Written by moatway on 01 Apr, 2006
The Barcelo property was scoring high: Beach 5/5, rooms 4/5, cleanliness 5/5, grounds 3/5 (immaturity of the plantings), staff friendliness 4/5, staff efficiency 4/5. But what do we really hope for in an all-inclusive? Of course… gourmet food, at bargain-basement prices, served in an enjoyable…Read More
The Barcelo property was scoring high: Beach 5/5, rooms 4/5, cleanliness 5/5, grounds 3/5 (immaturity of the plantings), staff friendliness 4/5, staff efficiency 4/5. But what do we really hope for in an all-inclusive? Of course… gourmet food, at bargain-basement prices, served in an enjoyable setting.
To be brutally honest, it was the biggest shortcoming of the establishment, but it wasn’t all bad. It was FINE. There are a number of restaurants scattered over the property, but almost everyone will visit La Marina several times. It is the large, buffet restaurant in the main building and it has all the charm of a university dining hall; it was generally noisy and crowded with good to mediocre service. The range of selections for breakfast was excellent, for although it leans to the European side, it is possible to order omelets or fried eggs made-to-order and there is an abundance of fruit. The prosciutto, cheese and bread products were excellent and the diner has a choice of eating in either style… France or New York.
I began describing La Marina as "the zoo". If you were to arrive a bit late at either breakfast or dinner, you were met with lines of waiting vacationers and soiled table linens as well as a fair amount of frenetic activity as people scurried about. The evening experience was quite the same: some food could be prepared for you, but generally speaking, the selections available were more than adequate and the food quality was fair. In other words, there was always something to eat, although in my case, I found that the safest route on a couple of occasions was to retreat to the oven-fresh baguettes and to stuff them with German butter, Danish blue cheese and prosciutto. Washed down with an endless bottle of Spanish white, it wasn’t really that bad at all.
In the more mature area of the property, we found the grill, Bacunayagua. Open 24 hours, it serves brunch and lunch, and we found that it was ideal for the latter. Serving a variety of hot and cold foods, it was the one place where you could order a burger or chop right off the grill. It is bright and airy and is situated beside one of the pools, so it provides a nice ambiance in the middle of the day.
Also open for lunch is El Faro, the resort’s seafood restaurant, another airy room over which looms an ersatz lighthouse. It is possible to climb to the top of the latter and it provides a wonderful view of the whole resort and the pool below. The lunch menu at El Faro is the same as the dinner menu (It is one of the four a-la-carte restaurants in the evening.). I found that it was for the hard-core seafood lover. We tried the fish stew and the whitefish and found them good, but I’m glad that we didn’t choose this particular restaurant as one of our three a la carte choices.
Your resort package will probably allow you to escape the zoo and go to three a la carte restaurants. You should probably book on the day after your arrival as they book up fast and there is no attempt to book every table at every sitting. About a third of the tables in any of these are occupied at any given time and entrance isn’t possible without the reservation.
We started at La Duna, the Cuban restaurant on the far edge of the resort. Another open room with high ceiling, it is a pleasant environment. It is also open for breakfast and as it was so little used, it was a decidedly better place to start your day than La Marina… no lines, eggs and omelets to order and champagne and orange juice. Not difficult to get used to. The evening Creole menu includes shrimp casserole, grouper, snapper, roast pork, and fried beef, all apparently, with a Cuban flavour(Which tends to be bland.). We chose to start with a Cuban Caldosa soup and had the Fried Chicken de la Isle… a generous, although not particularly remarkable, meal.
The Spanish dining room is La Zarzuela and it’s in the resort’s main building. It’s relatively small with seating for perhaps 60 and features pale yellow walls hung with paintings of Catalan scenes. The ceiling is beamed and other Spanish influences abound. At some point, a trio, alternating between this room and the restaurant next door, will offer to entertain you at your table. If you request La Bamba, everyone, including the waitresses, will enjoy it immensely. At least, that was my observation. The menu is fairly extensive and interesting, and after starters and soup, my wife chose chicken stuffed with the fruits of land and sea and I went with an entrecote in a pepper sauce. The dishes were very good and the evening passed very pleasantly.
El Arlequino, the Italian dining room, is a large, attractive room with heavy gold table linens and Venetian scenes on the walls. The menu features a selection of hot and cold starters, soups, pastas and three fish dishes and another three meat dishes as well as dessert. We were told that we could pick three selections plus dessert. After the starters we tried the spaghetti carbonara and for main dishes we tried the lobster in casserole and the steak. The wine selection was, again, Spanish… there were no alternatives in any of the restaurants, just white or red. Again, it was a pleasant evening… not exceptional, but very nice.
Well, as I said, it was fine and that’s not all bad. We really weren’t tempted to over-eat and that’s a good thing. The fact is, at each of the restaurants, you will find something. At one point I noticed a French-Canadian family pulling the Nutella, peanut butter and strawberry jam out of a bag at breakfast. I really don’t think that’s necessary. My only observation about breakfast is that if you must have your high-fiber cereal in the morning, you’re going to have to bring it with you.
Written by kiminhalifax on 18 Dec, 2001
Saturday, November 24, 2001
4am – alarm goes off. Why am I going to Cuba?
By 5am I on the way to the airport for the 6:10am flight to Toronto. At the airport, every second piece of carry-on is hand-searched. It doesn’t even go through…Read More
Saturday, November 24, 2001
4am – alarm goes off. Why am I going to Cuba?
By 5am I on the way to the airport for the 6:10am flight to Toronto. At the airport, every second piece of carry-on is hand-searched. It doesn’t even go through the x-ray machine. Therefore, it takes 20 minutes to pass through security.
The flight to Toronto is 25 minutes late landing. The couple next to me are on a flight to Bermuda (poor souls) that is leaving 15 minutes after we land in Toronto – good luck!! I have 2½ hours, so there’s lots of time to relax.
Finally the flight to Varadero leaves and we are on our way. The sky is clear, so the pilot takes it upon himself to be our tour guide – on your left is Disneyworld, on the right side is Cape Canaveral…
Once the plane lands, we are shuttled, one by one, through customs – close the door behind you, it locks, and the customs person must buzz the door so that you can move through the cattle shuttle. The friendly folks from Air Canada are there, and tell me what bus to board.
On the bus ride to the resort – Beaches Varadero, run by the folks at Sandals – we pass many rusty vehicles and army paraphernalia (tanks, weapons) off the side of the road and in the ditches, small shabby homes and lots of construction of new concrete homes.
There does not seem to be much damage from Hurricane Michelle, only three weeks earlier.
Upon arrival at the resort, we give our passports and tourist cards to the desk clerk. Without these little gems we cannot leave the resort – we are told to pick them up tomorrow morning. So we are held captive for the night.
1½ hours later I still am waiting in the lobby – apparently my room is not yet cleaned and they cannot give me anywhere else to go. Two other travelers are also waiting. When the Air Canada Rep shows up, he can not do anything to help. Finally, at 5:30pm (2½ hours after I received, and 3 hours after stated check in time), I am given a replacement room, which is placed directly above the dumpster for the restaurants. Nice smells!! My view consists of the top of a restaurant and a fan. The room is called a "Gardenview Jr. Suite" – where is the garden? Behind the restaurant roof!!
I settle into my room, change and then meet a few people for dinner. Our "pack" is formed that night – Anne Marie, Carey, Janet and myself – they’re all from Toronto. We’re all there by ourselves, but find that we know people in common and spend most of the beach/pool time together. It’s Spanish Night so there’s always rice. Food will become the bane of the entire vacation. Cubans use little spice, undercook their chicken and overcook everything else. We become obsessed with food and the lack of good food at the resort. We are excited when mashed potatoes are served. Yum!!
OK – I’ve traveled all day – I’m tired and cranky. Things will look better in the morning. I head back to the room to discover that the satellite TV included Showtime, HBO, and CNN – Nurse Betty puts me to sleep.
Sunday, November 25, 2001
I wake up. The clock says 7am. I decide to be lazy and lounge around until 9am. Gee it stays dark late here. The sun finally peeks up at 8:30am. I head out to the lobby, see a clock and realize that somehow my clock has added two hours to its time through the night. It’s actually 7am, when my room reports it to be 9am!! So 7am, the restaurant doesn’t open until 7:30 – what should I do? I decide that I’ll spend $2 bribing the desk clerk for a room that is nowhere near the dumpster. I win – the bellboy takes away my bags and I meet him at the room.
My new room is very close to the beach, the pool, the bar, I think paradise!! Of course, it’s also near the show that goes on until midnight with dancing girls in feathers, poor singers, and cheesy music. If I turn up the TV loud enough, I can almost block out the show noise.
The beach is beautiful – white sand as far as you can see, lots of lounges, turquoise water. Beautiful!! The pool is beautiful – lots of lounges, the usual aquarobics classes, and lots of women with no tops on. Just the Canadians were tops – there are no Americans and all the Europeans are naked from the waist up.
All I do for the majority of the vacation is lay a) on the beach, b) by the pool, c) in the pool on a floaty thing while waiters bring a never-ending supply of a) banana mamas, b) lemonade slush with coconut rum, c) pineapple juice with coconut rum. It was a tough trip!!
Monday, November 26, 2001
Today is the most active of the vacation – off to Havana for the day.
We leave the resort at 8am and drive for 2 hours to Havana. The sights on the way are saddening. The poverty is overwhelming – just remember, no matter how hard these people choose to work, they will never have more money, they will never have a better life. The small houses have running water and electricity, but that’s about it. The houses are crumbling, the cars (the families lucky enough to have a car) are rusting and from the 50s, the people’s clothing is old and stained.
We start off with a 3 hour walking tour of many famous squares in Old Havana. The sights are amazing. A lot of buildings are being reconstructed to bring them back to original condition. They look nice, but you have to wonder if that’s where the government should be putting its money. The walking tour ends with a trip to the national museum – quite boring so I head outside and people watch.
Then it’s off to lunch – undercooked chicken anyone? The restaurant is right next to the "Floridita" – Hemingway’s favorite bar & birthplace of the daiquiri, so we go inside to gawk. Very classy place, you can get a $6US drink here, where the average monthly wage is $40US.
We stop at the "flea market" for some shopping. I have brought along a few t-shirts, bars of soap, and gum, so I bargain myself free mugs and musical instruments!! I also purchase a wall hanging and pottery piece.
We continue on – this time driving through Havana – see the art deco buildings (are you sure we’re not in Miami?), see the water, see how the water has eaten away at the art deco buildings. We hit the hot spots – the rum factory, the cigar factory, the building with Che somebody or other (fought in a war with Castro) painted on it, revolution tower and Revolution Square. We see the boat that Castro called Gramma – OK, I’m not a history buff – but I guess it’s important to the Cubans.
During the tour, I buddy up with the Tour Guide, Carlos, and ask questions. I learn:
- The government does a 5-year plan to decide the numbers needed for professions.
- School is compulsory to grade 12 – there is no such thing as quitting high school.
- When you are in grade 12, you get a card to check off what your job preference is. If your grades are good, you get to do what you want (if they need 10 doctors in a province, the 10 kids with the highest grades who choose doctor get to be a doctor).
- All workers receive the same salary from the government each month – equivalent to $40US. Everyone is given a house to live in, which is 10% of the monthly salary of everyone living in the house. BONUS PAY – doctors get a car because they have emergencies.
- You are required to work in your field of education for 5 years. After that most people move into tourism, where they get tips.
YOu can see more photos at http://www.pbase.com/kiml/varadero_cuba__dry_land
Written by LynnLovesToTravel on 29 Mar, 2005
I highly recommend two tours. The first is the Havana Special. This trip takes you to Havana, where they take you to some of the main historical sites and tell you about some the history of Cuba. We were given a chance…Read More
I highly recommend two tours. The first is the Havana Special. This trip takes you to Havana, where they take you to some of the main historical sites and tell you about some the history of Cuba. We were given a chance to get out and see the city for ourselves, go shopping, relax, and eat or have something to drink. Later we were taken to a hotel where we could freshen up and have some dinner before we went to the Tropicana Club. The club is outdoors, so if you take this trip, dress comfortably in light, airy clothes, and ladies, put your hair up! We thought we were going to an indoor facility with air-conditioning, and it was very uncomfortable for most of us.
The second is a catamaran to Cayo Blanco. This catamaran takes you out to a shallow reef in the ocean and you go snorkeling, or you may wish to remain on the boat and just relax. The snorkeling was not great on this particular trip. After snorkeling, we had a snack of lobster, which was $10 each. The lobster was fabulous, and we snacked on this as we cruised to the island of Cayo Blanco. While there, we were free to relax, swim, drink, shop, and later, have lunch of more lobster, shrimp, and chicken. Then it was back on the catamaran to return to the dock.
This last tour leads to something of great upset. The catamaran tour included a bonus of a dolphin show, which I am not really comfortable with, but I went along, as I had no choice. It was a short show, but it lead to my friends wanting to do the dolphin swim. They insisted that I go with them. When the time came, we just couldn't do it. The water the dolphins are trapped in looked and smelled like a toilet. We decided we could not get in that water, and our eyes began to open even wider to see what was really happening to these magnificent creatures. They were living in very small holding pens, and we became very sad and totally enraged at this. This is where I plead with you to not participate in this activity. I believe that for your own health and safety, you should avoid the swim with the dolphins, and for their safety too, please avoid the show as well. Only by decreasing the demand can we help them to be released from this hell. I have already written a letter to one animal rights’ group, and I intend to continue to write about this horror!
Tuesday, November 27, 2001
I am supposed to dive today, but it is cancelled due to rough weather – it is rough off shore, but as calm as a mirror at shore. Within two hours, we see the storm moving past the island – you…Read More
Tuesday, November 27, 2001
I am supposed to dive today, but it is cancelled due to rough weather – it is rough off shore, but as calm as a mirror at shore. Within two hours, we see the storm moving past the island – you can literally see the line where the storm starts and ends.
Since it seems as if rain will visit, Anne Marie and I head into Varadero to the flea market. We spend a couple of hours looking at artwork, leather belts, shoes, toys, and musical instruments. The prices are practically free. Bargaining is accepted at the flea market. When I decide on a painting, I ask the man how much he wants for it. I expect to hear $20-30, but when the little man, who needs a crutch to stand (perhaps afflicted by polio?) says $6 – there is no way I can bargain. I buy the painting, buy another one, pay him the $12, and give him soap and gum as a tip. His face lights up when he sees the goodies – obviously doesn’t get a lot of soap and gum is seen as a luxury.
We decide to also go to the grocery store & "Wal-Mart" type store (although 1/100 of the size) to see what we can find. Toys that we would buy at the dollar store are $9US here. Spam is $8.63 a can. We find out that you can buy chicken-flavored chewing gum – YUMMY!!
Each night at the resort there is a "show" – I use the term loosely!! A couple of times there is the copa cabaña type show with girls in feathers dancing poorly, with cheesy lounge singers wailing "Memories" in Spanish. Tonight it is "The Ideal Couple Election" – 3 couples from Canada (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver) and one couple from Germany – Germany wins and did provide the most entertainment – their prize? A Beaches Varadero poster, a $6 bottle of rum, and a copy of the Beaches Varadero theme song on CD (the refrain is "kitchy-kitchy-kitchy-Cuba" and there is a dance for it that we are all forced to learn that night.
Wednesday, November 28, 2001
Diving – finally!!! The water is still rough from the storm yesterday, but we brave the waves. Visibility is OK, but it is still affected by Hurricane Michelle. The reef is damaged greatly – dead and broken coral is lying all over the bottom. There are not too many fish; did the hurricane claim them as well?
The rest of the day is spent at the pool.
Thursday, November 29, 2001
Diving – again!! Today we head to a Russian wreck – they found it about 3 years ago and it’s still in great condition. There are HUGE snappers and groupers, but that’s about it. Nothing has grown on the wreck. Visibility is better today and the wreck is neat, so it’s a good dive.
I head off to the pool once on land, where I find a new member to our pack – Janet has invited John, from London, England, who is a dry-wit expert, to join our little click – a good addition to the crew. The 5 of us head to the a la carte Italian restaurant where we find smoked salmon – a feeding frenzy ensues. Much better than mashed potatoes.
Tonight’s show is "Mr. Beaches Varadero" – a good excuse to embarrass the men who are standing around. 3 slimy guys and a nice one get chosen to participate – thankfully, the nice one wins!!! He’s Canadian and wearing a Roots sweatshirt.
Friday, November 30, 2001
Diving again – to the same reef as on Wednesday. Much better this time – the fish have come back – lots of snapper, a very inquisitive barracuda that nips at my buddy’s fins, and a moray eel that posed for a photo. This dive was worth the effort – visibility has cleared up a lot.
The last day is spent at the pool until 4:30pm. At that point, I retire for a nap. I turn on the TV to see that El Precio Juste is on – the Cuban version of The Price is Right. Instead of "A New Car…" the big prize is a TV and ghetto blaster combo.
Saturday, December 1, 2001
The last day in the sun ... I sit at the pool until 10:30am, when I have to have a shower and then drag myself to the lobby and spend the rest of the day waiting in airports for planes and eating airplane food – which is really tasty by this time. Duty Free is full of bargain - $5 rum, $3 banana liquor, and $5 toblerone bars.
Well – that’s Cuba – not exactly in a nutshell, but hope you enjoyed it.
YOu can see more photos at http://www.pbase.com/kiml/varadero_cuba__dry_land
Written by lockeb on 15 Apr, 2009
I just wanted to say that I've read a lot of stories that talk about bad food, no selecton of fresh fruit, etc. etc. - my experience was the totally opposite...I was at the Barcelo Solymar in 2007...will be there again in May (2009).....the rooms…Read More
I just wanted to say that I've read a lot of stories that talk about bad food, no selecton of fresh fruit, etc. etc. - my experience was the totally opposite...I was at the Barcelo Solymar in 2007...will be there again in May (2009).....the rooms were spacious, clean, great service, the restaurant food was great..lots of choice..fresh, the fruit bar was full all the time - tons of fresh fruit/juice..we didn't miss out on anything...there were 5 kinds of ice-cream at every mean - tons of cakes and desserts...salad bar - seafood....it was wonderful...can't want to get back there in may! Close