October 20, 2009 to October 27, 2009.
Our Flight and check in::
Our flight this year to Holguin was with Sunwing Airlines. It was an early-morning flight which we really like. It was our first vacation to Cuba with Sunwing so we were very curious to see what their service was like. We were more than happy with the service. The aircraft seating was quite adequate for us. Sunwing served us a complimentary glass of champagne (nice touch) followed by a nice breakfast. Before you knew it we were landing in Holguin at 10 a.m.. A quick run through the customs and immigration and a somewhat slower run through the security scanners and we were on the bus to our destination. As it was daylight on our way to the hotel we noticed that almost all of the damage to roofs and buildings that had been caused by hurricane Ike that we had witnessed last September 2008 were now fixed and that most of the fallen trees had been cut down and removed. The countryside looked wonderful and green. We were about to find out why LOL. We were to have more than our usual share of precipitation in the coming week. Check-In was quite quick and easy. Our rooms were ready and we even got one of the rooms that we had requested through our online travel agent. This check-in was our quickest ever in Cuba. We were in our room in short order and on unloading our luggage we were headed for the lobby bar or beach bar for a well deserved Mojito.
Our room #3007 which we had requested was more than adequate in size for us. It was on the third floor facing west overlookingBahia De Naranjo and the Dolphinareum. It was bright and airy with quite a high ceiling. Although the gardens at the present moment on this side of the hotel are quite bare the view of the bay was beautiful. This is the quiet side of the Mares section of the hotel complex. It is why we chose a room on this side. We liked watching the sunset from the good sized balcony that we had. The balcony was furnished with two white plastic chairs and a table. It was a very nice quiet place to sit in the afternoon sun and read a little bit. The room itself was furnished with two three-quarter beds, two bedside tables, a writing table, two small cushioned armchairs, a television (with about 15 viewable stations), lots of drawer space, a small bar fridge, a working coffee maker as well. The closet was quite a good size with one chest of drawers and lots of clothes hanger space, a safety deposit box into which you keyed in your own pin number, a working iron and ironing board. The bathroom had a good sized tub with shower and a nice vanity top with sink. A toilet and a bidet. We had no problems with hot water at any time during the week. Maybe in the very early morning you have to let the water run for a while to get it hot. Our housekeeping for the room was top notch the whole week. There was no shortage of towel art swans and even a towel elephant. Drinking water (1.5 L bottle) every day placed in our fridge. As a perk for returning guests we received a bottle of rum and a fruit plate from the hotel. A very nice gesture on their part. As it rained on several occasions during the week, having a good room with a nice view with a shaded balcony seemed more important to us this week.
Our Dining experience::
Dining this week was good. Although we did not do à la carte for the simple reason that everything was booked up by the time we got around to standing in line for a reservation (the morning after we got there). However we feel we didn’t suffer as we certainly enjoyed the food at the Colón Buffet. There was a great variety of food all week.
As always was wonderful. Your choice of eggs or omelettes done to your personal taste. Lots of fruit and yogurt and smoothies. Bacon, home fried potatoes and a good choice of cold meats and cheeses. A good variety of bread and rolls. You looked after your own toast (if you put your toast through twice believe me you will have to call the fire department LOL). They had a good variety of pastries. As well they had pancakes or (crepes?) being freshly made right there.
Buffet Lunch was in our opinion exceptionally good with a major amount of choices. The grilling station had fish, chicken, beef, pork, shish kebab and various other combinations of meat that were cooked to your specifications. There was always somewhat of a line up for this but the lineup went pretty fast. There was a pasta station where you had some great choices with everything perfectly done to your specs There was lots of pastries for dessert and of course that wonderful Cuban ice cream. Also station where they flambéd bananas and fruit with cognac or liqueur. The flambé station was fun to watch but a good rule of thumb was to step well back and watch LOL. They served a fairly good quality wine (white or red) with both lunch and dinner. They also served beer.
This was a mirror image of lunch but with some added choices of meat dishes. They served turkey on some occasions and a roast of beef on other occasions. Leg of pork etc.. I would have to say really that they had an amazing choice of food and desserts. If you ate at the buffet and said "there was nothing there for me" then I would have to say that "you are the pickiest eater ever!" Without question there was something good to eat there for everyone both at lunch and at dinner.
Galileo snack bar::
We had three meals here. Two lunches and one breakfast. Excellent service and good food. We had hamburgers and french fries for lunch on one occasion and they were very good. On the other lunch occasion we had fresh breaded fish sautéed to our liking. This fish was served with a side order of fries and a small salad. Excellent. And of course you had a choice of wine or beer or a cocktail for that matter to accompany your lunch. After all the Galileo bar was right there. At 5 a.m. on our day of departure which was the 27th of October at 5 a.m., we had our final breakfast of the week at 5 a.m. . We shared a reasonably good omelette with two side orders of toast and of course their wonderful Cuban coffee. A good way to start the journey home to Canada.
À La Carte::
There were four à la carte restaurants open during the week. The Carabela which is the "International Restaurant", 7:30 p.m. until 11 p.m., the Italian Restaurant "Galileo", 7:30 p.m. until 11 p.m., the "Romantic Restaurant", 6:30 p.m. until 11 p.m.. The new French restaurant "La Bristot" which is on the Luna side east of the Galileo restaurant. From what news and reviews we gleaned from our fellow travelers, the French restaurant looks like an excellent choice for an elegant evening meal.
Food and drink overall::
We certainly have no problem getting food or drink at any time of the day. Actually on our last morning we were supposed to check out at 5 a.m.. We were told breakfast would be available at the Galileo Italian restaurant (snack bar) on the Luna side. Indeed it was open and operating and we were given at choice of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, omelette, or just plain toast.T his hotel has covered all the bases foodwise.
During our week there were two beach bars open ("La Niña" and "La Pinta") from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.. We enjoyed having a cold pre-lunch Cervesa at La Niña almost every day. We didn’t frequent "La Pinta". Then there was the aquabar ("La Nao") at the Mares pool. This pool bar had wonderful friendly service all week and was open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except for two days. The Luna Pool had of course the "Galileo" bar close by and the Luna lobby bar "El Dorado" was also adjacent to the pool. The "El Dorado" was a nice place to relax and have a leisurely Mojito in a friendly quiet atmosphere anytime after 10 a.m. . The busiest bar was the 1492 Mares lobby bar. It was where almost everyone hung out all week. A 24-hour bar with good service and on the overall mostly friendly staff. Although we did have a drink at almost all of the bars we really liked the "Azucar" bar adjacent to the Luna pool. Here we relaxed most evenings with an after dinner Brandy and some great coffee before retiring to our room. The service at Azucar was impeccable.
There are two pools in this hotel complex. The Mares side has the busiest pool with most of the entertainment activities. Mares side has a swim up pool bar called "La Nao" which is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.. The Luna side which is the quieter of the two pools is a great place to just relax and read without too much distraction. The Luna Pool has a bar (Galileo) a few steps away. So you are not too far from a cold beer on a hot day. Both pools are very well-kept.
Although the beach area received a pummeling from hurricane Ike last September it is back in great shape. There seems to be enough shade for people who want shade. There are still a few palapas that still have to be re-thatched. There are lots of lounges on the beach. There is an activity center on the beach where you can join up for catamaran rides or for beach volleyball, archery, chess etc.. There is a kids club on the beach also. There are two restaurants on the beach that served lunch (La niña on the Western end (Mares side) of the beach and La pinta on the eastern end(Luna side). These restaurants were used as à la carte restaurants in the evening. One called the Cuban (La niña) and one called the Romantic Restaurant (La pinta ). Both of these restaurants had beach bars attached that were open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.. Because of the weather (we were told by the hotel) the Cuban restaurant did not open the week we were there. They did use the Cuban (La Niña) as a disco from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m.. All of the facilities on the beach were open most of the time. The beach bars and snack bars where however closed two days due to inclement showery weather.
The grounds are certainly as beautiful and well kept as ever. Lush would be the word I would use for to describe the grounds. In actuality the thinning out by Ike of some of the trees on the drop off to the beach enhances the whole view of beach and sea. All of these smaller plants that were put in last year while we were there (hibiscus, Oleander, bougainvillea) were flourishing. They had done a marvelous job of cleaning out all of the dead debris and thicket throughout the property. The Luna side looked pretty good and there is still a lot of trees left there. We would not have known that there had been a hurricane through here if last year we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes.
Cadeca or currency exchange::
There is one on the Mares side by the shopping area this money changing facility. We didn’t find any difference between the exchange rate for the Canadian dollar at the airport and the exchange rate at this Cadeca.
Our overall impression::
Absolutely great value for money spent. We had the very nicest time at this hotel and as usual the hotel staff treated us so well. It was great meeting and chatting with staff that we recognized from our two previous vacations at this hotel. We felt so welcomed on being recognized by gardeners, security personnel, dining room and front desk personnel, with to our surprise and amazement a lot of them remembering our names. We certainly have the greatest respect for these wonderful people who work extremely hard to make your stay comfortable and memorable despite all of their own hardships. It was nice to see everything getting back to normal after witnessing on our last visit the devastation hurricane Ike brought to their homes and workplace. Well I guess, I should say getting back to as normal as you can get considering the devastation that was wrought by that particular storm. Luna Mares is a hotel that I would recommend to anyone. It is in a very beautiful place with 360° views of a combination of low mountains and azure seas.
Our flight back to Toronto: Our flight back to Toronto was at 10:15 a.m.. Our checkout time from the hotel was at 5 a.m. and the bus came to take us to the airport at 6:10 a.m.. There wasn’t a lot of passengers so the bus filled up quickly and we were on our way to Holguin Airport. The traffic was quite light until we got to the outskirts of Holguin. Still the trip only took just over one hour. Luckily we were the first bus to arrive and we had our luggage checked-in and our seat assignments within 20 minutes. We enjoyed Holguin Airport upstairs lounge. Not a lot of people took advantage of the upstairs lounge so we weren’t crowded in any way. Our plane was ready to take off at 9:40 a.m. but we had to wait on the tarmac for a couple of stragglers that were late. Late probably due to the time change in Cuba. Actually I fault Sunwing in a way for those passengers tardiness as everyone’s ticket said 11:15 a.m. takeoff and the actual time for takeoff was 10:15 a.m. Cuban standard Time. There was quite a bit of confusion among the passengers about the time change in Cuba. Nevertheless we all made it back to Toronto on the time. Actually ahead of time. Got to Canadian customs quick but alas our luggage didn’t show up for 45 minutes. I have to say though we had just a wonderful time on our vacation so all of these small delays, rainy weather and niggly problems can be taken in stride. We would certainly travel Sunwing again. Actually we have booked to go with Sunwing to Villa Cojimar on next vacation. So we will see. There is some photos of Sol Luna Mares hotel at the link below