Flew Air Transat – great check-in at YYZ – Flight was on time departing, arrived a little early. In flight meal was ok – cold breakfast – nothing special, but it took the edge off.
Santa Clara Airport – very clean, and well appointed for a small airport. (on our way home we decided not to get the VIP package, and found that the regular snack bar was more than fair with selection and prices….we spent aprox $10 between the two of us, rather than $40 for VIP) Staff English skills were on par, if not better than the YYZ staff. Customs was quick and efficient – no ‘scary’ experiences here. I had votive candles in my carry-on, and I guess they looked kind of strange on the x-ray – so I had to open my bag – as soon as they realized what it was – I was free to go. (This was nothing compared to the ‘Sensual Massage’ I received earlier in the day from customs at YYZ!) Once through customs, we were on the bus headed for the Cayos.
I have to make an observation of the few little towns we were able to view on our way to and from the resort (Santa Clara, Caibarien, and Remedios) I was astounded at the level of pride these people take in their homes, and although it’s obvious this is an economically depressed country – each house was kept neat and tidy, and most boasted flowers of some kind, and an obvious pride of ownership. Also – all of the people we saw in the streets seemed to be ‘going somewhere’ – as opposed to the Dominican, where the houses were most often in complete disarray – each gutter and ally was littered with masses of garbage, and the people just seemed to be ‘hanging out’ on porches, and at the side of the road. As for the causeway itself, try to plan your arrival in daylight hours – this is a beautiful drive! We had no trouble staying awake there and back – there was so much to see, and it was truly a beautiful drive.
The Resort: this place is HUGEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE – 66 hectares – which is no small sack of potatoes!! It is as spectacular as it is big! Grounds are amazing! Gardens are breathtaking, and the gardeners, should be very proud of their work…those with a green thumb must visit the ‘nursery’ (leave the main lobby and head toward the Hideaway section – it will be on your left) and check out their herb garden, and newly propagated plants! Buildings are beautiful – I’d love to get a paint chip from the exterior building colour!
As far as location – we stayed on the Hideaway side – in Building 36 – If we were to do it again, we would have requested a building closest to the Lobby – as we were there frequently….each morning and evening – and quite often were making a long hike in dressy clothing, or in casual clothes for breakfast – and this walk can be quite hot….I would prefer to make the long walk to get to the beach or pool, (which we did once per day) in my swimming togs and flip flops, rather than heels! We did find the busboys quite helpful for getting to our dinner reservations on time, and without aching feet from walking all that way in heels! (NO, I will not leave the super-cute shoes at home!) Overall feel of the resort – I echo previous posters that said there is no ‘Cuban’ feel here….and although I understand the desire for the resort to appear ‘high class’ it would be nice to see this done in a ‘Cuban’ way. (perhaps similar to the Jamaican plantation decor – they do Pineapples galore – when done right it’s very tasteful, and not ‘cheesy’ at all – let’s find the Cuban equivalent) We did not care for the indoor theatre….and we ate outdoors whenever possible, by 8pm the temperature had cooled considerably, and the breeze was heavenly. (even in long pants, my hubby was fine with this)
Staff: for a resort of this size, we were very happy to make connections with a few staff members – although quite often, we didn’t see the same person more than once, and that makes it difficult to forge any kind of bond. That being said, I have to say that of those people we did have an opportunity to meet, I felt a much more ‘genuine’ vibe here….in the DR, I felt as though many of the people we dealt with were ‘working an angle’ and although we had very good service, many people seemed to be ‘acting’ the part, rather than actually being genuine about their dedication to their jobs. (To their credit, we did meet several amazing people in the DR, and I don’t want to take anything away from the fantastic experiences we had with those individuals)
The golf cart drivers (busboys) were hysterical! I want to take a moment to honour Alexis – our best man….He was our most frequent driver, and we asked him throughout the week if he could take us on a tour of the resort, but due to the very high occupancy, this was difficult for the most part. He did make arrangements toward the end of our week, and we had an amazing time! What an asset he is to this resort! He’s got a dry sense of humour that will have you in stitches!! Ask him about his Mother In Law! If we return to RHE, Alexis will be the first one we look for! I hope others have a chance to meet him, he is so great. He has a young family – a daughter of 12, and a boy, 5 – that he calls ‘Hurricane Christian’ I wished I had brought more ‘things’ with me that I could have sent home for his kids. We also had another fella that did some shuttle trips for us – Roberto – a super nice fellow who took great care of us. One of our gals is expecting, and he always asked her how the baby was. He was so sweet. He also took me up to the lobby late one night so I could deliver supplies to the dancers from the show (Band-Aids, blister care bandages, tights, make-up, feminine supplies, and some other toiletries) Roberto made sure I got back to my room safely.
Language barrier: we found that most employees spoke English very well, although we did encounter a few that had very limited skills, but on the whole we all commented how rusty our Spanish was getting, because we just weren’t using it! I often wonder the motivation behind those who complain about the language barrier down south….You are going to a Spanish speaking country – how is it fair to demand that the residents there speak fluent English, when in our own, English speaking country, you can find MANY people employed in similar hospitality and service positions that are much worse!!
Food & Beverage: if I’m totally honest, it did not measure up to the fare we had in the DR, however, we’re not on a level playing field…so, I’ll skip the comparisons, and give you the highlights instead! Cappuccino – Cappuccino – Cappuccino – actually, I am still suffering severe withdrawal!!!! Also – Didn’t hear of anyone getting sick the entire time we were there – so in this respect Cuba has the DR beat, hands down!
Breakfast – we went to the buffet each morning – had omelettes, and bacon each morning (I’m not a crepe fan, but the other girls in our party had them every day, and they loved them) Croissant’s were amazing! Did I mention Cappuccino??
Lunch – split between the Megano and Marino snack bars, and the buffet. Megano (spa side) had better breaded chicken – but we preferred the Marino (Hideaway) side for everything else. LOVE the Crown of Shrimp and Artichokes – awesome Pizza, and you gotta love the Ensenachos Banana Split! I finally realized I could just ask for a scoop of chocolate ice cream with a banana instead of the whole big split – and I preferred this. Great fries, and the boys enjoyed the burgers and dogs too. Also – try the ‘Old Clothes’ and the Saltimbocca – very good as well. Oh, and the Cappuccino was great!
Buffet – nice choices – we really found the buffet catered toward European tastes for all meals, but did find some new and different things we enjoyed. There was a large group from Spain on a conference during our stay – so I wonder if this may have made the Euro influence even more strong?? Service for the evening meal was very nice…we enjoyed our one dinner here
Asian – our least favorite – visited as a group of 6 we did not do the Tepenyaki table, but instead had the private dining room, and menu service. Everyone found their respective entrees very salty, almost to the point of being inedible. Spring rolls are everything they are hyped up to be! Soup was good too.
Italian – group of 4 – Cesar salad is different (has tuna in it?) but still quite good – had the steak here, and ordered a side of pasta – very nice.
Cuban – went in a group of 4 – our server, MARIO was possibly the most adorable server in the history of the world! He took immense pride in his work, and had an EXTENSIVE knowledge of the menu. He gave us a history lesson of how the ‘Ajiaco’ soup came to be, and even helped us to understand the meaning of the name ‘Ensenachos’. We were blown away by his service.
Seafood – group of 6 – seated outside on the patio – what a beautiful evening! We had a very inexperienced server to start with, but he was very intent on doing things ‘just right’ and we were patient with him. He had to come back and clarify our drink orders, and was very embarrassed – but did a good job nonetheless. He eventually called for backup – and we had what appeared to be a very senior server on hand to supervise, and assist. We didn’t mind this…hey, you’ve gotta learn somehow! We did find the service a tad slow, but this was to be expected, and just allowed us more time to digest between courses. By the time the entrees were served, our little waiter had loosened up, and was joking with us. We think he will go on to achieve great things! We had the Lobster Tail Risotto, and Beef Tenderloin together, as suggested by previous posters on various sites- it was divine!!
Grill – visited here as a couple on the first night – had the Shrimp Creviche – Lobster & Steak – and Three Milk dessert – absolutely amazing!! Ate here the following night as a group of 6 – and everything was amazing again, however the three milk dessert was totally different than the previous night – this time it appeared to be crumbled apple pie with ice cream on top. Still not bad, just not what we had expected. Of course, no dinner is complete without……….wait for it………….Cappuccino!!
We found the menu very limited – and the few things we tried were really not to our liking. This is one area where we felt a very strong European vibe. I wonder if it would be possible to run the Room Service out of the Marino Snack bar – and offer a pared down list from it’s Breakfast/Lunch/Snack menu? The room service guys however were all shining stars! I will never forget ‘One for the Road, One for the Ditch’ and the Secretary joke! These guys are too much!!!!
Concierge Service – our concierge Tammi was very nice, her English was excellent, and she tried her very best to get reservations for our group of 6. One of the evenings, she was unable to get us a reservation at all, and we were headed to the buffet- on our way, we noticed the Italian was only about 1/4 full – so we went in, and asked if we could eat there. NO problem! We were seated right away, and had a great meal! We also did this for our last dinner at the Grill – we simply called and asked – and again, this was greeted with ‘of course, no problem’ Also – keep in mind if your reservation time isn’t to your preference, you can always call the restaurant directly, and ask if they have an alternate time available. We were able to change a 6pm reservation to 8pm by doing this.
Maid service – I found this to be more of a fluff and fold than a good cleaning each day – however, we are pretty tidy people, so didn’t mind much. The towels weren’t changed too frequently – but we always made a point of hanging them up to dry – so perhaps this is why. We rarely left them in the tub (the new international ‘change my towels’ lingo) Sheets were not changed for the duration of our stay. (with the exception of the evening chambermaid we had to call when our phone fell off the nightstand and knocked a full glass of red wine onto the bed!)
Rooms – beautiful! well appointed and spacious – I loved the closet, and the bathroom, my hubby loved the TV and surround sound!
***TIP*** we bought a travel power converter/adaptor from Canadian Tire – and it DID NOT work – but on day 3 we realized that there IS an adaptor hidden in every room….however, if you’re not careful, it may kill you! PM me if you need instructions!
Pools – very nice! Each side has a very good sized pool, and a well equipped bar. We visited both sides, but tended to frequent the Hideaway side, as it was closer. Shout out to the ‘dream team’ at the Hideaway pool bar – Zaidy – Alia – Adonis, and a very hardworking Estudiente (never did get his name) did a great job! I feel they could have used a few more hands on deck, as they were responsible for quite a boatload of people, and this did seem to slow the service somewhat, but they were always working hard to make sure everyone was happy. We enjoyed our late afternoon cruise with the ‘booze barge’ floatie!
Beach – what can I say that hasn’t been said? In a word, breathtaking. Spent time at each beach, snorkelled the boat (echoes of Finding Nemo ‘Don’t touch the Butt’! LOL) walked out to the sandbar, snorkelled from Megano over to the Punta Nautico – snorkelled the right hand side of Ensenachos and saw a small (thankfully!) barracuda here! Just an amazing beach experience to be had here.
Animation – there was a ‘good college try’ put forth by a few folks each day around the Hideaway pool….not too many participants, so we liked to try and get in there. Rocka, rocka!! Disco – was what you made of it – we went one night when the Spanish conference group was there, and ripped it up until 3am! We had a blast! DJ Anderson did great job, and Marco (Polo!) kept our whistles wet, and then some from the bar! We then continued the ‘after party’ at the Marino snack bar, and had even more fun. Because the bungalows are a distance from the pool, this did not seem to cause any distress to those already in bed. (our room was quite close to the pool, and when we finally called it a night, we made a point to try and see if we could hear the party…not a sound unless you were outside on the patio, and then it was a not even a dull roar!)
Excursions – did the SeaDoos from Cayo Las Brujas – if you like adventure – do this!!!!!!! Our entire group of 6 booked together, so we took up all the seats for our session. We were told that the guides will adjust the pace to your preference – and we went full throttle! We heard other groups took it quite a bit slower – so maybe do some chatting on the forum meeting place before your trip and find some like-minded people, and try to book together. Book this your first day – as it fills up fast! We seriously considered booking a second round on this trip – but decided to use this money to tip instead…at this point in the week, we had found a few employees that were going above and beyond, and felt that we would rather pass our appreciation along to them.
Art – please go and see Yandry in the lower level of the Lobby! He does exquisite work! We bought a painting of a 1957 Chevy for my Father, and he LOVES it! I wish I had seen his work earlier in the week, because he apparently had quite a few of his original abstract pieces, but there were only 2 left by the time I found him! : (
Evening Entertainment – we tend to eat late (prefer 8pm sitting) so quite often, the shows were well underway, or over by the time we meandered into the lobby. Did see the Spanish and Cuban Shows, and thought they were well done – but not really high quality. We briefly attended the Beach party on our first night – this looked like fun – and had this not been our first night, we probably would have been more involved – but we were just too tired!
Mosquitoes – not one bite among the 6 of us – and again, we spent a considerable amount of time outdoors after dark!
We had a great time, and were sad to go home. I don’t know if we’d return ,only because we have other places we’d like to visit. I’d recommend it to anyone, and if I did a trip with my Mom, I think it would be great! We were worried that it would be too quiet, and although it is not a ‘party’ resort – we did manage a few moments of ‘mayhem’ without bothering anyone else. (I hope!!) I don’t know that it’s ultra romantic, but it sure is peaceful and relaxing, and is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my life. Met lots of very nice folks here, and everyone seemed to really be enjoying their stay.
Don’t hesitate to book this resort – it’s great!