Long and Detailed version:
Rooms: We had 2 rooms (1435- top floor of first building in kids area 3 twin beds. 1434 – 2nd floor of same building 2 twin beds). The rooms were spacious and clean, had a changing room closet and a large bathroom with tub and separate shower. Bright lighting and clean linens. Tons of hot water available. The a/c worked well, it appears to be a mix of a/c and an evaporative cooler (swamp cooler). Worked well and cooled the room fast when you occupied it. The swamp coolers do tend to smell a little musty when left off for long periods of time, so i could understand if some report initial musty smells when entering a room which has been vacant for a week previous. Our lower floor room was, but improved after running the cooler for a bit. The doors are card lock and your key or any random card in your wallet will turn on the lights. The rooms are all 220 volt, so you must have a voltage converter or you will be restricted to using the ‘shaver plug in’ on the blowdryer built into the bathroom. The front desk have very limited supply of converters to loan out. Minifridge with pop beer and water in it. TV had a few English channels, our kids watched a mix of English and Spanish cartoons on it. It has a clock on the tv, which is the only one in the room.
There is a circle of buildings around the kids pool area, they are also close to the lobby, lobby bar, disco, and buffet restaurant, but a long walk from the beach, the a la carte restaurants, the activity hut, and adult pool. Not horrible, but the walk to the beach is a long one if your packing a 3 year old and beach gear 4 times a day.
Food: pretty standard Cuban buffet. Pork and chicken and beef at every meal, usually pork chops, chicken on skewers with pinapple, thin fast fry steak. (Not the 3 inch thick Costco ones we cook at home). There was always french fries, potatoe wedges, and lots of vegetables and salads. We arent seafood people, but there was fish with their heads on them, calamari, tuna, salmon, and things that live in shells available. Only bad thing about the fish is that it is located near the entrance to the buffet room so it is the first smell that hits you when you walk in. There is also a grill where they cook you fresh pork, chicken, beef, or fish to order. Also pasta which is reheated with sauce to order, there was always a line up for this. Bread was baked fresh daily, the little buns were great (same texture as pretzels back home), near the middle of the buffet hours they always seem to start to run out. The kids area had its own food service described below.
A la Cartes: We didnt attend them, we dont like to have to ‘dress up’ on holidays and heard comments that the food available was the very same as the buffet but with table service. We couldnt be bothered with the effort or the time commitment to plan a meal, so we skipped them.
Kids Area: The kids area has a wading pool for toddlers in a small fenced area with sun chairs and palapas around it. Adjacent to it is a bit larger pool that goes up to about 3 feet deep, a whale shaped fountain in the middle, and more sun chairs and shade palapas around it. Between the 2 pools is a large Spanish style castle with a waterslide, it is a little short (15 feet long id say) and fast, but it is there and the kids enjoyed it. There is a building beside the pools which is the size of a 3 car garage, it contains the kids club, a washroom, little tables, play area, some games, and a little buffet of hamburgers and hot dogs. Outside the building there is a granita machine that they make slushie pina coladas in, and a table with a full bar service for the moms and dads. The service from the bartender here was excellent. The kids club offers babysitting service for little ones, activities and kids projects and events all day. It was phenomenal and our kids had a blast participating in the events that they did. The girls who run it really are great with the kids and seem to love it.
Staff: All of the hotel staff was excellent. The only lapse in service seemed to be on the shift change day but it was minor. One of our rooms didnt get cleaned, we phoned the desk at 7pm and it was done before 7:30. Very well done. The bartenders at all the bars provided great service, didnt seem to ignore anyone, even our kids seemed to get served in appropriate order. There were waitresses at some of the bar areas and it seemed like the preference was for you to stay in your chair and order from them rather then go up to the bar yourself. We had large insulated cups and they gladly filled them for us when we brought them. After only one occasion at each bar the staff had made an effort to remember our drink preferences which was really impressive and the kids felt quite special because of it. The gardeners try to freelance a little selling fresh coconuts from a wheel barrow near the beach path, they give them away but appreciate a tip for them, dont miss one of those. Only once on the whole trip did someone try to offer us a ‘special deal’ on cigars, and never once did a bartender try to sell us a bottle under the table. Hats off to the resort staff for this.
Tipping: We carried a bag of gifts and a pocket of $1 CUC coins everywhere. As a courtesy we tipped a coin every time we ordered drinks which really is a small amount to pay for the great service but enough to show your appreciation and make you stand out from the majority of the guest who do not tip at all. Couldnt have cost more then $50 or $60 in coins for the week.
Beach: beautiful stretch of beach, reef just offshore for snorkeling, lots of peddle boats and catamarans available on demand without appointment or line up. Lots of shade and unlimited chairs available even at the busiest times of day. Beach bar was small but excellent. A few ‘stray’ Cubans walk the beach with the odd shell or starfish to sell, they move fast when they see the beach security standing around, but they are harmless and enterprising individuals. We bought some shells from one fellow who was working on construction next door and sold shells on his lunch break. I dont know anyone at home who works that hard to get ahead.
Car rental: we rented a little peugot for 24hrs, cost $75 cuc for a compact, $200 cuc cash security deposit required, 100 km included, 35 cents for each one over that. Trip to Matanzas and back works out to be about 120 km. Toll road costs $2 cuc. Speeding ticket cost $10 cuc payable to rental car agency not the cop. Look on the cops face when you talk to him in English only and try to argue the legalities of the speed limit signs in Cuba – PRICELESS.
Animation team: the hotel animation team performs 6 nights a week at 10pm. They do themed dance shows and are very entertaining. We made sure to attend every one of the shows.
Disco: world class little disco room with dj booth, smoke, lights, strobes, big screen, etc. Great service and lots of entertainment watching the few tourists who put on a show of their own.
Cadeca: the hotel has a money exchange by the front desk, service was great rates were posted bank rates updated daily.
Extras: there is an internet room with 2 pcs, $10 for an hour card. There is a hair dresser, massage, laundry service, fitness room, tennis courts, ping pong, pool, convenience store with decent prices.
Location: the hotel is almost the last one on the end of the peninsula. The double decker bus stops right out front. Because its the farthest from the airport, you are first/earliest pickup and last for drop off for airport or excursions. Generally, the most expensive and nicest hotels in Varadero are adjacent to and include this property.
Construction: There are 4 large tower cranes and 3 crane trucks building a resort next door. You would never know it other then the lights on the cranes at night. No noise no dust, not a single issue because of it.
Negatives: worst thing about the trip was a large tour group from Montreal who seemed to treat the staff poorly and was just generally rude. Only other thing that could have been improved was if the location was closer to downtown, but that is a personal taste.
Donations: We took down several suitcases of donations of new and used clothes and dropped them off at a church and the orphanage in Matanzas. Cubans really need and appreciate any items you can bring and donate. There are a small number who have cell phones and ipods, but that is such a small elite few. Please take items with you, you will feel great donating them. Shoes of all sizes and style, socks, infant and kids clothes, are unavailable there and in desperate need. I cant urge everyone who visits enough to please dedicate a little space in your baggage for some aid items.
NOTICE: best advice i can give anyone planning their Cuba trip is to go to the Cuba discussion forums on debbie’s and read the discussions there. There are many seasoned travelers who will answer your specific questions and give you lots of helpful hints and tips to make your vacation more enjoyable, affordable, and problem free. There are no stupid questions and a great group of people who have been to Cuba many times and helped many others with resources and information. Even experienced travelers will be surprised how helpful the advice there can be.
I have stayed and driven across much of Cuba on several occasions and still return to these forums often for advice and to share stories.