To celebrate my retirement, got a good deal here (Dec 8-15 2013). We were very surprised to see such hot temps (28-35C days, 25C nights + humidity), and we had great weather all week, with minimal nightly showers.
Due to a thunder shower over Santa Clara, our flight (Sunwing) was delayed 30 min. No problems on arrival (noontime). Speedy aduanas. Hotel check-in: We were only 6 parties arriving there that day (off season), so speedy check-in and golf-cart delivery of our bags to our room.
Rooms: Only the Colonial (left) section of the HUSA was open (low season ending the following week). The Beach section (right) was closed. We had Edificio 26, Rm 2648, 2nd floor. King bed, ocean view. Vegetation hiding half of view, but who cares? 🙂 We did request this view, only upper floor and near beach, so we were very pleased.
Large spacious immaculate room, everything worked perfectly, lots of hot water, full fridge every day, face cloths, plenty of closet space and drawers for our clothes, and our beach towels awaited us in our room (cool!). It looked like new bathroom amenities.
Restaurants and Bars: Huge buffet, lots of variety, the usual. Lunchtime was as the ANCON restaurant near the pool. Again, variety but same thing every day. Service with a smile. A la cartes: The SPANISH and SEAFOOD restaurants are one and the same, opposite the buffet entrance. Actually pretty good, more or less same staff present on both nights.
The ROMANTICO and ITALIAN restaurants are NOT ON THE PREMISES. You have to be chauffered to/picked up by the bellboy to the Pueblo la Estralla, about 5 min drive away (between the Royalton and Memories hôtels who have direct access). The Romantico was the least liked during our stay. The waiter kept saying how much he loved wine (we had brought our own), so we left him half our bottle. We did not try the Italian restaurant.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: The site is hu-mon-gous. We (meaning I!) got lost a few times the first 2 days, and again, we were in only one half of the site! Golf cart assistance is always available. Luxurious, mature, and well-kept vegetation, very impressive (reminded me of Playa Pesquero). The pool is quite large, several sections, with a swim-up pool bar. Can’t comment further on that, as we spent the entire week on the beach. Beach: Easily one of the best beaches in Cuba. I’d give it a 15 out of 10! 3-km walks, lots of wind and waves. Our last day the water was dead calm (t’was bliss); the downside was that the previous day’s waves brought in a few jellyfish, two people got light stings, but a bit of vinegar fixed that in no time (I always bring some w/me). No worries, the water was full of people anyhoo lol Two pluses were the absence of vendors AND the presence of a waiter on the beach. I must add here that unfortunately for some tourists, the Las Dunas and Melia CSTM hotels were severely damaged by erosion this year, so almost no sand to speak of, resulting in almost abandoned beach in that area. Our hotel and east of us (right, facing water, the Royalton and Memories) had fantastic sandy flat beach areas. We were blessed. Oh yeah, lots of chairs and palapas (again, we were at the end of low season).
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: We partook in no activities off the resort (I was there to rest and recuperate). We did go to the Pueblo la Estrella to look for specific items (clothes) and found exactly what we were looking for. The Pueblo looks like a mini-town square with shops and outdoor vendors up and down a small street selling the usual fare: clothes, jewelry and trinkets, memorabilia, paintings (some very good, actually) and a few bars and restaurants, some open, some not. We returned one evening to go to the Romantico restaurant… and the pueblo was all but deserted. I figure in high season, it must be quite busy. In the evenings, a band plays in the square, so I imagine people in the cafes, dancing in the square, that sort of thing. The Pueblo is flanked by the Royalton and Memories hotels, who were also up to half capacity. Two major negatives, as far as we are concerned: 1. There is NO gym at the hotel; you have to be driven to the Pueblo, and the gym only opens at 9 A.M. Bummer. 2. The hotel’s beach animation staff lacks some serious focus. I saw only one person with an official t-shirt, so the others were either unidentifiable or… absent. They could learn from the animation staff at the Iberostar Playa Alameda, for example, who are trained, motivated, and committed to interacting with the patrons. That’s key. I’m not talking about dragging people up from their chairs to the salsa lessons, I’m talking about actual organization. Rather than mingle with the people on the beach and enquire about your stay (to learn and improve), show interest, announce the day’s activities, they just stood around the sound system amongst themselves, you do not know who’s in charge, and the activities are practically non existant. When I hear AQUA GYM, I think of group-led exercises in the water. What the guy did was gather 4-5 people (on a very good day) and get them to run into the water and back (twice)… to win a bottle of rum. Seriously? The salsa lessons were no better… They were incapable of rallying interest and just lacked enthusiasm. This should definitely be improved upon. The nightly shows were actually pretty good, a lively bunch. A few nights they’d rally through the lobby area with a large percussion band. Wonderful touch! The Michael Jackson show was awesome. The theatre is huge and beautiful. If I may make a suggestion: Is it possible to have some lively CUBAN music in the lobby bar/reception area in the evenings prior to the shows? It would be great for business… Otherwise you see people asleep all over the reception area…The current music being played is bo-ring, imho. Who wants flute music at happy hour? Who wants to hear Bob Dylan sung by a karaoke-addicted Canadian? Nuff said.
Some friends did the jeep safari tour and LOVED IT. They left at 8 and returned at 6p.m. Got a lot for their buck (jeep tour, farm visit, lunch with locals, trek to waterfall/grotto, swim near waterfall. Several other tours were available (Trinidad, Remedios, Santiago)
Other Comments: I noticed that although the majority of the patrons were from Québec, not many staff spoke French, some not even English. The lobby (busy) bartenders did not know how to make a Coco Loco, go figure (7-Up, white rum, Mulato coconut liqueur, lemon juice, crushed ice). Espressos, cortados, cappucinos and other specialty coffees are AVAILABLE at the Buffet in the morning. Before it opens, lobby bar. The rum and cigars at the hotel are the same price as at the airport. Exchange rate practically identical (exchange counter in lobby 9-6, then at reception). The receptionists were ok with changing small amounts at any time. Beach towels in our room on arrival: Great! Since I had hotel work experience, I took it upon myself to speak with the managers (visible several times during the week, mingling, talking with staff) and enquired about the lack of name tags (I’m visual and find it hard at times to remember their names!). The managers replied that since taking over the hotel 2 yrs ago the tags were back-order… They appeared genuinely interested in our comments. I also spoke candidly with several staff members who said that since Husa took over the hotel, the atmosphere had changed… for the better. They were extremely pleased with their "new" conditions, the close-knit relations among the staff (which was absent before), the sense of belonging, the feedback and encouragement from their bosses. That was good to hear, kudos to the hotel heads. So now… special thanks from LA TIA LOCA to: Reception: Yurkemy (mi hijo!), Dayi, senores Edson and Junier, señora Yohena Room: Our chambermaid Marily Buffet: Yordanka and Dianeilys, your excellent service and wonderful smiles. Besos! Ancon lunch restaurant: Elbys (our smiling Adonis) Spanish a-la-carte: Marité (bleach blonde hair; little English but so sweet) Beach bar: mi sobrinos Jean Jose Alling (killer smile, very jovial), and the not-so pequeno Jose-Alain (A-laï), our sweet beach waiter. Lobby Bar: Juliel, Chino (parle français, very funny), Juan, Jose. Sunwing rep Maykel (Michael): exceptional presence, tri-lingual (self-taught in French, wow), very nice and helpful