Summary: Resort is good. Not exceptional but a good solid fun place to be with nice people and exotic. Check out the place during the night, security is all over the place and there really is no-one to really protect against other than the tourists. All paths are well lit and the stars are bright in the area due to little light pollution. Get to know the people, Cuba is all about the people.
Arrival: Was with "Sunwing" and pickup was prompt and bus was air conditioned. The new lobby is nice looking and we did have a room to place our luggage until we could check-in and get the luggage delivered. Small issue that they were in the process of spot painting in that storage room and our children were amazing at finding the spots and smearing it on them, parents and luggage. Were able to get cool drinks immediately and when kids needed to go to washroom staff banded the kids promptly.
Rooms: Good rooms with windows that open the widest I have seen. Great view on the second floor and the birds and wind sounded great. Washroom was good and descent size with sliding mirror doors as closet with much room for toiletries. A safe is provided but many do not work from what I heard, our other family member had one that worked we used. TV was a bit odd due to changing of hotel subscription / channels probably due to new ownership change. Did see some ants, mainly getting in from under the room door, hotel could stand to install "sweepers" at the bottom but a rolled up towel did the trick.
Two double beds joined, large sleeping surface all things considered.
Restaurants and Bars: Hands down best: Cigar Club The bartender there knew ways to spin bottles in the air but his art of mixing made the hotel lobby bar seem pitiful in comparison. Save your tips for this place, fastest service you can get and only one person. Nice high ceiling and MANY fans (very quiet ones as well), they open the ends of the building which is over the water which keeps it cool and great to stay in and relax. Open around 6:00-7:00pm and closes around 11:00pm. Pool table and cigar / alcohol store also there. Look for "Ismael Glez Roman" when he plays there (guitar and saxophone) you can see he loves what he does and "Amilkar" on piano is a good second. The "in-house band" saxaphone player is amazing and is better than the lead singer when he gets to sing. Disappointing: Lobby Bar Nice place to hang out but the staff was a bit of a mix. Couple nice good staff but most with a hint of attitude and always on the make for a big tip. You tip excessively you get great service but sets a bad expectation. Found these people had some thing on the side going and I had to wait often unless I had a peso or two in hand visible. Great place for the view but again, save your tips for better things. Mixed feelings: Disco. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you will get. Sometimes empty, sometimes hopping. Good drink service, mixing is a bit sketchy but they are willing to be directed or just give you lots of it (be careful here…). DJ happy to take suggestions if you are sure what you ask for will get the people moving (Does have current music due to vacationers visiting with memory sticks full of music). Suggestion: If no-one in the disco just order a drink and wait until it is done, no-one likes to stay in an empty disco so it stays that way. We sat down with it empty and had 15-20 people stop and stay in the space of a drink. Good light show that they are still playing with, impressive when they fire the whole thing up. Awesome: Seafood Restaurant: Book this one and not regret it, good food and atmosphere and the staff were friendly and fast, I like this crew, they seem to click well.
Normal: Buffet: Find a waiter/waitress that mean business, they will make it great as they hustle drinks, cutlery, napkins and wine to you and make the dinner time feel good. We had a couple that may not have smiled much at first but it was a good meal with no waiting (the smiles came later when they realized we appreciated the efforts). Chat up one of the people at a favorite cooking station, the food seems to get better and do not forget to tip them.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: Beach: Awesome, just no proper words. Nice white sand and blue clear water. Usually a great breeze but get that sunblock on or get burned in short order. Pull up a chair there at night and look at the stars and hear the waves with your favorite someone and it will hit you all the more that you are on vacation. Bar stereo was a bit on the distortion loud side but good music but at least there is a bar near at hand. Had a couple of the staff willing to march chairs to me a fair distance so no worries there. Pools: Clean, clear, good variety and a fair number of chairs. The old El Senador side of the resort got shut down part way through our stay and that was the best pool for kids with a shallow end walled off (check to see if open when booking?) Well kept grounds BUT wonder how it gets done with all the gardeners jumping out of the brush to sell you something at every opportunity. It is a bit much I hate to say. Find some gardener who is doing the work and bring him a beer, a large tip and small talk, you would feel better than dealing with these salesmen. If I hear one more time "My friend, uno momento!" from a gardener I may charge them for wasting my time.
They were prettying up the resort with spot painting as mentioned, really should have got people doing this at off-hours, it was getting hazardous trying to avoid the paint. Some attention could be given to the flagstones ringed with cement: the cement was falling off and could stand to be re-done. Everything else looks nice, used but not "tired" and it looks like they are addressing it.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: DO NOT USE SCOOTERS: Some of our family had an accident in the past (front wheel fell off) and a fellow had a mechanical failure and wiped out during our stay. If you see road rash on the sides of the scooters back away quickly. You have been warned. Glass Bottom Boat Ride: Just do it, the snorkeling at the end was worth it just for that.
Jeep Ride to Moron: This is where much of the staff come from to get to work. Worth the trip just to see the HUGE bridge they made and a chance to see the seas of flamingos. The town is a bit sketchy but as the locals told me, the resort is the "golden prison" and is not representative of Cuba. It was amazing to see just how many schools they have. Bring your water and be prepared for many stops as tourist activities that can drain the pesos…
Other Comments: Keep a set of swimsuit and home/holiday clothes in your carry-on since plane delays and odd issues can occur and Cuba sucks when you are wearing winter clothes. No Canadian change (bills OK)! Hard to convert and no-one wants it, you have been warned. Throttle back on the tips except on the "nice people" you get to know. Heavy tipping is getting to be expected. As pointed out by a local: "See that fancy car? That is a bartender, think what he gets in a day if he is tipped for every drink." Cuba just cannot import some things so clothes, sewing kits, shoes, glasses, music (sheet, cd, mp3 for the right person), toiletries, small electronics (solar calculators) are helpful. General consumables that you would not want to do without they probably need. Small hand tools are in high demand. Bring multiple pens for your own use (hard to find) you are constantly filling out forms. Bring water tight drinking containers for water or alcohol on the go. 20 convertible pesos is a "normal" month’s wage so bear in mind what money like this means to them.
Bring some kind of Spanish primer with you, any attempt at Spanish seems to surprise the locals to no end.