AIRPORT: Security is very very tight! Expect to queue to get your passport and visa checked – this takes them a few minutes, then you go through a metal detector and your baggage gets screened again! There are lots of security people around and a few dogs, sniffing suitcases as you get them off the carousel. A few people had their suitcases checked too. On the way back, I found the staff extremely helpful – I needed a wheelchair and they got one for me straight away, wheeled me around! I do recommend the VIP lounge on the way back.
TRANSFER: All I can say is fantastic! Really quick! Air conditioned coach. Some people got a taxi to the airport on the way back – no need to whatsoever, as it is only 12 mins to the airport.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Hmmm….. not great, bright colours everywhere!!! But then after travelling for 19 hours and not sleeping that night I am not surprised! This soon changed!!
CHECK IN: There were 120 people from my flight staying at the sol cayo coco. Check in was really quick – you receive a piece of paper to fill in on the coach transfer along with your key, and tags to put on your luggage with your room number on. We were taken into the disco to check in – given a cocktail, a 2 minute welcome from the rep, and then the Cubans did their national dance! You then get given a wrist band, and get shown to your room. The porters bring your luggage to you.
ROOMS: We were in an un-renovated room, in block 1 (although a lot of block 1 is now renovated). Basically, if you have a brown door you have a renovated room, white door – it isn’t! However, we thought the rooms were still really nice – 2 double beds, few chairs, few tables, fridge, mirrors galore (even full sized girls!!), lovely sink area, plenty of storage space, and then a bathroom. They are a tiny bit dated, but I should think within the next month or so they will all be renovated. Air conditioning is fantastic; you get a bottle of water in your room every day. If you want your towels changed, put them in the bath (we didn’t notice this for a few days!) and if you want your bed linen changed a bit quicker, you can strip the sheets off and put those in the bath too (some person complained their bed had not been changed for 3 days).
GROUNDS: Gorgeous! Really well maintained by a group of gardeners. One of them, after giving him a peso (61p) made me a bouquet of flowers everyday! The maids wash the floors, steps everyday in the main areas. If it rains, as soon as it stops the maids come out and sweep away all the water etc. Where the renovations were taking place (block one) there is a tiny bit of mess – just a bit of dust, but this is cleaned up daily. Some people do leave their cups around too which is annoying- just put stuff in bins, saves the ground staff some work!
RESTAURANTS & FOOD:
– BUFFET: nice restaurant, although there are a few OLD stains on the table cloths. I went in the kitchen – very clean – nothing to worry about there. Seating inside and out. Air conditioned. Service – good!! If tip it can be better – pancake man in mornings (pizza guy in evenings) is fantastic – will bring to your table etc etc.
BREAKFAST: not the best meal of the day. However, they will do fresh pancakes, french toast, omelettes for you, and at another part in the restaurant, will fry sausages, eggs etc for you there and then. The food actually out is not so great, but as I said, if you want to eat those kind of foods (like sausages, bacon) they will do it fresh. Plenty of fruit (papaya, bananas, water melon) which I had for breakfast mainly, "cakey" things, few cereals, bread rolls, croissants etc. Orange juice was watered down at breakfast time ONLY.
DINNER: Salad bar is fantastic! Have a choice of lots of different items, then they will mix them up in whatever oils or herbs/spices you want! I loved it and had some every night! Soup, cheeses, bread galore, are all available as starters. Main courses: you can once again go and get your own meat/fish/king prawns grilled, they make fresh pizzas with your own choice of toppings, there is usually someone carving a joint of meat or fish, more salad available and then the stuff in the main dishes comprises of different options each night, e.g. duck, veal, rabbit, lamb, chicken, beef, squid, fish, spring rolls, vegetable curries, rice, pasta, chips, potatoes, vegetables, curries, meats in different sauces, stir fries etc, etc, etc. There is plenty of choice each night. I am a VERY VERY fussy eater, and I didn’t go hungry whatsoever. Ok, the cuisine isn’t amazing, but Cuba isn’t known for this, but it was still very nice! Veggies are more than adequately catered for every night. I really do recommend the duck! Puddings: ice-cream, fruit, cakes, pancakes/crepes done in rum and orange juice, along with whatever else you want in the pan (I recommend banana!). Tuesday night is fantastic- Chinese night – don’t book an al a carte for that night!!! Usually a guy goes round playing guitar as well which is nice DON DIEGO – service was a bit slow, but didn’t mind whatsoever! Lovely air conditioning, good choice on menu (recommend asparagus soup, beef Wellington, duck, lobster (20 pesos extra), peach melba, but all is very good). There is a pianist playing in there who is fantastic! Food is good too! You do need to book at the club house fairly early, usually before 10am BEACH – lunch time: fantastic! best place to eat at lunch time – they have a buffet, selection of salads, ice cream, fruit, drinks, different meals. OR you can order off the menu – chicken and fish of the day are highly recommended. Best place to eat at lunch time. Dinner: mozzies galore, food wasn’t that great – definitely recommend don diego over this one, but it is worth going once.
serve a variety of food from 10am-11pm, from chips, pizzas, burgers, pastas, which are nice. We eat here a few lunch times.
DRINKS: available from 24hr bar all day, pool bar, beach bar, bar in amphitheatre and disco during show times. Most evenings in the reception area they have a cocktail bar – highly recommended. The reception area is gorgeous to sit in.
You can go to Al a carte restaurants as many times as you like, as long as you book that morning.
POOL: Shallow, ideal for children, with a deeper end towards to pool bar. If you want an umbrella, you do need to reserve your sunbeds quite early. Later on, if sunbeds are gone, you can ask one of the grounds men to get you one from the beach (be prepared to give them a peso though!). One day the pool had some sick in it (consequently I went down with a not so nice stomach bug) and a few children had ear infections (do not let the nurse try to wash the ear out – make sure they are given antibiotics). After these complaints I believe the pool was being completely emptied and cleaned this week, so you shouldn’t have anything to worry about after 13th July2005! They do activities around the pool at times throughout the day, along with water aerobics and volley ball in the pool. Nice area though to sunbathe in. Jacuzzi wasn’t that bubbly, but was a lovely quiet area to relax in (just behind the gym). The pool does have a few tiny mosaic tiles missing on the bottom. There is a waterfall feature to another small, shallow pool (which tends to be lovely and quiet.). There is a children’s area which is separated by bars. They are replacing some of the white trimmings round the pool at the moment. They are keeping on top with renovations etc, so nothing to worry about. The snooker table, chess board and table tennis are by the pool, along with the club house (where you can change your towels between 9-12 and book for a la carte restaurants.).
BEACH: ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!!! There are 2 beaches – the main beach, which has all the activities and the beach bar on, then there is a 2nd secluded beach, which is a lot quieter. Each has a lovely breeze too. Main beach is directly down from the hotel. This can get quite busy, so be prepared to reserve your bed if you want a brolly (or walk further up the beach). Lots of activities, such as volley ball, football, pedaloes, snorkelling, wind surfing, hobbie ?cats (some type of boat), etc etc which is all inc. Kids club is nearby in a hut from here. Beach bar is good for drinks close by, and a man goes along with coconuts to drink out of. Sea weed is cleared up by a tractor. From here you can pay for activities such as scuba diving (courses available – I have prices if interested), snorkelling from boat (11 pesos), glass bottom boat snorkelling (very good) (20), banana boat, water skiing, plane ride (50 for 2), parascending (amazing photo opportunity – my bf said it was unmissable – 40), even jumping out of planes – free falling, learn to surf in the air etc etc!!! 2ND beach – where we spent so much more time! Its heaven! Plenty of sunbeds, canopies providing shade, ankle deep sea for at least 80m with fish swimming round your feet, no seaweed (apart from after a storm), much more sheltered so sea is very calm, pretty much deserted (apart from sat and sun when the locals do use it!). Just see the picture! There is a stream running down into the sea with fish in – we snorkelled there a few times. It’s not very far to beach bar either – just cross over in the sea to the "mini" beach, and from there is a pathway to the beach bar. To get there – head towards block one – and there is a gateway (towards the back of the jacuzzi area) – go through here – then there is a wooden bridge – just cross over there! It’s actually the closest beach to block 1 of the hotel.
REPS: Thomas Cook reps were Ruth (english) and Nerdys (cuban). I must say they were absolutely FANTASTIC! I cannot give them enough praise. I was ill with this stomach bug, and didn’t want to see the dr, due to being on morphine (illegal in Cuba). Nerdys explained everything to the dr for me, came to see me in my room, even gave us her personal telephone no. to contact her if we needed her. Ruth was fantastic too! Helped us out with some other stuff. I can’t see how anyone can complain about them – we didn’t get our room water one day – took us to customer services, organised water to be delivered, etc. I heard many other guests praising her to.
ENTERTAINMENT: There is plenty going on during the days if you want it – spanish lessons, salsa lessons, football, volleyball, etc etc. Mini golf is also available, one (dodgy) pool table, chess, table tennis, gym, activities on beach etc which I mentioned earlier (and lots more I cant remember!). Can do horse riding too for 10 pesos. Each evening a show is on- these are professional dancers who are amazing! Try to go to at least a few! There is a weekly magic show too. Children’s shows are in the amphitheatre each evening (between 8.30-9.30). I heard nothing but good reports about Jumbo and the mini/childrens club (I saw her with the kids on the beach one day and they all loved her and she was fantastic with all of them.) There is usually live music each night in one of the bars. Salsa evenings are on in the disco each tues and thurs. However, if you want to relax, it’s good too! Although, sometimes there is music on round the pool (which didn’t bother us at all!).
We did the glass bottom boat from off the beach which was amazing- so many fish. Take a banana with you to feed them!!! Definitely recommended. You can also snorkel with the dive centre for 11 pesos but it’s not a glass bottom boat and you don’t get to snorkel for as long. My bf did the parascending which he thoroughly enjoyed – highly recommended. We got some amazing pictures from this (but sadly don’t have them on the computer to show you). Diving – my bf did his PADI last year – the diving is fairly cheap and he saw some amazing fish – held an octopus, went to a ship wreck. They also do courses here. Jungle tour – drive your own speed boat and go snorkelling! Amazing trip –definitely recommended, can buy picture at end for 10 (pesos). Get your snorkel as souvenir! Dolphins! This is something I have always wanted to do and it was amazing! It was 159 pesos each (but is cheaper if you pay by card in US $). You fly on a fairly small plane (which was an experience but still really enjoyed it!) to Cienfugos – have lunch there (fish and chicken are good!). You then watch a sea lion and dolphin show (if you want to participate wear a cap hint hint!) which was very good. Then you swim with the dolphins for about 20 minutes – they kiss you, sing, you can put your head in their mouth, cuddle them, then they either push you up into the air on their noses and take you along, or you can hold on to their fins and take you along!! You can pay an extra 30 pesos to swim with them again (20 for kids). You then get taken to Cienfugos (where you can buy pics of you and the dolphins for 10 pesos) and get to look round the city briefly. When you see how these people live, you realise just how poor they are. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Oh and the coaches are air conditioned. A few people have complained about the tour guides – ours were fantastic, but they are not anything to do with Thomas Cook We were going to do Colourful Cuba (good reports off other guests) and Sunset Cruise (which isn’t supposed to be great) but I was ill. VIP lounge at airport – definitely worth it. For 20 pesos each you get express check in (didn’t have to queue at all, whereas some people had to wait about 1 1/2hrs!), free drinks, comfy chairs, free sandwiches, guaranteed to sit together on plane, really good air conditioned room, and priority boarding. Oh, and much nicer loos!
OTHER THINGS: take plenty of mosquito repellent! Also take the plugs for the room and if possible, take enough to have it on day and night! They do fumigate the hotel, but still wear plenty of spray!
Fantastic hotel for families, couples, young and old. I can imagine more children being around in summer hols, so if you don’t like kids I suggest the Melia next door (which is better than the Sol apparently.) Children are very well catered for, and I would definitely recommend it for families. As a couple, we really enjoyed ourselves Pretty flat, a few stairs around, but it is suitable for disabled people. Take plenty of immodium and montilium (sickness tablets), just in case. Doctor is fantastic (I am a medical student and he was so thorough) – 20pessos if you go and see him (just by don diego restaurant) but 50 if he comes to room! Be careful with nurse and ear infections – DO NOT let her rinse the ear out! Electricity – 220v – European style 2 pin plugs worked. American style didn’t! Hair dryers aren’t fantastic (but I managed!). Better exchange rate at hotel reception There is a market at the hotel from 10-3 with some fantastic items for presents in. The shops in the reception area are very reasonably priced (Actually cheaper than cienfugos!) The duty free shop at the airport for things like alcohol is cheaper. Do TIP! These people only earn 11pessos a month (about £6-7). I took some clothes I didn’t want any more and they were so grateful. This guy gave one of the waiters a watch and sunglasses set – never seen someone’s face light up so much! I gave a local child on the beach some goggles and snorkel – made her day as well as mine! Its 25 pesos each to leave the country!!
Take your own cups if you want larger glasses (or when you get one hang on to it!). They give you these small plastic glasses at the beach and pool bar.