This was our second trip to Cuba. This time we stayed at the Melia Las Dunas in Santa Maria for the last two weeks of January 2011. It is a very nice resort, clean and quiet, and generally much like other all-inclusive resorts. We especially liked the fact that there were two sides, one for family, and the other for adults. None of that loud, get-the-crowd-going music/karaoke nonsense, or kids screaming at the quieter, adult pool. There was lots of noise on the beach though, which was also very crowded. You couldn't walk ten feet without bumping into someone, for as far as the eye could see. Because so many people were at the beach though, the adult pool was relatively quiet and had lots of available loungers. But where, oh where, was the Cuban background music? Mostly all we heard were old eighties songs like Foreigner, and such.
Nice grounds, nice rooms, average food. We thought that the very bland food on our first trip was because the resort was very small and only a few stars, so we decided to give Cuba another try, this time at a better resort. No different. Still very bland. The a la Cartes were good, except for Los Siboneyes (Building #17). Our "medium" steak was like a hockey puck, and the lobster was dried out and tough. Some garlic butter might have helped, but, alas, we were in Cuba. We found that it was best to order any beef/steak rare to medium, which ended up being served just a little pink, and we weren't disappointed after that. The main buffet wasn't great, long line-ups and cold food, and we pretty much tried to go anywhere else. The breakfast buffet (Building 13c) beside the main buffet was pretty good for breakfast, although at both, when something ran out, it never seemed to get replenished, even though we asked. On two mornings, they ran out of white bread for toast before 9:00 a.m., and after waiting 15 minutes one morning for more bacon, we gave up, and ate our then cold breakfast without it. Watch out for dirty plates! At pretty much every meal, we had to pick through several in the stack before we found a clean one. A cappuccino or latte is about the closest thing you'll get to real coffee. No creamers in Cuba, only hot milk. The freshly squeezed orange juice was excellent, as were the smoothie stations! We usually had our lunch at Building #18, where we could make ourselves something that resembled a salad, and they cooked fish and pork chops or beef over a grill of hot coals. The evening entertainment was wonderful, the hot spot definitely being the Lobby Bar area.
Before leaving, we were asked to fill out a Customer Satisfaction Survey. Here are some of our disappointments and suggestions:
1. During our two week stay, we had to ask twice for toilet paper, as well as shampoo, kleenex, and soap, as the cleaning staff did not automatically replenish these items when our room was made up. They also did not always replenish our towel supply with the same number or size of towels. We had to ask for another bath mat when it was not replaced, and after that we made sure to fold it up and put it somewhere where it would not be taken away. Otherwise, our room was very nice, although we had two separately made up 3/4 size beds pushed together to make a King size.
2. There is a large language barrier at this resort. Over a two week period, we only ran across three employees who spoke a little English, and I mean, a little.
3. The glass coffee pot in our room was cracked, so we pulled the carafe out and turned it upside down beside the coffee machine, so that it would be noticed and replaced. The cleaning staff removed the entire machine. Two days later it still had not been replaced. We went to the front desk and asked for another and were told that it would be taken care of right away. Three days later we were still waiting and went to the front desk yet again to remind them. When we left, we still had not received a replacement.
4. Our towels were stolen from the pool area one morning and we reported it to Customer Service and filled out a security report. The girl at the desk said that new towels would cost us 8 pesos each. When we went to pay for our towels at check-out, the replacement cost per towel was 9.87 pesos each (equal to a total for the two of about $22.00 Canadian dollars).
5. We also had a travel cushion stolen off of our loungers five days after the towel incident while we were taking a quick dip in the pool some 15 feet away! We were away from our loungers for about two minutes. We did not notice it was gone until we packed up to go back to our room a few hours later.
6. The resort sprayed pesticide twice during our two week stay, both times blowing a huge white cloud all over resort guests who were walking to and from various areas in the resort. There was nowhere to escape from the smog, which left a sticky residue on our skin. The first time was at about 5:30 in the afternoon, and the second time was around 7:00 in the morning.
7. There was very little water pressure in the bathroom. It would routinely take about 20 minutes to half-fill the tub with only warm water, if we were lucky, but usually the water was just tepid. It also took about 20 minutes to drain the tub. The toilet had two flush choices, but even with the full flush, it usually took two flushes to freshen the toilet, and there was toilet paper left behind every time.
8. We were very surprised at the general lack of maintenance for a resort that is under five years old. The hot tub on the adult side was no longer working, most of the outdoor showers around the pool were in disrepair, we saw lots of broken light shades and burned out bulbs and even open junction boxes throughout the resort, and incredibly, several pieces of aluminum flashing hanging by a thread from the peak of one of the restaurant roofs, with a gaping hole through which we could see daylight! One little gust of wind, and poof, off comes someone's head! A lawsuit just waiting to happen!
9. We had a room on the ground floor with a patio door which opened onto a little terrace. On one occasion, we returned to our room after spending the day at the pool and found that the patio door was unlocked although we had made sure to lock it before we left. We assumed that the cleaning staff had opened it for some reason and forgotten to lock it afterward. We made yet another trip to the front desk. Luckily, nothing was missing.
10. The satellite signal for several television channels would go out of service several times a day "due to inactivity" and when we called to find out why this was happening, no-one seemed to be able to give us an explanation. Apparently, the TV remote in the rooms only controls the changing of channels, and the satellite itself is controlled by the resort. It was very annoying! We weren't able to press the menu button to view the TV program guide or to even find out the time. Bring a travel clock. Every time we wanted to know what time it was, we had to open the safe and turn on our cell phone.
11. The "Do Not Disturb" sign that you can hang on your door if you want to sleep in usually sits in the slot that controls the air conditioner, and if you take it out to hang it on the outside of your door, not only does the air conditioner shut off, but also all the power to your room shuts off as well! The air conditioner itself only seemed to have two settings, on and off. Whether we set the thermostat at 5 degrees, or 25, it was the same temperature, really cold. We ended up running it for maybe an hour before bed, and then turning it off completely. Even though we had turned it off when we went out for the day, when we returned to our room, the cleaning staff had turned it back on and set it at 5 degrees again. We used the big wool blanket in the closet several times during our stay.
12. On the second day we figured out that if you didn't tip the bartenders, you didn't get served, period. Pick your favourite bar, tip a peso (about $1.15 Canadian) every morning and you'll get fabulous service, and with a smile too! FYI: We were told by a tour guide that Cuban resort employees have to pool and share their tips, only after 35% of the total is subtracted and donated to Cancer.
13. Bring a drink dictionary with you. If you know the ingredients, the bartenders will make you a version of that special cocktail, but some don't even recognize the name of the drink that you ask for!
14. Take clothes that don't need ironing. We used the iron once and found that it was too lightweight and even on max, was not hot enough to do even half the job.
15. We specifically booked our vacation at a resort which offered sailing. When it came time to book our much anticipated sailing time, to our great disappointment, we were told that guests were only allowed to go out in the Hobie Cats for "rides". Hubby is highly qualified where sailboats are concerned, and had his Watercraft qualification paperwork on him, but they still wouldn't allow him to sail the boat himself, even if he was accompanied by a resort employee. We were told it is a "Cuba rule".
16. There are lots of pathways and you are provided with a map to help navigate the resort. By 6:00 p.m. in January, it's dark. Really dark. There are no overhead lanterns, only little footlights along the pathways about every 20-30 feet or so. We saw several clever people with little flashlights.
17. Evenings are cool - take something to throw over your shoulders. I had a sweater, and still wasn't warm enough - had to use the zip-out fleece liner from my winter jacket as well.
18. Watch out for those shuttle buses! They're great, if you can catch one, but they don't signal, honk, or slow down! A few didn't even have headlights on at night. And if you ride on one, hang on - tight!
19. Our check-out time was 5:50 a.m., and our bus was scheduled to leave at 6:50 a.m., before the breakfast buffet opened. Our flight was at 11:50 a.m. The bus ride was only an hour and ten minutes long. This Sunday morning departure happens week after week after week at the Resort. They really should make an effort to provide their departing guests with a proper breakfast, instead of little ham and cheese sandwiches, which we were all quite tired of by the time we left.
We rate this resort 3 1/2 stars, not 4 1/2. We'll go somewhere warm again next year, but not Cuba. Once was enough, twice wasn't a whole lot better.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.