Resort: Brisas Santa Lucia, All inclusive type
Airport: Camaguey, Cuba
Date: Feb 22- Mar 8, 2007
Overall Opinion: Poor tour company/airline; One star resort.
Minuses: Frequently the hot and cold water was turned off for at least part of the day. When the water was on, the hot always took 5 minutes of continuous running to heat up. Horribly stained pillows with pillowcases not long enough to hide the stains unless you folded the pillow in two before putting it in the pillowcase. Lumpy mattresses with springs barely covered by thin fabric. Everything was broken. Poor unimaginative, over-cooked food in limited quantities, no juice, no salad dressings, only instant coffee in the main restaurant from a machine, mixes for the alcoholic drinks limited to a few types of pop, and watered-down powdered drinks. Alcohol limited to the major types. Poor practices in the restaurant (staff handling raw chicken then serving food).
Many but not all waiters and staff were indifferent to the needs of the guests – often, depending on where you sat, you would have to go search them out to get a glass of water or wine. And that’s not because they were busy. Many would just be standing around and talking. Piles of raked but uncollected seaweed lined the beach despite the smelly diesel tractor and wagon that drove up and down the beach but couldn’t keep up with the piles.
We met many people who got food poisoning (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever) in our second week. At one of the While-you-wait grills, I saw a cook handling raw chicken with his bare hands, and then wiping them dry with a paper napkin before serving the cooked food. My friend and I both experienced food poisoning during our vacation at this resort and despite treatment, over a month later he remains ill. His doctor said the symptoms may last for months.
Pluses: Very shallow gradually deepening sea that warmed up quickly to bathwater temperature in the hot sun, fine white coral sand beach, attractive mature landscaping, sweet fresh fruit, decent red and white wine.
The whole story:
We bought our 2 week vacation from Sunwing, and had spent months planning a driving trip around the area in the south west where we’d hope the water would be calmer and warmer than it was in the north and that included renting a car, and driving around exploring the area’s sights and snorkelling while staying at casas particulares, which are much like Bed and Breakfasts. On previous trips, getting out into the countryside, picking up the ever present hitchhikers, and meeting the real Cuban people had been highlights of our trips. We made maps and photocopied the tour books sections on the areas we wanted to go to.
When we got to the airport in Toronto, the Sunwing staff told us and about 20 others that our hotel was overbooked and that we could go to a different hotel of equal value. A different resort might not be too bad, except that it was 380 kilometers away, on the north east coast, not the south west coast (Cienfuegos) where we had planned to go! Our entire driving trip would be impossible, the snorkelling destinations not reachable. We were furious but our only other option was to get a refund. Not too convenient when you’ve booked off 2 weeks from work, and are standing in an airport 100 miles from home. The agent said the hotel was a four star, equivalent to the one we’d booked. Very depressed, and angry we boarded the plane for the other hotel. There were many other angry people too. Some had planned to meet friends from previous trips to the area that we were no longer going to. Some had medical supplies to deliver to impoverished hospitals, again, nowhere near where we would be. Cuba is a big island, 750 miles long by 140 miles wide – it wasn’t like we could just drive there and many of the roads are in terrible condition, there are very few gas stations, some of which have no gas, or only have leaded gas that’s not useable in the modern rental cars. You have to plan your route before you leave home, and make sure you’ve got enough gas to get where you’re going by discussing your route with the car rental agent. One family I met on the plane said when they arrived at the Sunwing counter they were given only 4 boarding passes. Their 15 year old teenage son’s friend was told he was flying standby and might not get to go! In the end he did make it. We arrive at the airport in Camaguey and then take an hour and a half comfortable bus ride to our hotel, Brisas Santa Lucia near the town of Santa Lucia. The hotel is beautiful. There’s beautiful marble everywhere, the landscaping and vegetation is lush and mature. The lobby and environs are beautiful with artwork, statues etc.
The Beach: Fine white coral sand but a lot of seaweed washes up that needs constant raking but never seems to get all raked up but you can easily step over it to get to the water. Sufficient beach chairs and thatched shade structures called palapas (in Mexico). The water is very shallow, a long way out so the water heats up quickly. I took many pictures of fish in front of the resort and on the catamaran and coral garden boat trips. The water was very clear and even if stirred up would settle quickly. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to see my pictures, especially a secondary male stoplight parrotfish or search for stoplight parrotfish Brisas on picasaweb. The secondary males begin life as females but change into males if there aren’t enough males around. We would recommend both the full day catamaran snorkelling trip and the half day coral garden snorkeling trip but only if you could stay at a different resort. Camera is a Canon A520 and Canon underwater housing.
The Room: When we get to our room we discover the mattress is old and extremely lumpy with the springs sticking almost all the way through – very uncomfortable and our fridge didn’t work. So we complained to the Sunwing rep who said she’d have it taken care of. She was sweet but nothing was ever fixed. When we discovered all the other deficiencies, we were really angry. Our phone didn’t work, our satellite TV (about 3 English channels) was off the air for the first week and then periodically off and on during the second week. The power went out several times; there was frequently no hot water, or cold water turned off separately at different times. Some days the water was turned off altogether until sometime later in the evening. One day I had to use the waste basket to flush the toilet. The maid ignored that our soap ran out. There was no shampoo. The following day I asked for soap. She said she’d bring it. It never came. We were out of soap for three days until I finally asked for some in the hallway, which she finally provided. One day she left our wet bathmat and towels on the floor, unreplaced. The beach towel shack was almost always out of towels. We could hear the guests above us in the two story building and in the hallways. There seemed to be no trap in the bathroom floor drain which was so loud whenever our neighbours ran the water that we had to cover it and close the bathroom door at night. Our room (2500 block) was near a staff parking lot containing several fantastic old classic cars and we were awakened every morning at 6 am with loud conversations and truck engines.
The food: Some of the food was OK, a few things were quite good, like the fresh fish off the grill, but mostly the food was poor quality. The spaghetti tasted canned though it wasn’t. We know there are lots of shortages in Cuba, but this resort served substandard food, relative to all the other resorts we’ve stayed at in Cuba. The fresh vegetables for salad were limited mostly to cabbage, cucumbers and green tomatoes. There were peas that seemed to be frozen but were always hard and dry as if they didn’t cook them, and canned mushrooms, onions and garlic you could add to your omelette with the stone-like peas. They had labelled a sugary Koolaid type of drink "Juice". The milk was reconstituted powdered whole milk – you could still see some of the powder floating on the top. There were two types of plain cake they would sometimes make fancier by adding coloured icing. The flans / custard were more like pudding. The cooked vegetables were either boiled to death or too hard to cut, eg. potatoes, and literally the peas were too hard to cut! Very limited seafood other than fish, was of poor quality. The roast turkey was fairly good. There was only one type of flavourless jam called melocoton which is peach. Cookies were always shortbread style – pretty good and made with butter. There was never any chocolate. While you wait grills would make an omellete or fried eggs for you but the ingredients were limited. While you wait Pasta Bar suffered the same lack of ingredients. The pasta sauce tasted and looked like Campbell’s tomato soup. They had raspberry and coconut yoghurt but only until it ran out about halfway through the breakfast hours. You had to get there early. There was fluffy white french style bread. Once only I saw half a loaf of whole wheat and once I saw whole wheat rolls. There was no salad dressing except for one day out of the 14 – that was the day the managers were visiting. They did have unmanageably large slippery bottles of oil and separate bottles of vinegar though these were allowed to run out in the beach restaurant. The staff either didn’t care that the supplies ran out, or they were told not to refill. I suspect some of both. Empty food trays would often not be refilled even though the buffet was still open.
Coffee: In the buffet restaurant where all meals are served, the coffee was instant and came from a push button machine – undrinkable. This, in a country that grows superb coffee. The snack bar had an espresso bar where you could line up for excellent coffee and then carefully walk it over to the buffet restaurant. There was never any cream, though that is the case all over Cuba.
The fruit: The grapefruit were uniformly excellent, sweet and juicy, but the resort rationed the fruit most of the time, by making you wait in line for a server to cut it up for you. They also had sweet juicy oranges though they were tough as nails inside because they were juice oranges. The pineapple was sweet about half the time. Miniature bananas were always sweet. They also had guava which was interesting though full of seeds, and papaya which seemed ok.
Food Service: Many staff seemed indifferent to our presence in the dining room and would ignore us unless we walked over to them to ask for water or wine. I saw one man trying to figure out how to use the instant coffee machine with 2 staff 8 feet away doing nothing. He gave up without them coming to help him. Some staff were very friendly and provided excellent service at the tables removing our empty plates and refilling our water and wine.
Massage: Frank at the massage booth near the pool gave me an excellent one hour massage for 20 pesos (25 CDN)
Internet: 6 pesos (about 7 CDN per hour) but there was only one unbearably slow, old PC which you had to line up to use.
Washrooms: in the lobby and restaurants had no toilet seats and sometimes no paper.
Overcharged: We paid almost 1700 CDN each for 2 weeks, but we met people who had booked one week for $600. Considering that you only fly once there and back, 2 weeks should be less than $1200.
Summary: This used to be a 4 star resort when it was run by an international joint venture with the Cuban government. It appears that company is no longer involved and it has slipped so far down, that I would give it barely a one star rating. Considering that so many people got food poisoning, I would definitely recommend that you stay away from this resort. Tour company: We believe that Sunwing knew all along that they were going to switch us to this lower quality resort. Their motivation to do that would also be to fill their airplane, which would otherwise have empty seats. We will never ever fly Sunwing again. And in the future I will make sure we book a resort that is run by a joint venture with an international hotel company.