Old Reviews – Memories Varadero Beach Resort (ex Sirenis La Salina)

The Group of 7 We were a group of 7 staying at Sirenis La Salina (SLS) from September 28- October 5, 2008. This trip was a year in the making with family and friends. 4 of the 7 were new to Cuba. We looked at many resorts in the area before deciding on SLS in August. Our reasons for selecting the resort were based on the proximity to the town of Varadero, the star rating of the hotel and it’s age, as well as the No Single Supplement bonus offered, which was used by 3 of the 7 guests. As with any vacation, there are glitches, but we know how to make the best of it and over all we had a fabulous time with wonderful friends and family.

The big Boos out of the way:

1) We booked with Sunwing Vacations. One of the bookings was a double room that we later attempted to divide to two single rooms. We were advised that we would have to pay $100.00 CDN per person extra which is outlandish when they’re offering NSS. Upon arriving to find the property 25% capacity at best, this was especially disappointing.

2) Smoking. There are smoke free regulations in Cuba but they are not enforced in any way. Being asthmatic and allergic to cigarette smoke, this was a serious problem for me in Varadero that I have not experienced to this degree in any other destination (including other parts of Cuba). We were in enclosed buildings where smoking was allowed with no ventilation. The Buffet restaurant at our hotel permitted smoking in spite of a sign on the door requesting that guests not smoke. The airport was so thick with smoke everyone’s eyes were burning. There is no such thing as designated smoking areas in enclosed buildings. It was appalling.

3) We received a call from Sunwing a couple days before departure, advising that the activity pool would be closed during our stay. On our first day, we realized that the property was a virtual ghost town. Nothing beyond the small, quiet pool at the front of the property was running. The kids club was closed up tight, the large, activity pool was empty and sectioned off, as was the snack bar and cave bar. This third issue really did not affect us in any adverse manner, but I would urge anyone considering this hotel (and the aforementioned amenities a priority) to check with their tour company before booking in the near future.

I would estimate this property to be running at 20-25% right now due to the low season. As such, my review of some amenities will reflect same.

Flight Down: via Sunwing – Excellent. Service, meals, flight, everything was top notch. Complimentary champagne, as well as wine with the meal was a bonus. Staff were very courteous. We arrived in Varadero about ½ an hour ahead of schedule which was great.

Airport/Customs/Baggage: Travelling with newbies to Cuba was uneventful. My father was taken aside to go through his prescription medications but we had a very fluent and pleasant woman who requested an explanation of the use of each drug and then we were on our way.

Transfer to Hotel: We were on our way to the hotel in record time, very organized and courteous reps met us and had us moving asap.

Check In: Quick and painless…separate for Sunwing guests, of which there were only a dozen of us. Keys, guest packages, orientation cards and RUM! were dispersed quickly, courteously and we were on our way in golf carts to our rooms.

Rooms: We did not receive the location we requested but we were in very close proximity to each other, one block away from the buffet and main lobby (Blocks 21 and 22). This made it convenient for our group who spent very little time at the beach. I don’t believe the rooms near the beach were even in use during our stay. Our walkway led directly to the quiet pool, which was the pool that remained open, so it was very convenient. 3 of our rooms overlooked the pool, the other two overlooked the mangroves, and if you looked far, far off in the distance, you could see a wee bit of ocean! The rooms were comfortable and colourful and we all had the appropriate size/number of beds based on our needs, which was nice. We were shocked to find no coffee maker or clock in the room, but yet a CD player and….of all things….. a mammoth (and expensive!) weigh scale (which definitely did not get used!) Mini fridge always restocked and with a tip and a note, we always got ample of whatever we requested. Only one of our rooms had mould on the ceiling but it was a contained area the size of a decorator pillow and seemed harmless. A/C worked excellent. Safe was small and ridiculously overpriced. It was 14 CUCs for the week but it’s a necessary amenity and they know it.

Maid Service: It wasn’t the best we’ve had, but I am a bit OCD when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness. The bathroom needed better cleaning, which I gladly attended to of my own accord with my personal stash of supplies. Floors were never very clean and we had other people’s hair and lint on the bottoms of our socks which really grossed me out. On a good note, the sheets and towels were fresh and clean.

Maintenance: Our shower head broke one evening and was unusable. It was repaired by the following evening after several requests.

Grounds and Property: It’s still maturing, but the landscape work is very nice. I think we saw more gardeners and grounds keepers than any other staff. Surprisingly, the property is not as well equipped for handicapped guests as I would expect with a brand new hotel. I was especially mindful of this while reflecting on the fact that one of our family members (who in fact did not come with us due to mobility issues) would have had a number of access issues. I would not recommend this property to older persons who have mobility issues. There are some minor architectural flaws such as premature deterioration and mould on some structures. The walkways are narrow and are used for pedestrians and vehicles alike. The golf carts and small trucks that drive around move very quickly and you must jump out of the way into bushes or onto grass to permit access. There were a number of flooding issues as well, after rain. Lack of proper drainage was backing up onto sidewalks and into the floors of the buildings. There was allot of beautiful marble used for flooring, but as can be imagined, is treacherous for walking.

Bugs: Some of us were okay, others were eaten alive. The mosquitos were really bad in the buffet and especially at night. Deet was the only thing that moderately deterred them but they have a tolerance for repellent. They’re relentless little critters! .

Beach: As beautiful as it was 5 years ago. It too was empty. There were tons of shady palapas and chairs, all in very good condition. Beach was crystal clear, clean and well groomed and goes on forever. My brother ran it every morning…my husband and I walked it a couple of times. The beach chairs are the hard plastic, but if you double up a towel, it’s not an issue.

Pool: As mentioned, there are two pools. The “main” pool is massive, has a water slide, swim up cave bar and snack bar, all of which were closed up tight. The small pool is referred to as the "quiet" pool where all the entertainment activities took place. It has a swim up bar which was the only pool bar open. The first few days were busier than later in the week, so we noticed a lack of shade on those days, but there were still plenty of chairs. There is a snack bar which was open at the small pool as well.

Buffet: I have to say, having been to Cuba six times, one becomes accustomed and expectant of a different type of fare. But the food at this resort was, in a word, horrendous. I was embarrassed by how terrible the food was. I had cautioned my family/friends that the food in Cuba is not great, but that the breads, pastas, and desserts are very good. This was not the case with this hotel. And please let me be clear, this was not a LACK of food or supplies, but rather a lack of quality and care in the preparation. Simple staples such as basmati rice were inedible. Meat was tough and tasteless. Bread was hard and also tasteless. Many dishes were salty. Unidentifiable fillers would be found in some foods. It’s laughable that something so simple can be done so wrong. None of us are picky eaters, and I’m certain that’s how we managed to get by. We also ran into constant obstacles for one of our group members who is vegetarian. She managed to find food to eat, but it was always a chore.

I do want to mention that the service in the restaurant was excellent, however. The staff were all very attentive, friendly and a real joy to converse with. Because we were a group that required a larger table, it seemed they had our usual table saved for us all the time. Efforts were made to keep us as far from the smoking section as possible (which is unintelligently situated in the middle of the restaurant) but of course as I stated previously, there is no such thing as designated smoking areas. We were asked to complete restaurant questionnaires on 2 occasions, so I hope our comments are taken into consideration.

Beach Restaurant: Actually decent food, but we only ate lunch there once on our first day since we’d spent the morning at the beach. It’s very isolated from the rest of the property since it’s running at such a low capacity. Nice salad bar and dessert table. Excellent service.

Pool Snack Bars: The one that was open was very small and had a small menu of snacks available.

Lobby Bar: Excellent drinks and service. We recommend the “Don Guillermo” which one of our newbies thought was called “Donkey Mojo”. I recommend using the proper term or heaven only knows what you’ll end up with!

Café Bar: Excellent coffees, hot chocolate, lattes and cappuccinos. Service was always great.

Internet: There is an internet café which costs 3 CUC’s for ½ hr but the internet is very slow and thus costs a fortune. No internet connections in rooms.

Calling home: We called to check on family at home several times. The price, whether you make the call from your room or the telephone office near the front lobby was 2.75 CUC’s per minute.

Ala Cartes: I was baffled that with the capacity of this resort, we were unable to get reservations at the Japanese restaurant. We ate at the Italian which is a nice environment but the food was the worst food I’ve ever eaten. They could not accommodate the vegetarian request at all, in fact it appeared as though they brought her a meat dish after explicit instructions that she wanted vegetables only.

We were afraid to eat at any other ala carte but were pleasantly surprised with the meal at the Steak house on our last night. The food was great, but the service was terrible. I guess you can’t ask for too much! It was as usual, a chore for our vegetarian guest, though.

Gym: Top quality. Probably the nicest gym I’ve seen on a property, including some 5* properties. Air conditioned, gorgeous hardwood floors, brand new equipment, with the machines on one side and the weight room on the other. Change/shower rooms for him and her. Too bad there was never anyone around. The hot tub/ spa was closed the whole time we were there.

Piano Bar: We did not go to the Piano bar or disco.

Entertainment Theatre: Typical entertainment theatre, with cheap plastic chairs and a makeshift ramp for wheelchair accessibility. There are washrooms and a Bar there as well. The theatre was empty most of the week. I felt sorry for the entertainers.

Staff: This is where I give my acclamation. The staff at this property are fabulous. Everyone is smiling, friendly and quite fluent in English which made it easier and enjoyable to communicate. I never expect the staff/locals to be fluent but it certainly was a pleasant surprise. Even housekeeping staff we encountered were fluent. The wonderful staff made up for the things that were lacking.

Excursions: We took the double-decker bus to Varadero several times. You cannot beat 5 CUC’s for all day transportation and especially in such a happening little town! We also took a horse & buggy ride in Varadero…one that fit all 7 of us AND the driver! We shopped at the Plaza Americas and all of the markets, ate at a couple of cafes, and wandered around town taking in the sights. It was the best and cheapest fun!

We went to Tropicana Varadero. It was 40 CUC’s per person and a very memorable adventure. We enjoyed the show immensely. Snacks and Rum and coke are included with the price and of course there are additional drinks available at extra cost, and video/photos to purchase. I wasn’t impressed with the Mojitos there but I’m a connoisseur of the mojito and may have exceptionally high standards. The Havana club and coke was a very satisfying second choice! We did a day tour of Havana which was great fun even though we’d been encouraged by many people to do a private tour. The only negative part of the tour was that our guide was the most crass, ignorant person I’ve ever encountered as a tour guide. It was the first time we’ve not tipped a tour guide. Havana was as majestic as I’d remembered it and the newbies were awe-struck. We got some amazing photos we’ll cherish forever. There is a problem with beggars/panhandlers…they were out of control, grabbing at us and our bags, it really was terrible and in some cases people were startled by this. I can see this becoming a tourist deterrent if they don’t take some control. At one point a couple of us ventured away from the group and the nasty guide where we enjoyed walking streets without a single beggar in sight, free to take photos and take in the magic of old Havana. Our lunch in Old Havana was the best meal we had all week!! Havana is indescribable and I encourage everyone to take this trip if nothing else. We will do a private tour next time for sure. We also took the Jeep safari tour which was a great day of off-roading, boating, snorkeling, cave diving, lunch at a ranch, horse back riding, etc. Again, a meal that was better than anything we’d had at the hotel. The guides were friendly, fun, informative, and at the end of the day, a bit wealthier for their efforts.

Depature/Checkout: Checkout at noon was uneventful. No surprises. We had a later flight in the evening, so we had to wait around the hotel all afternoon. There were no shower facilities as in some hotels, so we just had a long lunch and lounged in the lobby enjoying the great coffees/drinks in the lobby bar/café. The bus was an hour late picking us up, but I’m grateful that it was, otherwise it would have meant a longer wait in that smoky airport which would have been pure hell.

Check in for our departure at the airport was quite quick and we had no issues with the antics you often hear about with overweight charges, etc. It was as smooth as could be expected. They allowed alcohol in carry-ons so between the group we stocked up on the max allowable to take back at the duty free shops. 25 CUC’s per person with your visitors visa card is given at the departure tax booth before you go through security.

Conclusion: Nice, visually impressive property. Rooms are pleasant. Awesome beach. Staff are fabulous. Management needs to heed guest comments and recommendations. The cooks are culinary experts but are limited by the instructions of management. I think the hotel is fairly rated except for the food quality.

I would be concerned of the quality of service if this hotel is full, yet the same problem is present in low season when they are running at a limited capacity. I would not recommend this property to persons with mobility issues, nor anyone who is a picky eater.

We won’t return to this property nor would we send our friends there based on the food quality and the lack of smoking regulations. For the latter, I will not be returning to Varadero unless I’m convinced the situation has been addressed.

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