VARADERO, CUBA: PARADISUS VARADERO
Kristine & family (baby 16 mos.)
We spent 5-days at the Paradisus in early January. This was my first time staying at an all-inclusive and this resort has spoiled me… I don’t think I could go back to Varadero and stay anywhere else!
Unfortunately there was stormy weather that circled the island and only allowed us to swim in the ocean on the first & last days of our stay. All other days were “red flag” days, which meant gusty winds and lots of waves and no swimming allowed (although you could probably wade up to your knees and not get called back.) But on one day, the lifeguards would call in people who went in deeper than their shins (heavy undertow?) The wind was so constant that no one was swimming in the pools either. Since they don’t heat the pools the water was quite cold, even colder once you got out and the winds evaporated the water from your skin, you’d end up shivering.
POOL: That being said, the pool is fantastic, has to be the best one of the island! There are two shallow areas perfect for little ones to crawl around and splash. And it’s even more breathtaking at night.
STAFF: Traveling with the little guy made it easy to meet people, especially the staff who loved to play with our baby & make him laugh. We didn’t change money until half-way through our stay and we found that the staff was nice to us, whether we tipped them or not. All of the staff are very polite and will meet your eyes while giving you a sincere “Hola” whenever you see them on the paths or the grounds. I had brought half a suitcase with some extra clothes & toys to give out, but we had a hard time finding anyone to give it to. Those working at this resort are more well off than some of the lesser resorts, so you won’t find them asking you for things. I left the things I brought, on the coffee table in our room with a note to the maid to please share between herself and her coworkers.
FOOD: No one comes to Cuba expecting a gourmet culinary experience and if you do, then you’ve been led astray by your travel agent! With the exception of a few lunches or mid-afternoon snacks by the pool, we ate all 3 meals at the buffet restaurant. The selection is varied (sushi one night!) but don’t expect to see any typical Cuban food at the buffet We found this restaurant was the easiest venue with our baby and we could eat & serve ourselves at our own pace, based on the temperament of our son. Having eaten in the same place for a dozen or so meals, I saw that some of the hot items from lunch are the same ones at dinner. There is a grill that cooks to order (beef, pork, lamb, 2-3 kinds of white fish & squid) so for those worried about food prep or with sensitive stomachs, eat from this section frequently. The best meal at this restaurant is breakfast and my favourite dishes include fresh-squeezed guava juice, eggs & omelets made to order, churros and a mind-boggling array of sweet cakes & pastries. My favourite drink was ‘café con leche’ for those who like a hot, strong, dark full-bodied coffee then you will agree that it is fantastic! Here’s a tip, when you order ‘café con leche’ at breakfast, you’ll get lukewarm Nescafe (or equivalent) poured from a carafe, so if you want a real coffee at breakfast, order a cappuccino and when ordering, give your server a few coins to ensure that you’ll get your drinks back within a reasonable amount of time. Some recommend bringing travel coffee mugs for your drinks at the beach/poolside bar and I wholeheartedly agree! Their disposable cups only hold 200mL and you’ll be up and down for refills on your drinks. If you bring your own cups/mugs, you control the size of your drinks and the bartenders remember you more easily.
ROOMS: Our room was exactly as one of the ones pictured in the brochure, without the fabric canopy. In our spacious room, there was a sunken sitting area that opened to the (ground-floor balcony) with ceramic tile throughout the room. The buildings only hold 4 apartments per unit and we didn’t hear any of our neighbours unless they were coming down the tile stairs in high heels. TV reception is great! In addition to all of the channels in Spanish, the English channels included HBO, CNN, MTV2 and 2-3 channels in Chinese. The rooms were thoroughly cleaned every day and the only bug in the room was the fly that flew in when we had the balcony door open. We didn’t make any special requests beforehand, but maybe because we were traveling with the baby, our room was in one of the building units very close to the resort and we only had a 1-2 minute walk from our front door until we were poolside.
DOCTOR: My second to last day at the resort, I was feeling a bit ill (flu-like symptoms, without a fever) and made the decision to see the doctor onsite. The doctor’s office is at the gym/fitness centre and in addition to the doctor, there is also guy there who’s got some medical knowledge but I think his main purpose was to make sure that he translated my English and the doctor’s Spanish so that we all understood each other. I was prescribed an antibiotic, ibuprofen and a lozenge. The doctor’s fee was $25 (Cuban convertible peso) and the medications were $30 (including the cost of the pharmacy delivery.) The guy in the doctor’s office said he would deliver everything to my room in 30 minutes, but I had to pay in cash and couldn’t bill the room. Once he arrived, he had written down all the instructions in English and made sure that I was clear about everything before leaving. Afterwards, he had even walked around the resort for 30 minutes looking for us to make sure that I knew the lozenge was to be sucked and not swallowed whole like the other pills. The antibiotics worked fine and in 24 hrs I was feeling much better and in 48 hrs I was feeling normal again.
All in all, I loved this resort and only wished that the weather could’ve been better so that we could swim more.
VARADERO: PARADISUS VARADERO
Oonagh & family (baby 19mos)
The trek to the hotel from Varadero isn’t that bad – maybe 30mins or something. The bell boys are all over the luggage as soon as you get there. Check in was a breeze. There was only myself, my husband, our nanny and my son so no queues. They sat us down on a couch, welcomed us and gave us the low down on everything along with a glass of champers. Excellent touch. Then the bell boy took us and our luggage into his golf cart and whisked us to our apartment. We had an excellent room facing the beach (on the second floor). We tipped the guy a couple of pesos.
The room was a little dated but very big with a nice sitting area along with a balcony, tv, stocked fridge and decent bathroom.
Food was fantastic. Have to admit that I’m not a picky eater so I thought it was all good. The 4 restaurants are just great. Be sure to make those reservations as soon as you get there because they do turn folks away if they don’t have a reservation. I did ask why they did this since some of the restaurants were half empty when we were there, and they said that they only staff accordingly based on the reservations.
The general buffet restaurant (where you don’t need reservations) is good too. You’ll use that for breakfast, lunch and some dinners. The staff really look after you there.
Beach is beautiful and apparently by far the nicest in the area. Lots of free watersports and plenty of sunbeds. I thought the water was almost too warm!!!!
Pool is very big and has a decent shallow end for kids which was good for us. Again, tons of sunbeds all around the pool and plenty of shaded areas if you want it. Swim up bar is a must and we met lots of folks there.
There is a gym there but we didn’t use it. We did check it out and it appears basic but adequate. I think that you can also get massages there.
Lots of nice areas to walk around. Their gardens are really nice and well cared for.
For kids, there is a kids club and a babies club. We used the babies club and it was indoor and air conditioned which was good.
Alcohol is free and plentiful. There are bottles of champagne everywhere. There are bottles outside all of the restaurants when you are going for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The waitresses will just keep topping you up! Its wonderful.
Re the water, we always had bottled water in our fridge so we used that for brushing our teeth and drinking. I did have ice cubes in some of my drinks and I was fine for the week.
Downsides: The first one being the mosquitoes. We went to the Spanish restaurant (which is considered outdoor) on the second night and got eaten alive! A couple of tables just left, it was that bad. We had the spray on the table but it was brutal. My husband took our toddler back to the room and had the food delivered there. It’s such a shame as the food was amazing.
The only other downside which is minimal was the ants. Make sure you don’t have any crumbs or food on the floor in your room as they’ll find it and tell their friends. We just sprayed them and that was the end of it.
Regarding tipping, we did tip and I did bring little gifts for the maids.
One other thing that I did and this made a huge difference for us, was that I wrote to the hotel before we got there. I asked them if they could reserve a ‘nice’ room for us and I asked them to make our reservations for us for the 4 restaurants. Like I said, we got a great room and all of our reservations were made for us.
We did golf on one of the days. The golf course is pretty good and the green fees were free (if you stay at the Paradisus). We also went to Varadero. There isn’t much there so unless you want the usual tourist market stuff, I wouldn’t bother.