Paradisus Rio De Oro Resort Reviews – Page 2 – Holguin – Cuba Hotels – Debbie's Caribbean Resort Reviews



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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin  ~  Reviews Posted – 15
Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Doug in Toronto, Canada

January 2005

After visiting Grand Lido Sans Souci (Jamaica), Secrets Excellence (Punta Cana), Sandals Negril (Jamaica), LaSource (Grenada) and few others, I am basing this review in comparison to these resorts – the majority of which are 5-Star rated. I have also visited numerous 4-Star rated resorts in my early years.

The Staff
Honestly, I have never experienced staff which is more friendly, is courteous in every detail, and just plain go out of their way to make sure you are welcomed and comfortable. I’ve seen "pasted-on" smiles in many places – Cuban people are genuine and warm in very regard. This resort simply has to be applauded for their staff and is the best I have ever encountered – anywhere.

The Rooms
The hotel is on a peninsula and is long and thin. The main entertainment, night bar, and buffet restaurant is at the top, followed by rooms, the exercise area, the pool, and then the beach at the bottom. Our room was near the "top" of the resort and the entertainment could be heard clearly with the windows closed. If this bothers you, ask the hotel staff for a room near the middle or down by the beach. The room was tastefully decorated, spacious, had satellite television, and tons of water pressure. I didn’t see a bad room anywhere in the resort.

Buffet Restaurant
The food there wasn’t very good – acceptable, but not that good. For breakfast I would recommend that somebody makes you an omelette if you prefer a hot breakfast. There is a lot of breakfast food, but it is average at best. I wouldn’t recommend the buffet for lunch, and we found the two restaurants near the pool and beach to be much, much better. At night, sometimes the food was quite good, other nights it was not that good. It’s "hit-and-miss" in the buffet.

A La Carte Restaurants
You are allowed one restaurant per week of stay, and you should book as soon as you arrive at the hotel. Of the four, the Japanese one is absolutely spectacular! The sushi is stunning, considering it is made in Cuba! We had chicken teriyaki and found it to be amazing. (I have travelled to Japan also.) The other three restaurants serve pretty darn good food also.

Room Service
Similar to Grand Lido properties, you can order a variety of food, drink, and breakfast items to your room. The response is quick, and the food is hot. We ordered only coffee every morning with no problem at all.

In-Room Bar
Two very small (6 oz.) imported beer cans were in the fridge, along with one bottle of water and some orange juice. That’s it – and isn’t worth mentioning further.

The Grounds
The grounds were neat, well groomed, and very pleasing to the eye. At night it is very beautiful. The property is large and there is plenty of room to walk and find treasures along the way. There are two lookout points that are worth visiting.

Entertainment
The hotel has their own Cuban band and the group is very talented. The dancers need a bit more work but hold promise. The weekly cabaret is definitely the best show they put on. I would rate the entertainment at a 4 out of 5. The entertainment area has only JBL speakers and the sound quality is noticeable from other resorts.

Bars
The main lobby bar is by far the best. Here you can get fresh ground coffee, expensive imported brands such as Johnny Walker Black, premium whiskies, and of course, lots of Cuban rums. I found it odd that bottles of Jack Daniels were everywhere – USA brand. Bloody Mary’s were actually quite good and they serve the tabasco and other sauces in a separate basket so that you can add to your liking. The pool bar isn’t as good, but hey, it’s at the pool. The bar in the lunch restaurant by the pool would be the second best choice.

The Beach
The beach is very long and connects to the other 3-star hotel beside the Paradisus. It is clean, quite wide, and has the finest sand you will find anywhere in the Caribbean. The water was a bit rough, but acceptable.

The Pool
The pool is quite large and has unique lounges of which some have their own tent covering them. For those who want shade, there is plenty and varied areas where you can sit and relax. For those who want the sun, again there are varied areas to relax in. The pool also features a swim-up bar – pretty standard these days anyway. The water was clean and refreshing with very few leaves that tend to fall in. The pool keeper does his job keeping it very tidy. One unique feature in the pool is the upper and lower section that are connected by two waterfalls – both of which you can swim up to.

Maid Service
The maids were efficient and always seemed to know the best time to come. We tipped the maids by leaving one peso (equivalent to one U.S. dollar) on the pillow when we left for the pool area. They have it tough and deserve the additional money.

Children
The resort did have a few children, but only a few. We tend to choose resorts that are for adults only, however we found the children not to be a problem at all. There were some infants and toddlers, however most were pre-teen or early teen in age.

Overall
This Paradisus hotel truly offers a unique vacation and tremendous value for the money. Of all the hotels that I have listed above, the price to vacation here was much, much less in cost. There are resorts that truly offer better food (Grand Lido), included spa treatments (LaSource), or perhaps a more spectacular pool (Secrets). I know because I have experienced them. However when the price is factored into the equation, the Paradisus Rio De Oro becomes a blow-away in my opinion and truly is a 5-Star property in the true sense.

You can have your cake, eat it, and have a few dollars left over to enjoy.
dougmcd@sympatico.ca

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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Sara & Paul ~ Canada

January 2005

We just got married at the Paraduisus Rio De Oro on December 7th 2004. Our group consisted of 27 people and no one had ever been there before. It was perfect and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely.

Make sure you book your Restaurants as soon as you arrive or book before you leave for your vacation. The Japanese restaurant was by far everyone’s favourite eatery. Really good cooks and very nice atmosphere. The lunch buffet was the most talked about as well.

We enjoyed our wedding night in one of the two private villas that they had to offer and it was absolutely breathtaking! We loved every minute. The sauna and Jacuzzi were part of the bathroom and the view from the Jacuzzi was beautiful, it didn’t look real. We had breakfast served by the pool in the morning and enjoyed the scenery for the duration of the time spent there.

I had a wonderful hour long massage (this too should also be booked on the first day) in the room with the glass floor – really relaxing.

Two groups from our party went Deep Sea Fishing and had a blast! One boat didn’t catch anything and the other boat caught a Marlin, Wahoo & two Dorado’s (the Marlin got away at the last minute) highly recommended.

We took a horse and carriage ride into the closest town and went shopping at the market. I enjoyed a Beer on the beach and then went back to the resort. Highly recommended as well – prices are a steal compared to what they charge at the resort.

The Rooms were gorgeous! Very well kept and the Upgraded rooms with a walkout to your own private shower is a must. Definitely worth the extra $. We had a view of the Ocean and the Gazebo.

Watch out for the Turkey Vultures!! The wildlife is very interesting; we had a big cockroach in our bathroom on the last day (but it’s the Caribbean, you’re going to see something) just keep your bags zipped!

We only accumulated two complaints while we were there. A couple people said there wasn’t enough lighting at night (hard to read the room numbers on the sign from the pathway) and the Bucanero Beer wasn’t a big hit (everyone preferred the Crystal). I personally thought the dim lighting at night was a nice romantic touch – but I figured that was pretty good considering those were the only two complaints from 27 people! The Staff were delightful and always willing to help.

We had the time of our lives and I couldn’t have picked a better resort! I will definitely be returning and I’m thankful for everyone’s comments on Trip Advisor and Debbie’s Caribbean Reviews for contributing to my decision on going to the Paradisus Rio De Oro.

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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Scott — Toronto, Canada

December 2004

After reading so many favourable reviews of this resort on yours and other websites, we felt certain of a good vacation. Unfortunately this was not the case.

Our trip was to celebrate our anniversary, as we were married in Veradero, Cuba in 1999.

Although I continue to read reviews about how compensation should be made when traveling to Cuba because it is not as "sophisticated" as Caribbean destinations, my personal experience is that in many cases Cubans can compare as well if not better to other destinations in the islands. There are so many international hoteliers building and operating resorts in Cuba; the days of bringing your own toilet paper on vacation are over. Well, at least in most of Cuba.

Our trip was booked through a tour operator and, as indicated in several other reviews, we had some specific requests. I’ll get to those in a moment. We left from Toronto in the early morning of November 7th and arrived slightly ahead of schedule at Holguin, in the early afternoon. We had no problems at the Cuban end but had to cough-up $50 for additional baggage weight leaving Toronto. As an aside, can two people really pack enough clothes for a two week stay, at a five star resort, with a weight restriction of 20 kg (including carry-on), when the bags weigh 8 kg empty?

Anyway, because of the 45 minute bus ride from airport to resort, the tour rep. used the opportunity to give her briefing. This was appreciated, since nobody likes to sit around listening to a sales pitch after check-in. The rep. also informed us about the new changes in currency policy (no American dollars required).

Check-in was smooth, but that when things started to fall apart. As mentioned we asked for some specifics. We had asked for an end unit, facing the gardens, on the second floor, with a king size bed. What we were presented with was, a middle unit with a view of a thick wooded area, next to the maintenance road, on the ground floor, with two 3/4 beds pushed together. It was quite a disappointment. When we asked to be relocated, the alternative choice was no better. We decided to remain in room 3512.

The aesthetics of the room were somewhat of a disappointment too; but, expected after reading some of the web reviews. The decor was dated, fading and in need of replacement. Some of the fixtures were either broken or in disrepair (grout falling out in the shower, the chrome rubbed almost entirely off the fixtures, towel bars pulling out from the walls etc.). Overall, habitable but not up to five star standards (3 1/2 maybe).

The resort itself sits on an incredibly beautiful property with great dive spots and as mentioned in other reviews, three gorgeous private beaches. The landscaping throughout is quite nice and the overall layout of the resort is good. Nothing is too close or too far and the walk to anywhere is enjoyable. The tennis courts are painted concrete, but great for a resort not promoting the game specifically.

The pool and deck area are good, even if it is an obsession for some people to reserve sun beds at 7:00 in the morning and not return until 11:00 or 12:00. The wedding gazebo, overhanging the ocean, is picturesque and a great setting for a ceremony.

The food was great. Even in the buffet you would always be able to find something to eat. The à la cartes were no problem to get into, the second week. The Japanese seemed to be the favourite amongst of our group. It was entertaining and the meals were enjoyable and certainly filling. The Cuban restaurant has been described in other reviews as romantic. It is. That is to say, if you don’t mind the mosquitoes feeding while you do; the outer tables over the water are indeed quite romantic. Then again, what would anyone expect of a restaurant surrounded by still water on three sides, a mosquito’s paradise. Think DEET with your champagne.

The shows, especially the traditional Cuban band (not the Buena Vista Social Club, but close) were good. The shows do repeat over two weeks, so take the opportunity during a two week stay to enjoy a later dinner or a stroll under the stars with a nice cigar.

A $12 horse and buggy ride to town (Guardalavaca) is a much better option than a cab. After all, its only about 10 km away, and what’s the rush your on vacation. The market in town has the usual tourist junk; but, there are also some very talented artisans whose work is exquisite. Take the time to walk around the whole town because there are several shops and a great beach worth exploring. The largest of the three Habanos (cigar) stores, was great. Like most large outlets in Cuba, it has a cappuccino bar and extremely helpful staff (my humidor is full).

The walk to the two sister resorts next door, either by beach or the long bridge over the lagoon, is close enough to warrant the walk. The resorts do not have the extensive landscaping that Rio de Oro does, but, there are a couple more shops and it is on the way to the nature preserve. I believe it was $6 to enter the preserve and it was very interesting to walk though the self-guided trails.

Back at the resort. Some of the staff were great. We had cappuccinos/ coffee at the lobby bar every morning and received superb service. I can say the same of the “sports” staff; what they didn’t know how to play (which is a short list) they were eager to learn. Some staff at all of the restaurants came to work each day, happy and ready to serve. We encountered an equal number who no nothing of customer service. I would put the front desk at the top of this list as they should be the “face” of the resort. Aside from the room’s interiors issues; between my wife and I, we went though nearly 25 room keys in 14 days. Just to be clear, no, we didn’t have them near anything electronic in the room and no, we don’t bring cell phones on holiday. It took the staff a week and a half to come to the conclusion that the lock might be the problem (something I had repeatedly suggested). They eventually replaced the door to the safe and the door lock to the room.

Other rooms were outfitted with robes. When it rained, other people were given an umbrella in there room. Other guests had simple amenities like facial tissue. On their own these are small things. Issues like this happen when at home or away and we wouldn’t normally care about them or let it bother us. When they start adding up and nothing was being done, we requested a meeting with hotel management. The request was granted and we were given the obligatory "sorry".

On the night of our anniversary, which the staff was aware of, we had the pleasure of having champagne flutes smashed all over us. Imagine, all dressed up, sitting in a nice romantic a la carte restaurant, and next thing you know, your wearing the better part of four glasses of champagne and there is glass everywhere (the floor, the table, the chairs). The staff said sorry, made a very cursory attempt to clean up and started serving again. There was no attempt to offer compensation for dry cleaning and in fact we had to almost force the waitress to get rid of the broken glass from the table and replace the chair that had been covered in shards of glass.

Overall I would give the resort a failing grade, ranking it no higher than a 3 star. It has many of the amenities of a 5 star resort; however, the Sol Melia management in Spain need to invest in sprucing the place up and training their staff and the management and staff at the resort must come to the realization that the guests are their livelihood. Until this happens, this resort will remain a 5 star wannabe with the privilege of becoming another in a long list of Caribbean resorts, which once "were".

This is not paradise. If you want true value for your money, find another destination. I could suggest several alternatives elsewhere in Cuba.

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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Mike — Hamilton, Canada

November 2004

I returned this past weekend from Holguin, Cuba, having stayed at the well classified 5 star Paridisus Rio de Oro. Let me say that I didn’t really want to go to the Caribbean, not being much for sunning myself, but am exceptionally pleased that I was convinced to go!

I won’t go into reviews of the restaurants, everyone has already done so. However, book your a la carte restaurants early as we were unable to attend the International restaurant during our stay. The buffet restaurant had some staples, but rotated food for dinner each day so you didn’t become bored.

To say that the staff are friendly at the hotel is an understatement! The resort is beautiful; no scrimping took place to make the place attractive and comfortable for your stay. The pool is exceptional, very large, and the beach is perfect – try getting one of the pool chairs on the cliff overlooking the ocean. You might want to consider water shoes as there are rocks/coral in the water near shore, but this is not a necessity.

There are massage huts with glass floors cantilevered over the ocean, book early as I was unable to get an appointment. Your room is stocked daily with two colas, two beers, one mineral water and one bottled natural water. All restaurants serve bottled water, noting to fear. The gardens are beautiful and maintained daily by throngs of groundskeepers.

Important things to be aware of:
First off and importantly, US dollars are now not really wanted. Your $25 exit fee must be paid in Cuban dollars – take your home currency: Canadian Dollars, UK Pounds or Euros as they are preferred. Your hotel will exchange, there is also a currency exchange at the airport.

Second, recognize that Cuba is a third world country and don’t expect something that you might receive in London, Toronto or Paris – the food, although very good, is somewhat bland. I had expected, and was looking forward to, very spicy food and was somewhat disappointed. However, I’m sure they try to please everyone and you can always add salt and pepper – also ask for hot sauce, if you want. You could not possibly go hungry at this hotel.

Third, don’t buy liquor at the hotels to take home – you can do that at the airport. We didn’t now this and ended up weighing down our luggage and having to pay extra since our luggage was over the 20kg limit. No, we didn’t buy all that much!

Fourth, Cuba is very poor – tip freely. However, Cuba doesn’t have much in the stores to buy and what they do have is extremely expensive. Take down t-shirts, shoes, socks, etc. with you and give them to the staff – many of these basic items are beyond the reach of everyday Cubans. For example, Cubans are paid in "convertible" pesos. They then have to convert to Cuban dollars, about 26 convertible pesos to the Cuban dollar. An average salary is between 300 and 500 convertibles, yes that means about $11 and $28 per month. A pair of shoes can cost up to $60, so you see that it is very costly to purchase things that we really take for granted.

Hope that this was helpful!

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Paradisus Rio De Oro from Daniel (age 10) — Canada

October 2004

I have just got back from Paradisus Rio de Oro (04/10/28) and it was paradise. I flew on Skyservice as did the others with me (Mother, Father, Family Friend and Sister). So now onto the things that made Paradisus a 5 star resort.

Airport and flight:
We walked into the Toronto airport and was nearly immediately given a form that was to be filled out before leaving the country. It was a little strange as it was titled something along the lines of "Passengers entering Canada". Check-In was fast and efficient, but we did have to move some items around as a few of our bags were too heavy. After Check-In we proceeded to the gate. The security check moved quickly, and no problems were found. We then waited about 2 1/2 hours for our plane at Gate C25. Upon boarding the plane, we were given a friendly hello and went directly to our seats. We had seats 24A, B, and C, and 25B, and C. The seats were quite cramped and the seat pitch was only about 26 inches. A small pillow was on a few of the seats, though many had none. The movie was Two Brothers, but headsets were five dollars a piece. Snacks and drinks were served, but again at a high price. We were given a boxed breakfast that consisted of a croissant, funny-! smelling yoghurt, crackers and cheese and orange juice. Tea and Coffee were also served after. We arrived in Holguin 3 1/2 hours later with a bumpy landing. The Holguin airport was quite nice and we went through quickly.

Bus ride and Check-In:
The bus ride to the resort was considerably more comfortable than the airplane, was air conditioned and had a small washroom at the back. The forty-five minute ride was quite scenic after getting out of the city. It first dropped people off at Playa Pesquero, Then dropped us off and then proceeded to Sol Rio Luna y Mares. Check-In involved a bit of waiting as there was only one small desk. Once checked in we were given a map to our room and headed there.

Room:
Our room had two, large, double beds and a third one set up. The was also a lounger in front of the TV which had 24 channels. The bathroom was nice, however there was a spider in the bath/shower which was promptly killed. An added touch was the bidet, which no one used. The sink was located outside or the actual bathroom. The keycard we had was needed to turn on the A/C and the lights. The minibar was restocked everyday with bottled water, coke, and beer. The maid did a wonderful job on cleaning the room. My recommendation for tips is to leave 1 US dollar, or 20 pesos and a small gift on the pillow. We did not use room service so are not sure how efficient that was.

Activities:
After walking down past the exotic plants and sculptures, we came across the activity centre. There are many games here for you to play. There is shuffleboard, mini bowling, pool, ping-pong, chess, archery, pistol shooting, and volleyball. Inside the actual activity centre there is a place to rent snorkeling gear, books, and games. You can also book massages (Elizabeth is recommended) and trade in your towels. There are other activities held here such as dance lessons (Merangue, Salsa, and Cha Cha Cha) and Aerobics.

Pool:
After walking down a bit further you will hit the pool. There are many sun beds here, and a few are under palapas. There is an Aqua Bar there but we will get to that later. The pool itself is divided into two parts. The bottom pool which is more like the play around pool and the top pool which is larger and more for relaxing on the many lilos provided. The bottom of the pool is starting to show signs of age though. There is also a number of topless women around the pool, which is not very nice.

Beach:
The beach here is not rocky as many people have said, It is in fact very white and sandy. Seaweed does line part of the beach though. Again a lot of topless women, and many other people from Sol Rio Luna y Mares sharing the beach. You can tell them apart as they are wearing wristbands. There is a nice rental shop, where we rented a Hobie Cat and a Peddle Boat. The two rides were very enjoyable and the instructor on the Hobie Cat was very professional.

Lobby Area:
When you enter the Lobby bar from the back end, you walk past many chairs set up in front of a stage. The shows were held here. After you walk through, you see pool tables and the Mediterannean and Japanese restaurants (El Mediteranneo and Tsuru respectively) on your left, and the long hall down to the buffet (La ceiba). Straight ahead of you is the Lobby bar that does drinks from Cuba Libre to Very Well, the Shop, and the Kareoke/Fun Pub. Heading to the right you come up to another hall. Up there is the International Gourmet restaurant (El Patio) which we did not get to go into, and the Front desk.

In Depth Restaurant guide.

Buffet (La Cieba):
The buffet was not open 24 hours as expected but was just as good. Breakfast served a selection of food, but however the omelet was spectacular. The person operating the omelet stand would crack two eggs and then add the toppings of your choice. It would then be cooked professionally. A wide selection of pastries was also very nice. We only went to the buffet for lunch once, but it was still very nice. Dinner was again very professional. They would cook meat on a grill for you at one stand. The dessert selection was amazing, however the ice cream is very soft, so dig deep to get the solid stuff. Remember to tip the waitress/waiter with 1 US dollar.

Santa Maria:
This restaurant was only open for lunch but was possibly better than the buffet. There was a lot of seafood on the menu, but if you are not a seafood person, there are other alternatives. Our brilliant waiter, Roberto, ordered us two dishes not on the menu. Grilled Shrimps and Calamari. We were sure to give him an extra tip for that.

Snack Bar (La Laguna):
The snack bar was open 24 hours we believe, but was not really good enough to get a long section written about it. My one suggestion here is to try the pizza. It is absolutely delicious.

Aqua Bar (El Salton):
The aqua bar is definitely worth a mention. They will serve many drinks to you, including a few non-alcoholic cocktails. Beware though, many people spill their drinks into the pool, so don’t swallow water around this area. One person was also flicking their cigarette ash into the pool which added to it.

Mediterannean (El Mediteranneo):
This restaurant had the best presentation out of the al la cartes that we tried. When entering the restaurant there is a sitting room waiting for you. After entering the next section, you will be greeted and seated in the final section of this beautiful restaurant. One of the waiters/waitresses will bring warm bread along with a dip. The seafood dishes are to be recommended and the desserts are probably the best part of the meal here!

Creole (El Bahio):
Again the setting of this restaurant is beautiful, particularly for couples who can have their own exclusive dining experience. The food is varied and excellently presented. The service was attentive and is definitely worth a visit.

Japanese (T’suru):
This was a fantastic experience and a must for anyone (even if you haven’t tried Japanese food before!) There is a Sushi bar but we had the Teppanyaki – we had our own chef – he was very entertaining and cooked some great food. All courses were beautifully presented and the service and food was really first class.

International Gourmet (El Patio):
We did not get to try this restaurant but it appears to be the fanciest.

Lobby Bar:
By far the lobby bar was the best bar, considering the others. There are stools actually at the bar so you can sit down and watch them make the drinks. The speed they can mix up these drinks is just incredible. Also included as part of the Lobby Bar would be complimentary pastries that you can snack on whenever you feel like. At night they have bottles of sparkling wine there :P.

Havana Excursion:
The trip to Havana costs $189 US and overall is worth the money. Be warned though. It is a very long day (5am-12pm) with lots of time spent on busses or clearing security checks at the airport. Lunch is provided on the tour, and they will keep the buffet open for you after you get back. The rep. that picks you up in the morning will stay with you all day. The city itself is stunning, but on this tour you will find very little time to explore on your own. In my opinion, too much time was spent stopping for unnecessary drinks, with the tour rep. being constantly approached by local bar owners to bring the group in. If you want to see Cuba outside of the resort, it is a good idea that you won’t regret when you get back home.

Airport and Flight back:
Our bus driver was very good on the way to the airport, overtaking 2 other buses to ensure we would be first there. It paid off as we got checked in quickly and efficiently yet again. There is an airport tax of $25 US. After proceeding through security, we looked at our tickets. This time we had 4B, C, D, E, and F. These seats were considerably better than the previous ones. The flight seemed much more enjoyable. Next time I would book the reserve seats on the flight.

Overall, definitly a five-star resort and I would go back again for sure.

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Paradisus Rio De Oro from Brigit from Ottawa

October 2004

The Paradisus Rio de Oro has been voted the best hotel in Cuba for several years in a row and continuously receives such rave reviews that it peaks almost everyone’s curiosity. Yet there is the occasional review or forum post where visitors express disappointment with this hotel. Has the raving perhaps created impossible expectations of a marble and chandeliers palace, or is there reason for concern? Who is right – visitors who dreamily cross their eyes when you mention the Rio de Oro, or the others who are noting the nitty-gritty?

To keep the jaws of their spoiled clientele dropped, a lot of hotels nowadays offer luxurious in-room marble Jacuzzis or exotic pastimes such as mountain climbing (what’s wrong with barstools?), but this is not what the Rio de Oro is about. It is a hotel of stunning beauty that offers excellent food and drink and classy touches like Jacuzzi-side champagne buckets, nature walks, and spacious accommodations. But what really induces the raving is the pleasure of being attended to by the finest hotel team ever assembled. No matter what walk of life you come from, you’ll walk away from the Rio de Oro knowing how it feels to be treated like a VIP.

Then why are some visitors disappointed? After several visits at the Rio de Oro, both in high and low season, I think I have a pretty good picture of the place and will try my best to address some recent concerns.

Is the hotel really showing its age? The tropics are extremely cruel to everything man-made, and there may indeed be the odd loose tile that is one step ahead of the tirelessly working maintenance crews. Bathrooms (not made of marble) may require a little touch-up here and there, but the hotel is working on it. However, unless you intend to spend your vacation intensely studying the quality of the grout and the straightness of curtain rods, the rooms are as comfortable as you need for your stay (TV, coffee maker, CD player, bidet, mini bar, comfy beds and seating). The bed is not of the four-poster variety, but the murals on the walls are hand-painted by artists. And that old furniture in the rooms and common areas is not shabby; these are carefully selected antiques left with their original finish that would fetch a fortune at a fine antique store in pricier hotels.

Just look out on the balcony, combine the spray of flowers and tropical green foliage out there with the uplifting yellow walls in your room, and you won’t need the marble bathroom.

What about wildlife, and we don’t mean the parties in the disco?
You can’t have it both ways; the lush natural surrounding and tropical, jungle-like setting is considered prime real estate by all sorts of creatures, and most of them don’t respect restraining orders. However, there is not a single life-form at the Rio de Oro that should make you jump and screech – kneel down and enjoy the rare close-up instead. Watch a lizard scale a tree or a crab crossing the walkway with no care in the world, or stop to take a picture of a butterfly. Even chasing a frog out of your room is no big deal; the poor guy just lost his way. The only bothersome critters are the mosquitoes. The hotel does its best to spray, but make sure to pack plenty of repellent. Housekeeping will be glad to assist if you find ants or other uninvited dwellers in your room.

Any restaurant, food or health concerns?
Travel brochures are notoriously slow updating their information (many still carry opening pictures of hotels that have been in operation for 10 years) and may erroneously list 24-hour food establishments at the Rio de Oro. There are no 24-hour restaurants, and opening hours of all facilities – including store, hairdresser and medical office – are adapted to occupancy levels and client requests and thus change frequently. Even if you are a repeat visitor, you may want to check the info sheet you are given on arrival to avoid wandering into your favourite restaurant and finding the staff already polishing the flatware for tomorrow. However, to ensure that you don’t spend a single minute even thinking you’re hungry, the Rio de Oro offers 24-hour room service at no extra charge, and the room service menu is quite extensive.

For those who wonder about the spread at the evening buffet: oh yes, it’s still there, in all its decadency – the trays of smoked salmon, the selection of seafood, and the five flavours of ice cream.

If some guests have, in the past, reported flies near food or even health concerns – these have been taken very seriously by the management. (Personally, I have never seen a fly in the buffet restaurant, I swear – and I don’t mean the expletive way). Even spice containers are fastidiously covered up, and any staff that is momentarily not busy serving guests is constantly polishing, cleaning and disinfecting. This hotel is so spotlessly clean – despite the sand that is dragged up from the beach, soil from children playing hide and seek in the palm trees, and cigarette waste dropped by ashtray-impaired smokers – that the tiles and counters reflect the sunshine at daytime and the light bulbs at night (that’s why your photos come out so well).

We read reports about errors with room requests or items that are not available.
It’s not what kind of errors are made, it’s how they are handled. The reservation team at the Rio de Oro is one of the few teams who will accept, and respond to, e-mails regarding room requests. They will also do everything possible to accommodate your wishes. If a room cannot be granted or an error has been made, the Rio de Oro not only offers you a verbal apology; that apology comes with a fruit plate, a bottle of champagne and at least two porters hauling your luggage around until you are pleased. There may be times when mint for the Mojito is not available, but the bar tender will offer you a house specialty as a substitute or cheerily create a brand-new drink just for you – in any case, he will promise you that Mojito for tomorrow. If you’re looking for a very special brand of liquor or a certain local beer and they don’t have it, they will treat you to something similar or better – all accompanied by smiles and jokes so nobody ever leaves the bar unhappy.

Gosh, I have my wedding booked at the Rio de Oro! You have my best wishes and the envy of countless couples. Just wait until you see that wedding gazebo high above the ocean! No matter how many weddings are scheduled, the conscientious wedding coordinators will treat your wedding as if it were their only concern. They will not be able to fly in orchids from Brazil, but they’ll make you a bouquet of flowers nobody in your hometown has ever seen. They won’t have a Rolls Royce or Mercedes or limousine, but to be driven in a horse-drawn carriage through those gorgeous gardens must be as close to heaven as you can get.

As a bonus, you can park your in-laws at the aforementioned Jacuzzi with the champagne bucket on the day before the wedding, and chances are they turn into such mellow folks that you’ll be happy you married into that family.

Somebody said this hotel is too quiet and I may get bored?
Unless you are a ten-year old without his favourite Nintendo game, a two-week vacation will not be sufficient to do everything. One word of caution: there may not be a lot of children at the time of your stay, so if your kids absolutely do need playmates or extensive facilities to keep them out of trouble, pack a few extra games (or don’t forget that Nintendo!). The Rio de Oro may not be the best choice if you are single and in the mood for parties; it is primarily a family hotel – and perfect for couples (any sort of couples, and I am not just pointing this out to be politically correct). There is unlimited potential for romantic walks, from the Caleticas (see below) to the bridge leading to the Luna/Mares complex. Many activities are offered free of charge – you can practically stick to nine-to-five office hours to fill your entire day if you are very active. But if schedules are not your cup of champagne and you’re bored during the day, just show up at the Activities Centre – the very friendly and professional animacion team will have you busy and laughing in no time. They organize a mean water polo game each afternoon in the pool that is great fun to watch let alone participate, and they’re such good sports they let you win so you have something to brag about. But then it’s their turn to brag when they show off their moves in the late-afternoon dance class. (They’ll be happy to teach you, though). And ladies: while the small and big kids play, you can take one of those great yoga classes. I cannot comment on the water sports, but I hear the catamaran instructor will take you out on the wildest ride of your life, and the snorkelling is said to be a real treat.

The beach – some people love it and others rip it apart – why is that? That’s because the former refer to the entire Playa Esmeralda whereas the latter are not happy with the patch at the Rio de Oro. The Esmeralda beach is shared by the Rio de Oro and the Rio de Luna/Mares complex, and if you stand at the section that is allocated to the Rio de Oro and look over the entire Playa Esmeralda, you may feel as if the Luna/Mares complex is sticking its tongue out at you and saying, yeah we may be only 4-star, but look at our section of the beach! True, the Rio de Oro beach cannot compete with the stretch at the Luna/Mares where you can park yourself everyday under your own palm tree and walk into the ocean over sand that is so soft that you think you stepped into the baby powder. There is little shade at the Oro unless you manage to secure a palapa in the early morning, and you either need water shoes or do a little stork dance when entering the ocean due to the coral. Not to worry, though. You are free to set up shop at the Luna/Mares section and, last time I checked, can hit their beach bar for a drink.

However, the Rio de Oro also boasts the 3 private beaches Caleticas, and now it’s your turn to stick your tongue out – no other hotel in Guardalavaca (or in Cuba, but I can’t vouch for that) offers private dream coves with such a picturesque setting. This would be the ideal place if you intend to propose (or ask your spouse for a Gold Card); many hearts have been known to melt here.

The tours are too expensive for me – am I stuck in the hotel? Check out Guardalavaca, the nearby village – a late-afternoon horse-drawn carriage ride would be great for couples (US $12 return, the driver waits), or take a cab (US $4 one way). There is not much in terms of sights, but the local beach is worth a visit and you may want to do some shopping at the crafts market. The selection is small but the people are great fun to barter with or talk to. Have a drink at the restaurant “El Cayuelo” before you head back; you’ll sit so close to the ocean that you think the waves will lap at your toes any minute. And on the way back, just take one look at the heads of the Royal palms silhouetted against the pink and purple streaked evening sky, and you’ll know why you’re here.

There is also a small beach party at Guardalavaca beach that starts at 11:00 at night on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. It no longer has the bands and the show, but it might be worth a look; you can dance barefoot in the sand to some crazy Cuban disco music which is a lot of fun after a few beers (the beer is one dollar).

Back to the hotel – what’s so special again?
It’s a level of service so smooth and flawless that you don’t even notice the effort – you can concentrate fully on your vacation. The moment you step out of the bus, your luggage is taken off your hands; you’ll receive a welcome drink, and an invitation to have a seat while one of front desk staff checks you in. Before you know it, you’re in your room (driven, of course), and if by any chance you are not happy, see above.

The rest of your vacation flows in a similar way, but what you will get beyond the efficiency is a unique team of hotel workers who come up with little surprises just to make your day. How? Everybody will greet you with a friendly smile. A gardener may spontaneously give you flowers (he’s not looking for a tip; he’ll be gone before you smell what’s in your hand). The bar tender will garnish your drinks with fruit creations to celebrate your honeymoon or just because you are such a nice couple, and if you rub your tummy and make a face he’ll mix you a stomach-saver (his secret concoction against digestive problems – he knows you have a hangover).

The towel-and-swan creations the maids come up with are legendary, but you will most certainly also find that sweet and feisty waitress that will take care of you during lunch, that impressively skilled waiter that will serve you like royalty in one of the specialty restaurants, or that funny bartender who will know on the second day what you drink and have it ready for you before you climb the bar stool.

We read the Europeans dominate this hotel. Will we fit in as Canadians?
The clientele is international and no group really proliferates. The staff is professional enough to treat everybody with the same reverence regardless of nationality. Most guests walk around with a smile – maybe they just had a glass of champagne or won the ball game or are returning from the Caletica beaches. No, seriously – you can meet a lot of wonderful folks at the Rio de Oro, and most guests are a pleasure to have as fellow vacationers. Sure, there is the odd dork who barks his drink orders over the bar tender’s head against the wall or the occasional irate couple throwing a temper tantrum because the restaurant doesn’t have their favourite shape of pasta, but such incidents are rare at the Rio de Oro, and disputes are quickly resolved by diplomatic and multilingual staff members.

Unfortunately, some guests still needlessly reserve loungers, seat cushions and floats, and some fellows smoke so much that you expect them to drop off dead the bar stool any moment. But a five-star environment does not make five-star guests, and this has nothing to do with the country of origin. Oh, and as far as questionable swimming attire is concerned – I much rather turn my attention to the turquoise pool, the lavish green palm trees, and the multicoloured cocktail in my hand.

Is it true that tipping affects interaction with the staff? Yes and no. You will receive great service regardless of your tipping habits, but if you do show your appreciation – and it does not have to be a large dollar note – you will make friends for life. This is not to rattle your social conscience or make anyone feel guilty, but if that bartender who worked 16 hours straight still serves me with a smile, or an entertainer who has been up since 7:00 am still asks me to dance at 11:00 pm with the same enthusiasm he showed at the morning nature walk, or one of these beautiful women or charming young men at the front desk run on their tired feet to do me a favour, I consider myself very privileged to be surrounded by such special people and do what I can to reciprocate. Nobody has to tip, but please at least smile back.

So now what – should we go there or not?
The Rio de Oro is one of the best hotels in Cuba, but it does not try to compete with resorts that have the word "palace” in their names, represent a collection of your best local haunts including the fitness studio, and are located in richer parts of the world. The Rio de Oro’s secret draw – beside its overwhelming beauty – is the staff who make you feel like a million bucks. And isn’t that what life is all about, to feel important?

Cuba cannot offer much in terms of marble, chandeliers, or in-room Jacuzzis. But whatever the Cubans do have to give – they polish it, tie it up with a ribbon, and hand it to you on a silver platter. And if that does not reach, touch or downright break your heart – well, then, my friend, you are really better off spending your hard-earned vacation funds on the marble and the in-room Jacuzzis.

Happy travels everyone.

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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Janet & Roy — England

October 2004

We are an English couple aged 67 and we have just returned from a two week holiday from 6th to 20th October, 2004. This was our first visit to Cuba, but not to the Caribbean, and we now wonder why we didn’t go there sooner. The Cuban people are very welcoming and clearly want to attract visitors to their country.

The Hotel Paradisus Rio de Oro consists of a number of one and two storey buildings set in vast well-kept gardens. We had the standard room which was large enough for two double beds and a sitting room area with easy chairs, a coffee table and a frig, which was replenished every day. Our chambermaid, who always greeted us with a smile and “hello”, kept the place looking immaculate.

The main buffet restaurant is bright and airy and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tables were always available. We sat in the same area each day and soon became friendly with our regular waitresses. The service was superb, never obsequious but always cheerful and efficient. At every meal there was a wide choice and the food was of a high quality. In the evenings we chose to eat fish, especially tiger prawns and, on two occasions, lobster. The steak was good but we can eat meat at home. There are four speciality restaurants but we preferred the greater freedom offered by the buffet. Other guests praised the speciality restaurants, especially the Japanese. Near the pool and the beach are a snack bar and restaurant which serve snacks and lunches.

Next to the pool and pool bar is a tree-shaded terrace overlooking the Esmeralda Beach. There are plenty of sunbeds by the pool, on the terrace and on the beach. There is natural and artificial shade. The sea swimming and snorkelling are fantastic. This is the first place we have visited where it is possible to walk directly off the beach, swim about 50 yards to some rocks and be surrounded by fish. On the way to the rocks you are met by a shoal of about 20 yellow tailed snapper. Further on you find other fish and, when the tide and the sun were perfect, it was as if we were swimming in an aquarium. We identified over 30 species of colourful fish ranging from a small barracuda down to the tiny blue chromis, and there were many more which we failed to identify. There was a report of one large jellyfish during our stay but we didn’t see it.

For a change you can go in the other direction to one of 3 small private beaches. The snorkelling is not as good as off the Esmeralda but the beaches are almost deserted, the sea is shallow and the swimming is good. There is shade but no beds or bar service.

A big bonus for us was the number of different birds and butterflies within the grounds. We identified over 30 species of bird ranging from the great white heron down to the Cuban emerald hummingbird. Sadly we didn’t see a bee hummingbird. There were, however, 2 memorable mornings when the lagoon, adjacent to the hotel, was teeming with white egrets, both large and small. We must have been fortunate in catching a migratory flock, although we also identified 8 species of heron or egret which are presumably resident. Butterflies were abundant and we counted at least a dozen different species although we had no means of identifying them. If we return we shall take a butterfly book, as well as our bird and fish books, because we could find no books or charts around the hotel to help us.

The nearest town is Guardalavaca which has a small commercial centre and a tourist market. It is best visited by taking a horse drawn buggy at a cost of US$12 for the round trip. The currency for tourists is the US dollar, which seems to be accepted universally. There are few souvenirs, unless you are a fan of Che Guevara and want a T-shirt with his portrait.

Before we went, we were advised to give small tips throughout the visit rather than large tips at the end. We left the chambermaid something each day and tipped the waitresses at each meal. This did appear to be appreciated but we never got the impression that the standard of service depended upon it. One of our abiding memories of Cuba will be the friendliness of the people. Everyone we met greeted us and made us feel welcome.

We have two minor criticisms of the hotel. 1. An extra toilet near the pool is desirable.

2. In the grounds there are two noisy buildings, which are too close to some of the bedrooms. Although the noise inside the bedrooms is minimal, it is disturbing if you want to sit on the balcony. We moved to a quieter room after the first night.

We have always thought that it would be a mistake to return to the same place for a second holiday but this visit to Cuba was so outstanding that we have already got next year’s brochure and we will probably be at this hotel again next October.

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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Jeannette and Martin — Toronto, Canada

October 2004

This was our second visit to Paradise, and was absolutely amazing. We went the first week of January, 2004 and were greeted like we were family. We had requested, in advance, the same room as our first visit. They accomodated this request and the other people on the bus were wondering who we were that we had such royal treatment. We booked our a la carte reseravations before we left, so we did not have to stand in line to book anything. There were a couple of changes since our first visit. The Santa Maria, by the Ocean, used to serve dinner, but they now only serve lunch. The menu was amazing, calamari, fresh fish, and typical Canadian Food, fries, burgers, etc. We did not have anything except the local food. They had added the Japanese and Mediterranean Restaurants since we were there and they were amazing. If you were still not satisfied, you could go to the buffet as well, did it once as the portions were small at the Mediterranean. There used to be an Italian restaurant at the pool for dinner, but they now just serve a lunch buffet and snacks at night. However, we arrived the first year quite late and had an amazing wood/clay oven pizza. Since we were there after New Year’s the champagne was still flowing quite steadily. They had added a jacuzzi by the massage table, book the day you get there, and it was great. Champgane there too. Both years we got up early to go to the cabana by the ocean, overlooking the Santa Maria and the beach. There is now a hammock in there and we were the envy of all. The grounds are beautiful, lots of walking to work off the dinners. The shows were great every evening, not a lot of audience participation this time, but there are very few rambunctious Canadians, and we are the ones that would join in. All in all, the resort is wonderful. We are leaving again on the 13th of November for our third visit, and have booked our meals, massages and day trips in advance, so we just go and enjoy. This year, we are going to spend a day or two at the three private beaches, Calista’s, that do not have any services, but you are secluded and the snorkelling is wonderful, we found that out on our paid excursion to the area, they took us to our own beach. Go figure, but the day on the Catamaran was great, lobster, beer and jet skiing, couldn’t be happier.

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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Karen and Martin — Brantford ,Ontario, Canada

October 2004

Paradisius Rio de Oro….Third time’s a charm! Time to give my review, we got back October 3rd/04.

It takes a couple of weeks to settle back into daily life And get over the post vacation blues! While I can see there have been some negative reviews posted lately about Rio de Oro, I have to respectfully disagree, or say I did not experience the same problems.

This is our third time back, been away since 2001. We were curious as to the changes that come with being a Paradisius. Upon arrival we were greeted with hugs from staff that knew us from before. I had e-mailed ahead for information on scuba diving , and to request a room (which we didn’t get, but one in the next building over, just as nice, no big deal). It was so nice to see them again after three years.

We got our dinner reservations, and luggage taken to the room. Sparkling wine and a fruit plate were already there. Nice touch.

We were tired , as we flew out early from Toronto, so had dinner at La Cieba, (one thing to remember…long pants or capri’s for men at dinner, learned that the first night) We met our Sunquest rep, Sonia, the next morning for a refresher course. There were a few changes, not many…..but she was very thorough, and gave us very good practical advice as well, as far as eating, renting mopeds etc.

We could tell our room had been redone, not sure how long ago…..if I have to think of something we would have changed , it might have been a larger shower head (but with a water shortage, that’s a little ridiculous!) Maid service was very good, complete with swans, flower pictures etc. I left a note in the frig for more “gassy” water, as I like that better and they added another one, not every day mind you, but enough.

We did not see any bugs of any sort in our room or building.

Food was awesome! Especially the abundance of fresh fruit and fresh fish. The Japanese restaurant was fun and the food good. Mediterranean , was romantic, and quiet ,with musicians we had seen previously at el Patio. Also good food! El Patio , also romantic with violin player and an excellent wine waiter, Raymundo, who is a friend from before. So professional and nice. Also the sole was so good, and the rest of the menu.

We usually had lunch at the beach restaurant for the fish of the day, or the pool restaurant for hamburgers or pizza. La Cieba was always so good, breakfast, with welcoming hostesses and fresh coffee and orange juice. I know it is an open air restaurant, which makes me wonder what some people expect of it?…there were no flies or bugs that we saw….a crab crawled by one night, found it quite interesting in fact. There are some cats on the property but are not a problem.

We both had the massage in the glass-bottomed hut, so relaxing….If I want to be picky, I could say, she wasn’t as good as the massage therapist at home, but the location was way better!

My husband did four scuba dives at Luna y Mares, and was thrilled. Things didn’t always go according to plan, they had some boat problems, which were ironed out. Prices were very good and he had the time of his life. We also snorkelled and went to the private beachs. They now have thatched sun umbrellas on them, which makes it easier to stay there longer and enjoy them. I must say , though, there were some mosquitos at the farthest beach, you might want to take repellent there.

We watched quite a few of the shows in the two weeks, and they are very professional, the opening band is very good. They practice a lot during the heat of the day for these shows. The disco is fun too, after the show. Once you get dancing or karaoke, you don’t even realize its air conditioned! *G*

The gardens are breath taking..the quiet walk on the pathways back to your room or out for the night are heaven. They have just planted a few beds of jasmine, the national flower, so by the time they are in bloom , the fragrance should be wonderful. They have internet service now, $9.00 US for an hour, very handy and much cheaper than phoning.

A lot of people ask us why we keep going back to the same place. I think if you ever try going there, you might know why. I am not saying we will never go anywhere else, but we always know we can count on this resort for a magical time.

I am probably leaving things out ….cannot think of everything that people might want to know. I have no hesitation in recommending this resort to anyone. Just do your research and make sure it’s the one you want for the type of vacation you want.

We can’t say enough about the Cuban people who open their hearts and homes to strangers and welcome them. They really are the epitome of hospitality above and beyond.

Until next time…..

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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Sonia & Augustine — Canada

July 2004

Photos

We have just returned from Cuba and I can honestly say that the Paradisus is deserving of its 5-star rating: this, coming from someone who has traveled to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and North America. This resort is one of the best that we’ve stayed at. Check In We arrived in Holguin at 10:40 a.m. with Signature Vacations and were immediately greeted at the airport by dancers and singers due to the fact that Holguin was celebrating its one millionth visitor that week! For us, this was a pleasant surprise and a great way to start our vacation. After proceeding through customs and retrieving our luggage, we were quickly greeted by our Signature representative and ushered into an air conditioned bus for the hour-long journey to the Paradisus. The weather was hot and humid, so we were grateful for the air conditioning. Our bus stopped off at several resorts before we arrived at our destination.

La Laguna (pool restaurant)
Upon our arrival, we were told that our room would not be available for several hours (3-4 hours), so we took this opportunity to head to the Snack Bar ‘La Laguna’ (pool restaurant). This restaurant which overlooks the pool offers an excellent assortment of fish, chicken, salads, and vegetables in a buffet style. You also have the opportunity to order from the menu, which my boyfriend proceeded to do. He ordered their scrumptious pizza – which is a MUST try for all pizza lovers. The crust is thin and the taste is authentic. I think that this resort would satisfy even the pickiest eater. Every restaurant and buffet that we ate at was filled with an assortment of food for even the most discerning palate.

Beach
The beach is not too large, but is very, very nice and pristine. We took the opportunity to sail, snorkel, lounge, and kayak. There are a couple of things that you should be aware of – you should carry water shoes as the ocean is rocky when you first get in and you should also try to get to the beach early (before 8:00 a.m.) to reserve a palapa as they are a hot commodity! The snorkeling is superb and you don’t have to go very far to see several types of fish living in the coral. Don’t forget that the hobie cat sail is free and provides you with a wonderful opportunity to get out into the ocean. I would highly recommend this! There is a restaurant right at the beach that serves burgers (the hamburgers are fantastic), fish, salads etc. We ate there once, but usually had our lunch at La Laguna – the pool restaurant. I think that it was their thin-crust pizza that kept beckoning us … Pool The pool looked very inviting, but we spent most of our time at the beach. Grounds This is where the Paradisus shone in our opinion. The groundskeepers carefully cultivate much of the vegetation by hand. There is even a nursery on the resort grounds! Everywhere you look, you will see lush foliage. The grounds are immaculately maintained and this in our opinion one of the things that made the resort so special. Rooms We were happy with the room that we were given. It was very close to the pool and the beach. There are two levels to each ‘villa,’ – on the second floor, the rooms come with a balcony; whereas, on the first floor, the room comes equipped with a patio. We were on the first floor. There are plants and flowers nearby and you can sit, relax, and enjoy the lush surroundings. Restaurants El Patio We were fortunate to have the opportunity to eat at all of the restaurants. Our favourite was El Patio. The service at this restaurant was outstanding (including a classical violinist!) and the cuisine was delectable.

Tsuri
This is the Japanese restaurant and is a must try simply because of the presentation and the fact that the chef cooks the food right before your eyes. This is also a great restaurant to dine and meet other tourists staying at the resort. The restaurant is made up of Teppanyaki tables that seat about eight people. I remember ordering the beef entrée and loving it. El Mediterraneo We ate at this restaurant on the last day of our vacation. The interior and ambiance at this restaurant are on par with El Patio, but in our opinion the food and presentation at El Patio was superior. In any event, we truly enjoyed our meal and especially our desert: the banana flambé. It was fun to watch our hosts prepare the desert right in front of our eyes. The flambé can also be had at the main buffet in the evening. You have to try it!

El Bohio:
This resort has a Creole atmosphere. Some of the tables are located on the lagoon which gives it a romantic atmosphere. We really enjoyed dining at this restaurant. La Cieba Restaurant This is the main buffet restaurant that is located in the main lobby at the front of the hotel. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We ate breakfast and dinner at this restaurant. For breakfast, you will find a nice selection of bread, pastries, fresh-squeezed juices (including guava juice), eggs, sausages, meats, cereal, fruit, cheese, vegetables, and more. All of the food is delicious and you can have as much or as little as you like. We also ate at this buffet for dinner and the choices are just as tempting – lobster, filet mignon, veal, steak, assorted fish, breads, drinks, deserts, assorted meat, vegetables, coffee, wine, champagne etc. We truly loved this buffet and the service was excellent.

Tipping
Tipping is optional, but we tipped often for truly outstanding service. Everyone at this resort works so hard to make your stay worthwhile that it seems to be a small price to pay to show your appreciation. We tipped our maid, the bellman that filled up our fridge and we also tipped at the buffet restaurants, the a-la-carte restaurants, and at the bar. The tips are greatly appreciated as most Cubans are struggling to buy basic necessities.

Excursions
There are many excursions that you can partake in through your tour company. We chose a day trip to Santiago de Cuba and the Jungle Tour. Santiago is a hilly city with sloping streets, surrounded by the Sierra Maestra mountain range, and boasted some monuments and museums associated with Cuba’s long struggle for national independence. Highlights of the tour included stops at Fidel Castro’s childhood home, Morro Fortress, The Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, and Moncada Barracks, the site of Fidel Castro’s first major attack on a key Batista government military post.

The Jungle Tour was my boyfriend’s choice. On this tour, you drive speed boats down a channel through mangroves until you arrive at a farmer’s home where you are served fruit. You then take the speed boats back down the river and out to the ocean, each one only holds two people. My boyfriend kept going full speed over the waves which was quite interesting!

We also rented scooters and bicycles and toured the countryside outside of the resort in this safe and friendly country.

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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Ina — Canada

July 2004

Our recent stay at the Paradisus Rio de Oro was extremely pleasant. The worse thing that happened was a mild case of sea urchin hand. Stay away from the coral and rock formations while snorkeling. Do not hang onto them to steady yourself from the rocking ocean unless you wish to bring home an unwanted souvenir imbedded in your skin as my husband did. Tip #2: the food is quite good and the unlimited portions will cause you to overeat. Resist. The combination of too much food, drink, heat and tropical sun caused several members of our party to become ill. Nothing serious. Drink plenty of bottled water. Those who showed a little more restraint enjoyed their vacation much longer. The staff is extremely obliging so do not hesitate to ask should you be dissatisfied with any aspect of the resort. Any problems were dealt with promptly and effectively. The resort is beginning to show its age. Rooms are large and comfortable but if you look carefully the curtains and fixtures are aging and somewhat moldy. The buffet is has not the variety of some other 5 star resorts but everything is delicious. Explore. Grill yourself a bit of squid and smother it with garlic oil. It is surprisingly tender. Try some cerviche served in scallop shells. Very tangy. Have a profiterole (very fresh) with muscatel ice cream for desert and wash it down with some excellent Cuban coffee served any way your heart desires. We tried all 4 restaurants and found none of them lacking. There were enough of us to order almost everything on the menus. Generally, the seafood was superior to the meats. The presentation was always excellent. Service can be slow. Set the price of any cab fares before you get in to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Make sure you understand the price. Ninety can sound like a lot like nineteen in a Cuban accent. The price is set by distance and not the number of passengers. I personally found the snorkeling very good. You will note that many large catamarans arrive everyday to snorkel in the vicinity of the hotel reef. To view random pictures of assorted hotel and sea denizens go to: http://community.webshots.com/album/161256874nKQKyR Leave questions or comments in the Album Guest Book. Enjoy!

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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Canada

July 2004

I am writing this review because I want to help some people make an informed decision as the reviews I read on this site helped me. My husband and I and our two children ages 13 and 9 went for a week in mid March to Paradisus rio de oro. Let me begin by saying that my husband had never wanted to go to Cuba but when we heard about this place we just had to experience it. It was everything we expected it to be. Everyone there is treated like royalty. No wristbands , so you don’t feel like a part of the herd.

The grounds are beautiful. They have maintained much of the natural landscape. From the beach you can not even see the resort because of the trees that are there. They have put beach chairs all around the grounds, for those who are not on the beach and not by the pool

The beach is very nice, the sand like fine powder. We especially enjoyed their private beach, which we shared with literally two other people. What a feeling!!. The food is excellent, the a la carte restaurants are superb. The entertainment is first rate and the service is first class.

We had an outdoor shower in our room. What an experience, not to be forgotten . In summary we spent a week in paradise. We didn’t think about things back home, we and the other tourists were saying that if we would stay any longer our brains would turn to mush. A great place to relax and not think about anything but the family you are with and that is priceless, because this resort is not cheap and is more costly than other resorts but if one can afford it , it is worth the money.

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Paradisus Rio De Oro Resort from Anne M. — Montréal, Québec, Canada

June 2004

Photos

I spent one week at the Paradisus Rio de Oro (June 4-11, 2004), after spending the first week of my vacation at the Sol Rio de Luna y Mares (see separate review). It was my 10th trip to Cuba, my 4th time in the region of Guardalavaca (Holguin). I booked with Sell Off Vacations (thank you Angela and Charles!), the tour operator was Signature Vacations. I flew with Skyservice.

Reception desk: Since I was transferring from the resort next door, I was the only one checking in at that time. I arrived at the hotel by cab around 11:45 a.m. The porter directed me right away to a desk located at the right of the lobby entrance, where Tamara was expecting me. She made my check-in an absolute breeze and pleasure. My room was ready, and it was exactly what I had requested: a corner room on the 2nd floor. Tamara was just so friendly and professional, being welcomed by her was a great way to start the week. I was given a color leaflet providing very useful information (activities, guest services, opening hours of the bars and restaurants), as well as a map of the resort. My Signature rep (the wonderful Waldermar) had left a sheet for me with the date and time of my briefing, and Tamara told me that my reservations for the à-la-carte restaurants were being done for me and that she would call me when the tickets were ready. Before going to my room, I asked to meet with Hortensia, the lady in reservations who had granted my room request. She was just lovely, as was Julay, another young lady who worked at the reception desk. In fact, the Rio de Oro probably has the most professional, polite and friendly front desk staff I have ever had the good fortune to meet in Cuba. It was a pleasure being assisted by them throughout the week, be it for general info, or to get change. The following week, check-out was very early (the bus came to pick us up at 7:10!), so I paid my room charges the previous evening. If your bus to the airport is scheduled to leave before the buffet restaurant opens, you can reserve a breakfast at the front desk the day before, and they will have a plate for you at the lobby bar the next morning. Nothing exciting (toast, jam, an egg and a couple of slices of ham and cheese), but with a great café con leche, it’s much better than beginning a day of travel on an empty stomach!

Lobby: This lobby deserves its own paragraph in this review, it is just so beautiful! When you arrive, the reception desk is to the left, and in the center there is a pond and pretty landscaping, with sculptures in front and open sky above. Along the right side is the fun pub/disco, the internet centre and then the lobby bar. There are many sitting areas (chairs and tables) along the right side of the lobby and all around the lobby bar. In front of the lobby bar is the stage area, also with plenty of chairs and tables, and just to the left there is a covered pathway leading to the resort, flanked by couches, seats and tables, where you can lounge around during the day and from where you can watch the shows at night. On the left side of the lobby is the reception desk, a bit further (down a couple of steps) is one of the à-la-carte restaurants, El Patio, followed by the public relations desk, located in front of a beautiful mural. Past the p.r. desk you can turn left to go to the buffet restaurant, continue straight ahead along the covered pathway mentioned above, or turn right to walk past to lobby bar and go to the Mediterranean or the Japanese restaurant. There are also washrooms in the lobby (near the buffet restaurant and behind the lobby bar), and they are very clean.

People who have been there will no doubt understand exactly what I’m trying to convey, and I hope my words are sufficient to describe it all to people who have not yet seen it. It really is a beautiful lobby, wide, airy, with beautiful murals, plenty of seating, and where you don’t feel crowded even when the resort is full (which it was when I was there).

Room 3818: What a gorgeous room! As requested, it was a corner room on the 2nd floor of a bungalow located on the West side of the resort, about half-way between the lobby and the pool, near a path that led directly to the beach. There was a dressing area to the right of the entrance, with a sink and wide counter, as well as a closet with mirror doors. The bathroom was just past the dressing area, and had a toilet, a bidet, a full bath and shower, a phone and a window. The tub was narrow but very high, which made for a great place to have a bubble bath! There were 2 bath towels in the bathroom, 2 large hand towels and 1 small hand towels near the sink. The beach towels are left on shelves underneath the sink. There is also a hair dryer (a decent one, from the looks of it!), as well as kleenex, soaps, bath gel, shower cap and shampoo. In the closet are the iron and ironing board, 2 sections to hang clothing, 2 small drawers and the safe (operated with the room card). The room had a king size bed (very comfortable) with 2 end tables (with drawers) flanking it and a window on 1 side. There was a wide bench for the suitcase with a shelf underneath for shoes, and the living room area is 2 steps down from the bed area. Just beside the stairs, dividing the 2 levels, is a very comfortable bench/chaise, and in the living room there are 2 comfortable wicker chairs, a coffee table, and a large desk which hides the mini-fridge. The TV is set up on the desk, on a platform that turns to enable you to watch from the living room or from the bed – very convenient! It offers over 20 channels, I only “watched” the Latin music channel (no videos, just music). The mini-fridge is stocked and re-filled daily with bottled water (natural and sparkling), 2 colas and 2 beers. There is also a patio with 2 chairs and a table. The room card was required to turn on the lights, but the A/C worked without the card, as did the fridge and the TV. The A/C was not working properly the first couple of days, not only in my room but throughout most of the resort, and employees were working night and day to fix it (I think a main pipe broke). Once it was fixed, the A/C worked very well, and I kept it on “low” most of the time. There was a card to leave on the pillow if you didn’t want to have your sheets changed, and if you wanted your towels changed, you simply left them on the floor. No fancy towel design with clean towels though, they were simply left on the rack in the bathroom or in the dressing area. My father and his girlfriend stayed in a superior suite across from my bungalow, and their room was almost identical, save for the canopy above the bed, the outdoors shower and the patio with hammocks in the back. Their suite had an amazing view of the surrounding hills, but the lower ceiling made it seem (to me anyway!) smaller and darker than my 2nd floor room with its high ceiling and side windows.

Room service: The room service menu offers cold and hot meals, as well as beverages (including wine and beer) and it is part of the all-inclusive. Very convenient! I didn’t order anything, but I was glad the option was there, especially if my flight had been later in the day and I had wanted a good meal before leaving.

Restaurants: There are 3 open during the day, the buffet (all meals), the pool restaurant (lunch only) and the beach restaurant (lunch only), as well as 4 à-la-carte restaurants open for dinner only: International, Cuban, Japanese and Mediterranean. They are located in or near the lobby. You can go to all 4 during your week, just go to the p.r. desk between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. to make your reservations.

The buffet restaurant, «La Ceiba», was the best buffet I have seen in Cuba, for the beauty of the restaurant itself, for the service, and for the quality and variety of food it offered. There was always some staff at the entrance to greet the guests and to lead them to a table. Once seated, service was both friendly and impeccable: beverages were refilled promptly and used dishes were taken away quickly. And the food… Yummy! The breakfast offerings were plentiful, including freshly baked goodies (bread, croissants, pastries), freshly-squeezed orange juice, fresh fruits, omelets, cheeses, cold cuts, eggs, etc. Dinner also offered plenty to choose from, including lots of veggies (cold and hot), grilled meats, pasta, more freshly-baked goodies, smoked salmon that had to be replenished very 15 minutes (!), fish, seafood, cheeses, cold cuts, marinades, salads, and a choice of fruits, pastries or flambéed desserts to end the meal. Everything I tasted was delicious. I’m glad I wasn’t there for 2 weeks, I would have gained so much weight!

Pool Restaurant “La Laguna”: Open for lunch from 12:30 to 3:00 p.m. (salads, sandwiches, pasta and pizza, including a very good vegetarian pizza!). Airy, spacious, and with a beautiful view of either the pool area or the resort with surrounding hills in the background. This was my favorite place for lunch, partly because the food was very good, and also because I found the atmosphere very pleasant, and the entire staff was just so friendly and professional.

Beach Restaurant “Ranchon Santa Maria”: The best thing about this restaurant located right on the beach was, of course, the view! But the food was also very good (sandwiches, burgers, fish, grilled meat, fresh fruit and delicious ice cream among the good stuff on the menu), and service was just great. I ate there 3 times, I tried the pork chops (delicious but huge serving: 3 of them on the plate!), grilled chicken breast (same comment as the pork chops) and the vegetarian sandwich – all good!

For dinner, I tried 3 of the 4 à-la-carte, and the Japanese restaurant, “Tsuru”, was certainly the most fun! We ate very well and I was very happy that they served saké (my favorite beverage when I eat Asian food!). Our chef prepared the meal on the grill in front of us with much flair and gusto, and he was very entertaining! The restaurant itself is also very nice, well-decorated, airy, and the waitresses wear kimonos. It all makes for a charming experience, and the food was very good. The International restaurant, “El Patio”, provides a beautiful, calm, muted decor, and a great menu if you like fish and seafood. Since I am allergic to both, I tried the chicken stuffed with cheese and grapes. It was good, but I wasn’t feeling well that night (nothing to do with the food), so I didn’t enjoy my meal as much. The atmosphere however was lovely, with a solo violinist providing beautiful background music. The Cuban restaurant, “El Bohio”, was a bit disappointing, again because I am limited in my choices since I don’t eat fish or seafood. The pork cutlets were good, but they seem to come from a roast while I expected them to be grilled. But the service was very good, and the Cuban white wine (Cortes I think was the name) was delicious. The restaurant itself is lovely, located across a lagoon from the buffet restaurant. It is the only à-la-carte which is not enclosed and air-conditioned, and it has 1 main room and 2 or 3 (I can’t exactly recall) gazebos for intimate dinners. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to eat at the “El Mediterraneo”, but I was told it serves Spanish and Italian food. Even if you don’t have the chance to eat there, you must visit this restaurant. There is an absolutely beautiful room at the entrance, which is called “Salon Habana”. It’s a wonderful place to have a drink, a coffee, smoke a cigar, or just relax, and it is open every day from 4:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. It feels like you’ve stepped into a mansion’s drawing room, with a high ceiling, white couches and antique chairs, and built-in book shelves with some artwork. Beautiful and serene.

Aside from the violinist at El Patio, I didn’t see any musicians at the restaurants, except at the Cuban restaurant, but not on the night I ate there! This was a bit disappointing for me, as there’s always been music in the restaurants during my previous trips to other resorts.

Bars: The lobby bar is open 24 hours a day and provides service to the surrounding sitting areas, including during the shows. It serves great coffee and top-shelf liqueurs, some part of the all-inclusive (such as Bailey’s), some available at extra charge.

The bar at the beach restaurant was open until 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. (I didn’t notice the exact closing time, I just know they kept serving after lunch was over), while the pool bar (swim-up and walk-up) was open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. On my last night there, I found out when I walked by that the bar at the pool restaurant stays open in the evening, but that is not mentioned in the information leaflet, which might explain why there weren’t any clients there! There was one more bar, located in the lobby, it was the fun pub/disco “La Conga”, open from 8:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. It features a small dance floor and comfy couches, as well as a giant screen where videos or sports games play – we were able to watch the Stanley Cup finals there!

Grounds: The grounds are just lovely, well landscaped and very well taken care of by a team of hard-working gardeners. Leaving the lobby, you can go straight down the central path, and you will find 2 very nice sculptures along the way, until you reach the gorgeous pool area. Or you can go left along the edge of the resort, where you will see the beautiful surrounding hills, and this path will take you straight to the beach. This was my favorite path, the view going to and coming back from the beach was just splendid. From this path you can also walk onto a bridge crossing a beautiful small lake, which will take you to the road in front of the Rio de Luna resort. Finally, you can go to your right from the lobby and use the path that will take you by the wooded area (lit at night!), all the way down to the cliff overlooking the ocean, very beautiful at any time of the day. It is from this path that you will find the entrance of the Garden Villas (private luxury suites) and the access to the “Caleticas”: a short stroll through the woods will take you to 3 private beaches, with no chairs or bars, but with a spectacular view of the ocean, and walls of fossilized coral – amazing beauty all around.

No matter which path you take, or at which time of the day you are walking around, the grounds are just lovely, and perfect for a post-dinner stroll to digest all that good food!

Pool area: This is a gorgeous pool area, with wood loungers and padded cushions, a couple of Jacuzzis, and several parasols and curtained gazebos to provide shade. The pool is located close to the ocean and is built on 2 levels joined together by a waterfall. There is a pool bar which is swim-up on one side and walk-in on the other. I didn’t use the pool at all, because I just love Playa Esmeralda, but it seemed very nice indeed. There are also lots of chairs between the pool and the cliff overlooking the ocean. The 3 massage huts are located in this area: cabin #2 is near the pool, cabin #3 is a bit further to the right on the path overlooking the ocean, and the best one, cabin #1, is also located on the same path, but closer to the pool area. Why is it the best, you ask?! Well I was lucky enough to go there for my massage, and this cabin has a section of glass floor underneath the massage table, through which you can see the water during your massage – if you can keep your eyes open that is! Thanks to Lisbet who gave me one of the best massages ever, enhanced by the sound of the surf and of the waves crashing on the rocks below, the feel of the wind, and the salty marine air… Aaaaahhhh…. Totally worth every penny of the $25USD it cost (tip not included), which you pay for at check-out.

Activities: The activity center (“Club House”) is located just before the pool area, and this is where you can exchange your beach towel. This is also where you make reservations for massages. There is a board listing daily excursions and activities (including yoga!). I didn’t participate in any activities, but the animation staff was always friendly whenever I saw them. You will also find books, games and organized sports here, as well as the gym, which is outdoors.

Beach: Playa Esmeralda is just gorgeous! Two resorts share this beach: the Paradisus Rio de Oro and the Sol Luna y Mares. Located in a small bay, it takes at most 20 minutes (if you walk very slowly!) to walk from one end to the other. You can access the beach via 2 sloping paths, one that runs through the pool area and then behind the beach restaurant, and one that runs along the western edge of the resort. From the pool area you can also walk down some steps instead of going behind the beach restaurant, but they are a bit steep and don’t go all the way down to the beach (the last 3-4 steps are rocks), so I don’t recommend this route if you have any sort of mobility problem. There are many rocks as you enter the water in front the Rio de Oro, but I’m told this is where you will find the best snorkelling. The more you walk to the west, the nicer the beach is, both the sandy part and as you enter the water. The nicest section of beach is in front of the Sol Rio de Mares, about 10 minutes from the Rio de Oro (which is located at the Eastern tip of Playa Esmeralda). In front of both the Luna and the Mares, there is lots of space, lots of chairs and parasols, lots of trees for natural shade. The sand is a bit coarser than on Cayo Largo or Cayo Guillermo, but it is perfectly walkable nonetheless.

The section of beach in front of the Rio de Oro is small and crowded, with several parasols but no palm trees for natural shade. This is the only important area of improvement I can point out for this resort. There are not enough parasols and more could easily be added just before the area where the nautical centre is (where you make your reservations for the catamarans (Hobie Cat), kayaks and paddle boats). The chairs are stacked every night, and every morning there was an employee available to bring your chair(s) to the spot of your choice, and every one of them was polite and helpful. The chairs should be changed for either canvas chairs or at the very least, the same kind of chairs used at the Sol Rio de Luna y Mares, which were more comfortable with their armrests and wide backs. If you don’t like this section of the beach, you can set up anywhere else, since as a Rio de Oro client, you can use the facilities at the Luna y Mares, including the beach chairs (obviously!), and the beach bar/restaurants.

Another big pet peeve of mine: the resort should make sure that there is an ashtray with each parasol. Honestly, in all my trips to Cuba, the Rio de Oro beach is where I’ve seen the most cigarette butts in the sand. It was just gross! Not only is it disgusting for other guests, especially those who don’t smoke, it is harmful to the environment, as cigarette butts are never biodegradable no matter where you dump them, let alone on a beach. Since some guests obviously couldn’t be bothered to pick up after themselves, then the resort should make it as easy as possible for them to discard their cigarettes.

Entertainment: I only saw part of one show, but my dad and his girlfriend saw just about every show, and found them very good, professional and enjoyable to watch, with some great costumes. I did stay to listen to the house band a couple of nights, and it was very good – I even bought their c.d.!

Internet: There are 2 terminals in the lobby, available between 7:00 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. There is a minimum charge of $2 USD, the hourly rate is $9 USD. You pay after each use and you can see the amount due on the screen. I found the speed to be similar to my dial-up at home. The service was less expensive at the Mares (minimum charge of $1USD, hourly rate was $6USD), so if you need to access the internet a lot during your vacation, you might want to keep that in mind.

Other services: The doctor’s office and the beauty salon are located in Building 11, near the lobby. There is a spa scheduled to open at the end of 2004, it will be located near the pool and will offer massages and other spa treatments.

Store: There is 1 store in the lobby, where they sell coffee, rum, souvenirs and cigars. However, if you want a good selection of cigars, I recommend going to Guardalavaca ($10USD for a return cab ride), to the Casa de Habanos at the Atlantico hotel, in front of the reception desk. Much more variety there. Same thing for souvenirs such as hats and t-shirts: there is a store in Guardalavaca just after the small shopping center with a lot more choice, at decent prices. The small market in Guardalavaca also offers a lot of arts and crafts souvenirs, including jewlery. I bought a beautiful mahogany mask for a few dollars (don’t want to say the actual price in case the recipient of this gift reads the review!!). I bought all my rum and coffee at the Rio de Oro, but I wish I had waited, since the prices were lower at the duty-free store at the airport. For example, a 750-ml bottle of Havana Club Anejo Reserva was $7.70 USD at the hotel, and $6.60 USD at the airport – not much difference, but if you’re running low on funds towards the end of your vacation, every bit helps! Speaking of the airport, I paid $20 USD for the VIP lounge on the day of departure. I’m glad I was able to wait for the plane sitting on a comfortable couch instead of a hard plastic chair, in an air conditioned room, with access to a private (and very clean) washroom, and all the water, juice and coffee I could drink (alcoholic drinks are available too, but it was too early in the day for me!). Good thing I was also able to eat a cheese sandwich (also included) about 30 minutes before boarding, because I couldn’t eat the roast beef sandwich provided by Skyservice during the flight home (I didn’t think to ask for a vegetarian meal when I booked my trip, it’s the last time I make that mistake!). The VIP hostess, Ana, was very nice and friendly, and it was a pleasure to have one last conversation in Spanish before leaving!

Mosquitoes: Not many, but a few nonetheless, mostly at night or early in the morning. I got at most ten bites all week, which qualifies as a smashing success for me!

Staff/Service: The Rio de Oro staff was among the best I’ve seen ever! Always smiling, friendly, polite and willing to help. Even the mechanics and gardeners said Hola! I wish I had taken more names down, simply to make a note of their great service! Special mentions to the following employees for their warmth, hospitality and great service all-around, and for helping make my stay at the Rio de Oro one of my best vacations ever! First, my “camarera” Ysele, who kept my room very clean and always had a warm smile for me. At the buffet, waitresses Sarah, Evelyn, and Ludmilla, as well as Yanlady who made my omelets in the morning, and just about all their colleagues. At the fun pub, Joel and Eddy, they were not only great bartenders, they were good friends! In the lobby, the friendly and helpful porters and security guards at the entrance, especially Carlos. At the front desk, Tamara, Hortensia and Julay (spelling?), for their smiles and great sense of customer service. At the nautical center, Armando and his team, especially Roger and Kelly for the great catamaran rides! The public relations staff (so warm and professional), especially Norma, who was able to switch my à-la-carte reservations around so that I could have dinner with my dad and his girlfriend, who were there on their first Cuban vacation, and who made special arrangements for my dad’s girlfriend who celebrated her birthday during the week. And a final and very special mention of the friendliest and sweetest waitress I have met in Cuba, who stood out on my very first day, Mirlaidis, who worked in the buffet at breakfast and at the pool restaurant at lunch. Unfortunately for the Rio de Oro, Mirlaidis is on loan from the Gran Playa Turquesa until the re-opening of that resort. She loves her work and it shows! Seeing her every day was just one more pleasant aspect about this resort.

Summary: The Rio de Oro deserves its 5-star rating in my opinion. Perhaps it is less luxurious than 5-star resorts in other parts of the Caribbean (I wouldn’t know), but for Cuba, there is a big difference between this resort and the 4-star ones where I have stayed. The quality and variety of the food, the beautiful grounds, the decor, the nice rooms and the wonderful staff easily explain why this resort is almost always full and also more expensive. If you want to treat yourself to a very special trip, this is the place to do just that. I may not be able to afford it again for a while, but I am sure glad I got the chance to stay here once, it really was a great vacation!

Excursions: I suggest attending the briefing session to find out all the details. Here are some of the excursions offered by Signature (I’m assuming they’re pretty similar to what other tour operators are offering):

Santiago de Cuba by bus: $69 USD per person Santiago de Cuba overnight: $185 USD per person Dolphin swim: $79 USD per person Holguin: $44 USD per person Fantastica: $105 per person (dolphin swim, tour of the country side) Catamaran: $69 per person Jeep Safari: $71 USD per person Havana Overnight: $325 USD per person Havana One Day: $189 USD per person

VIP lounge at the airport on day of departure: $20 USD per person

If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the forum section, I will do my best to answer them promptly!

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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Jade

June 2004

My wife Sandra and I have just returned from our week long all-inclusive in Cuba, and first off, the vacation was great. Here is our review, broken down into categories:

Airport:
The Hoguin airport is very small – there is one terminal that contains customs/security and immigration. After getting off the plane, you go through customs (you need a passport and you have to fill out a visa they give you in your tour package). Customs was painless – the only people at the Hoguin airport are tourists, so things are pretty efficient.

Your tour operator arranges busses to take you to your resort, so there is no need to worry about hailing cabs. Also, the ride from the airport to the resort is 1 hour, but the busses are comfortable and air conditioned.

Resort/Rooms:
Rio de Oro is not a large resort – there are a little fewer than 300 rooms, in 2 story units of 8 rooms each. There are also single room units that cost a lot more, and are a bit closer to the beach. However, the resort isn’t that big and we were about a 7 minute walk to the beach and pool, as well as the buffet building.

Rooms at this resort were similar to Iberostar Bavaro in the Dominican Republic – large, clean and well kept. Sandra was disturbed to see a large group of tiny ants near the sliding doors going out to the balcony – they were able to squeeze under the door. I looked closer to see that the ants were in the process of “removing” another unwanted pest – a cockroach!!

In our case, there was an ant colony living in the plant boxes outside the deck, and were “raiding” our room at night. One call to the front desk and I was given a can of bug spray, which took care of the problem. No more ants after that. I don’t really fault the resort on this sort of thing – it is the tropics and bugs can get into anything, and they responded to the problem. I think if I walked into a room teeming with roaches I would have a problem though.

Food:
We had heard bad things about Cuba – how the food was not that great, but we were pleasantly surprised. You can choose buffet style for any meal, or, if you want a change, you can book at any of the restaurants on the resort. We only tried one – the Mediterranean and it was ok, but we found the buffet served all of our eating desires! There was so much selection and enough variety that after 7 days, I had still not tried everything.

One negative – men cannot wear shorts to the buffet – and it’s not an enclosed air conditioned building. So there you are – in a hot climate, eating hot food – you do the math. I did not find it comfortable on some days when there was no breeze, but for the most part it was ok. I would have preferred to have the option of wearing nice shorts. Same rule applies for the restaurants but they are air conditioned.

All of the restaurants and buffets serve bottled and purified water – there is no fear of getting sick from water unless you drink from the taps in your hotel.

Drinks:
Ok – this is the only negative thing we had to say about this resort. I found that many of the drinks that you “expect” at Caribbean resorts – things like daiquiris, etc had little or no flavor. The Bloody Marys were bloody awful!!! This did not seem to have anything to do with the skill of the bartenders – it was the ingredients. I assumed that maybe the quality of the tomato juice was not that great – it just didn’t taste like anything.

The Pina Coladas were ok, but not the best I have had. I found that the frozen drinks were usually very watery unless you get them from the main bar, and you have to ask for extra ice in your drinks (a lot of the bartenders would put 2 or 3 tiny cubes in your drink, which would be melted in about 3 seconds).

Activities:
Rio de Oro has your standard fare of off-resort excursions, but we did not go on any of them this time. Many of them looked pretty good and we heard good things about the dolphin swim – where you go to some aquarium and swim with (trained) dolphins. These activities cost extra money – some were pretty steep.

In the resort, things like catamaran rides are free – all you have to do is register and you can go on for 40 minutes. You get to go out pretty far – there is a guy who knows what he’s doing so you just have to enjoy the ride. I saw a few people windsurfing, and I assume that’s included too. I was also able to get a snorkeling set without even having to put down a deposit, which is nice because I hate having to carry credit cards or cash around and worry about them getting lost or stolen.

Beach/Pool:
The beach at this resort was fantastic – white sand with virtually no seaweed in the water or washed up on shore. Like many resorts, there are shade “cabanas” on the beach, but these are in limited supply. There are cabanas right on the sand, or up higher where the pool area is, overlooking the ocean.

The trick at many resorts is to put your towels and books on some chairs early in the morning, and then go for breakfast, etc. Rio de Oro is the same, but with one exception – they take all the chairs back every night, so you can’t leave your stuff out overnight and expect it to be there in the morning. This makes it a bit fairer – we usually went out around 8:30 – 9:00 and were able to get spots no problem (I was happy about this because for me, getting up at 5:30 in the morning to reserve a beach spot when I am on vacation just isn’t going happen).

The pool was very nice – its multi-level and the swim up bar is only accessible from the upper level (otherwise you have to get out and walk it). We only sat around the pool once – we prefer the ocean at these types of resorts.

One other item I should note – at this resort, there were a lot of women going topless – much more than at the Dominican resorts we have been to. This is probably due to the large percentage of European guests. This kind of thing does not really bother me, but Sandra was a little uncomfortable with it.

Entertainment/Night Life:
We usually hit the hay pretty early – so we did not really get into any night life at Rio de Oro. However, there is a disco, a pub and the main bar is open 24 hours. During the day we would see dancers rehearsing for the evening shows but we never went to them. We had gone to shows at other resorts and they were usually ok, but by that time we would usually be pretty tired and getting bitten by mosquitoes.

Rio de Oro is a very quiet, low key resort. Most of the people there were couples or people with young children – so there is no “spring break” action.

Children/Family:
The Rio De Oro resort is NOT adult-only, and there were a few young kids around. However, unlike other resorts we have been to there did not seem to be a lot of activities designed for kids, so I don’t know if I would classify it as overly “kid friendly”.

Weather:
Fantastic – but hot and humid. Sunscreen is a MUST, since you will most likely be out in the sun almost every day for at least a few hours. We used an SPF 30 and it was adequate for us. I’m not a big sun worshipper and spend most of the time under the shade umbrellas, but still somehow managed to get a bit burned on the shoulders.

Communication/Languages:
Of course, most workers at the resort speak Spanish, but most of them understand common English words. Ordering food and drinks was easy, but if you have a problem and need someone to speak to about it, you can call the front desk and there is usually someone fully bilingual. If you are having problems with your travel arrangements, you can speak to your travel rep, who can point you in the right direction.

The Rio De Oro resort gets people from all over the world, but there are no Americans due to the blockade of Cuba by the US. Most of the guests we saw/heard were British, but we heard some French, German and Spanish from some guests.

Overall, we had a great time and I found the resort a good place to unwind and take it easy. There is no running around to do, and you can choose not to attend any activities or tours. More than once we lost track of time – which is only a concern for meals and events.

We would recommend Rio De Oro to anyone who is looking for an all-inclusive resort. It is supposed to be one of the best resorts in Cuba, and after hearing from some other folks on the bus ride back to the airport, we made the right choice

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Paradisus Rio De Oro – Holguin Canada

June 2004

Just returned, and would recommend this resort to all. I was sceptical when it was tooted, as a five star, but it truly is. I have travelled extensively in the carribean, and this resort is one of the best I’ve stayed at.

Staff are friendly, curteous. Alot of them speak English.

Restaurant service good. Bar service good. Food good. Disco small, busy most nights.

Beach great. Main beach has some rock, and to the side where cliffs located a great snorkelling area. Wait until the tide goes out for the better snorkelling. Species of marine life are very good. Take watershoes with you for main beach. Private beaches (3) are small, and gorgeous, and worth the walk. One day a golf cart took the group of us out there with a bottle of champagne, and glasses. The staff would accomodate us in what ever way they could. Even drove some inebriated customers back to their bungalows at night.

Pool is beautiful, and yes you can jump over the waterfall. Pool water was warm.

Cabanas very nice touch throughout the property. Hot tubs the usual.

Grounds are beauiful, and yes we did tip the gardeners. We had a wedding of 30, and the wedding dinner was in the beach restaurant. They closed the whole restaurant, which was really great. Wedding flowers were upgraded by us, and not really that great…. would’ve done better with picking them off the trees. Wedding cake was large enough, and typical sponge type with some kind of jam filling. Icing was really white, and very sweet. We took our own cake top. Wedding photographer took a few pictures, and they were ok. We took another photograper with us, and a hairdresser. Horse and carriage was used, and a nice touch. We tipped the band at the wedding, and the big band at the dinner. They were worth every penny. We tipped sporadically daily, and did not see any difference in the service. We strictly tipped to thank the staff .

We did take a letter to one of the staff, and did take a letter out of the country for one of the staff. We filled our suitcases with vitamins, kids clothes, medicine, etc, and gave to the room maid with money, and to" Ontario Bob". He works in the beach restaurant, and is very friendly, and servicable. His staff deserved every bit of it and more. If anyone sees him soon, try and get some kind of mailing address for him, and we’ll all keep sending stuff down.

Catamarran cruise was a blast, staff hilarious, ride was unbelievable. We lost many a pair of sunglasses, hats, and prescription glasses, bruises everywhere, but no men overboard (close tho). Market in Guardalavaca wasn’t worth the bother. Buggy ride there was HOT, but nice to pass the time. Buggy driver was goooooooooooood looking!

No blasting music during the day, more relaxed, and geared to couples, but lots of singles there too. Lots of wildlife inside and out. It’s the carribean…. get over the bugs, birds etc. Lost airconditioning , and had to spend one night in the hammock, but a guard stayed posted and let us sleep. We had the bungalows, and there were roomy, and very clean. Get two room keys, so you can keep your airconditioning on all the time. Only one of them works in the safe. The el fresco shower is worth it !!!!!!!!!!

Room service is quick, and good. Internet is slow, but cheap. Smell of coral on the beach (especially at low tide) is pretty strong some days. There are no facecloths, but I improvied with small hand towels, closets are large. You do need a power adapter, and a power convertor. Don’t buy the travel blow dryers from Walmart….. even when you turn the screw to the different power, it still doesn’t work.

Massages cheap, and good. Did people get sick……… yes, there were 8 nurses in our wedding group. Was it food poisoning???? possibly, but out of the 30,only five got really sick. Vomiting, diarrhea, fevers. It lasted 24 hours, and abated slowly the next day. And yes, there were alot of people with just plain diarrhea for 5 solid days. Was it a flu bug??? We really doubt it. No, none of us bothered with a doctor. How bad was it……….. really bad. The aunt of the bride made it to the gazebo, but back to bed for the wedding dinner. It was bad. The scooters were cheap to rent, and traffic wasn’t that heavy.You must watch out for animals and pot holes. About $7. US per hour.

Local were friendly. Went to the locals beaches, without problems for the tourists, altho that isn’t the case for the local females (their not allowed to talk to male tourists) Restaurants are very warm. A la cartes are airconditioned, but do heat up. Lounge areas at night are noisy when shows are on, and very warm to sit in. They charged us extra for champagne at the wedding ceremony, but nothing for the six bottles my daughter had ready when we arrived (go figure).

I did not like the way they had the guests stand around for the bride to make it up the aisle, it was unorganized, and confusing. She walked up from the road with her father, then prior to the gazebo walkway ,was met by groom, and they walked together to the gazebo, we all followed behind. My advice, is to do it the way we would normally do it at a church. Have her and father walk all the way to gazebo, and have the groom and wedding party already in it. Some problems getting Visa to work (there’s only 2 phone lines out for Visa). Didn’t get into Garden villas for a look.

Would I go back???????? In a heartbeat. Was worth every penny. Which are better rooms????/ Depends on what you like. Sunny locations or shady quiet locations? Bungalows, or two story? All the gardens are exquisite. None of the rooms appear to be bad. Even the bungalows on the ocean side are not really ocean view, and the pool area is not loud enough to bother those rooms.

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