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Sandals Royal Hicacos
Seachick 

October 2008
Vacation Photos

We're a couple in our early-mid 60's. We usually don't go to the Caribbean this time of year but wanted to celebrate my BIL and SIL's 30th Anniversary with them. Unfortunately they had to cancel at the last minute so we went alone. This was our second time to Varadero in 5 years but our 5th visit to Cuba.

We knew this was off-season for Cuba but we were pleasently surprised at all the amenities available. I don't think I've ever seen such friendly, smiling staff in all our travels. We were pleased to see that Vardero suffered no damage from Gustav and Ike.

We arrived at reception to a cold glass of champagne and cold faceloths to refresh us from our trip. We were given a handy little bag with a weeks supply of shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner. Room safe was free, beach towels already in our room and no special coloured braclets were required. Half of the resort was closed for summer and we were given a room at the furthest point from the beach in the Sunset blocks. We requested a room closer to amenities and were told to come back the next day. We did return the next day and Luis changed us to Block 17 with no trouble at all. The Front Desk people are friendly and professional.

The rooms were spotlessy clean, big, with lots of storage room in the large closet. King size bed was very comfortable and the sheets changed everyday even if we told our maid it wasn't necessary. Coffee maker and all the fixings were supplied each day. Bathroom was beautiful with a tub big enough for 2 people. Water pressure was great. We had to phone the desk because we didn't think the a/c was working but it was - it's completely silent! A ceiling fan over the bed also helped cool us down. Large patio doors with the best lock system I've seen in all the resorts we've been to - plus there's a screen door which also locks. Our balcony looked out on the garden area which also had a small pool and a jacuzzi. Our room remained spotless during our stay thanks to the excellent maid service. The only thing that looked a little ragged was the bedspread and I realized it was because the maids twist it up into 'towel' art..so I imagine that's what made it look bedraggled. The room has a fridge which was refilled with a litre of bottled water every day. When asked if we could have some soft drinks we were told to call the concierge for that. We didn't bother. I don't know if this is the norm or just because we were in off-season but a few soft drinks or a few beer would have been welcome.

The grounds are clean and have some nice vegetation but there aren't many actual pathways on the ground. People get around the whole resort, except for the pool and beach, by walking on boardwalks and bridges. A cement canal runs through the resort - giving it a Venetian feel - without the smell :) The canal needed some cleaning in certain areas but it was pleasent to see and hear the little waterfalls while walking around. Very pretty when it was lit up at night. There are 2 gazebos near the reception which I presumed are used for weddings. We didn't witness a wedding during our stay so I can't comment on that.

Everything is very central at Hicacos.The main lobby and pool bar were closed for renovations until November 1st, so people would congregate around the 'Varadero Night Club' and Piano bar in the evenings. The theater and the buffet is also in the same area and we got a bit bored by the end of the week, always being in that same area. The Buffet and Piano Bar is on the second floor of the main building. There is a small elevator that can take you up. The Piano Bar has outdoor tables which is a nice place to sit to catch an evening breeze.

We found the food of excellent quality at the Hicacos and well seasoned - something quite rare for Cuba. There was a good selection of delicious cheese and breads along with cooked and raw veggies and a pasta station. Smoked salmon was available every lunch time. Great desserts and a crepe station. We didn't see much change in the selection though, but the meats were different every day and of good quality. Staff at the Buffet, from chefs to waiters, were very professional and always smiling. Most people speak english. We also enjoyed the air conditioning in the Buffet and the new decor which looks like a French market. Coffee was mediocre unless you requested it from the espresso machine. I miss the coffee as much as I miss the staff! We ate at the El Caribe a la carte where we enjoyed our meal, the atmosphere and the great trio who serenaded us. Every Tuesday is Managers Night and they serve champagne and hors d'oeuvres near the Night Club.

We're beach people so I can't comment on the pool but we saw lots of people enjoying themselves in the little caves and waterfalls. There were also floating loungers which seemed a hit, along with the Pool Bar. The beach is to die for! Beautiful white sand that goes on for miles. Water was very warm when we went and very clear - you could see your feet. You can walk far out before you get to chest-deep water and there was no wave action at this time of year. There wasn't much in the way of snorkelling but there were lots of little shells along the waters edge to keep you occupied. High tide left you lots of room to walk the beach - not like some areas of Varadero. We had a hard time getting out of that beautiful ocean and we still think about it. There is a big snack bar on the beach where you can eat or just sit with a drink - it also converts to an a la carte in the evening. They serve the same food everyday - hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza. We never ate there because we can eat the same thing at home. Again, staff here is exceptional and JB would walk the beach morning and afternoon taking peoples drink orders. Always a smile and a hola. The snack bar closes at 5 and they set out a table with champagne on ice and glasses for those who want to just chill out and watch the beach for a while.The loungers on the beach are stacked at the end of the day but there are people who prepare your loungers for you the next morning.The palapas looked pretty new and they were nice and large. They are also installing another row of them so there shouldn't be a problem getting shade. This was one nice thing about going in off-season - no getting up early to get a palapa. There was a lonely beach vendor who would push a cart onto the beach every day and just stand there in the hot sun, waiting for customers. He never hassled anyone and didn't look like he was getting many sales either. There is 24 hour security at this resort - on the beach and around the resort at night.

Evening entertainment: It rained often around supper time and the main stage wasn't used once during our stay. I don't know why because the rain stopped around 7 PM. Shows were put on in the Night Club which wasn't really set up for people wanting to sit down and watch. One night there was a singer who did a wonderful job with a Janis Joplin song. I was flabbergasted! They also put on two Tropicana-type shows - not great but entertaining and hubby enjoyed the ladies skimpy costumes. :)They have live musicians playing outdoors and in the buffet before the big show at 10 PM. The best show was the synchronized swimming done at night. It was very pleasent to sit around the pool and watch. There are a few shops at the resort where prices were reasonable. I didn't like the internet hours - 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM. The internet is in the Post Office shop where you can also buy really cheap hand made souvenirs. The few pool tables and a ping-pong table were always in use.

All in all, a compact, laid-back resort which was easy to get around, wonderful, wonderful staff, great beach, great quality food, spotlessy clean. I don't think it would suit a younger crowd who likes a lot of action - but maybe I got that impression because of it being off-season. It was a wonderfully relaxing place and we're glad we experienced it.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Samantha 

July 2008
My husband and I went with a couple. We are in our late 20’s, early 30’s. My husband and I have been to several parts of Mexico, 4.5 stars and up and I have been to Jamaica. I was really looking forward to an all inclusive Sandals adult only trip.

I agree with most everyone the food was great in comparison to what you would eat at lower star resort in Cuba. Friends of mine have gone to a 3.5-4 star in Cuba and said the food was awful as well as the drinks. The beaches were beautiful and the resort was nice. No complaints there.

I got extremely ill in Cuba and it was very frustrating at best. You cannot call toll free from Cuba to your insurance company even if you have a 1-800 number and if you have an insurance company that goes through headquarters in the US, good luck since they don’t deal with Americans. There is supposed to be a doctor on sight every day but there wasn’t on the day I was most ill. By the time one came, he sent me directly to a tourist hospital which we could have done earlier. The hospital treatment was adequate, however all the medications I needed for my recovery were not given to me as they needed confirmation that it was covered. My husband spent many frustrating hours on the phone with our insurance company on a line that kept cutting out and running back and forth to send faxes. $100 phone bill later and no medications. I was sick 5 days out of the 8.

If I had not been sick, I still would not have liked this resort to be honest. It’s very boring. No night life at the club, it was completely empty all night. The piano bar hang out that everyone was at was geared for people older then ourselves. Oddly too, the female workers were not friendly with me or the other woman travelling with us. Quite rude actually but nice to our husbands. I find the workers in Mexico much more pleasant. The entertainment was awful at the outdoor theater as well. Although the food was good it was difficult to find a place to eat as you have to book for restaurants and the buffet is open at limited times. Not at all what I am used to where food is available most of the day.

To summarize, beautiful beaches, good food for Cuba, rude waitresses and not at all geared to younger couples unless you came with a group and were getting married there. I will note we were married at the Riu Palace in Mexico where you could get married at any of the Riu resorts at the garden, beach or gazebo. The gazebo where people were getting married at Sandals was cheesy, for lack of a better word. No comparison to where we were married. This is a definite disappointment for a 5 star.

I likely will never travel to Cuba anytime soon, however our friends are going back. They thought it was great but it was their first Caribbean trip and they had nothing to compare it to.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Ronnie 

May 2008
We have just returned from our fifth stay at Sandals Hicacos, (April 14th-21st) and having never written a review, I felt that one was finally in order and long overdue.

My husband and I have been repeat guests since the resort opened, and have always stayed in concierge. Our first trip was in March 2003, when everything was still very fresh and new. We were so pleased with the accommodations, service, food and genuine warmth of the staff that we have continued to return.

Last March we stayed at the Princesa del Mar, having booked it when it still carried the Sandals name. By the time we arrived it was being managed by the Melia chain and although we had a great holiday and had no complaints about the room, food or staff, we really missed the overall ambience of Hicacos and the friendly and personable staff, so much so, that we decided we had to return once more.

Once again we were not disappointed. The grounds have matured over the years and the walkways/bridges surrounding the buildings that house all the suites are very lush and overgrown with vines, giving it a very tropical feel. The grounds are well maintained and the rooms, though starting to look a bit dated are spacious and well kept. Our day and night maids did a great job of keeping the room orderly and stocked with fresh towels.

The a la carte restaurants were excellent, our favorite being Las Morlas (seafood) and El Viejo y El Mar (beachfront grill which doubles as the beach snack bar during the day). Though El Caribe has a lovely atmosphere, we simply did not enjoy their menu selection but that is our personal choice and nothing to do with the overall quality and food presentation. This was our first time back since the renovations in the buffet restaurant that were done last year, and all I can say is "Wow". We could not believe the variety and choices being offered. At lunch one day, in addition to the made to order pasta, fish and dessert stations, there was also the grill where you could choose from chicken, pork, lamb and beef filet made to your taste and preference. Lettuce which can be a scarcity in Cuba was plentiful and on the salad bar every day along with fresh tomatoes, small grape tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and all the other fixings one might desire. There was never a problem finding something good to eat. Although the resort was at full occupancy, we never experienced long line ups although this could be due to the times we chose to eat.

The beach is beautiful however due to the hurricane a couple of years ago, many of the palapas were washed away so shade is at a premium especially if you go down at a later hour. The main pool area can also get a bit crowded with a full house but as we prefer the "quiet" pool area in the concierge section we never had difficulty finding loungers or a place to hide from the sun.

Ramel, the new general manager is excellent, and very visible everywhere..
He is extremely personable and makes a point of talking to the guests, inquiring about their stay and addressing any questions you may have. It is quite evident that he is also very popular with the staff and this is reflected in the level of service they offer.

The concierge staff under Madelin's direction are top notch, always greeting you with a warm smile and a hug, and ready to assist with any of your needs be it a la carte reservations, money exchange, etc.

There are several plans in the works for this resort including a complete revamping of the lobby bar to increase seating and provide a better work environment for the bar staff as they presently work in very cramped conditions.

We could not have asked for a more perfect holiday and realized by the end of our week's stay, (which again sped by far too quickly) , that we needed to return to our "Home away from home" hopefully for a two week stint this fall.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Glenn and Patsy 
Chester, Nova Scotia
April 2008
My wife and I spent 2 weeks at Sandals Hicacos March 28-April 11/08.Overall we were highly impressed with almost everything. We found the hotel to be quite laid back in a very relaxing way. We liked the size of the hotel as everything was easy to get to without a long walk or taking a cart.

The beach was fabulous as described by many others.We love to take long walks on the beach during the day and here we could walk for miles.The hotel is definitely on the best part of the beach.

The hotel staff at Hicacos were the most friendly that we have ever met. They would greet you with a smile that was truly genuine.All requests were dealt with immediately and professionally.

We had been to Cuba before and were expecting the food to be no better than adequate.We were most pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food we were presented with. The buffet was fabulous with fresh cooked turkey, large shrimp every evening,fresh fish cooked to order,excellent pizza and pasta station,steak porkchops and the best sausage I have had in years.You couldn’t ask for more and the staff took great pleasure in serving you.Small tips were appreciated but not expected.

We also ate in the 4 specialty restaurants which were all very good with the Caribe being our favourite.

We booked the concierge suite which we would recommend.The food and drinks at the weekly concierge party were truly amazing. We had the opportunity at the party to meet and speak with the newly appointed General Manager Mr. Ramel Sobrino. He is young , energetic and very hands on in his position. We noticed Ramel on many occaisions, both day and night, walking around the hotel to get a first hand look at the workings of his hotel.With his high work ethic I expect that Sandals Hicacos will continue to excel.

One thing that amazed me was that I have never been to a Caribbean resort that had as many return guests as this hotel. There were many couples that had been there 5 times or more.

We will definitely be returning next year.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Alex  
Toronto
March 2008
We went to Cuba in mid-January and stayed at the Sandals Royal Hicacos in Varadero. We're a couple in our 20s and 30s. This is our second Caribbean vacation.

We flew with Sunwing. We found the plane a little crammed and the seats a little old, but overall, we had a pleasant flight, with complimentary champagne and wine.

Sandals has its own bus at the airport, with a tour-guide, so the 30 minute drive to the resort proved informative. If you are planning on exchanging money at the airport when you arrive, please note the cambio (exchange window) is on the departures side. The airport cambio does have the best exchange rate, but the hotel¹s was only slightly less favourable.

We arrived at night. The resort provided us with a hot towel upon arrival and a glass of champagne. Our room was very spacious, tiled in usual Caribbean style, clean, with a very large bathroom. There is a two-person tub, which we did use on a rainy day. The fittings are a little lime-scaled and water pressure is an issue, but otherwise it¹s all very sanitary. The maid did a great job, and we always left little packages of make-up, toothpaste for her.

The resort is very pretty, with a water channel running through it, crisscrossed by lots of bridges. The water channel wasn¹t my favourite feature, especially after witnessing its being disinfected with some kind of chemical dust, presumably to keep the mosquitoes away, but it did make for a more unique layout. The rooms are in smaller buildings to the east and west of the main entertainment complex.

Please note, most of the restaurants, bars and activities are housed in one central building. The most romantic restaurant is El Caribe, which has its own separate building, not far from the main complex. Its décor is pleasing to the eye, as the food is to the palate. We¹d also recommend the seafood restaurant. As expected, fish is a delicacy that should be enjoyed over and over here at all the restaurants. Pizzas at the Italian restaurant are better than expected, and a different lunchtime treat. The buffet is plentiful, especially when it comes to choices of meat, fish, potatoes and desserts. We dined at the beach grill once at night. The menu is very sparse, but the outdoor setting makes up for it. The beach grill is also the place for a hamburger and fries lunch, though I had deliciously grilled fish there.

The wait staff in all the restaurants were very courteous, professional and happy to be of service. El Mirador, the lobby bar, was nice for a pre-dinner drink, as was the outdoor patio of the piano bar. We did tip often, but we felt the service would have been fine if we hadn¹t.

In our estimation, the beach is the nicest, widest on the strip, based on our half an hour walk of the shoreline. The water was so clear you could you see your feet. We never had any problems finding beach chairs, though we generally arrived fairly early. There are vendors peddling their wares, but they are not aggressive in any way. We enjoy the beach, so we didn¹t use the pool. It¹s got a funky shape to it, shallow throughout, looked inviting, if a little crowded.

The weather in January can be a little cool at night, we learnt. Bring pants, sweaters and shawls, especially to watch the shows at night.

We only saw two shows. I would say the shows were weaker than I expected, though the dancers all worked very hard. We enjoyed the traditional Cuban dancing.

If you do have poor weather, as we did for the first 3 days (they were rainy and cool), you might want to consider going into the town of Varadero. There is very little to do at the resort, so we enjoyed a sweet, luscious pina colada in Josone Park, a well-kept secret in Varadero. We also went to Havana on an organized tour. Go to Havana at least once in your life. Next time we go to Cuba, we¹d like to stay 3 days in Havana, and 4 days at a resort.

If you depart at night, as we did, do not expect being able to negotiate a late checkout. We were told there is a courtesy room where we¹d be able to store our baggage, shower and change. To save yourself some serious aggravation, do not expect to be able to use this room. There are only 2 showers, and even though we arrived early, it is just far too busy. The bell-boys also refuse to take your valuables, so when you check out, you¹re basically left to carry your passport, wallet, camera etc around with you for the rest of the day. We took them to the beach with us.

Is this a 5 star resort by Cuban standards? Yes. Is it as luxurious as other Sandals resorts elsewhere? No. Is it a good choice in Varadero? Probably the best.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Arni & Allie  
Victoria B.C.
February 2008
Flight---- We flew Transat, and like your typical Charter Airline, the seating was less knee room, the service was good.

Airport---Easy check in Cuba (Varadero) they didn't look in our luggage, but there was a dog walking around the airport which seem friendly, but it was probably sniffing around for drugs.

Concierge--Taxi to hotel and back, (faster check in) so you avoid the bus line up. they take care of your luggage and champagne upon revival. concierge cocktail party later in the week and handles most everything you need including stocking the bar fridge in your room, which was a great bonus.

Room--------Private balcony, very comfortable bed, if you bring your own razor from home, use a European plug adaptor ( 2 round prongs) voltage is 220v room is air conditioned, has hair dryer, iron, transformer for 220-110

Bar-----------Lots to choose from and stocked with top quality liquor, all the bar staff are great.

Food---------Wonderful with lots to choose from,

Service------Very good tipping is appreciate, but not expected, the staff share their tips, with other staff, so if you have a favorite staff , an extra special gift is is appreciated, we gave lots of gifts away.

Beach------- Beautiful, lots to do, to get a shade on the beach you must go very early like 6:30-7:00 to put a towel on a lounger, come back in 2-3 hrs, and no one will touch it. remember to bring bug-bite pen, insect repellant, recommend to bring a insulated cup to keep your drinks cold, topless is optional.

Pool-----------Did,to use it much, but used the lovely swim up bar,

Grounds------Marvelous, the gardener gave us fresh flowers each morning, for this we gave him a small token to show him our appreciation, he was very happy, our chambermaids were given dollar store gifts, and in return left us a thank notes each morning and eve.

Tours----------Many to choose from, we took the Havana day tour what a beautiful sight also swam whit the dolphins, (don,to miss this one) we recommend to stay over night and see more of Havana with lots of history, and architecture.

Overall---------Our experience was awesome. Cubans are very special people. We are definitely coming back, thanks for everything.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Trevor/Tamara - Grant/Kris  
Alberta
February 2008
Arrival - This was our second trip to the Hicacos. First trip was in May 2003...just months after it was opened. First and foremost I must say the the resort once again exceeded our expectations. Although our Air Transat flight was a meer 7 hours late, we finally arrived at 5 AM local time. It was a nice site to see Joel welcoming our flight, even though it was really late. It was also nice to see the vendors (or taxi cab drivers) selling beer. 2 Crystal beer for $5 Canadian. It was extremely refreshing. It was really nice to have a dedicated bus for the hotel. Not only did we not have to wait for many, but we also went straight to the hotel. Reception at the hotel was great, even at that early time of the morning. We unfortunately did not get our welcome champagne, but the beer at the airport was good enough for us considering we were tired.

Rooms - The rooms and the resort are still in prime shape. Everything worked fine in our room, and it was even nice to see a bit of CTV Edmonton TV on the tube (even though we never really watched it). The rooms were kept extremely clean. There are converters in the room. It only took us a week to get enough courage to try it out - ours looked a bit medieval. We did have to use the extension plug that was used for the radio and TV to make it work, but I certaintly did not need to bring my own converter.

We did not purchase the concierge package either, and I don't think we really missed much. Check in was fast. Bags arrived fast. Line ups for the resturant reservations were not long and who really needs to drink more when they get back to the room anyways? The bars are just a few minutes away with much better drinks than a mini bar could do.

As for tipping the maids (and others in the resort) one thing that we will say, is that it is probably better to provide the maids and other staff with money than those little gifts that everyone seems to take them. I seen loads of toothbrushes, soap and pens given out as tips. If you actually go into town, you can see that they have access to a wide range of goods and the $1 or $2 that you give them will provide them with the opportunity to buy those extras for the families. Yes, they don't make much, but in Varedero, we sure saw lots of young kids wearing much nicer Nike shoes than what we were weaning. I'm sure the country side is much different, but money, we felt was a better choice.

Restaurants - All the food was great...as usual. Did not have a complaint at all, and we didn't get sick. The only resturant that we did not appreciate as much as the others was Las Moralas (the seafood resturant) as it is for couples only. If you travel in a group, like we did, they will not put the tables together. We only ate there once in our two week stay. We did eat at all the other resturants twice. El Caribe was our favorite. Great selection.

The buffet was also awesome. Loads of seafood, loads of excellent cheeses, and great desserts. We never walked away hungry.

Bars - Being there for two weeks (and taking your own to-go mugs...a definte must since your drinks stay nice and cold), you definately get to know the staff well. Many of the staff has been there since the the resort opened and it was really nice to see them all again. Many of them recognized us as well. Make friends, give a tip or two, don't be rude and you'll get great service. Dirty Monkey's are great. And Le Duan makes a great grasshopper (lobby bar). If you are looking for some good quality scotch or Crown Royal, visit the Piano Bar. Excellent selection of top shelf items.

Beach and Pools - Awesome, awesome, awesome. The beach and ocean definately did not disappoint us. The weather was great so we spent much of our time on the beach. One thing to watch out for is the beach chair guys. If you get to know them, they pimp you to bring them beer. We got caught once doing this once and then we avoided them a bit so that we did not get stuck doing that for two weeks. The chairs on the beach are a bit worn out, so if you have back problems, you may want to search for a better one.

Grounds - Beautiful. It was really nice to see the growth since our first visit. Very mature and beautiful. The gardners are out very early sweeping and keeping the place beautiful. Check out the palm trees in the front entrance. They post the years they were planted. Neat to see the growth potential. Too bad trees don't grow that fast in Alberta.

Activities - I must say we are a bit lazy. We did not partake in any of the resort activities except the scuba. Three of us got certified up to 15 m while at the resort. That did cost more money ($220 pecos), but will be worth it on our next trip as we can go scuba diving the day we arrive and not have to wait to do the resort test and course. If you need to get money, the front desk will not give you an advance on your visa. You pretty much need to go into town and visit the bank. There is a visa cash advance machine in the Mall of Americas, but you need to know your PIN number for your visa card. Otherwise, at the bank, as long as you have your passport and the visa, you can get money.

We did also use the gym facilities. Even though it says it opens at 9 AM, we were there at 7 AM. Treadmills, step machine, bikes and a full weight lifting compliment. Clean and well kept. Very nice.

Tours - We did take the Jeep Discovery Tour. We definately enjoyed the day. Got to see the country side and enjoyed the cave diving/swimming and the boat ride. We booked this early in the trip through our Air Transat person. We also went into Varadero a couple times to go to the market (it's on 17th Street for reference). Instead of the double decker bus, we took the regular coach buses that stopped for you. They costed 2 cuban pecos each way and they were much faster than that double decker bus...which never seemed to be on schedule. Last time (in 2003), we even took the locals bus. It was cheap, and got it there in one piece.

Conclusion - As I mentioned earlier, many of the staff are still there from when they opened the resort. It was great to see all of those friends once again and make some new ones.

We absolutely love the Hicacos because it is a smaller resort and of course no kids. You get to meet alot of really nice people from all over the world.

Will we go back...definately. We'll be there next January.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
 
Canada
February 2008
It is Saturday morning and we returned from the Sandals resort yesterday afternoon landing in a snowstorm!

This was our first trip to Cuba (our first to the Caribbean in over 25 years!) and I was a bit nervous about what to expect. After lots of research I chose the Sandals Resort. What a wonderful place. I will not repeat the previous review by Scott and Diane, they have covered it very well.

I do want to relect on a few points.

We also chose the Concierge Service and found it to be a great value. It was wonderful to be whisked to resort upon arrival and even better to have a quick trip to the airport for the trip home. When we arrived at the airport we were the only passengers in the check-in lineup, 15 minutes later the buses had arrived and the line-ups were very long!

Just a quick point about the visitor visa. When you arrive put it in a safe place that you can easily access upon departure because you will need it to check in.

Check-in was very fast and easy. The Concierge representative arrives at the front desk and takes you immediately to the private lounge where you are given sparking wine and all the resort amenities are explained. We were then escorted to our rooms and within minutes our bags arrived. One of the amenities of the Concierge service is a money exchange. If you did not change your money at the airport you can do it at the office - make sure you get small change because when your bags are delivered the bellboys will expect a tip.

The rooms were beautiful; large, clean and comfortable. Well stocked bar, lots of towels and the gift pack of shampoo, conditioner, bath gel and moisturizer is really nice. We took along flashlights but found that the paths were adequately lit and they were not needed.

The staff was always busy working around the resort, refinishing decks, raking and otherwise working in the gardens, washing walls and floors and just generally keeping things in good repair.

We chose to eat in the (reservation) restaurants every night. The food was beautifully prepared and presented. The staff was attentive but not obtrusive. Some Canadian restaurant servers could take some lessons from the Cubans. The servings were small by Canadian standards but we found them quite satisfying.The International restaurant was good for breakfast and lunch but lacked the little something extra for special dinner dining.

We had the lobster at the Beach restaurant. Very different from cold water lobster but very tasty, but a little overcooked. Most days we ate at the Beach restaurant for lunch. Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, Pizza, great salad and wonderful Roast Chicken. On a busy day the staff are very busy and occasionally we would receive the wrong order. Hey, I was on holiday, the food was good, there was no reason to get upset.

The house wines were very good with a variety of reds and whites available.

The beach, what can I say about a bit of paradise? We walked for miles looking at all the beautiful people enjoying the water, sand and sun.

We had a variety of weather and two days we could not go in the water due to high winds and waves and jellyfish, but then there were the pools. If you want a chair in the shade you will have to go down to the beach early. Take your towel or a book to claim your chair, then head off to breakfast and come back later. When you claim your chair there will be a beach attendant who will put it out and set it up for you. Please remember to tip these people. The work very hard and do a great job.

Vendors move up and down the beach offering jewellry and other items for sale. The Hand-made crocheted clothes are beautiful.

The staff were friendly, attentive and polite. They are also poorly paid and appreciate tips and other items you can give them. The average pay is 15 CUC's a month. They receive a ration book with which to buy groceries and other supplies for the month. The book only contains enough coupons for 2 weeks, tips help them achieve a slightly better standard of living. We took the time to greet staff with a smile and "Hola!" It was always returned with a smile.

If you take the time to be friendly to the bar wait staff, they will be very attentive, often replacing your drink before you have finished the first one. Try the Mulattas and the Mojitos. Very tasty!

We took the day trip into Havana. It was a fascinating trip about 2 hours from Varadero. Our tour guide spoke very good english and was very knowledgeable. Well worth the time and cost. The bus stopped on the way to and the way back from Havana for a washroom break (remember to have some small coins to use the facilities - purchase toilet paper) and we got to purchase the best Pina Coldas we had on the trip - lots of pineapple.

As you can tell, we had a wonderful time and we are planning to go back again. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me, dsjrk@magma.ca.

Hola!
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Scott & Diane 
Vancouver, BC
January 2008
Our Photos

Arrival - DECEMBER 30th, 2007 - JANUARY 13th 2008. We arrived on a direct flight from Vancouver at 5:45am! We breezed through customs with no questions or problems...even though we had 2 suitcases full of gifts in our luggage. We had purchased the concierge optional package, so there was a taxi(van)waiting for us, which sped us away while everyone else crammed onto busses. We reccomend the concierge service!

Rooms - We were immediately checked into our rooms upon arrival; I'm not sure if that was because of our concierge status, or the resort's occupancy level, but after the red-eye, a 7:00am check in was welcomed. The Bellboy drove us(golf cart)straight to our rooms....a good thing, because at first glance, the grounds seem complicated and confusing to navigate. Don't despair! After a day or so, and a look at the site map that they provide, it will be easy to find your way around. I'm not sure how other folks have gotten lost, if they had the same clearly outlined map that we had. The room itself was above average caribbean fare - my wife has travelled extensively throughout the region as a business traveller, and she assured me that it far above the norm! Large, clean, and in good repair; The same with the bathroom/shower. The concierge package includes a stocked bar fridge and bar...which included Cuban Rum, Gin, Vodka, Scotch, Red& white wine, Beer & sodas. This was restocked daily, usually around 9:00am. Our room was located in building #25, overlooking the concierge pool. A very nice, quiet area, away from the main compound. Some may think it isolated, but we enjoyed the "resort in a resort" feel...with our own pool, hot tub, concierge office(where you can change money for CUC, make dinner reservations, and deal with any other concerns). This area is also close to the spa, gym & tennis courts(watch out for people sneaking in from other resorts to use these facilities! We cought a couple one day hiding their bracelets under their watches.)

Restaurants - The restaurants. Hmmmm. Well; I had read most of the reviews here before we went to Cuba, and I was a bit worried about what the food would be like. To say that I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. Without exception, we found the food preperation and quality to be excellent; bearing in mind what is available to them here in Cuba, and what other resorts are serving(we talked to many couples staying in other resorts while we were there). Yes, they do use some frozen vegetables...but they are kind enough to thaw them before serving! There was always a large selection of fresh fruit & vegetables at the Buffet restaurant for each meal. and a good selection of entres to choose from as well; Beef, chicken, pork and sausage grilled to order, as well as several different types of fish & shellfish grilled as you like. There is also a pasta bar, where you select the ingredients, pasta & sauces, and the chef cooks it all up in front of you. They make personal pizzas there as well... On my wife's behalf, I must mention the bread; She wanted to bring the baker home with us...they had the best fresh baked bread & rolls we've ever had. Most time still hot-from-the-oven-fresh!

Aside from the buffet restaurant, there are 4 others , which require reservations...and long pants for the men! A real pet peeve for me, as I don't wear pants, even at home(literally, NOT figuratively!). But, I packed the one pair of dress pants I own, and grudgingly suffered through wearing them four times. The restaurants serve, respectively, Itallian, Fish, Caribbean, and Beach Grill fare... We found the food to be equal in quality with the buffet, but the style of restaurant just wasn't to our taste. It was all very elegant & fancy; small portions elegantly prepared and presented, but it somehow just didn't seem to fit our "resort vibe". I guess, if you like that sort of thing, then you will! We certainly had no complaints about the food quality. One warning about the Beach Grill, though...they allow smoking in the restaurant. We are both non-smokers, and were disappointed to have someone puffing away at the next table while we were trying to enjoy dinner. None of the other restaurants allow smoking.

Bars - The bars are....well...bars! We didn't spend a lot of time in them, as that wasn't the reason for our trip. The main bar is the "Lobby Bar", very large, with big comfortable chairs & open air walls(if that makes sense). Attentive staff and speedy service here(as everywhere else in the resort). there always seemed to be music trivia going on when we were there....but live music on other occasions as well... There is also a pool bar, a 2nd floor piano bar(VERY smoky!), and a disco bar...but we never really used any of these.

Beach and Pools - This is the real reason for any Varadero vacation; the BEACH! It goes on for miles, and it is beautiful. Very fine, warm sand, bathwater-warm clear water, and hot, hot sun! The resort supplies beach chairs and palapas(perminant beach umbrellas). Fair warning....if you want to have a chair in the shade, then you have to get up early and "reserve" your space by leaving a towel or book or what have you, on one of the chairs. I am an early riser(befor 7:00am), so this was never a problem for us....but by around 8:30 - 9:00am, most of the beach umbrellas were spoken for. Ditto for the main pool area...so if you want that particular spot, be prepared for early mornings! We spent most of our sun time at the concierge pool...much quieter and more private; also easier to find a lounger! Worth noting: I had read that the pools were not kept clean, etc... I can only surmise that the people who complained of this liked to sleep in a lot. I was up every day before 7:00am, and EVERY day, I got to say good morning to the pool cleaner! he was out there for an hour every morning, cleaning the concierge pool & hot tub. Go figure...they try to do the cleaning and maintainence while everyone's asleep....;)

Grounds - The grounds were very clean and well kept; there were always gardeners around, doing the weeding, cleaning, and planting. We also saw people cleaning the pools & spas. In addition, there were workers doing maintainence and general upkeep...fixing cracked paving areas, painting, etc. Everything that we encountered was in good repair & functioning. As previously reported, the grounds are a bit dark at night; we were told that this is on account of the strict energy saving policies in Cuba. They also ask that you disengage the power in your room when you are not there. We would reccomend that you bring a small flashlight with you, if you find it hard to find your way at night. We had brought one, but after a few nights, didn't bother to use it. Once you get your bearings, the dim lighting really ins't a problem.

Activities - In addition to the Spa, Gym, and tennis courts, there are other daily activities you can participate in(depending on the day). They have dance classes, spanish lessons, billiard, ping-pong, and dart tournaments, dance demonstrations, and other things. You are given a daily schedule of events upon arrival, to choose for yourself. They also have shows in the evening, on a large outdoor stage; Mostly Dance shows, with various themes...Cuban history, Caribbean, Magic, Circus...etc. The New Year's Eve show was fantastic, complete with fireworks on the beach for the finale.

Tours - There are 2 options for booking outside tours; there is an office onsite(sort of like a travel agency)where you can book tours or rent a car, etc. They offer a wide variety of tour packages, depending on your taste. Havana tours, Catamaran tours, jeep tours, etc...

The 2nd option is to book tours through your travel representitive; We booked our trip through Signature Holidays, and used their onsite representative to book our excursions. He was available each day, for 2 hours or so(meeting in the Lobby bar)to book and arrange outside tours. He was also a wealth of information on local customs, advice on how we should conduct ourselves, and so on. We booked a Havana tour, which included an evening at the Tropicana nightclub, and a Jeep Tour, which took us out into the countryside, to see the real Cuba that resort visitors don't often see. We actually detoured from the group and got our driver to take us through local villages & a tour of Matanzas(local city)so that we could distribute the gifts & medical supplies that we had brought with us to the people that really need them...NOT the hucksters in Havana who pester the tourists, then sell the goods on the black market! PLEASE don't give those professional beggars anything! If you bring things that you want to give away, simply ask someone at the resort what would be the best way to distribute it...Our Signature Rep actually collects things and then takes them to Schools and Orphanages...a much better option than having them end up on the black market.

Conclusion - Simply put, If you are staying at Sandals to visit Cuba, then you will be thrilled, refreshed, and satisfied; if you are travelling to Cuba to visit Sandals, then you may be a little disappointed(but you would also be missing the point). Cuba is a beautiful country, and it's people are genuine, friendly, and welcoming. If you take the time to get to know them, and their country, you will want to come back again and again. we will be!

A FINAL NOTE: there has been much discussion on this website concerning tipping. Keep this in mind: Yes, you paid a lot of $$$ to stay at Sandals all inclusive resort....but that money goes to Fidel, and the offshore business interests! the average wage in Cuba is around $270 per month... so TIP THE STAFF!! They will be pleasant, efficient, and professional wether you tip or not, but a bit of money will go a long way in making their everyday life a little better. We tipped on average about $15 CUC per day..very LOW by Canadian standards, but a lot of money to them. And don't just tip the food&bar service staff...remember the grounds keepers & security people as well...they work long hours to make sure that your stay is a safe and enjoyable one.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at morir2@hotmail.com
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Linda & Pierre 
Scarborough, Ontario
December 2007
Vacation- Average. Rating 4 Stars – The Brochure/Website is not accurate

We flew with Sunwing 737 (small) from Toronto to Varadero. The service was excellent. We were given snacks and a hot meal with a glass of wine.

Customs Varadero: This went pretty fast. You go through customs individually, not as couples. You then get your luggage and look for your designated bus. In our case it was a station wagon. The ride to the resort was about forty minutes.

Resort: The resort is not very impressive as you drive up. The lobby is very small and check in was not very organized. We were given a glass of champagne while waiting. Once checked in, you were given a little bag with shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and bodywash. We took our luggage ourselves to the room, because if you waited for the bellboy it would take much, much longer.

Grounds: Need Lights big time…very dark. The paths to the rooms are very poorly lit. There were these water trenches throughout the resort, not too many flowers and grass…more cement and wooden bridges and railings tied with ropes (not very safe). The mosquitoes loved the trenches. The main bar…which is the pool bar also, is where you sit for drinks before dinner (try to sit away from the water). Don’t get me wrong…it’s very romantic with the lights in the water, but the mosquitoes like it also.

Pool: The pool is not very big. There is a Jacuzzi in a corner area inside the pool and a separate hot Jacuzzi…not a romantic location. It’s beside the disco and washrooms. The week we were there we did not see anyone clean the pool, there were plastic cups and straws at the edge of the pool, plus the ocean was warmer than the pool. ***note***there was a snake in the pool. Even with all the commotion no resort staff came to the rescue. The lounge chairs were just the regular plastic blue and white type. There were a couple of pool mats for floating…people used them on the lounge chairs to make them more comfortable. No tables to place your drinks.

Beach: The beach was awesome!!!! The water was beautiful turquoise with soft white sands. You can walk for miles. The best part of the vacation was the beach. The same plastic chairs (which is perfect for the beach). You also used the same towels for the beach and pool.

Bars: Only two bars were really noticeable. The lobby bar/pool bar (the same). There is one at the buffet (if you like climbing the stairs to get drinks). The drinks are “not top shelf”. The bottles are. The cappuccino was great. We did not like drinking wine out the plastic glasses at the beach grill. The beach grill had the “Best Food”. We really enjoyed the grilled fish and chicken.

Food: No comment. One reviewer mentioned that people who complain are probably eating MacDonald’s. Well fast food for us would be Swiss Chalet. Cuba and food …well you figure it out.
I did not notice any snacks/late night snacks.

Entertainment: Very dead. The lobby bar had a karoke setup…they just sat around and talked and when they did play it was only for three songs. There was no piano player. There was a Spanish quartet after dinner. The show was nice. It was held outdoors. There were three to four people in the disco. It get’s really quiet by 11:00pm. There are a lot of older people at this property. We are older and found it boring.

Service: We truly enjoyed the maid service provided by Lien. We had a beautiful suite. There is no oceanview at this property. We were a bit disappointed because the resort was not as new. It is only five years old and it looks much older. Ladies…please bring a blow dryer. There was some sort of contraption with a long hose that looks like it should be on a vacuum.

Spa: This was simply ridiculous. It was way behind the resort with no signs to follow, when I did find it…the hot tub was not working and covered with leaves, the steam room was out of order. It was the worst massage I had. The therapist was in a hurry. It cost $70.00US. Cuba is strange with the currency…sometimes they would take Canadian money, sometimes convertible pesos, we had to pay US for the massage. The price at the Spa for the massage was not quoted in US go figure.

Overall: We loved the beach and the service was great when you tipped (we tipped and took lots of gifts). We will not be going back to Cuba. There are much nicer REAL five star resorts. I can be reached for any further information at linda.nadeau@bbdo.ca.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Mark  
Caledon, Ontario
November 2007
Arrival - We arrived from a delayed flight out of Toronto around midnight. It was simple to get our luggage to the waiting bus and an informative 30 minute ride straight to the Resort. Greeted with toiletries and a guide to our room. We were in the 900 block and I could have got our bags there faster myself but for most rooms it's worth letting the bellmen deliver them.

Rooms - The room was fine except the bottom sheet on the bed was not fitted and kept sliding around leaving me on the plastic mattress cover! The bathroom was very nice with a nice size tub (for 2)! We should have brought something to convert the 220v outlet so that our canadian appliances would work but there is a built in hairdryer.

Restaurants - The food was good everywhere. Coffee in the Buffet was poor unless you had them get it from the 'machine' at the corner bar. We ate at all the restaurants at night but the buffet did us just as well a couple times. Lunch at the Italian patio or Beach Grill is perfect. We enjoyed the house red and white wine by the glass but you can pay extra to buy bottles from the wine list at the restaurants.

Bars - The lobby bar is the place to hang out in the evening from 7 - 9 or so there was a singer with a keyboard and drummer and we really enjoyed them. Lots of guests enjoyed dancing to their music and it was a perfect spot before or after dinner. The service was casual but the price is right! The coconut drinks at poolside look better than they taste. Unless you like a warm rum/coconut milk drink.

Beach and Pools - Get out there early (before 8:00 at least) in the morning to reserve your lounge by the pool with your blue towel and put a floaty on your lounge under your towel if you ever want to use one. It makes the lounge much softer and you can't beat floating on them in the pool. Sometimes the loud cuban music and the afternoon poolside trivia games and activities were intrusive but it depends on your mood. The beach was perfect and the water was warm in late November. Both pool and beach were certainly bikini top optional!

Grounds - The facilities were great with repairs and upgrades in progress.

Activities - The evening shows at the outdoor stage were what I would score in the 70% range but some of the audience participation action was fun depending on the participants

Tours - We never left the grounds and had a great week!

Conclusion - Highly recommended. I have read that mosquitos are a problem for some but we never experienced them in late November. We took way more clothes than we needed. We left some dollar store items for our maid every day. Carried pesos for occasional tips when warranted. We had a early evening departure so we used the shower facilities near the lobby and stored our bags there safely after our noon checkout time until our 7 p.m. bus. Plan a little extra time as the showers might be crowded. Bought some little items at the Varadero airport upon departure.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
John 

September 2007
We checked your website before we left and found some helpful tips on...well, tips and such so hopefully our two cents might help others.

With Flight Centre's advise, we ended up choosing Sandal's Royal Hicacos for our destination wedding at Cuba and we also chose Super Club Bella Costa for my parents.

For one week in September, the trip was amazing. Food was great, people were great. We 'were' a little taken back by the tip attitude from a few staff but overall it was a very nice vacation.

Food: Royal Hicacos had four restaurants open and a buffet...and I must say every one of them was superb. We really enjoyed the food. Seafood restaurant was very elegant and it really caught us by surprise as it was our first reserved restaurant and we weren't expecting such experience. The moment we stepped in, we realized why there was a dress code. Food at El Caribe was somewhat disappointing though. First time for our wedding dinner, it was alright but then, we weren't really paying attention to the food. The second time we went for the normal menu, some of their food had skins and shells that really should have been taken out and the staff never really got around to our dessert despite other couples coming and and out.

Weather: There were few thunder storms but they didn't last more then 2 hours and let's just say we came back with sun burns. By all means, get the best sun block and lots of it. The last day we ran out of our spray one and my shoulder was red hot by the end of the day. The fact that each room had an umbrella was a nice touch as well since we could get around the resort.

Staff: Most of the staff were quite friendly but I could see that this is what they do every day and I also felt some of them only cared for the tips they get. There were few helpful folks who came out to greet us now and then and made us feel very welcome as well so I guess it's somewhat mixed between friendly to neutral. The bus tour on the way from the air port to the resort caught us by surprise when he mentioned $10 for tip for the driver and himself...and that really confused us. We found later on that in average most people seem to tip 1 CUC or two, and sometimes even less. Someone here advised tipping every other day or based on the service and I whole heartily agree. Although, from the few we have talked to, their income really is low. And the ad that might say tip is not required...well that's just false advertisement. So expect to spend $50 or so on tips for one week.

Beach: The beach was beautiful. The waves were just right. As only one of us could swim, we skipped out on scuba diving or snorkeling but we tried kayak and pedalling boat, and banana boat. By the way, we broke our kayak paddle and had to pay the marina 42 CUC. It seems the equipments are rentals from the marine and thus can not be charged to the hotel. Just one minor downer but otherwise we had lots of fun in the sun and by the beach. One other note: if you walk between resorts, you might come across some people who will attempt to act friendly and what not. They tried to sell some shells to us and even shoes. I guess it's up to your mood to either donate some money or what not.

Entertainment: There were nightly entertainment we didn't fully take advantage of. Just take lots of mosquito repellents at night. There were also few day events such as fashion show but it wasn't much, just some advertisement.

Excursions: While we didn't go to any, I believe our parents really enjoyed the catamaran (sp) that included swimming with dolphins and a lobster lunch, though my mother didn't enjoy it after having a few from the Halifax.

----------

For Super Club Bella Costa, I want to say please do not go there. Apparently the staff was short handed and there were only one restaurant open each night besides the buffet: same staff, same chef, same visitors. Perhaps it was due to the low occupancy but it seems this resort was closed last year and thus some of the rooms were not in working order. Buffet was great though from what I hear and what I tasted when we visited them.

The first room my parents went into had malfunctioning AC that eventually leaked, and some ants came into room and bit my mother's knee--it looked horrible--at which points my parents asked them to move to another room. The second room also had malfunctioning AC but they soon fixed that. The washroom, however, looked very horrid. It was small, crammed and very dark.

My parents really enjoyed the vacation but I think they enjoyed Cuba; I don't imagine them going back to that particular resort and let's just say my wife and I came to appreciate Sandals that much more.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Dolores 

August 2007
I read the reviews after booking and started second guessing my selection of resorts. But after returning from a week in paradise, I have concluded that some people may just be a little grumpy and might even enjoy nit picking.

Our novice experience in Varadero and at the Sandals has convinced both my husband and me that we will definitely be returning to SRH. We had a shuttle bus waiting for us at the airport that went directly from the airport to the resort. Not having to make 5 or 6 other stops was a nice treat.

We were met by 2 bellmen and Nadia at reception. After champagne and the distribution of complimentary toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and after sun lotion) we went to our rooms. This is the first time we traveled in the evening leaving Toronto at five arriving in our proper rooms by about 10:30. Perfect for us because we unpacked and went straight to sleep - waking in the morning ready to begin our holiday. In the past we arrive at the hotel around noon, rooms aren't ready, we're too tired form the early morning flight to enjoy the day. Then the day of departure, we miss almost the entire last day b/c you have to leave so early you don’t get a chance for the beach or much more than a visit to the pool before leaving for the airport. We didn’t even bother with the extra fee for late checkout and were just fine! We also don’t feel like we missed anything by not taking the concierge service. Our travel agent felt it wasn’t necessary for low season and I would have to agree. It might be different in December but in July – all things looked equal from our perspective.

The room was spacious, clean and cool. The ensuite was lovely and always replenished with fresh towels. I would suggest bringing your own hairdryer as the one in the room wasn’t very strong as well as a few facecloths from home to take to the beach for perspiration clean-up. (My hubby was really glad I packed those – the new just rinsed them and left behind) The bar fridge always had two bottles of water in it and our charming chamber maid even got us a few cans of Cristal occasionally. (sh-sh-sh I don’t think she’s supposed to do that) .

The pool was beautiful but nothing compares to the beach. Every morning we were met by a Sandals employee who found us a palapa and two chairs. Each of them was friendly, helpful and gracious. While on the beach there would be a server from the Grill who would come down and take drink orders – talk about being spoiled! Food at the grill was yummy! I was only slightly disappointed to find out the pizza ovens weren’t working. But over the course of the week we had grilled sandwiches, pork chops and fish. All very tasty – except one day when I ordered fish – rather than the usual filet – I got the whole thing! It tasted great – but I had to do some quick surgery and remove some parts that were not visually appealing. (My own little bugaboo)

Both the buffet and the a la carte restaurants were excellent. Our favourite was the pasta and pizza bar at the buffet. The Morlas (seafood) and Caribe (Caribbean) were excellent with unique menus and excellent selection of entrees. El Viejo y el Mar down at the beach was also very good. We thoroughly enjoyed our surf and turf dinner – though some folks might find the food a bit overdone we felt the scenery more than made up for that. Besides – we figure maybe that’s the way Cubans like their food. As for Don Pasquale’s it was ok – not bad but not great. I guess this is where I should tell you we’re both Italian and are very particular about our pasta. It certainly was alright – just not what we are used to. The meal does begin with a very nice antipasto bar and there is a lovely ambiance set by the accordion player. The wine at all the restaurants was very good. We tried the Chilean and Spanish reds as well as the Chilean Rose and White. None of the wines disappointed us. Neither did any of the bar drinks – and we tried several! It seems Mojitos are the signature drink but our favourite was the Mulata cocktail. Ah yes! Those thermal cups were a real bonus! Size and temperature were greatly appreciated and we were also environmentally conscience (ok so it sounds good!)

Each restaurant has live music every night and the stage shows we saw were very entertaining. For some reason there are people out there complaining about the quality of the shows – for heavens sake! It’s not Hollywood! It’s not Vegas! We were in Varadero, CUBA, and I loved the Cuban music and dancing.

My husband and I took a day trip to Havana and are both glad we did. Our guide was well informed, helpful and seemed genuinely happy doing his job. He encouraged questions and interest in the country. Lunch on the excursion was quite good and the beer tent outside the market was a welcome relief on a very hot day. If you want to make any purchases at the market it seems there is some wiggle room for haggling but most prices appeared to be pretty fixed. We brought home some of the hand embroidered linens and I’m sorry I didn’t pick up one of the great paintings.

Some people may find the site a bit tricky to navigate with all the little walkways, buildings and canals. I found it quite charming and it helped keep us in a relaxed carefree mode because we were never in a hurry to get anywhere and isn’t that what vacations are for? I recommend you do bring a flashlight at night to walk back to your suite as the walkways are not well lit. Some kind of insect repellent is also needed – we brought the OFF towelettes and these were very handy – except ladies it will gum up the nail polish!

From our experience it seems that tips are welcome but not expected. I did bring some gifts for the employees such as toiletries, linens, souvenirs of Canada and children’s gently used clothing. In future I think I will only bring these items for the housekeeping staff and tip others with Cuban pesos. We also found that instead of tipping 1 peso for each service we would either alternate tips (one or 2 per day) or we changed some of the money to smaller denominations and left 25ct or 50ct. Everything was met with equal gratitude. There was only one bellman on our first night who waited around anticipating a tip.

The Sandals Royal Hicacos has all kinds of services and amenities we didn’t take advantage of – tennis, banana boat rides, spa services and more. But neither of us felt like the holiday could have been any better. This was our first experience with an adults only resort - and it was an added bonus that it was couples only. I love kids and young people but it was really nice not to have all those activity announcements going on all day - and equally nice not to be in the middle of flirtatious behaviours among some of the guests.

We relaxed, ate, drank, slept and had a wonderful time! I highly recommend this resort and agree with the 5* rating.

You are welcome to write to me if you have any questions or require clarification of my lengthy review.
dolores27@rogers.com

Hasta luego!
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Michael 

July 2007
Sandals Royal Hicacos, Varadero Cuba
July 14th – 21st , 2007
Concierge suite, Conquest Vacations with Executive Class Upgrade on Air Canada flight, YYZ-VRA With the upgrade this package cost us $3600 at the end of May.

This was our fourth visit to SRH. After last year we had decided not to return and would have preferred Sandals Princesa del Mar (now Paradisus). Price and familiarity called us back and we didn’t regret it in the least!

Conquest: We had no contact with them at all in Canada or Cuba. The orientation with the representative was scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. but we were on our fourth visit to SRH and skipped. We used Conquest because they offered the AC flight, better times and the option of the Executive upgrade, at a cheaper package price than AC Vacations. We prefer the early morning departure. You have a drink and are in the ocean by noon and your last day is Friday so you cut loose and get up a little shaky to sleep off the night before on the plane.

AC Executive Class. For approximately $300 per person the upgrade is not cheap but even on such a short (3 hr.) flight the extra room is appreciated. The service, food, drinks and attention, is not much better than steerage but you do get a private (semi) bathroom and a lot more luggage allowance (two or three 70 lb bags!).

SRH Resort: This is a beautiful resort with some gorgeous gardens, well kept, lush and full. While the Resort ages, and the heat and humidity are hard on everything, we noticed this year even more efforts and evidences of keeping up with the wear and tear. Walkways have been renewed, chairs replaced, benches recovered etc. Last year we thought we saw the resort slowly deteriorating. This year we had more of a feeling that things were being kept up. Several restaurants had new chairs and the lobby bar chairs have all new cushions. The biggest change was the complete make over of the Main Buffet. (I have never thought of SRH as wheelchair accessible but there was someone there who seemed to be able to get around and enjoy himself as much as anyone else.)

WEATHER: Don’t trust the weather forecasts on the net or anywhere else. We were predicted to have clouds and thunder showers all week. I was untouched by rain. We had one morning which was 60 – 70 % cloudy and the rest of the day time was %90 blistering sun. It was hot. It was humid. We love it this time of year. We often heard thunder as we lay on the beach sweating in the sun. There was one downpour which woke me up around 5 a.m. one morning and lasted about fifteen minutes. Remember, that this is hurricane season (and Sandals has an excellent Hurricane Guarantee, we were there for Dennis and back last year for free [except for airfare]).

WATER: The Ocean was warmer than I recall, almost hot for the first fifteen feet out and calmer than we’ve ever experienced, almost flat. There were plenty of schools of small fish in close which was beautiful.

BEACH: I am convinced that Varadero is a world class beach, ie. top ten. The water clarity, temperature, gradual slope (you can walk for about twenty to sixty feet before covering your shoulders) of the beach, the powder white sand, length of the beach and lack of ugly hotel high rises (except for the Blau’s Cancun style high rise….a big mistake in my mind) make this a spectacular place to sun, swim and walk. There is usually a light breeze in the a.m. which picks up in the afternoon. The Sandals beach is quite deep/wide (shore to water’s edge) to the West but remains narrower to the East. They lost about fifteen Palapas to the East of the Beach Bar so there is a large blank space which is great for those who want no shade. We always enjoy a couple of hours in the heavy duty paddle boats provided. Take some water and sun glasses and paddle or float about and dive off for a dip.

OCCUPANCY: This time of the year the Resort is usually 1/3 full but it was more like ½ this July. There was still plenty of room on the beach and at the bar. There seemed to be a higher percentage of Canadians this time round and fewer Europeans but it doesn’t matter to me in the least. We spend the week together and alone. A group of Russians arrived on our last day. I am always impressed by those who make a dreadfully long flight. Tbe trip to Cuba is about the same time as it takes me to fly Saskatoon to Toronto!.

CIGARS: Cuba has the best Cuban cigars and Cuban cigars are the best in the world. There is nothing like enjoying a Cuban cigar in Cuba with a Cuban Rum. I bought all my cigars at the LCDH in Varadero, Calle 63. The gentleman manager is surly but the lady helping me was most gracious and this time there was no extra unwritten charge for singles. I purchased two boxes of Romeo & Julietta Churchills as well as some Short Churchils, five Bolivar Royal Coronas, Trinidad Reyes and some Cohiba Siglo IIIs and a box of the cheaper RyJ Belvederes. Three of the boxes were 2006 which was a pleasant surprise. I also recommend the store in the Las Americas Mall but the LCDH (and a real LCDH) had everything I wanted including two English versions of La Gui Completa. It was a great hour ($1070 later). Please don’t think that you can buy a $200 box of cigars for $40! They will be fakes. I have a hundred at home brought back by a kind but naïve soul, isolated because of the dange r of them contaminating my legitimate stash. The fakes can be impressive in their resemblance, with a real box, real stickers etc but a fake cigar. A good Cuban costs between $5 and $20 CUC. A box of Churchills is around $250. There are no deals on Cuban Cigars only rip offs.

BOOKS: Read more of Graham Greene and a book I would recommend to all Canadians, Three nights in Havana, ostensibly about the Trudeau – Castro relationship but really more of a survey of the Cuba – Canada relations over the last 60 years. A light and informative read. I figured out the Julio 26 banners around the hotel.

CONCIERGE: We have never requested a room and every year we are perfectly happy. This year we were in the 29 block, second floor, looking out towards the ocean (though no ocean view). The Concierge staff is most helpful. We enjoy the in room bar. This year we had to ask for more beer and rum and it arrived the next morning. More Ice Machines were working and we enjoyed some drinks on the balcony and at the Concierge pool. The Concierge Bar at the Pool has gone and while I miss it, it has restored the peace and quiet to that area. Another benefit of Concierge is the continental room service breakfast which we enjoy every day. It gives us our wake up and we enjoy the privacy in the room and go straight to the beach around 10 a.m. The other benefit of concierge is the dinner reservations. In the low season this is not as necessary but we appreciate not having to line up. For three years we avoided the Concierge Party on Wednesday night…Never Again. There was a fine show of water ballet, some nice snacks and a little quiz game with prizes AND an exceptional bar. The bar was amazing, Havana Club Barrel Proof, Johnny Walker Gold and Glen 18! Most impressive!

BARS/DRINKS: While they occasionally run out of Mint, the quality of drinks at SRH is top notch. Mohitos and Daiquiris, great rum, premium scotch at the lobby and piano bar, all those “other” fruit/blender drinks and let’s not forget a constant supply of Cuba’s best beer, on tap and at times in bottles, Cristal. Plus, the Tinto de Casa is most drinkable the water served at dinner (we always go through at least 1.5 litres) is cold and safe and served elegantly. The bar staff is impressive in their bartending abilities, languages and education. The Piano Bar has gone non smoking ( a good move..it was oppressive before on a full night) but there is very regular service to the seats on the balcony outside.

RESTAURANTS: Hicacos Buffet: The new Buffet is light and airy with a Marche feel. The Pasta and Pizza Bar are of good quality. We ate there for one supper and three lunches. They had some very good smoked salmon at the buffet on several occasions as well as a good selection of cheeses. The cold salads have seen the addition of avocadoes (not too ripe and not brown) as well as some rolled grape leaves. There is a Grill Station, a Seafood Station, an Italian (Pizza and Pasta) Station, a Salad Bar and a Cheese and Cold Meat Bar as well as a Dessert Bar in the centre. The Dessert Bar offered made to order Crepes. They are delicious and the gentleman cooks and prepares them with an elegant flare. I never liked the Buffet before but this year we chose to eat one supper there and bothered to get changed to have three lunches there. Well done Sandals, the Buffet upgrade has brought the resort up at least a ½ star! BEACH GRILL: The Beach Grill, El Vyejo Y El Mar, serves as a very informal (bare feet/swim suit) lunch joint and beach bar in the day and as a sunset restaurant at night. As a lunch spot it is OK. There was no Pizza there this year but it is safe for a small salad, some fries and a cheese sandwich (or chicken/fish…skip the burger or hot dog). You can have a couple of beers/drinks, soak it up with a little food and be back in the sun in 40 minutes. At night this restaurant serves as a Grill. The food is Ok (we like the food here the least) but the sunset is exceptional and the saxophone player great. Everyone should go here, with bug spray on, once.

DON PASQUALE: This is our second least favorite restaurant and with the advent of the Pasta Bar and the disappearance of the wheel of Parmesan from the DP Antipasto Bar, we gave it a pass. It had served as a continental breakfast and lunch joint in years gone by but was closed in favour of the main buffet this July.

LAS MORLAS: We ate here once this year. The food remains good. The Lobster in Pastry is great (I am not a fan of the Cuban Lobster tail…it is not at all like an Atlantic Lobster but I enjoy it presented in this way). There are only tables for two here and the smaller restaurant is meant to be the most romantic. It is our second favorite.

EL CARIBE: We ate here four times! It has always been our favorite and it only gets better! Pavel, our favorite, was never our waiter but we received exceptional service every night. We ate there once for the Returning Guests Dinner and had a god meal with Lobster Tail and real Beef Tenderloin for the main course. The service here, especially with the new uniforms, is the most formal and we were always impressed. The Polla al Jerk (Jerk Chicken) has improved and they now have Pepper Mills. The water and wine flow freely. It is a great meal served beautifully by hard working and gracious people. The only down side was that we missed the three gorgeous and talented ladies who regularly performed there. They have taken a contract in Africa an have been replaced by an acceptable, but not as good looking or talented, male group of Cuban singers.

ENTERTAINMENT: We have never sat down for any of the 9:45 p.m. shows but this year we made it through about 2/3 of the Magic show and it was interesting. We saw some Water Ballet at the Concierge Party and we were impressed by the talent.

CUBAN MOMENTS:We had two Cuban Moments this vacation
1. On our first day we headed off the La Casa del Habanos in Varadero. We went to the lobby and there was a taxi there. The driver was in the middle of his lunch in the back seat but he quickly hopped out, opened the doors for us and we were off. He had no English but was fluent in Portuguese. He turned out to be a retired Law Professor from the University of Havana, a proud man, proud of his country and of his part in its excellence.

2. On our second day I began reading Three Nights in Havana. On a trip to the beach bar I asked a waiter about July 26. He told me that it was Parade Day, which I twice mistook for “Party” Day. I told him about the book I was reading and before I could get it out he named Castro and Trudeau as friends and mentioned the rumour that one had served as a godparent for the other’s child. An educated, multilingual waiter, another Cuban Moment.

MOSQUITOES: I’ve been to SRH four times in July and I’ve never had a bug bite! I spray a little deet on the ankles, wrists and neck and never worry about being bitten. Works for me. We leave the bottle for the staff when we go.

SSG: Sandals Signature Guest. While SRH provides a returning guest meal for all returnees as well as Signature guests, it is still worth joining the SSG programme. You get a SSG #, a Card and regular mailings (which do not include Cuban destinations). Visit http://www.sandalshicacos.com/guestclub.html for more information.

PHOTOS: My pics are here, http://family.webshots.com/album/560058697lMbflP Sorry about the videos I haven’t figured out how to turn them 90 degrees yet. There is one good photo of a balcony, the rest are what they are.

I hope that these comments are of some help to you. Sandals Hicacos provides us with an amazing week away together and Cuba is a beautiful, fascinating and proud country. We hope to be back.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Tanya 

June 2007
Best Vacation/Friends’ Wedding

This was our first stay at Sandals from April 9-17th with one other couple who got married while we were there. This was the best vacation we have had at any All-Inclusive we have stayed at (including Iberostar Varadero last year and past trips to Cuba and Mexico). Our wonderful experience was a combination of this incredible hotel and staff, the great couple we travelled with and the sweetest people we met will there and hope to stay in touch with.

Our friends' wedding was everything it should have been...romantic, carefree and beautiful (we felt so spoiled by the staff). They were given the choice of 3 different locations to have the ceremony and they choose the gazebo next to the lobby (knowing full well we would be protected from all weather) and the photographer took us all over the resort and beach for fantastic pictures.

We did not go concierge but will do so in the future. It is not necessary but I liked a couple of features offered to the other couple that we didn't have such as a stocked bar, 4pm late room departure. Rooms were great and spotless. Maid service was always good and no problems with water for showering.

I know this resort was at full capacity when we were there but certainly didn't feel like it was overcrowded. Did we have to sometimes wait a bit for things sure but it is a vacation and I personally live a really busy life so while on vacation I relax about it.

Food well I loved it all. Every restaurant was great (no complaints at all) but we choose to visit the buffet more than usual because of all the great choices. Yes some of the vegetables are canned but still tasted good in a salad (I now have a new love for brussel sprouts) and I already miss the pasta bar. If Martin is working the pasta bar it is a must (I know restaurants here who would love to have him). If going to one of the buffet custom-to-make choices there will be some of a wait (it isn't fast food) and is always worth the extra time (I'd have waited a lot longer than I did for one of Martin's creations). I hope you have the honor of Barbara "Barbie" serving you in the buffet rest. she is a gem.

The drinks were great, wine good, husband seemed to really enjoy the rum, friends the beer and myself enjoyed the best mohitos and coffee I have ever had, not to mention the other drinks...yum. Leony and Roberto at the Lobby Bar made every moment there all the better. Pool and beach just perfect.

Entertainment...all over the place. The shows were fun (loved the magic and water show), singing every night at the lobby bar, piano playing in the piano bar, trios and such walking around giving impromptu entertainment....

Would we go again certainly but for 2 weeks next time (and we have never desired to do this at other resorts). We might even change our travel plans next year to do this. I do not know why other visitors have not enjoyed their stay here as much as us but after meeting so many others who are repeat visitors (one couple 12 times)...I lean towards their expert opinion.

Only concern is the reception. We didn't receive the greatest service and the bathroom facility is used a lot and needs more attention. If you have the same bad experience please don't let it sour your vacation. We talked to new couples coming in who were displeased and after a full day they too just let it go. I hope the resort looks to improve this. I could go on and on...please contact if you have questions.
tcole@pageandwood.com
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Houssam And Caroline 

May 2007
Pools: Was great. We spent most of our afternoons over there. It was really relaxing and refreshing.

Beach: It was the most beautiful beach we ever saw. You feel you do not want to leave the water. In the mornings, it was very quite. In the afternoons, it used to be a little bit windy.

Concierge Suite: Take it. It is worth every penny especially the pick up from the airport.

Food: Was very good. We went to all A La Carte restaurants. The buffet was very good.

Service: Excellent.

Shows: Two excellent shows: The Circus and the Ballet. There was another show that was Cuban dancing team. It was great at once. But, after repeating the same shows for 4 times. It was too much. We were wondering why they did that. We felt it was too cheap. That was an excellent resort.
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Bill and Janet 

May 2007
We were originally planning on booking a resort in Holguin and made one last sweep of the sell offs when we found this excellent package to SRH which included the Concierge option. Although this resort was never really in our radar we found ourselves booked through YourTravelTickets within a half an hour!

Flights: Our package with Conquest was out of Halifax at 6:30 AM. and used Air Canada as the carrier. We had a smooth flight and enjoyed a hot breakfast, a movie, and several cups of coffee and friendly service. Within 3 ¾ hour we were at the Varadero airport. Things went smoothly here with no long waits and next thing we were met by the Resort rep and ushered into vans for transport to the resort. With the luggage piled high in the back of the van I was quietly hoping that the driver wouldn’t have to make any quick stops as we made the quick and “bouncy” trip to the resort!

Once there we met with our Concierge who took us as a group to the Concierge lounge. This was a nice transition between the travel and the resort. We were offered glasses of Champagne and cool wet cloths to refresh ourselves. There is also a very clean washroom there. We were given our room keys and shown to our rooms. Our luggage arrived shortly after.

We were in Room 2407 which is in the far left corner and facing the beach. There are only 2 floors in this building and we were on the second. Our room had a cathedral ceiling which made it seem even larger. The rooms are junior suites with a very nice sitting area. The furniture was all in excellent condition and the king sized bed very comfortable. There were 2 extra pillows and I believe an extra blanket. The large closet held the safe, ironing board and iron, umbrella and some kind of converter?? We had about a dozen heavy plastic hangers. The room also contained a DVD player/clock radio and a coffee maker. The safe key was left in our amenity bag which also held 4 fl oz. bottles of aftersun lotion, bath gel, conditioner, and shampoo. The bathroom was large with a huge 2 person tub and shower. We never experienced weak water pressure or lack of hot water. The wall mounted hair dryer was hot but not overly powerful. There was a wall mounted magnifying mirror and there was also a set of scales. I have to say that as I surveyed our room all I could say was “I love this room!” The balcony had a locking screen door which allowed us to keep the main balcony door open most of the time. We only needed the air conditioning one night. Although we faced the beach there is a strip of vegetation which kept us from actually seeing it but we could hear the surf and in the morning could hear the many birds.

The Grounds are beautiful, lush, and well tended. The colorful buildings are uniquely connected and I have to admit that I spent a lot of time going the wrong way and /or lost! I did not consider this an inconvenience though .

Pools: We did not spend any time at the pool or pool bar but they are beautiful with several cave type formations where people could sunbathe. There were some nice shaded areas overhung with vegetation and vines but I believe you have to get up early to get them. The foam pads from the loungers could be used in the water. There was a smaller pool in the concierge area and we enjoyed that pool at the end of a day at the beach. It was a nice place to meet other people. There was a smaller hot tub in this area as well and it was hot!

Beach: The beach is Varadero beautiful! My husband did have to get up at 7 AM to reserve loungers but got to know others who were up at this hour daily to do this! The Palapas are a good size and accommodate 4 loungers. It was about a 5 min walk to the beach from our building as we could take a path through the vegetation. That was fun as there were lots of small lizards skittering around. At the edge of this vegetation, before the beach, there were loungers that were very shaded .

Concierge service: Available in the Concierge lounge from 9 til 9. Here you can change small amounts of money, make your a la carte reservations, and generally find any help that you need. With the concierge package you also receive daily replenishment of the beer, water, and sodas in your fridge. There is a bar stocked with Havana Club Rum, Scotch, Vodka, Gin, Red and White wines. There is turn down service at night by the night maids. There is a menu from which you can order breakfast from room service but we never used that service as we looked forward to the excellent breakfasts at the Buffet. On Wednesday evening at 6:30 there is a Concierge cocktail hour around the Concierge pool. There was champagne, a well stocked bar and lots of appetizers. We also had a demonstration of water ballet. Unfortunately we were unable to stay for the whole hour as we had dinner reservations. The General Manager and Concierge staff were in attendance.

Food: The Hicacos Buffet is excellent. I think it would be very hard to not find something either filling or well prepared. I found it very easy to make up a nutritious plate of food that was very satisfying. We ate all our breakfasts, all but one lunch, and three of our dinners at the Hicacos and never found the selection repetitious. The service in the Hicacos is excellent. We tried to sit in the corner to the left of the entrance where it was quieter and you could enjoy a leisurely meal. The water was topped up before your glass was empty and when enjoying wine it too was topped off if you let it be! Luis was our usual server and he was usually one step ahead of us and we never had to ask for anything. The only negative of the Hicacos is the coffee. I found it quite dilute tasting. There is a small bar within the Buffet though and we could order café con leche which was excellent. The Buffet is on the second floor and can be accessed by either the outside stairs or an elevator.

We ate at the 4 a la cartes and enjoyed them all. The service was great….especially in El Caribe and El Viego Y el Mar (Beach restaurant and bar by day/ a la carte by night). The El Viego Y el Mar was our choice for our last dinner at SRH and to that point I preferred the El Caribe to the other restaurants but oh my! Our meal and evening was excellent!! We had a table with friends and overlooking the beach where we were able to watch the sun set as we listened to the Saxaphone player on the beach. The staff were dressed in nautical uniforms and the whole atmosphere was very relaxed and leisurely. I enjoyed the surf and turf with excellent lobster and a steak cooked medium well done and tender. I am not a big fan of steak but this one was good. Should we return, I would definitely try to go to this a la carte more than once.

Bars: We tried them all except for the pool bar. The Lobby Bar is in a large open Polynesian structure to the side of the actual lobby. We never had trouble finding a seat but this bar can get very busy before and after dinner. The selection of mixed drinks was excellent. The mojitoes were very good and the pina coladas were not made from mix. At the beach a server would come around for beach orders. On three or four of our days there we had a female server who would take the drink orders and actually run back to the beach bar… quite astonishing in the heat of the day I think! The Piano Bar near the Buffet was also nice after dinner. There was a saxophone player and of course someone at the piano. There were groupings of very comfortable couches and chairs.

Cleanliness: The resort was very clean especially considering how busy it was. Our room was kept immaculate by our maid. Since we spent so much time at the beach there was always sand on the furniture and floors but when we arrived after the maid had been in our floors were shining and the place was clean and towels and toilet and facial tissue all restocked .There was always a towel sculpture to look forward to. The washrooms at the beach and the lobby would frequently run out of paper towels but were otherwise clean. There were hand dryers on the wall as well. The staff were always about and cleaning.

Service: Service in all areas was great and most times with a smile. The resort was very busy and the staff worked very hard.

Activities: This resort is on the one hand very relaxing, quiet and intimate and on the other very sociable and lively. It seemed like most people would at least smile and say hi when you passed and it was very easy to meet people. At the beach we had yellow flag days 5/7 and so were unable to use the water equipment. We were finally able to get out on a Hobie Cat on day 6 and that was a very enjoyable experience. We were also able to see construction of a new resort going on down the beach .

Our sole excursion was into Plaza Americas to hear the Buena Vista Social Club. That was a real treat. I did make it to one Spanish lesson ( held Mon. Wed. and Fri ) and we made it to one dance lesson where we learned 5 steps of the Mambo. We had an excellent instructor who was able to keep some of the rather unruly students under control! We did get to the night club on two evenings. It was very quiet but we had a great time the first visit. On our return visit on the last night of our stay the air conditioning did not seem to be working (also at Piano Bar) and there was hardly anyone there so we did not stay.

On our final morning the mini vans arrived at the front door to pick us up and ferry us back to the airport. I cannot count the times I heard someone say that they couldn’t wait to come back. I couldn’t count the times I heard myself saying the exact same thing!
Sandals Royal Hicacos
J & M  
Belleville, Ontario
April 2007
For our first visit to Cuba, we went to the Sandals Royal Hicacos resort from April14-21 2007.

We had read so many good reviews of this resort, that we had to try it.

We found the resort to be very nice and well worth the 5 star rating its been given. As I understand it, this facility is only 5 years old. Everything is clean and works properly.

My wife and I chose the Concierge package which we found to be worth every penny. The express check in and al a carte restaurant reservations, not to mention the terrific service the Concierge staff gives you, makes this option very nice indeed.

Other reviews have described in detail the beach and the restaurants, so I won’t repeat them. The beach and the food are very good.

One note about the restaurants. Even the Buffet restaurant requires men to wear long pants for dinner.

In the evening, there is entertainment in the lobby bar. While we were there, it was a 3 piece band which played nice dance music, and many couples got up. They finish at 9:30pm, as the main entertainment begins nearby at 9:45pm.

If I had to say anything negative, it would be that the walkways are not well lit in the darkness hours and the same goes for the room numbers. It can take a while to remember where your room is located, but they give you a pretty good map of the resort.

For Canadians. Please do not tip using Canadian coins. The Cubans have no way of converting them. Tip only using CUP (pesos) or Cdn bills.

Credit cards. Try to avoid using them. It’s a 10.5 - 11.5% service charge.

If you want shade at the beach, or a special spot at the pool area, you must reserve your place early in the morning as these spots tend to get taken first. My wife would go down and grab our spots before 7:30am. Your towel is sufficient to hold your lounger.

If you don’t want to get in the huge line at the airport to change your currency over (on arrival), wait till you get to the hotel. While we were there, the rates were exactly the same. Try to only get enough pesos for a couple of days at a time. Going home, you have to use the airport to change anything back to Canadian.

I highly recommend the VIP Lounge at the Varadero airport for the return part of the trip. Your Tour representative at the resort will sell you the tickets at 20 pesos per person.

You will see the VIP rep when you arrive at the airport. They will take you to an express line to check in your luggage and get your boarding passes. Then you hand the VIP rep (who will be waiting there for you) the boarding passes and 25 pesos (CUP) departure tax per person. They look after the payment for you, then return the passes to you (you should see the line up for people waiting to pay this fee). The VIP rep then escorts you to the customs/immigration and waits for you to go through. Then they escort you to the air conditioned private lounge that has free food, drink and snacks.... not to mention the great chairs and sofas. When your flight is called, you then go straight to the gate.

Another thing I highly recommend. Try for an early morning flight to Cuba, rather than late afternoon. On the afternoon departures, you may be arriving in darkness and you have lost the whole day. On checkout, you must be out of your room by noon, and you have the rest of the day to just hang around. You have effectively lost the last day as well.

I also recommend that you take insulated mugs for your drinks. The bartenders will fill them up at the bar, and your drinks will stay cold much longer. The plastic cups used for drinks at the pool and ocean bars are on the small side.

Overall, a beautiful resort, great food, staff and accommodations!
Sandals Royal Hicacos
sinbin55ca 

April 2007
Paradise! First time to Cuba, will never need to plan trips anywhere else but Cuba!

The people are wonderful, the staff were fantastic, the beach is unparalled! Unfortunately we had yellow flags all week, it was quite breezy, but that didn’t bother us.

The beach grill for lunch was good, so were the pizzas and antipasto bar at the Italian restaurant.
Great selection at the main buffet, the a la cartes were fine as well.
The aquaducts were clean, no smell. The lobby bar and pool bar were great, the staff remembered our names and drink preferences right from the start.

Havana club is delicious! The coffee even more so - rich and mellow at the same time, with a hint of chocolate, it’s very difficult to describe! The Cristal beer is like blue light, IMHO, nothing special. We got bloated on it quite easily - had to switch to hard liquor drinks - such a hardship! Hehehe!

No complaints at all about this resort, would go back in a minute!
Sandals Royal Hicacos
Knuckeh 

April 2007
Too bad, so sad - back in the land of “eh” after a week at Sandals Hicacos (April 1 to 8).

Flights:
Air Canada out of Calgary – left Calgary at 8:30 AM – arrived Varadero at 4 PM We upgraded to business class so lots of leg room, comfortable seats & good service One of the first off the plane, first through customs – no line-ups, changed some money in the baggage area, bags came quickly & walked out through the “nothing to declare line” with no fuss or hassle. Also very easy leaving, checked our bags, paid our 25 CUC & into the waiting area - no problems.
Didn't bother with the VIP lounge & glad we didn't as the departures area was comfortable enough for the 2 hours that we waited. During the wait bought bottles of 7 year HC for 11.30 CUC and a box of 25 Partagas cigars ("chicos") for 25 CUC

We booked the concierge option with Sandals so were directed to a mini-van, waited a few minutes for another couple & were taken directly to the resort – in the lobby at 5:00 PM. The concierge staff met us in the main lobby, took us to the concierge area where we were welcomed with champagne. Checked in quickly, booked our restaurants for the first part of the week & taken to our room – 2613 (3rd floor overlooking the courtyard in the concierge area).
Leaving the resort was just as easy - check out in the concierge area and a transfer (by ourselves this time) direct to the airport.

Food:
Enjoyed the meals at all the restaurants, but especially the food at the Caribe (went twice during the week for their Caribbean flavors). The buffet is also very good with 3 choices for dinner - Italian, seafood, & a grill for meats (didn’t have the steak, but the smoked pork chops were very good). The shrimp at the buffet were wonderful – in fact, one night we went to the buffet for an “appetizer” – a plate full of shrimp – before we went to our reservation. Another memorable meal: steak & lobster at “El Viejo y el Mar” – the beach restaurant – on a windy night with a beautiful sunset. In short, the food ranged from good to excellent – no complaints or concerns.

Room:
Very clean, large sitting area, king size bed, lots of storage (closet & drawers), huge bathroom & a huge bath tub. Large balcony with chairs & a table, a great place to relax & enjoy a morning coffee. Concierge option included a stocked bar (bottles of premium scotch, Havana Club rum, gin, vodka, red & white wines, beer, pop & water) – restocked daily. Towel art twice a day- (day maids & turn-down maids).

Entertainment:
Exceptional – the shows were very professional, music was everywhere – a 5 piece Salsa band playing outside the night club before the entertainment started, live music in the buffet, in the lobby bar & in the Caribe for dinner. Also enjoyed Las Nubes (the piano bar) one night.

Beach:
We walked a long way in both directions & in our opinion, the beach in front of Sandals is the best that we saw. When you go down to the beach in the morning with your blue towel, a Sandals employee will greet you, take you to a palapya, pull out the loungers, wipe them off & put your towels down for you. Later in the day, staff from the beach restaurant will offer drinks or you can just go & get your own. We brought a couple of insulated mugs, not for the quantity that they held (16 oz), but because it avoids the waste created with the plastic cups, the lids keep the sand out of the drink & the drink is colder for a longer time. At the end of our stay, the last day (Sunday morning) on the beach we gave them to two of the Sandals beach security guards.

People:
The staff is also exceptional, & in my opinion, the main reason why this resort has many returning guests. They are warm & friendly & do their best to make sure you feel “at home”. The concierge staff goes out of their way to make sure that your experience is as enjoyable as it can be.

Tours:
We did the Havana-cigar factory-rum museum tour. We also spent a couple of hours in Varadero at the flea market & walking around the town. Most of the time however, we were at the beach. We snorkeled (the resort has a boat that will take you to the reef), used the paddle boats, swam in the ocean, walked for miles along the beach and relaxed & enjoyed ourselves.

Other Stuff:
The lobby bar serves 7 year Havana Club – drink it straight like a good brandy – great with coffee after dinner. Fish & chips at the beach bar is an experience that should be repeated. Pizza for lunch at the Italian restaurant is a great choice. The coffee is wonderful – much better than “Timmies”

Was a week long enough – NO!
Would we go back to Sandals Hicacos – YES!