I’ve always had the travel bug, but unfortunately, I’ve also always had more time than money. Having a baby meant I’d soon have no time and even less money, but I hoped we could still find ways to get away, and include our daughter. The first few months were a real struggle for me, and I felt proud if I made it out of the house, never mind out of the country. But as my daughter became more settled, my confidence grew – and so did my desire to travel again. It was time to start planning our first family vacation.
I wasn’t fooling myself. I knew the time of hopping off of a ferry in Europe and seeing where the wind would take me was long gone. But the shoestring, backpacker existence no longer appealed anyway.
My husband and I both wanted to visit Cuba while Fidel Castro was still alive (Ed note: this is 10 years ago!) and felt it would be a great place to go with our daughter, who was then almost one. We heard that it was safe and clean and that Cubans love children. I researched a lot, and it was certainly daunting, but in those early days of parenthood, the thought of just a walk around the block was overwhelming, so I knew we could pull it off! All-inclusive resorts are the prevalent travel option in Cuba, and I wasn’t feeling adventurous or organized enough to find a casa particular – a private room in someone’s home. We booked with through a travel agent and flew by charter to Varadero.
Gone are the days of traveling light! Since I knew that–in Cuba–baby supplies would be few and far between, I packed a lot. In addition to our daily diapering, dressing, bath, and eating needs, I brought sun block, beach toys, crib sheets, baby pharmaceuticals, Megan’s special blanket, and wipes, wipes, and more wipes. I separated all this among our three bags in case one got lost. We also brought our 2nd car seat and our jogging stroller.
Our flight was on time, we checked the car seat with no problem (Ed note: rookie mistake) and gate-checked the stroller. The baby’s luggage would have been free, but since I had mixed it all up, our baggage was overweight and we had to pay a pretty big fee. Fortunately, on the way home, our bags were considerably lighter! Also, my 6’7” husband really suffered in the RIDICULOUSLY tight seats. Thankfully, the flight to Varadero from Toronto is only three hours. We noticed the panicked looks as our future seatmates approached, but luckily our daughter traveled well. She was happy to sit like a little sardine on my lap and investigate the many dollar store finds I had brought on board for her.
We stayed at the Barcelo Solymar, a large resort about a 10-minute walk from Varadero. The amenities suited our needs and we liked being close to town instead of out in resort-land. We paid extra for a two-level bungalow, which was handy for holding all of our stuff. The mini-fridge was stocked daily, and our housekeeper made sure we had extra water for the baby and beer for us, as we were pretty much held hostage in our room from 7:30 onwards every evening. It was lovely to relax on our balcony and sip a few drinks as the baby slept. Our requested crib was quite rickety and its replacement proved no better, so we shored it up and pushed our bed against it and the wall for extra security.
The food was actually pretty good for your typical buffet fare – we were always early so I guess it was fresh. There were also many options for our daughter. 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. Our servers were fantastic. They made such a huge fuss over the baby and she loved it – they also seemed amused instead of chagrined at her less-than-stellar table manners. I would be remiss if I didn’t personally mention Adyl and Marcel, they were wonderful. I had my misgivings, but all-inclusive really was an easy option for our first family vacation.
The beach in Varadero is renown, and now we know why. It’s big and clean, and we were lucky enough to have perfect weather. My husband and I have always loved the beach, but having the baby means we love it a little differently. Slathered in sunblock, hated hat tightly secured, she scooted about like a little sand crab. The water was only ankle deep for quite a ways out, making it very fun for splashing. It was so wonderful to witness our baby share our love for the sand and sea.
For our day trip to Havana we booked a taxi and driver through our tour rep. It was quite expensive, but we felt it was worth it. The car was a newer model with air conditioning, and we were able to install the car seat. The two-hour drive allowed us to enjoy the scenery – which was mostly just the ruggedly beautiful countryside. I can’t pretend to be schooled in the professed trammels of the Cuban people, but I can say that it was refreshing and somewhat inspiring to drive past billboards that proclaim “Tu ejemplo VIVE” (Your example LIVES) instead of constant advertising of ‘BUY THIS, BUY THAT, BUY BUY BUY’.
We chatted with our driver about Cuban life and traditions. He walked around with us and was agreeable when we wanted to venture away from the major tourist attractions.
Strolling through the streets of Havana again displayed to us the Cubans’ incredible love of children. Even the fellow jack-hammering the sidewalk stopped to fuss with our daughter. As enchanted as I was with Havana’s history and architecture, I was even more so with the people we met.
Many thought we were nuts for going on our first family vacation while our daughter was just a baby. Granted, the experience was very different from our previous travels, but totally worth it. We hadn’t spent that much time together since our daughter first came home from the hospital, and it was so special to have this experience as I neared the end of my maternity leave. I really fell in love with Cuba and the Cuban people, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.