THE HOTEL is a really nice and well taken care of. The 3 story main building is where the check-in/out, Lobby bar, a la carte dinner reservations, tour operations, travel reps, cash exchange and gift/food stores are. There are also many guest rooms in this building, but I really suggest that you attempt to get a room in one of the 17 bungalow buildings. We just e-mailed the hotel ahead of time and they gave us a room in one of the bungalows. The front desk staff are very willing to help and make your stay as great as possible. So, if you get a room in the main building just asked to be moved to one of the bungalows and they will do their best to move you where you want. We met a couple who changed rooms three times to get the exact one they wanted.
THE ROOMS. Are not too bad. They are a bit dated, but they are shutting down for upgrades later this year. Our room had 2 beds we pushed together to make one big one. There is a/c, a television, fridge and hairdryer in the room. We never ran out of hot water and shower pressure was good. There was also a small balcony with 2 chairs and a small table. It was nice to sit out there with a beer and watch the sun go down. One tip for you guys is that the maid only leaves you one bottle of water and replaces it only after it is less than half full. So what I started doing is hiding the water bottle in my suitcase so she would leave another bottle so that after a couple of days we had a stock pile of water to take with us wherever we went.
THE GROUNDS are very well taken care of and the grounds crew does and amazing job of making the whole place clean and tidy. Of all the people that worked at the hotel, the ground crews were the ones that got the least acknowledgment for the great jobs they did. They always said “hola!!” when they passed and they were always working hard when you say them. If you are looking for gifts to bring down there I would suggest work gloves for these guys as they always looked as if they could use new ones. I was particularly impressed with all of the flowers, plants and trees that were on the grounds.
THE FOOD. Well for the first couple of days we were there the food at the buffet was not good at all. Then after that, the food was just amazing and for the rest of our stay the food was great at all the buffets. There was always a lot to eat at the buffets and always something new to try.
AL A CARTES. We tried both of the al a cartes and we went back to them more than once. The Brazilian was our favorite. The service and food was awesome. The Cuban had good service but we found the food not that great although that didn’t stop us from going back 2 more times.
BARS. They are everywhere. Lobby, pool, beach, at the show and at the Cuban restaurant. They all had great drinks and service. We visited the pool, lobby and Cuban bars the most. The pool bar had great service during the day with George and Frank serving up good conversation and tasty beverages. At night the show isn’t so good so after dinner we visited the Cuban bar where it was quiet and Chaplin served us some good drinks while we chatted and played card games. The beer is pretty good. I like all three types that I tried, Cristal, Buccanero and Mayabe. The Rum isn’t he best in the world, but palateable. Make sure to drink the amber/dark rum as the white is not so tasty.
SERVICE. The service was pretty good everywhere we went. The maids did a great job cleaning the rooms. The bartenders and bar servers were attentive and cheerful. The servers at the buffets and restaurants were very attentive and also very cheerful. We tried to sit in the same sections at the buffet restaurants so that the buffet servers would get to know us. The one mistake we made is that we didn’t tip the servers early enough in our stay. They servers do give better service if you tip them as there are so many ignorant, pushy people coming and going through the buffet that they treat everyone the same until you show them a little gratitude. That little bit of gratitude gets you faster, more attentive service and they sure do deserve the tips as they work their butts off.
THE STAR FRIENDS entertainment crews work tirelessly to provide something for people to do all day long and are part of the evening entertainment as well. There are pool/beach activities and games all day long so there is always something for everybody to do if you so desire. They are really nice people who work really hard and are fun to talk to and have a drink with.
THE BEACH. Ah, the whole reason to go to Varadero. 23km of beautiful white sand and blue turquois water. It is simply amazing and very hard to put into words. The water was warm, the sand soft and the sun was great too. The hotel had one of the only beach bars and there were lots of beach chairs and palapas to sit under.
DAY TRIPS. We did three. 1) The Havana Special, which is a day trip to Havana and includes the Tropicana show. I recommend this trip as it does show you a good part of Cuba and gives a lot of history on the country and its people. 2) Jeep Adventure Tour. We did the one with a guide. 4 of us in a small jeep with a driver. You visit the country side, have a guided snorkeling tour at a nice reef, tour through Matanzas, a guided walk through a giant underground cave system, visit a cattle ranch for lunch, and swim in a freshwater cave. This is also one I recommend as it shows how the people live and gives a glimpse into everyday life in rural Cuba. 3) Catamaran trip to Cayo Blanco. This is also a must. Board a big catamaran for some snorkeling and a trip to a very nice island with an gorgeous white sand beach, clear blue water and good food. It’s all you can drink, which totally appealed to us and the lobster you can buy on the Catamaran was $10 CUC for 1 1/2 lobsters. Here’s a hint, bring some butter packages from the buffet and leave them in the sun so they melt and you can dip your Lobster in it.
I think that if we ever go back to Cuba we will upgrade and go to the Iberostar Varadero. We did visit the IB Varadero a couple of times for lunch and found that their service, food and facilities were very much better than that of the Tainos. All and all this hotel was a pretty good place to stay for a very good price. The service was excellent and the beach was amazing. I would say that for us, the Cuban people made the stay one that was worth going on. The people are very friendly and make it all worth while.
If anyone has any questions feel free to e-mail me, Karl, at email@example.com.
Note: I must remind you that this is a 4star hotel in Cuba so you aren’t going to get the same service/facilities and food you would get in Canada/USA/UK/Europe so keep an open mind. There are frequent power shortages and the internet is down a fair bit. Phone calls back to Canada were very expensive and the phone lines not very clear.