Well, we are back from two glorious weeks in Varadero! Back to the rain and grey skies and feeling a bit depressed, to say the least! This was my 2nd trip to Cuba but my first time there with my hubby and boy, was it wonderful!
I’ll try to keep the review short, but want to hit on some points that I know will be of interest to those of you who are still in the planning stages!
Despite some of the horror stories I had heard about Sunwing and my less than stellar experience with their “customer service department” our flying experience with them was amazing from start to finish. The check in counter, flight attendants and destination reps were all friendly and amazing at their jobs. I can’t remember the last time I had a complimentary hot towel service and a glass of wine with my “hot” meal on a charter flight. They even give out free headsets on the outbound flight!
The vegetarian meals were quite good and from the looks of what my fellow passengers were eating, it appeared that the veg meal was the better choice by far!
The Elite Plus option was great! I would definitely go with Elite plus again if I ever fly Sunwing. Preferred boarding, extra baggage allowance, lots of leg room (we had the exit row coming home) and luggage was the first to come out on the conveyor belt. Definitely worth the money IMO.
We had reason to cancel an excursion that we had booked and the destination rep was able to refund us half of our money. We were pretty amazed by that, since we had expected to not get anything back. I still have not seen the original charge nor the refund on my credit card statement, so I guess time will tell on that.
In a word, “WOW!” I will post a detailed review on the hotel, but in short, if you are considering this hotel, do not hesitate for a second! You will not be disappointed. Check in was quick and efficient, despite the fact that we arrived at 4am and there was only one desk clerk processing a number of guests checking in at the same time. My room request for a pool view away from the central atrium of the hotel was fulfilled and we were very happy with our 5th floor room.
I had read a lot of complaints about the slow elevators and I cannot really give an opinion on this, since we only ever took the elevator twice, once when we were loaded up with luggage at check in and again at check out. Other than that, we took the stairs. But as for the two or maybe three times we did use the elevators they were fine. Note to ladies using the elevators, pay attention to the length of your dresses and skirts. They are glass elevators, visible to everyone sitting in the bar.
Again, I will go into more detail in my hotel review, but the hotel had a beach bar (which we never really used) a pool bar, a piano bar and what we referred to as the lobby bar. They were all great places to hang out for a drink. Service was incredible at whichever spot you chose. Tipping was not expected, nor did it affect the level of service if you did not tip. We found the lobby bar to be a bit windy & cool, but every night there were different musicians performing there and then when they were done there was a piano player every night.
The piano bar was fairly close to our room and we got used to falling asleep to the sound of the piano every night. It was very relaxing. In fact, we found this hotel to be extremely quiet at night. After the entertainment (again, we didn’t really go and see any of the shows – maybe sat through half of the Cuban night – so we can’t really say much about that) but really, after the entertainment and the lobby bar closed up at midnight, it was super quiet. Some times you would hear the odd whoop from the 24hr. beach bar, but for the most part it was very peaceful and it was easy to leave the sliding doors open at night and hear the waves.
Buffet restaurants and the food (despite all the horrible things you hear about Cuban food) were actually really good. I am a picky vegetarian and was always able to find something to eat. By the end of two weeks, however, all inclusive food all does start to taste the same, regardless of how good it is. I was fighting a cold and was especially picky, but it was certainly no fault of the food nor the resort.
The manager is constantly combing the grounds, perusing the buffet and checking on every detail. He comes across as a formidable character at first, but his staff really do seem to respect him and once we finally had a conversation with him we found him to be extremely accommodating – just like the rest of his staff. A very pleasant man, who runs an amazing resort.
The beach at this hotel was breathtaking and we walked it many, many times. We did go into town one day specifically to walk along the beach out there and, in our opinion, the beach was much nicer in town. The sand was powdery white and the water is that gorgeous turquois blue green colour. The beach in town goes on forever and you could walk for hours in either direction. Unfortunately we only got out there the one time, but would have liked to have spent more time on the beach right in Varadero. Next time. A just a good excuse to go back. :-)
We did use the double decker buses a couple of times, but found that by the time they made all the stops and had crammed as many bodies onto the bus as possible it was a hot, lengthy and uncomfortable way to get into Varadero. Unless of course you were lucky enough to get a spot on the outside, top level of the bus. That was fun! Other than that, we opted for the little green train. You can’t miss it. It is the only green train going up and down the strip and for a cost of 4CUC return, you can ride it all day, just like the bus and it is much more enjoyable with fewer stops and less people. The train does not run as late as the bus, however. They quit between 4pm and 5pm each day. And we actually missed the last train back one day when they decided to quit early. So, we took an old convertible Cadillac back to the resort instead. Lots of fun and an opportunity for some great photos!
We had pre-booked an overnight trip to Havana through Jorge and let me just say that this guy is amazing! Any tour you book through Jorge, you will not be disappointed with. His driver showed up at our hotel right on time, took us on an interesting drive to Havana, where we met with Jorge and his tour guide at our hotel, the Inglaterra. From there we had a 4 hour walking tour of the city. In hind sight, that was maybe a bit much, kind of exhausting, but very informative and gave us a bit more confidence when negotiating our way around the city on our own the following day. Jorge had also arranged a dinner reservation for us at Vista Mar and had us picked up by another driver who escorted us in a gorgeous Belair (sorry I do not know the year) to the restaurant. Dinner and the view were incredible! We spent the next morning on our own, exploring Havana and having drinks on the roof top of Ambos Mundos Hotel and then we were picked up by the same driver as the first day and taken back to Varadero.
And yes, we did tip the driver and the tour guide. They were well deserved tips, in our opinion. Neither of them expected it and both of them did tell us they had already been paid for their services. We found this very refreshing, but tipped them just the same. They were all amazing and made our time in Havana that much more enjoyable.
The Inglaterra Hotel was a gem. A very old hotel in the heart of Havana. Our accomodations were basic in a windowless room, but we only slept there, so it was not big deal. We booked this room ourselves via Sunwing's website. Normally, Jorge would do this for you, but he could not get any availability to book and we wanted this particular hotel.
We took the catamaran trip to Cayo Blanco. It was a very enjoyable day trip that included snorkeling, lunch and free time on the island. We chose the option without the dolphin swim. It was a very enjoyable day, however we were a bit disappointed with Cayo Blanco. The beach itself was very small and other than lay around in the sun, there wasn’t much to do there. Still a very fun day where we met some great people!
We had also booked an overnight trip to Trinidad/Topes, but ended up cancelling that one last minute because that was the day I was starting to feel sick.
We purchased the VIP service at the VRA airport. I had used this service the last time I was in Cuba and found it very good. Last time I used it, we were met at the check in point and escorted by a lady in a green vest through the tax window and customs window as well as past the security line up. This time that was not the case at all. We did not see a green vested VIP rep. until we had passed through security. And then once we were in the VIP lounge the food and the service were terrible. Thank goodness we had our own powerbars and snacks! Now, this could have been due to the time of our departure, which was 4:30am. We wondered if it just wasn’t fully staffed or something at that time of day. Anyhow, now that we have negotiated our way through the exit process at VRA we probably would not waste the money on the VIP service again.
The airport was the only place in Cuba where we encountered less than friendly service providers. The Sunwing check in reps. were great. Very smiley and happy, even at 1:30 in the morning, but beyond that, wow! The customs agents and tax takers are very unpleasant. Again, maybe they were not happy about being at work in the middle of the night. And of course there was the less than stellar VIP staff. All of them, young girls who were more interested in chatting with each other than anything else.
The flight home was fine but exhausting due to the travel times. But once again, Sunwing service was exemplary. I did notice on the way home that there were a number of passengers who well exceeded the 5kg carry on limit. I mean some people had very large roll aboards that were obviously over weight. Just an observation I made, especially after being so careful myself not to exceed my baggage allowance and then also paid for Elite Plus for the privilege of extra weight coming home.
Oh, and as for the debate about whether Sunwing travelers from out west will have their hotel room ready either upon check in or check out. The answer to this is (in our case) was our room was most definitely ready when we arrived at 5am but would not have been available to us on our last day had we not emailed ahead of time and reserved it. At the Blau, a notice was posted that clearly stated “No Late Check Out Available Today”. That notice never came down the entire time we were there. So, we were very glad that we pre-reserved our room. The catch was we were supposed to pay the rack rate of 202 CUC. As crazy as it was, we were prepared to pay this rate to keep our room for those additional 12 hours. But my husband decided to ask the desk clerk what the difference was between that and the late check out rate – which was also clearly posted at 50CUC. They said as long as we vacated the room by 11pm they would only charge us the late check out rate. We were extremely pleased by their willingness to accommodate us on this request. I imagine they get numerous late check out requests every day! Oddly enough, we were the only people waiting for the transfer bus at the Blau that night.
I feel like I am forgetting a ton of stuff! But overall, our trip to Varadero was amazing! We would definitely go again and stay at the Blau – for sure! Perhaps not for 2 weeks though. That’s a bit too long in an all inclusive for us.
Anyhow, if you have any questions please let me know! I’d be happy to answer. Again, I’ll be posting a more detailed hotel review in a day or two!
Thanks to everyone on this forum who gave me advice and helpful info in the planning of our trip.