Travel Agency: We booked through Flight Centre and our rep was Jason Edgar in Cabbagetown, he was wonderful, very pleasant and helpful. The tour agent was Hola Sun, although in my experience, I have to note that they don’t provide much information and are hard to get in touch with. It was fairly easy to find the Hola Sun counter at Pearson Airport (thanks to Jason), which is where we needed to get our Visa/Travel cards on the day of our flight. Although, we did notice that the rep came aboard our plane and handed them out shortly before takeoff.
Flight: We flew with Air Transat. The flight down was very early in the morning and we got a “boxed” continental breakfast, consisting of bagel, cream cheese, juice and coffee. The seating was very minimal in space (my husband is 6’2”) and we felt slightly claustrophobic. On the flight home, we asked for the emergency exit seats and we were thrilled to have so much leg room. Lunch was also boxed, consisting of bbq beef sandwich, potato salad, cheese and crackers and a real yummy brownie.
Check In: Once we got to the resort (about a 15-20 minute drive from the airport through the countryside), I was impressed with my first sight of it, the front lobby was very open and airy and the animation team was there to greet us with rum punches. Check in was fairly swift considering the amount of new guests arriving, although most of the front counter staff didn’t speak hardly any English. We were shown where the “tour rep” counter was (Havanatur) and I didn’t see a Hola Sun rep or counter there at all, although after the week I realized that Havanatur and Hola Sun were connected.
Rooms: Our first room was on the second floor and was a standard twin with no balcony and no screens. I asked if we could be switched to a first floor room and they accommodated my request no problem. The second room was large in comparison as it would normally have been slated as a room for handicapped/wheelchair bound persons. It had a connecting door to the next room, and we noticed how well sound carried from room to room. It sounded like our neighbours were in the same room with us (which I don’t think they appreciated by the end of the week). A card must be inserted to run ALL electricity in the rooms and because it had a notch out of it, you couldn’t just replace it with your own plastic card, although this wasn’t a big deal for us as I think we only ran the A/C twice the whole time we were there. There was a double bed, two end tables (with small drawers), a closet which housed the safe (locked by another card that you request free of charge from the front desk) and another small dresser with two drawers. Unfortunately, there was no fridge, which would have been a nice touch and no ice bucket, but a thermos with two glasses. The TV was mounted up high to the ceiling and received 6 stations, 3 English (CNN, Teletoon and a movie channel). Don’t forget to bring your own radio or alarm clock as there is none, but you can get a wake up call IF you need to get up early. Electricity was 220V and we needed a CONVERTER (not adaptor), although our battery charger WOULD NOT charge from this. We were told later in the week that the front desk had ONE 110V plug to recharge batteries, etc. Maid service was great, but to note that our particular maid did not knock before she entered and we never knew what time she would show up. If we took the towels to the pool BEFORE she was there, we would not get fresh (or additional) towels that day.
Grounds: Not as lush or tropical as I expected. What grass there was, was dry. Not very many mature plants, as it looked like most of them had just been recently planted. There were pathways and walkways everywhere, some were even covered. It was about a 2-3 minute walk down winding paths to the beach from the resort, which was quite nice. On one side of the path, was where the horses grazed and the water sports equipment were stored and the other side was a small gift shop (not sure when it was open though) and a miniature golf course (made up of concrete), as well as the tennis court.
Beach: The beach was light brown, coarse sand, some of it made up of teeny, crushed shells. Wasn’t a problem on the feet, although sandals or water shoes would be helpful. And unless you’re one of those early risers, most of the chairs are gone by 9:30am. When we visited the beach, we either sat on our towels or on a blanket from the room.
Water Sports: There were 4 peddle boats, which each seated 4 people, had a small swim platform and a ladder. A lot of folks would take these out and snorkel off the back of it. There was also one windsurfer and one Catamaran (which you couldn’t take out alone and had to “reserve” your time). There was a wave-runner (SeaDoo) which NO ONE used as it cost $1/minute. As well there were a few small paddle boats. I only saw one game of beach volleyball the whole time I was there.
Pool: Loved the pool. It was very large and never very busy, and always refreshing. We never had a problem with finding chairs here either.
Restaurants: There is a main restaurant that serves buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are a lot of tables and we never had a problem finding a free one, although we sometimes had to clear it ourselves and find our own cutlery/napkins, etc. There is a gentleman playing the piano most evenings in the restaurant, he is amazing, although quite loud (we realized after the first night of sitting beside him and not hearing ourselves talk). We always had breakfast at the buffet, as I loved the made-to-order omelettes and French toast. Always lots of food, although for the most part breakfast was the same selection every day. And, we never ate lunch at the main buffet, as the other two restaurants were more appealing to us. The Beach Bar served lunch and dinner (a la carte). It was a large, beautiful open air restaurant/bar with a billiard table, ping pong table and a stand up bar with stools as well as tables for a sit down meal. Service was always fast. You could order from the grill: chicken legs, fish, pork, hamburger or hotdog, which most times came with yummy French fries. The Pool Bar served lunch only and it was only Italian fare, but it was the best darn pizza we had ever tasted, amazing! We ordered the pasta one day, but preferred the pizza. At any of the restaurants, there was ALWAYS lots of condiments available, such as salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, Heinz Chili Sauce, Tabasco sauce, vinegar, etc. Besides the above mentioned Restaurants/Bars, there is also a Lobby Bar, which serves expresso and capacinno after 10am every day, all day … as well you could always get a sandwich or grilled cheese there.
Tours: We only took 2 tours, but found most of them to be very inexpensive for what you got. We did the “El Nicho” tour, which was an adventure up into the mountains, hiking through and seeing some amazing waterfalls, and included lunch for $18US/each. We left at 9am and returned at 4:00pm. If you go, bring a jacket as the “limousine” ride can get chilly. The other tour that we did was to the closest town of Cienfuegos, we toured the main city as well as some of the main buildings, including a hotel and an old castle. It was $9US/each, we left at 8:30am and returned at 1:30pm. There were other tours to different cities (e.g. Trinidad, Varaderos and the most expensive being $33US/each for a 14 hour trip to Havana). We must note at this time, it is thanks to the Havanatur guide, HECTOR, that made both of our tours AMAZING! He has being doing these tours for 11 years and is very knowledgeable about everything including plants, politics, economy, history, etc. Much to my dismay though, there was no horseback riding tours to be had L
Entertainment: We found the Animation team to be very talented, but limited. All their shows, all week were 95% Cuban content and when they DID do an American song, the crowd went wild. They were entertaining, but the content got to be monotonous after a few nights.
New Years Eve: All week there was promise of a Gala night, with a phenomenal show to be put on. Tables were brought out to surround the pool, the Catamaran was brought up from the beach and dinner was to be served at the Pool Bar. After standing in line for over 20 minutes to get to the buffet, we noticed that the food was the same selection as most dinners in the restaurant, with a few added selections (baked banana chips and yam French fries, which were bueno!). Entertainment was supposed to start at 10:00 pm, but didn’t until 10:40pm, up until which time they played Cuban videos and interviews. After realizing that 50% of the guests there that evening were new, we were told that the staff and animation team’s family and friends were invited to celebrate, which was fine but it was noticed by others besides ourselves, that the whole evening was being catered to these new guests (music, entertainment, they even got preferential treatment at the long lines at the bars). As the evening show progressed, we realized that it was only a slight variation of all the other previous night shows. We left around 11:30pm to return to our room and rang in the New Year, watching CNN at Times Square.
General Disappointments: We were VERY disappointed that the Cyber Café WAS NOT open as was listed, there was a room with NOTHING in it. We were hoping to stay in touch with our children and family via email (we told them this). There was NO music playing, anywhere. The only time we heard music was when the Animation team were practising for their evening show (and then at the show). And, finally, we were also disappointed that there was NO dancing for the guests, no dance floors, etc.