FLIGHT: We flew with Skyservice out of Toronto. We had decent departure times, but they cram you into those planes like sardines. Everyone was processed quickly at the Holguin airport and then on to the tour buses. There were many depending on which hotels you were going to, but most seemed to be making two or three stops.
HOTEL: Having seen a few other front lobbies, the Paradisus was by far the nicest. The staff was well organized and expecting us. Cool fruit drinks were waiting and the line was processed. Because we arrived at noon, some rooms were not ready but people were told to go have lunch and come back in an hour. I don’t know if it was because it was our honeymoon (we had emailed the resort in advance to reserve restaurants and mentioned this) but we were given a room immediately. You can email the hotel in advance of your trip to book restaurants – DO THIS! It will save you time and they replied to me (two different staffers, actually) with confirmation – I printed it just in case but it wasn’t needed.
The grounds are beautiful and workers are constantly ensuring things look perfect, including spraying to keep bugs down. I know other people have mentioned bugs – we didn’t encounter a lot. We never put bug spray on and I only got two bites – that was from walking around the grounds well after dark. A little afterbite on them and they were fine. The resort is laid out as mostly two storey, eight-unit buildings with some single story, two-unit superior junior suites. We had a standard junior suite, which was more than enough room (although the outdoor shower and hammock that come with superior would have been nice). If possible, ask for a corner unit – the balcony wraps around and juts out, so you have more room space.
ROOM: The room was clean, in good condition, and functional. A/C stays on all the time (no room key needed) which is nice. We had a king-size bed, sofa, chaise longue and desk. The toilet, tub/shower and bidet are enclosed in one room while the sink/vanity and dresser are outside – this was nice. Lots of wooden hangers were provided, as were an umbrella, iron, and ironing board. The mattress was a bit thin by Canadian standards, and has a tucked-in flat sheet rather than fitted (over a plastic mattress cover) but was comfortable – the pillows are thin, though. The room isn’t what we’d consider five star in Canada but was very clean and comfortable. TV had HBO and other US pay channels, some Spanish channels, CNN, etc – about 20 channels in all, 10 of them English (some had Spanish subtitles).
FOOD: We ate at the buffet restaurant (La Ceiba) for breakfast daily, lunch most days, and three nights at dinner. The food at breakfast didn’t rotate much, but it was very good. The usual stuff: bacon, eggs, pancakes, French toast, a made-to-order omelette station, lots of fruits, milkshakes made with guava, banana, or papaya, breads and buns, sausages, and so forth. And (wait for it) they have real maple syrup every day! Service was slow on some mornings but if you get the whole way through breakfast and no one brings coffee around, you can always grab one in the lobby bar on your way out. The lunch at the buffet was the weakest – mostly because it didn’t rotate a lot. There was the same grilled meats and fish available daily (steak, pork chops, chicken breast, mahi mahi, etc), some salads, hot dishes, and so forth. It was good but not everyday – try the beach grill or pool grill on alternating days instead.
Dinner at the buffet was great – they had filet mignon every night we were there, and lobster tails one night. Smoked salmon was available every night, and the selection of meat dishes, salads, and desserts was changed on a regular basis. There’s something for everyone, but be warned that the food can be a little bland so if you are a spice fiend (I’m not) you may want to take a little bottle of your favourite seasoning blend or Tabasco sauce. Service at the dinners was very quick. El Patio (International a la carte): This was the second weakest a la carte restaurant. It’s beautifully decorated and has A/C but the food was a bit lacking in comparison to the excellent Japanese and Mediterranean restaurants. The main course was overcooked and the desserts were so-so. Tsuru (Japanese): Truly great dining. Most seating is Teppanyaki but there are standard tables as well (not being used while we were there). The sushi is amazing – very fresh and comparable to what you’d find in Ottawa. Our chef was from Japan and spoke extremely limited English (pretty much to confirm who had chicken and who had beef) so he wasn’t really getting people acquainted as some other chefs were. The food (you can choose from beef, chicken, assorted seafood, or veggie and tofu) was delicious – you could even have sake (watch out, they serve it boiling hot!) El Mediterraneo – Another terrific restaurant. The staff had decorated our table especially for our honeymoon with tulle and silk roses and even brought out a cake. The food was delicious (mmm, steak!) and the two classical guitarists playing throughout dinner were excellent. El Bohio (Cuban): the weakest restaurant, and the only one we truly didn’t enjoy. For starters, it was very hot and humid, and it has no A/C. Inexplicably, the ceiling fans weren’t on. Also, the kitchen (grill, soup pots etc) is in the dining room (like McDonalds, almost) which raised the temperature and wasn’t the most romantic. Finally, the flies were quite bad (not mosquitoes so much as house flies) and that combined with the stifling heat drove us out early.
ENTERTAINMENT: For the most part the shows were very good. They weren’t the weak audience-participation contests and games you see at some places: these were singing and dancing revues. There was a Disney musical number night, a disco night, a Cuban dance night, and so on. The musicians and dancers are talented and work very hard: not Vegas quality, but don’t go to nitpick! They are entertaining and fun to watch. The 60s and 70s cover band, though….man. The lead singer looks like an even more overweight and worn out Gene Simmons in skintight jeans and a wifebeating, phonetically “crooning” out “Easy Like Sunday Morning.” We headed back to the bar after that number.
POOL: There is one large pool with two levels and a very small children (toddler’s) pool. There are signs posted about not using towels to reserve chairs, but this is not enforced, so either do it yourself or don’t count on getting a chair past 10 a.m. as there are 200 towels out but only 30 swimmers. The water temperature was comfortable and the chlorine was present, but not overpowering and aggravating. The floating mats you can take from your beach chair into the pool are a great touch. Staff circulate around regularly taking drink orders and there’s also a swim-up bar. One note to parents: please keep an eye on your children. We saw many children from 6 or 7 through their late teens behaving in risky ways: running very quickly on the dividers between pool sections, cannonballing from the high to the low section of the pool, diving into water that’s less than a metre deep. I cringed watching some of this and the resort staff can only do so much to make sure your kids stay safe. On that same topic: we saw a lot of (mostly British) teenagers there. This isn’t really a resort for kids: the clientele seems to be either twentysomething couples who have no kids or empty nesters. The activities for teens (short of diving into shallow pools) are pretty limited.
BEACH: Again with the towel reservation notes. There are plenty of palapas to shade you if you get there early enough to reserve a spot. The breeze off the ocean is lovely. The beach in front of PRdO does have some serious rocks – you may prefer to walk towards Luna y Mares if you want a more clear beach. There are lots of nonmotorized watercraft such as Hobie cats and windsurfing – just make sure to check on times – our last day they closed an hour earlier than posted so no Hobie cat for us.
LAS CALETICAS: The resort also owns three small coves that you can normally access by walking. However, construction of the spa has blocked walking access. Instead, the hotel pays for a minivan taxi to ferry guests hourly to Las Caleticas (less than 10 minutes). Definitely bring snorkeling gear and check this area out! The water is beautiful and clear and there are lots of fish (including pufferfish!) to be seen. Make sure to bring an underwater camera as well.
OVERALL SERVICE: Everyone we met was pleasant and professional; most people were friendly and outgoing. William at the lobby bar (short with buzz cut hair) will remember you and shake your hand each time you see him, and Guillermo at the swim up bar with make you a killer drink if you ask for a recommendation. Our maid did a good job every day (we tipped larger amounts every few days and also brought some presents like colouring books and crayons). There was no one who was rude or put a damper on our experience. We tipped regularly but it’s hard to say whether this affected our service.
CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM: The bottom line is that we waited until a month before our departure date and got a steal of a deal from Conquest vacations (I wonder if it was a loss leader). Would I pay the 1800+ CAD for premium weeks of travel? Probably not. But if you can get a deal, by all means check it out. A few little suggestions: bathrobes in the room would be great, and the Cuban restaurant needs to be cooled down. We had to call room service three times for more water for the room: the staffers stop by, but if you’re not there, they don’t give you any extra water, even if you’re all out. Hopefully the spa will be completed soon and access to the Caleticas will resume. But for a Cuban all-inclusive, this should be at the top of your consideration list.