By the title you might guess I’m going to write a glowingly positive review. Well I’m not because it doesn’t deserve one, but it does deserve consideration as good value for the money with many diamonds among the rough. Recognizing any resort review is at best subjective and at worst biased, I’ll try to be as objective and accurate as possible. Forgive me if this is overly long, for those who read it I hope it proves worthwhile.
Without a doubt, a real plus. Canjet B-737 from Toronto lands on time at 9:55am, a good smooth flight with free breakfast and a free glass of champagne. Service on the flight was excellent with a pleasant motivated crew. Through customs in a neat, modern compact airport building, on the bus and arrive at the hotel at 10:45am after a 6 minute bus ride. We get our room in about 10 minutes and the room is actually made up and READY! Trust me, this is not always the case. Of course other arriving guests will have waited longer to check in, we got lucky to be on the front of the first bus. Departure was the same, at least time for a quick breakfast, then off to the airport. 45 minutes to check in, pay the $25 CUC airport tax and clear security to the departure lounge which had a pleasant bar, gift shop with liquor and enough seats for everyone. The flight arrived early and departed early arriving in Toronto half an hour ahead of schedule. Different Canjet crew was equally professional as on the trip down.
We were assigned a second floor bungalow with a large balcony on two sides and a partial ocean view without paying any extra. The room was squeaky clean, but definitely basic and dated, the twin beds didn’t look too comfy, but turned out to be fine for sleeping. The A/C was very noisy but it worked. Little things like a curtain that didn’t hang properly, broken toilet roll holders and rusty faucets in the bathtub were minor stuff and fairly typical of Cuban resorts. The door lock was card operated as was the (free) in room safe. We had to hope that the staff master key card didn’t also open our safe, but I left all our money and valuables in it and had no problem. The bathroom was clean and everthing worked, the water pressure was adequate and hot enough for a comfortable shower every time but the last evening when it was kinda chilly. One annoyance was a doorstop screwed to the floor just to the left of the toilet which caused more than one stubbed toe for both of us until we trained ourselves to remember it was there. The maid service was good and we had the early shift so our room was always done when we returned from breakfast about 9:00am. We left little gifts and were rewarded with the typical towel sculptures. All in all the room was fine, it’s location perfect, quiet neighbours, but we did get a bit lucky, I think.
Restaurants and Bars: Disappointing. Yes, it’s Cuba food and there is plenty of it, but not a lot you might actually want to eat. They are always out of something. Cheese for the pizza, ice cream, wine glasses, coffee cups. We often had our morning cappucino delivered in a latte bowl, one time both the handles were broken. Not what you’d find in a 4 or even 3 star hotel in most places. The bread selection and quality is mediocre to poor. There were french fries the first day at lunch and they were tasty, even though I got the last of a batch. No more appeared that day, but I thought hey, I’ll be there earlier next day and get some. I never saw another french fry at any restaurant the rest of our vacation! Two a-la-cartes, but don’t bother, the food there is not outstanding and far less plentiful. The Ranchon overlooking the beach has a great ambiance, but you can go there during the day and see as well as hear the waves.
I must mention the flies. They look like fairly small, ordinary houseflies. You must eat lunch outdoors either at the Ranchon or the pool restaurant. The fish is very fresh and tasty if you don’t mind the head still on (I don’t, that’s what knives are for). But the flies love the fish too, not one or two but swarms of them decend on their prey, your fish on your plate! The flies like chicken too but not quite as much. Pizza, available only at the pool restaurant (when they have it), is probably your best bet, the flies don’t seem to be attracted to it. You can have any pizza you want as long as it’s cheese only or ham and cheese. I am not a squeamish person, but even I was bothered by the flies, you literally have to wave them off with your left hand while eating with your right. Bottom line is don’t go to the Hotel Playa Blanca if flies in your food upsets you or be prepared to skip lunch. Breakfast and dinner are indoors if you eat at the buffet and flies are not a problem.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: Magnificent Beach! Soft white sand, firm near the water for easy walking. Very much to my personal taste with 3-5 foot surf every day, just enough to make it interesting but not too dangerous as long as you are reasonably careful and a decent swimmer. My wife is a non-swimmer, but she loved the look and sound of the waves. She did a little bit of wading with me close by her side. Not recommended though for young children or people who want millpond water. You could walk for miles to the West. Chairs were fairly plentiful, but palapas not so much, you must get there early to reserve your spot or make some accomodation with Bidel the beach man as we did. What we didn’t do though is leave our towels on chairs under a palapa and go off for several hours or even for the day. It is an unfortunate fact of life at almost all beach resorts anywhere that at any given time there are more chairs occupied by towels than by people. The general manager who solves this universal problem without alienating his clientel will deserve a gold medal. It is one of my pet peeves, but I’d better not get going…lol. Yuniel, the beach bar man, is very friendly and accomodating. NUDITY. Yes, there is, though I didn’t notice people flaunting it as some people have mentioned. The hotel requests there be no nudity in front of the hotel and I didn’t see anyone violating that, but then again our favourite spot was to the East just past the beach bar. This bar is roughly the dividing line between mostly clothed people and mostly nude people. My wife and I are not offended by nudity and I prefer to swim without a bathing suit, so it was fine for me. BUT, if you are upset or offended by public nudity or you are afraid your child might see an adult human being nude, please DO NOT go the the Hotel Playa Blanca or any other on Cayo Largo as I understand it. We loved the beach! POOL AREA:
The most unattractive and unimaginative pool area we have ever seen at any resort. A big round double pool separated by an ugly metal fence. They say it is salt water, don’t know, we never tried it. Swim up bar? Forget it, this pool has no amenities. There are a reasonable number of chairs, palapas and shade trees around it and the chairs always seemed to be occupied if not by people, by towels as mentioned before. I think there may be some activities during the day, but I can’t really comment because we were seldom there. If you are pool people this is not your resort.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: Kids show at about 9:10pm, always a girl in a clown suit getting the kids to mimic her movements to the same music. Then at 9:30pm the house band ‘Santa Fe,’ plays for half an hour and a few people dance. They play a few good numbers but as my wife says, they shouldn’t quit their day jobs. Then the ‘show’ comes on at 10:00pm. We only saw two, the dancers are talented, but I expect all the shows are much the same. In our opinion this sequence of events should start at least a half hour earlier. There is no piano bar, no disco and everyone is finished dinner by 9:00pm at the very latest. They say the buffet is open till 10:00pm, but if you walked in after 9, I think you might be very hungry.
Off premises activities are pretty standard, your sunset catamaran, swim with dolphins etc. Our tour rep admonished us strongly not to book tours with anyone but her. I suspect she makes a commission for every one she sells. One tour we did take was the free ‘train’ to Paraiso and Sirena beaches. It takes about 35 minutes and is fun though there is really not much to see along the way, just a winding sandy road through an arid scrubby jungle. The beaches are great, calm sheltered water for those who don’t like surf. We had no problem getting chairs and a palapa, but we went on a cloudy day. They trains run pretty much on time and don’t panic if you can’t get on the first one, there is usually another right behind it. If not, I’m told taxis are 2 Pesos per person.
A diamond in the rough, lots of rough, but lots of diamonds too! We paid $772, taxes included, per person, some pay less I’m sure and some pay more. You get what you pay for and at that price the HPB is excellent value, but I wouldn’t pay much more. Don’t go there if you are the really fussy type expecting 5 star amenities at 3 star prices. You won’t get it. There are at least three flights per week arriving from Montreal and Quebec City and only one from Toronto. That about defines the ratio of french to english guests. Most guests are in the 50-60 age range, so if you are looking for a party atmosphere this isn’t the place. There are a few young children, but not many when we were there so it might as well be adults only. The Hotel Playa Blanca used to be part of the Spanish Barcelo chain, but is now owned by the Cuban government. Many think the HPB has gone and is still going downhill. It probably is, but nothing that a good general manager couldn’t rectify fairly quickly and easily.