Vacation week Jan 28th to Feb 4, 2010. Excellent Cuban hotel overall, excellent beach. You can join in, or you can lay back – a ‘go at your own pace’ choice of activities throughout the week. You can lay back in a comfortable cigar lounge where you can enjoy a Cohiba for $10, you can join in a game of ball hockey, a day at the beach where the tide rolls out to reveal a huge white sand beach, or your choice of pools – from quiet or music filled – whatever suits your style.
There are basically 2 sides to this hotel, the Laguna side and the Emperador side, but you have access to both sides.
Your Arrival: Arrival, Air Transat on Airbus 330 – and transferred effortlessly from the airport to the hotel on new buses. The bus ride is a short 15 minutes to the resort. Check in at the hotel on the Emperador side suites was painless, and we were in our room in 30-45 minutes. It has been 12 years since I was last in Cayo Coco, and the new airport on the island is a real time saver. Our Cuban hosts have realized the importance of the tourist industry, and they have taken steps to improve in the area of airports, transferring to ground transportation, and our creature comforts in general.
Rooms: We chose a suite on the Emperador side, building 38, room 15 (3815) closer to the east end of this huge resort. We were as close to the lobby, pool, beach and the buffet restaurant as is possible. It is a large resort and requires a fair amount of walking to experience it all. The updated room had two double beds mashed together, which, lets face it, is good when it comes to actually sleeping. The airconditioning was perfect in the room, but we chose to open the windows. No balconies. We overlooked the lagoon suites, which are built on stilts over the lagoon that seperates the resort from the beaches. Rooms were serviced daily and we chose to leave a peso or two and gifts of tee shirts, toothbrushes, deodorants, gum, candies, lotions, and other simple toiletries which are so readily available to us, and so difficult for the residents to obtain, to the chambermaids, and we where well looked after. There were no signs of any bugs of any kind. We saw the odd gekko on the outside walls, but no creepy crawlers. (I always stay off the ground floor of any Carribbean country hotel for that reason).
In the suite rooms, there is a sitting room with a couch, and bathroom facilities include a bidet, toilet, and tub with shower. No problems with hot water running out any time I wanted a shower. Water pressure seemed to be at the lowest point of the day just before the dinner hour, but no problems were mentioned by anyone we spoke with. The buildings were in good repair, with a recent coat of paint to spruce the place up and yes you get a fresh roll of toilet paper in your room and a large bottle of water daily. If you go VIP at this resort, you will get a bottle of rum in your room, and a couple of nice terrycloth bathrobes too.
Restaurants and Bars: As there is a choice of pools, ther is a even better choice of restaurants. They call them a la carte restaurants, but they are available to anyone who books them. We chose the VIP package when booking, so reservations were waiting for us every evening at the restaurant. The restaurants included seafood, Italian, Cuban fare, a ‘steakhouse’, and a VIP restaurant. Once you remember you are in Cuba, (and lets be clear about this – they do not know how to cut, or cook a steak) you can get a decent meal. The a la carte menu items are portion controlled, so if you prefer to load up you plate at a buffet table, then eat at the buffet restaurants. I noticed that those sometimes had lineups, especially around 7:00. There are 2 buffet style restaurants to choose from, one on each side. They offered anyting from carved off the roast pork, to Cuban chicken. For some reason its hard to find a chicken breast, they perfer to serve you a thigh and leg. I did find white meat in some of their buffet table creations. Breakfast was the favorite meal of the day, with bacon, eggs any style, omlettes and the chefs who happily and tirelessly served us overfed Canadians with a smile or a everyday. There was a wide array of food to choose from. They do not seem to cook with any spices, so most people complain the food is bland. But hey, I didn’t come for the food, but on the some hand, I was not disappointed. I ate well.
I recommend bringing your own travel mug, that way, when you head up to the bar, you can get a decent sized drink, or you can take a coffee back to your room in the morning when the buffet opens at 7:30. The restaurants close at 10:00, but there is one 24 hour restaurant in the middle of the resort where you can always get a cheeseburger and a Cuban version of poutine, and a few other items off the 24hr menu.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: The beach is as good as I remembered it to be from 12 years ago. It is a long walk to the deeper water through crystal clear water. It reminds me a bit of Wasaga Beach because of how far out you can walk. You have about a 3 km white sand beach to share with 2 other resorts, the Tryp Hotel to the west and the Sol Cayo Coco Hotel to the east. You can walk the entire length of this beach in about an hour if you want to experience it from end to end. This resort has about 50 wooden (constructed from trees)covered beach ‘cabanas’, and so if you go down to the beach before breakfast and reserve you spot by setting your towels on the beach chairs, you will be set for the day. If you tip the beach staff with shirts, shoes, sandals, hats or plain cash, they will remember you, and they will come over to assist you everyday. It was wonderful to watch the tide roll out, and it made the beach about twice the size it was just a few hours earlier. There were a number of pools to choose from, they were all well looked after by the staff. There is a pride amongst these people in whatever they do, you just need to slow down from the hectic pace of your big city life, and not demand things – you are a guest in their country and you will be treated well if you treat them fairly. There were flowering hybiscus plants all over the place, nicely landscaped "lawns", and a variety of palm trees all over the expansive resort. There are no locals on the beach trying to sell you something, except for the guy who sells rum drinks in freshly cracked coconuts, and the travel/tourism rep who announces the days that the catamaran and the glass bottom boat tours, or the banana boat rides take place.
There is internet (dial up) available, the world best cigars,
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: There are no residents on Cayo Coco, it is a tourist destination only. Most of the staff of the hotels live off the island in the town of Moron, so the Jeep trip into that town will bring you into their environment and allow you to experience the true Cuba, if only for a few hours. There is a great disparity between their lives and ours, and I feel almost guilty for having so much while they have so little. We took along bags of bubble gums from the dollar stores here, and gave them to the kids we ran into, toothbrushes and toothpaste, etc. Bring along a second suitcase on your flight with your unwanted clothes in it, and go into a town like Moron and offer what you no longer want to these people, they will appreciate it.
Things are much better for us as tourists in the past few years, we can access most any of the regular activities from any other Carribbean resort. There are snorkeling activities, and even scuba diving for us already licenced divers, and the coral reefs off this island are the largest in the world – next to Australia and the Mayan coast of Mexico. There are deep sea fishing tours, tours of rum factories and tours that will take you to a crocodile farm. Bring a roll of toilet paper with you if you leave the resort.
Other Comments: I have seen the beaches of Punta Cana in the Dominican, Negril in Jamaica, Bahamas, Tortolla, St Lucia, Martinique, St Marteen and most of other Carribbean islands, and Cayo Coco beaches are just as lovely.
If you can remember you are in a 3rd world country, you can have a lovely vacation – it is a safe destination, as mentioned, no Cuban people live on the island, it is a tourist destination only.