VARADERO: BARCELO SOLYMAR
Harriet & Family
We spent Christmas and New Year at Barcelo Solymar and really wanted to put the record straight after some of the reviews we read on the Internet prior to going had left us not sure what to expect. This was not our original choice – we were moved by the holiday company due to the other one closing for refurbishment but we could not have been happier. The hotel had a really happy, friendly atmosphere and the service, quality and overall experience were top class
The bungalows were great. There are two rooms upstairs and a downstairs living area. It obviously makes it a little strange when you don’t know the people in the other room but if you are considerate then that shouldn’t make any difference or cause problems. It was really nice to have the downstairs area for playing games etc. especially when we had a couple of rainy days. The only slight negative about the room was the lack of drawer space so we had to keep a lot of stuff in the suit cases which meant the room could get a bit messy.
Our maid was lovely – really friendly and we loved coming back each day to see how she had arranged the towels. On her day off we noticed that the cleaning seemed a bit cursory so we appreciated her efforts even more after that. I gave her a bag of clothes that my toddler had finished with for her baby son and she was really happy.
The food was amazing – I cannot understand how anyone could complain. There was loads of choice – hot, cold, salad, pasta. The Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve dinners were nothing short of awesome. The waiters and waitresses were lovely – and you got to know your favourites who would then look for you when you came into the dining room and have your table set up for you and drinks poured before you even got near them. Other reviews mentioned food being cold – the trick is to queue for the freshly-cooked stuff first and then pick up the rest from the hotplates. There was always plenty of choice and so what if they serve green beans for breakfast (as another reviewer complained about) – either you don’t take them and have something else or give it a try. I had cabbage for breakfast one day! There was plenty of other ‘normal stuff’ to go along with it. And there were a few flies about – this is a tropical country after all. Flies get on food in England, too!
The entertainment staff were great – there was a fun range of activities for everyone. My son loved the mini-disco especially when Janet was running it. One of the girls from the miniclub babysat for us on New Years Eve and it only cost us 30 pesos.
The miniclub possibly needs to tighten up on some procedures like staff ratio as they only have one person in charge and there appears to be no limit on the number of children who can go. You just drop them off – no need to pre-book.
The Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve entertainment was really good and you could tell that a lot of effort had gone into it.
People in other reviews complained about slow service in the pool bars – you are on holiday for heaven’s sake – what’s the rush. If it’s that bad you can just go up to the bar and ask for a drink/order food anyway.
It was just a really nice atmosphere and there was more than enough to keep everyone occupied. Very few negatives – apart from minor things and the main thing is to go with an open attitude. If you don’t open up to the people you will get nothing back – nor should you. The Cubans are great people and when you think that they have very little but are working in this atmosphere of unlimited plenty, the fact that they are so friendly and do not have a huge chip on their shoulder is even more amazing.
I met some people from another hotel further up the peninsula – supposedly 5-star and very luxurious and when I told them about our food and entertainment they were really envious as theirs wasn’t half as good.
I am so glad we stayed here – I would definitely consider staying here again if we came back another time. If you are going with children, consider taking old clothes that they may not need again so you can give them to the local people as children’s clothes are very expensive for the average Cuban.
VARADERO, CUBA: BARCELO SOLYMAR
Corinne & family (baby 1yr)
We booked with Conquest Vacations through a travel agent, flew with Skyservice and stayed at the Barceló Solymar hotel in Varadero.
FLIGHTS: Both ways Skyservice was on time, friendly and helpful, the planes were new and clean, and the food was free and pretty decent. We checked the car seat with no problem and gate-checked the stroller. The drawbacks, however, were major. The baby’s luggage would have been free, but since I had mixed it all up, our luggage was overweight and we had to pay $200.00. Fortunately, on the way home, our bags were considerably lighter! Also, the seats are RIDICULOUSLY small and close together. My 6’7” husband really suffered. The flight is only 3 hours, but they were massively uncomfortable. Although I was impressed with the friendliness, cleanliness, and food, the luggage and seat issues mean that Skyservice is not an option for our future travels.
HOTEL & FOOD: The Barceló Solymar is a large resort about a 10-minute walk from the town of Varadero. It’s one main building with several small 2-level buildings spread throughout the grounds. There’s 2 pools, 6 restaurants/snack bars, 5 bars, and one long stretch of beautiful beach. that was ankle deep for quite a ways – perfect for a baby to crawl and splash in!!
We upgraded our room to a 2-level bungalow close to the smaller pool. The various shows and music by that pool were pretty loud but fortunately we were just far enough away for the noise not to be an issue. The downstairs had a ½ bath, living and dining area, and the upstairs was the main bath and sleeping area. The furnishings were dated and worn, but the room was clean and kept scrupulously so by our lovely maid. We tipped her daily with toiletries and supplies hard to come by in Cuba, and she kept our mini-fridge stocked with tons of bottled water, pop and beer – which we enjoyed on our balcony once baby was asleep! Our first crib was broken and so was our second, only less so. We managed to shore it up ourselves and slept with our bed pushed against it for extra security. The other families I talked to said their cribs were fine, so I guess we were just unlucky.
The food was actually pretty good for your typical buffet fare – we were always there early so I guess it was fresh. We didn’t try any of the à-la-carte restaurants since the earliest seating was 7pm and that’s too late for us (baby) to eat. There were high chairs available and our servers were fantastic. We tipped, so that may have helped our situation, but we sat at the same place for each meal and the servers would have everything ready for us. They made such a huge fuss over the baby and she loved it. Special thanks to Adyl and Marcel.
None of us had even a twinge of tourista. The baby always had bottled water but we often drank the restaurant/bar water and ice cubes in our drinks. The water in the room is fine for brushing your teeth and bathing. Unfortunately, our daughter likes to drink her bath water, and managed to sneak a few gulps through the week. Thankfully, she had no problems.
BEACH & POOLS: The beach is big and clean. The water is ankle deep for quite a ways – perfect for a baby to crawl and splash in!! There are lots of palapas for shade, and I brought along a beach blanket which she actually napped on a few times. The big pool has a large super-shallow bit that is great for babies, but the water was a little cool. In fact, both pools were on the chilly side. They were fun for splashing.
MINI CLUB/BABY CLUB: We didn’t use the mini-club so I can’t really comment on it. We noticed a small air-conditioned building, and there were swing-sets and a small slide outside. The problem I could see was that the outdoor equipment wasn’t shaded, so you’d have to use it either early in the morning or later in the evening. It looked well-maintained, however.
DAY TRIPS: Since baby had a hard time napping, we often went for walks into town. It’s very safe and clean, and there’s a lovely little park that’s quite shady and nice to stroll through.
We went to Havana for the day and it was incredible. We booked a taxi & driver through Armando, the very helpful Conquest rep. at the hotel. It was a lot more expensive than the public bus, a bus tour or a private car (illegal), but with the baby we felt it was worth it. We had a newer car with air conditioning and were able to install the car seat. I highly recommend the extra expense for peace of mind in driving around with baby. Maroldi, our driver, was wonderful – very friendly. He walked around with us and was cool when we wanted to venture away from the major tourist attractions.
By the way, Havana is magical, and we hope to go back for the weekend one day, (sans baby!), perhaps for a future anniversary
OVERALL: A lot of people thought we were nuts for taking the baby on vacation. Granted, it was different than our previous beach holidays, but totally worth it. We hadn’t spent that much time together since baby first came home from the hospital, and it was really special to have this experience as I neared the end of my Mat. leave. I really fell in love with Cuba and the Cuban people, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for a family vacation.