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“Lovely place”

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Hotel Playa Cayo Santa Maria
Ranked #4 of 16 Hotels in Cayo Santa Maria
Certificate of Excellence
Reviewed April 3, 2013

We truly enjoyed our stay. Playa Santa Maria gave us the best Cuba has to offer: a beautiful beach, endless sun, enchanting evenings and friendly people. The resort is clean and well maintained. The food is far from what we would expect from a north american 5 star hotel... And we were not in North America... So we had three meals a day and were never hungry or ill.
The staff work hard and rightfully expect certain recognition for it. Not necessarily in the form of a tip, which is always welcome, but certainly with a graceful and honest thank you. We wouldn't put half their hours for double their pay, so let's not be jugemental if sometimes they appear a little listless. Overall, a great place to relax!

  • Stayed: March 2013, traveled with family
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8  Thank Lupe a
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Jorge C, Director General at Hotel Playa Cayo Santa Maria, responded to this reviewResponded April 4, 2013

Dear Guest, thank you very much for your commentary. We are satisfied to know that having a positive approach of our Hotel and service, best regards. Jorge Calderín, Director

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3,009 - 3,015 of 6,833 reviews

Reviewed April 2, 2013

That was our trip #7 to Cuba and best yet.
Special thanks you to the manager, Mareyi Gómez Montano for making our stay a special one. Our room was 0765 in building seven with a nice sun rise. The hotel is only one year old and the rooms are very modern and specious. The balcony door has a screen and we could sleep with doors wide open and no AC at night. We could hear the ocean and birds singing in the morning.

We have flown with Air transat and service, food was excellent. The bus transfer to hotel was better than expected and road was smooth. The check in went smoothly and bellboy that took us to our room very professional.
Beach
This is why we come to Cuba. The beach has very soft sand and the water has this turquoise color that you see on the pictures. The water is crystal clear.
Bars
The best bar of the resort is the cigar bar with great cuban music, nice selection of spirits and cigars of course. They have a wide range of spirits that you can order for free and a list of special aged variety that you can purchase. We enjoyed sampling different Cuban rums. Sometimes they have a cart with just some of the items and offer them to the guests at the main lobby bar area. The walk in humidor right inside the bar was descent enough for sampling different Cubans for a week. And i noticed that cigar prices at the Hotel were less then what La Casa del Habano cigar store were asking in the town Pueblo La Estrella. For example LCDH wanted 260 pesos for a box of Cohiba Behike 52 where cuban retail price for this box is 220 pesos anywhere else in Cuba. For this reason i passed on that LCDH store in town.

  • Stayed: March 2013, traveled with family
    • Value
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7  Thank mikuspikus
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed April 2, 2013

Quite simply, this resort is a solid place to vacation and reading some of the other comments really makes me wonder why people bother leaving the comfort of their own "glass house" based on some of the things they pick on.
Yes it is a 90 minute drive from the airport, but this is readily available information before you book and should not be a surprise. Plus, the drive is quite nice and scenic, and the guide does an excellent job of educating you with facts along the way. This does however mean that the resort is fairly isolated from everything in general, so depending on your intentions for the trip this could be a pro or a con. We come on these vacations to relax on the resort and unwind, if your intent is to explore and do excursions, you are looking at full days off resort.
It looks and still feels relatively new which it should having only opened just 18 months or so ago and has a newer/modern look and feel to it, and a great "symmetrical" layout that makes getting around very easy.
Front Desk staff were very pleasant and no issues with them in our few encounters and questions. Setting up late checkout on departure day took mere minutes with no hassle.
Some minor cleaning and maintenance issues here and there however outside workers are very visible and working diligently all over the property, the effort is at least there. We had a problem with our shower head which we brought up on our first morning, within minutes 2 people were up to fix it and addressed very quickly and politely with apologies for our inconvenience.
4 separate large pool areas to choose from, which breaks up the resort a bit and never makes you feel like you are sitting around with 100's of other people all at once around 1 "main" pool. The shady areas, covered beds and cabanas are all "reserved" before 8am (more on that below) which is a drag, but generally you can find chairs throughout the day as people move about the resort.
This stretch of beach is absolutely amazing and you can walk for miles in both directions, and there are no vendors or panhandlers or anyone hassling you at all, anywhere. The beach is easily the main reason we decided to return to the Santa Maria area of Cuba after visiting (a different resort) last year. Yes, parts of the beach in front of this resort are quite narrow and you have to descend an embankment where hurricanes have done some damage, but this should only really pose a problem if you have mobility issues, otherwise its a non-issue. There are never a shortage of chairs, and plenty of spots to go on the beach where this "cliff" is not a hassle and you are on level ground. The shade spots are "reserved" by 8am (more on that below), and on nice days the beach does get busy but we never had a problem finding a spot. Plus the beach staff spot you (like a hawk) wandering and bring over chairs to you immediately.
The water is gorgeous and the powdery sand and gradual slope into the ocean make for great swimming, and on rough days, great waves! Geographically, this area gets a lot of rough water, and I think 6/7 of our days were red flag days. You're still allowed in the water, but they are very strict on how deep you go and whistle you back if you stray too far. The current is quite strong sometimes and before you know it you wade into the water, turn around, and have drifted 100 feet from where you entered.
The food is just average, but anyone going to Cuba should know this in advance and not have unrealistic expectations. The main buffet always had a fairly wide variety of food and we never left hungry. The beach grill and the snack bar were also very tasty options, as well as the second "Rancho" buffet near the beach which served up a delicious Red Snapper at lunch among other things. Snack bar wise, the made to order personal pizzas are delicious, the fries are hit and miss depending on if they are fresh or have been sitting, the "chicken fingers" remind me of chicken nuggets or really big popcorn chicken, and the main condiment is mayo so REMEMBER to bring ketchup packets if that's your thing. Almost every day they whip out charcoal grills somewhere and do burgers and hotdogs, one day was a lobster party, and another day was a "Cuban Party" with a pig on a spit".
The Asian A La Carte was good-to-great with quick, warm, fresh and tasty food, though portions a bit on the small side. We ended up at the Snack Bar later that night.
The Caribbean Buffet "A La Carte" (bonus booking I guess?) was just average with a different assortment of buffet food than the main buffet, but with much more attentive service and a nicer setting.
The Italian A La Carte was very enjoyable with both meals surprising us in a great way! Very tasty, fresh, and again very friendly service, and bigger portions than we were expecting. Left full and satisfied.
The room cleaning staff for us could not have been any nicer and pleasant in our encounters. Even returning a 2nd and sometimes 3rd time throughout the day if we were around to ask if there was anything we needed or how our day was going. Not sure if this was common, or we lucked out with some extra-friendly people, but it certainly made our stay memorable and was a great little added touch of hospitality.
Mini-bar in room was restocked daily with pop, beer and water, though the times they came by seemed purely random so don't depend on those beverages for a set time, just know they will eventually materialize.
The Lobby Bar seemed to be the place to be in this resort at all hours. Always busy but in a good way, live piano and other music each night which was great. Lobby Bartenders and Waiters running all over and doing a great job of keeping up.
Cigar Bar seemed to be totally under-utilized but an amazing spot to go at night if the Lobby Bar is too busy, or even the afternoon for a cocktail and cool-off for a bit. The have some great rums in there to drink and taste (most free, older ones at a fee), and the Cigar "smoke" is hardly noticeable in there which was nice.

Some of MY concerns, and concerns in general I will comment on:

Entertainment - Room for opportunity and they do put their best foot forward. Not as good as I have seen in the past and we skipped it most nights, however it certainly wasn't painful to watch. They practice all day during the day, so I see this getting better soon. They are also relatively new in the grand scheme, so they likely just haven't built up a deep talent pool yet. There is also no on-site disco, for this type of entertainment you must head off-resort 10 minutes away to a little tourist village and join everyone else where you start paying for things, no thanks.

Bars - Great service and they did a good job of balancing staff to the demand, however it was pretty clear that tipping well did make you more "visible" if standing in a line of people when it gets busy, fair enough.

Room Cleaning - Despite having the kindest of staff on our rooms and tipping well, there were some little things that don't get done well, or at all. This must be due to relaxed standards or simple resort logistics. We didn't want/need our towels changed daily, but it seemed that even on the couple days we did (towels on ground vs. towels hung up), they either just weren't, or there weren't fresh ones available so our old ones were folded and put back. Floors not always swept which inevitably brings sand into the bed. We never ran out of toilet paper in the room, but we skated by pretty close a few times. Other than that, the rooms and bathrooms are modern, water pressure in the shower is fine, and never ran out of hot water, so truly the good out-weighed the bad.

Beach Towels - Same as above concern, we didn't always require new towels every day, but there were a few times we were told to come back later or come back tomorrow because they were out. Not sure if they don't have enough towels or if the bottle-neck is the laundry facility, but this was a pain when you have a soaked towel after a day of being in and out of the water.

Chair Reservation/Towel Game - Full effect and probably my biggest pet peve, however not specific to this resort, as it happens everywhere. All shaded spots, and most "good" spots are reserved by 8am and sometimes you go hours without seeing people come back. Truly annoying, how someone thinks that a single towel draped across 3 beds is fair is beyond me.

On Site Bank - Was a pain as there was always a line-up and they didn't always have small bills or change to issue. Holding only $10's & $20's, this generally meant your choice was to over-tip or not tip at all. If not too busy some service staff were quite accommodating and would make change for you.

Main Buffet - During peak times it was insane, the staff simply get overwhelmed and cannot keep up with the turnover of guests coming through. Also the lines for the "made fresh" stations could be 20+ minutes sometimes. Lastly, the buffet layout is flawed as the lines for the freshly made food snake and jam up in front of the trays of food blocking people from getting through. Staff do what they can to keep up, but there were a few times that we grabbed our own drinks, and never had someone come by from the time we sat down till the time we left.

A La Carte Bookings - Another design flaw it seems, or perhaps system limitations. You line up in a room to wait for 1 or 2 staff at desks where you sit down, look at the menus and start trying to coordinate 3 bookings. This process is like throwing darts at a board as you don't know what times are free and if you have specific requests/days/times to coordinate...good luck. We sat down, picked our restaurants and just asked him to slot us in which ever order and time he needed to so that our specific days were met, it worked. Even having the menus available to those in line would at least allow people to read make selections prior to sitting down, or have the monitor turned so you could view the schedule and work with him. In the end, you only have to deal with this once so its not the end of the world. Just do it ASAP on arrival as the bookings do fill, especially if you want to eat early.

That's that. In summary I would recommend to others, and I would return, we had a very good time and it totally lived up to what we read about and saw when we decided to book.

Room Tip: Buildings 7 & 15 are next to a pool and closest to the beach, however buildings 1 and 8 are much...
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  • Stayed: March 2013, traveled as a couple
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10  Thank Alex D
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Jorge C, Director General at Hotel Playa Cayo Santa Maria, responded to this reviewResponded April 3, 2013

Dear Guest, thank you for your positive opinion of the hotel. Your comments always help us to improve our work. Best regards, Jorge Calderin, Director General

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed April 2, 2013

I stayed at this resort in march with a friend. This is my second time in cuba and this was incredible. We are both 19-20 and this resort was simply perfect for us. Lets start off by saying that this stay would not have been the same without the great staff, and the cute bartenders didnt hurt. The food was good, you wont be hungry. There is a 24h snack bar with pizza,fries,chicken,etc. The beach was a bit shook up from the storm, but the water and the sand were dreamy. The pools and the bungalows were very clean, big and modern. The rooms were very comfortable, nothing disturbing. Beautiful bathrooms. Note that we came there to relax and to party, so this place was very suitable for us, there was a few young people and the bartenders always keep you company. Besides that, past midnight it gets pretty quiet. Theres a discotheque in the neighboring hotel, you just pay 1 peso for the taxi, it was really fun. The only downside is that it was very crowded, the hotel seemed overbooked, line ups at the buffets were annoying and long waits to get your drinks by the bar also. They should consider booking only a certain amount of people, it would of made our stay much better. There is also a cigar lounge, with the best bar (jack daniels, kahula, smirnoff, etc) All in all it was beyond our expectations and we plan on coming back in a few months. I would recomend this hotel to just about anybody.

Room Tip: Ask for a second/third floor room for a balcony, its the only place you can have privacy outdoors.
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  • Stayed: March 2013, traveled with friends
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3  Thank 867MariaA
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed March 31, 2013

My wife an I Arrived at the Hotel at about 230 am on the 24th of March 2013
we were given our room In Building 7 that we had asked for in an Email altho not on the floor we had asked. After Checking in an taking our bags to the room with the help of the staff there we went for a Bite to eat at the Snack Bar an a couple Drinks. Oscar the Bartender that Night was great the cook in the back made very good food drinks were kept re filled. The Buffet was Really Great at Lunch an Dinner * Breakfast was a little plain but still very good * My Wife an I felt very safe and Very well looked After. The al a Carts were all very good of the 4 we had the Italian and the Asian were to Die For they were that Good.We also tried the beach front Buffet where i had Red Snapper that was So good an well done that it melted in your mouth.The beach is great the water was amazing.The weather was very good for 5 of the 7 days the Katmeran was well worth the money an all day event on the water an with a Lobster dinner an all you can drink on the boat not where you ate. The only thing i could really complain about i would have to say the lady at the check in seemed to be not to friendly at the time we came in but any time we seen her after was always very nice to us.The Market is only a 3 peso cab ride away or a one dollar shuttle bus ride but that can sometimes take forever depending on how many resorts he goes to along the way.The Market itself is not to bad some days there were only a few Vendors other days the place was packed but they dont bargin too much as they all have the same stuff pretty much an all have the same prices.One other Complaint would have to be the French Canadians most were very Rude to not only the Staff but also to others at the Resort * not the fault of the resort * The Snack bar was our favorite place to hang as the lobby was always full an very loud but the Bartenders an Wait staff there were always going a mile a min. just to please a few tips go along way im not rich by any means but i was giving them all an average of 3 to 5 pesos after every visit an sometimes a little more.

  • Stayed: March 2013, traveled as a couple
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12  Thank Scott M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Jorge C, Director General at Hotel Playa Cayo Santa Maria, responded to this reviewResponded April 2, 2013

Dear Guest, It was a pleasure to serve. His words in person and through this popular forum fill us with pride and encourage continuing working full, trying to satisfy our customers; compliments like yours make sense of this "profession sometimes sacrificed." I hope to have the opportunity to return soon. Regards, Jorge Calderín, Director

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Reviewed March 31, 2013

Hi! well where do I began. this is the best resort that ive ever been too.
this is a brand new resort, has only been open since december 2011. I went to this resort from january 19-26 2013,with my best friend this was a girls trip and we had the best time ever.
the hotel is 1h30 min bus ride,but lots of scenery on the way so it goes by fast.
from the time we stepped off the bus,we were treated as princesses. check in was a breeze,took 5 mins and we were a full bus load,were greeted on arrival with drinks. didnt have to take our luggage to the room,we went to our rooms and our luggage was delivered shortly after.

rooms: unbelievable,brand new,nicer and cleaner then my own apt. even had a phone in the bathroom,shower head was 3 times bigger then my place with more hot water pressure then at home. no bugs at all,ocean view and we didnt even ask for it! this is really a modern hotel. our fridge was filled everyday with drinks...1 bottle water,2 beers,2 soft drinks! but if u want them to but more u need to hide the ones that u already have.

bars: so many of them,excellent service,never had to wait more then 2 mins for a drink, in the lobby u even have service at the tables.

beach: beautiful, gorgeous white sand, clear water, even had life guards that got u chairs and swept them off for u and layed out your towel on them.

weather: the 1st 3 days was beautiful and hot,but after that it was cool and cloudy but never had any rain,but cant expect too much it january and back home it was -40 so cant really complain.

food:excellent buffet,lots of choice, we did the a la carte restaurants and they were all very good. the snack bar was the best: pizza,chicken fingers,shimp on a stick,fries.
even had a ice cream parlor. also they had the best cappicunos ever.

service: what can I say more then it was excellent,we were greeted like queens everywhere we went. i have never ever felt so like home then here. no matter where u go they r always doing everything to make your stay perfect,they always say hi,they would even appauld us when we went to eat,the gardeners would always say hi,give us a flower,the best service ever..keep it up great work.

we went on a excusion to the dolpihins it was worth every cent we paid it was just great and everyone should try this at least once in your life.

pools: so many pools,incredible chairs,so relaxing

all I can say this is the best resort ever, so beautiful! u want to relax,and r not sure where to go well i encourage you to go there,you will not be sorry for your choice and its worth every cent you pay,you will not be dissapointed!!! I am sooo coming back to this resort:) I just want to show everone this hotel,cant believe that a hotel in cuba can be this incredible. miss it already and cant wait till my next stay.

  • Stayed: January 2013, traveled with friends
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5  Thank Christine C
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed March 31, 2013

My wife and I traveled to Hotel Playa Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba from March 14th to March 21st, 2013. This is only our fourth overall 'warm holiday' to an all inclusive. We were in Cuba in 2009 (Varadero) and Mexico twice.

Quick summary:
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We loved our vacation and the hotel was absolutely fine. Beautiful beach/ocean, food was fine, friendly staff and no major issues at all. We are not fussy at all, we don't go to a resort like this just for the food (especially not Cuba) This is an all inclusive folks, you have to keep that in mind!

I would recommend this hotel to anyone, especially those looking for an out of the way, relaxing vacation. Read on for a more (and very lengthy) detailed review...(sorry! I can't help myself!)

Getting there:
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We flew Sunwing airlines from Regina, SK. Our flight was supposed to leave at about 3pm but was delayed by about 1 hour (oh well, just roll with it! - this was our motto). Flight was great, took just over 4 hours. We had never flown with Sunwing before and we were pleasantly surprised. They served us a complimentary glass of Champagne, hot towel, hot meal with complimentary glass of wine. Other snacks, beverages and chocolate! You don't usually get a free hot meal when flying anymore so we appreciated this very much!

On the flight, they also hand out your tourist card, which you must carefully fill out and present to immigration when you enter the country. They keep one half and you keep the other - don't lose this! You need it when leaving the country. You also need $25 CUC (Cuban convertible peso - this is the currency tourists use in Cuba) when you leave the country.

Arrival at Santa Clara airport was fine, it was about 11pm or so local time. Immigration and getting our luggage was fine, this is a smaller airport. Stepping outside there is a small cart selling beers for $2 CUC. The buses were standing by to ferry the passengers to their hotels, we met our rep and boarded our bus. It was amazing to not be in six feet of snow anymore!
The rep also gave us a hotel card with the time and place for our orientation the next day. We were grateful that it was scheduled for 2:45pm!

Yes, the bus ride is 1.5 hours long (not 2 hours like some other people have mentioned). The tour rep was nice and gave us info along the way. You go through 3 small towns. Some of these are very old, 'Remedios' for example was established by the Spanish in the 18th century! They also sell some beer on the bus and I wanted one, but strangely the rep never came down to offer some to anyone? (even though he said he would) Strange...oh well, just roll with it! The other thing is that some buses have on board toilets and some don't, may make you think twice before guzzling down a couple of beers!

Along the way, we passed a control point and noticed a bunch of buses headed the other way, these were hotel workers coming back from their shifts, all absolutely exhausted and sleeping like babies!

Once we were passed the small towns, we entered the 45 km causeway, into the 'Cayos' (keys) but of course if was dark and we did not really see anything! (too bad)

Arrival at hotel and check-in:
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After dropping off a few people at other hotels, we arrived at the Hotel Playa...at about 1am.

There was a bit of a line up at the front counter, with 2 staff processing people. It was fine and we did not have to wait very long. We were checked in quickly and efficiently by smiling staff and no problems at all. We were given a map and kind of told where our bungalow was.

Fortunately, ours was building #9, not far from the lobby. We found it fairly quickly. It was fairly dark but the paths are lit, I suppose some of the signs could be a bit better but for us it was not a problem at all. We had also brought small flashlights with us, which we never really need to use, but always a good idea to have.

Room:
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Our room was located on the 3rd floor, when booking via our agent, we has asked for a 2nd or 3rd floor room. Our balcony was nice and big with 2 chairs and a small table. We overlooked the main buffet building and could see the forest beyond. So no ocean view...(not the end of the world).

When we first entered the room, the maids had done up some 'kissing' swans' in a heart shape with our beach towels...aaaaawwwwwwwww.....

We unpacked and here I was able to have my first beer from the mini fridge! ('Bucanero' - (stronger) and 'Cristal' - (lighter), both local Cuban beers, they are good!)

There was enough closet space and dressers to put our stuff away no problem. The safe in the room worked fine and the Air conditioning was fine as well. We ended up not using the A/C for the most part, we would simply leave our patio door open to let fresh air in.

Our room was always cleaned fine, we never had any problem with that. One small thing though, for some reason the maids seem to have problems with the bath towels on some days?

One day we might only get one bath towel, but 2 smaller towels. On another day we would get 3 bath towels but no smaller towels? One one occasion my wife caught them outside in the hall and they gave us 3 fresh towels! This was just a small thing and one day I had to use my beach towel...no problem! We just rolled with it....

Bathroom was fine, although we did not get one of those 'rain' type shower heads. It was a shower head that you pull up on a flexible hose and attach at the top. It worked fine and was not a big deal. The other thing was that the cold and hot water tap for the tub were reversed! Just another small thing really...and there was always plenty of never-ending hot water!

The rooms were maybe a bit too 'modern' for my taste? I like a more 'older' traditional, lots of tile everywhere kind of room. But it was absolutely fine. We had one super big bed, I think it's called a 'California King' bed? Yes, the bed was a little bit harder but I got used to it very fast and it was pure bliss to just sleep in late every morning!

If you do need to get up for a tour or when leaving, make sure you bring yourself a travel alarm clock as there are none in the room.

The mini fridge in the room had some pop, bottle water (one big bottle) and 1 or 2 beer. They restock the fridge later in the day, closer to 5pm most days. And if you are there when they come they will ask you what kind of pop and beer you want and how many!

We did leave a tip one day in the fridge with a little note as the people that re-stock the fridge are different than the maids. One day, the nice fellow re-stocking the fridge was quite surprised that the $3 peso note was for him! We were like...of course amigo! Gracias!

One word about the bottled water, if you don't use what is in the fridge, they won't replace it. So we would always 'hide' a bottle of water most days to make sure we got another one replaced! I also used bottle water to brush my teeth, but our rep said using the tap water to brush your teeth is fine (just don't drink it). My wife did this and she was absolutely fine...

Hotel, pools and weather:
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The hotel is fairly new, so everything is in good shape. The landscaping is very well done and it was amazing to see so much green and beautiful plants and palm trees after coming from six feet of snow!

The main lobby was by far our favourite part of the hotel! It is very large and airy. Always a busy place with the main lobby bar serving up drinks and really good capuccino's! If you like coffee this was quite the treat!

We did try the coffee once at the main buffet and it was actually pretty good, but the capuccino's at the main lobby bar were even better. It was also nice to just sit in the lobby and watch other people and have a cocktail before dinner.

The bar here is very busy and often the bartenders seemed like they were putting in 10 hour shifts! They often looked exhausted so we would tip them often. They were super nice and worked really hard.

The main lobby would often have entertainment setup during the afternoons and evenings as well.

There are five pools on the resort I believe. Some are quieter 'relax' pools and the main pool is more of the party pool. This is also where the swim up bar is. But actually, we never hung out by the pools really and never went in them either. Although they looked super clean and other people were using them. It's just that we are more 'beach' people.

The resort was always very busy with staff running around in small vehicles for maintenance etc...gardeners were busy tending to the plants, waiters and maids running around, they work hard at keeping the place running nice. We noticed some painting going on here and there.

The bathrooms onsite were mostly always stocked with soap, toilet paper and paper to dry hands, sometimes not, but my wife has a small purse with some paper tissues in it, so no worries...for me, if there was no hand towels, well they I would just 'air-dry' my hands and I would not overly worry about it!

Staff would also ferry people around in small golf cart type vehicles with their bags if you needed it. The resort is fairly large, so depending where your building is, you may need to do some walking! (never a bad thing unless you are elderly or have mobility issues).

Also, this is Cuba, so people can smoke almost everywhere! So be ready for that! Cigars are a big deal here so that is fine (for me anyways), but cigarette smoke may bother some people. The lobby and theatre's are fairly 'airy' so it's not too bad and you can't smoke in any of the restaurants (thank goodness).

Weather:
The first few days, a cold front was just leaving the area, so we had 30-40km/h winds and some clouds. It felt cooler for sure but still much warmer than Canada! After that the sun came out and it was gloriously hot! Lots of sunshine and the wind gradually died down.

It was almost too hot for us, for a few days, as we quickly turned red like cooked lobsters! It did not seem to matter how much sunscreen we put on and we were trying to be careful with wearing hats etc...oh well, our white pasty Canadian skin is not used to this kind of sun! We did get some rain late one afternoon, so we just went back to our room to chillax and it was all good!

Changing money, orientation, Internet:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The first day onsite we waited in line to change some money in to CUC (Cuban convertible peso), this is the one thing that 'bugs' me about Cuba. This currency is used by tourists but is only valid in Cuba. It is not traded on the world market and is worth nothing outside the country, but yet they value it against the American dollar! So I think the exchange was something like 0.92 for us! Sheeessssh.....I get it, it's a communist country, but still.

Anyways, rant off - so we waited one day about 35 to 40 min in line to change some money, this was our only long wait in a line up the entire time we were there, so not too bad. We ended up changing $300 which in the end was more than enough for our purposes. It depends what time of day you come here, other days, there were no line-ups at all! The 'cadeca' was open 10am to 10pm...

There is also a small shop nearby which sells jewelry, and a larger shop down the hall which sells, rum, cigars (fairly good selection), snacks, clothing a few souvenirs etc...I did purchase a pack of 20 'cigaritos' (small cigars) for $16 CUC to enjoy while onsite, but at the duty free at the airport, when leaving, you can find them for about $5 to $6 CUC!) I did buy another pack at the resort later on for $13CUC (still much cheaper than Canada!)

We also purchased an access to Internet card just beside the lobby in a small room (not well indicated - I had to ask) This was $12CUC.

There are 3 desktop computers available, running a modified version of Windows XP and Internet Explorer version 6! (just a bit outdated, ouch, sorry I am an IT guy!)

We logged in and waited patiently...and waited, and waited some more....yes, it's slow, this is Cuba....but no worries, we were able to send off a quick message that we had arrived safe, and that's it. We did not bring our phones (we don't own smartphones) We did not turn on the TV in our room even once, when we go on a vacation like this we want to disconnect from all that....

We met our Sunwing Rep (Ariadna) for our orientation that same day. She was super, super nice and explained what we needed to know about the hotel and available tours etc...I highly recommend that you attend your orientation as you get some good info here.

You can also verify what time your hotel pick up and flight times are for leaving. Our rep was also available every day at the main lobby from 3 to 5pm and she was always there at those times. I also appreciated the fact that she helped me with my spanish and would slow down when speaking spanish to me! Gracias!

And again, this same day, we got all our 'work' out of the way. We also booked our 'à la carte' restaurants. You are allowed 2 actual bookings and a third one is for the 'Caribbean' buffet style restaurant.

I suppose it depends what time of day you show up, but when we went to book, there was no one there! meaning there was no line ups at all! a rep was sitting in a room at a desk, all alone. We simply sat down with him and booked our restaurants! It was very easy and casual...we got the 'San Salvador' and the 'Puerto San Juan' (both basically seafood).

We also booked a few tours with our rep. There are a few excursions you can do. We do like to get off the resort to see the 'real' country looks like a little bit. (Being on a resort the whole time does NOT give you a good idea of what the country is like - although it's all good if that is all you want to do of course!).

But, we also did not want to have to wake up at 6am for a 12 hour tour..

So this is why we were very excited that our rep suggested about a 6 hour tour into the small historic town of 'Remedios' maybe about 45 min away! It would include a toured visit of this very old colonial city and sugar mill tour as well. We were really looking forward to this tour but unfortunately it got cancelled! They needed 10 people minimum and only 7 signed up! Too bad...

The other tour we booked was a day long catamaran boat tour (more on that later)


Food, bars and service:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ok, for anyone that has been to an all inclusive before, yes the main buffet food will get a bit repetitive (I think this is true of most placed). And this was the case here as well. Like I mentioned, we are not fussy people and we are certainly not going to Cuba to an all inclusive for super fine dining. Folks, if you want that, then go to a five star restaurant in Paris or New York or Toronto.

Also, as many others have mentioned before me, Cuba is still under embargo from the U.S. which must severely impact their quantity and quality of produce and goods!?

Also, remember, you are not at home anymore people, things will be a bit different! Just deal with it. I recently read that the average Cuban makes about $20 a month! They may not get to enjoy the quantity and variety of food that we found at the buffet, so keep that in mind please.

I truly believe most people recognize all this and are fine with it. It upsets me to see those few that people that complain to no end about the food and are so fussy all they can eat is bread and cheese and claim that they 'starved' the entire time they were there. Are you kidding me?

Ok, rant off again (sorry, had to get that off my chest).

So, back to the buffet...for breakfast, there is a fairly good selection of foods. You will find standards like sausage, scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese, fruit. If you can get some fresh orange juice, it is really, really good. But sometimes they don't have some and you have to make do with 'fake juice' (tastes like Tang)...but again, we just rolled with it!

Also the bacon was hit and miss, it all depends on what time you show up! I had some bacon one morning and other mornings there was none available but I honestly didn't care! I can get bacon back home any time! Same goes for burgers, steak , fries etc...if they weren't available ..so what!

The coffee the waiters will serve you at the buffet is actually not bad at all...there is also a coffee machine at the buffet that you can get a latte or capuccino from, they are not bad but are not as good as the ones made fresh at the lobby bar.

And of course, like others have mentioned, the fresh food stations line ups are long and we really never bothered to wait in line that long for this. I really didn't care, I just said 'excuse me' and reached in between these lines for the standard food and I was good to go. Yes, at times some of the food was not as warm as it could be, but I was never truly bothered by this very much. (did I mention we are not fussy?)

The service here could be a bit hit and miss...I think it also depends on the timing and or the times you show up for things, not only at the buffet but for other things too. (line ups to get change, shopping at the store (sometimes they ran out of certain types of cigars), booking your restaurants etc...) So with that in mind, your experience may vary.

We never really had a huge problem with the service. I think the first morning we went to the buffet for breakfast (which is 06:30 to 10am) we got there just before 10am (we felt lazy and slept in most mornings). So for that morning, we had a tough time finding a clean table with cutlery, but my wife just went and helped herself to some fresh cutlery and we were good to go! We then got served some O.J. not long after...so it was all fine.

I remember at the buffet, on our last night, we sat in the outside area and we waited a little bit to get some wine and water served...the section we were in was not getting serviced very well, finally our waiter apologized to us and said he was stuck alone servicing a large section. He seemed so genuine and nice and we just told him, you are doing a great job and don't worry about it amigo! All the staff we interacted with at the buffets and restaurants were super nice!

I was expecting a bit more fresh fish at the buffet and there was some of course, but not as much as I thought. They did have nice shrimp and marinated fish most days, which was really good and the rice was good too! Oh, and they also do a nice pork chop! Desserts were fairly standard, cakes, tarts, and some good stuff with coconut in it that we really enjoyed! I think you could get ice cream as well and there was a fresh 'banana -rum flambée' thingy that was good too...

Restaurants....
We had 2 actual 'à la cartes' both were excellent with good service and atmosphere. And imagine that! the portion sizes were actually correct! You would get an appy, your main and a dessert and you would not feel overstuffed at the end! Folks, I believe this is part of the reason why there is an obesity epidemic in North America...portion sizes are way too big! I found the portion sized in Cuba to be just right!

We were also served decent white and red wine here...At the one restaurant, you could order other wine (and pay extra for it) we did that one night and paid $8CUC for a bottle of white wine. (You just pay that when you check out of the hotel) Yeah, that's the night we got kind of drunk!

We really enjoyed the restaurants. Staff were nice and they sure enjoyed me trying to speak spanish...they kept giggling at me, but would also help me! The young Cuban waitresses were very cute and sweet!

Anyways, food was really good here and they don't charge extra for lobster tail! We had that as our main in both restaurants! So good! (if you like that of course). Cuba of course is heavily influenced by 'Europe' (Spain and France) and you can tell that with the food and just some of the other small things I noticed...Very cool...

The third 'reservation' we had was for the 'Caribbean' restaurant, which really is just a section of the 'Ranchon Playa' (Beach buffet). 'Caribbean' was a bit mis-leading as there was really not a whole lot of fish! Also the service was poor here, kind of a weird vibe happening here, it was a bit strange. Also that night, they had most of the sun shades closed (windows are all open to the outside) so it got really hot in there! Food was only just fine though, nothing spectacular, just buffet style...but again, we just rolled with it!

Main snack bar by the main pool -
Ok,, this was also a favorite spot of ours. If we were late for the main breakfast buffet, we would come here and there was a smaller buffet until 11am for breakfast stuff, or you could order off a menu. We had some really good 'spanish omelettes' one morning, really good!

The service was also good here, really friendly waiters and much more relaxed atmosphere than the buffet! We would also sometimes just come here for a quick sandwich for lunch instead of the the big beach buffet place. The Cubano pork sandwich with fries was really tasty! (ok, yes, I had fries!)

There was also the main beach buffet 'Ranchon Playa' We had lunch here one day and it was fine. Standard buffet style and desserts. The service was fine a well, no problems here. What we are used to for service in North America is a bit different in Cuba, the pace of life is way slower here (which is actually quite refreshing frankly...) So as long as you 'just roll with it' you will be ok! Go in with no expections and you will be fine...(and pleasantly surprised!)

Finally, there is a small sandwich grill at the beach. here you can get a quick hot dog or 'panini' style ham and cheese sandwich, these were good and hit the spot for a quick easy snack right on the beach!

We never once felt sick or had any 'gastro' type issues at all! Although people are different and some may have some issues depending on how sensitive your stomach is?

Beach:
Ok, best water I have ever experienced...ever. Keep in mind we had only been to 3 other 'warm holiday' places before this one, but wow...just wow....when the wind was down, the water was absolutely the most amazing we had ever seen! Crystal clear with about 5 or 6 different variations of blues and greens.

You walk into the water, it gets up to your chest and then you keep going and there are multiple sand bars not far out where you get back up knee depth again. The waves here can get a bit bigger but it's fun to play in them. Lots of people in the water when it was calm and it felt very safe...

The first few days were very windy and big waves were coming in. They had the 'red' flag up and not many people in the water. You have to respect the ocean for sure, but on the calmer days, it was amazing. It was so nice to just float in the warm waters and let all your cares just float away! Beautiful soft sandy bottom everywhere....we saw a few fish but not many, and they would just cruise on by you with no bother.

Some people were snorkeling here as well and you could go out on the small boats (Hobie Cats') that the hotel would provide (with a trained person driving the boat) We though of going out on one of these but finally we didn't. The sand was also amazing, very, very fine and just felt amazing! They also have lifeguards on duty patrolling the beaches...

On the hot sunny days, the beach would get very busy indeed! As others have mentioned, a hurricane a few years back damaged the beach so now it is a two-level beach (I think that's what caused this?), the upper section has some covered areas, but not that many, the lower section is fairly narrow and really no shade at all.

One day, my wife grabbed the umbrella provided in the room and brought it down to the beach and that helped a lot! Never a problem finding a chair though and the beach staff will help you set up the chairs (you can give them a $1CUC tip of you want).

However, another weird thing I noticed and it was just something small, but going down to the main level of the beach can be tricky at times, there is uneven ground in places and rocks and also a lot of small rocks all over the sand. In my mind, it would take about 30 min. with a rake to clear out some of the rocks and make it much nicer to walk on? Again, Cubans have a different mentality about such things...I am reasonably able-bodied and somewhat fit but even i almost fell down the one day going down to the lower level of the beach! I caught myself in time, but could have easily cut my hand open on some rocks I think! It's just very strange that they are not addressing this as a safety issue...????

Another day, they were working on building some kind of gazebo near the main beach area and there was a bunch of old concrete nearby, well, for some reason, they decided that in the middle of the busy beach day, they would start cleaning this up with a jackhammer! It was very loud and annoying and they were doing this about 5 or 6 feet away from people lounging in the sun! Just weird...and even weirder is that the people around didn't really seem to mind that much! Ha ha...

Bars:
Like I mentioned earlier, the main lobby bar was great and very busy and lively. They usually had their 'cocktail' of the day but no other real menu available?

So, of course when in Cuba, you want to have mojitos! Well the weird thing is that often, you could not get them! It appears they would run out of mint! Really? C'mon Cuba! this is your national drink! But...I get it.

This is a communist country and supplies run short on some days! Even for the mint! But i was like, c'mon, just plant a small mint garden at the resort and you are good to go! But again, I am naive about such things, the government would probably not allow that!

The beach bar was also great, here we had good luck in getting mojitos (very good) and also 'Ron Collins' Rum with sugar, citrus and lemon/lime soda (sprite essentially). The beer was also fine. There is a 'beer garden' onsite where you can get local beer but also pay a bit more and get some imported stuff. For me, I wanted to enjoy the local brands and these beers were fine for me....

Night Life and theatre:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This is a fairly quiet resort at night, there is no 'disco' onsite. They have some entertainment in the lobby in the evenings and they have their nightly main theatre show, this lasts about 1 hour and varies a little bit from night to night. The first night we saw an actually really good magician!

The other nights they had lots of dancing numbers with great costumes and actually professional dancers! We enjoyed the shows...yes, they got a little bit repetitive some nights but who cares! It was a nice diversion...one night they had a local rock 'n' roll band! This was a lot of fun and we danced in front of the stage with other guests and had a blast! (yes, this is the same night we got a little bit drunk...)

I guess there is a disco at the small tourist village nearby, about a 5 min bus ride away on the double decker bus that picks up guests at each hotel...it's $1 CUC each way, we did not go but apparently it's pretty good (from what other people have said in reviews)

Pueblo Estrella and Cuban fiesta night:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Like I mentioned, there is a small tourist village nearby. It's not a real village, it's just made to look like one. They have souvenirs here and some restaurants...we went there one afternoon just to get off the resort a bit and check it out, it was interesting. All the other hotels guests in the area can also go here...

One night, they had a planned 'fiesta' setup at this site. For $25CUC you would get a lift from the bus there, enjoy the open bars and food and some music and an authentic band from Habana!

Again, all the other hotel guests in the area could also attend and also just regular Cuban people! We went and it was fun, very lively with lots of dancing and lots of people! The band was good and they are kind of a big deal I guess. The locals were really into it and dancing like crazy! They can really move! Our Canadian hips are not that flexible I'm afraid...although we do try hard....

Catamaran excursion
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
We had booked a day long Catamaran boat excursion on our last full day there. $103CUC per person. Pick up at the hotel was at 08:30am (not too bad!). A fairly short bus ride to the marina and we boarded a smaller boat (there were much larger ones as well). About 25 people maybe? We had to sign a small waver once on board. Only 2 crew members the captain (Noel) and 1st mate (Jose) both spoke english and were very nice.

We stayed in the 'keys' (cayo) the whole time and not on the open ocean. You could always see the bottom! It was only about 20 to 25 feet deep? As we were heading out these wild dolphins decide to start swimming in front of the boat and have some fun! This was very cool to see!

First stop was for snorkeling (for those that wanted). We did not as we are not that comfortable in the water. They provide all the equipment and we stayed here just under an hour...they attracted some small fish with bread and these were very colourful...

Then we were off again. There is open bar on the boat as well...so we had some drinks! It was quite nice just to ride on the boat, checking out the amazing water, the sun fully came out and the heat was nice!

We then stopped at a small island to explore for about 1 hour. Very shallow water here and interesting marine life! Starfish and other small fish, small beaches and plants...paradise! Then off again towards the dolphin place and lunch!

Arrived at the dolphinarium (sp?). We interacted with the dolphins here and that was very cool indeed. You stand on this platform along with other people and the trainer has the dolphin do tricks in front of you. You get to feel the dolphin's belly (super smooth) and then get splashed by the dolphin as well! This was fun and we really enjoyed it. This is included in the price but if you want pictures with the dolphin, they charge you extra for it. (we declined)

After that is lunch at the facilities (very well done). You can choose the type of lunch you want (seafood or chicken - this was done earlier on the boat) We of course chose seafood! Lobster tail again! Whoo! This was good food here and almost too much! We were stuffed...

After lunch, off to the main dolphin stage area where the staff have the dolphins do more tricks and some people paid to actually swim with the dolphins...it was well done.

Then back on the boat and a lovely ride back to the marina! We quite enjoyed this trip and I would recommend it for sure! The water was calm and the crew were super nice!

Tipping -
We never felt pressure to tip and it did not seem to matter in terms of getting better service? Not that I really noticed anyways. We did tip a fair amount but not like crazy. Also, it was tough sometimes to get your hands on some $1CUC bills, so we had a bunch of $3CUC bills that we would tip with, so you just don't tip as often!. I also made sure to tip the other cleaning staff and I also wanted to tip a gardener at least once but I forgot....

Also, apparently you are not supposed to leave the country with any CUC's, although they don't actually check this...but anyways, we tried to spend as much of it as we can, we used cash to buy all our souvenirs and got rid of most of it (the rest in tips). We used credit card to book the tours (no problem - done at the hotel with our travel rep)

Leaving...
~~~~~~~~
Our flight back was at 10:30am (not bad right?) well...it's 1.5 hours ride back to the airport! So that meant for us, check out at 4:50am and hotel pick up at 5:30am! ugh...

But again, just roll with it! So that was all fine, no problems. On the bus, along with other sleepy tourists heading back, a couple of guys had brought beers! They cracked them open and one of them said:

"You know that saying?, it's 5 o'clock somewhere? They never specified AM or PM!"
(I thought this to be quite funny indeed!)

Arrival at the small airport in Santa Clara, and again, the rep on the bus never really told us this ,which again, would have taken 2 min to explain, but when you arrive in the airport, there are 3 line ups, the first one is to check-in, the second one is to pay your $25CUC to leave the country and the third line is for immigration and to hand in your tourist card...and finally you go through security.

All of this went just fine, no problems. We also did some shopping at the duty free here, i would recommend this for your rum, cigars, coffee etc...the prices were cheaper than on the resort.

There are is also washroom facilities, (leave a tip for the person handing you paper towel to dry your hands!) There is a small snack bar here to get a quick ham and cheese sandwich and fries and book store and also another 'cadeca' money change station, so you can exchange your CUC for Canadian money here (of course, at a 'loss'...)

It was a longer flight back for us due to high winds, 5.5 hours! But Sunwing did a great job again...I would fly with them anytime!


General notes and other thoughts...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Bring your own larger insulated mugs for drinks as the plastic cups onsite are very small and not very environmentally friendly. Although you do get actual glasses in the hotel itself for drinks.

Learning a few words of spanish goes a long way. At least say 'Hola' (Hi), Por Favor' (please) and 'Gracias' (thank you)

We never had issues with bugs, they do fog every day for mosquitoes and these fumes can be bothersome, we were lucky and were in the lobby most times...but be warned, they do this twice a day (about 7am and 7pm-ish).

We never noticed this when we were onsite, but we came back home with a few small bites, probably from the beach...not really a big deal.

We were amazed at the amount of Québécois onsite! You would have thought we landed in the middle of Quebec city and not Cuba! So this was fine, they just get a bit loud sometimes ( I get this as I am French Canadian myself!) A few europeans and some other english speaking Canadians, definitely a lot of Canadians!

And...I'm done! I congratulate you if you read this far! Sorry for the very long review...I hope it can help someone else! Adios and happy travels!

  • Stayed: March 2013, traveled as a couple
    • Value
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Hotel Playa Cayo Santa Maria

Address: Las Dunas 5 | Cayo Santa Maria, 50100, Cuba (Formerly Hotel Gaviota Cayo Santa Maria)
Location: Caribbean > Cuba > Villa Clara Province > Cayo Santa Maria
Hotel Style:
Ranked #4 of 16 Hotels in Cayo Santa Maria
Hotel Class:5 star — Hotel Playa Cayo Santa Maria 5*
Number of rooms: 769

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