ARRIVAL: Outside of terminal was representative who spoke perfect english and directed us to bus and you couldn’t miss the big number in the window. It was verified again before you boarded that you were in the right place. As this was our second trip to Cuba, we knew to forcefully (but politely), tell the porters that no help was required with luggage. Others on their first trip were not so lucky and when they had no pesos to give, the porters were not impressed. You live, you learn!
CHECK-IN: I was travelling with my mother who walks with a cane. This fact came to be an asset for us when checking in. A fellow pulled us out of the crowd and brought us up to the front desk where we were taken before anyone else. Some grumbling from the vacationers up front, but we didn’t ask for any special assistance, it was just done. Our check in was completed in 10 minutes and a porter whisked us and our luggage to our room. Hotel has a very relaxed feel to it and the decor is very "1920’s" Open concept with lots of trees – fabulous chandelier in main lobby
ROOMS: Our "oceanview" room was on the first floor looking out at a tree and a gazebo. Two single beds, large bathroom and closet with fridge and safe, but no coffeemaker to be found. I went back to desk later to ask about oceanview room and was told to check the next morning. Next morning, room changed to fabulous oceanview room on 4th floor. One queen bed, very clean and a coffeemaker! Painted in very relaxing shades of blues (just like the ocean). We had a problem with our balcony door the second day, but didn’t call to repair as we didn’t think it a big deal. Our gal, Redy, noticed and had maintenance in to have it fixed while we were out. If you are good to the staff, they will be good to you. We left shampoo, soaps and a few pesos.
Our room on the 4th floor overlooked the main lobby which tended to be noisy at times as sound travelled and the balcony facing the ocean overlooked the walkways to the buffet and pool, which was steady with pedestrian traffic. Everything quieted down by 11pm, so not really an issue. Hey, you’re on vacation….relax!!!
FOOD: Even as a picky eater, I always found something to eat. If all else fails, their bread is always fresh and delicious. Breakfasts could be cereal, omelets, fried or scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, lots of things here. Orange juice was fabulous. Lunch buffet pretty much same everyday but pasta and chicken were always handy. Supper was similar, but every night main dish could be pork, beef or chicken. Some lines longer than others so patience is a virtue. Fpr a buffet, it wasn’t too bad. Hours were posted outside although many people came in just before closing time for a meal, which then held the staff up from cleaning and preparing the next one. A couple of snack bars on property where you could get limited menu items. We didn’t know about that till another couple on the beach told us. We wanted to try their ‘chessburgher with frenced fried’, but got a ham and cheese sandwich the first time. Eventually, we got it and it wasn’t too bad. Anything with a cerveza (beer) was good! They have an area called "Cuban Town" which consists of a set of houses, each one with a different theme. We were able to get an ice cream here (try the Mango). Keep a few pesos handy. Staff always smiled, but you can always tell the ones that have been there too long as they tend to be easy to irritate.
BEACH: The Playa Varadero has lovely walkways to the beach and several of them. Lounge chairs were relatively easy to get depending on the time of day. A space under the shade huts was almost impossible as people went early and marked their spot. This was annoying as some of them didn’t show up until after lunch. We tended to move into the shade and when they arrived, asked them if they minded sharing. There was a fellow from the resort that got the chairs for us. When he saw me lugging two chairs across the sand, he ran up and did that for me, well worth the peso I gave him. Sand is nice here, though smokers tend to leave their butts in this big ashtray! Wind was high the first couple of days we were there, so red/yellow flags up for water conditions. Very strong undertow if you attempted to wet you feet on these days. Section of beach we were on was very nice, but found it to be not as soft a sand as further up the coastline (lots of bits and pieces of shells). Barcelo Solymar was by far the best beach I have encountered. Cuba had rare cold front while we were there and temperature was around 65-70F. Eventually moved out and we went back up to 85-90F.
POOL: Although we are not pool people, the pool area was always busy and full of vacationers. Pool was big and very clean, lots of chairs and a bar very handy. Usually heard live entertainment between 5 and 6 pm
A LA CARTE RESTAURANTS: These are worth going to if just for a change of pace. We discovered that these places like to use ketchup in a lot of their dishes, even for decoration. The International (Palma Real) was by far our favorite with 3 of the 4 courses passing with flying colors. The lobster cocktail actually tasted like our "down home" lobsters, although the sauce it was in consisted of mayo and ketchup (rose sauce). The soup with brandy was good and the filet mignon was not bad at all as it was not to well done. You must try the Cuban wine, which is produced in the Pinar del Rio region. The Italian (Mamma Mia) was not quite italian, but the edible. How wrong can you go with pasta and tomato sauce? We didn’t go to the seafood restaurant as our experience with Cuban shellfish last year was not to be repeated. Booking these start at 9 am, so get there early if you want an early sitting. ; Since it’s an all inclusive, you should give these places a try.
TOURS: We didn’t do any this year, but I would still recommend as a "must do" the trip to Havana. The Cuban people, culture and history are well worth the couple of hours on the bus.
CHECKOUT: Confirmed time to be in lobby with Air Canada representative and checked out in two minutes. Waited for bus to go to airport, had another rep chat with us, telling jokes and more Cuban history and details to keep us entertained on the trip. Juan Gomez (Varadero)airport not a large place and lineups very long. Lineup for boarding pass, one for paying the departure tax, going through customs and another for security. Eventually you’ll get upstairs to the airport waiting area where you can change any remaining currency to either Canadian or American dollars. It’s good to keep some pesos handy if you want to buy anything else before you leave. Visa is accepted, but they don’t take any form of MasterCard or American Express.
OVERALL: Will be going back to Varadero again next year, but will try a different resort for comparison. Had a great time and don’t have any real complaints about this resort. It is listed as a 4 star, but on some aspects would have to give it a 3 star. Everyone needs to go to Cuba at least once to see their beaches and enjoy the culture of the Cuban people.