We booked Playa Cayo Santa Maria for March Break, as we had read and heard many good reviews about the hotel. We had also heard that it was a quieter location than the hotels in Varadero. Needless to say, we were very impressed: The shuttle from the airport, which was on-time, easy to find, and the staff made sure all passengers were aboard before taking off to the various hotels. Some may complain about the bus trip to the hotel. Yes, it is an hour and a half, but you get to see places you wouldn't get to see otherwise in Cuba. All in all, it is an interesting bus ride, which takes you through a few towns and part of the city, Santa Clara. Most of the trip provides beautiful scenery: houses painted every colour of the rainbow; murals depicting the benefits of the revolution; and the general reality of Cuba, outside of the resorts. It's amazing how a short three-hour flight places a person in a completely different style of life. Besides, just grab a few beers at the airport, and enjoy them on the trip!
Getting to the hotel around 10PM, the check-in was a breeze. There were snacks, pastries and fruit on a table right by the check-in area, along with a welcoming drink. The room was ready, clean and welcoming, with towel-art swans on the bed. There was a flat-screen TV with several channels to meet one's need, but why watch TV when you have the Carribean Sea at your toes?
A/C was more than suffice, and the fridge was stocked. There is a 24-hour bar that also serves food day and night. Being a large resort, you did not feel overwhelmed and things were spaced / planned so that it is not a far walk from anywhere on the resort to the restaurants.
The beach is gorgeous. It is a short walk on a board-walk to the beach, where there are tons of places to sit either in the sun or in the shade. There are plenty of beach chairs that you can lay out in, however, to get a space under the palapas (shade), you need to get up early! The water is crystal-clear and absolutely refreshing.
The restaurant on the beach serves good food, including pizza and pasta made-to-order. The pizza and pasta is very good, as there are many Italian travellers to this resort. The star of the beach has to be the little bodega shack that has grilled ham and cheese, toasted tuna or hotdogs. The guy running it is awesome and prepares the food as though you were a guest in his home.
Food-wise, you won't go hungry! The buffet has tons of choice for all meals of the day. The staff is very helpful and kind, as long as you are respectful to them. Our favourite servers were Ernesto (very tall, gracious man!) who was there for the evenings, and his younger partner. Also, Omar at his pizza stand was a riot. Gretl in the mornings, who pours out the best glass of fresh orange juice you will get anywhere! was such a kind-hearted, warm person. The gardens were amazing - flowers everywhere and meticulously maintained by a great group of gardeners, who work hard and often unseen.
Breakfasts were great, with many egg-stations - it was their busiest time of year, and we hardly waited to get our omelettes. For lunch, the grilled meats were excellent, and were made-to-order.
The list could go on as to the great things about this resort, and the only real way to understand and appreciate how wonderful this place is is by going there to experience it yourself!