We just experienced our first ever July/August Caribbean vacation with our third visit to the Royal Hideaway. Since our Canadian summer was basically a washout this year, we counted ourselves very fortunate to have decided to travel at this time this year. We found there to be a number of variances between a winter getaway and being in the tropics in the middle of summer. Booking last minute, the price at the end of July was quite reasonable, perhaps even better than what it would cost to travel to a northern Ontario resort for a week with meals included. The only concern in booking last minute was the timing in booking while there would still be availability of spaces in the airplane. What happened for us, was that AirTransat ended up combining two separate flights to fill one plane (using CanJet) for economical reasons. Instead of the anticipated early Sunday morning flight, we were bumped to a later afternoon flight, arriving at the resort some time between 11pm-12am. This worked out fine for us (no worries)… especially in light of the fact that with this schedule we had a very restful last full day in Cuba and our arrival time back in TO was 2am on the Civic Holiday Monday, so we could sleep in that day and not have to worry about getting back to work until the Tuesday.
What we noticed immediately, upon arrival, was the very welcome, yet extreme "heat & humidity"! It is so much more intense than we ever expected but was so wonderful, we loved it, even though my hair ended up looking like Monica’s from the Friend’s episode in Barbados!
Arrival: Check In
We arrived with a whole bus of RHE guests and the lineup was long, right out the Reception Area door, into the Lobby. It went quite quickly, and was nice not having to be "rounded up" into a conference room this time to endure a welcome speech, dresscode explanations & staff introductions. Fortunately, being one of the last ones off the bus and in line worked out quite nicely, as the bartenders from the Lobby Bar came around a number of times with cool towels & chilled champagne, serving us first with each round. Very refreshingly welcome in the tropical evening heat. Another fortunate event was, when we were finished checking in, we were given a ride along with our luggage to our room… this is the first time (in three) that this has occurred. Management must be reading (and heeding) reviews and guest comment cards! Five star service -> Terrific! Once in our room, there was a welcome platter of fruit, sandwiches, the minibar well stocked, plus there was a bottle of rum on the table with some ice & glasses! Ahhh, it was heaven to pour a drink and sit out on our balcony, soaking up the balmy heat and listening for the sounds of the surf over the mangrove.
As Royal Hideaway alumni, we contacted the resort prior to leaving and the room we were given was exactly what we requested. We had an upper corner suite in building 42 , I think! When you’re on the boardwalk to go to Playa Megano it’s on your left. We apparently had oceanview, but the foliage of the huge Oleanders were blocking the view…lol… c’est la vie! I believe there were only two bungalows open in the Hideaway section, 41 & 42 on the boardwalk and nearest to the Hideaway pool, due to the 30% occupancy.
Restaurants and Bars: Due to the extreme low occupancy the Hideaway pool lunch restaurant and the a la carte Grill restaurant (Spa pool) weren’t open. As well, the Royal suites were closed, therefore the Royal Suites restaurant wasn’t available for repeat guests. The Seafood restaurant (by Playa Ensenachos) was also closed, but was temporarily installed & available in the "overflow" area of the Buffet using the outdoor "grand staircase" (above the Asian restaurant) entrance. No real ambiance here and the service was languorous, as the AC had a hard time keeping up with the heat of the setting sun beating down on the huge windows facing west, even with the draperies drawn. The Italian remains our absolute favourite in regards to ambiance, service and food. We learned our lesson in regards to the Asian and asked for an individual table this time. They have two teppanyaki tables operating but only one teppanyaki chef on duty (during low season)… one table of eight enjoyed cocktails and appetizers while waiting for some time before their dinnershow could begin. The chef had real personality and was quite entertaining, as we were seated nearby enough to appreciate his excellent performance skills. This created a nice atmosphere for us, and the service was impeccable! As a side note: it was here that we used the $50 each bonus coupons to buy a bottle of Spanish wine for $75 from the wine list… an $18 value here in Canada… which we did enjoy, but the Chilean housewines are quite decent as well! Honourable mention goes to the Beach snackbar trainee attendant who was left all alone at times, serving and preparing various items for any number of guests at the same time, with amazing grace under pressure. Kudos to the rookie. Talk about baptism by fire!
In summary, for breakfast we had the Buffet & Room Service available (24hrs), for lunch we had the Spa pool restaurant, the Buffet and the Beach snackbar and for dinners we either had just the Buffet available (two nights) and the other nights a choice of two a la cartes (Asian, Italian or Seafood). Plenty of choices, actually considering the resort was so empty. The only problem we had through the week, was one time (out of 4), our Room Service lunch order never made it to our room. Even after a few phone calls, including Reception, it was a no-show. That night, a returning staff member (who’d been off for a month) informed us that the afternoon had been, shall we say, "not a good day in the kitchen". Apparently there had been a "changing of the guards" (new chef?), some personnel switches and new positions created, including one for himself. He cheerily mentioned that it was to the benefit of RHE to encourage the staff to be more competent & for the resort to run more efficiently. Other than that one "blip", our dining experiences were quite satisfactory. No problems… Es Cuba!
Beach/Pools/Grounds: Pools & Ocean
The ocean felt like it was 90°-95° F as well as the pools. Most mornings we spent on Playa Ensenachos for an hour or two enjoying absolute & complete solitude. Although we weren’t always alone ->We had a special welcome a few mornings, by the resident barracudas who would float a few metres from us in the shallow warm water, and then swim off. They were at least a metre in length, and really were a shock to see the first time they greeted us (who needs jolt of coffee to wake up?) The other creatures that were noticed included the resident Iguana at the Hideaway Pool, a Cuban Black-hawk, flamingos, red land crabs, sand crabs, hermit crabs & lizards, hummingbirds, a couple of jellyfish, sea urchins, a number of starfish, needle fish and so many schools of colourful fish that swam around us we didn’t even end up using our snorkle gear. Although some new friends we met on the trip said there was an octopus and other more interesting sea-life near the coral between the two beaches of RHE. The Villa section was closed, so there were no facilities open nor were there any loungers at either end of Ensenachos at this time of year. We were glad we brought our own beach towels (we always do) which we kept clean by using them on top of the resort towels. We just made sure to keep the dirty towels away from our bed & clothing in case of sand fleas or noseums. When we had enough of the beach, we would head back to the resort for a great walk along Playa Ensenachos and then enjoyed the Hideaway Pool and the Pool Bar attendants for an hour or so to ourselves, too! It was heaven on earth for us! We felt as though we were on our own private island retreat.
Other Comments: Check Out Due to only a few buildings in the each of the Hideaway & Spa sections being open, our concierge at first, told us he couldn’t get us our room for late checkout. Apparently there were quite a number of new arrivals for the first week of August. But he did do his magic, and we ended up being able to keep our room for $40 until 6pm. Not sure how he did this, as we had talked to the front Reception Desk right after breakfast and had been told it wasn’ possible. Not a problem, just thought we’d try. Then, by the time we walked back to our bungalow, our concierge met us in the atrium, and told us that if went back to the Reception Desk, we could pay the $40 and book the late checkout! Which we happily did! Low Season Summary Thank Goodness for Air Conditioning! We have always enjoyed and looked forward to dining al fresco with all of our trips to the tropics, however, it was with welcome gratitude that everything (except the Spa Pool restaurant) was indoors with AC here during a Cuban summer! Upon our first winter trip to RHE we had been disappointed regarding this feature, but now we know why it is such a necessity! No real complaints about the food here, it was mainly good,and knowing that it is sometimes a "hit or miss" (only one or two misses) made our expectations more realistic.
In summary, we had the most amazing time. Third times a charm, as they say, isn’t it? The service was better, the food was good, the drinks were delicious, and the weather was fabulous… considering the forecast for our week! Accuweather had called for rain everyday, and we ended up with an hour of rain one morning (7:30-8:30am) That day, we were just ready to leave for breakfast, so instead, ordered coffee con leche (for 4->to get a carafe) and continental breakfast for two. It was delivered within 25 minutes (the poor delivery guys were soaked!) and we were ready to head to the beach by the time the sun was out again! One other day there was a "sun shower" that felt like the mist of the Niagara. All in all, we would definitely consider returning in summer, just to experience the laidback, lowkey & luxurious solitude of the Royal Hideaway Ensenachos once again!