This hotel is for people who like a little bit of luxury on a trip and are not in another country to party. The hotel is dignified and classy, a bit refined, and a bit funky in spots. It’s very relaxed and is not intimidating or stuffy like an American or European fancy hotel. It’s just classy and quiet. It’s more of a middle aged to older couple spot, although there certainly are children there, just not many.
Food and drink:
The breakfast buffet is always included in our stays here. The food is good, with a wide variety (fruit, eggs, cold cereals, cheeses, savories [sausage, cabbage], and lots of different breads and cookies). It’s fairly standard for what I have eaten in Cuba at hotels. The staff are very nice in the buffet, and one even remembered me from a year and a half ago (and I hadn’t done anything more than smile at him during that visit; I never talked to him because I had no idea that he could speak English, and I was too shy to try any Spanish that first visit). If you are at the hotel for lunch, the pool restaurant is just fine, with burgers and fries, and at a pretty good price. The set up is very comfortable. The pool is quite beautiful, too, with a nice design. There are two restaurants for evening meals. One is Italian and one is German. The Italian one is more expensive (about 9 to 15 CUC a dish), because the food is more complex, and their service is more opulent (very good service). The German food is plain but good, and it’s pretty cheap in there (about 4 to 8 CUC a meal). Go the Italian place if you feel like dressing up and doing the fine dining thing; go the German place if you want to dress nicely but not fancy, and you want a great meal without any fancy-schmancy. There’s a very nice lobby bar, with great service and a cool atmosphere. This hotel has funky chairs, very interesting lights, and a view that is incredible. The lobby sits in the very centre of the hotel and the centre is hollow, all the way to the 10th floor. When you sit in the lobby, you can look up to each floor, all the way up to the top floor of rooms. It’s a dazzling sight, especially with the aqua blue walls and all the plants hanging down. This year, there was a talented string quartet playing on a couple of nights. I kept requesting classical music, which they played very well (they also played show tunes and pop music). The best part of the hotel is the piano bar, on the 11th floor. You can gaze out over the streets of Havana, and you can see the ocean. It’s quite lovely in the dark, too, when you can look out on all the streetlights. Unfortunately, on this visit there was a big screen TV in the bar for the World Cup, but when we went in 2004, there was a talented piano player quietly tinkling out tunes. There is a corner of the piano bar that has some wild paintings that are fun to look at, and the lampshades at the bar match the wild paintings.
The front desk service is quite good, and very professional for the most part (and most can speak some English). The tour operators are very nice (we had to get from Havana to Varadero, for the second part of our stay. It was so easy to do, and the tour company person was excellent). The serving staff are all very good. Some are friendly, some are a bit quiet, but all are excellent. The taxi drivers are phenomenal. They are so friendly, and they will give you lessons in Cuban history as you drive along the Malecón. That may be only if you speak Spanish, as my boyfriend does, but if you can talk to them, they are super friendly. The maids are great at this hotel. They are really friendly and will say hello or stop to talk. The rooms are always very clean, and they do some pretty neat designs with the bedspreads and towels. If you are lucky enough to stay on the 4th floor, you might get Yoana as your maid. She is a sweet, kind woman who became a good friend of ours from a visit a few years ago. Be sure to give the maids tips and gifts, because they work very hard, often without any days off for a few weeks at a time (and they generally work 6 days a week). There’s a very small shop that has water, cigarettes, snacks, and kitschy souvenirs. We generally used the supermarket across the street, or, for gifts, the souvenir market in Old Havana. But they are quite nice in the shop. There’s also a film shop outside, by the car rental and the German restaurant.
Rooms: The rooms are really nice, better than some Canadian and American hotels I have stayed in. The towels are small, but that’s the only down side I found. And there are not enough hangers (I took about 10 of my own hangers this year, which was a huge help).
We got bumped up to the Executive Level (10th floor), for free, because there was a huge conference going on when we were there. We got a free safe and bathrobes, which was nice. The view from the rooms is fantastic (we’ve had different floors, and different sides of the hotels, since we’ve been there twice).
It’s about a 15-minute ride down to Old Havana from this hotel. It’s around 10 CUC for the ride (the actual meter fee is about 7.50 and we pay 10 CUC on that, plus if we ask for a flat rate on the way back, it’s usually around 8 to 9 CUC). It’s worth it to be away from the noise and dirt of downtown Havana at night, and it’s a beautiful drive every day. On the first bit of the drive, you get to see a lot of embassies, and you go past the famous Parque de la Quinta (where some scenes from the Buena Vista Social Club were filmed). When you get to the Malecón, if you are lucky, you will get some history from the cab driver, about who that general was, why that statue is there, what that building is, what happened there, and so on. That drive along the Malecón is one of the most beautiful sites to see in Havana, so we happily paid the 20 CUC each day.
Around the hotel:
There are some interesting things to see around the hotel. You can take a short cab ride to the Parque de la Quinta to see the trees (and across the street there is an interesting park, and a restaurant called Dos Gardenias, although we never went in it). You can walk from the park to the Maqueta de la Habana, which is the largest maqueta of a city in Latin America (it’s a fantastic to-scale model of Havana. Well worth the trip to see it). You can also likely find your country’s embassy there, and register for your stay in Cuba (always a good idea).