In April of 2006, my roommate and I (from Ottawa) visited Cuba for the first time. Yep, just us girls looking to relax and also have some fun. We were definitely not disappointed! We flew out of Toronto Airport and within 3 ½ hours or so we landed in Holguin Cuba. We booked online with “redtag.ca”. The package ended up being supplied to us through “Hola Sun Vacations”. There was a giant mix-up at the Toronto Airport (where we were to pick up our tickets) and they actually let us go through to get on the plane, without even giving us the tickets back at check-in! It wasn’t the travel wholesaler’s fault, but that’s what we get for being newbies with the online booking thing. Long story long…we delayed the plane a little, but got our tickets and headed off. Mind you…we had a few stares on the plane for holding it up. Oh well, something frustrating always has to happen when you travel…so we were happy to get it out of the way before we were actually on vacation! The flight into Frank Pais International airport (Holguin Cuba) was spectacular. We could feel the temperature hit us as soon as we landed before we were even off the plane. We were presented with an amazing lush climate, even though there were a heck of a lot of farmer’s fields and skinny livestock too. The airport is small, yet well laid out. It was quite easy to get through check-in. The buses and tour guides were waiting for us with signs stating what travel company they were with. We were approached by gentlemen selling cold beer as the buses were waiting to be filled. I nice treat for someone like me who is still wearing a sweater from the cold Canadian climate. The bus took about an hour, but the hour flew by as we had so much beauty to look and the sight of a different culture shock to take in. It felt like the old saying “Is this what Heaven is like? If I’m dreaming, don’t pinch me just yet!”
Arriving up to the hotel was fabulous. We went from a drive through poverty (but beauty), to a paradise in the middle of nowhere! This resort is “Stay at One, Play at Two”. Hence the hotel name, “Sol Rio Luna y Mares”. Luna is one complex, Mares is the other. We checked into the Mares side upon arriving. The bus will let you off at one or the other, depending on your tour package. If you find out later that you got off at the wrong side…no worries…just walk through the one complex to the other. They are attached.
Check-in was fast and efficient and it was nice to have a refreshment bar only steps away from the check-in (for those waiting longer) on the Mares side. The check-in lobby area is fantastically set up with water pools containing tropical fish, lush greenery, available seating, a few shops, and also the restaurant “Colon” is there if you are hungry and waiting for a room that may not be ready yet. Yes, funny name for an eatery, but it is apparently pronounced “Coal-on”. Depending on what time you arrive, the restaurant may be closed in order to set up for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Our room was a standard room with the same bathroom as mostly all the rooms we checked out (from hanging out with so many people that we met that week). Most standard rooms have 2 double beds (which was nice for us but not as nice for Honeymooners…but they have suites anyhow…which has a king bed in them). From what we saw, most or all rooms had their own balconies, whether ground floor or not. What a way to relax away from everyone and everything, but by sitting on your own balcony…especially at sunrise and sunset even if you are not overlooking the ocean. The TV worked with numerous channels. Fridge was handy for keeping water cold and there was plenty of room for all of our outfits and swimwear in the provided dressers and closet. The bottoms of the dresser drawers are not sanded, so putting a hand towel down first before the clothes are put in works very well so you don’t get any shredded clothes. There was a key-pad safe in the room, along with the air conditioning thermostat we could adjust ourselves if necessary. The bathroom was quite large with a shower/tub, sink and large mirror, a toilet and a beday (which is good as they don’t like to supply much toilet paper). We met 16 people from Canada, Ireland, Great Britain, USA & Russia during our stay. It was nice to be able to relax when we wanted, but go find our “friends” when we wanted to party! The bars were always open (even during the wee hours of the morning when normal people are sleeping!) There were many bars in the hotel. On the Mares side, there was a large one in the main open lobby, a swim-up one in the main pool (don’t worry…I think the water turns colour if someone pees in it), all the restaurants had bars in them and last but not least…the beach had a small, yet beautiful bar. Oh yeah, and the Theater bar is open at night during showings. There were activities by the pool and just outside the open lobby bar throughout the day. There were special entertainers that would assist in traditional dance lessons (even when people were drunk they had a lot of patience) and pool activities like water polo, volleyball, swimming race challenges (I never knew how many ping-pong balls could fit inside a bikini – you’ll have to go to figure out that game), yet part of the large pool was kept for those who wanted to relax and enjoy the bar area also. There was a smaller pool for the kiddies too. There were other activities in the main lobby area as well, like pool tables, ping-pong, and most of the time there was live entertainment on the stage area. On the Luna side, there was a mini-putt area, a lookout nature reserve area and trails, tennis court, pool table, souvenir shop, and another decent-size pool with hot tub. Nightly, the piano was brought out into their main lobby area by the bar with an amazing piano player. We would request songs and she knew them all funny enough! She made it a very romantic yet fun atmosphere. Most people felt they could dress up and drink wine during her show.
There was a spa on site as well with steam rooms separate for men and women, saunas, lockers, gym facilities, an open air hot tub, a small pool, yoga classes every morning, and even a doctor’s office in the spa area.
The beach…oh my God… the beach. Just read other reviews or check out pics others have taken and posted online. There were plenty of palapas, plenty of chairs (that paid gentlemen always wiped off and delivered to where we wanted to. The sand was absolutely spectacular and the water was even better. There were activities offered down at the beach also. There was a main central hut that we could go to in order to sign up for activities ranging from water sports to beach volleyball. There was a giant chess board set up also (makes for funny pics). We could get extra towels and snorkeling gear at the hut too. The beach is not too long of a stretch, but all very private. There was another resort down the beach, but the shore was not as maintained as Luna/Mares. No shells to hurt your feet on, no big enough waves to sink the skinniest of people. Air Transat even threw a party one night of the seven for it’s guests (we snuck in with people we meet – oops) that was absolutely magical and spectacular. There were tables and chairs all set up and decorated with white sheer linens. There was a line buffet set up along the beach with a pig that had been roasted all day on the skewer and many more delectables. There was table service for drinks and to pick up the plates etc after the meal. Tipping the staff was appreciated. There was live entertainment when it became dark, with fire shows, exotic dancing, drinking games and lots of extra fun. We had a blast! After that beach party ended, the nightly disco beach bar opened up (like it does late every night) and we danced, drank and enjoyed the different Latin and American music ranging from Sean Paul to Nelly to Ne-Yo to Madonna etc. Fantastic. At night, the theatre was entertaining as well. The theatre was your typical theatre set up with the rows of seats rising the further back they went. The stage was enormous, and the shows were spectacular. Some nights they were themed (like cabaret and impersonations) and some nights people from the audience were allowed up to make fools of themselves. All in good fun mind you! Drink service was also provided if needed. Every night in the main lobby area of the Mares side, you could enjoy live local singers romancing the atmosphere. Breathtaking. They sold CDs for quite cheap as well. What a better way than to bring the memories home via music.
There were bikes and cars for rent outside the complex. The tour reps were available during certain posted days and times for questions or to book off-site activities (like the swim-with-the-dolphins package that was located very close to the hotel also!) There was a telephone station where you could pay-as-you-go for calls back home, and small booths set up at various times to buy souvenirs, cameras, post-cards, etc. One internet station was set-up, but someone was always on it so I could never use it. There was a money exchange booth on the Mares side and one on the Luna side as well. It was nice to only have to bring Canadian money! The rate was better to exchange Canadian dollars to pesos instead of US funds to pesos. I believe it still is these days. As it is next to impossible to change pesos back to Canadian dollars upon return to Canada, we could spend each day exchanging only what we needed to at the time we needed it!
I guess the last thing I have to mention was the restaurants and the themed dinners. You will read other reviews stating that the restaurant on one side was also closed when they were staying there…but if they had have toured the whole complex, they should have found something else open. Even still, they could have asked any of the bartenders if they could find them something to eat. They would have gone into the kitchen and fetched something to tie them over until main meal times. The only reason they would have been closed was due to construction, setting up before main meals, getting ready for theme-only dinners that night, etc. Speaking of the themed dinners, if you book through a tour wholesaler (package deal), you will get vouchers for a number of themed dinners to choose from. You must have them booked in advance as they get full occupancy quite quickly. They rotate nights for the theme dinners, so if it is full one night, you should be able to go another night. The Mares side closes down the open restaurant/bar by the pool area for the Mexican theme dinner. The Mexican dinner is the only one we didn’t find tasted like actual Mexican dishes (different but good…just not what you expect). The Luna sides hosts an Italian dinner with many courses and very good choices, in the open restaurant/bar by their pool. The music was extremely Italian, ranging from Andrea Bocchelli to Josh Groban etc. Absolutely fantastic, romantic and suitable for the amazingly delicious Italian food they serve. Wow is all I could say! For couples looking for the ultimate romantic dinner that even tops the Italian dinner…there is a chance to get a voucher for the dinner down the beach in a very private setting. It is set up on the sand with white sheets as the outer walls blowing in the ocean breeze, and served is steak, lobster, wine, etc. They go all out with the professional service.
I have read many articles and felt that I should do the all-in-one description of one of the best values for your money. I have now been back twice and planning to go again to see the friends I have made there, Dario, Ray, Junior, Wilson, and the rest of the gang!