www.hotelsc.com The Arenas Dorados (Golden Sands) is a wonderful resort that we keep returning to, because of the beautiful grounds and the great staff. It’s about a 20-minute ride from the Varadero airport and a 10-minute drive from the town of Varadero. Our trip was marred this time by the noise. The animation team is a bit out of control with their music, and the boom-boom of the bass was pretty relentless, in our rooms and on the beach. But, I am hoping that enough people will talk to the manager about this and get it back on track. It’s too good a place to lose people over the music. The manager does talk to the guests, and listens to them, so I do hope this is improved.
The grounds and the staff are what really make this place what it is (well, and the beach, but you can get beach anywhere along that strip). The grounds are huge, and very well taken care of. Because of this, it’s a pleasure to walk around the grounds, and to go from place to place during your day (room, restaurants, beach). They’ve even put signs out now to tell you what some of the plants are. There’s plenty of wildlife at the resort that kept us amused. There are two kinds of lizards and they are everywhere. There’s also a lot of birds, such as doves, king fishers (the national bird of Cuba), and a slight scary sort of crow that will puff its chest and unswirl its tail if it’s angry (like when it expects you to feed it!). There’s also a lovely family of large white ducks that we fed every day (eventually twice a day). There are also turtles and fish. On a good day, at the little river, you can be feeding ducks, fish, turtles, sparrows, and crows, and the kingfisher will be watching all (and even occasionally diving in for a fish). There are also crabs that get up onto the land. We had one that was living under the balcony of one of the rooms in our complex and it was thrillingly creepy to see him every day and night (he came out of his hidey-hole at night). The place is very relaxed, of course, and the staff are, for the most part, very friendly and approachable. We always have such a good time here because we talk to so many of the staff. The fellow travellers are the ones who can make for a bad atmosphere. There are a lot of children here, and my fellow Canadian families often have one screaming child out of control. The European kids are quite well behaved, but every time I am at this resort, I have had to spend a few days listening to an out of control child in the dinner buffet. If you really don’t like kids, this may not be the place for you because there are usually about 5 to 8 families there (in June, anyway). The rest of the people are usually early 40s to senior. The few 20-somethings who do come are usually bewildered at not being at a party resort.
Food and drink:
The food at the resort ranges from “just fine” to “really great”, depending on what it is (the roast beef is always great). The fact is, it’s a buffet system, so it’s pretty hard to make extravagant meals. And it’s better than what I make at home most days. The variety is astonishing, too. They got a new head chef last year and I think that made a big difference. There were a lot of smaller salads this visit, with interesting ingredients (for example, black beans and chickpeas, mixed with red peppers and onions). And the breakfast croissants are out of this world.
There are several restaurants. They are: • El Escarpe (the buffet) • Trattoria Dolce Vita (24 hour pizzeria) • Natura (upstairs in the main building) • Los Loritos (pool grill)
• El Galeon (beach grill/buffet)
There are also a few bars (and you can get drinks at all the restaurants as well): • El Patio (lobby bar) • Los Pelicanos (beach bar)
• Pool bar Breakfast is served only at El Escarpe buffet, the main restaurant. You can get lunch in the main building (at the 24-hour pizza place, which is air conditioned), El Galeon, and sometimes El Escarpe (not when we were there in June, but maybe in high season), as well as the pool grill and the beach buffet. El Escarpe buffet is very nice, with tablecloths and real napkins in the evenings. One night a week is romantico night, with candles and romantic music played by Roberto and Daniel.
Everyone at this hotel is wonderful, with a few exceptions… the front desk staff are always cold and unhelpful. This is surprising, since you would think they’d be expected to be the nicest. We had a few things where we needed their help, and even talking to them in Spanish did not seem to work. The daytime staff at the lobby bar are also fairly aloof. Also, the women in the main shop (the toiletries and grocery/liquor shop) are quite unfriendly, again even when you speak to them in Spanish. The women in the tourist shops across from them are very nice. However, the other staff are the best. Everyone lit up to see us again, and we always had an “hola” from every single staff member as we walked by (except the above folks). We know many of the staff now because they are so friendly, and that makes for quite an enjoyable stay. If you talk to them just a little bit in Spanish, they love you for it, and you get the most extraordinary service (instead of the “plain” excellent service the other patrons get). Not that we spoke to them well to get good service… but it was obvious that they really enjoyed talking to us and serving us. I don’t speak Spanish but my boyfriend taught me some basics and it went a long way. You are in for a treat at the dinner buffet, where two accomplished musicians sing and play guitar (Roberto and Daniel). At the beach buffet, there’s a great trio, whose names I don’t know. They played a version of Dos Gardenias for me that had me crying because they have such beautiful voices. They are all a bit assertive about moving around and playing for tips but this is how they make their living. They will still be nice to you and play well for you if you don’t tip but we always tipped them well because they are professional musicians. Also, if you want to take gifts for the musicians, guitar strings are appreciated, as are music CDs. I love all the staff in the dinner and breakfast buffets because they are so kind and friendly. We have one good friend there, Maria, and every year we make more friends because they are so friendly… from the staff our age to the young university girls on their practicums. If other people ever find the staff unfriendly, it’s because they are not talking to the staff (and you don’t have to speak Spanish; I talked to many of the staff in English, and spoke to some in my extremely limited Spanish). The evening bar staff at El Patio are really fun and energetic. I especially like Dayana, who is sweet and a hard worker. She’s quiet but if you say hello to her every night, pretty soon she may be shooing you outside and sending your drinks out with a server (generally you take your own drinks outside). They have a cowbell at the bar that they ring every time someone tips them, and they make a lot of noise about I (they like to jest a lot at the lobby bar, which is fun). One thing you may want to do is give your insect repellant to the lobby bar staff when you leave, because the mosquitoes get inside the lobby, plus the staff go outside to clear tables. They can’t readily get bug spray in Cuba. (And, yes, do take bug spray to the resort. In June, at least, the mosquitoes can be bad at night if you don’t spray). Some of my favourite people at the resort include ones I didn’t see much of, maybe only once or twice a day (and not always to talk to), but I always got a big smile. Luisa at the money exchange booth is very nice, as are the fellows at the beach bar, whose names I don’t remember. The maids are also very nice (and one remembered my boyfriend from a visit three years ago!). In short, the staff are just incredible at this place. We even stopped Señor Juan (the general manager, who roams the grounds and the restaurants) to tell him how wonderful the staff are. He said he is very proud of them and that they are the resort’s greatest asset. The fact that the general manager is out and about, and eats in the restaurants (and also checks the presentation every day… he does a wandering inspection over the buffet tables) makes us feel good about being there. And we are happy to see that the staff do not flinch or scurry when he comes in; they greet him warmly and they receive such a greeting in kind. Happy, respected staff make for excellent service.
There are eleven buildings of rooms on the resort, with 30 rooms apiece. We got a ground floor room this time, facing the pool, which was not so good, for two reasons: the bugs, and the noise. We could feel the bass beat from the pool music, which went from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., every single day. On the days when we were not feeling good and wanted to rest in the room, this was unbearable. The music and animation team sort of run the place in terms of the noise, but it may’ve changed by now if enough people said something about it, either directly to the manager or on the evaluation forms they hand out. Some people may not mind that kind of noise but it really bothered us. I don’t know if you can ask for a second-story room, but that may be another option (the noise of the loud music itself was bad, but it was also the boom-boom vibration, through the ground and so into the room, that got to us). For the bugs, we sprayed with our insect repellent around the door, patio door, bathroom door, and vent in the bathroom, and that seemed to help. The rooms are very nice, with a safe (2 CUC a day), double beds put together to form a giant bed (so-so mattresses), beautiful blue walls, good TV, and a small fridge. There’s a fair amount of drawer storage (one drawer in a nightstand beside each side of the bed, two drawers on the table by the TV, and a 3 drawer unit in the closet). Bring some hangers because there’s not enough for two people (I brought about 6 hangers for a 2 week stay). Each room also has a patio with a table and chairs (you are not supposed to dry your towels or clothes out there!).
Bathroom: good showers, nice big counter top (with fossils in it!), pretty good towels (ours were changed daily when we had our regular maid), towel hooks. It’s a good idea to bring one of those travel clotheslines, for drying bathing suits. You get one large bottle of water in the room, included. The hair dryer was pretty bad but very amusing (it looks like a goose neck and head).
It’s easy to get downtown, as long as the bus is running. Sometimes the bus is broken but it is still running… it’s Cuba, you just have to go with it. The bus is free and it leaves for Varadero about 5 times a day (except Sundays). You get an hour and a half in town if you want to take the same bus back. You can also take a cab to town, which is about 10 CUC. The bus stops first at the Plaza des Americas, a boring mall with expensive stores (there is a good cigar shop there, though. You can get cigars at the hotel shop, for just a little bit more money, if you don’t want to go to the Plaza. Don’t buy cigars at the store right in Varadero; it’s very expensive). Then it heads into Varadero. It’s about a 10-minute ride. The driver should get a 2 to 3 CUC tip. You get dropped off at the second market. There are several now, instead of one large one. The place you get dropped off at, right across from the Santa Elvira church, is not bad. The really big one is about 30 blocks down (3 CUC for a cab). The stuff for sale is now sadly similar to the market kitsch you find in Havana (much of it is factory made, a friend told us), but there’s still some good finds. Also, there’s usually a table every day at the hotel where some of the same stuff is available. There’s a lot of black coral for sale at the markets and even, sadly, at the hotel shop. Black coral is an endangered species and in many countries, it is illegal to bring it back with you. You should check with your country’s import restrictions before you go, and resist the urge to buy black coral. Do not listen to what other people say about this because they don’t know what they are saying. I had some people tell me it wasn’t so bad, that is wasn’t really illegal to take home, but I know some countries will confiscate it and possibly fine you, because I work in an area of government that deals with imports. Most bone and horn is ok (there’s a black material made from cattle horns), as is the hematite (also black). There’s not much chance of mixing these up, since they look different (you can see from a Google image search). The vendors are proud to be selling black coral, so if you ask if something is coral or horn, they will tell you. Wood is usually ok to buy, but watch for holes bored into it by insects. Bringing that back to your country could be quite dangerous to your country’s environment. There are some interesting things in town, like an art gallery and a couple bookstores. There’s also a very nice restaurant with great Cuban food, called Restaurante Esquina. It’s at Calle 36. An all-you-can-eat ropa vieja and salad is about 7 CUC. There’s a tourist medical clinic, I think close to the Santa Elvira church. I know it is definitely on the main road in Varadero because we see it every time we are there. Always good to know it’s there (but there’s a nurse at the resort, I think). You can take coco taxis around town but if you take one back to the hotel, it will take a very long time (about an hour, I think). As will a horse and carriage. The hotel bus or a taxi is the best way to get back. There are other restaurants around town but we only went to the Cuban one because Maria recommended it when asked for a place that serves authentic Cuban food. There’s a well known one called Don Quixote, that’s between Varadero and the resort, but I don’t know what it’s like, in terms of food or price.
Other amenities: Safe rental (2 CUC a day) Beach towel rental (you pay a deposit but get it back. You can exchange your towel up to once a day) 220 volts in the rooms Laundry Tennis Various equipment for playing in the ocean Horse rides on the beach
Keep in mind that Cuba does not always have the same safety standards we take for granted, so using or renting equipment there may not be as safe or regulated as you are used to.