Travelled Jan 7th to 14th. Let me start by saying 2 things. First, we travel 3 times a year to this CSM, we have been previously to the Sol, Melia, Royalton and the Iberostar Ensenachos(3 times) so I am comparing oranges to oranges. In fact we took a tour of this resort while staying at the Royalton in Oct. 2013. Secondly be warned that this will be an extensive review, yet as brief as possible.
Flight 718 out of Toronto Jan 7th. leaving 10:00 am. instead of 8:30 due to delays and de-icing. Not the fault of the resort. Pilot tries to land at Santa Clara at 1:30 pm. Due to fog has to re route to Varadaro(no fault of Resort). Sit in plane for 2 hours while they decide what to do. De-plane at 4:00 to sit in Varadaro Airport (NO Vouchers). Sit in Airport until 7:00 pm. when they announce it is time to line up to go and pick up our luggage so that we may be bused to Cayo Santa Maria. After standing in line 40 minutes they lead us downstairs to the luggage carousels. Our luggage doesn't come off until 8:30, after sitting in the aiport for now 4 hours. Luggage comes off on 2 different carousels. Out to the bus for the 5 and a half hour ride to our resort. There was no mention by the Nolitours rep on our bus as to the time and date of our briefing and nothing in our envelope we rec'd at the hotel. The Nolitours rep gave a very quick speech to our bus group followed by a very quick departure and left us to our 6 hour trip to the resort! No working washroom on the bus so we stop at a Canteena with all the other buses. At least 30 minutes here while the drivers get something to eat and the passengers are able to use the washrooms. After reboarding the bus we now have a new driver but no tour representative. We finally cross the causeway and begin the final leg to our resort. Unfortunately the driver, who doesn't speak English, doesn't know where he is going. After pulling into the Las Dunas to ask for directions, I try to tell him not to turn into the Playa as I know where we should be going, unfortunately he stops and asks for directions again. In spite of my insistence we also turn into the Royalton for new directions. Once again he stops at the entrance to the Memories, when thankfully a man on the bus who speaks Spanish comes to the front and tells him that he will translate my directions for him. He finally goes forward and tells him how to get to our resort.
Now for the resort. By this time at 3:35 am we are at best more that 12 hours behind our scheduled arrival. It is dark, they give us an envelope, which contains, a map with our room keys
and number and a pamphlet giving details about various phone numbers, restaurant times etc. Now the map is the size of a cigarette package and reading it at 3:30 in the morning is difficult but they have no one who can direct us to our room. The bellboys are only there to deliver your luggage. I was told that our luggage would be sent to our room and could be expected in the next 10 to 15 minutes (this will be the asnswer you will so frequently receive when you question "How long") So off we go to the the 24hr. bar for a bite to eat. No menu, only french fries, so after a refreshment and plate of french fries we head off to our room, Villa 16 furthest from the front desk. Expecting our luggage to be in our room because it is now 40 minutes later, to our surprise we had no luggage. At 4:15 I return to the front lobby, to be informed that I neglected to tell them where our luggage was to be sent. Duh, my bad I guess. While waiting for our luggage my wife investigates the room. Very nice, just like one of the ones we were shown on our tour with Eric (manager of customer service). Second floor with their so called Oceanview. Air conditioning in room was very quiet and worked very efficiently. As we are
beach people my wife notices that there are no blue beach towels, which are supposed to be in our room. We are informed by the front desk after calling, that I should be able to pick them up at the front desk in the morning (later of course because it is now about 4:30 am). After going to breakfast the next day, upon arriving at the front desk a customer service rep. who disappears for 10 min. returns to tell me that I will have to speak to the chambermaid when she arrives at 9:00, who should have some. After waiting at the room for the 9:00 maid, who we can't find, we leave for the beach at 9:30. Luckily we found 2 lounge chairs. Being seasoned Cuban travellers we had our own small towels and Canjet blankets to put on our lounge chairs. Now for the good part. The Beach...it is beautiful!!!!! (trying to be positive here) as usual and as viewed on a previous tour. The water although wavy is warmer than it was in October (very nice). After our day at the beach I went to the front desk to inquire about beach towels. The lady at the front desk made note of our room number 1629 and said a bellboy would deliver them( maybe 10-15 minutes). I went to the bank to exchange money, only to find out that they had no money(this was repeated at least 8 times over the next few days). He suggested that I try the front desk as they sometimes have some they will exchange. Same story..no money try tomorrow. Now fortunately being return visitors I do have 40 pesos which I brought with me to purchase beer at the airport, snacks, etc. and of course tips for the staff who provide excellent service.We had no chance to exchange money at the Varadaro Airport as the Cadeca was closed. Next Day, after breakfast, still no towels at the front desk or in our room, they again make note and say that the towel lady will be at our villa at 9:00 am. My wife learns that the staff who set up the " a la cartes" do not set up until 11:00 although the front desk gives out conflicting information. 9:00 on tour rep side or 9:00 in front of general store. My wife sits at desk on tour rep. side at 10:00 where 2 employees are going over charts together and my wife asks if they are in charge of reservations. They tell her yes, but she must wait until 11:00. We wait and at 11:00 my wife is allowed 1 reservation. But, we are entitled to 4 altogether. She is informed that we will have to come back again tomorrow for our 3rd one and the day after for our last one. Somewhat upset, my wife decides to locate the Nolitours Representative at the hotel. Successfully we find her and she states that this is ridiculous that we should be able to get the remaining 3 all at once. She takes down our room number and tells us she will look after it. After one day has passed, we ask the Nolitours rep about our additional a la carte reservations wherein she advises us they were sent to our room. Advised her we had not received anything as yet...as a result we missed one of our dinners. The reservations were placed into an envelope by the rep and left at the front desk for a bell boy to deliver to our room...never delivered to our room! We were given a replacement by Eric the Manager of Customer Service with his apologies. Upon further questioning my wife discovers that we have missed our briefing and orientation. Since I have already fallen for the towel game once again, we head off to the beach for the day. Another beautiful day at the beach(still trying to be positive). We discovered completely by accident that they have a daily BBQ at the Ranchon. You can start getting into line before 12:30 if you go into the eastern side of the Ranchon. No matter whether you line up early, or later you are going to have to wait 30min. at least for something hot off the BBQ. But there is other food available in trays set up in the middle of both sides of the Ranchon. Unfortunately this food gets cold unless you attack the waiters and cooks as they refill and replenish the empty trays. We also later discovered they have a BBQ area on the western side of the Ranchon as well, but unfortunately they have not figured out how to BBQ in both areas on the same day. So you either line up on one side or the other but, you are still going to wait at least 30 minutes.
Now to make this novel a little more brief I will attempt to consolodate the remaining portions of this rant. Be prepared to wait in any of the buffet areas for at least 30min. in order to get anything hot off the grills. This includes your morning omlettes, eggs, etc. Also your evening buffets for beef, pork, chicken or various pastas cooked for you. While we were there a manager had a great idea. They actually opened both sides of the Restaurant for the morning crowd, as the resort began to increase to about 1300 guests. This did seem to reduce the line ups down to
about 20 minutes.
Now the " a la Cartes". Briefly the portions are small. The lobster is overcooked no matter which a la carte you dine in. They do not require males to wear long pants or collared shirts. Cut offs, muscle shirts, t shirts, sandals, flip flops, halter tops and hats are all acceptable, even though it states on the reservation that long pants and shirts are required and no sandals. Most of the a la cartes you can get in and out in an hour. Our last one took an hour and 40 minutes. We were fortunate that we had our water glass refilled once and they did provide us with 2 half glasses of white wine each. Now, I must admit that I did not try to flag the waiter down as I expect that to be their responsibility. They are terribly overworked and very frustrated.
We were without towels for 3 days until finally Eric, the Customer Service manager asked why I was at the front desk. I explained the towel situation and he got his assistant manager to go in the back area of the lobby and he returned promptly with 2 blue beach towels. Also at another time Eric went personally to one of the Restaurants to secure our 3rd. a la carte reservation as our reservations supposedly sent by the Nolitours Rep. never arrived at our room. We were promised a fourth reservation but, didn't want to waste anymore of his time. The so called towel lady never had any beach towels the 2 times we did ask when we were fortunate to locate her. Our chambermaid, a day after we finally got our beach towels, apologized for leaving 2 beach towels in the room in place of the normal white bath towels you are supposed to recieve daily, if you leave them on the floor. You don't get any other towels that are normally customary at all the other resorts.
I almost was able to get money exchanged at the front desk when once again the bank manager said he had no money and to try the front desk. I got behind one other gentleman and he exchanged $200cdn for 173 cuc. When it was my turn I asked her how many pesos would I get for $100 canadian she said (I know you won't believe this) I am sorry we are all out.(duh).
A few other comments from bank....check back in this afternoon...I came at 1:30 that day and he said try again at maybe 3:00, 4:00 or 5:00. Sorry my sign says I'm open but I have no money.
The front desk one time told me. Yes, we will have money some time later, right now we are in the process of counting it. She couldn't tell me when they would have it available(probably wanted to say 10-15 minutes).
In conclusion, this is my opinion, this resort is not able to handle adaquately more that 800 guests. They have no managerial skills. They have very poor communication from the managers to the staff. The staff at the front desk are rude, unapologetic and only say things that they hope make you go away. They will lie to your face, even one of the customer service reps accused me of giving him the wrong room number. He even insinuated that I had too much to drink as there was a beer bottle on the counter. He stated to me that he had spoke to me only 30 min previous to that yet I had spoken to him at 1:20 and when he waved me over to tell me that I had given him the wrong room number it was 3:50. Hmmm, not your average "customer is always right "
approach. My wife was about ready for a confrontation but she said "I think he probably needs a little more Customer Service Training". My wife gave the front reception a 1 star rating as there was a living, breathing, human there!
Even the bus tour reps do not have the proper training. The day we were to leave at 8:15 guests from one of the eastern provinces, who were supposed to be leaving for the Airport for their return to Montreal forced their way onto one of the Toronto bound buses at 8:15 even though they were not to leave until 8:45. It took at least 10-15 minutes to get them off the buses. Of course they remained blocking access to the buses for the Toronto bound guests. I was really relieved to finally leave this resort. They had no passenger lists that are present at all the
other resorts that we have been to. They don't know if you are to be on the bus at all. The Montreal guests had the same kind of boarding paper as we did. No one was checking names. We had to stop at the Iberostar to pick up a family, and the gentleman had to sit in the tour guides' chair while the tour guide sat on the floor for the trip to the Airport.
In summation, we had trouble with our room key requiring it to be reprogrammed, many others had to do it repeatedly. Of course the front desk personal tells you that you "must have placed it near your cell phone or camera.". Very, very rude comments and they never look you in the eye. Our safety deposit box stopped working on our last evening....we went to the customer service desk to report it because we wanted to go for our dinner....a technician was sent to our room by bike so we had to practically run back to our room 1629 (furthest from the lobby) to make sure we were there before him (we are in our '60's) because there was no cart to take us back! But I must say the tech was there shortly after we got there to fix the safety box...which was greatly appreciated. However...we still had to walk back to the lobby for our dinner...still issues on our last night at the resort! Many of the bartenders are incapable of recognizing an order of customers even if you frequently tip. I asked one, where should I line up, you have already served 4 customers who arrived after I did. No response except, "What do you want?"
Thankfully the plane was on time, but the comments heard on the plane were almost unbelievable. ie. I didn't have a fridge for 4 days, had to threaten to bring it to the front desk. We had a great meal but the taxi to Caibarien, cost us 50pesos. On the last evening one passenger explained that the bar service improved dramatically. One of the guests actually went behind the bar and told all the guests who would like beer to line up and he would serve them. This allowed the bartenders to provide quicker service to the non beer drinkers. Wow!!!! What a novel idea and the waiters actually thanked him. This same passenger claimed there were DNA stains on their sheets and they were not changed after his request for a few days.
As mentioned previously, we have been to quite a few resorts in this area and even the Sol which is the oldest, provide a higher level of food quality and selection. Warning, this resort, in my estimation, will not improve in the next few months. It is going to take a major change in Management, Food Preparation and Service, more thorough staff training and a new Bank. People shouldn't have to go to other resorts or the La Estrella to get money when the resort advertises a Bank on premise. This resort has bookings of up to 1600 guests weekly until April. You won't want to be there when all the Students, College Kids and Montreal tourists all arrive together during the various March Breaks. The resort will not be able to cope......can you say disaster!!!!!!
In closing, if you doubt this review or any information here, please read the daily reviews over the next 2 weeks as they are posted from Jan. 7th until Jan. 14th. WE SURVIVED ZEROSTARS.....hope you do if you have already booked. Also don't expect the front desk or customer service to answer their phone. Most of the time they are broken (Duh), best to speak to a living being. Wake up service, you get a call at 6:30 when you request 6:00. This could be horrendous if you have to leave on time. The bus could very easily depart without you (as mentioned previously they don't have passenger lists) and you would be stuck for the 60-70
peso trip by taxi to the airport.
Spend your hard earned money somewhere else!