This was our first time in Cuba so we wanted somewhere with a good reputation and close to the old town. This seemed to fit the bill.
Upon arrival, at night, we were met with the sight of the road completely dug up for the whole length of Calle Cuba with gaping chasms wider than a man's stride. So the first challenge was to negotiate this with all our luggage and no idea where we were! Despite there being staff at the door to the hotel it was not until we had reached them that any assistance was offered. These roadworks look to have been underway for some months and show no sign of progressing, during the four days of our stay we did not see any work being carried out.
At the entrance to the hotel we were met by two gentlemen, one in the uniform of the hotel and another in a suit. They were very pleasent, showed us where to book in and assisted us with our bags up to our room. At this point the besuited one demonstrated the in-room safe, showing how it operates simply by passing the room card over the sensor "no need for a PIN", he said!! Later, when we were returning to our hotel room for the night, the man in the suit was sat in a chair near our room and offered to sell us some cigars, he seemed mightily disappointed that I did not need to purchase cigars after a 20 hour day and an 8 hour flight. We did not see this guy for the rest of our stay, and I am certain that he was not a member of the hotel staff. The uniformed gentleman was a member of staff, as we saw him several times during our visit. I can only conclude that this was some kind of scam, perpretrated with the consent of at least some of the hotel staff and intended to relieve naive tourist of some, or all, of their cash and valuables.
In addition to the room card scam, the in-room safes are not fastened to anything, being held in place only by their power leads. I would advise anyone staying here to AVOID USING THESE SAFES.
The room itself was on the second floor and at the front of the hotel. It was very large, perhaps too large for the purpose, and had one king-sized double and a queen-sized single bed. There were some rather naff wardrobes and tables that looked completely out of place and a TV that just about displayed a variety of satellite channels. The decor was tatty and the once gleaming marble on the floors and walls was tired and dull. There were no facilities to make tea or coffee. The room was clean.
The on-suite bathroom was functional rather than fully-functioning. Again, everything was clean but too much just didn't work properly. The shower sent water everywhere, the basin taps too, the taps on the bidet were loose and incapable of being turned on and the loo seat was broken at the hinges. The bath had long since lost its shine and its enamelled surface was pitted and chipped. There were plenty of towels, which were fluffy.
Dominating the room were a hugh set of double shuttered french doors which led onto a small balcolny. The doors looked as if they might have been original, if not they were once a very good copy. However, years of abuse and lack of maintenance rendered these inoperable without a certain amount of "persuasion" and even when closed they were not watertight, which was a particular problem as we had 48 hours of torrential rain whilst we were there. Most of the time in the room was spent splashing around in our new en-suite paddling pool.
With the doors closed the room was very dark (there were no other windows); on the few occasions the doors were open we had a close encounter with the local Habaneros, whose own balcolnies were no more than a few yards across the street. These locals know the hotel is where the rich tourists stay and are very welcoming and always seemed happy to say "Hola". Of course there is a price to pay for such total immersion in the locality, one of these is the noise from the residents and the other is the inevitable request for clothes, shoes and cosmetics. This did not bother us, the noise stopped around midnight and we had taken gifts for just this purpose, but it might not be to everyone's taste.
The public parts of the hotel displayed the same lack of TLC that spoilt the room. What was once a magnificant merchants palace is now beginning to come apart at the seams. We saw collapsed ceilings, leaking roofs and broken steps. This place is built on a monumental scale but even the awe inspiring architecture could not distract from the little niggles everywhere. The hotel bar and restaurant were always deserted, the only time we saw other guests was at breakfast, and this lack of activity just adds to the feeling of forlorn resignation that pervades the whole place.
The food is awful. We had one meal, on the night we arrived, which not only confirmed our worst fears of Cuban cuisine but also our fears of Cuban rip-off merchants! We ordered one portion as we just needed a light meal before retiring after the long flight, we were served with two and before we could say anything the waitress shrugged her shoulders and said "sorry" before dumping both plates down and disappearing. Resistance was futile. The breakfasts were no better, consisting mainly of eggs several ways, all overdone. Fortunately, this experience meant things could only get better, and they did.
The staff give the impression that they are doing a job politely in the hope that they will get a good tip. They are polite, without being attentive, and they got a tip, but not a good one.
Talking of tips, do not change money here. I enquired about the exchange rate one day (which is not on display) and was quoted a rate 10% below that offered at the airport. There is a Cambio two blocks down Calle Cuba, go there instead and get a good deal.
This hotel was once magnificant and its location still is, but its best days are in the distant past. I'm happy to have been here, to have seen it and experienced Havana in this way, but I will not be coming back here.
- Also Known As:
- Palacio o`Farrill Hotel Havana
- Palacio o Farrill Havana