Our family of 4 adults traveled to Brisas Sierra Mar for the week of Dec. 27-Jan 3. We had read many reports on the condition of the road to the resort, but were shocked at how bad it really was! Two people on our bus had to move to the front due to motion sickness, and one member of our group was just about ready to join them. We were told that repairs were to start in March, but they didn’t say what year!!
Bracelets, room keys and check in forms are done on the bus. Once we arrived, all we had to do was grab our luggage and head to our rooms. The resort is built on a hillside, and is very compact. The lobby, pool, and restaurants are all on one level, with two blocks of rooms cascading down the hill below. There is an additional block of rooms opposite the lobby that moves up the hill.
We were in Block A, rooms 402 & 403. We had a partial ocean view, but mostly we had a lovely view of the mountains. The room had been freshly painted, and was very clean. The draperies and bedspreads appeared to be new. The furnishings and bathroom were in need of an update, but they were perfectly functional. There was a 12 inch TV on the dresser with a remote that actually worked! We had two ¾ beds which we pushed together. The beds were a little soft, but not so much that they were sagging. The pillows were better than we have had on other vacations. Our balcony had brand new reclining chairs and a table. The evening entertainment could be heard quite loud in our room. Evidence of renovations are everywhere around the resort. The bottom floor of Block A was closed for updating, the bathrooms at the lobby and pool area look to be completely new, and they received 20 new bicycles on New Years Eve.
Restaurants and Bars:
Brisas has one buffet, a beach grill for lunch, and 3 a la cartes. Selection at the buffet was very limited while we were there, and vegetables were scarce, with yams and squash being the main offering at all 3 meals. There seemed to be a shortage of onions, even for the omelet station. Other than pre-peeled clementines, there was no fresh fruit at all. No bacon was available all week. That being said, they worked wonders with what they had. Every meat on the buffet table and carving station was tender and flavorful. I can’t recall any dish that was a let down. The beach grill offered the standard burgers, fries, hotdogs, pizza, and fish. We had a meal at the Ecological a la carte, and it was amazing. The atmosphere was wonderful, and the food was fantastic. The bruschetta was served cold, but that was the only disappointment. House wine is included at this restaurant, and we feel it was probably the best meal of the week. We also were able to eat at the Cuban a la carte. The food here was o.k., but a little disappointing after the Ecological. There is no house wine available here. You could purchase a bottle starting at 5 CUC, up to 60 CUC. We bought a 7 CUC Chilean Merlot, and were quite happy with it. Some guests brought their own wine from the bar to avoid purchasing a bottle. They also had a massive New Years Eve Gala Dinner set up around the stage and swimming pool, with delicious turkey, pork, beef and lobster. The dessert table that night was to die for!
Beach/Pools/Grounds: The weather was absolutely amazing. It averaged 30C every day, and would dip to about 25C in the evenings. We didn’t have any rain at all. We usually travel in January, and the weather and water temperature can be hit or miss. Here we were able to enjoy the ocean every day, and never needed a jacket in the evening.
The beach has been badly eroded in the last year. There is a 3 foot drop from the lounger level to the actual beach. It starts to level out as you move further to the west. There were plenty of loungers available, and never a need to be up at 6.30 to reserve one. The beach bar was never very busy and served a good selection of tasty drinks. The pool area also seemed to have plenty of loungers, but we are beach people and never ventured up there. Most of the daily activities took place at the pool. We were not bothered by sand fleas or mosquitoes, but we did notice that the resort sprayed the wooded area every evening around 6.00 pm.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:
We did one excursion, a Catamaran/snorkeling/Santiago tour, at a cost of 58 CUC per person. When the "catamaran" showed up, it turned out to be a fishing boat that reeked of diesel fumes. The snorkeling was at a sunken ship, and was interesting, but not as pretty as a reef. The ladder to get back on the boat was broken and I was unable to hoist myself onto the platform after snorkeling. The tour guide and captain had to haul me up by the arms. I still have the bruises to show for it. After a wonderful included lunch, we were to have a walking tour of Santiago de Cuba. Unfortunately, a half dozen people on the tour did not come prepared, and needed to find a bank. We were instructed to wait in the square in front of the Cathedral while these people ran to the bank for cash. While we waited (and waited and waited) some people decided to go to a local store and buy some rum and cigars. Then the people who had gone to the bank started rum and cigar shopping. We spent over 45 minutes of our 1½ hour tour time waiting for people to make their purchases, before heading off to the "flea market". It was then we realized that 3 people had never returned from the bank. We spent the next ½ hour re-tracing our steps, then heading to the bus, while our tour guide frantically searched for the missing people (whom he found). We ended up spending 2 hours in Santiago with not one word of info on the history, culture, etc. This was in no way the tour guides fault. He was visibly agitated at what was happening. We ended up not getting back to the resort until 7.00 pm, when we were supposed to have returned at 4.00. It was a long and disappointing day. Be warned, the Hola Sun tour desk does not accept credit cards. Luckily I had tucked some extra cash aside, as I am not comfortable getting a cash advance in Cuba.
Other Comments: For the most part the holiday was great, but there were a few glitches and disappointments. -Beyond the resort boundary is a beautiful beach for walking. The only problem is the relentless beggars. We were hounded constantly for soap, shampoo, clothes etc. We tried asking them to leave us alone, we tried ignoring them, we even tried telling them we would come back on our last day, and not to bother us in the mean time. It made no difference. They would not back off. -The New Years Gala was extremely disorganized. None of the food on the New Years buffet was labeled, and it was too dark to really see what was on the platters. Many of the dishes had no serving utensils. They could not keep up with the volume of people and ran out of plates before everyone was served. Line ups were long for everything. The show that night was very disappointing. There were some singers, an hour and a half of canned music, and then a mediocre magician followed by some ballet dancers. It was dismal. We didn’t talk to one person who seemed to enjoy it. -Although we found the lobby entertainment every evening to be top notch, the repeat guests we spoke to said it was sadly inferior to previous years. They had noticed a significant change for the worse in the entertainment, service and atmosphere. They told us that staffing levels are way down, which would explain only one bartender during the peak before/after dinner hours, as well as the problems with the New Years Gala. Several people mentioned that the house wine was of extremely inferior quality to past years. -Also disappointing was the lack of information on activities. There was a festival on one day, with a parade which was never advertised on the activities board. We heard the festival music from the beach, but thought it was some sort of pool game going on. A printout of what is happening for the week would be a great addition to the envelope you get when you board the bus. -The New years Dinner required people to make table reservations for the number of people in their party. Unfortunately, many people did not know this, and showed up to find they had no table. We were lucky that someone on the beach mentioned it to us, or we would have been among the many people wandering around looking for an un-reserved table. None of this was mentioned in the orientation, or on the activities board. -Also while we were there, due to a broken washing machine, there were no beach towels available for the first 3 days of our vacation. We wasted so much time walking up and down the stairs from the beach to the towel exchange by the pool only to be told “come back in two hours”. Why they did not explain at that time that the washer was broken is a mystery.
-A simple note regarding sandwiches being served for our early morning checkout would have avoided two bus loads of people trying desperately to eat from the small continental buffet in the lobby.
Aside from these minor glitches, we had a wonderful time at Brisas Sierra Mar. The resort is a solid 3 star, with pleasant staff, and I would recommend it to anyone, but would probably not return. I understand that these issues are beyond the control of the resort, but the condition of the road and the beggars on the beach are a huge deterrent to going back. However, the amazing January weather may call me. There are so many places to see, we generally prefer to try a different place every time.