The satisfaction depends on what one wants; for this trip, I wanted a place with a good beach for swimming and snorkeling, close enough to Havana so we could take a day trip there, and ideally an opportunity to do a bit of scuba diving. Acuazul met these expectations – and exceeded them a bit.
Varadero is close to Havana, some previous reviews praised the beach – and also indicated the hotel was in the centre of the town, so I guessed I’d manage to find a diving shop. What I did not care much about is whether the room would be fancy (I don’t spend much time there anyway) or whether the food would be fancy (this might be too much to expect from a modestly priced Cuban hotel).
Despite arriving quite early, we got the room right away. The maid brought in the extra bed as soon as we came back from the beach, and kept the room in excellent condition throughout our stay.
The room was fairly spacious and better than the others I’ve had in Cuba. There were many outlets clearly marked with both 110V and 220V. TV had a number of channels both in English and Spanish (I hardly watched it, though).
My take on the food in Cuba is one can always find something in a buffet that is decent. The buffet at this hotel was somewhat smaller than the ones in larger resorts, so it was a bit more challenging to find that decent dish; still, I never walked out hungry. The snack bar by the pool, open most of the day, offered staples such as burgers, hot dogs, omelets and salads. Drinks were available at the bars by the pool and at the beach, with short or no wait – now a benefit of a smaller setting. The game room had a ping-pong table, a foosball and two pool tables (though at times only one cue) – not much, but usually enough for the guests interested in such pastimes. The swimming pool was clean, but not too exciting. The towels could be exchanged at any time at the reception, which was quite convenient.
The evening entertainment included live bands right after dinner and relatively short shows at the stage later on. The performers were skilled – magicians, gymnasts, animal trainers, aquatic ballet dancers. My favourite was the flamenco concert on Saturday night. I cannot comment much on the animación during the day – always found it more interesting to be at the beach or in the town; the sports events, though, certainly were not plentiful.
The beach is some 200 m from the hotel, across the street. I’ve compared this to the distance within a resort I was in before, and this one turned out to be actually shorter. Nice sand and clear water, beach chairs available as well as pedal-boats and catamarans – all fairly new and in good condition. I believe masks, snorkels and fins were available as well (we had ours). The water was great for swimming and playing in the waves on windy days. Snorkeling was safe and easy to; unfortunately, there were no coral reefs or rocks close by – therefore, nothing much to see in the water. There were some fish, but much scarcer than in the places with more exciting underwater landscape.
The excursion to Havana provided useful overview of the great city and the tour guide gave us plenty of interesting facts; still, I would have liked better had we gone there on our own and spent more time wandering at our own pace through the places we liked better – rather than catching up with the group, attending meals and various breaks.
As for the diving, I found a scuba centre during the very first walk in the town – some 700 m from the hotel. The dives were at Casa Coral, roughly 15 minutes drive by a bus towards the airport – easy, shallow and with a lot of fun things to see, both for scuba divers and snorkelers. The rental equipment was of good quality and in excellent condition, the organization was quite smooth and without rushing – though owing to the latter, the dives eventually finished almost an hour later than anticipated.
In general, the fact that the hotel was right in the town was one of the things I liked the best. Being pretty much isolated within resorts on my previous trips, I was always wondering what Cuba looked like outside; this time, we had the opportunity to visit open markets and little stores, sit in various restaurants – both cozy patios on the sidewalks and a more formal one such as Lai Lai, the Chinese place with surprisingly good food and moderate prices. Most importantly, we got to see more ordinary life and meet more ordinary people – friendly, warm and easy-going.
The same goes for the staff of the hotel. They were amiable and willing to please; at times probably not as quick as one might want, but we always got what we needed quickly enough. Being on vacation, we were in no hurry – adopting the easy-going approach worked very well.
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- Also Known As:
- Acuazul Hotel Varadero