Sitting on the beach and doing nothing isn’t my idea of a vacation so I’ve never gone beyond Florida for some warm weather when winter in Canada strikes. I’ve heard tales of Cuba from a few friends and acquaintances who have been there and say it’s a great place for a vacation so finally decided to give it a try and booked a 7 day all inclusive trip to Cuba.
One thing I liked flying with Sunwing is that there are direct flights from Moncton and the flight departure times and arrivals in Cuba are perfect, not too early to leave, departed at around 5 pm and arriving at a good time around 5 PM as well! I like to get a full night sleep before those flights!
You could tell it was a vacation flight on the plane, the atmosphere was very “celebratory” and many of the guests were getting an advance on cocktails to get in the mood. I’d heard of the all you can eat and drink style resorts and was starting to see the type of people who would be at the resort with me. It was looking like an adventure!
The flight was smooth and as we started to descend it was odd because there are so few lights on Cuba where we were going that it seemed like an uninhabited place. I’m, used to flying into Orlando at night and seeing grids of lights as far as you can see but approaching Cayo Coco in Cuba it was dark with only a few headlights visible and large swatches of blackness with just a moon glow reaching up from the beaches and sands and whitecaps below.
Deplaning from the 737 on the tarmac in Cuba you feel the humid warmth and smell the ocean air similar to Florida but it is such a small airport you really feel like you are going to a different world.
We passed through customs and had my first experience seeing the green uniformed soldiers with shiny black boots looking very much like what you see in movies or pictures of old Cuba. I paid extra to have a private car take me from the airport to the resort Sol Guillermo resort and was glad I did, I had a private introduction to Cuba from my driver who gave me an introduction of the area although I was so excited to be there I was too busy looking out the window at the moon through the mangroves and the cows wandering on the road. The road was fairly deserted so you really felt out of any sort of comfort zone of being surrounded by buildings or people or lights or anything.
I got to the resort around 10:30 PM and got checked in. My room was at the far west end of the resort so was a good 15 minute walk to get there and with the maze like pathways under the moonlight palms it was a surreal little voyage as I dragged my suitcase over the sidewalk.
My first impression of the room wasn’t great but I was tired and was in a new place and so my senses were probably a bit heightened and I was a bit shaken by finding no toilet paper, the fridge unplugged, the remote control not working, no coffee machine, a musty damp odor, broken dresser drawers and chipped and cracked furniture. I was hungry and had to wait until midnight before the snack bar opened. I was thinking that this would turn into one of those horror stories you read the bad reviews about the Sunwing holiday to Cuba and so I took a deep breath and prepared for things to get worse!
Of course things didn’t get worse they only got better!
At midnight I went to the snack bar for some fresh pork and grilled cheese sandwiches and a soda then went back to the room with a new energy and ready to start the vacation in a positive way! I hopped into bed and again my spirits fell as the large king sized bed had a huge crater in it where someone of a large traditional build must have slept before me or perhaps a hippopotamus had slept in the room as the indentation rivaled the scope of Lac St Jean.
In the morning I was a bit stiff but soon realized the other half of the bed hadn’t yet been squashed so decided to make that my future sleeping zone for the next 6 days. The winds were brisk but it was nice to go outside and see the resort in the light of day! It reminded me of being at Disney because of the nicely tailored lawns and little sculptures setting about the resort grounds and the palm trees above me crinkled and threshed from side to side in the breeze.
At the pool area in the morning there were already many vacationers stretched out in lawn chairs, some reading paperbacks, some doing crossword puzzles, some rubbing sunscreen on the kiddies, some playing cribbage at the table under a sun umbrella, some sitting in cushioned wicker chairs behind sunglasses no doubt trying to keep their tired eyes from letting their headaches be spotted by other guests.
The ocean peeking from beyond the clay roofs of the resort was such a bright turquoise, it was so unlike the sea looks here in Canada. A different blue altogether!
The resort is an all inclusive Sol Guillermo with 300 rooms all of the rooms are on either the first or 2nd floor. Balconies on every room. Basic accommodations with a couple of beds, a shower and a table and chair. The buildings were looking a bit rundown but it seemed that everyday I saw workers upgrading rooms and furniture was being moved into rooms and I saw painters doing different areas so I think it is in a constant state of upgrade.
A lot of the TripAdvisor reviews of the Sol Guillermo resort were negative on the rundown aspect of the resort but it probably depends on which room you get which may be a question of luck of the draw. As I strolled throughout the building during my stay I saw inside some rooms that looked a bit better than mine and some that looked a bit worse.
It helped me to accept the fact that this is a third-world country that has been placed in a difficult economic position by many different forces and political spheres which have not been easy for the people of Cuba and I think with what I saw on my short trip outside of the resort they are doing a good job.
A lot of people seem to have the attitude that they are entitled to a deluxe and luxurious vacation because they have paid so much for an all inclusive resort but they are probably basing their expectations on what they have been to in 1st world countries. Of course I’ve stayed in nicer hotels in Canada but I was pleasantly surprised by the facilities in Cuba. The food was great, a nice variety and I could eat at the buffet without getting bored as there was enough selection.
The drinks were free and from what I could see many visitors were well prepared and brought their giant cooler mugs with them so they could drink rum and coke or Buccaneer Beer all day out of the Big Gulp size mug. There was always entertainment, dancing or magic, live music and water sports and activities for everyone; a pool table, ping pong table, tennis courts, volleyball in the sand…there was so much to do just on site you really didn’t need to go anywhere else!
I did go on the dolphin swim, the trip to Morton city, and the catamaran tour, and the trip to the sugar cane plant and those were well worth the extra money I paid to have the tour.
I found the staff at the resort were all very friendly and tried very hard to keep things running smoothly with a friendly attitude. I actually thought most of the negative things about the resort were some of the other guests who seemed to feel entitled to act like they were big shots or condescending to the staff as if they were part of the Royal Family!
There were a lot of smokers and since they don’t have no smoking zones in Cuba yet it was impossible to find a spot without a smoker. Well, the restaurants and buffets were smoke free so that is good and was a good thing but everywhere else there was someone puffing away and most of the time puffing while two fisting a drink and having that mottled patchy bloated puffed skin look that middle aged alcoholics and smokers get.
In the buffet and restaurant, the staff and Maitre D were always dressed impeccably and while there was no dress code many people dressed up as the evening dinner was a more formal affair with live music by well dressed Cubans but there were many guests who showed up in tank tops and flip flops with those flannel type pajamas or Toronto Maple Leafs shirts and ball caps looking like they were late for the special deal at Walmart.
The room got better to me as I got into the third world groove and found it nice and quiet, when I finally figured out that the air conditioner worked by turning a breaker on and off at the breaker board I was happy as the ac was welcome when the winds died down and the temperatures got up to 30 plus Celsius.
The room was quiet, the grounds were quiet there was no loud guests and it was very laid back.
The snack bar was good and there was fresh barbeque everyday by the beach bar. I spent many hours on the beach swimming in the warm waters and just forgetting about snow storms and ice and enjoying watching the gulls and kite surfers at the outer edges of the beach.
I wanted to see Cuba before the Americans started going back if the politics eased and there was more freedom to travel from the USA. For now I really enjoyed it and would definitely go back especially with what I learned about what to bring to Cuba.
Oh and after realizing that all-inclusive doesn’t mean that you will find everything you might want to have with you I made myself a list of things to bring on my next trip to Cuba:
1. Charmin toilet paper for the luxury feeling of home
2. AA batteries because the remote control is likely not working.
3. Air freshener because it’s a humid warm country near the ocean so it’ll be musty and maybe a bit dank on arrival in the room.
4. A kettle to make tea or coffee in the room .
5. A 220 volt adapter for the kettle, the laptop and iPhone chargers and camera battery charges will function in 220 volts but a kettle likely wouldn’t. It was odd that the plugs in the room were 220 volts but were accepting the standard two prong 110 volt plugs we are used to in Canada but the iron in the room was a 220 volt iron with a 220 volt plug that didn’t fit in the plugs in the room (!)
6. Bring snacks because if the snack bar is closed and the little store in the lobby is closed and the buffet is closed you might get hungry.
7. Sunblock OMG I got burned even wearing it the sun was so brutally scorching me!
8. Nice clothes for the buffet so you can eat and dine like a real person not a savage from the trailer park.
9. Bring a large mug for carrying your beverage and avoid the little throwaway plastic cups they give you from the bar that only hold 4 ounces anyway.
10. Earplugs for sleeping and if it’s windy.
11. Bring money to exchange at the front desk. I didn’t bring enough money and thought I’d be able to get money from a bank machine or bank but had to take a taxi to the next resort to get to a bank so next time I’ll bring more money.