Playa Esmeralda, Carretera Guardalavaca, Holguin
"nice trip for us"
Posted by: christy on Aug 18, 2014
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The resort is surrounded by beautiful gardens in an area of ecological importance, typical of the eastern part of the country.
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"My favorite other hangout was the Azucar"
Richard from London, Ontario on Jan 7, 2010 >
1 contribution(s) Canada
Visited on: Nov, 2009 | Leisure | With Spouse/Partner
172 people found this review helpful
Without any doubt this is very definitely a what's not to like resort? It is just about perfect, constantly improving and visited year after year my many regulars. This was my sixth stay at Luna y Mares but I met many others there who were on their eighth or tenth and one man Wili from Holland who was on his seventeenth. My stay from November 28 to December 12th was in the Luna section my 4th time in 5303 the room I had requested in advance, very clean, thanks to Arles a great housekeeper. Every morning a new bottle of water, lots of towels and bathroom tissue. That section is my choice it's only a few steps to the Luna lobby bar and the Luna pool. A new bar Jazz bar La Notta has opened upstairs over the Luna buffet it offers a nice air conditioned atmosphere a first at Luna y Mares, a pool table, music videos and a large terrace overlooking the Luna pool. It became my habit to stop by after dinner most evenings for a cappuccino and a Baileys (the real thing), over ice. Pablo and Clarabelle were the regular hosts and some evenings there was a sax player. If I didn't stop at the La Notta after dinner my alternate stop was the Luna piano bar The Luna buffet was only open for special dinners so breakfast and dinner were always at the Mares buffet. The quality of the meals was not only excellent but the choice overwhelming, there had to be something to please everyone. My favorite other hangout was the Azucar, a little bar at one end of the Luna pool. This bar, open from 9 to 5 was looked after by Nicolas, he's pretty much a fixture at Luna y Mares he is the last of the original employees having started work there in about 1991. In another life Nicholas was a fighter jet pilot and at one time even lived in Halifax Nova Scotia. He's an incredible man to chat with so be sure to stop by and stop by and stop by again. On that wonderful beach with fine white sand maybe 2 kilometres long by 500 metres wide. Juan and RobertCarlos who will do their best to plant you in the spot you like every day to turn yourself brown. In my estimation, French Canadians without any doubt are miles ahead of everyone else in the turning brown department. They just love the beach and it shows. As far as the la cartes go, I tried three, the Romantico, the new French, the International and found all excellent. I only took in one of the evening shows at the theatre, the Circus show, magician, dancers acrobats etc. It was great for the whole family. Mohamad Gonzales the General Manager keeps a high profile, he staff spoke highly of him and it shows, it seemed as if he was everywhere. This resort offers pretty much something for everyone if you have not tried it you would have a treat ahead of you.
"If you want fresh towels daily good luck! "
Mary Ann from Nova Scotia on Nov 1, 2009 >
1 contribution(s) Canada
Visited on: Nov, 2009
139 people found this review helpful
6/11/2009 to 13/11/2009
Our overall experience at this resort was very good. The management seemed genuinely interested in our well-being and comfort. Any issues we had were dealt with promptly and courteously. There are only 3 computers in the internet cafe area and one had no mouse. It costs $4 CUC for 1/2 hour of usage and $6 for 1 hour. It's dial-up service so it's rather slow. I was unable to log in to my Facebook account from their computers. I got an error message saying it was an unsecure website. I was able to read and send emails through MSN Hotmail. There are no printers and I did not notice anyone trying to download pictures. The resort is an older property. It's a quiet, laid-back atmosphere. It's not a place to party hard and drink until there's no tomorrow. The guests are mostly in the 30 plus age group. It's in need of some upgrades regarding the bedding and perhaps a new coat of paint but the amenities are functional and seemed to be in working order. Cuba is on the! brink of an energy crisis so we did have some power outages during our stay. Because of this energy shortage, the staff are probably instructed to turn off air-conditioners and refrigeration units alot. We found our A/C unit turned off every time we returned to our room after is was cleaned. There is not alot of shopping opportunities in this part of Cuba. Most of the tourist areas sell handicrafts and souvenirs and that's about it. The beach and the warm weather are about all this area has going for it. It was nice to see how the Cuban people live and the country itself, but we both suffered so badly with tummy issues related to the food we ate that we'll probably never travel to this country again. It's hard to enjoy your vacation when you are not feeling well.
Standard rooms have 2 double beds pushed together to make a king bed. Hard, lumpy mattresses. Ground floor room had a terrible musty smell and there were large red ants crawling on the bathroom floor. Fourth floor room (#4004) had a fantastic view of ocean and pool area, no large ants but noticed several very tiny ants. Hot water was available on 6 of the 7 days we stayed. I'm told the hot water is heated by solar power so it's not as hot after dark. During our entire stay we noticed a fairly strong sewer smell in our room. We thought it was coming from the floor drain so kept it covered with a towel but still smelled sewer. Husband tried keeping drains closed in bidet, sink, and bathtub but could still smell a strong odor. Mini fridge is only stocked with one large bottle of natural spring water. If you want other beverages you have to ask at front desk and pay extra for them. If you want fresh towels daily good luck! I think we had the same towels all week. The maid was an absolute doll and hugged me twice and thanked me for the little treats I left for her. She kept the room very clean (except for changing used towels).
Restaurants and Bars::
Reservations for ala carte dining are taken in the Luna lobby after 8 a.m. We booked the Romantic (La Pinta on the beach,serving Mediterranean cuisine) which I enjoyed but my husband did not; and the French (on the Luna side of resort). My husband was not feeling well so did not dine with me. I started feeling unwell after I was seated, so I too did not enjoy my dinner there. The lobster bisque was so salty and the only item I could stomach in my main course was the rice. The chocolate mousse was horrible compared to others I've tasted in fine restaurants elsewhere. The Colon buffet was open on the Mares side (this resort was only at about 60% capacity during our stay in November) and the Luna buffet was closed. The Colon buffet was OK. There is lots to choose from but we both suffered terribly from cramps, bloating, and gas during our entire stay so the food was not enjoyable for us no matter where we ate. I ate at the beach bar (La Nina) one day for lunch and I h! ated my choice. I had a shrimp sandwich with fries and water. The shrimp was again too salty for my liking. The fries were fine.
The beach directly in front of SRLM is fine. When you walk east toward the 5-star Paradisus the beach becomes very rocky and much of it has been eroded from a previous hurricane. Be careful wear you step as I saw 2 hypodermic needles on the beach my first day there. They probably washed ashore from elsewhere. This resort is not very handicap-friendly as far as beach access is concerned. There are ramps to the beach but no boardwalks to be able to enjoy it. The Mares pool was busier than the Luna pool. Due to it being the low season all of the daytime activities happened on the Mares side of the resort. There is a swim-up bar in the Mares pool and lots of lounge chairs. There are no pool-side waiters so if you want refreshments you have to leave your lounge chair and walk to the 1492 Lobby bar for a beer or drink. The grounds seemed to be well-groomed during our stay. The many flowering shrubs were blooming and looked nice. November in Cuba is at the end of the r! ainy season and we had on and off rain the first 2 days of our stay. Hurricane Ida, which passed west of Cuba, gave inclement weather and rough seas for a few days. There are over 50 steps leading down to the beach from the Mares pool. If you don't want to walk back up you can walk further up the beach to the Luna side and there are only 10 or 12 steps to climb but then you'll have a longer walk back through the resort to your room. Upon check-in you are given a paper for your beach towel usage. DO NOT lose this or forget to return your towels to the beach club house, otherwise you will have a charge added to your room upon check-out! You can get a fresh towel between 9am and 5pm daily if you like or keep the same towel all week and return it at the end of your stay. You must present this towel paper to the front desk upon check-out.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel::
We didn't participate in any hotel activities due to our on and off tummy troubles. We did book 2 excursions during our stay. We took the Cuba Life tour and we both enjoyed it. We also booked the Ocean Paradise catamaran cruise and I enjoyed the 2 snorkelling stops. My husband stayed onboard the boat as he was not feeling well. Both tours lasted 6 or more hours. Take Gravol with you on any sea-faring excursions if you're prone to seasickness because the tour company probably will not have any to give you once you board the vessel. There is one hour of free horseback riding for guests of both the SRLM and the Paradisus. The stables are not marked with any signs. They are located directly across the street from the Luna lobby and are hidden by shrubs. You book your riding time at the stable with one of the men who looks after the horses. Take a few bananas with you to give your horse a treat after you return from your ride. They eat them just like apples, skin and! all. Don't forget to tip the stable hand who takes you out on the trail. There is a billiards table and a pingpong table in the Mares lobby bar area. The pool table cloth is in desperate need of changing and the cue sticks have no chalk. We never took part in the mini golf, darts, or other free activities offered. There are horse & buggy rides that park just outside the entrance of the resort. Depending on who the driver is you'll be charged $15 or $20 CUC for a ride into Guardalavaca. They drop you off at the local flea market where you can buy souvenirs.
You can hear the loudspeakers from the pool activities and nightly entertainment in the 1492 Lobby bar from your room. Most outside noise is over by 10:30 p.m. or so. From our room (#4004) we could not hear any music/noise from the nightly beach disco at the La Pinta. The washrooms in the lobby of SRLM (Mares side) have no working latches to keep the door closed and the stalls are very tiny. If you're a larger person you may find them claustrophobic. The money exchange is located in the Mares lobby just beyond all the tour guide desks. There are convenience stores in both Mares and Luna lobbies which sell essentials and souvenirs. The prices are good. One night during our stay we were pleasantly surprised to find that the manager was holding a special guest-appreciation dinner in the buffet. Others had a notice slipped under their door but somehow ours was missed. The food was served ala carte and the menu was wonderful. There was also a string quartet for our dining entertainment. The are only 2 elevators to get to the upper floors on the Mares side and one was not working. The elevator is tiny and runs very slowly. The numbers don't count the floors properly so when it stops you have to peak outside to see what floor you're on. There were only 2 bellhops on duty the night we arrived so we ended up taking our luggage to our room. I suppose we could have asked the desk to call one for use but one would think they would all be nearby knowing that a group of new arrivals were soon due in.
Joan from London on Oct 1, 2009 >
Visited on: Oct, 2009
109 people found this review helpful
Arrival: Oct 25-Nov 1, 2009
My sister and I just returned from an excellent stay at the Sol Rio Luna Mares. We cannot say enough good things about this hotel and would definitely return. The hotel is very well kept, the food was excellent and the staff were genuinely kind. They went above and beyond to make sure our stay was enjoyable. Omar(manager) was always around, he always wanted to be sure everything was ok. Carlos, the money exchange guy, was always laughing and smiling, all around the staff were top notch. The food was excellent, best we've had. We've travelled to a few places in Cuba and have always found the food to be average or bland, but not here, it had full flavor and always lots to choose from. The beach and pool were beautiful, always clean. Would not hesitate to return to this hotel. LOVED IT!!, so go and have a great time.
"We had the very nicest time at this hotel"
Joe and Karen (Canuck130) on Oct 1, 2009 >
5 contribution(s) Canada
Visited on: Oct, 2009
106 people found this review helpful
October 20, 2009 to October 27, 2009.
Our Flight and check in::
Our flight this year to Holguin was with Sunwing Airlines. It was an early-morning flight which we really like. It was our first vacation to Cuba with Sunwing so we were very curious to see what their service was like. We were more than happy with the service. The aircraft seating was quite adequate for us. Sunwing served us a complimentary glass of champagne (nice touch) followed by a nice breakfast. Before you knew it we were landing in Holguin at 10 a.m.. A quick run through the customs and immigration and a somewhat slower run through the security scanners and we were on the bus to our destination. As it was daylight on our way to the hotel we noticed that almost all of the damage to roofs and buildings that had been caused by hurricane Ike that we had witnessed last September 2008 were now fixed and that most of the fallen trees had been cut down and removed. The countryside looked wonderful and green. We were about to find out why LOL. We were to have more than our usual share of precipitation in the coming week. Check-In was quite quick and easy. Our rooms were ready and we even got one of the rooms that we had requested through our online travel agent. This check-in was our quickest ever in Cuba. We were in our room in short order and on unloading our luggage we were headed for the lobby bar or beach bar for a well deserved Mojito.
Our room #3007 which we had requested was more than adequate in size for us. It was on the third floor facing west overlookingBahia De Naranjo and the Dolphinareum. It was bright and airy with quite a high ceiling. Although the gardens at the present moment on this side of the hotel are quite bare the view of the bay was beautiful. This is the quiet side of the Mares section of the hotel complex. It is why we chose a room on this side. We liked watching the sunset from the good sized balcony that we had. The balcony was furnished with two white plastic chairs and a table. It was a very nice quiet place to sit in the afternoon sun and read a little bit. The room itself was furnished with two three-quarter beds, two bedside tables, a writing table, two small cushioned armchairs, a television (with about 15 viewable stations), lots of drawer space, a small bar fridge, a working coffee maker as well. The closet was quite a good size with one chest of drawers and lots of clothes hanger space, a safety deposit box into which you keyed in your own pin number, a working iron and ironing board. The bathroom had a good sized tub with shower and a nice vanity top with sink. A toilet and a bidet. We had no problems with hot water at any time during the week. Maybe in the very early morning you have to let the water run for a while to get it hot. Our housekeeping for the room was top notch the whole week. There was no shortage of towel art swans and even a towel elephant. Drinking water (1.5 L bottle) every day placed in our fridge. As a perk for returning guests we received a bottle of rum and a fruit plate from the hotel. A very nice gesture on their part. As it rained on several occasions during the week, having a good room with a nice view with a shaded balcony seemed more important to us this week.
Our Dining experience::
Dining this week was good. Although we did not do à la carte for the simple reason that everything was booked up by the time we got around to standing in line for a reservation (the morning after we got there). However we feel we didn't suffer as we certainly enjoyed the food at the Colón Buffet. There was a great variety of food all week.
As always was wonderful. Your choice of eggs or omelettes done to your personal taste. Lots of fruit and yogurt and smoothies. Bacon, home fried potatoes and a good choice of cold meats and cheeses. A good variety of bread and rolls. You looked after your own toast (if you put your toast through twice believe me you will have to call the fire department LOL). They had a good variety of pastries. As well they had pancakes or (crepes?) being freshly made right there.
Buffet Lunch was in our opinion exceptionally good with a major amount of choices. The grilling station had fish, chicken, beef, pork, shish kebab and various other combinations of meat that were cooked to your specifications. There was always somewhat of a line up for this but the lineup went pretty fast. There was a pasta station where you had some great choices with everything perfectly done to your specs There was lots of pastries for dessert and of course that wonderful Cuban ice cream. Also station where they flambéd bananas and fruit with cognac or liqueur. The flambé station was fun to watch but a good rule of thumb was to step well back and watch LOL. They served a fairly good quality wine (white or red) with both lunch and dinner. They also served beer.
This was a mirror image of lunch but with some added choices of meat dishes. They served turkey on some occasions and a roast of beef on other occasions. Leg of pork etc.. I would have to say really that they had an amazing choice of food and desserts. If you ate at the buffet and said "there was nothing there for me" then I would have to say that "you are the pickiest eater ever!" Without question there was something good to eat there for everyone both at lunch and at dinner.
Galileo snack bar::
We had three meals here. Two lunches and one breakfast. Excellent service and good food. We had hamburgers and french fries for lunch on one occasion and they were very good. On the other lunch occasion we had fresh breaded fish sautéed to our liking. This fish was served with a side order of fries and a small salad. Excellent. And of course you had a choice of wine or beer or a cocktail for that matter to accompany your lunch. After all the Galileo bar was right there. At 5 a.m. on our day of departure which was the 27th of October at 5 a.m., we had our final breakfast of the week at 5 a.m. . We shared a reasonably good omelette with two side orders of toast and of course their wonderful Cuban coffee. A good way to start the journey home to Canada.
À La Carte::
There were four à la carte restaurants open during the week. The Carabela which is the "International Restaurant", 7:30 p.m. until 11 p.m., the Italian Restaurant "Galileo", 7:30 p.m. until 11 p.m., the "Romantic Restaurant", 6:30 p.m. until 11 p.m.. The new French restaurant "La Bristot" which is on the Luna side east of the Galileo restaurant. From what news and reviews we gleaned from our fellow travelers, the French restaurant looks like an excellent choice for an elegant evening meal.
Food and drink overall::
We certainly have no problem getting food or drink at any time of the day. Actually on our last morning we were supposed to check out at 5 a.m.. We were told breakfast would be available at the Galileo Italian restaurant (snack bar) on the Luna side. Indeed it was open and operating and we were given at choice of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, omelette, or just plain toast.T his hotel has covered all the bases foodwise.
During our week there were two beach bars open ("La Niña" and "La Pinta") from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.. We enjoyed having a cold pre-lunch Cervesa at La Niña almost every day. We didn't frequent "La Pinta". Then there was the aquabar ("La Nao") at the Mares pool. This pool bar had wonderful friendly service all week and was open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except for two days. The Luna Pool had of course the "Galileo" bar close by and the Luna lobby bar "El Dorado" was also adjacent to the pool. The "El Dorado" was a nice place to relax and have a leisurely Mojito in a friendly quiet atmosphere anytime after 10 a.m. . The busiest bar was the 1492 Mares lobby bar. It was where almost everyone hung out all week. A 24-hour bar with good service and on the overall mostly friendly staff. Although we did have a drink at almost all of the bars we really liked the "Azucar" bar adjacent to the Luna pool. Here we relaxed most evenings with an after dinner Brandy and some great coffee before retiring to our room. The service at Azucar was impeccable.
There are two pools in this hotel complex. The Mares side has the busiest pool with most of the entertainment activities. Mares side has a swim up pool bar called "La Nao" which is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.. The Luna side which is the quieter of the two pools is a great place to just relax and read without too much distraction. The Luna Pool has a bar (Galileo) a few steps away. So you are not too far from a cold beer on a hot day. Both pools are very well-kept.
Although the beach area received a pummeling from hurricane Ike last September it is back in great shape. There seems to be enough shade for people who want shade. There are still a few palapas that still have to be re-thatched. There are lots of lounges on the beach. There is an activity center on the beach where you can join up for catamaran rides or for beach volleyball, archery, chess etc.. There is a kids club on the beach also. There are two restaurants on the beach that served lunch (La niña on the Western end (Mares side) of the beach and La pinta on the eastern end(Luna side). These restaurants were used as à la carte restaurants in the evening. One called the Cuban (La niña) and one called the Romantic Restaurant (La pinta ). Both of these restaurants had beach bars attached that were open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.. Because of the weather (we were told by the hotel) the Cuban restaurant did not open the week we were there. They did use the Cuban (La Niña) as a disco from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m.. All of the facilities on the beach were open most of the time. The beach bars and snack bars where however closed two days due to inclement showery weather.
The grounds are certainly as beautiful and well kept as ever. Lush would be the word I would use for to describe the grounds. In actuality the thinning out by Ike of some of the trees on the drop off to the beach enhances the whole view of beach and sea. All of these smaller plants that were put in last year while we were there (hibiscus, Oleander, bougainvillea) were flourishing. They had done a marvelous job of cleaning out all of the dead debris and thicket throughout the property. The Luna side looked pretty good and there is still a lot of trees left there. We would not have known that there had been a hurricane through here if last year we hadn't seen it with our own eyes.
Cadeca or currency exchange::
There is one on the Mares side by the shopping area this money changing facility. We didn't find any difference between the exchange rate for the Canadian dollar at the airport and the exchange rate at this Cadeca.
Our overall impression::
Absolutely great value for money spent. We had the very nicest time at this hotel and as usual the hotel staff treated us so well. It was great meeting and chatting with staff that we recognized from our two previous vacations at this hotel. We felt so welcomed on being recognized by gardeners, security personnel, dining room and front desk personnel, with to our surprise and amazement a lot of them remembering our names. We certainly have the greatest respect for these wonderful people who work extremely hard to make your stay comfortable and memorable despite all of their own hardships. It was nice to see everything getting back to normal after witnessing on our last visit the devastation hurricane Ike brought to their homes and workplace. Well I guess, I should say getting back to as normal as you can get considering the devastation that was wrought by that particular storm. Luna Mares is a hotel that I would recommend to anyone. It is in a very beautiful place with 360° views of a combination of low mountains and azure seas.
Our flight back to Toronto:
Our flight back to Toronto was at 10:15 a.m.. Our checkout time from the hotel was at 5 a.m. and the bus came to take us to the airport at 6:10 a.m.. There wasn't a lot of passengers so the bus filled up quickly and we were on our way to Holguin Airport. The traffic was quite light until we got to the outskirts of Holguin. Still the trip only took just over one hour. Luckily we were the first bus to arrive and we had our luggage checked-in and our seat assignments within 20 minutes. We enjoyed Holguin Airport upstairs lounge. Not a lot of people took advantage of the upstairs lounge so we weren't crowded in any way. Our plane was ready to take off at 9:40 a.m. but we had to wait on the tarmac for a couple of stragglers that were late. Late probably due to the time change in Cuba. Actually I fault Sunwing in a way for those passengers tardiness as everyone's ticket said 11:15 a.m. takeoff and the actual time for takeoff was 10:15 a.m. Cuban standard Time. There was quite a bit of confusion among the passengers about the time change in Cuba. Nevertheless we all made it back to Toronto on the time. Actually ahead of time. Got to Canadian customs quick but alas our luggage didn't show up for 45 minutes. I have to say though we had just a wonderful time on our vacation so all of these small delays, rainy weather and niggly problems can be taken in stride. We would certainly travel Sunwing again. Actually we have booked to go with Sunwing to Villa Cojimar on next vacation. So we will see.
There is some photos of Sol Luna Mares hotel at the link below
"Believe everything good you read about Luna Y Mares"
David & Catalina fromBracebridge, Ontario on Apr 1, 2009 >
1 contribution(s) Canada
Visited on: Apr, 2009
92 people found this review helpful
When did you stay at this resort: April 18 to 25
This was our fourth trip here in three years. Believe everything good you read about Luna Y Mares, and ignore everything negative. This is a six star resort hidden beneath a four star rating. Just remember, this is Cuba; not all is perfect all the time! If you treat the Cubans with the respect and courtesy they very much deserve, and roll a bit with the way things are, you will want to return again and again, as do we.
"You won't find more friendlier staff"
Graham on Apr 1, 2009 >
2 contribution(s) Canada
Visited on: Apr, 2009
103 people found this review helpful
We flew Sunwing and our arrival went very well. Staff were very efficient and friendly.
We had requested 3 rooms together via email and via Sunwing and this was done. We stayed at the Mares side first floor. Rooms were spacious and clean and a very friendly room maid.
Restaurants and Bars:
There is a new french restaurant which enforces a dress code of long pants for men. I had to sit out this one as I didn't take any long pants (my own fault), but the other 4 said it was an excellent experience and their best meal during the stay. The dress code is NOT enforced at the other restaurants. We also ate at the Italian which was good. The Colon buffet on the Mares side was very good and a very good selection of food. The selection is even better than 2007. The staff were excellent.
This is a 5 star beach and won't disappoint. The water lacks seaweed and just the nice aqua blue water with a very sandy bottom. The sandy beach area is very long and wide and lots of Cabanas and chairs plus many trees for shade if you prefer.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:
One person took in the tour of Holguin(day trip) and was enjoyable. Be aware the costs of tours are in American dollars so be cautious of how you pay, ie conversion to Canadian dollars or pesos and exactly what is will cost in the end.
This was our 3rd trip to Holguin and 2nd to Luna Mares. The devastation to trees and plants the from Hurricane last year was VERY evident comnpared to 2007, however, the hotel is doing their best to do what they can to bring it back and it is still a lovely resort. The Luna side was quite dead due to the end of the season. The Canadian dollar was only worth 70 cents while we were there. The horse&buggy ride to the market is now 15 pesos for a half hour (1 hour last time) and the bird sanctuary next door is 5 pesos not 2. We were told the rate increase is to help with the hurricane costs. There is constant management visible and interested in you and they are constantly maintaining quality control. This resort is by far a 4 star and great value for the cost. You won't find more friendlier staff.
"We also went ‘snorkeling! That was great fun!"
Lorie on Apr 1, 2009 >
Visited on: Apr, 2009
104 people found this review helpful
You had me at ‘Hola’…
Arrived back to a really damp and rainy Nova Scotia after a week at Sol Rio de Luna y Mares at noon today, so before I completely slide into a two day crash, I’ll relay my experience and hopefully it will be useful.
We were trying to decide where to spend a week. That was all we had. I’ve only been to Cuba once, spending much more time in Mexico and South America. I knew Guadalavaca was a beautiful area and not quite as ‘slick’ as Veradero and after some resort research, I decided on Luna y Mares. For one thing, it seemed like the resort had huge personality and I really liked what travellers from my area were saying about the staff and management. As an aside, somebody in another review mentioned a ‘cookie cutter’ vacation, and in my opinion that’s a good representation of the experience you’ll have in Orlando or Las Vegas, or even Cancun, which is sort of like Miami. You’ll rarely see a bug, and essentially enjoy completely sterile and pristine accommodations. Staff will be efficient and professional and friendly, and you’ll be blown away by Hollywood and Broadway style stage shows… and what’s not to like about that? If that’s what you want.
For us, it’s about the experience.
Because, on a ‘cookie cutter holiday’ you’ll rarely find a housekeeping staffer who throws her arms around you after the second day of cleaning your room, telling you tales about life in her country and displaying genuine interest in life in yours, nor will you often find a bartender making impassioned salient points about why Che Guevera is a hero and ‘descamisado’ and will never die in the eyes of many Cuban people.
So, ahem… after that fairly lengthy prelude, I’ll give you the goods, as I saw them!
We flew Transat Holidays and arrived at the ungodly hour of 4 am last Sunday, April 5. I was far too excited to sleep and after getting our room ( more later) prowled around the resort for an hour to check out the lay of the land. My excuse for this pre dawn explorative quest, was that I was hungry and wanted a burger- a blatant lie—I was waaay to excited to eat it, but we did get one on the Luna all night snack bar. We were served by an amiable if somewhat sleepy bartender. I didn’t have any tip money so I gave him some sun glasses, which I felt was good and proper. Anyone I ask to cook for me at 5 am deserves something, don’t you think? The hamburger was good. It tasted a lot like my mother’s to tell the truth, and the fries were delicious! After the burger, I had no more excuse not to retire for the remainder of the night, so off we went to room 4009 on the Mares side, overlooking the pool and the ocean. It was big and it was spotless, and it was COLOURFUL! To me, it embodied the Caribbean in a blend of turquoise, pale orange, burgundy and white—a combination that I wouldn’t have thought stunning, but was. The beds were two singles pushed together. Very comfortable. There were extra blankets in the closet, and water in the small fridge. The bathroom was large with a tub and shower, toilet and bidet; sort of a cool European touch, I thought. Everything worked perfectly. The room fixtures were not brand new. It was not the Hilton or the Hampton Inn. I thought it was better.
Sunday am, we staggered off to the Transat Orientation before 10. The Transat Rep was informative knowledgeable, and remained extremely accessible all week. During orientation, the hotel’s food and beverage manager introduced himself, welcomed us, but we didn’t catch his name; only that he was from Spain, so we nicknamed him Mr. Barcelona!
Tromping back to our room on the way to the beach, we met our housekeeper. Her name was Rosa Carmina- and we completely fell in love. She told me with complete sincerity, that the most important thing for her was that my holiday be happy and stress free. I gaped. I couldn’t help it, but she meant it, and though I’m not sure I deserve it, such was the level of her professionalism. She was incredibly funny and, intelligent- and a way of connecting with people instantly. I don’t mean that housekeeping staff shouldn’t be / aren’t intelligent, but it occurred to me after several conversations with her that the country would be better served with Rosa in a diplomatic capacity. She hopes to finish up her degree in the fall, and I can’t help but think her talents are a bit wasted making ducks out of towels, sporting sunglasses and scarves (although the one she did for me looked uncannily like a great aunt I had that died last year!)
We were extremely fortunate to receive an invitation to the new French Restaurant (Bistrau ) on it’s opening night, and it was one of the most delicious meals we’ve ever had anywhere in the world. No joke. There were a group of Health Care Workers from NS at the next table, and we overheard them trying to estimate how much the meal would have cost in Halifax. Possibly $300 a couple with wine; at least that was our guess. I was able to snag a copy of the menu, so here it is, although it will no doubt vary.
Nicoise Salad with Tuna Duet of Asparagus with Citrus Cream
Smoked Salmon Plate
Champagne Pate with Cognac
French Onion Soup
Lobster Bisque with Armagnac
Salmon Steak, with Creamed Dill and Fried Vegetables
Sauteed Caribbean Prawns with Garlic and Butter Rice Crown
Pork Medalions with Matignon Sauce and Potatoes
Beef Entrecote with Pepper Sauce and Stuffed Potatoes
Chateau Brilliant and their Classic Garnish
Pears Cooked with Red Wine and Vanilla Ice Cream
Carmelized Banana Pie
There you have it! We had Smoked Salmon Plate and the Lobster Bisque to start. The smoked salmon tasted exactly like home to us (NS) but it was from Chile. Good on the Chileans, I say! The bisque was also delicious!
We then had the pork medallions and the beef- both of which were fork tender. For dessert, we had the banana pie and the pears. It was a toss up- but I think I’d choose the pears next time—amazing.
The restaurant is very small, and there were a group of very celebratory French Canadians there as well. They were having a lot of fun, and slightly boisterous, and on the way out, a gentleman with their party congratulated the Maitre’De on the opening and whispered humbly that he hoped he “wasn’t too loud.” I snickered to myself, wondering if he’d ever seen a bunch of Nova Scotians on a rant- Here on the South Shore, we drink Cuba Libras; just without the lime—we call them ‘Dark and Dirtys’! Between the two provinces, no doubt we’d be a force to be reckoned with!
We had opportunity to speak with Carlos Freeman, the Maitre’De, and he told us, he had spent the last several months preparing for the opening of the restaurant, ensuring that the ambiance be perfect, his staff highly trained in both food and wine pairings as well. While the other a la cartes were excellent within the resort, Carlos and his staff’s culinary efforts, I believe will make his restaurant many guests first choice. Plus, Carlos is a great conversationalist and host. We felt really privileged to attend the opening.
The Colon Buffet is large and varied. The name still cracks me up, even if it is Columbus in Spanish—no doubt that show’s my level of maturity. Seriously, if you can’t find something to eat there, you’re not hungry. It has a huge selection and the food is very good. It’s been covered in many reviews. My biggest regret is that I saw a pig roasted on a spit and it looked delicious! We went to the French Restaurant that night, so I missed Porky Pig- much to my dismay!
This is getting lengthy, so I’ll try and summarize a bit. We took a horse and buggy to the mini zoo. Our driver’s name began with a G, I believe, but his horse was named Hurricane. He was a lot of fun! He talked in broken English; I in broken Spanish and once in a while we understood each other. Once we got to the Mini Zoo- Rob, the handler took us around to all of the animals, and ‘G’ was so interested, he decided to come with us. We got up close and personal with an African Turtle named Paca, and went in an iguana’s cage named Marisa and scratched her under the chin. ‘I mention G and Hurricane in particular, because we took a horse and buggy into Guadalavaca the day before and our driver was dour and incommunicative and wouldn’t even try to converse with me in my horrible Spanish. I know it must be frustrating but it’s a bit deflating. I’d much rather take another trip with G and Hurricane. The mini zoo doesn’t seem to publicized well, and it’s really worth the trip. You could walk it or take a bike. It’s not far at all.
We also went ‘snorkeling! That was great fun! Close to the Rio D’Oro, we even saw what we think was a tuna. If you have your own gear, that might be good as it’s very popular and might not be available when you want it.
The hotel entertainment was also great fun! Very talented entertainment staff were able to engage a large range of ages and cultural tastes effectively. I also loved the music. I’m really glad not to hear hip hop blaring through the speakers by the pool. It’s not that I mind hip hop (although I’d prefer Nickelback- I’d just really rather hear local music) and that was phenomenal.
The bar staff at 1492 was excellent! Dania (daytime) is very charismatic, and is able to make each patron feel like they were the most important in the world. That’s a gift when you’re not always respected by vacationers.
It’s likely evident, that we, like many people grew very attached to people in a very short time. My partner gave away his ipod. No coercion, or manipulation by anyone. I was proud that he did it.
I had read that Mohamed Fawzi, the General Manager of the hotel was extremely competent, as well as customer oriented, and that was evident quickly. I had the pleasure of speaking to him briefly. I’ve never seen management as visible or conscientious about performance and quality control in a resort. It appeared that at least several managers put in at least a 16 hour day in the trenches interacting with their guests, and there seemed little Mohamed wasn’t on top of.
Mr. Barcelona (we learned his name was Ferran, an hour before we left!) cropped up everywhere too. I’d see him conferring in the early morning hours with his manager, while walking the property, and later clearing glasses from a table if the wait staff were swamped and once high fiving a bartender on the way through the bar. It really made me happy to see “Mr. B” high fiving his staff, because after a day or two in dealing with the front line staff, it’s evident that life for them in Cuba is not the same as life for us. For example, we have no problem buying aspirin, buying a pound of hamburger, and many things we take for granted are just beyond their reach, economically. That’s one reason, I think it assuaged my conscience to see that their managers treated them with respect. I went so far as to ask Rosa, the ‘housecleaning diplomat’ if the General Manager was a good boss. If she had been disparaging, I naturally wouldn’t have given her up- but she wasn’t. She said he had very high standards and wanted the hotel to be excellent. A worthy answer I thought.
Last evening, we had grilled lobster at a table by ourselves outside the international restaurant. It overlooked Playa Esmerelda; there was no wind, and the moon was almost full. The lobster was grilled, and served with a pepper mayonnaise, ceasar salad and a French onion soup that was as delicious as any I’ve had anywhere. For dessert, I had flan with coconut ice cream, and then we watched the water ballet show. I can’t see how our last evening could have been better. I am grateful I don’t have ready access to that coconut ice cream here in NS. I don’t want to be mistaken for the rare Albino Northern Porpoise on my next trip!!
Three last things
1. Second morning out, I got sunstroke. We were on the beach for two hours and I had a hat on. No booze. Really, violently ill and dizzy.l Had to go back to our room, and lay down for almost 24 hours. Be really careful of the sun.
2. We bought some beautiful end tables from a vendor at the hotel. Very nice man. They had fish swimming through sea grass and customs confiscated them because he used seeds for the fish eyes that are poisonous. Apparently it permeates the wood. There’s no way he would know we’d have an issue, but make sure you check because we could easily have taken them out and replaced them with something here.
3. If anyone wants more details or has questions, we’d be delighted to try and answer them. firstname.lastname@example.org
As for a return visit, bring it!
"Resort was better than what I expected it to be"
Dave from Ontario on Feb 1, 2009 >
3 contribution(s) Canada
Visited on: Feb, 2009
90 people found this review helpful
There was a maid whom I did not like, so this resort is not even one star. Oh, yes, and my wife lost something when she left it somewhere unattended for a long time, so maybe this resort is not even a one star!! The beach is too far, so I had to walk a lot, and the staff refused to carry me on their back to the beach after my frequent requests! After all I have paid "A GRAND" so everyone had to bow to me which they did not! After all that I paid, The weather was not good I emailed all my friends and family members to ban this resort and will never go back there again till my last breath, unless Raoul Castro himself send me a written apology to my door
I AM KIDDING!! This is a NON-BIASED and WHINING-FREE review and YOU WILL NOT SEE SENTENCES AND REMARKS LIKE THE ABOVE ONES IN MY REVIEW.
The resort is very nice. The beach is great and ideal for resting, tanning, snorkelling, reading books etc.. The food is good and the restaurants are just OK, some better than the others. The main buffet in Mares (Colon) is offering a good variety of fish, meat, chicken and pork to roast on site which is nice. Don't worry, you will not be disappointed in my opinion, as far as you are there to have a nice relaxed time and you are easy-going.
The rooms on the Luna side are fine and clean apart from the bathroom and the tub, which are OK but can use a facelift. The Mares rooms are better since the bldg is 10 yrs younger. The highlights of the resort are the ELITE BEACH and the wonderful entertainment group.(see my video posts to see the samples). The entertainment was better at the start of the week however the Tues and Wednesday shows were not that great. The other nights were just wonderful (including the weekend and beach party) as I compare them to two 5 star resorts we have been to in the last 10 months. Highly recommended. They start at 9:15 0r 9:30 as posted daily in the main lobby at the entrance of the buffet. The service is good and the staff try to do their best to help you. There is a small disco at the beach which starts at 23:00 everyday. The pools are nice and kept pretty clean. The bars and snack bars are all fine with descent service. Overall resort was better than what I expected it to be.
Things to know::
1-The horseback riding is free for one hour. You should book it a day ahead if you are planning to do it.
2-The snorkelling is great under the chapel of the next door resort (see my posted clips)
3-The mini-zoo is well worth it(2 CUC entrance). Take you camera and pay a visit to the lagoon right next to the zoo.(A CUC is 1.41 CAD - Feb 2009)
4- I highly recommend scooter ride. 10-14-18-21 for 1 to 4 hrs rental respectively. The daily rental is 27$(return till 5 pm). You can go to Guardalavaca mini-market (10-15 min drive). I suggest driving further to the next village which is almost 10 km further down the road. It is nicer and the drive is fun.
5- The excursions are nice but expensive. (With 1.41 exchange rate). I recommend jeep safari (71 CUC)v 6-Catamaran ride is also nice if you are into it. It is free and joyful.
7- Pedalos are also free and fun.
8- We did not see even one sand fly or mosquito (however take your repellents with you)
9- Cuban restaurant is not that good. Others are nice. You get 2 reservations per week of stay.
10-On the last days of your stay, check the boards for any possible flight delays so you can enjoy more hours if such a thing happens.
11-The recreational center is also free to use (Sauna, Jacuzzi).
12- The Holguin airport is small and crowded once you pass into the waiting saloon. Remember to keep 25 CUC per passenger for airport taxes on the return flight.
13- Internet is 6 CUC for 60 min. You can use the voucher several times as far as there is still minutes left on it. The speed is pretty slow (like a dial up in Canada)
14- Enjoy the resort. You will find it lovely.
Luna y Mares is nice for a3.5 STARâ€? resort with nice staff, very nice beach, wonderful entertainment group, good food and ideal for a week of stay. I recommend it as a very nice 3.5 star resort.
"Arriving up to the hotel was fabulous"
Julie from Ottawa, ON on Jan 1, 2009 >
1 contribution(s) Canada
Visited on: Jan, 2009
90 people found this review helpful
In April of 2006, my roommate and I (from Ottawa) visited Cuba for the first time. Yep, just us girls looking to relax and also have some fun. We were definitely not disappointed! We flew out of Toronto Airport and within 3 ½ hours or so we landed in Holguin Cuba.
We booked online with “redtag.ca”. The package ended up being supplied to us through “Hola Sun Vacations”. There was a giant mix-up at the Toronto Airport (where we were to pick up our tickets) and they actually let us go through to get on the plane, without even giving us the tickets back at check-in! It wasn’t the travel wholesaler’s fault, but that’s what we get for being newbies with the online booking thing. Long story long…we delayed the plane a little, but got our tickets and headed off. Mind you…we had a few stares on the plane for holding it up. Oh well, something frustrating always has to happen when you travel…so we were happy to get it out of the way before we were actually on vacation!
The flight into Frank Pais International airport (Holguin Cuba) was spectacular. We could feel the temperature hit us as soon as we landed before we were even off the plane. We were presented with an amazing lush climate, even though there were a heck of a lot of farmer’s fields and skinny livestock too.
The airport is small, yet well laid out. It was quite easy to get through check-in. The buses and tour guides were waiting for us with signs stating what travel company they were with. We were approached by gentlemen selling cold beer as the buses were waiting to be filled. I nice treat for someone like me who is still wearing a sweater from the cold Canadian climate.
The bus took about an hour, but the hour flew by as we had so much beauty to look and the sight of a different culture shock to take in. It felt like the old saying “Is this what Heaven is like? If I’m dreaming, don’t pinch me just yet!”
Arriving up to the hotel was fabulous. We went from a drive through poverty (but beauty), to a paradise in the middle of nowhere! This resort is “Stay at One, Play at Two”. Hence the hotel name, “Sol Rio Luna y Mares”. Luna is one complex, Mares is the other. We checked into the Mares side upon arriving. The bus will let you off at one or the other, depending on your tour package. If you find out later that you got off at the wrong side…no worries…just walk through the one complex to the other. They are attached.
Check-in was fast and efficient and it was nice to have a refreshment bar only steps away from the check-in (for those waiting longer) on the Mares side. The check-in lobby area is fantastically set up with water pools containing tropical fish, lush greenery, available seating, a few shops, and also the restaurant “Colon” is there if you are hungry and waiting for a room that may not be ready yet. Yes, funny name for an eatery, but it is apparently pronounced “Coal-on”. Depending on what time you arrive, the restaurant may be closed in order to set up for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Our room was a standard room with the same bathroom as mostly all the rooms we checked out (from hanging out with so many people that we met that week). Most standard rooms have 2 double beds (which was nice for us but not as nice for Honeymooners…but they have suites anyhow…which has a king bed in them). From what we saw, most or all rooms had their own balconies, whether ground floor or not. What a way to relax away from everyone and everything, but by sitting on your own balcony…especially at sunrise and sunset even if you are not overlooking the ocean. The TV worked with numerous channels. Fridge was handy for keeping water cold and there was plenty of room for all of our outfits and swimwear in the provided dressers and closet. The bottoms of the dresser drawers are not sanded, so putting a hand towel down first before the clothes are put in works very well so you don’t get any shredded clothes. There was a key-pad safe in the room, along with the air conditioning thermostat we could adjust ourselves if necessary. The bathroom was quite large with a shower/tub, sink and large mirror, a toilet and a beday (which is good as they don’t like to supply much toilet paper).
We met 16 people from Canada, Ireland, Great Britain, USA & Russia during our stay. It was nice to be able to relax when we wanted, but go find our “friends” when we wanted to party! The bars were always open (even during the wee hours of the morning when normal people are sleeping!) There were many bars in the hotel. On the Mares side, there was a large one in the main open lobby, a swim-up one in the main pool (don’t worry…I think the water turns colour if someone pees in it), all the restaurants had bars in them and last but not least...the beach had a small, yet beautiful bar. Oh yeah, and the Theater bar is open at night during showings.
There were activities by the pool and just outside the open lobby bar throughout the day. There were special entertainers that would assist in traditional dance lessons (even when people were drunk they had a lot of patience) and pool activities like water polo, volleyball, swimming race challenges (I never knew how many ping-pong balls could fit inside a bikini – you’ll have to go to figure out that game), yet part of the large pool was kept for those who wanted to relax and enjoy the bar area also. There was a smaller pool for the kiddies too. There were other activities in the main lobby area as well, like pool tables, ping-pong, and most of the time there was live entertainment on the stage area. On the Luna side, there was a mini-putt area, a lookout nature reserve area and trails, tennis court, pool table, souvenir shop, and another decent-size pool with hot tub. Nightly, the piano was brought out into their main lobby area by the bar with an amazing piano player. We would request songs and she knew them all funny enough! She made it a very romantic yet fun atmosphere. Most people felt they could dress up and drink wine during her show.
There was a spa on site as well with steam rooms separate for men and women, saunas, lockers, gym facilities, an open air hot tub, a small pool, yoga classes every morning, and even a doctor’s office in the spa area.
The beach…oh my God… the beach. Just read other reviews or check out pics others have taken and posted online. There were plenty of palapas, plenty of chairs (that paid gentlemen always wiped off and delivered to where we wanted to. The sand was absolutely spectacular and the water was even better. There were activities offered down at the beach also. There was a main central hut that we could go to in order to sign up for activities ranging from water sports to beach volleyball. There was a giant chess board set up also (makes for funny pics). We could get extra towels and snorkeling gear at the hut too. The beach is not too long of a stretch, but all very private. There was another resort down the beach, but the shore was not as maintained as Luna/Mares. No shells to hurt your feet on, no big enough waves to sink the skinniest of people. Air Transat even threw a party one night of the seven for it’s guests (we snuck in with people we meet – oops) that was absolutely magical and spectacular. There were tables and chairs all set up and decorated with white sheer linens. There was a line buffet set up along the beach with a pig that had been roasted all day on the skewer and many more delectables. There was table service for drinks and to pick up the plates etc after the meal. Tipping the staff was appreciated. There was live entertainment when it became dark, with fire shows, exotic dancing, drinking games and lots of extra fun. We had a blast! After that beach party ended, the nightly disco beach bar opened up (like it does late every night) and we danced, drank and enjoyed the different Latin and American music ranging from Sean Paul to Nelly to Ne-Yo to Madonna etc. Fantastic.
At night, the theatre was entertaining as well. The theatre was your typical theatre set up with the rows of seats rising the further back they went. The stage was enormous, and the shows were spectacular. Some nights they were themed (like cabaret and impersonations) and some nights people from the audience were allowed up to make fools of themselves. All in good fun mind you! Drink service was also provided if needed. Every night in the main lobby area of the Mares side, you could enjoy live local singers romancing the atmosphere. Breathtaking. They sold CDs for quite cheap as well. What a better way than to bring the memories home via music.
There were bikes and cars for rent outside the complex. The tour reps were available during certain posted days and times for questions or to book off-site activities (like the swim-with-the-dolphins package that was located very close to the hotel also!) There was a telephone station where you could pay-as-you-go for calls back home, and small booths set up at various times to buy souvenirs, cameras, post-cards, etc. One internet station was set-up, but someone was always on it so I could never use it. There was a money exchange booth on the Mares side and one on the Luna side as well. It was nice to only have to bring Canadian money! The rate was better to exchange Canadian dollars to pesos instead of US funds to pesos. I believe it still is these days. As it is next to impossible to change pesos back to Canadian dollars upon return to Canada, we could spend each day exchanging only what we needed to at the time we needed it!
I guess the last thing I have to mention was the restaurants and the themed dinners. You will read other reviews stating that the restaurant on one side was also closed when they were staying there…but if they had have toured the whole complex, they should have found something else open. Even still, they could have asked any of the bartenders if they could find them something to eat. They would have gone into the kitchen and fetched something to tie them over until main meal times. The only reason they would have been closed was due to construction, setting up before main meals, getting ready for theme-only dinners that night, etc. Speaking of the themed dinners, if you book through a tour wholesaler (package deal), you will get vouchers for a number of themed dinners to choose from. You must have them booked in advance as they get full occupancy quite quickly. They rotate nights for the theme dinners, so if it is full one night, you should be able to go another night. The Mares side closes down the open restaurant/bar by the pool area for the Mexican theme dinner. The Mexican dinner is the only one we didn’t find tasted like actual Mexican dishes (different but good…just not what you expect). The Luna sides hosts an Italian dinner with many courses and very good choices, in the open restaurant/bar by their pool. The music was extremely Italian, ranging from Andrea Bocchelli to Josh Groban etc. Absolutely fantastic, romantic and suitable for the amazingly delicious Italian food they serve. Wow is all I could say! For couples looking for the ultimate romantic dinner that even tops the Italian dinner…there is a chance to get a voucher for the dinner down the beach in a very private setting. It is set up on the sand with white sheets as the outer walls blowing in the ocean breeze, and served is steak, lobster, wine, etc. They go all out with the professional service.
I have read many articles and felt that I should do the all-in-one description of one of the best values for your money. I have now been back twice and planning to go again to see the friends I have made there, Dario, Ray, Junior, Wilson, and the rest of the gang!
"as good as it gets"
I. Boldt on Nov 16, 2007 >
1 contribution(s) GERMANY
Visited on: Nov, 2007
1017 people found this review helpful
After the individual tour, the hotel was the icing on the cake. For the first time, nothing was missing. The rooms were large and clean and everything was in working order. Horseback riding was offered free of charge. The traditional Cuban food served was good, in terms of variety, originality and authenticity. Live music and cats were a treat. Even though I was there during the high season, I had a choice between sun and many shaded areas beneath trees and parasols. The beach was at the disposal of the tourists and few residents exclusively. One felt no fear of thefts or disturbances. (Translated from Spanish)