Overall a lovely resort for a family to enjoy a vacation with one of the most beautiful beaches in the Carribean.
Our March break package was through Air Canada vacations. Arrived after 7:00 pm on Saturday; easily cleared through Cuban customs/security and escorted to buses. Received room key on bus,map of resort (which you will need!) info on excursions and our bags were taken directly to room when we arrived. Bus ride is quite long – 1.5 hours and it was in the dark so not a lot to see – much better on way back. Also, resort is very huge so trying to find room complex in dark was challenging – but one of the golf cart drivers stopped and asked if we had just arrived and gave us a lift to our room. We then went to the Beer Garden for a bite to eat (was ok – just hamburger and fries) and listened to a Cuban band. The weather was cool at night and wished all week that I had brought more sweaters.
We had to take two rooms since my oldest is over 16; the rooms were very large for the two of us, and kept very clean. The beds are quite firm but slept very well. Our balcony had no view – most rooms don’t. We were by the adult/leisure pool – it was a very quiet area, very relaxing. The woman cleaning our room was lovely – I left her a tip and some small gifts (magazines, lipstick, nail polish, toothpaste, toothbrushes, medicines) every day and in return my room was spotless. She also came to personally thank me for the gifts. Our beer fridge(s) were stocked regularly – we tipped the gentleman who delivered water,beer, etc and as a result even had wine delivered to our room. Air Canada also gave each of its guests a bottle of rum. The bathroom is very large and the shower/tub is large – water always warm and good pressure. There’s also a clothesline to hang up wet bathing suits.
Restaurants and Bars: Ok – agree that Cuban food is not outstanding (other than my favourite rice and beans). But you can make do. Buffet food is buffet food – those who are critical should try to feed 2000 guests a day. But, there is a lot of choice – so you can get fresh omlettes, fruit, eggs the way you want, fresh crepes, waffles, fresh orange juice, -and stay away from the warming trade. For lunch we would go to the pool snack bar for pizza or ham and cheese sandwiches (always good) or to Los Caribes where they served fabulous roast chicken and rice and beans or you could get pork or chicken grilled. It’s the fresh stuff like trying to get a good salad that is a challenge. With Air Canada we could go to 4 a la carte restaurants – we chose to go to three and did the buffet three times. At the buffet you could get fresh grilled fish at any point and it was very good. My kids really liked the food so the fact they were happy meant we were all happy. For the a la carte we went to the pizza restaurant (really nice small intimate restaurant and they served wood oven baked pizza), the sea food restaurant were we had lobster (the lobster bisque was excellent) and the mediterranean where the shrimp appetizer could rival any upscale restaurant. You can also purchase a better bottle of wine than the house wine – and the prices weren’t bad, ranging between 14 to 20 pesos for a good bottle of wine from Spain or Australia. The lobby bar is very busy – it’s hard to get the attention of the bartenders and they really are working for their tips. The cappucino is the best though – don’t get it in the buffet restaurant, treat yourself, give a peso for a tip and enjoy a really good cappucino. Found the pool bartenders a lot less friendly than at the lobby bar.
Also there is an ice cream stand where you can get ice cream all day – the mint and chocolate were particularly good.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: The pools are very large – lots of chairs to sit on, plenty of shade. Biggest problem is the pools are extremely cold – frigid temperature in fact and they never warmed up, no matter how hot it got during the day. The ocean, by comparison was cold at the beginning of our stay but warmed up considerably. The beach is just heaven – you can walk over 12 kilometres uninterrupted – and the colour of the water, sound of the waves, just exquisite. One of the nicest beaches ever – and unlike Mexico and the Dominican, no one is bugging you to buy something, or to go to a time share, or anything like that. Yes, people do get out and stake their towels on the chairs, but I found there was no problem getting a chair that was a little further down the beach. The biggest issue would be how far you had to go to get to a washroom.
The grounds/gardens are lovely throughout the resort. The gardeners work on them full time. We gave our bartender one of our bottles of rum that we didnt’ finish – no one thinks to tip them.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: There were less activities at the resort than I’ve experienced at other locations in the Carribean. However, it was also nice not to having someone yelling "animation,animation" all the time. My boys would go to the activity pool and my husband and I would stay at the leisure pool – they also said there was less activity at this resort, but they would go to the sports club and play volleyball, and they made a lot of friends which kept them quite busy. We did the catamaran trip and would highly recommend it – snorkeling, plus some leisure time on a coral beach, a lobster lunch and dolphin encounter, all in all a great day. Please note, this is not swimming with dolphins and the dolphins are penned up during the day which upsets me somewhat – however, you do get to pet them, take pictures, get splashed by them, and the trainer says they are let out at night; they come back in the day for food.
There are shows every night if you are into that – we really enjoyed the Cuban house band – even bought there CD.
Other Comments: This resort is very large; that to me is its biggest drawback. There are 900 rooms so two to four people in a room, that’s a lot – and a lot of walking. The golf carts are helpful especially for seniors who might find it hard getting around – and you do have to walk someways to get to the beach (but it’s worth it once you are there). There are a lot of Quebecers – and I hate seeing all the reviews complaining about them as they are just as entitled to vacation as anyone else. I didn’t find any of them to be rude, nor the smoking to be excessive. However, this being March break, the hotel was full to capacity – so that did mean long waits – at the restaurants, at the bars, and just in general there were a lot of people. My preference is for a smaller resort – but that is why I enjoyed getting out and walking the beach so much as it was one way of getting quite a bit of solitude.
I’d recommend you tip the staff – you don’t have to give a lot (some people were giving 20 pesos) but just a little to show appreciation. These people don’t have a lot – no one lives like the tourists on vacation. Also, you need 25 pesos per person to leave the country – departure tax – and it must be pesos. There is a bank on the resort to change your money. And we also paid the extra money to sit at the airport lounge (only through AC Vacations) when we departed – as the wait was quite long (3 hours). You can get drinks and snacks in the lounge and watch CNN – which is how we found out about Libya being bombed – hence back to reality, vacation over.