The flight: Flew with Zoom airlines via Go Travel Direct. The flight was good, but being a circle flight (with a stop in Varadero to let people off and pick others up), we found it a bit long. Still, breezed through immigration and was met by the highly efficient Go travel Rep.
The Room: We had the standard room, and yes, they are very basic. No alarm clock, no coffee machine, one small pillow each, plain decor. But it was clean and the maids did an excellent job keeping it that way. Our one complaint was that the air conditioning wasn’t working properly. We took out complaint to the front desk twice and though someone came by both times, the air was never very cool. Most nights we slept with the window open because the air outside was cooler.
The Beach: The beach was gorgeous. Yes, there is a lot of sea grass there, but it’s not slimy and there’s a tractor that runs up and down the beach in the mornings to clear away what’s washed in over night. Lots of loungers and shade available. There is a bathroom by the snack bar, but it’s tucked around the side of the building. Animation activities take place on the beach in the mornings. You can walk for ages in either direction. Snack bar on the beach has burgers and fries as well as little sandwiches and some fruit. We generally didn’t eat there though.
The Pool: The water was 27-28 degrees celsius and very refreshing when it was very hot. Swim up bar, activities in the afternoon,"sweet hour" in the late afternoon, salsa lessons, and not overrun with small children. The loungers all have comfortable cushions too and you can find the handicraft souvenirs here too. Ping pong, pool table… you get the idea.
The Food: There’s nothing fancy about the food. But there’s also nothing wrong with any of it. In fact, the pasta there (Italian chef) is some of the best I’ve ever had. Lots of meat to choose from – beef, pork, chicken, veal, sausages, fish, shrimp, squid. Always lots of rice or potatoes and cooked vegetables (spinach, cauliflower, carrots, eggplant, peppers). Small salad bar. Ice cream at dinner. Fruit (the pineapple is amazing). The bread was a little odd. A little dry for our tastes, but if you dig you’ll find a loaf of softer stuff. The desserts were actually rather disappointing, but that wasn’t a bad thing as it kept me away from the stuff. Had fruit and ice cream instead. Breakfast got old pretty quickly though – eggs, bacon, hot dogs, ground beef, french fries, toast, sugary cereals and pastries. I’m not a huge egg eater so I had to get a little creative. The yogurt is very good, but much thinner than we’re used to.
A-la-carte Dinning: We didn’t try the Alphonsino on the pier as it cost extra. If you’re with Go travel you can go to the pizzeria as well as the cuban restaurant as many times as you’d like for no extra charge. We liked the pizzeria so much we went back for our last night there.
The Drinks: Most of the mixed drinks are made with white rum. They have quite the selection. Beer on tap. Red and white wines available at the restaurants and the buffet. The coffee bar near the pool was a god-send. Tea, coffee, espresso, cappuccino… and it was always open. I became addicted to cuban coffee.
Excursions: As they`re all controlled by the government, there’s no shopping around for the best deal when it comes to getting out. We went on the 69$ Catamaran tour which included open bar, two snorkeling sessions, a couple of hours on Playa bonita and an amazing seafood lunch. Two words of caution though, if you’re prone to motion sickness you might want to re-thinking being on a boat all day. Also, Playa Bonita is very beautiful, but there’S a lot of garbage that washes on shore and along with that is tar. I had tar all over the bottom of my feet from walking up and down the beach. Fortunately rubbing a little sunscreen on it helped to wash it off (the oil in the sunscreen works as a remover). We also did the day trip to Camaguey for 45$. This was definitely money well spent. Our guide was wonderful, we visited a cigar and a rum factory, a local market, the old city centre, a church, got to do some shopping (but shopping in Cuba is limited at best), a great lunch and an open air concert.
Nightly entertainment: We saw three of the shows when we were there and they were all good. Lots of music, skits, dancing, acrobatics etc. The Animation staff are amazing. I don’T know where they find the energy.
The disco: If you’re with Go Travel you get in for free. Otherwise cover is 5$ and it’s open bar. The animation staff (who work all day) turn up for dancing and they make sure people get out on the floor. The music was a good mix of cuban stuff as well as popular dance tunes from home.
A word on shopping: Your best bet for souvenirs is what the vendors bring to the resorts, if you’Re looking for stuff other than rum, coffee and cigars. There wasn’t a lot in terms of t-shirts or hats. Lots of island jewelry, but nothing really fancy. If you buy art (as in a painting that is 30cmX30cm or a sculpture taller than 30Cm) make sure you get an export paper from the vendor otherwise the cubans won’t let you take it out of the country.
The crowd: My friend and I are both 26. We found the crowd tended to be 40s and older, though there were some younger people from the University set. Lots of people from Quebec, some from Ontario, quite a few Italians and Germans as well. Not a lot of children. They tended to be at the Brisas next door.
In a nutshell then, the Gran Club is a great place if you’re looking to relax and soak up the sun. I won’t go back to Santa Lucia only because I want to see other parts of the island, not because I was dissatisfied with the services or the resort itself. Don’t be put off by the ***1/2 rating. According to a long term resident of the resort, that’s only because the standard rooms are a bit of a walk (like 5 minutes) from the beach. We did walk over and look at the Brisas and thought we had the better deal. As for Cuba in general, it’s a fantastic place and I can’t wait to return next year. The beaches alone, compared to what I’ve seen in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, are worth a visit and you won’t find a more friendly people.