Arrival: March 14 to March 21:
We made our arrangements with Air Canada Vacations for the first time, and everyone that we dealt with were very friendly and professional. The flight left and arrived exactly on time, (no delays due to malfunctioning coffee machines like other tour operators!) and although there were not any free meals, what was offered on the menu, while not very varied, was reasonably priced and definitely better than those free "breakfast burritos" offered with the other tour operators. Minor point maybe, but we also appreciated the monitors in the headrests and the free movies, as the flight can get a bit long without any distractions! The bus ride in a large air conditioned coach from the airport to the hotel took about an hour and a bit, and the first thing that you notice is what good shape the roads are in, (aside from a few gravel sections) as they are much better than the roads frpm the airport to Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana and with much fewer potholes than Montreal! Reception at the hotel was also fairly quick and the staff were very friendly and accomodating, which is another reason why we tend to prefer Cuba to the Dominican Republic.
Rooms: Our room was very basic but very clean, with two very firm but comfortable double beds and is what we come to expect after several times of staying in Cuba. One really nice feature however is the free in room safe, which is very easy to program with a numeric code on the small screen on the safe. Very modern! There were the usual problems when everyone seemed to shower at the same time, such as early morning and late afternoon, but hey its Cuba! you just have to adjust and go with the flow The only complaint that we would have however for the hotel, was that our room was in building 5 and was located right above the restaurant and looked out over the 24 hour snack/bar. While this was great in the early evening as you were only steps away, if you didn’t have ear plugs, you are not going to get any sleep at all. People typically used this bar area until about 4:30 in the morning and were very loud, so try if possible NOT to stay in buildings 4,5 or 6 unless you are in rooms facing away from the pool and bar areas.
We found it a bit strange that the hotel is laid out this way and have never seen it anywhere else. There are three wings (4,5,6) looking out over this very busy area. It is the first time that we have seen a hotel whereby about one quarter (at least) of the rooms would be affected by the noise level, and you would think that maybe they would close down this one bar around midnight, and have another one farther away that they could keep open. But again, you just have to adjust, as everything and everybody at this hotel are just great.
Restaurants and Bars:
While there were only two a la carte restaurants, Italian and Cuban, and as we only had two reservations to take, that didn’t take anything away from the food experience as the buffet was surprisingly good. That also went for the snack bar at the pool and the ranchon down at the beach. There were also bars inside the main hotel, as well as the small "take out" bar at the beach. All the restauarant and bar staff were great, and again the food was also very good, especially for Cuba. One other great thing about this hotel is that are many places (outside and inside) where you can just sit and take a break, play cards, or have a drink or a snack. There were musicians playing at the buffet and the lobby bar every night and the atmosphere was great.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: The pool was a bit of a disappointment as it is very small and there is just the one. It is very clean though, and is in great shape. Saving grace is that it is very well located beside the snack bar and restaurants and its great to have a mid afternoon coffee or drink and look out over the pool. We weren’t there to spend all day at the pool anyways! Interesting however, that even though there was only the one small pool, you could usually always find somehere to sit during the day, something which is next to impossible at any of the other much bigger resorts/pools as all the chairs tend to get "reserved" very early.
The beach was also on the small side, compared to the vast expanses of Bavaro Beach but very nice just the same, the white sand and turquoise waters are great! The beach is shared by two other resorts, but it is just big enough that it never seems to get crowded, (like Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana) and you don’t feel obliged to take one of those grueling two hours walks. The palapas are few in number however, (thanks to the last storm) and everyone tries to get to the beach early in order to grab some shade from the few trees that remain standing. The grounds of the hotel are very clean, and while not spectacular or lush, offer the opportunity for a very pleasant walk down to the beach. Say hello to the two resident cats just before you arrive down at the beach!
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: We went out on the small Hobie catamaran with "Daniel" on our third day and it was great fun as it was pretty windy further out, and Daniel was pushing the boat along very quickly. Word to the wise, get down in line before 9:00am as the reservations go very quickly. Also, if you reserve for the end of the day, sometimes it will be too windy to go out and they shut it down until the next day. 2:00pm or 3:00pm is perfect. The evening "spectacles" were also very good, which we have found in the past is not always the case, as they had a great troupe of dancers and singers.
I also went out on the "Ocean Paradise" excursion on the big catamaran on our last full day, and the bus leaves at 8:00 am and you get back around 3:30pm. It costs about 76 CUC and it includes bus transport to the marina, two snorkelling stops, and a lunch back on land at the end. Roy was our guide on the bus, and on the boat, very amusing guy. He was also the guide when you went snorkelling and he would swim down to the sea floor and dig up stuff that he would then feed to the fish. If you want to see fish, stay near Roy! Also think about wearing that life jacket, as you tend to get involved with looking at the sea floor, and the next thing you know you are a few hundred yards away from the boat and trying to swim back against the current and waves! Very safe operation though, as at the second more interesting reef they also have a second smaller motorboat with a lifeguard that will help you out if you need it. Both snorkelling areas are within outer reefs that filter out the stronger waves (and bigger fish?) and also you don’t feel that you are out in the middle of the ocean. The boat ride was also great fun, although they never got the sails up…………has anyone ever seen these big catamarans with their sails up? So if you are going for the "sailing" experience, you might need to look elsewhere. Around 1:30pm you arrive back at the marina and they take you by the same bus to one of their properties overlooking Guadavarca Beach (yes I know I probably spelled it wrong). Great view, ordinary food, with a choice of pasta, lobster, chicken or fish. All in all still worth the price? Yes.
What you start to realize after the first few days here, is that while the Blau might not seem to have as much to offer as the other much bigger and fancier resorts elsewhere, it seems to have a more relaxing, friendly and more human scale which makes it a great place to vacation.