Your Arrival: Flew with Sunwing out of Québec City. Stopover in Ottawa for 1/2 hour… which turned into 2.5 (loading passengers, tire change, then de-icing), so arrived in Varadero 2 hours later than sheduled… in thundershowers. Flight was nonetheless pleasant, the small glass of champagne helped. Btw, food was good too. Check-in was smooth and fast. Front desk personnel could gain if they smiled more… They all looked extremely busy and stressed. The bank is around the Front Desk counter on the right. Exchange rates were only a smidge higher than that of the airport. Departures are also at this same area. They give you your room keycard and towel cards. The weekly weather charts and respective travel agengy flight info books are also located at the Front Desk.
The only boutique in the hotel is near the Front Desk. In a small corridor opposite the Lobby you’ll find the cigar shop, the cigar bar, and tucked further away is the Guest Relations Office where you have to go (as early as possible when u arrive) to book your a-la-cartes for the week. They will do their best, but let’s face it, it’s hard to book 1000 people in 4 restaurants when some seat only 80 people at a time… The PR rep told me that some people just don’t show up for their reservation (how rude) so sometimes you may get lucky.
Rooms: We had Room 16415 (room 15 on 4th floor of bldg 16), fab-U-lous, next to main building and great view of entire site with beach on the horizon. King-size bed, nice clean bathroom complete with 2 bathrobes and the traditional towel art. No problem with lack of hot water or towels. Minibars are re-stocked every 2 days. We were able to watch snippits of Olympics on Canadian tv, yeh! One minor flaw, the room safe is located in the closet on a shelf in a very weird position, almost hard to see into.
Oh yeah, other slight problems like no mini-bar service after 3 days, and one day the toilet seat broke off its hinges (not me, I swear! lol) and one day no maid service (but saw them in the hall) were all remedied within minutes.
Restaurants and Bars: Buffet is downstairs under the terrace and lobby perched above. I’d give the Buffet food a 3.5/5 just because of the lack of variety, imho. It’s also very noisy when full. There is a small room off to the right near the Omelette station which is much quieter. The a-la carte restaurants are all together along one corridor, not far from Buffet entrance. This same walkway leads to the Theatre and the Disco area (neither of which we visited). The Romantico restaurant was, imho, the best one, followed by the Japanese (personal chef "performs" in front of tables of 10, great time), then the Italian. There is also a Ranch restaurant near the beach, open 24 hours, serving everything from burgers and fries to buffet-style meanus at noon. The Ranch Grill also serves excellent cappucinos and espressos, which is good to know considering that the Lobby bar opens only at 9:00 a.m. (whazzup with that?)… Speaking of whazzup, the a-la-cartes are pretty small, so book early! The lobby bar serves excellent drinks and is open until 2 a.m. It’s a small, closed, air-conditioned area, but the lobby itself boasts of a very large sitting area on 2 levels, so you can either sit around in the lobby area near the entrance or down a few stairs where larger chairs and couches were THE spot in the evenings, when the entertainment kicks in. Most evenings there was a very good female pianist, often followed by small groups of musicians to set the tone for a wonderful, relaxing evening. One group in particular, composed of 5 beautiful latinas raised the roof with some very good salsa dance music. Some guests play cards or games while others just huddle/mingle with neighbours. Very good idea for those of us who are early risers! In hotter temps, this portion of the lobby opens up to a huge terrace overlooking the entire site.
And yes, there is a beach bar near the central walkway and close to the Ranch Grill. Open 10 to 6, weather permitting.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: What can I say about the beach except WOW. It’s the best thing about this hotel! It’s long, rock-free and gorgeous! And the only jellyfish we saw were dead ones on the beach lol Lots of chairs, palapas AND room. Two gents are present to set up the chairs if u so desire. Unfortunately, the beach chairs have NO cushions, although the pool areas do (on request; look for the pool guys carrying piles of green/white mats). There are 3 pools: one large one in the center of the resort, complete with rock waterfall, hot-tub for 15 people up top, swim-up bar and kiddie waders. The 2 other pools are the other side of each row of buildings. These are smaller and definitely quieter. We RARELY saw anyone in the pools, mainly because it was SO DARN COLD the week we were there! Bummer! The grounds are clean and well-kept. The vegetation is newer but promising! There is one walkway to the beach on the left and a central one (the one 95% of people use) leading past the Ranch Grill. The proposed walkway on the right-hand side is still under construction, so unavailable thus far. There are bathrooms in the Ranch Grill.
p.s. No bugs to be seen but I did see some ladies with badly bitten legs, so be prepared.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: Really nice gym and spa up on the 5th floor of main building over lobby. Practiced tai chi on one day in a round windowless room overlooking the resort and beach… Surreal! You can get a massage at the spa ($) and NO, you can’t use the spa hot tub unless you are a spa client… The Animation team is quite young and imho lack experience handling such a large site. They sure try their darndest, though! Daily stretching, workout, step classes, and dance lessons most mornings before noon at both the main pool and the beach. These guys and gals work their buns off, some working more than 15 hour days. Incredible! We also noticed several other games such as bingo and party quiz guys-against-gals games around the main pool area. There is what seemed to be a popular kiddies club just across from the Ranch Grill and close to the main pool area, with proper supervision. I even heard they had a kiddies night at the Theatre complete with dancing, singing and costumes. There are also 3 tennis courts, ping pong in the towel clubhouse on the right as u look out from the lobby balcony, as well as ping pong and darts in the lobby most nights and a pool table near the cigar bar. On the beach there are the usual water sports: paddleboats, several catamarans, those small 2-person sailboat whatchamacallits, windsurfing and parasailing, which we did NONE of because of the tremendous winds the entire week. Bummer!
Internet: Good luck trying to find the Internet room! The entrance is OUTSIDE the front entrance to your left tucked in behind… the Guest Relations desk. Can I say Whazzup again? There is no sign to indicate that the Internet Room is here… Tickets are sold at the Front Desk.
Other Comments: Temps were quite COLD almost the entire week, with temps ranging between 16 (you heard me) and 21, partly cloudy and very windy most days. We had 3 good days on that glorious beach, but were only allowed to swim on ONE day (high winds and big waves, too dangerous). The lifeguards were extremely vigilant on these days, warning us to not go further than below our knees… Might I mention that we were at the hotel during the last week of the Olympics and that with a slight insistence by some people (ok, large amount of lobbying lol), the Canadian guests managed to convince the hotel to set up a tv in the Disco to enable many of us to watch the Canada/US gold medal final. I thought that was a wonderful gesture on the part of the Hotel to do this. We were out of town for the evening, but heard that several hundred attended the DOO and a grrrreat time was had by all, in a great spirit of comaraderie… and oh yeah brewskys and maple leaf mitten-cladded glasses of rum! When we got back to the hotel later that evening, the lobby was practically deserted, as most people hung around their rooms to watch the amazing closing ceremonies. Go Canada! 🙂 All in all, we had a great week at a great hotel. Yes, I would go back there again but personally we prefer smaller resorts, as you get to know the staff better. This hotel opened in late 2009 and is already showing signs of wear and tear (perhaps lack of adequate sturdy materials and quality paint? or is it the humidity? Dunno). In the lobby area, the seat cushions are already sagging in many of the chairs and couches. I think they need more staff. Working 9 to 9 does not an efficient worker make. For example, it sometimes took 20 minutes to get a drink at the lobby bar via the waitress, so it became faster just getting stuff yourself. And on one day we had no maid service at all, despite the "please make up room" sign on our door. There were other minor things of course, which is why I’d give it 4.5/5. But… they’re working on it!! If you have any questions, feel free, I’m around.