The story of our week at Melia Cayo Santa Maria was the cold wind and temps (only one day got above 23C) that were present Every Single Day of our stay. The beautiful beach was red-flagged constantly while we were there, so we didn’t get into the water at all. Even at the pool, the water was far too cold for anyone to do anything more than a courageous walk through the water ("See me! I’m so tough!"). We played a lot of Scrabble, sitting in the chairs beside the pool covered by our beach towels. Evenings were definitely jacket and long pants times. The staff said that it was the coldest that they’d ever experienced in February. But the resort can’t control the weather, soooo …
Check-in was trivial, as we were given everything we needed (including room keys) by the Transat Holidays rep on the bus.
Rooms: The rooms were very nice and well-equipped. The maids did a good job every day and had a different bit of towel art (including with flowers) every day. We looked forward to coming back to the room and seeing what they had done (the cutest was a little monkey with my wife’s spare sunglasses on it). The TV channel listing was incorrect, but it did have CTV (Canadian Olympic coverage), CNN, Cartoon Network, Discovery, and HBO (I only watched English channels). It appeared to have an ABC channel that seemed to be replaced by another channel every once in a while. Considering the cold weather, the presence of a TV was a nice thing. The mini-fridge had a 1.5L bottle of water, two pop cans, and a beer. A peso and some disposable razors doubled that after the second day.
The only major complaint that I had about the resort was that the beds were very hard. By the second night, I was waking repeatedly to roll over. By the second-last night, I must have woken 15 times to roll over. I don’t know if this is typical of other resorts (of this price range) or not as this is my first all-inclusive. If I knew that another resort had softer beds, this issue could be a deal-breaker for me if other differences were close.
Restaurants and Bars: We were very happy with the food. It would have been good if the buffet food was better labelled, as we’d be more likely to experiment if we knew what we were experimenting with. So we went with the old standbys of eggs and french toast in the morning, pasta and hamburgers at lunch (and, yes, the hamburgers are very good in both the buffet and pool restaurant), and fried rice and pasta in the evening. There was enough other food at the buffet that made it so that I was always stuffed at the end of it. Other favourites of mine were prosciutto, paprika salami, and many cheeses and desserts. I would rate the food at the buffet at 4.5 out of 5, with the 5 achievable with more labelling of the mystery foods. The hours were OK (7 to 10, 1 to 3, 7 to 10), although I would have preferred to have lunch start at 12 and supper at 6 as an option. We had our a la carte at the Mediterranean restaurant. We were looking forward to the filet mignon, having heard so much about it. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option as we ended up with a pork loin. The pork loin was quite good but we were hoping for the other dish. We were given two appetizers (a cold soup and salmon sushi), both of which didn’t appeal to my wife. The dessert was good but not memorable. Service was OK but not up the standards of most of the waiters in the buffet restaurant. Since we enjoyed the buffet selection more, we didn’t book our second a-la-carte. As for the other restaurants, we ate twice at the pool restaurant. The first time, we had "pizza", which was very similar to what my kids do with pitas, sauce, and cheese. Not recommended, except when you have no other option. The chicken sandwich and hamburger that we had on the second visit was quite decent. The roving troubadours ("you want Latin or you want romantic?!?!?") were entertaining as well. The waitress had significant problems understanding what "vermouth" or "Cinzano" were, but handled the situation well. We did not eat at the fish restaurant near the beach. Lots of drinks were readily available and, as long as you didn’t actually wait for service on the patio of the lobby bar, service was great. They didn’t skimp on the alcohol. I was surprised at how effectively Elvis and the other pool waiter remembered our preferences from day to day. 90% of the staff were very good or exceptional. The best were found at the buffet restaurant: Daniel for French Toast and Hamburgers, Frank for Eggs and Pasta, Yanorkys for Bananas Flambe (with pancakes), and Juan Carlos as a waiter. Elvis (and the other pool waiter) was great at the pool too. The only staff that we had any issues with were at the lobby bar. The waiter would serve you right away when you got there and then ignore you unless you called him over. After a while, we accepted and worked around it at that particular location. All-in-all, I’d say the resort does a very good job with their staff.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: The beach was beautiful but useless to us due to the weather. The pools were nice but cold due to the weather. Weather weather weather. Argh!
The grounds were beautiful, clean, and well-maintained.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: We could not do any excursions because of an unexpected problem with my wife’s knee that would have made a rough boat ride, a long bus trip, or walking far too difficult. The remote location of the resort definitely limited our possibilities. We went to most but not all of the shows. Shows that had more dancing than singing were best. None were exceptional but the best part of all was the great Michael Jackson impersonator (only about 20 minutes of the show, though). It was annoying not knowing what the show was until they started it, though. The during-the-day activities were things like Salsa lessons, Spanish lessons, etc. The archery and Tai Chi were often not well attended. Fashion shows and bike acrobatic shows were OK.
If the weather had co-operated and the beds had been softer, this would have been a perfect vacation. As it was, we still had a good time.
Tipping:: There was no expectation of a tip from anyone. Nonetheless, we did tip a lot and found that larger tips given to those who gave exceptional service or who we saw repeatedly (Daniel and Frank, at the buffet) were very appreciated. We did the usual leaving-of-the-gifts for the maids. One thing that we did differently was that my wife decided to give a nice child’s dress (that our daughter had grown out of) to one of the vendors and I thought that the recipient was going to cry!
Other facilities:: I worked out in the exercise room twice. It was busy at 9 a.m. but not busy at all at 3 p.m. It has 4 stationary bikes, 3 treadmills, 2 steppers, and a rowing machine. The instructions at the entrance to the area stated that there was an attendant with towels but I didn’t see one at any time (including twice when I dropped by without doing anything). I also tried to check out the exercise room at the Sol (next resort over) which we had access to but it was closed and appeared to have been for quite some time. Internet access is available on two slow computers with dialup access for 12 pesos per hour. IE 6 was the only browser and the keyboard defaulted to Spanish (cut-and-paste for the @ symbol). Not all websites worked properly (e.g. Facebook). Yahoo Mail worked fine. GMail was OK but not perfect. Phoning out is expensive. Don’t. I exchanged money at the local Cadeca twice with no problems. The person showed me the calculation and asked me if it was OK before counting out the money in front of me. Lineups were prevalent at about 10 a.m. but OK otherwise. There is a small hut that contains a vendor daily. The vendor stays for two days and then goes away for two days in a two-vendor rotation. So, if you don’t want what both vendors have, you’re not going to buy much on this trip. The items were all very low-priced. We got a few masks, a painted dish, a few bracelets, etc. The store next to the lobby has a good selection of tobacco, alcohol, souvenir musical instruments, and not much else. Want chocolate, pens, or paper? Bring it from home. We had access to the Sol Cayo Santa Maria (easily accessible from a path between houses 4 and 6) and went a few times but it seemed rather deserted and depressing. As I mentioned, I hoped to use their exercise room but it was shut down.
Clientele:: It is most certainly a resort for older adults (40s to 50s, typically). There were a few young adults (early 20s) in large groups but they didn’t really fit in. Of the older adults, though, it would not be unusual for some certain groups of them to be a lot louder than they had to be (as other reviewers have noted).