I know that some of our readers "can't" go and spend money in Cuba. But I have to say it's wonderful.
Check out my trip report
** You can wait for the other part of the report or check it at http://my-tripss.blogspot.mx/**
Volaris is actually the 2nd biggest airline in Mexico; although it's a low cost airline, it's a premium low cost airline. Their service is great and they offer a lot of extras.
Check in was very quickly (3 mins) considering that it's high season. The bad part, was when I saw at the tvs and saw that the plane was going to depart 50 minutes late. And although we just arrived 40 minutes late, the good thing is that Volaris will refund you certain percentage of your ticket if they arrive 30 minutes or more late.
So I had the cheapest ticket, but I'm still going to get 50% of my ticket.
After arriving at the Cancun Airport, I picked my bags and went straight to the Cubana check in.
Something I did notice, was the quantity of tvs, games, that Cubans were taking in. One was even taking a tire!
The check in was ok, (15 mins) and we even asked why did they changed the aircraft and the guy told us that the other one (Yak40) was so old that was scary to fly in. The sad thing is that they couldn't change my ticket, so I actually went with option 1. I decided to pay about 360 USD to change my volaris ticket and stay about 30 hours in Cancun at the JW Marriott, using my Marriott points. So, I guess it wasn't all bad after all.
But now the bad part.. Again. There was another delay, my plane was delayed about 45 minutes, and 10 of those we were stocked in a bus.
The flight wasn't that bad. Cubana has reviews of having the worst service, but on board the crew was very nice and polite. And they even gave some Canadians candies and Cuban drinks. But something that impressed me was at the end, I believe it was the co captain, he passed to every seat offering candies. And I've never seen this in my entire life.
The arrival at Cuba wasn't that good. First we were 45 minutes at customs/immigration. Then we waited 20 minutes for our bags. Then I finally got out and met with our great taxi driver that Jorge organized for us. And although we planned before in changing the currency at the airport, the lines were so long (1 hour) that we decided to go to the airport.
The drive to the hotel was about 25 minutes long but it seemed that it took for ever.
But as soon as I arrived to the hotel, I knew it was a good option. Although I arrived at the old part and had a reservation there, I had already sent an email if a room at the new part was available and they replied with a yes. So I went through the underground "trail" and did the check in with a small problem. In Cuba it's very important to put the exact number or guests even for kids, but everything was solved.
Maybe my arrival wasn't that good, but I'm ready to have a great time.
This is probably the best hotel in all Havana. Cuban standards may not be that high but if this hotel was to be in a city in the US it will be a 4 star hotel. I will describe my visit in parts
Check in/Check Out
I stayed at the new hotel but arrived at the old part. When I arrived a a guy opened the door, and I asked him if I could change currency, but he thought I was not a guest so he just told me no in a very impolite way, then he saw my bag and he was just embarrassed.
Then I walked all the way through a tunnel to the other side of the hotel. The check in there was fast and so the check out.
4.5 points out of 5 points
I'm sure that the rooms at the new part are the only hotel rooms build in this century. The design is basic but modern and it offers all the necessities you need. It has a small hd tv with a working desk and a so so comfortable bed.
The things I did not liked was the small space to put our clothes and a very weird bathroom. The shower doesn't has a door and there is a window in front of the bed.
Another negative point was that all of the furniture, even the closets, were dirty. And the view was not great.
And a big hint: DON'T TAKE THE WATER FROM THE MINI BAR, just go out of the hotel take a right and cross the Paseo del Prado there is a small grocery store with bottle of waters for only 40 cents!
4.6 out of 5
In my own opinion, the location is great. It's just next to the Central Park/Capitolio and the Paseo del Prado, in conclusion, the hotel it's in a very nice zone. It's also blocks away from Obispo Street and the Plaza Vieja with the best coffe shop: Cafe Escorial.
5 out of 5
The hotel, at least the new part, offers free breakfast. The buffet basically has cereal, cheese and ham, rice with milk, juices, coffee, and a chef that can do you several types of eggs.
There is also an ice-cream "store" but they are not that good. The bar at the old part is great, specially in the afternoons where you can enjoy the live music
My only complaint was the the very short room service menu, they only have 3 salads and 2 snacks.
Both pools are nice. The one at the new part is more much calmer and slightly bigger. The other one it's a bit more crowded but offers great views of the Capitolio.
I did not used the business center, because this hotel is one of the very few hotels in all Havana to have wi fi. They will sell you an ETECSA wi fi card, ( 1 hour 8 CUC, 5 hours 35 CUC) but you can only use it at the lobby of the old hotel.
There are also computers for you to use but more expensive.
Service was great, Cuban people are very courteous and hard working people. I did not had any problem with any employee, from the porter to the front desk clerk to the waiter, they were all absolutely great.
My only small complaint was the impolite porter at the old section.
It was around 240 USD per night, a bit expensive, but this is because we were 3 people and in the reservation it was marked only 2, so make sure to book your reservation with the exact number of people to don't get higher prices.
All of the other "5 star hotels" will be cheaper but they will not be as nice as this one. The only rival is the Saratoga which is an old hotel, very very pretty but extremely expensive. The Nacional is a nice historic hotel but it's ... old.
The price for other things, except the mini bar, was appropriate. I think that the rate I paid was more than appropriate and after all, it is the best hotel in all Havana, even the Air France ladies and "hot" Virgin Atlantic ladies come here.
Overall.. A 5 star or a 4 star?
It depends.. If you are based on Cuban standards this will be a 5 star hotel right away. But if this hotel was to be in a US city, the new part would be a 4 star hotel and I'm pretty sure the old part too.
If you want the best hotel with with all the basics you need, great service and a good location then this the hotel.
Get a good cell phone package. If you
dont find a cheap one, you can get a cellphone (25 CUC) and rent a line (3 CUC per day) and you can receive calls for free (1.20 CUC to USA)
After waking up we headed to a Cadeca to change money and later we had breakfast at the hotel, which is included.
Then we met with Jorge and our tour guide at the lobby and started our first tour, a 4 hour walking tour in Old Havana.
Our tour guide, Alex knew everything and more, he explained a lot of the history, architecture and more things found in this region. What I liked more about the tour was the flexibility of the tour, you can choose were you want to go.
We had lunch at Jardin del Oriente, which is very good typical Cuban food, specially the ropa Vieja, for great prices (menu)
For the dessert, we headed to the Cafe Escorial at the Plaza Vieja (old plaza), and if you happen to come , you have to eat the small chocolate/coffee candies and of course a Cuban coffee.
We then went back to the hotel and rest.
After our free breakfast we started our 3 hours tour with Alex in a car. We were able to see all of the rest of Havana and places such as :Monumento a Jose Marti, Hotel Nacional, Vedado, 5th Avenue, Malecon and more.
We were able to learn a bit more about the daily Cuban life.
After the great tour we went back to the great restaurant Jardin del Oriente and walked around old Havana. We then had dinner at the Paladar Vista Mar in Miramar. Jorge organized this and took care of the transportation, a red old Buick convertible. And the restaurant was great but I wished I was there during the day to take advantage of the great views.
We started the day a bit late but after having breakfast we were off to see some of the tourist attractions we were missing.
Our first destination was the Rum Factory. We were told by Alex that the factory was working but he was wrong. The factory was closed because of the holidays but a small souvenir store, a rum shop and a cigar store were open.
We then went to a big market full of Cuban artwork and souvenirs at great prices, where we were asked by a very gentile old woman if we had any toothpaste or medicine, and indeed we did, so we told her to meet us outside the hotel in the afternoon.
For lunch we picked El Mercurio which is a pretty restaurant with good food but higher prices.
And after we headed to the "Camara Obscura" in which you see great views of all Havana.Later we rest and met with the old lady we went to "Fortaleza de San Carlos" to see the caņonazo. This typical event is a must. It is a representation of the old times and you can see it every day at 8:30. But be sure to arrive 45 minutes later, to see the "house" of the Che Guevara and the souvenir market and get a good place to watch the show. You can even pay 3 CUC to enter a "VIP" place where you can get drinks, snacks and a good view of the show.
But unfortunately we had dinner at the worst restaurant of the city: the Bodegon. It's also located in the Fortaleza but offers bad food, my lobster was rotten and the chef said it tasted good, and there was a small cockroach on the plate. So don't eat here.
Although we departed from Havana around 12:00 we still went to the "Museo de la Revolucion" and I was a bit disappointed. This is suppose to be the museum that shows all the good things from Cuba and should explain all the events during the Cuban Revolution pretty well, but it didn't. Although the building is very nice, it's just a collection of photographs and clothes from the revolution. The only information provided is about the photos or the clothes and it's not very clear. And their car/plane collection is nice but a bit small. But the best part were these images
After the museum, a taxi organized by Jorge took us to Varadero. Although Varadero is just 150 km away from Havana, it takes 2 hours to get there. The main reason is that the average speed is about 85 km/hr. And we were in a Hyundai Accent but we never went faster than 100km/hr (60 miles per hour). The highway is in very good conditions and the views are extraordinary.
We arrived at the Riu Varadero which is almost at the end of the strip around 2 pm.
We settled in our room few minutes later and went to have lunch at their buffet.
So because Varadero is like a Cuban Cancun, one of the must is to relax at the pool and at the beach. And that's what we did the whole afternoon. And of course like many All Included hotels in the world, they offered an entertainment show. Each night was different, and this one was a Cuban show. And although it did entertained us, it wasn't as great.
Let's put in simple words: It was a relaxing day.
Varadero is not like Cancun, there is not really a town. You can find a street full of cuban artwork and souvenirs but thats about it.
So the whole day we decided to relax by the pool and the small beach.
But because we are not big fans of the buffet we decided to have dinner at the Casa Nostra. Which is supposed to be the best restaurant in Varadero. It was good but I'm pretty sure there are better.
The only complaint about the hotel, is that it's at the very end of the Strip so a roundtrip taxi to the small town costs about 30 CUC roundtrip, and dinner was 25 CUC, for 3 people!
The Riu is a nice hotel, it's suppose to be like a 4 star hotel, but there are some stuff missing. My main reason of choosing the hotel was that the price was great comparing it to other 4 star hotels. And the facilities were totally new
So here is my review, already posted in TripAdvisor.com
This hotel is kind of a mix. Because its a new hotel their amenities are in very good but also the service sometimes is not that great.
Check in/Check out
Both of them took less than 3 minutes. At the check in, the lady just gave us the keys and a map of the city. It was after that our driver, that took us in a gold cart, explained us more about the resort. We were also offered drinks at the check in
4.5 out of 5 points
It disappointed me. The whole resorts is very nice and new but it seems that not a lot of effort was put into the rooms. They were 2 beds and a sofa bed which was hard as a rock. The tv does offer plenty of channels. There is also a mini bar which is stocked with free sodas, beers and bottles of water. The bathroom was ok, never had a problem with the hot water, but the toilet did not functioned and we had to call someone to fix it. So it does offers all the basics a hotel room needs but it's just very basic and they seem a bit old.
The only "mayor" problem was that 2 times a frog came into the room. Although the first time we handled it, the second time we had a bit of a problem and we were not going to sleep in a room were a frog was jumping around. (And if a frog was there, god know what else could be there). So we called for help and although we solved the problem, the guy laughed at us as we were exaggerating.
So just saying, a hotel which was built in 2009 and have "old" rooms, it's not the best thing
I give 3.9
Because its an All Included Hotel, the food quality isn't excellent but it is quite good. There is a general buffet restaurant and 5 more specialty restaurants. The buffet was almost the same every day, except for Christmas, and the food was good, but not the desserts. The breakfast was the same every day, which of you are planning to stay for more than 5 nights, it kind of s%cks. And for the Specialty restaurants... Well I was lucky enough to get a reservation for only 1. Because I stayed only 4 nights, and you have to make reservations one day before, there was nothing available. But the lady "got" us a place at the seafood restaurant which was very good, but Im sure the others are better.
So for being All Included, the food quality is good
I give 4.2 pts
This resort is big and it has a lot to offer. The main pool has activities the whole day long, which are kind of fun. There is also a bar and plenty of available chairs around the pool (not like in other reviews).
There is also a "relaxing" pool, which is more like a boring pool for older people. There is a kids club and tennis courts but we did not used them. The walk to the beach is long, at least from the rooms at the relaxing pool is about a 7 minutes walk! So ask for a room near the MAIN pool. The beach, although is nice, it's very small, not even 20 meters. All of the amenities are in very good shape and are examples of a 4 star hotel
It's bad. The hotel is located at the very end of the Strip, although its 1 mile away from the end point. If you want to go downtown, it will take you 15-20 minutes and it costs 15 CUC one way! I spent more on a taxi than on the restaurant. You can also take the red bus which stops outside the hotel and costs 5 CUc pp all day long. But you might end up waiting the bus up to 22 minutes.
Is it the worst location? No, but it's not a good one either.
Some people are very nice and helpful, but others are sleepy with an attitude of "do it yourself". For example, the waiters at the restaurants are very lazy, I even asked the chef if they had a cheesecake and his answer was : You can check over there, were the desserts are. But I actually asked him because there are no signs at the buffet. But most of the people are hardworking and have a good attitude.
Sorry frog, you can't come with us, we aint going to Miami
Cuba is not cheap, it's actually the most expensive island in the Caribbean, and Varadero is probably the most expensive city in Cuba. For my dates, all the hotels were very expensive. The Riu was at the same rates as some of other 3 star hotels. So what was my rate? 240 USD per night for 3 people, so it is a normal rate an actually good considering that it's a "4 star hotel" and everything is included. But I wouldn't stay here if it was more than 260 USD per night.
So for Cuba standards, this hotel was worth it.
The hotel is pretty and in good conditions. 80% of the time service was very good but there is still something missing so it can be a real 4 star hotel. But remember that is Cuba.
So because there is basically only 3 things to do in Varadero (chill at the pool, go to the "town, or book an activity) we decided to book an excursion with Sunwing.
We did the reservation with Sunwing, but I'm pretty sure any guest can book an expedition with them. From the 7-8 options we had, we chose the Catamaran Experience, which apparently, along with the Havana Tour, is the most popular excursion.
I've been to other catamarans but I kind of liked a bit more this catamaran than others.
All catamarans (the ship itself) are almost the same, they will offer snacks, music, a net were you can be, but what makes a catamaran different than the others, is where it stops (snorkel, etc..) and the service.
The service was ok/good, but the only "entertainment" they gave, which was basically put everyone to dance, was... just vulgar and not appropriate for well... everyone that is not horny or is not between the ages of 21-29 .
But I have to say that the rest of the trip was very good. We first stop and did some snorkel, but they did not had a lot of snorkel equipment and by the time we were on the water, they were already telling us to get out of the water.
The stop at the dolphinarium was awesome and we also had about 1 hour and a half to rest on a beautiful warm white beach, were we had a pretty good lunch.
The full trip ended at around 5:00 p.m. and it was pretty refreshing from being all day on a resort
Then we went and changed clothes (prepare) for the Christmas Eve dinner. Although it was on the buffet restaurant, they added some special stuff, like turkey and lobster. The dinner was fine but nothing special.
The only music there was, was a group of violins from 9:30 to 10:30 and after that there was nothing to do but to be on your room or at the lobby.
Day 3 in Varadero (Christmas Day!)
After a long night of sleep and our typical breakfast, we decided to start our day outside of the hotel.
Our original plan was to chill by the beach and then go to the small town, but it was raining! Although it wasn't that bad, it's not that comfortable being on the beach while raining.
This time, instead of taking a very expensive taxi, we took the typical double decker red bus which is only 5 CUC per person and you can use it the whole day.
We first stop at the only "Shopping Mall" the "Las Americas" Mall. Of course we knew this wasn't going to be the typical American mall, but there was just a supermarket, 3 clothing stores, a souvenir store and a coffee shop.
So unless you need some average clothes, do not come here.
Later we took the the bus to the 49th Street where you can find so many souvenirs, cuban music, artwork, etc.. But to be honest I thought the city would be bigger.
Then we went back to our hotel, had lunch and just about we were going to the beach (it wasn't raining) it started raining and temperature went down.
So we got some rest and packed the bags.
So as soon as we woke up, we went directly and had our final buffet breakfast!!. After we called for bell-boys to help us with our luggage and in less than 10 minutes they came in a golf-cart and took us to the lobby.
Check out was a breeze and then we waited for our driver. He was supposed to be at 9:00 but we didn't saw anyone until at 9:15 a young man approached to us and asked if we were the family going to Havana Airport.
This time it wasn't a Hyundai, it was a smaller one a Geely. This time the average speed was 100 km/hr but all of a sudden the AC stopped working. So there we were in a hot 25 C "humid" day with no AC.
We arrived at Havana about in just 1 hour and 25 minutes, and we still had 2 hours and 20 minutes for our obviously late flight so we decided to go to the Cafe Escorial to see if we could buy and take some of the delicious chocolates they offer.
But when we arrived there disappeared, no more chocolates .
So back to the car, the driver told us that the airport was about 15 minutes away but no, our flight was leaving in 2 hours and 10 minutes and there was a lot of traffic to the airport.
I know that it was probably not responsible for us to take a small detour but the good thing is that we mad it to the airport.
At the Cubana check-in counter we had a quite funny conversation with the old person doing the check in ago
Me: "Escuse me, can I take this Run bottle on-board"
Cubana agent: "I think so"
Me: "But are you sure"
Cubana agent: "Well, they even sell those near the gates, so I think you can bring them"
At this moment we knew he was lost
Me: "Well but that doesn't matter, if they sell rum after security or not"
Cubana "If they sell liquids after Security then why people can't bring them into the plane"
Me :"Because you can cause an explosion"
Ups, I probably said the word I shouldn't say at an airport but I did
Cubana agent "What? what kind of person would bring an explosive and kill himself"
Me: "Well.. many people but it's fine I'll not take it on-board. The thing is that in the U.S. and in Mexico they don't aloud this"
Cubana agent: "Why? I don't understand, do Mexicans do that only because they are near the U.S.?
Me: "Europeans airports also do it...."
So we just decided to put the Rum in my checked bag.
At Cuba, you have to pass through exit "customs" in which you have to pay 25 CUC per person. Then we had 1 full hour, well actually 2 hours because... surprise! our flight was delayed.
Near our gate there was only one "Duty Free" store, and 2 "cafeterias".
There is also a very small "VIP" lounge.
We finally took off and had a really bad flight and it was only 1 hour long.
First the crew was extremely rude and second... well it was just a bad flight but we got to Cancun pretty fast.
This was my first time arriving at Mexico from an international flight, at a different airport than Mexico City. I arrived at the international terminal which 99% it was full of Brits, Americans, Canadians, Cubans, Latin Americans, etc..
But there were very few Mexicans, so immigration just took 10 seconds. But guess what? I was coming from Cuba, and all bags coming from Cuba are opened and searched by the Mexican Navy. So we had to wait more than 1 hour.
1 hour delay
1 hour flight
1 hour of waiting for bags
What a trip!
Nice report, thanks for writing it! Not many reports from Cuba here!
So did the rum bottle survive the search by the Mexican Navy?
Haha, it did! I was surprised, because I've never heard of this as a regular thing. But they do it basically because the security in Cuba is awful. You can pass illegal items but apparently you can't pass a laptop without a permit.
This hotel is great and it's one of the best in Cancun. Right below I'll write my review in separate parts.
Check in/Check out
As soon as I arrived I was asked my last name and the whole check in process was a breeze. Just 2 minutes after I arrived I was already going to my room. The actual check out process was kind of slow because of all the people doing the same thing. But it did took 20 minutes for a bell boy to get to my room
4.6 points out of 5
Although the size is average, the room is beautiful. It might not have some details and extras as some of the others 5 star hotels around the world, but it's great. I was apparently upgraded to a room with a better view but I was just in high floor and the view was nice. The bed is really comfortable but the sofa bed is not great. The tv offers several channels but the movies on demand option did not worked. There is also a nice desk where you can connect your computer to the internet (16 USD per day, a bit expensive). The bathroom is just beautiful but the door has some glass so you can see from the outside everything that is inside.
The room is great but there is something missing from other 5 star hotels rooms
Service was always good sometimes even excellent, but in a 5 star hotel service needs to always be excellent. What I really appreciated is that whenever I went to the front desk or called them, or even sometimes when at the restaurant, is that I was addressed by my last name, and it is a big plus, specially because not a lot of hotels in Mexico do that. I never had any problem with any of the employee, they were all very courteous and provided me a very good service. The only 2 small complaints that I had were: Because I was during a very busy week (between Christmas and New Years) the hotel was almost full and the service at the bars at the pool was slow, it was just that there was only one person preparing 20 drinks at once.
The other complaint is that I did not received a turndown service and there was one, and just to remind everyone, this is a must for a 5 star hotel.
Oh and of course, that it took 20 minutes for a bellboy to get to my room
It's not the best but it's not bad. Although the Cancun Strip is extremely long most of the Shopping Malls, nightclubs and restaurants are between the 13th km and the 9th km. The hotel is located in the 14.5 km so is not that bad. If you are staying here is probably because you are not on a budget, so if you take a taxi from the hotel (only vans and Suburbans) it will cost about 100-150 pesos to that zone (for me as Mexican, that's very expensive), so if you want to save some bucks, just ...
Cancun is a great place but it doesn't really feels Mexican, which can be good or bad. Personally I think Cancun is much more American than Puerto Rico. It's very expensive, comparing it to other Mexican cities and everybody speaks english, use dollar, etc..
I've been to Cancun several times before, so this time apart from going to La Isla Shopping Mall, which is the best Shopping Mall in Cancun I spent the whole day relaxing at the beautiful white beach. After all the stress that CUBANA caused I was happy to be just sitting at the beach with a beautiful view.
Cancun v.s. Varadero?
Many people try to decide wether to go to Cancun or Varadero for Winter Break. Both of them have pros and cons. If you of course are the typically "business" pro-capitalism person you will prefer Cancun. The medium city in Mexico offers great beaches and endless options of lodging wether is All inclusive or not. You will also find many options for shopping, good restaurants and nightclubs.
In Varadero is very different. 99% of the hotels are all-inclusive, in my opinion their beaches weren't as I expected and although you might find several restaurants there are not a lot of options for Shopping or nightclubs. But it does offer a more relaxing experience. You will not find Americans everywhere which for some people can be good.
Really hope you enjoyed it and if you can ever go to Cuba go!
Americans should be able to go, and should remember that they can always go to Cancun and take a plane from there
There is no Cuba Stamp, and the you get the Visa at Cancun aIRPORT