drank them. I did leave a tip and a note for the maid on the 2nd day asking for her to replace them, but I think they would have been replaced anyways. We also left a tip on the last day.

Service: I thought it was fine. We did tip a bit (we brought a lot of $1 US bills), just at some meals, or when we had several drinks at the same bar, but I think the service would have been fine had we not tipped at all. I don’t really get these people that complain about the service. What are they expecting? The one thing to keep in mind is to not compare a 4/5 star rating in Cuba with a 4/5 star in North America. The waiters aren’t falling over each other to help you, nor are they trying to make small talk with you, but they are pleasant and they get their job done. Plates were cleared when they were empty. I was asked if I wanted another drink when my glass was empty (and for juice and coffee it was often re-filled without my asking). When standing to order at the bar, there was sometimes a short wait, but it was usually because the bartenders will fill the waiters’ orders first before taking orders at the bar (this same thing happens at home all the time). When the bartenders serve people at the bar, they tried to follow the semblance of a line that had formed. If someone was served out of turn, it was because they had budged in line! If service was slow, it was because the waiter was really busy, and was running around. I never saw a waiter standing doing nothing while we were waiting for service.

Staff: I found all the staff (front desk, waiters, entertainment, bartenders) to be pleasant and hard-working. They work long hours and I’m not sure if they get a day off as we saw the same people every day! They all spoke English well, and many also spoke French and Italian very well. Especially one of the guys at the beach activities. He literally changed languages every time he talked to a different person. They are very friendly when you make an effort to speak Spanish (I know just the bare minimum of Spanish, but they seemed amused by my efforts, and would help me with words.)

Food: OK, the food is not the greatest, but it’s not that bad, and we were certainly able to fill our stomachs at every meal. At breakfast I stuck with eggs cooked to order (omelette, fried, etc), cereal, toast, and fruit. If you are a late riser like we were several days, then the continental breakfast at the Las Dunas pool bar was pretty good (egg, bun, croissant, mini chocolate donut). Lunch at both pool bars was good (sandwiches, burgers, etc). The dinner buffet was probably the “least good”, but it is a buffet with lots of choices, so you are sure to find something. They had fish and meat cooked to order. A couple of nights they had huge prawns cooked fresh, and they give you tons of them. Yum! The only thing that had a bit of a long line was the made to order pasta. The a la cartes are pretty good. The seafood was definitely the best (great lobster). In case someone in your party doesn’t like seafood, there are chicken and beef dishes as well. The Cuban is actually a buffet, but it is a nice atmosphere on the beach, with a band playing. And it is a better buffet than the regular, with a lobster dish (big pieces of lobster in a sauce) that was good and very good black beans and rice. The Italian was OK, and would have been better had it not been ridiculously hot in there! The sign-up for the a la cartes is daily from 9-12. I went at 8:30 on our first morning, and was second in line. He started to take bookings at 8:45, so for us this was a painless process, so I would recommend going to line up before 9 or you might wait a while.

Drinks: You can have just about any drink imaginable that contains rum. But you can also have vodka, tequila, gin, or whisky as well. They have a cocktail menu, and I highly recommend trying each one at least once! Many of them are quite sweet, so I often drank just rum and pineapple juice, and I also liked the cubanito (a bloody mary with rum). The Cristal beer is pretty good too. The wine is not great, so if you are a connoisseur, you will be disappointed. The best bar was the piano bar (across from the theatre where the nightly shows are). It was usually very quiet (it’s kind of hidden), and the bartender is great.

Entertainment: The dance shows at night were quite good, and the dancers are very talented, as is the band. I wouldn’t say the shows are a “must-see”, but nevertheless, they were fun to watch. The disco isn’t really a disco, it just the theatre with music playing, and you can get up and dance on the stage (there’s a bar in there as well). We never went in, and when we did stick our heads in, there were not many people in there. A couple of the guys from the entertainment (animacion) staff organize trips out to other clubs. We went twice, but I think they go every night. For the clubs that are far away, they get a shuttle bus to take everyone there and back which is $5/person, and then it’s $10 for the clubs (all you can drink). For the close by ones, we just walked. And when you roll in from the clubs slightly (or highly) intoxicated later on, I recommend getting at late night/early morning snack at the Horizontes pool bar.

The beach: It is fabulous. White sand, blue water, lots of sun. The beaches are public, but for all intents and purposes, it is private. The only thing that was annoying is that it is quite hard to get an umbrella. Although they are plentiful, people come down early and reserve chairs under an umbrella by putting a t-shirt or towel on it, and then disappear for half the day. I mean a half and hour or so to get lunch or go in the water is one thing, but seriously, there were “reserved” umbrellas left for hours! This is very annoying!! The same thing happens at the pool. Perhaps the hotel could do something to discourage this? We did always end up getting one, but it took several trips walking up and down the beach, and stalking people who looked like they were leaving. The guys who run the beach activities are great. They were always super busy, but very helpful. Included is: banana boat, paddle boat, kayak, windsurfing, and sailing. There is also water skiing but I’m not sure if it’s included cause I didn’t ask about it. Snorkelling was $15 for an hour trip. We did this and really enjoyed it. Better than the snorkeling in Mexico. The only thing they could improve is to maybe have a sign or something with all the information about how to sign-up. I would recommend going down on your first day, and asking them about everything you want to do, and how to sign up for it. Getting clean beach towels daily was never a problem and the girl in the club house was very friendly.

Havana trip: We did the Colonial Havana trip, which was $67 (it’s $85 to include the cigar factory, but we did stop at a cigar/rum/coffee shop, where you can watch a guy roll cigars who is supposedly one of the best cigar rollers in Cuba). Our guide was great, gave us lots of info about Havana, and took us on a short tour of Old Havana (although half the city was under construction, so it was hard to hear him with all the noise). We had an hour of free time in Old Havana (I would recommend getting a guide book or the like to make good use of your hour), a nice lunch and drive around new Havana, went to Plaza de la Revolucion where they were setting up for the anniversary celebration July 26, to a market (but the market in Varadero is better) and to a cemetery (kind of weird but there are interesting stories to go along with the visit). You can just pay for the bus ($30) and self-tour all day, but it is so hot and the only escape is the air-conditioned bus that you are hopping on and off all day. I would not have wanted to walk around all day. The only down point about the trip is the gong show of getting your bus in the morning. There are about 10 different trips all leaving around 8AM, and it’s a pain to figure out which one is yours (signs would be helpful).

General: Bring bug spray and after-bite (I got eaten alive walking on the beach at night), travel mugs for drinks at the beach and pool (we forgot these, necessitating frequent trips to the bar). I much preferred Cuba to Mexico. The locals in the markets are very friendly and do not hassle you like in Mexico. You don’t even need to bargain at the markets as they are already so cheap. The main market in Varadero is huge, and about a 15 min walk from the hotel (Solymar is one of the closest hotels to the town). There are hairdryers in the rooms, but they’re not very powerful, so bring your own (don’t forget a voltage converter). Our tour rep said the hotel was just about full, which gives me an even higher opinion of the hotel, as there were rarely waits for anything, and plenty of staff.

Have a wonderful trip to Solymar!!

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Solymar Beach Resort – Varadero Vivian

July 2004

We have just returned from Barcelo Solymar Resort, having spent the first two weeks of July there. This is our 5th time in Cuba and we have also travelled to the Dominican Republic and Mexico as well, so we thought we knew what to expect. To the resort’s credit, the beach was wonderful and the hotel was clean. However, there are a number of things that will prevent me from ever going back there again and from recommending it to anybody.

Firstly, the service was terrible in spite of the fact that we did tip. As a matter of fact, over our two week holiday we only experienced 1 waiter in the dining room and 1 waiter at the bar who actually gave us good service. The others seemed to spend a great deal of time standing around and chatting to each other.

Secondly, the food was far the worst that we ever experienced in either Cuba or the rest of the Caribbean. Our experience wasn’t unique, as there seemed to be a fair number of people complaining of upset tummies during our stay. The temperature in the dining room was oppressively hot and with the flies buzzing around the buffet, it’s no doubt that people had problems with the food. Breakfasts aren’t bad, lunches are edible but by the time dinner rolls around — Beware!

And you can’t even get a decent drink at the hotel, normally in Cuba you have to tell them to go easy on the rum. At Barcelo Solymar it’s just the opposite, they are so watered down that you have to ask for either doubles or triples to get a normal drink. (I’m highly suspicious that the staff perhaps water down the alcohol in the bottles before pouring).

Beach towels were another thing — be smart and bring your own because every second day we experienced problems getting a clean beach towel. We even tried to bring down the towels from our room but were told that "wasn’t permitted".

To their credit, the rooms were clean and nicely air conditioned. We tipped the maid daily and I gave her a nice parcel of things that I brought from Canada. She never said thank-you but the room was spotless.

As this was the first time we were in Cuba in the summer, perhaps all the resorts experience similar problems during the hot months. However, next time I will spend a little more money and go to a better hotel — my stomach still hasn’t recovered.

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