SuperClubs Sandals Royal Hicacos Resort Page 2 – Cuba Hotels – Debbie's Caribbean Travel & Resort/Hotel Reviews



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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero  ~  Reviews Posted – 18
Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Jean & Steve ~ Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

April 2005

We just returned from our second honeymoon at Sandals Royal Hicacos at Varaderos Cuba. We were there from March 27 to April 11 and enjoyed it from the time we arrived and were told to get a load of our feet while arrangments were made to bring our luggage to our rooms, while we had champagne until we unhappily got ready for the inevitable trip home.

The Resort impressed us with its use of water all around and elevated walkways with bridges, etc. The arbors with flowering vines made walking to your clean and spacious rooms enjoyable. We loved the double sized tub and the separate toilet area was also appreciated.

Food was always a pleasure although for dinner we only went buffet style twice, all the other days we were booked in one of the four a la carte restaurants. We enjoyed Caribe, the Caribbean restaurant the most with its great atmosphere, service and the very talented trio. Las Morlas, the seafood restaurant was also great and even had main vegetarian course. Although Italian is never my husband’s favourite we enjoyed Don Pasquale’s and you can even go there for continental breakfast and lunch if you are not keen on buffet. The beach grill served things such as hamburgers and chips during the day but was changed to an a la carte restaurant at night. Its name is translated as "The Old Man and the Sea" and we enjoyed it especially when we booked at 7:30 dinner. So we had not only surf and turf dinner to enjoy but the sound of the ocean waves, the sun setting on the water and a sax playing in the background, what could be more romantic!

There were plenty of bars but you have to find out for yourself which one fixes the particular drink you like the way you like it. We really loved the pool bar during the day although we happily used the beach grill bar.

The beach was great and we spent most of the day there, starting with an early walk and picking our loungers under our favourite palapa. The sand was fine and great to walk on bare foot-our feet were very soft at the end of our two week stay.

We found musical entertainment everywhere, in the piano bar, the lobby bar, all the restaurants and then in the evening shows with the house band. The shows were also very good with magic shows, water ballet, & more.

We enjoyed it so much at the resort we did not leave it but were assured by others that the day trips were also enjoyable. The Catamaran trip to see the Dolphins was one and also the trip to Havana. (We did not go on moped rides or horseback rides since I broke my collarbone on our previous trip to Cuba falling off a moped.)

We know that in other five star Sandals resorts all inclusive includes tips but having been in Cuba before and realizing the limitations on earing a living and even buying things we take for granted people here have, we took some personal items such as shampoos and toothpastes, etc., along to give the maid and left modest tips. Cubans are very friendly and in spite of the language differences try their best to understand and help you when needed.

Of course nothing is perfect but shortcomings were minor. There could have been more staff at the beach grill during the day when lunchtime really was hectic. Toilet paper seemed to run out at certain bathrooms but apparently it is not in great supply anywhere in Cuba, as you noticed when using the bathrooms at the Cuban airport.

We could not understand the criticism of one vacationer, who asked if the maids made things out of the towels and put them on our bed. (Our maid made sailboats, flowers, and greetings as well as a huge swan out of our bedspread.) This lady did not appreciate the gesture because that meant she would have to undo the creations and fold towels herself! We heard one irate vacationer complain that the beach grill ran out of straws at 4:30 p.m. Drink the usual way is what we would do.

We would wholeheartedly recommend this resort to anyone. We were relaxed the day of our arrival and enjoyed the fact that our most difficult choices were made deciding when and where to eat, which direction to walk on the miles long beach, wether to enjoy a hot tub or soak in the double tub in our room. Service was always cheerful and if it was sometimes slow we contributed it to "Cuba Time" – a slower and relaxing pace.

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Kat – Manitoba

April 2005

We spent a wonderful, relaxing week at the Sandals Hicacos in Varadero. We are a couple mid-twenties, first time to Cuba, but 4th All Inclusive holiday.

We really we unsure of what to expect when we arrived at the resort. We’d read a lot of reviews of poor food quality, and bad service. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived. I’ll break it down into sections so you can find what’s important to you.

Service: We had great service. Extremely friendly people working at the resort. If you ask them about them, and ask how they are doing, they will open up to you and make you feel like you’ve been friends for a life time. We did tip because we wanted to, but not that we were expected to. Only once did we feel the pressure to tip, but not again for the rest of the week. We felt very welcomed into their country, and were so willing to help you where they could. Please, be friendly to them, and you in return will have good service too.

Food: We read some unwelcoming reviews about Cuban food, so I didn’t have very high expectations. I will admit, we have had better food in other Countries, but it’s just that…in other Countries. We enjoyed the buffet restaurant for breakfast, good selection. For lunch we were always at the beach grill, and loved it. For Dinner, the buffet was better on some nights then the others. Not huge selections, but good. The a la cartes were really good. Our favorite was the El Caribe…be sure to make a reservation when you arrive, or you will be disappointed. Beach grill was good, we really liked the food there, the atmosphere is so romantic!!! Italian was good, but we’re not huge into pasta. Didn’t try the seafood, as I don’t enjoy it. My husband had his fill of seafood anyway, always some type of seafood available to you, not matter which restaurant you’re at.
As for dressing up for meals, men must wear long pants and a nice t-shirt. For the buffet jeans are fine if you want to be casual. For a la cartes I thought people would be very dressed up, but found at times I was a little over dressed. Bring some nicer clothes for those "romantic" evenings at the El Caribe or the Seafood restaurant, but for the Beach Grill, or buffet, pretty much anything but shorts are allowed.

Rooms and grounds: Beautiful!! what a large, open, gorgeous room! Big double tub, huge balcony. One night we noticed the sulfur smell, but we just closed the door to the bathroom, and didn’t notice it any more. We never noticed the smell during the day on the grounds.
Grounds were beautiful!! Getting around the resort is kind of like a maze, but its beautiful. We loved to just wander and see all the beautiful gardens. Such a laid back and relaxing atmosphere…never felt like there was a worry.

pool and beach: Yes, if you are late risers..you’ll have a hard time finding a "good" spot at the beach or pool. I started getting up around 8:30 and found a seat, but I loved sitting on the beach in the morning and just reading my book. As much as it is an annoyance to have so many unused chairs, you just have to work around it. The beach was just so breath taking. I’m generally a pool person, but for the first time ever I wanted to just sit and look at the ocean. The water is such a bright blue/green color! Amazing! The water sports are so much fun if you are able to use them. Sand is groomed every morning.
Pool, beautiful. We had great water temp. when we were there. The floats were a highlight!!! We really enjoyed relaxing on those. Don’t forget the hot tub which is great way to end the day at the beach!

Tours: You can book the tours right at the hotel. We generally arrange that through our rep, but they said the tour desk is the same tours for the same price. We did the Jeep Discovery, Catamaran Seafari/ swimming with the dolphins…both were really good. We went to Havana separately, we enjoyed it, but didn’t get to see everything because we ran out of time. The bus tour has a lot of people, but you will get to see the highlights. It really is an amazing city!!!

So I hope that helps you make your decision. Sandals Royal Hicacos is great. next time we’re hoping for two weeks. From Puerto Vallarta (twice), and Punta Cana (once), this has been our favorite destination so far! Enjoy!

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Carrie and Jamie ~ Canada

April 2005

My husband and I just came back from the Sandals Royal Hicacos in Veradaro Cuba. We are newly married and in our late 20’s and just wanted a fun, relaxing, and fairly reasonable trip down south. We picked this resort because we had good friends who honeymooned here in January and had a great time.

The other reviews are pretty accurate and so I will just highlight what I think is important.

I’m going to start by saying we had the best time!! This resort exceeded our expectations and we would return if we weren’t interested in travelling to other resorts. We eat out a lot at home and were slightly worried we wouldn’t like the food here. Not the case at all. The a la carte restaurants were excellent. We loved El Caribe and Las Morales. The lobster wrapped in phyllo pastry at Las Morales was superb – I could have ordered 2!! The Beach Bar and Grill wasn’t our favourite a la carte food-wise but we watched the most beautiful sunset during our meal to the sound of the saxophone player and once he left they played Michael Buble (my favourite). Needless to say I was in heaven! The Italian restaurant was good but we had very late reservations (9:30pm) and unfortunately we had lost our appetites by then. The beef tenderloin was excellent though and I felt very bad for not being able to finish it. The buffet was good. We couldn’t really complain about it but looked forward to eating at the a la carte’s. We loved the pizza at the Italian restaurant at lunch. The warm sandwiches at the Grill at lunch were great too. Unfortunately, there were 2 things we were very disappointed about. First, we felt like cattle lining up every morning at 8 am to book our a la carte reservations. One morning I waited for 45 minutes for my turn. Not a hug deal but somewhat inconvenient. Our second day (April 3) we were told they had started a new resort policy that restricted a la carte dining to only once per restaurant per week. This was not in the resort description and many guests were very upset by this. They really stuck to their guns on this one no matter how much you complained. When I told our travel agent about this when we got back she had me write a letter to the resort company because apparently they are supposed to give warning about a change like this. Oh well….

Our room was great except for the loud plumbing noises at night (room 1005). We could have switched rooms I guess but we got used to it.

We were so impressed by the service we had to get more money exchanged because we couldn’t stop tipping these people. We love the piano bar after dinner not really for the music (a little cheesy for our taste – they really love Celine Dion’s Titanic song) but for the bartenders Rodney and Calito. Wow. They are so attentive if you sit at their bar – it’s impressive. If you look behind the first row of booze behind the bar you’ll discover a great selection of Bailey’s, Glenlivet and Black Label scotch, Kahlua, etc… The good stuff is there you just have to ask for it – they just don’t advertise it!!

I drank Mojitos all week -this is a great refreshing drink with fresh mint leaves. Don’t leave without trying one ladies!!! My husband loves his beer and he was fine with the Crystal. It could be much worse!!

Our check-in was very bad and disorganized but by the sounds of it – this must have been unusual. They must have been unusually busy.

We did the catamaran tour (75 pesos each) and loved it. Great lunch we thought!! We had great weather though and I can imagine it wouldn’t be as fun if it was a cloudy/cool day.

I think I went in the pool once all week. We were on the beach everyday and in the ocean. Beautiful. Way nicer than we ever thought it would be. Grab some towels before 9 am and get your chairs though or you’ll be lying on the sand!!

Bring lot’s of nice clothes for dinner/evenings. People really dressed up and we were happy we packed a lot of these kinds of clothes.

If I could suggest one thing it would be to bring some traveller mugs for your drinks. We did and used them everyday. The bartenders do not mind filling them up at all. People who didn’t think to bring these wished they had!

Again, we had a great time, met some really nice people and will always remember this trip as romantic, fun and relaxing. Enjoy!! 🙂

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Andrea and Bob ~ Newfoundland, Canada

April 2005

We are a married couple in our late 30’s, who decided to go to Sandals for a relaxing and romantic holiday. We not only had rest, relaxation and romance, but we also made some friendships and learned to appreciate a unique culture. Needless to say, we will most definitely be returning to Sandals in the future.

Accomodations
We arrived in Cuba after midnight and after a little inconvenience at the airport (my husband brought his GPS which is illegal in Cuba and was confiscated, but later returned to him when we checked in to return home) we were wisked away on a comfortable private bus directly to our resort. Upon arriving at Sandals, we were given champagne and taken directly to our rooms. Our luggage arrived shortly after and we were told that there were snacks available until 3:00 am in the Buffet restaurant. The room was beautiful, very spacious, clean and comfortable. We stayed in building 4, room 401 which was on the main floor and has a veranda that faced a small swimming pool. There are bananas growing right outside, and we did not see any insects in our room during the entire vacation. The bathroom is huge and has a wonderful shower. The most water pressure I have ever had in any shower…we joked that it was so strong it would wash our suntan off! The rooms have a lovely Carribean decor, and the king size bed is very comfortable. It is so amazingly quiet at night in this resort, especially as you walk to your room… and it is also very well guarded (the security guards are stationed at certain points and are almost unnoticeable except that our room was located just past a station. The security are very friendly and spoke to us each and every time we passed.).

Service
I cannot say enough about the wonderful service we received during our stay. Our first night we met a wonderful man (waiter) at the Buffet restaurant, Alcides. He talked with us, joked with us and gave us some pointers to help us settle in. He expected nothing from us, and would make a point of speaking to us each and every time our paths crossed (which was daily). He always wore a smile and made us feel very special… we miss him already! We did not feel that we needed to tip everybody in order to get good service, but we did show our appreciation by thanking the workers at this resort. They work very hard and the least they deserve is a smile and a thank-you. We did tip occasionally, and at the end of the week we gave some presents and money to those workers who we feel really went the extra mile for us. Another special worker was Elisa, she was the greeter at the Buffet. Her smile would light up our day… she was beautiful, sweet and kind… Sandals definitely made a smart decision when hiring her for the greeter at the buffet. She was moved to tears when we gave her a simple gift and some money at the end of our stay. Our maid, Neysi, was a riot… we had so much fun with her. We left her presents daily, and in return she wrote us little notes, and made unbelievable sculptures with our towels, robes, and even bedspead! We had to seek her out our second last day, because we so wanted to meet this lady. She was embarassed and a little shy when we told her how grateful we were for her services… as we were packing to leave, she came and knocked on our door and thanked us again and wished us a safe journey home. The Cuban people are so friendly… and so appreciative of whatever you can give. We did not feel pressured at any time during our stay to pay for service. I regret however not bringing some extra presents for the other workers… I think they appreciate gifts more than money, because it is difficult and expensive to buy the essentials in Cuba. Things like soap, toothpaste, shaving cream (over 7 convertible pesos, which is the better part of one months salary!), makeup, sanitary napkins and tampons, etc…

Food
We found the food good. There was always a huge variety at the buffet and we ate most of our meals there. We had no stomach problems, and I (Andrea) actually gained 5 pounds during the week! The El Caribe restaurant was excellent. The Bar and Grill also had great lobster. You do need to line up early to make bookings for the a la carte restaurants, but we had no difficulty getting reservations.

Beach
The beach was outstanding! It was clean and offered a variety of water sports. There were plenty of cabanas, but they were usually all filled by around 9:30 am, so we would simply lay our stuff on chairs under a cabana on our way to breakfast. There was always a soft breeze blowing at the beach, so this was our preferred spot for tanning. When we needed to cool down, we would simply swim in the ocean. The water is warm, clean, and a beautiful blue color. There is usually a waiter roaming the beach to bring you drinks, but as he has a fair distance to travel, you may only see him once or twice. The beach bar is not too far, and we enjoyed the little walk whenever we needed a refreshment. We walked the beach several times, and actually ventured onto a couple of other resorts and felt very confident that our resort had the best stretch of beach and the nicest grounds in the immediate vicinity.

Pool(s)
We had a wonderful smaller pool and jacuzzi just outside our room. This was a wonderful place to go for privacy, as it was practically unused by the other guests. The main pool was great. There is a swim up bar, jacuzzi, waterfalls, plenty of chairs, lots of shaded areas, bridges, water volleyball, water aerobics, poolside activities, hammocks, and floats. The water is a little cool after being in the sun for a while, but it is very refreshing. Use lots of sunscreen when at the pool. Bob got his chest badly sunburned our second last day while playing water volleyball. He had forgotten to reapply his sunscreen after swimming and when he finished playing (after about an hour…and this was around 4:00 pm) his chest was red! There is not much of a breeze at the pool as the resort is hidden from the beach by a thick band of trees, so we spent the majority of our time at the beach, but would come to the pool area every afternoon to meet up with other guests for a laugh.

Diving
Bob is an experienced diver, and he took advantage of the free diving excursion offered at this resort. A speed boat leaves the resort at 9:00 am and takes you to a coral reef. He was amazed… it was fantastic, one of the highlights of his trip. He swam with barracudas, saw many varities of fish, swam through caves, and saw lots of coral at the reef. You need to sign up for this excursion a day or two in advance, and you can do it daily if you wish… free of charge. All of the necessary equipment was provided, and the tour guide was very good. He highly recommends this excursion. This resort also offers a beginning diving course free of charge, and a beginners dive daily. You do need to swim several lengths of the pool in order to qualify, but after you have completed the training and participated in the beginners dive, I believe you are able to take the coral reef dive. There is also a diving excursion to a sunken Russian ship. This excursion is not free however, it does cost 40 pesos, but I imagine it is well worth the money, if the the free excursion is any indication.

We could go on, but will stop. We definately rate this resort 5 stars, and will be returning in the future. We have travelled to Florida and the Dominican Republic and would rank this as one of our bast vacations.

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Canada

April 2005

We went to Sandals the second week in March. This was our first trip in over 15 years, so nothing to compare it to. Leaving the airport we met up with our Sandal’s rep and arrived at the resort in no time. Check-in was complete before we had a chance to finish our champagne. We were whisked off to our room, riding on a golf cart and our luggage was right behind us. We had a standard garden view room. The room was very spacious. We liked the sitting area, supply of bottled water in the fridge and coffee maker. King sized bed very comfy, huge bathroom, tub very cozy for two. Don’t forget to take some bubble bath with you. The low pressure from the shower however and the water from the shower was never as hot as from the tub. We always slept with the sliding door open and really enjoyed the breeze. No air-conditioning for us. The maid did a very good job of cleaning our room. We left her some things during the week.shampoo, baseball hats, gum and she left us a bottle of wine on our last night.

I am an early riser and was concerned when I woke at 7:00 am and didn’t see the sunshine. I later found out that Cuba is on daylight savings time in order to conserve energy. May not seem important, but if you want to time getting a good tan, this is something to take into consideration. This also meant that the sun didn’t set until after 7:00 p.m. So don’t make early dinner reservations if you want to see a couple of sunsets. Breakfast at the buffet was good. I preferred going to the grill and ordering an omelet or fried eggs as opposed to the buffet. Don Pasquale served a very nice Pizza lunch with antipasto bar. The ice cream was excellent. Again, if you’re eating at the buffet, go to the grill for fresh fish. We were not too crazy about the dinners at the buffet. The food wasn’t all that flavorful. We ate there the first 2 nights. I did hear though that one night they had a fantastic lobster dinner there. Making reservations to eat at the a la carte restaurants was easy (early riser here). You have to line up outside the night club, just down stairs from the buffet. Sometimes the hostess arrives a few minutes before 8:00 so get the early. We ate twice at El Caribe. It was excellent. White glove treatment, very fancy and very, very good food. We also ate twice at El Morales. Again, very, very good food and the royal treatment. We were also serenaded by a violinist and guitar player. We enjoyed the sunset and saxophone player at the beach front restaurant; the surf and turf was okay, the mosquitoes were annoying. No complaints at all about the service in any of the restaurants. The staff could not do enough for us. Dinner was always followed by drinks in the open-air bar. Never a problem with the service there either. Our waiter even remembered from day to day what I wanted to drink. Have no clue as to what the midnight buffet or snack was like (when you’re an early riser, you are also early to bed).

The pools were clean, but a wee bit on the cool side. You got used to it after a couple of minutes. We really enjoyed our walks on the beach from end to end. The ocean water was warmer. We did have the yellow flag up for about 3 days though and the red flag up for one day because of high winds the night before.

All in all it was very enjoyable. Would I go back? Absolutely

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Ben and Nathalie ~ Moncton NB, Canada

March 2005

My wife and I just got back from a week of vacation at the Sandals Royal Hicacos and had a fabulous time!!! We are young professionals in our early 30s, and were looking for a quiet and comfortable resort to relax, enjoy the beach and ocean, and "recharge our batteries". Considering our objectives, we could not have chosen a better place than the Sandals Royal Hicacos! I must also admit that we’ve had the best weather ever: 7 days of sun, above 30 Celsius everyday day, no rain! So, that always helps when one is there to rest on the beach and enjoy the sun (I’ve noticed that the majority of those who complain always had bad weather). Notwithstanding, this was our best trip ever!!! Note that this was our 10th trip in an all-inclusive resort, including 3 other trips in Cuba (Varadero and Cayo Coco), 2 trips in Mexico (Cancun and Mayan Riviera), and 3 trips to Punta Cana, DR, and one trip in the Bahamas – We always travel in 4+ resorts and up, and my wife and I agree that this was our favourite resort!!!

From the minute we arrive at the airport ’til the last second we left, everything was effortless! Nothing went wrong! The flight was on time and uneventful – and we were rh only aircraft at the airport; so, we got our luggage right away, and waited less than 5 minutes at the customs. Then, we found our Conquest Rep., and she then introduced us to the Sandals Rep. who quickly led us to a special bus reserved for Sandals Royal Hicacos guests only. In less than 5 minutes, the 3 other couples were in the bus, and we left for the hotel. The bus ride was quick as we didn’t have to stop at any other hotels. When we got to the hotel at around noon, they served us Champagne, and told us the basic information about the resort. Our room was not ready yet, but the previous guests had already left – so, they escorted us to our room, gave us the keys and told us to just leave all our stuff there, to simply change quickly and go enjoy the beach! When we came back to the room later on that afternoon, everything was cleaned up, and ready to unpack.

Overall, I agree with most other reviews we read about this Resort. It is very nice, not the most luxurious resort we’ve seen (i.e. it is not a breath taking as some of the high-end 5-star resorts in Mayan Riviera or Punta Cana where the lobby is huge, with large fountains, and marble everywhere), but it’s very clean, very cosy and the staff were all very friendly! So, we loved it right away, as we were quickly at ease with everyone – it is not snobbish at all. The room is spacious and very comfortable! The nicest room we’ve seen in all resorts we’ve been to yet. As mentioned in other comments, the beach is phenomenal…!!! The sand is like flour, and the water is crystal clear!

Here are other tips that may be of interest to you:

  • When you’ll meet the Sandals’ rep. at the airport, note that the number that he’ll write on your luggage is your room number at the hotel. If you get to the hotel before the check-in time of 3pm, ask them if your room is available (i.e. the previous guests have already departed). If that’s the case, ask them if you could go to your room and just change quickly, and then go enjoy the beach (like we did!). As opposed to leave all your suitcases at the lobby, change in a courtesy room, and come back later to get your stuff and go to your room, etc.;
  • If you prefer to eat in "à la carte" restaurants, don’t wait until after the meeting with your rep. the next morning to book some restaurants for supper. The table at the bottom of the large staircase that leads you to the buffet on the second floor is where you make the reservations for "à la carte" restaurants. We got to the resort on a Saturday, and all 4 restaurants were already booked for the Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights. We were only able to book for the Tuesday and Wednesday nights. So, if you wait an extra day, your options may be even more limited (depending on how busy is the resort), and if you are there for only 7 days, you may not be able to try all 4 "à la carte" restaurants;
  • The "table" where you make the restaurant reservations is open from 8am to 3pm, every day;
  • The "IL Caribe" restaurant is not available for reservations on Thursdays, as it is a special evening for returning guests;
  • Note that you are not limited to one supper per restaurant per week. We ended up going twice to the "Il Caribe" and to the "Bar Grill" on the Beach.
  • As mentioned in other reviews, the "nicest" restaurant is the "Il Caribe", but the food is not necessary better than the other restaurants. In fact, our favorite restaurant was the "Bar Grill" (unlike most other comments) because it was the only restaurant that served lobster (langostina). Both evenings when we ate at the Bar Grill, the sunset was amazing, and on the first night, there was a great saxophone player on the beach… It was very romantic! One of the highlights of our week!
  • However, bring bug spray with you at the Bar Grill, as the mosquitos and black flies can be annoying…!
  • As far as we’re concerned, the buffet was fair for dinner, certainly as good as the "à la carte" restaurants, with the exception of the desserts!!! At the buffet, the desserts are amazing…!!! So, we rarely ordered desserts at the "à la carte" restaurants. We would wait to go to the buffet for the desserts!!!
  • Also note that the 2 best nights at the buffet are probably the Saturday night (International Buffet) and the Monday night (Seafood night). Something to keep in mind when you book your "à la carte" restaurants.
  • Overall, the food will not be remembered as the highlight of our trip, but it was very good…!!! The food will certainly not be an issue. Most probably the best food you’ll eat in Cuba.
  • If you are snorkelling lovers like us, note that there is a boat leaving from the aquacentre of the resort 3 times a day, at 9h30, 10h30 and 11h30 in the morning for snorkelling. These trips are FREE, and you can go as often as there is availability but you need to book the previous day. We went twice and loved it (in part due to the fact that the Ocean was very calm – the earlier you book, the "calmer" the Ocean is…).
  • Then, there is another snorkelling trip, $20 per person, where they take you to an island (about 20-minute by boat – you snorkel for about an hour – 20-minute boat ride to come back, so you’re gone for about 1 hour and 40 minutes). Again, if you like snorkelling like us, we strongly recommend it!!! The coral reef along that island is wonderful… Definitely worth $20!
  • If you want to visit the Peninsula and the City of Varadero, the mopeds are probably the best way to travel. We rented 2 mopeds for 3 hours, $15 per person, right in the lobby of the hotel (about the same cost of a taxi ride, round trip), and we had a blast…! This was one of the highlights of our trip…!
  • Note that the Beaches Hotel and the other Sandals Princesa Del Mar don’t have any bracelets either (you won’t get a bracelet when you’ll check-in at the reception). So, if you act as if you belong there, they will not stop you at these other 2 resorts. If you’re curious, go have a look.
  • As mentioned in other reviews, you may strong smell early in the morning and later at night (i.e. when the wind dies down). Note that this is due to the underground water that contains high concentration of sulphur. When natural water is in contact with air, it releases a strong sulphur odour. Although this smell is not very enjoyable for some people, note that is if a natural phenomenon, and not an indication that the water is contaminated. Furthermore, don’t hesitate to bring scented candles for your room, in case the smell gets to your room in the morning (it did once in our case, we had candles but did not use them);
  • There is large bath for 2 in the bathroom. If you like long baths, you’ll enjoy it! And bring some bubble bath…!
  • Note that if you bring gifts and souvenirs for staff, you can leave some to your cleaning lady like most of us do; but note that the staff on the resort itself work just hard, if not harder. In restaurants for example, staff work a minimum of 14-hour shifts, 6 days a week. That’s 84 hours per week…!!! If you bring a small gift to them, they’ll be tremendously thankful! Furthermore, if you’d like to make sure that your gifts get to the citizens of Cuba living in rural ears (those who cannot take advantage of tourists as much as staff working in resorts), you can either leave your gifts with your Travel Company’s Rep. ("Conquest" in our case), and ask him/her to bring it to their headquarters in Varadero. Upon request, the General Manager of your travel company will make sure that it’ll get to locals in rural areas; or, if you visit Downtown Varadero, there’s a Church on Main Street. You can go to the Church, and drop your gifts to the Priest. He’ll bring your gifts to the locals in rural areas that
  • he visits on a weekly basis. Trust us, it’ll be truly appreciated…!!!

Overall, this is a fantastic resort!!! We have only positive comments to say about the resort and staff! We strongly recommend it…! As far as we’ve seen, this is pretty much as good as it’ll get in Varadero, Cuba. If you’re not satisfied with this resort (room, service and food), you’ll unlikely ever be satisfied in Cuba. We recommend that you opt for higher-end 5-star resort in Mayan Riviera or Punta Cana. But the cultural experience in Cuba is unbeatable…! And for that reason alone, we can’t wait go back to Varadero! Enjoy! Hasta Luego!

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Malcolm & Tanya ~ Ottawa ON

March 2005

We recently returned from our stay at Sandals Royal Hicacos and were really impressed with our accommodations and with the staff at this resort.

Rooms: We had a Junior Garden Suite which was very clean, well thought out as to amenities and so quiet at night you could hear a pin drop. The maid service was superior and thanks to the advise of the senior forum posters, we placed a nice gift on the bed for our maid each day which was greatly appreciated.

The complaints I have read about the staff at this resort are unfounded as we found everyone to be polite and willing to assist us at every opportunity. We did see occasions where guests were upset with staff because they couldn’t have their own way.i.e getting upset because staff insisted that the men wear slacks to dinner instead of shorts. People getting upset because they had to get up before 8 a.m. to book one of the good restaurants.

Restaurants: We really enjoyed the A La Carte restaurants especially El Carebe. By standing in line for the first three mornings that we were there we only had to eat at the buffet on the evening of our arrival. The only disappointment was the Italian Restaurant which if you have eaten good Italian food didn’t quite meet our expectations. They did serve wonderful sundaes and pizza during the day though.

The Beach: We are beach people and this was one of the nicest beaches we have ever had the pleasure of spending time on. There isn’t much in the way of fish or other sea life but the water is crystal clear and a sandy bottom. It is the best maintained section of beach in the area as we took plenty of strolls along the beach. The sunsets were spectacular. The resort offers lots of water sports if your so inclined, you just have to book in advance. Bring a Tim Horton mug or equivalent. It really keeps your beer cold. Don’t bring the really big ones as they will serve you on the beach so you don’t even have to get out of your lounge chair. Night Life: There isn’t a lot of the "wow" type of entertainment at this resort. Remember they are catering to couples who want to spend a little more in order to have a relaxing vacation without a lot of noise and hullabaloo. So if your the disco party all night type of traveler you will probably be disappointed. We preferred relaxing in the open air lounge bar listening to live Cuban music and still be able to have a conversation with new friends.

Recommendations: Take the air conditioned guided bus tour of Havana. Your guide will be a wealth of information about Cuba and its history. We toyed with the idea of getting together with some other travelers and taking a cab but changed our minds when our travel rep advised us that very few cab drivers speak good English and often times the transportation will not be air conditioned. Do go on the Catamaran Cruise. Book the one that has the swim with the dolphins. If your an experienced driver rent a scooter for 3 or 4 hours and go into Varadaro its a riot and the best way to really see the area. Bring hats, tee-shirts, make-up, pencils, hard candy, etc. as gifts for those that serve you and the children you will meet in town. They really appreciate the gifts and it costs less that handing out pesos every time.

In closing we really enjoyed this resort and all it had to offer. If your going to book a resort in Cuba it should be at least a 4+ Travelers that we spoke to on our day trips who were staying at the less expensive resorts wished they had spent a little more on their accommodations. You can knock of at least one star from any resort you book in Cuba. Considering what it takes for this poorer country to provide you with all your vacation needs, they have done a wonderful job.

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Bill

March 2005

My wife and have just returned from our 4th trip to Varadero. We always go during the school break here in NW Ontario. We have always stayed at all inclusive resorts. As this was our 25th Wedding Anniversary (belated), we decided to go all out. I am sorry to say that I was dissappointed with this place. We stayed at Beaches last year (04) and found it to be a better bargain.

We don’t expect much as we are plain everyday working people. The meals at the hotel were great, there was a variety that was to die for, but, the service at this "5 STAR" resort "SUCKED".

It seemed if u didn’t produce the almighty peso ($1.25 Canadian) at the Lobby Bar then u were not waited on. We went to the Lobby Bar on 4 seperate days that we were there and asked for "BANANA MAMA’s", we were told they didn’t have any Bananas to make the drinks.

Well, let me tell u after 4days my wife was "ticked off", and asked to speak to the Bar manager. After a brief disscussion with him we thought things would change, but no such luck. We tried once more and gave up on this spot to get any drinks period.

Sandals claims to be the "best service" in the industry but let me tell u that next year we are going back to "BEACHES". We like the Adult only atmosphere and the cozyness of this place better than the 5 Star Royal Hicacos.

I also think that for their Cuban Peso they might start to out price themselves in the market for my money. they are a third world country and to tell me my dollar is worth only $79.80/ per $100.00 Canadian doesn’t sit well in my stomach.

When u visit Sandals say hello to Gladys and Alfreddo in the Buffet, Leonsis, Jorge, Marilyn in the Beach Grill and to Mykal at the Disco, they will recognize u where ever u are.

My money says Sandals isn’t worth the extra couple of hundred per person.

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Lise and Henri ~ Quebec

March 2005

This has been our 8th trip to Varadero ( March 3 to March 10 ) and our best! During our previous trips, we went to 4* or 4*+ resorts and have generally been satisfied ,knowing what to expect from such resorts in Cuba. After reading some negative comments concerning the Royal Hicacos, we were a little worried about what to expect. But it did not take us a long time after our arrival to realize that this was a high standard Cuban resort . The reception desk staff was very courteous and helpful, the room spacious, the food varied from very good ( Hicacos ) to excellent ( El Caribe), the beach beautiful . There were a few minor flaws ,among them the bar service and the frequent rotation of the staff ,especially in the restaurants. We would not hesitate to return next year and recommend The Royal Hicacos to our friends.

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Glen ~ Toronto, Canada

March 2005

My wife and I went here to stay in August of 2004 for our Honeymoon. I have always hated All Inclusive Resorts and have found them to be highly over rated and always under-deliver. I was not looking forward to another holiday at an All Inclusive and was using this to be the deciding factor on whether or not I would ever consider going again. We absolutely loved it…Soo much so that it’s only 7 months later and we’re booked to go back again…Anyone who slams this place is on Crack and needs to be babied into enjoying a Holiday. Highly recommended!!!

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Ryan and Kim ~ Saskatchewan, Canada

February 2005

We are a young couple (24yrs old) and this was our 5th all-inclusive winter trip. Previous destinations include Jamaica, Hawaii, Cancun, and the Mayan Riviara. We tend to stay at nicer resorts of at least 4.5 stars. We flew out of Toronto and traveled from Feb. 13 to 20. Though we are relatively young we wanted a nice quite place to relax, recharge the batteries and catch some sun in an environment without children and partying. To get this we knew we would have to go to a resort with a bit of an older crowd. Despite our travel agent pushing us to go to Beaches Varadero, we ultimately decided on Sandals Royal Hicacos based on the helpful reviews from this website.

SUMMARY
This was a nice, quite resort with an older crowd and was great for relaxing. We really enjoyed the adults only atmosphere and will continue to look for packages with this feature. Air Canada Vacations was great and they are our new preferred travel package company. The property, rooms, food, drinks, service and beach were all excellent and surpassed our expectations. It may not be the fanciest resort we have been to but overall it really didn’t have any significant problems that would deter us from returning or recommending it to friends. After touring other resorts in the area and actually spending a half day at Beaches Varadero, we were glad we chose Sandals. All in all it was a great trip and we wouldn’t hesitate to return here next time we go to Varadero.

FLIGHT
This was our first time traveling with Air Canada Vacations and based on this experience it won’t be the last. We found the biggest difference to be the planes used to get you to your destination. Compared to Skyservice (which we have vowed to never fly again) and Air Transat, we found the plane to be roomy, relatively new, good meals and nice service. The plane was actually a Tango plane if you are familiar with that. So compared to previous experience, it was great and we would highly recommend AC vacations.

RESORT
The hotel itself was nice, but had nothing extravagant that awed you. The grounds were well kept and had a good layout. There is lots of water flowing around the resort in man made channels so you are always walking on wooden paths above the ground. All the buildings were in great shape and looked quite new. There is basically one large main pool that is often overcrowded at mid day, and a few smaller pools/Jacuzzis in more remote locations around the property. The beach was definitely the best part about the resort. It was by far the best we have seen. The sand was so soft it was like walking in flour and once you were in the ocean there was no rocks or seaweed to step on which was great. Though we like a secluded resort, we appreciated the fact that we could walk for miles along the beach and see other resorts along the way. The only thing we didn’t like was that to get to the beach you had to go on these above ground wooden bridges that were really hot on the feet and a little tough to walk on. The Sandals beach is also so long it takes quite awhile to get to the beach bar so make sure you get more than on drink at a time. The room was spacious and had a nice bathroom with a great bath/shower and separate toilet room (which is nice if someone has stomach troubles). We have found that we really only sleep in our room so it isn’t necessary to upgrade to a “better” room, especially at this resort where the garden view rooms were great to start with. This is not the resort you want to go to if you’re looking for a lot of activities outside water sports. My girlfriend went scuba diving for the first time and though she was a little scared, she ended up absolutely loving it and thought the instructors were extremely wonderful and helpful. Scuba is free with Sandals so take advantage of it if you can! They also had water-skiing, banana boat, kayaks, peddle boats, catamarans and a big aqua trampoline (which was broke during our stay). We only had one windy day where these water activities were unavailable, but the ocean waves were quite big and looked really great curling in the turquoise waters so don’t think a windy day is all bad.

FOOD
After reading all the reviews not only on this resort but many other Cuban resorts, we had very low expectations for the food. Well, let me tell you, I’m glad we had those pre conceived notions because we were pleasantly surprised by the food quality at the resort. I thought it was great and I am a very fussy and picky eater. Based on how much we ate during our stay they food must have been good!!! We were always stuffed and found ourselves visiting the buffet either before or after our reservations at the a la cartes. The valentines supper at the buffet was terrific and to our amazement there was a fully cooked crocodile we could feast on! What an exotic treat. Plenty of seafood too. Overall, the buffet was good and the a la cartes were even better. The service at the a la cartes was amazing, and you really felt like you were in an upscale restaurant. We tried them all and our favorite was the Caribe, with the least favorite being the Beach Grill. Make your reservations as soon as you get there as these places are often booked well into the night. Breakfasts were ok, but I am not a breakfast person. The girlfriend is however and aside from the deserts, breakfast was her favorite meal of the day. There seemed to be good variety and quality. Dinner buffet was good too, not as good as supper, but always enough good food to keep you full. Our biggest recommendation is to get to the buffet early so you get the best quality and presentation of the food. We found that going later, like around 9 or 10 at night, some items were gone and the desert tray was pretty empty. Also, make sure you try the roast chicken at the beach grill!!! Amazing!

DRINKS AND BARS
We have found all-inclusive resorts to be a little weak in the department of drinks. While they are always plentiful, they usually lack quality. The drinks at Sandals were for the most part great. Not too much alcohol and not too sweet. It was sometimes difficult to get them to make a drink they weren’t familiar with but by going to a bar that wasn’t too busy, you could usually find someone to take the time to make it right. I thought the best drink was the mohito, with a mint plant and rum and lime juice. The beer was pretty good too. It reminded me of Canadian off tap. I’ve recently gotten into wines too and I came across some great tasting whites at the a la cartes. Neither of us are coffee drinkers, but all the specialty coffee drinks seemed to be very popular with the older crowd. The whole week we were there we never got any poolside service so we always had to get our own drinks, which is fine by us, but some people may have been frustrated with that. The lobby bar was definitely the busiest and had the best night life. The beach bar was good, but always extremely busy and you had to wait a long time to get drinks. The nightclub was nice and had good air hockey, ping pong and pool tables, but was really underutilized. The piano bar was the nicest but being non smokers and being used to smoke free public environments we found it too difficult to sit in that bar. As a side note, if you take a trip to Havana and your tour stops at this little restaurant just after crossing a massive bridge, make sure you get a pina coloda. We had to get 2 each they were so good; the best we’ve ever had and we’ve tried quite a few.

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Sheri ~ Canada

February 2005

We just returned. We had a similar experience to the reviews below. Hotel is beautiful and very romantic. It is very clean and well maintained. Al e carte restaurants are great, including the Italian restaurant. Rooms are gorgeous, with a living area and king size bed. They are very clean. We paid for the premium category – the only difference is a mini bar – we found it wasn’t necessary. The maid puts a new bottle of water in each day regardless. Large two person tub – bring your bubble bath. Evening entertainment is above average compared to any other resorts we have been to before. Beach is beautiful! We went on the snorkelling tour with the hotel – no extra charge. It was very wavy and we had a hard time getting back to the boat – wait for a calm day.

Tours
We paid to see the Tropicana show in Varadero – it is nice but save your money – the shows at the hotel are just as good. We took the tour bus ($5.00 all day) into Varadero to walk around the flea market. We found a great bar on the beach and had a couple of cold cervezas. We went into Havana. There were six of us so we rented a van, including driver and a tour guide for $250/day. They were great, stopped for the best pina colada (has my vote) on the island. Old Havana is beautiful. They have been restoring all of the old historical buildings over the last ten years. You forget that you are on a Caribbean island – you would think that you were in Europe. If you don’t want to face the reality of communist Cuba, stay in the old area. New Havana is very sad and decrepit.

Tipping
These people are very poor – tip them if you get good service. We would usually leave something at the restaurants – as the service was impeccable! We made a trip to the dollar store and brought a couple of bags of toiletry and beauty items, of which the maids were very appreciative (you have both a day and night maid). I gave a compact and lip gloss to the young tour guide on the bus from the airport and you would have thought that I gave her diamonds. We did not tip at the bars but found that if you are friendly to the bartenders and refer to them by their name, that you were served well.

We would highly recommend this hotel.

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Evelyn and Rafael ~ Canada

February 2005

We just came back from our first "Sandals experience" at the Sandals Royal Hicacos. Let me tell you we are HOOKED ON SANDALS!!! This was our third trip to Cuba but the best vacation of our lives! It cost a little more than our other trips in the past but it was worth every penny. Keep in mind however that we travelled during the end of january and this is considered low season for most airlines. Therefore we got an amazing deal. We also booked last minute so we got this fabulous resort for a fantastic deal. We were lucky and got perfect weather the whole week. When we left if was -22 degrees in toronto so we figured whatever the weather was like it would be better than the ice box we lived in here. It only takes one day to fall in love with cuba. The land, the beaches the friendly and warm people…i can’t wait to go back!!

The Flight and Arrival
We were a little bit nervous because we had never heard of the new airline that we were flying with called Kelowna Airlines. Apparently they are affiliated with Air Transat. The flight was good. A little bit of turbulence in the air but otherwise not bad. The seats are soooo close together but they provided breakfast and on the way back they provided a choice of chicken or pasta with a complimentary glass of red or white wine. The also provided earphones and played a movie so the time went by fast. Upon arrival we were greeted with a glass of champaigne and asked to just give our sunwing representatives our reservations, to take a seat, and he will take care of the rest. No line ups for reservations -how cool is that!! We just sipped champaigne until our tour rep gave us our room key. Our room was quite spacious and very clean.

Oh don’t be surprised if you see lots of chickens around the resort. I was expecting to see lizards , iguana’s exotic animals– there are barely any animals around the resort other than lots of chickens. Its kinda funny – they come by the pool area, they walk around the grass… wierd eh?

The Beach
Most beautiful beaches in the world . Gorgeous, Stunning, Spectacular!!

The Food
I am a very picky eater and have a very senstive tummy and this was the first vacation in my life that I had no stomach problems. The food was delicous and lots of variety. Excellent quality and extemely fresh. The buffets were good but the freshly grilled meats and fish were amazing. One night it was seafood night in the buffet and they had grilled lobsters, salmon, snapper, crab, jumbo shrimps-you name it. We had dinner reservations that night but we just decided to skip them because we were having such a feast at the buffet. If you are a sea food lover- you will be very happy here. I ate lobster every single day of my vacation. All of the restaurants were super-fabulous!

The Bars
What I was most impressed with was the selection of international drinks available at the bars. They had Baileys, Kaluha, Frangelico, Canadian Club, Jack Daniels,Hennessy -you name it. This was very impressive! Also at the lobby bar they made the banana mama’s with fresh banana’s..HEAVAN!! The piano bar upstairs has the best variety. And a small tip, even if they run out of mojito’s at the lobby bar- the piano bar always has everything you need including the fresh mint leaves for the mojitos.

The Staff
Warm, friendly and wonderful people. I know they work at the resorts and it is their job to make people feel welcome but it felt very genuine. You are always greeted with a smile and cubans hardly ever say no. They are very accomadating and helpful. There was a bit of a language barrier with some of the staff- but hey- i’m in cuba- i should probably learn to speak more spanish than expect them to speak perfect english. The animation staff in this resort was a little bit more low key than other resorts. They don’t come to the beach that often. They are actually quite scarce. But if you are looking for calm and relaxing beach time it is a treat to have peace and quiet. The nightly shows were very entertaining. Great dancing, magic shows, talented singers and cool musicians. Try not to miss the shows.

Excursions We booked the catamaran to Cayo Blanco. This was such a fantastic deal. It was $75 US and it included the catamaran ride, snorkelling, a 10minute swim with the dolphins, a lobster or chicken lunch, and playtime at the exquisite island of cayo blanco. It was just sooo insanely beautiful here. The sand was white as snow and the water was crystal clear. They had volleyball nets on the beach too so my honey played volleyball for hours. The next day we decided to be adventurous and rented mopeds. Varadero is so safe- we drove around for hours with my honey driving and my arms wrapped around him. It was so romantic. We came to a spot were you can go go-cart driving for 6$ US for 8 minutes. This was a blast. If you get a chance book the day trip to Havana- theres lots of cool cars and architecture to see. Its a chance to see

real cuban living. Oh, the dolphinerium is walking distance from the hotel, even if you don’t swim with the dolphins it only costs 5 pesos to go in and you can spend the afternoon just watching them play in the water, having lunch in the little cafe and just being in their presence. There is so much to do in Varadero and the best part is that it is completely safe to venture out of your hotel.

Areas of Improvement
The facilities in the gym looked pretty modern but most of them didn’t really work. There was no attendant to ask for assistance or towels. But the truth is that there weren’t many people working out anyway- it is their vacation afterall. Also they could of had extended service in some areas. The beaches and pool areas could have used some bar service. It was quite a long walk to the the bbq grille to get a drink. We later found out that there was a cooler with water in a wooden box by the umbrellas but since no one told us earlier we just didn’t know.

However when I left I was already prepared to have a fantabulous vacation and I refused to let my spoiled canadian ways get the best of me. I am a seriously easy going traveller and any hotel that I can eat lobster all day, soak in sunshine on a gorgeous beach, enjoy the company of dolphins and listen to the soothing grooves of salsa and merengue, while drinking a mojito-is fine by me. I refused to sweat the small stuff and just tried to enjoy the wonderful pleasures of simplicity. I heard some of the other guests snickering that the other sandals resorts they have been to were uncomparable. I can’t even imagine anything more dreamy than this resort. So all in all for my first sandals experience this was perfect. If there is something more perfect than this I would love to try it. Now i am hooked on Sandals!!

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Clinton and Linda from Edmonton, Canada

February 2005

We just returned from this resort this week and were absolutely thrilled with it. It was helpful in advance to have some feedback from previous reviews, so we knew where to place our expectations.

I have to say we were pleasantly surprised! When you drive up to the hotel it is beautifully landscaped, and we were overjoyed with the immense size of the rooms. We had a gardenview suite in the Sunset area, 1400 block, ground floor, which I would highly recommend. Our bedroom was "sunken" down a few steps from the living room which gave a nice effect, and the view from our enormous patio over the canals was pretty. It was a nice quiet area, and we liked not having to climb stairs all the time. It also was not too far a walk from the main common areas of the resort, so hard to get lost after a few cuba libres!

I agree that the best restaurant is El Caribe; we ate at all the others, but managed to get into El Caribe 3 times. The buffet was adequate (sometimes better than that), and the beach grill was great. The seafood restaurant was good. We didn’t eat dinner at the Italian restaurant because we were in there for lunch several times for the pizza (authentic Italian kind). Our only frustration with the restaurants was that on our first morning there, we went to make some reservations for the a la carte restaurants and were told that they were all already booked up for the next 3 days. Why they allow reservations to be made 3 days in advance is beyond me, you can’t have your restaurants booked up like that, it annoys the newcomers. It was only after expressing our annoyance that they managed to find some late reservations (9 to 930pm or so) each day due to some cancellations. I did hear that same complaint from several others there. We also managed to eat steak and lobster there almost every night, because by pure chance we caught it on the right nights. Needless to say we were very happy with that, the lobster is done in white wine sauce and very tasty. The steak was also tasty, but coming from the land of great beef (Alberta) we found it a little fatty (we knew not to expect the same as home).

As far as tipping goes, I saw many people doing it to get better service. I have been to a few other Sandals (which usually has a strict no-tipping policy), so out of principal my husband and I agreed in advance to keep tipping to a minimum, and only tip for special service. We tipped a grand total of 3 times: the bellboy for bringing our bags to the room and showing us around our room, one of the waiters who brought us some extra lobster, and for the transportation people for customizing our return transfer for us. The only time I felt a tip may have helped was in the main bar, there was one bartender there who seemed to ignore you for 20 minutes unless you tipped, which was annoying. We did however bring some things like shampoo to pass out to some of the lovely staff there who took the time to talk to us…we found out, for example, that a security guard there might make $20 per month, and a bottle of shampoo is about $1 for him…if you put that into perspective, think of spending 1/20th of your monthly salary on shampoo…that would be expensive stuff, no?

We were really happy with the watersports..we signed up for the complimentary snorkelling excursion. It was very nice…they provide the equipment (including lifejacket) and take you out in a boat approx. 1km. They drop you over a shallow reef that has loads of tropical fish, quite a treat. There is another snorkelling excursion for $20 where they take you out to a nearby island, apparently the reefs there are even nicer.

The beach is one of nicest I have ever seen, no rocks and talcum powder sand, and shallow clear water. We met a Jamaican there who said he thought the beach was nicer than Negril, which is really saying something considering the reputation Negril has.

I agree the pools could be warmer, but being from "The Great White North" they were warm enough and quite refreshing.

While there we took a local bus into Varadero, it was only $2.00. There is also a tourist bus you can get a daypass on for $5.00. The market in Varadero was great, they had macramé clothing, wood carvings and figurines, humidors, domino sets, hand-made unique jewellery, wind chimes, and various other things. The prices were quite good (55-piece domino set $8, humidor with leather tooling $35), and we found a beach bar near the market where a beer was $1.

They had 1 night where the show was fantastic; they had several costume changes and local singing and dancing, some said it was better than the Tropicana show in Havana.

Speaking of Havana, that is where we flew into, because there were not flights available into Varadero for our dates. That transfer was still included with the stay at Sandals, and the Sandals rep was right there at the gate with a sign to greet us. They brought us to a nice air-conditioned Mercedes taxi for the 2-hour journey. We were the only ones going to Havana on the return to Havana as well , and wanted to spend our last day before our flight that evening touring Havana; the hotel was kind enough to allow us to adjust our transfer to an earlier time and bring us to downtown Havana instead of the airport.

We found a great place for lunch there in Havana’s Chinatown called Lung Kong, you can get a massive grilled lobster there for $5.50.

We took a Coco Cab (little tuktuk-like thing) to tour us around Havana; the tour was good at $15/hour; however we were frustrated when our driver seemed to take us further and further away from town, and in spite of us telling here we had to get back, she wanted to stop at other places. Our ride that was supposed to last only an hour was stretched out to 2 hours, and she tried to charge us for 3 hours in the end! We ended up paying 20 pesos instead after a bit of an argument. In hindsight I suppose we could have been more insistent that we really wanted and were paying for 1 hour and that’s it; I suggest that you do the same. In spite of that we did see some great sights.

The taxi ride from downtown Havana to Havana airport was only $15.00, so it was well worth the side-trip with the hotel transfer.

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Aidan ~ UK

January 2005

To begin, after a long day’s travelling finally made it to Havana picked up a taxi outside the airport to the NH Parque Central taxi gave us a good tour on the way in of all the tourist sites worked out to be around 15pesos for the journey.

Amid all the ruins we were presently suprised to see the hotel which was magnificent with one of the bigger lobbies i’ve seen in 5* hotels, due to being on our honeymoon we were also given a bottle of 5 yr rum. This was to be our home for the next 6 nights. Visited all of the tourist sites and also walked around the not so nice parts of the city with likes of "open sewers" and dingy looking rooms that people live in, favourite part of Havana had to be around the Malecon looking out over the Florida Straights and knowing I could leave this place a fortnight later unlike so many other unfortunates.

The bar’s in the hotel were only outstanding between the lobby bar and the pool bar on the 9th level overlooking the city nice place to escape to with a book and nice cold beer after a long day’s walking. Breakfast was all you could eat buffet in the mediterranean restaurant food here was good by night but even nicer in the hotels own restaurant at the back of the lobby, we ate here most nights everthing from entrecote to salmon available here, ate out a couple of nights but food nothing to write home about.

But beware! lots & lots & lots of begging going on here, living in a city with a very big homeless problem i’m used to this! but not to the degree of havana couldn’t even stand on a street corner here and they were harrassing people to either buy something from them or to give them money Also whilst walking towards the malecon a Little toe rag stole a very special chain from my neck fortunate for me I wear other pieces of jewellery which were locked in my safe but this chain has always been around my neck. I’m not looking for sympathy! but just want to warn people of the dangers around them here. But on the other hand met another irish couple whilst we were in Varadero who spent 2 nights in Havana and loved it, may just be we spent too long there.

After 6 days in havana it was time to head to Varadero for another 10 days in Sandals Royal Hicacos which was paradise everything from the food in the buffet to the bar service in all the bars was excellent, the resort was very clean and the maid service was truly excellent needless to say left a generous tip for both the day/night maid(s).

Eat in all the speciality restaurants found Las Morlas (Fish) to be the best for service the waiter here seem to be falling over us for service anything we wanted all we had to do was ask food here was really good too. Also enjoyed very much the huge variety available in the buffet which was well beyond my expectations can’t see why people complain about this at all, as they seemed to have such a wide variety of food to suit every palate.

The one and only complaint I had was at the beach bar was the service around lunch time and in particular one member of staff who had no interest in serving unless being tipped! this person would swarm around certain people everyday who used to tip quite a lot. I’ve nothing against tipping as i’ve often done it myself but I also expect the same amount of service (esp. in sandals as we’ve paid enough for the holiday) regardless of whether i’m going to tip or not!

Other than this one exception I found the rest of the staff pure gems unable to help you enough especially Jose & Sandra in the Piano Bar whose service was second to none, also the staff in the lobby bar & the entertainment staff who worked night and day to keep guests entertained.

From previous reviews i’d heard of SRH I was a bit weary going at first but knew I was going to enjoy it either way but what we found was far from my wildest dreams, i’ve travelled quite a lot but was my first time in the carribbean and a sandals resort at that. Would I go back? No Doubt! Already planning next years trip.

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Lynn & Dan ~ Canada

January 2005

We stayed at Sandals Hicacos Jan. 15 – Jan. 22. This being our fourteenth all inclusive vacation we have many resorts to compare too. This was also our second visit to Varadero, and our fourth visit to Cuba. It was our first time staying at a Sandals Hotel and we were very excited to see what a "Sandals vacation" would be like. I have to say we were disappointed with quite a few things about the hotel. Not sure if it has to do with the Cuban economy, or if its the hotel management, but from what we have experienced it should be rated no more than a three or four star . There are some really amazing friendly staff at the resort. Cuban people are so very friendly, and very interesting to talk to. The resort itself is very nice with interesting bridges , walkways, and waterfalls. The rooms are also very nice, and the bathrooms have huge tubs. We were unfortunate to have been there when the temperate dropped to below 15 degrees celcius at night, and 20 during the day. It was because of this, we were told, that there was no hot water for some of the resort for 3 days,and the rest had only luke warm. Always travel with a few exta warm clothes (just in case). It was miserable for 4 days just trying to keep warm, and there are no warm clothes to buy. The resort does not have an emergency plan for bad weather. When we were huddled together trying make the most of the day it would of been lovely to have someone come around with hot drinks or snacks. Or to try to get people together with some entertainment, and try to cheer you up, or let you know whats available to do. The covered area around the lobby bar is not big enough to hold the amount of people that were there. And its the only place to congregate during the day.

The a la carte restaurants were fantastic. Service was amazing, the food great. The buffet restaurant was the opposite. Service was terrible, and the selection and quality of the food offered very disappointing. The breakfast buffet is usually the highlight of our day (what a great way to start a vacation day), and we actually skipped it altogether a few times. Remember this is in comparison to other resorts, including Cuban ones that are 4 anf 5 star. The beach bar and grill was also a sore point. Service was terrible and they were quite unorganized. You would wait 45 minutes to an hour for a sandwich. Only one cook on duty at any given time. If you want to order something to go, you could stand there and have no one pay any attention to you, then when you try to ask someone for help you are taken back by their attitude. They need a separate spot for "take out" thats clearly marked, an extra cook or two, and a beverage stand so people can get their own soft drinks (without bothering the busy staff). We really were pleased with the a la carte restaurants. The Caribe topped the list. We had lobster one night, made a comment on how great it was and would of loved more, and they suprised us with another round of lobster. Absolutely top notch service at this restaurant. They worked as a team and were very organized.

Another sore point was the amount of times the washrooms had no toilet paper. It can happen anywhere once or twice, but it was a regular occurance throughout the resort. At the pool there was a beach towel drop off right by the washroom. When I mentioned that once again there was no toilet paper, the employee already knew. She reached under the counter and handed me a roll to tear off what I needed. You would quite often find boxes of Sandals brand of kleenex on the floor of the stalls.

I think going into this with a high expectation, and the higher price tag to match, caused the bigger disappointment . They could learn some things from the Brisas Guardalavaca in Hougin. ( very user friendly hotel). Getting this resort at a half price sell off is still stretching it a bit. It certainly does have the capabilities, but it needs some definate refinement.

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Kevin & Sylvie ~ Canada

January 2005

My wife and I just returned from a week’s vacation at Sandals Royal Hicacos in Veradero, Cuba on January 17, 2005. This was our first trip to Cuba and first time at a Sandals after vacationing in many other Caribbean destinations.

We read many reviews after we booked the trip and became a little concerned at some of the negative reviews, but at the same time also realize some people are never happy.

Saying that, as a whole we very much enjoyed our stay……we are people that have high standards from everything including food, drink, service, room comfort, friendliness, beach, resort cleaniness, landscaping. Overall the Royal Hicacos fairs quite well, after all can anyone really expect any one place to excel in every and all these things. Keep in mind Cuba as a country does have some limitations.

The employees in general are quite pleasant and try to be helpfull, that said tipping definitely improves the attention to detail you might otherwise expect.

If we had to pick one negative thing it would be the sulphur odor that is present in many areas of the resort. The odor even managed to find its way into our room the first night of our stay waking us from a sound sleep at 2 a.m., no easy task after more than 20 hours of no sleep because of our flight time. The next morning we asked to switch rooms which was quickly accommodated for us and without fanfare. The remainder of our week we slept very well, the rooms by the way are awesome. Comfortable King size bed, double tub, seperate toilet area, hbo in room, good air conditioning, ceiling fan over the bed, large balcony with comfortable chairs ….by the way the pads on the chairs from the seperate living area fit&! nbsp; perfectly on the outside chairs. Sandals has signs scattered about the resort attempting to explain the sulphur odor naturally occurs and that they are attempting to save the planet…..but please we don’t buy it, there is no way this sulphur smell naturally exists…it comes from the waterways about the resort. We noticed some chlorine dispensers in the waterways in one of the out of the way sections but there was no chlorine in them and looked like there hadn’t been in some-time. About half way through the week of our stay they emptied part of the waterway up near the hotel entrance and were doing some type of work on it, a day or two later they finished and&nbs! p; smell of sulphur seemed to go away except on the pathway to the beach and beach grill..which thankfully wasn’t present in the beach bar or grill.

The mixed drinks were a little dissapointing as they didn’t use fresh fruit but I believe this is due to a lack of available fresh fruit in Cuba not a resort issue, other 5 star resorts in Cuba also don’t use fresh fruit in the drinks.

The buffet syle restaurant was quite good….we really are not sure what others are complaining about. The selection was great. The grill area off to the side always had something good for example: turkey, rib eye steaks, lamb, calamari, salmon, other fish. The bread station was great, a seperate salad area….and no shortage of sea food. We all know quantity isn’t everything but the quality was also quite good.

The best restaurant by far was El Caribe, The least favourable Don Pasquale (Italian)…we are sure the tomato sauce pasta was tomato soup.

The beach was awesome…..the water very clear…..no problem like many other resorts of people stealing your towels or chairs and/or having to get up at the crack of dawn for a spot.

The pool many people complain of being cold….we thought is was refreshing after all it is to cool off isn’t it ? Or and the foam pads which are fairly plentifull make for great extra padding on your chair when your not using it to float around in the pool.

The hot-tubs were always the same temperature as the pool except for the one near the towel hut for the last two days before we left.

All in all Sandals Royal Hicacos is a great resort…we highly recommend it !

If you have any questions email us we will happily respond..we will even send you some pictures if you wish. kevinsylvie@yahoo.ca

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Sandals Royal Hicacos – Varadero Nigel & Lulu ~ Spain

January 2005

We have just returned from 10 days at Sandals in Cuba, it was our first trip to Cuba and our second experience of Sandals. We wanted to go to Cuba for somewhere different and for my wife to swim with the dolphins on her birthday.

Prior to going and after booking we read all the reviews and were somewhat concerned at what we thought were predominantly poor reviews, so we arrived unsure as to what to expect.

I will say immediately we are a couple who enjoy high standards, good service and good food. Having said that I find it difficult to understand why there have been so many bad reviews of the Royal Hicacos, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and would recommend it to anyone.

You go knowing that Cuba is a Communist country and is off limits for any thing American ( some would say that is a good thing ! ) However it does mean certain things are not in plentiful supply ( e.g. potatoes ) and the staff are all Government employees and consequently are paid a pittance. Sandals at other resorts do not require tipping however in Cuba I would suggest it is essential. In general the staff are excellent and for people to complain about them I find amazing. However give them a tip or a gift ( crayons, pens, cosmetics etc. and the service becomes truly superb.

There is a predominance of Canadians at the resort, to them it is a cheap holiday ( the equivalent of Tenerife to Europeans) They fly in on their air miles for short stays, whereas for Europeans it is an expensive holiday usually longer stays.

As for advice, do upgrade to Concierge, it is worth it. You have no problem with restaurant bookings and no other problems as they sort everything out for you. The mini bars sound nice but really not required as drink is on tap everywhere.

The best restaurant by far is El Caribe. Ensure you get Diane and Pavel as your waiters, they are brilliant. A warm welcome every time you go and superb service. The beach bar is fine at night, surprisingly poorly supported whilst we were there, good food and great service, Harold the best waiter.

The Italian Don Pasquale isn`t really an Italian restaurant in European standards, little atmosphere average food and poor menu selection.

We only went to the fish restaurant Las Morlas once, not impressed.

The large self service was fine, typical of many hotel buffets but find the grill in the corner for some freshly cooked meat or fish. As for the excursions, swimming with the dolphins has not to be missed, my wife has been smiling ever since.

The catamaran trip to Cayo Blanco was marvellous. We had a great day for weather and it was a super days sailing topped off by eating a fresh lobster caught in front of our eyes cooked within 15 minutes, 8 euros for a big lobster, beat that !

You have to go to Havana just to experience what it used to be. A lot of it is now run down and is no advert for life under Fidel. Last but not least the beach is mind blowing, the best we have experienced, even though it was too cold to swim in the pool at the hotel it was wonderful in the sea.

Finally don’t be put off by the reviews ´castigating the place, we nearly were.I promise you, you will thoroughly enjoy the experience.

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