This time she is a toddler…
Way back pre-baby, when I was a certified travel snob, the idea of returning to the same place was unthinkable. Now that I’m a mommy, I want my getaways to be easy and uncomplicated – a vacation in the true sense of the word. We decided to return to Cuba almost a year to the date that we went last year, because we are confident that Cuba is safe and clean. The fact that our tot was treated like a rock star last year sealed the deal. Fortunately, since Cuba is such a large island, there is no need to stay in the exact same place. Our last trip was to Varadero, which is a large tourist area. This time we chose Jibacoa, which is practically in the middle of nowhere, while being almost exactly in the middle of Varadero and Havana. We loved the rugged and rural setting – it was kind of like being at the cottage, but in Cuba.
This time around, I thought I had it all figured out. After all, this would be our third trip as a family and we’d already been to Cuba. Certainly, it would be an easier holiday than our first, where I had lists posted all around the house for fear of forgetting something, and spent hours scouring the internet for tales of other families and how they coped. The overall experience was easier, but traveling with a toddler presents new challenges, and sometimes makes traveling with an infant seem like a piece of cake! Our daughter was excited about the prospect of going on an airplane, but after a 4-hour-delay at the airport, the novelty had worn off. We departed for Varadero at the time our daughter usually goes to bed, but needless to say the bedtime routine was a little different, and there was little sleep to be had!
Our departure flight was where karma bit me for being such a cheapskate. This was our last holiday before we had to pay for our daughter’s seat, and she squirmed and fussed up until 10 minutes before we landed, when she then fell asleep. At any given point during the flight, I would have gladly whipped out the plastic to pay extra. Thankfully the flight home wasn’t full, and it was a much better experience with her having a seat to herself. My usual arsenal of junk food and new dollar store toys did the trick.
After arriving at the airport, changing money, and getting us all installed in a (thankfully large) cab, we were finally on our way to the hotel at midnight. By quarter to one we were installed in our ‘Cuba house’, with ‘la nina’ asleep in her Cuban crib (very sturdy and brand new but wouldn’t pass Canadian safety standards) and us installed on the patio with cervezas. Due to our previous Cuban crib experience, we had brought our playpen. We didn’t need to set it up since our daughter’s head wouldn’t fit between the slats of the Cuban crib. A smaller baby’s might though – just a word of caution.
Jibacoa was just what the doctor ordered in terms of getting away from it all. It had been a tough year – going back to work and trying to find that elusive balance between work and family and time for yourself. I had envisioned an idyllic week of lazy days making sandcastles on the beach and long leisurely walks in the countryside. Our busy toddler had other ideas. By day three she was absolutely refusing to head down to the sand. We couldn’t figure out why until we realized that the pool is where the action is. Music, people, other kids – who wants to hang out with boring ol’ mom & dad when there is a pool full of other children’s toys?! Our one attempt at a lovely country walk was halted by a full-fledged tantrum. Since a happy baby means happy parents, we stuck to the pool for pretty much the whole week. Luckily the other toddlers there were happy to play and share, so all the buckets and shovels were used to make ‘soup’ at the pool, instead of ‘pies’ in the sand. When asked about her trip to Cuba, our daughter fondly remembers a little boy’s yellow bucket.
Feeding our daughter from the buffet wasn’t an issue but we did encounter difficulties due to the availability of food and spacing of mealtimes. Our hotel was a 3 star, and while we felt the food was of a superior quality to the 5 star we stayed at in Varadero, the access to it was much less. Thankfully I’d brought lots of snacks, but we were rationing favourites by the end of the week. Dinner didn’t start until 7, and lunch fell during her nap time. The rooms all had a mini-fridge, so that would hold all the plastic containers filled with our solo trips to the lunch buffet!
In spite of the close proximity, we decided to give Havana a miss this time around. Had we not been there before, we would have made the effort. It was just too easy to hang out and do nothing all day. The hotel gardens are beautiful and well-maintained, and it was great just to stroll around and admire the lovely flowers and try to spot the little lizards. All the hotel rooms are little bungalows, and we were quite amazed at how our daughter could pick out our little pink ‘Cuba house’. It rained on our last afternoon there, and it was only then we realized how valuable ‘kid’s club’ type activities could be. This hotel had none, and that’s partially why we chose it, but the converted travel snob in me now realizes the value in having these types of amenities. I know we’ll be spending lots of future family vacations in amusement parks and themed hotels, this time around we just wanted simple.
There’s still plenty more Cuba for us to experience, but I think we’ll try somewhere new for our next getaway. We’re a little tired of the all-inclusive option, and that’s really all there is there in beachfront accommodation. I do love the idea of staying in casa particulares (licensed rooms in people’s homes), but we’re tried and true beach people, and none are on the beach. We will definitely return to Cuba one day, but our next ‘travel with baby’ experience will involve a kitchenette and a supermarket!