I am a 28 year old recent grad from Toronto, Canada and stayed in Iberostar Laguna Azul from January 25 to January 29, 2010 with my significant other. It was my first time to Cuba. With respect to all-inclusive vacations, I have been to Mexico (Cancun/Riviera Maya) three times and had some of the most fabulous times in my life. I have also been to Dominican Republic (Puerto Plata) and El Salvador.
Based on reviews here and what I have heard, I was reluctant to go to Cuba. But with tight budget and limited schedule (work and church), I was left with Varadero (Cuba) and Orlando (USA). Since the weather forecast indicated rather chilly one in Orlando, we decided to adventure and chose Cuba. Within hotels in Varadero, I was struggling with my own cost/benefit analysis and narrowed the hotels into the following ones: Blau Varadero, Iberostar Laguna Azul, Paradisus Princess Del Mar, and Breezes Bella Costa (all ranked pretty high on Trip Advisor).
I have mentioned in my past review on Valentin Imperial Maya (in Riviera Maya, Mexico) that I got to see Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso as the hotel transfer bus first went into the hotel. The “WOW” impression I got from seeing such a beautiful property (one of the highest ratings on Trip Advisor in the region) could not be forgotten for the rest of my life. That impression along with decent to excellent reviews on Trip Advisor led me to try the Iberostar chain.
Although we had a fabulous time there, it is unlikely that I would be returning to Cuba any time soon. That being said, I would love to try another Iberostar hotels in regions other than Cuba.
- The road from Varadero airport to the hotel had one lane on each side and was pretty narrow. The disclosure on the web states that it is supposed to take about 30 minutes from the airport. But it took more than an hour to get to the resort. The ride was pretty comfortable. However, since Iberostar Laguna Azul is located at the farthest end of the Varadero peninsula, the drop-off would happen at the very last. Almost all Canadian guests that were in the same airplane must have been hungry and were seen at the buffet restaurant soon after check-in.
- If you are going to Iberostar Laguna Azul, you will notice that this hotel is the only one that looks spectacular from outside (and pretty good even from inside). All other hotels on the way do not look like a place I wanted to stay (with minor exception for Blau Varadero). I cannot say anything about Paradisus Princess Del Mar since you don’t get to see that hotel on the way. (One reviewer who stayed at the Paradisus stated that he found Iberostar Laguna Azul to be the only hotel, other than Paradisus, that looked like a 4 star (or higher) property when he looked around the entire peninsula.)
- We got during lunch time; and it actually took about an hour to check in. The reception (check-in) staffs were basically explaining the same thing over and over for each party. Instead, they could have provided an orientation to all the people who got off the coach bus to save time.
- Yes, the welcome drink was provided (I don’t really care about welcome drink; but people seemed thirsty).
- The front desk never asked me for a credit card or cash deposit for incidentals (which was nice).
- None of the hotel rooms or junior suites seemed to have a genuine ocean view. There were pool view (most people wanted this), tennis court/night club view (we moved to this section, most rooms are empty since it can get loud at night time due to shows and club music afterwards; but it gets quieter after the night club closes), garden view, etc. Be careful! This tennis court/night club view rooms can have lots of mosquitos and other bugs. When we swtiched rooms to this section, the front desk staff gave me an impression that I may not like the rooms in that section. I noticed that there weren't many people in this section.
- Balcony (private) was adequate with two chairs and a table with an ashtray; but quite a few mosquitoes are waiting for your outdoor at night time. I was not bitten at all during my entire stay; but there must have been some people (including my significant other) whose bloods were found to be quite tasty for the mosquitoes.
- The hotel rooms mostly have two single beds. Make sure you request that you are put on a list to be switched to a room with one king bed. I was told to come back next morning only to find out that I was not on the list. Later that day, I was told that I can move to a room with a king bed. But we changed our minds since my significant other complained that I snore too loud. (Oops!)
- Mini-bar (inside the closet underneath the television) was stocked with 3 bottles of soft drinks (one each of Coke equivalent, Sprite equivalent, and soda water) and 4 cans of beers (Cristal at 4.9% alc. and Bucanero at 5.4% alc.). The hotel brochure indicates that the mini-bar is stocked every other day. Since we switched room after one day and only stayed for 3 nights, I cannot comment on whether the restocking is taking place as promised.
- Maid service was really good. Our room was cleaned thoroughly – the floor, the washroom, the bed. Although we brought tissues, the room already had tissues.
- The shower hose (made of stainless steel) started leaking at night. As other reviewers said, problems occur quite frequently (with lack of technology in Cuba I suppose). But it took less than 10 minutes for the repair guy to show up and less than 10 minutes to replace the hose.
- Our first room had few stains on couch and leg resting piece. So we switched rooms anyways (from two single beds to two single beds again but different building). The front desk gave me keys for me to check it out first before moving in. I eventually saw about 3-4 rooms and realized that although the furniture and the layout of the rooms are almost identical, certain things were missing in every room. So I chose the room with the most amenities already stocked; and then I moved ones we already had in our previous room into the new room. Yes, I carried a chair, tissues, etc. I was offered over the phone that a bellboy would come to help us; but we just did the job on our own (I didn’t want to wait for them to come and I needed some exercise).
- Other reviewers have commented that the food here was actually quite good. In Cuban standard, I believe that the food was good. In North American standard and for those who have been to top resorts in Mexico, the food would likely be acceptable to good. It can depend on your expectation as well.
Seafood selection was pretty good. On our last day, the buffet had grilled shrimps (unpeeled), which were really tasty. Other days were good; but not as good as the last day of our stay. (Buffet – Seafood: 4/5)
Instant cooking stations were really nice. They had pork, beef, fish, etc. I noticed that the lack of seasoning was covered by excessive use of sea salt. (Buffet - Instant Cooking Station: 4.5/5)
Their pizza (thin), as other reviewers have noted, was excellent. But the seafood pizza I had in Mexico was much better. It seemed to lack variety of seafood choices and seasonings which are not available in Cuba. (Buffet - Pizza: 4/5)
- Labels are missing for most foods. Since I can eat almost anything, it was not a problem. But many people asked me what I was eating as I only figured out what it was after I ate it (them).
- Fruit selection/quality was very poor. They offered pineapples, grapefruit, mango, banana, and one or two other fruit I cannot recall (likely cantaloupes or honey dews or oranges). Pineapples were uneatable (sour) and that also affects the taste of cocktails served at bars. Bananas and grapefruit were the only fruit that was okay. (Fruits: 1/5)
- Deserts (sweets) were pretty good. But they all taste alike. (Desserts/bakeries: 3/5)
- We only tried the Cuban a-la-carte and the food was really good; I had the lobster and my significant other had the Halibut. But the service was terrible. The server didn’t say a word to us, kept us waiting and waiting. He also forgot to bring the soup; and no one offered to pour wine in our glasses. I complained to the manager in charge. And another server did his best to rectify the issue. They have a list of wines (5 as a part of all-inclusive and many others for sale). But no servers or even the manager in charge knew that they had such list. When they finally found the list, they did not have wines for sale in stock anyways. (Cuban A-la-carte - Food: 5/5, Service: 2/5)
- Drinks were quite strong (not watered down) and bartenders were working very hard. I tend to tip aggresively when I get more and more drunk. (Drinks other than cocktails or wines: 4/5, Bartender service: 4/5)
- More expensive drinks were hidden and I had to specifically ask for them. For example, there were if you simply ask for Tequila, you will be served
- They had Spanish wines that was disappointing. All the wines they had were cheap ones from Spain. I love wines and none of the 5 choices were acceptable to me. I still ended up getting wine by the glasses since I figured it wouldn't be worth purchasing one either. (Wines: 2.5/5)
- They have a wine list in every restaurant (Buffet or A-la-carte); but most servers did not seem to know (or maybe they didn't understand the word 'Wine List' in English). They have about 5 wines (all from Spain) as a part of the all-inclusive and lots more that was about CDN $15 and up.
- Cocktails were of low quality often times and the mix wasn't alwasy optimal. As I mentioned about the pineapples they have and how sour they are, cocktails are also affected. (Cocktails: 2.5/5)
- Very well kept and clean. The property is beautiful as in other Iberostar hotels around the world.
- Adequate in size (all the facilities are pretty close while not condensed either).
- The ocean was not crystal clear and the colour was darker than I thought. I was expecting crystal clear water with emerald colour. I spoke to the other guest (who was travelling to Varadero for the first time like us) and she agreed. She said that it might be the strong wind that is causing the ocean to be dark.
- When we went to the beach near Hoteur Sunbeach where the flea market is located, the beach looked a little more beautiful than the one in front of Iberostar Laguna Azul. I've known this prior to going there as I read in one of the other reviews.
It was clean but pretty cold. I was in there just once. There were lots of chair in the pool area; but it can get quite crowded. The human-made waterfalls (which are at almost every Iberostar hotels) and the jacuzzi on top of the stairs looked fabulous.
Facilities / Activities / Night entertainment:
- There were quite a bit of activities; but I cannot comment on it since I didn't participate.
- There is one ping-pong table next to the towel services.
- There is one pool table (billiard) indoor.
- Live piano music in the lobby bar. I am pretty sure it was at least once a day.
- I played tennis couple of times. They have a coach on site who kindly allowed me to practice prior to playing doubles. There are two tennis courts with one that can also be used as a basketball court. The rental racquets were okay. The tennis balls were pretty good. But it was too windy to have a good tennis match. These Spanish speaking guests (Chilean, Argentinian, etc) were pretty good tennis players. The tennis court at Riviera Maya, Mexico at a 5-star resort was much better compared to the one at Iberostar Laguna Azul. (Tennis: 4/5)
- The night club (disco) was fantastic. My significant other really liked the state-of-the-art ligting system and the atmosphere (music, physical layout). Drinks were served quickly and there were plenty of couches available to enjoy the drinks while sitting down. The music in the ealier time caters for older people and it gets better as the night goes catering for younger people. I spent lots of money requesting particular songs. You can do that by going upstairs and tipping the DJ. (Night Club: 5/5)
- I really wanted to go to La Comparsita and/or La Rumba (two of the top clubs in Varadero); but failed to do so after realizing it would cost us so much to ride a taxi ride back and forth.
- Many Canadians that go to Cuba posted their stories on bringing basic necessities to Cuba as a gift for Cuban people outside the resort or as a gratuity for hotel staff as an appreciation for the good service. So I bought items listed on Trip Advisor (toothpaste, bandages, soap, toothbrush, lotion, shampoo, candles, etc.). And I somewhat regret doing so. Firstly, it is awkward to be carrying these items to tip servers and bartenders. Secondly, it works better at other resorts of lower quality. Thirdly, it may give an impression that Cuban people are poor. They may look poor; but the numbers ($1 or whatever amount people earn daily) don't tell you everything.
- So if you want to bring gifts, bring ones to give to children near school and to the maid. For most resort staffs (and for being at an elegant looking hotel), tips in Cuban pesos or Canadian bills (or coins -_-) would suit better in my opinion.
Tours / Car (Scooter) Rental / Transportation:
- Since it was a short stay, we did not do any tours.
- Car rental is extremely expensive in Varadero. I asked the rental office in front of Iberostar Laguna Azul and also ventured to ask when we went near the flea market. I wanted to drive around. But at around CDN$200 per day, it was not happening.
- Scooter rental was available at a reasonable price compared to others options (still looked expensive to me); but, with the aforementioned narrow roads and the distance from the hotel located at the farthest end, driving scooter from the hotel seemed quite dangerous. And I did not see any one renting a car. However, there were many tourists staying in hotels close to downtown that rented scooters.
- There were double-decker buses available near the entrance of the hotel at 5 CUCs per person which included unlimited transportation (round trip) for the day I believe. However, the bus only came once an hour and at a Cuban time (meaning plus/minus 45 minute flexibility). So we shared a taxi with another couple at 10 CUCs one way (5 CUCs for each couple).
- The double-decker bus does not operate after certain time (I think it was around 8 or 9 pm). And we wanted to check out the nightclubs (La Rumba and/or La Comparsita). So we were stuck with only one option – taxi. There were many people who asked the reception (front-desk) to call a taxi. It is nearly impossible to catch one on the street (they don’t wander around at night time). There were plenty of taxis that came since many guests asked for a taxi. However, the price quoted was very high. So we walked away (based on my experience in Mexico). But there were always other people waiting for a taxi and most of them were willing to pay something like 20 CUCs one way. So we lost the negotiating grounds; decided to stick to the disco at the hotel (which was fabulous anyways).
- The airport is pretty small and people smoke everywhere in the waiting area. The ventilation system is almost non-existent. Even as a smoker, it was unpleasant.
- There are shops prior to security check-point. My significant other bought some souvenirs at those shops. In the waiting area after the security check-point, there were 4-5 shops I believe that sold liquors, tobaccos, and cigars (of course). They accepted VISA and Mastercard (not issued by banks that are American subsidiary), which is rare in Cuba, and I was charged in American dollar. I bought a carton of ‘Hollywood’ Blue (Light) – American Blend (Cuban brand though, not American). They are merely acceptable (I still have three packs to go since I only smoked these when I ran out of other American/Canadian brands). I understood why people were purchasing ciagarettes from Canadian duty free shops. Alternatively, our Sunwing flight carried limited quantities of Marlboro (Light & Red) for CDN$39 per carton. It seems though that these Marlboros are not from the U.S. but from the Central America or the Caribbean region (I purchased one from El Salvador at a very low price and saw some minor differences compared to the ones sold in the U.S.).
I got a better understanding why many reviewers who had experienced top resorts in Mexico expressed varying degree of disappointment. Despite the fact that Cuba is different and being well informed of such (and lowering my standards), I really began to miss Cancun/Riviera Maya region in Mexico. Yes, the price was right; being on a long-waited vacation with my significant other was great; and getting drunk and dancing the night away at the disco was unforgettable. But, I am not sure if Cuba would be on my top priority list in the near future.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Located on a beautiful stretch of Varadero's Beach. Approximately 160 km from Havana and 20 min. from downtown Varadero. 814 rooms allocated in different buildings, 24 are suites and 8 are for handicapped. Reception 24 hrs. open, currency exchange, internet 24 hrs. Buffet restaurant with show cooking and 4 a la carte restaurants and Ranchón near the beach. Lobby bar, Cigar bar, aqua-bar, and 2 snacks bars at the pool. Conference rooms, SPA, gym, and beauty salon, 2 tennis and paddle court. Ice cream saloon, animation theatre and disco. 5 outdoor swimming pools. Miniclub (4-12 years). ... more less
- Reservation Options:
- TripAdvisor is proud to partner with Cancelon, TripOnline SA and Evoline ltd so you can book your IBEROSTAR Laguna Azul reservations with confidence. We help millions of travelers each month to find the perfect hotel for both vacation and business trips, always with the best discounts and special offers.
- Also Known As:
- Iberostar Laguna Azul Hotel Varadero