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Melia Varadero
April 2008
We just got back last Sunday. We had a nice time the weather wasn't to bad. Not much rain it was hot and humid. We stayed a Melia Varedaro and I don't think I would go back to that resort again. The beach is not nice at all. It is mostly rock. It really hurts to try and get into water right infront of the resort. You have to walk down a little ways either way to get to nice sand to be able to get into the water.

The room was clean and the bed was very comfortable. We did have a nice ocean view from our room.

I didn't like the lobby floor, every thing seemed very dull. The piano bar was very boring to look at. Not pretty and could get very smokey. There was some construction going on, we new that when we booked but we were going to a wedding so we didn't have a choice of resorts if we wanted to go with our friends.

The buffet was very nice, clean and bright. The food was pretty good once you found some things you liked to eat. If you like seafood there was lots. The fruit wasn't that appealing. The coffee was awful. There was only one place to have a buffet the rest of the places to eat were all from a menu. You could get food 24 hours but it was limited and you had to order from the menu. Don't order a club house sandwich.

The pool was very nice, There was one out side bar by the pool and one down on the beach. We stayed by the pool, as the beach was not the greatest.

The workers were very friendly and they spoke very good english. I think I would go back to Cuba again, but not to the Melia Varedaro.
Melia Varadero
Hamilton, Ontario
November 2007
We just returned home last Sunday October 28th 2007 from our trip to the Melia Varadero in Cuba.

I don't think I would back to that resort. We didn't like the beach, it was mostly rock and cliff. Once you got past the rock it was nice sand. We had to walk down either way to the end of the rock to get into the water, where it was sandy. The beach is not very big. You can only walk so far either way.

The rooms were clean and comfortable. We got fresh towels every day and the maids usually made a swan or some decoration with our towels on the bed or in the bathroom.

The food wasn't that great for me, my husband didn't mind it though. I ate pretty much the same thing everyday. If you like fishy stuff you'll love it. One of the resturants The "Trinidad" was very good, but not very fancy.

We ate mostly in the buffet, it was bright and clean and the service was good, very friendly.

The lobby was very dull, the piano bar wasn't decorated very nice and could get really smokey. I didn't like it.

They were doing some construction in the hotel and we new that when we booked, but we were attending a wedding that had been planned for over a year. So we didn't have a choice. I still think I would not go there again even if there wasn't construction because of the beach.

The pool was nice, and there was a pool bar by the pool and one down on the beach. They didn't play much music, it was really very quiet.

The outside of the hotel had a lot of black around, maybe it was black mold didn't look very nice. The gardens were not really kept up very well either, maybe it is just the time of year.

It was a nice holiday overall, but if your looking for a beautiful place to go I wouldn't go there. They say it is a four and a half star but I think I would give it a three. I have been in four star places before and they were much nicer.
Melia Varadero

March 2007
My husband and I just returned from a trip to Cuba for our honeymoon. We spent 10 nights at Melia Varadero.

THE ROOM: We stayed on the fifth floor which was OK except that at least one elevator was down at any given time so it could take us a while to get up to our room or down to the lobby. The room had a king bed. The mattress was on it's last leg and hurt my husband's back. He would wake up in the morning and say that he had slept but not rested. Also, the sheets were constantly coming untucked and we would wake up in the morning in a nest of sheets. Our room was facing the tennis courts and golf course, away from the beach but since the peninsula is quite narrow, you have a water view looking either way. The water pressure in the shower was great.

THE DRINKS: It was nearly impossible to get ice in a drink at the resort. I guess that Europeans don't like ice in their drinks but even when I would ask for ice water I would generally get only one cube of ice. The water tasted horrible and was never cold enough. The Cuban beer (Cristal) was pretty good, a light beer, also never served very cold. We really liked the lemon and strawberry frappe which is essentially a slurpee, you could get it in the Cafe Guantanamera (open 24 hours) or at the pool bar. We ordered several mojitos and they were never made exactly the same, some tasted like turpintine, others tasted like a good drink. We did like the Coctel Las Palmas which you can get from the Piano Bar (Las Palmas). The bartender there (watch for the sideburns) was pretty good. However, there was A LOT of cigarette smoke in all of the public areas so we didn't spend much time there.

THE FOOD: The food was horrible. There was a huge variety of food, but it nearly all disgusting. My husband and I lived on bad french fries, scrambled eggs and ice cream. The buffet was the WORST! The hot food was not kept hot and the cold food was not kept cold. They served brussel sprouts, peas and other weird vegetables at breakfast time. Sometimes there were black beans in the buffet - sometimes they were tasty, sometimes they were horrible. The food was really quite bland. Our travel agent had told us to take some spices but there is nothing that could have saved this food. There was always something labeled bacon in the buffet line but it was never actually bacon. Once it was a veal cutlet and the next day it was a weird white sausage and the next day it was sweaty ham lunch meat. The worst part of the Cafe Guantanamera was the service. You had to practically jump on the waiters to get a fresh drink and they all congregated up by the bar and ignored people's needs. I ordered the salad in the Cafe Guantanamera 5 times, every time it came out differently. The desserts were questionable, either not cooked enough or cooked too much. The Paella Shack was good a few times but we got tired of our hands getting all dirty from cleaning the shrimp and clams. Also, the guy in the Paella Shack tried to sell us lobster for our paella (12 pesos). He told us it was fresh, that his friend the fisherman had brought it in that day. We declined his offer but later found out that it was not lobster season and there is no way there could have been fresh lobster. It was insulting to be asked to pay for food after paying for an all inclusive hotel. Obviously this was one of those black market deals. The international restaurant was pretty good (Fuerteventura). We ate their twice and they probably had the best food in the place. The steak house steaks were very tough with nearly no flavor. The service wasn't good in there either. The seafood restaurant (Trinidad) had very good garlic shrimp the first night we went there, the next time we went it seemed they had forgotten the garlic in the garlic shrimp. The Chinese restaurant (Oshin) was probably the worst Chinese food I have ever had but it tasted delicious because it was a break from the monotony. When we got back to the room after eating the Chinese food I had to spend most of the evening in the bathroom. We went next door to the mall and bought a can of Mr. Potatoes (Think Pringles but made in Malaysia). They cost 5 Canadian dollars but were pretty tasty compared to the hotel food. The airplane food that we had on the way back to Vancouver BC was the best food that I had on the entire trip. My husband and I were actually dreaming (like starving people) about food the whole time we were there.

EXCURSIONS: We went on the Catamaran trip to Cayo Blanco. They took us out into the midst of some 2-3 foot high waves to snorkel. There wan't anything to see and the current/waves were too much for most of the group. The food at the island was really bad. They veggies were out of a can and totally over cooked/mushy. The lobster had been stewed in something that was red but had no flavor. Our crew was supposed to get us out of Cayo Blanco by 4:30 but we didn't leave until 5:30 (despite the fact that all of the passengers were standing, waiting to go) because our crew was too busy drinking. Our crew got drunk and stopped swabbing the deck which caused 4 different women on the boat to fall on their behinds. For over 200 Canadian you should be able to get a trip where the crew will at least look out for the safety of passengers.

We also attempted a trip on Jet Skis - what is called Boat Adventure. This trip was 38 pesos per person (about 50 canadian). They put my husband and I on a "jet ski" (bathtub with an outboard motor) that had no steering. It also had no power. My husband said the motor was 25 ccs. We decided not to go on the trip after the guide told us he expected a five peso tip per person. We found that anything we went on that was tourist geared was generally a let down and very expensive.

The best parts of Varadero were the tennis courts and the beach. If you want to ride a motor scooter while you are there be sure to bring your driver's license because otherwise they won't rent to you. Don't miss the DuPont Mansion on the other side of Melia Las Americas. The third floor bar is lovely with great service and good drinks and the views are fabulous. Watch out with the horse drawn buggies. They told us it was 10 pesos for the ride but once we got to our destination found out that it was 10 pesos per person.
Melia Varadero
March 2007
Beautiful hotel, especially the garden in the center of the hotel. The staff was outstanding and attended to our every need (almost). The beach was a bit of a let down. It is not like in the pictures. Apparently, according to one of the staff, in the summer the trade winds push sand onto the beach and in the winter they remove it. For an accurate depiction of the beach have a look at Google Earth or similar program. From the ocean looking at the hotel, the beach to the left is about 1/2 a mile to walk before you get to a place where you can swim without walking over coral. The beach to the right is about one hundred yards from where the cliff stops in the photo. The only bad experience I had was at the seafood restaurant (for lunch) where I cut the heck out of my mouth on glass which was hidden in the rice. The staff (my waiter) was apologetic although no one really seemed to be that concerned at all. The cook did not apologize and when I spoke to the front desk their response was pretty much "that's too bad". We did two tours: Catamaran which is highly recommended and all inclusive (except for the lobster tail they sell onboard at 10 Cuban pesos but well worth it) as well as the Jeep tour which I would rate as good only (just one free drink beer, pop, or water with your lunch). One free drink is good for the driver (unless he wants water which costs the same as a beer) but there were four persons in the jeep and for the amount of money it just wasn't quite worth it. The jeep tour ends with a swim in a natural spring in a cave and is quite amazing. If you like having bailey's in your coffee in the morning, for a special treat, you should get a glass late in the afternoon and put it in the fridge for the morning because they restock the bar at around 10am and the bailey's runs out quite early in the evening. For North Americans, the coffee in the room is your best bet, although they do brew both espresso and "American" coffee in the lobby bar. The overall food was quite good in the buffet (which had a vast selection) and we ate at the Steak House A+, Seafood (Trinidad) B+, and the International which also was A+. If you go to the Trinidad (Seafood) ask for Carlos as your waiter and have him make you a rose (it is quite impressive). Things to take for gifts. Clothes are very popular especially childrens, crayons, tooth paste, tooth brushes, nail polish, lipstick, makeup, bandages. Cubans are very family orienated and childrens items are always appreciated. Hope this helps
Melia Varadero
Sudbury Ontario
August 2006
Hi everybody (again):
This is my new report and this time I will speak of food.

As I have travelled many times to Cuba (twice to the Melia Varadero - the latest being June 2005 (see below)) I thought it might be refreshing to do a restaurant review for the " foodies " out there.

About the Melia Varadero resort
This hotel is part of an extensive network operated from Spain and they also own the Riu, Sol, Paradisus and Tryp hotels (yes, Tryp written with a "y"). They are marketed as upper-level establishments and have a definite European flair - marble, classic (read "old world refined") decor, and yes, accent on food. Again see my review below for particulars on location, tours etc.


1. Quality
The food here can be rated from average to excellent depending on the items to be chosen. As the main restaurant is the buffet, one would be tempted to believe that there is a " one size fits all " approach - nothing could be further from the truth - let me explain. As there is a great variety of food and especially since tourists come from different areas of the world, care has been taken to accomodate various tastes - otherwise stated, you will find marcaroni and pizza if this is your choice but will also be astounded by some other dishes. There is a small selection of North American type foods (chicken, pizza, lasagna as well as potatoes and fried fish) but if you want to really enjoy your meal it would be wise to pick out the continental (European - and in this case Spanish) selections.

2. Breads
The restaurant has an entire island reserved for breads as this is almost a sacred food item in Spain as well as Europe - they take this part of the meal very seriously. A quick tip - breads are usually not served with butter or margarine as the purpose is to savour the bread proper or to dip it in the plate to savour sauces and the main entrée. Another tip: if you are caught putting ketchup on your bread or any part of the meal you will be immediately arrested and sentenced to be be shot in a firing squad - and no self-respecting food judge will grant you mercy.

I tried a French baguette and was taken by the taste (which reminded me of baguettes I had eaten in Paris years before on another trip - some say that the olfactory (sense of smell and taste) is the strongest amongst humans for memory) - since the similarity was astounding, I asked one of the chefs how he was able to reproduce this taste so well - his answer was simple but shocking - the dough was prepared in a " boulangerie " in Paris and flown overnight on Air France (with a tourist group) and heated here in the early morning in the oven. French croissants also were predictably fresh and authentic.

Other breads ranged from the hard Portuguese buns to Italian varieties and some Greek flatbreads, all which tasted very good but I have no benchmark with which to compare these.

3. Rice
By far the best rice was the Spanish medium grain, which was perfectly cooked - dry and separate when done (not creamy or sticky). This is the same rice as used in their " paella " dishes (the word derives from the Roman name for the pan) where saffron gives it a pale yellow colour and a slight tinge. If you get a chance to try this dish (there are theme nights and Wednesday was " Spanish night " when I was there) do so and make it your " main " plate as some of the chefs from this Spanish-run hotel are (logically) from Spain and they use the proper ingredients - for example, the paella is oftentimes served with chicken but the original meat from central Spain is rabbit (commonly found there and therefore a traditional hunt) - and yes, the paella I tried on Wednesday night (Spanish night) contained this and was cooked according to custom, all the way down to the burnt crisp rice in the bottom middle of the pan (actually quite tasty).
So ... if you see the name "Spanish rice" anywhere jump on it since this will by far be the most authentic.

4. Meats
Meats as a whole were a disappointment - although the cuts were fresh they were by and large unimaginative in their preparation. Much better were the breakfast cuts, especially the ham (jamon) which had many varieties, the best of which was " jamon serrano " - cured and pink - made only from naturally- fed "fat" pigs, not the forced-fed lean variety destined for grocery stores. It had a strong but subtle taste (if I can say that) - strong since all the original natural "wild" flavours were there (calories included) and subtle since it had been cured perfectly and layered in very thin slices (tip: do not eat with your hands since it leaves a slightly pungent smell). Although there were a good variety of meats, most were marinated since the restaurant had difficulty in maintaining refrigeration (the hotel has an open-air concept). The chicken and beef would fall into the "good" category (fresh, well cooked and cut) but since they were immersed (marinated) the taste would tend towards the bland and the average (no highlights or particulars).

5. Deserts
Most Spaniards are not big on deserts - they usually prefer fresh fruits - here the epicurean is spoiled to no end as many of the selections are picked daily from the abundance the island has to offer. Why not end the meal with a plate along with a glass of champagne (yes, champagne was offered but it was pink with bubbles (some alcoholic content) and was called a "dinner digestive"). I am not an expert on champagne but it tasted good and helped to digest my meal so kudos here to the restaurant. A selection of Italian gelatos were also offered but were very soft (almost melted) due to the open-air factor mentioned above.

6. Wines
This hotel carries a small yet impressive list of wines (yes, I repeat, this is a European chain); there were many Spanish selections (as expected), some Italian and French, two German, one Chilean and almost nothing else. Although I could not have tried them all, I did notice an excellent balance in the selections in the wine menu (i.e. something for all tastes) - one thing, however, was constant - price. You are going to pay, partly because these have to be imported, taxes and all, and partly because this is a large hotel and these have a worlwide conspiracy of overcharging customers for wine. The one wine I chose (see my review below (June 2005)) was excellent and the very fact that the list is small and restrictive will almost guarantee that the sommelier chose with care and you will in all likelyhood hit a homerun every time. I think that you can therefore indulge with confidence. You are on holiday. Enjoy.

7. Other
Salads (especially in the morning) were fresh and came from local produce - the presentations were so nice I hated to be the first to wreck the art - but someone has to do it (I am a very early riser and therefore one of the first to enter the restaurant). Note: if you want coffee, ask for a " cafe norteamericano " since many Europeans are accustomed to those ultra small cups which contain industrial strength caffeine. The chefs seemed to be lost on what to do with pasta - the one in charge was fighting with something he thought was from Mars and had no clue on how to tame it - but if this is your bag you can tell the chef on the cooking island how you want it prepared (ingredients, sauce, seasoning etc.) and he will be eternally grateful for your input.

8. Service
Since this is a buffet restaurant, people are more or less expected to get their own; add to this the fact that this is a communist state and you will see why the waiter has no real incentive to go out of his or her way to please (no economic advantage) - however the atmosphere is pleasant (smiles, live music) - you will not get European-level attention but on the other hand your wallet will remain intact at the end of the evening (no tipping). Let's just say this is a fair fight.

I hope this has been of some help - bear in mind that if your choose your selections properly, from salads to entrées to wine you can have a meal to rival those in a moderately expensive European restaurant (waiters and linen notwithstanding) - otherwise you can choose the level of cuisine which best suits your culinary mood for that day.

For any other information please contact me at donleger@vianet.on.ca and I will try to help if possible.
Melia Varadero
Gatineau Quebec
November 2005
My wife and I had just returned from the Melia Varadero in Varadero Cuba. This is our third time to Cuba . Therefore I will compare apples to apples. We have visited the Sandals Royal Hicacos in Varadero and the El Senador in Cayo-Coco.

Upon arrival for a one week stay on Oct 30th to Nov 6th , our first impression was Wow! It's an old concept yet it looked fresh and beautiful on the inside all decorated with marble and granite. We were with a group of about 24 people. The forecast was rain for the next day as the outer swath of hurricane Beta blew over, so the consensus was, let's party! Anyone knows that the Lobby Bar is the place to socialize and have some late night drinks with a tasteful mix of music. The disco's are usually loud, empty and never fun at any resort. To our amazement the Bar tenders started shutting down the bar at 11 pm . Other resorts usually have a 3 am closure or a 24 hr Lobby bar. The gang then headed to the Disco, and after 10 minutes everybody was annoyed. The only place left was the cafeteria which was the 24 hr bar. It literally was a cafeteria with bright neon lights, no music and no atmosphere. When asked why they wouldn't have some music, I was told that people will drink too much and that costs the hotel more money.

No alarm clocks in the room. So we asked for a wake-up call in order to make our orientation the next morning. The call came in 20 minutes late.

The rooms were not cleaned very well. When we first walked in there was sand on the floor and hairs in the tub. If you insist on visiting this resort, bring slippers for your room.

The entertainment was redundant from night to night, so back to the cafeteria for a Poker game.

The food was predictable for Cuba , however the meat quality was way under par when compared to other Cuban resorts. The lunch buffet, the Cuban restaurant, beach grill and pool grill were always closed at the same time from closed from 12 – 1 pm. Back to the cafeteria it was for chicken sandwiches!

I know Cubans are wonderful people with a great culture, but we also felt more resentment from the Cubans and more aggressiveness for tips. Cubans who work on resorts are the richest civilians in Cuba, even more than Doctors and more than Scientists. As tourists we have a responsibility not to destabilize the country. Do not over tip. This means you should not give more than $1 a day to your maid, and no more than a $1 to your server for dinner. I would not suggest tipping after every drink either, a couple of bucks at the end of your evening at the bar is plenty. Remember, a Cuban working in the tourism industry will make more in 1 day than a regular Cuban makes in 2 Months. We are essentially creating a large gap between rich and poor.

In summary this resort is beautiful, yet hard to navigate. The service at the front desk is excellent. Our stay at the other resorts in Cuba offered more for less money. I would never waste my money on this resort ever again. Our group had a great time at the end of our trip, and that was because we did many excursions off the resort. Which made me think, we should not have taken this all inclusive resort if we were paying more to get away from it.

It is a 4 star at best.
Melia Varadero
June 2005
Hi everyone:
This is my report on the Melia Varadero resort.

1. Flight
I arrived on Westjet (my first flight with this airline) and was amazed at how this startup was able in such a short time to become so popular - and not necessarily by cutting costs but by just being friendly towards the customers and entertaining us during the flight with jokes and personal stories. The flight was a hoot ! We actually arrived ahead of time (2h45 min from Toronto) due to favorable winds.

2. Check-in
Customs were quick and the tour bus was there to ferry us to the various hotels. Note: oftentimes the same bus will do all the hotels on the strip so it might take a while to get to your hotel - but enjoy the ride and the scenery. Our guide was friendly and gave us useful tips as we rode along.

3. Hotel
I was told that this one was the first Melia built in Cuba and was the flagship for the island for some time. This company comes out of Spain (the Sol Melia chain) and built the hotel on what was one of the nicest stretches of beach in Varadero. It is one big building with a huge open-air atrium in the center and definitely gives the impression of a tropical rainforest - in fact the center is a pond with bridges and such where you can see tropical fish swimming below. The hotel is filled mostly with Spaniards and Italians, with some Canadians and a few other nationalities in the mix.

3. Grounds:
The grounds are fairly expansive but are not "beach-like" - they are manicured grass with a lot of trees. The hotel beach is not as nice as I suspect that erosion has claimed much of the frontage (you can actually see many artificial stone barriers which have been erected in order to slow down the action of the waves), but the hotels on that strip have mercifully let people walk from one area to the next with no restrictions (beach chairs notwithstanding), so if you start way on the left at the Club Med and go all the way past the Melia Americas you will get almost 1 km of walking (sand, grass, pebble, more sand etc.). I found this particularly pleasing in the early morning and late evening as I like to take long, slow walks on my holidays (trying to escape the North-American rat-race) and I could not resist lighting up a cigar and enjoying the view.

By far the best feature is the view - I believe the hotel was probably constructed with this in mind as you can see all hues of blue in the various stretches of ocean in front of the property, and in the evening you can see cruise ships, large fishing vessels etc. at a distance - it lights up a whole panorama in a beautiful yet unobstrusive way - the perfect excuse to light up another cigar. Evenings will definitely get you in a romantic mood if you go on the beach and look out to sea. Just plop yourself in a beach chair, absorb the view and you will feel inspired in no time (and a few drinks might help too).

The resort as a whole is kept very clean but you can see signs of aging and they have not put in enough money for upkeep.

4. Rooms
My room (standard) was made of of ceramic tile and what seemed to be marble - this is very european in design. I was however surprised to see that the electricity was run by one switch (the light switch at the entrance) - and so the expression "lights out" has a real meaning here.

5. Front desk
The people were very friendly and willing to please, however this place was not run very efficiently. For example: the safe in my room did not close and so I left all my valuables (passport, credit cards etc.) at the front desk and they would put all my belongings in a large manila envelope in the back of the reception area - I complained many times that anyone could go back there and take whatever they wanted and I expressed my doubt in that anyone would pony up to take responsibility if my stuff disappeared. No incidents happened during the week, however it should be stated that this is not an intelligent game plan for running a tourist business. The front desk was also understaffed and it took a long time to get service.

Given the location of the hotel, the tour desk offered just about everything that you can do in Cuba. As I am French-canadian, tours were given in my language - the bus company (Vaiven) was actually a series of mini-buses, all air conditioned with pretty funny hosts, and so we all had a good time. Here is a breakdown of the tours I took:

the 2 h trip is well worth it as the guide explains a lot of stuff about Cuba, the communist system, history, etc. We even stopped a few places and I was able to try the local food (ham and cheese sandwich cooked on the spot). Havana was really, really interesting from a historical and informative point of view, and as far as I could see, pretty people- friendly and safe. Buy your cigars at the goverment shop as too many guys sell fakes on the beach. We saw the whole city (except Fidel) and we ate at a very nice restaurant and unless my memory fails me some of the guys singing were from the Buena Vista Social Club, as some faces looked very familiar. The meal was typically cuban with rice, black beans and chicken. The local beer (Mayabe) is very good.

Pinar del Rio
I took a one hour plane ride with tourists aboard a soviet Antonov, and it was creaky, slow, and hot. We did however manage the trip and Pinar is beautiful, lush, and full of tobacco fields. We visited a kiln and the farmers were very welcoming. There are nice underground caverns but skip the dinosaur exhibit and the rock drawings. This was in fact an exceptional value for 90 dollars.

This cost only 35 bucks, so the engine conked out twice and we only dived 1 km offshore. The dive was fun but I was only in it for the bragging rights (I have done more serious diving in other parts of the world). Consider the diving here to be of a "resort" level.

Taxi trip
I hired a taxi for an afternoon and met many of the driver's relatives, and got to see the "real" Varadero. It was a lot of fun and I don't even remember what it cost, so it couldn't have been much. Well worth it - but you may be shocked by the level of poverty. I had brought toothbrushes, pencils, etc. from Canada and this was very much appreciated.

7. Restaurants
Generally this area was a disappointment with some highlights - bear with me on this one. The main buffet restaurant had a good array of foods, but breakfast remained the best meal of the day since everything was so fresh. Breakfast champagne was served and the breads were simply astounding again in freshness and variety.

The meals tended to have themes, Spanish night being the best as I learned the chef was from Spain and cooked probably the best "resort paella" (a typical spanish dish made of saffron-based rice and a variety of foods in a deep-dish metal pan) I have had in a buffet. The salads were very fresh, the meats well cut. Some negative notes may have been the melting ice cream in the desert area and the many foods which had been marinated (probably so that they keep longer) . One definite negative: the service. On many occasions I left my table to see it reclaimed by another couple or just have all my cutlery gone. Plates were not picked-up from the tables unless one called on a waiter. Again people were friendly but efficiency is not their pricipal purpose in life. A quick note: as I like Spanish reds, I found the wine list to be particularly good and the 1993 Faustino V which I bought (half-bottle) for dinner was outstanding (although be prepared to pay, but for that rare occasion, what the heck).

All in all this resort is very nice with some highs and a few nagging lows. As I booked my trip through the Last Minute Club (a company that does just this at discount rates) I cannot complain however if you pay full price you may find your four-and-a-half stars a bit wanting.

Please feel free to contact me: donleger@vianet.on.ca
Melia Varadero
Moncton NB
March 2005
I was going to write a review, but I think Pascale of Montreal has summed it up perfectly. I just want to say that I concur fully with his description. The resort was more like a dark concrete hotel from the 1970's, the grounds were not the best I have seen and the beach was a long walk. There was minimal snorkeling gear available but it didn't matter because the snorkelling offshore sucked (even 200m out)

Right now the main dining hall is windowless because they are doing some construction outside and they boarded up all the windows. So from the dining room there is no view whatsoever. The construction outside is at a standstill, so I am not sure how much longer they will keep the windows covered.

If you are depending on staying in touch by email, be aware that there are only 2 computers (if they are both working) and they shut down at 7pm every night. (At Cayo Largo Sol Melia there were 3 computers available 24/7). As careful as I was with the food, I still had diarhea by mid-week (no, I did not drink too much). After that the buffet was not very appetizing. The a la carte seafood restaurant "Trinidad" served the most bitter grilled lobster I have ever tasted along with plain boiled potato and carrots. Even the buffet restaurant could do much better than that. My advice- stay at the newer resorts further up the peninsula.
Melia Varadero
February 2005
My husband and I travel to the tropics once or twice a year, with or without the kids. We always stay in 4 ½ or 5 stars resorts, such as Club Meds (many of those), Melia Cayo Coco, Couples in Jamaica, or cruises.

We went on a 2 week trip to Cuba last year, leaving November 20 and returning December 4. Flight on time, with Westjet, but they charged us a 60$ fee for extra weight – we never had that happen to us before, and we always bring the same things: clothes, medication, books, tennis racket and balls, and snorkelling gear.

Our 1st four days were spent in Havana, at the Melia Cohiba. Since we landed in Varadero we travelled there by taxi (2 hour ride), extremely nice driver, spoke to us in slow Spanish and took care to pronounce carefully, very nice ride. We returned to Varadero with a much slower driver 4 days later, it took 2 ½ hours to get to the Melia Varadero.

The hotel is situated pretty much in the middle of the Varadero peninsula, between the Melia Las Americas and one of the Sol hotels. It is kept very clean, although it’s starting to age. The rooms were being renovated while we were there. We had an original one, so we got the dated decoration, with pink and grey marble in the bathroom, but it was comfortable and clean. We had a gorgeous view of the pool and the sea, but as it faced directly to the West, it was way to hot at sundown to use the balcony to watch the sunset.

The maid changed almost daily, which made it difficult to pick gifts to give, as one had young children, one had a teenager and the others had none, so I never knew whether to put the colouring books and crayons on the table, or a lipstick and toothpaste.

As for the building itself, it is built like to stopped building them years ago: one sole building, 6 stories high, with an atrium in the middle. We found this old formula disappointing and understand why they don’t build them like that anymore: pretty much everything is inside, and apart from the beach and the pool, there are no grounds to speak of, so no stroll through gardens and foliage. There was a small beach restaurant, an outside beach restaurant and a paella shack for lunch, but most of the food options remained inside (main restaurant, Italian (actually an area of the main restaurant) specialities and cafeteria)This also became difficult for us as about 85 % of the clientele is from Spain, and most of them smoked : inside a building, smoke is much harder on the non-smoking clients than outside. Also, there were no non-smoking designated areas that we noticed.

The pool was alright but nothing special, the bridges and layout made it quite a walk to go wherever you wished to go, even though it was actually only a few yards away.

The beach was disappointing. One side is not usable (on the Sol side), and the other is very rocky for a long stretch. If you walk quite a ways towards the Las Americas, the beach is indeed quite beautiful, but this way you find yourself quite far from the bathrooms of the Varadero. One positive note for the Varadero beach : during our stay, I saw quite a few Portuguese Man-of-War on some days on the Las Americas side, but never on the Varadero side.

The was a some coral in front of the Varadero beach, most of the local hotels sent clients there on catamarans, but there wasn’t much to see : quite a few fish, but all of them grey (the kind you expect to find on your plate, not admire in situ), and the coral was grey as well.

As for the food : generally alright, considering this is Cuba. Breakfast was excellent, lots of variety, wonderful omelette station manned by Modesto.

Lunch in the main buffet, was somewhat repetitive: always the same fruits and vegetables, some dishes kept coming up, but overall very acceptable. Modesto’s station is transformed from an omelette one to a pasta center, delicious!

Dinner in the main restaurant was mainly a repetition of lunch, with a few “classier” touches, such as crab legs on night and oysters another. A bit disappointing and repetitive if you did not use the specialty restaurants.

Service in the main restaurant, as in every restaurant really, was excellent, but we did find that the employees were much more reserved that in other Cuban resorts we’ve been to. They seemed to have been told not to address clients unless they were spoken to, and they never looked you in the eye either unless you spoke to them. This made the atmosphere somewhat stuffy and created a feeling of different social classes, which I found surprising and unwelcomed in a tropical resort. It seems to me that the staff can be friendly while remaining polite at the same time.

We were told you could eat 3 times a week in the specialty restaurants, and this intrigued me as we were there for 10 days and or not big buffet fans – I wondered how many times we could get reservations to one of the specialty restaurants. We ended up going to the international restaurant 3 times, the seafood one twice and the Italian one twice also. Definitely no problem there.

The food in the international restaurant was quite good, though far from a high class restaurant in Montreal, New York or Paris, but this is Cuba. Which is precisely what created a weird ambiance in this restaurant : the staff tried to behave as they thought high class waiters and waitresses behaved in glamorous restaurants, but they did not quite achieve it, because let’s face it, they had no clue what they were supposed to copy. Also of note, these waiters have obviously never seem a rack of lamb or veal scaloppini, because I ordered the first one night and was served the latter : any foody couldn’t confuse those two pieces of meat! But the veal was good and was served with an excellent sauce and good vegetables. It wasn’t what I ordered, but it was fine.

The wine was of regular resort quality, which means that it was gross. But you could buy very good wine at the speciality restaurant and the Italian one (maybe elsewhere too, though we didn’t try it), and for 13 pesos you got a very good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile.

The drinks were quite bad to my taste, in fact the worst I had in recent years in any resort. After a few days of trying out different drinks, I stuck to Mojitos (which are far from as good as those you pay for in Havana but still good, with lots of mint leaves) and vodka tonics.

The main bar is pretty lame, kind of in a hallway, no atmosphere to speak of. There was a pool table, which we used extensively. Strangely, you had to pay for the pool table (about 6 pesos an hour), which we didn’t mind but thought of as cheap by the resort, but the money was then put into the barmen’s tip jar. I didn’t get it but didn’t complain as they certainly need it more than I do.

Finally, a word on the tennis courts. There are 2, available pretty much round the clock as we only saw 3 other couples playing during the 10 days we were there. We played everyday, always at the time of our choosing. The courts are starting to age, as the surface is cracking in spots. The worst problem is the palm leaves and stucky resin that fall on the courts, but they can usually be avoided, as they only fall near the back of one of the courts.

In all, a nice trip, not the best in recent years, but very relaxing.

Hope this helps!
Melia Varadero
Nancy & Terry 
Montreal, Canada
February 2005
We stayed at the Melia Varadero for one week from January 8-15. We had a great time and enjoyed the resort. I’ll try to keep my review short and sweet. Our flight with Air Canada was on time, short line up at customs went by fairly quickly. Check-in at hotel only took 5 minutes.

Room was on the 5 floor with ocean view. Room was always kept clean by the maid. Bathroom was very nice and they include a mini-bar which they refill daily. We loved are room, it had everything you need and is very comfortable except for the pillows. They don’t charge for the safe.

The beach is beautiful, crystal clear water with soft sand. This was our second trip to Varadero, our first trip was in July and the ocean is very calm and warm but in January there are waves and the ocean is a bit more rough and cold in the winter. The water is at first cold, it takes about 2 to 3 minutes to get used to the water temperature and after you can stay in the water for a long time.

The pool is very nice and kept clean, they have a bar located in the middle of the swimming pool. There’s one Jacuzzi in the middle of the pool that fits about 12 people and a small kiddy pool. We only used the pool once we enjoy the beach.

The food was excellent at the Melia the week we where there. This is our fourth time in Cuba and we are extremely happy with the food and the dining options of the Melia. Breakfast was very good we had to wait a little for omelets because the hotel had full capacity. Lunch was great, we had the option to dine at the beach grill, the Cuban restaurant, pool side seafood stir fry they called it Paella, the buffet and the café (served pizza, hot dogs, club sandwich, hamburgers). Diner was great, our option for diner has the buffet, the international restaurant (was fantastic), the seafood restaurant, Italian, the café and Chinese. They had shrimp every day and it tasted great. Big and good variety and lots of seafood. They have great ice cream and good bread.

The staff was very friendly and they appreciate it when you tip. At the buffet, the service was slow some nights. Animation staff was fine, the usual night show and daily activities by the beach and pool. They have many bars and drinks are great. They have a live band almost every night by the lobby. There’s a piano bar and karaoke bar and they have a pool table and a giant chess game.

Overall we had a great time at the Melia Varadero we rate this hotel a 4 ½ * star and would highly recommend it. If you have any questions you can email me at nancyarissian@hotmail.com
Melia Varadero

December 2004
As you can guess by the wedding review we were happy as heck with the resort.

Our check in was fast as we were the wedding couple and Mariela our Wedding Coordinator met us upon arrival and we were rushed right into our upgraded room Top floor corner suite. To say lovely would be a understatement. The resort was just like we imagined from all the reviews and pictures we had seen in the year of planning the wedding So many friendly staff. Our maid, and Mariala, our wedding coordinator, all the waiters in the buffet as well as the Ala carts, and as always we seem to find our favorite bar waiters. This time it was hard to pick just one as down at the beach grill and bar, they were all our favorites. 1/2 of the 30 people for the wedding stayed 2 weeks and some of the waiters even knew which one of our group had already been for breakfast and who was not there yet etc.

Enough about the resort and staff. They both get top marks from us. The beach. We had read that there was rocks on the beach. We got there and there was no rocks, Latter after the wind picked up and the waves washed some sand away I see were the reviews said there was rocks. The waves wash the sand off it and when it calms down they actually bring in truck loads of sand and cover them up again. It is only a narrow strip and once past it it is pure Varadero sand.

Snorkeling.. Ah we had trouble finding out about this before we booked. It seems that all the resorts bring boat loads of people to snorkel right of our shore. We snorkeled out there every day and the fish are feed on the reef there so there is lots to see. Scuba diving. If its a long time since your last dive this is the spot. Right off shore you swim out a bit then go underwater to the reef and have a great shallow dive (22 ft.) Very good refresher dive and also if you take the pool course excellent 1st dive there as well. They do offer 2 tank dives that they drive you to. The kids went there and had a great dive. I had to pass on it. Wished I made it thou. Golf. it is right there I did 3 rounds including one the morning of my wedding.

$42 for green fees- 33 for cart per 2 people and 33 each for clubs Taylor made with 540 drivers lots of left and right hand clubs. Take lots of balls and watch #16 To say there is water would be an understatement. Take your camera as well. It is right next door to a small mall Las Americas which has a bank and an ATM but I think it only takes VISA no Debit but don't really know for sure.

I cant say enough about the resort, staff and everything else there. I would not hesitate to recommend this place at all.
Melia Varadero

September 2004
Myself and my partner (40 something's) went to Melia Varadero in Cuba in August 2004.

First the high points- the rooms are comfortable and were kept extremely clean and well stocked. We tipped our maid on day 4 and were greeted with an ingenious array of folded towels on our return from the beach each day.

The pool bar guys worked their socks off, and made a real effort to talk to the punters.

The Futureventura special restaurant was superb - food was great and excellent service.

The entertainments team were a very hardworking bunch and I found myself in the sea doing water aerobics - great fun! and learning to salsa dance on the beach! There was a great range of amenities within the hotel and we played tennis and went to the gym.

The evening entertainment was a mixed bag - it was mostly the same crowd and although they are undoubtedly very talented it became a bit too much of the same thing, especially if you are staying for 2 weeks. There is not a lot else to do other than the nightly show from 10-11pm. There is a nightclub but the music is pretty obscure. We regularly frequent a Spanish bar in London so are well used to Salsa etc.. but this music you could not dance to. Other guests also woke us up on their return from the club each night.

The water sports on the beach were good - rarely had to wait long and the guys there also organised a trip snorkelling which was good and quite cheap. Always managed to find a sunbed.

The beach was absolutely superb - crystal clear water and fine pale sand. The water was also really warm - I'm not much of a swimmer but I spent hours in the sea. If you like snorkelling, it wasn't great but there were some fish to see.

The chefs in the main restaurant (buffet) were very good always topping up the selections and the fish and meat grill guy would bring our food to our table after cooking it fresh to avoid us standing and waiting.

Now the low points - the service in the main restaurant and cafe bar are about the worst I have seen in my visits abroad (upward of 30X) Generally at breakfast after the first rush at about 8 in the morning people would wander aimlessly around the restaurant looking for a clean table or somewhere to sit. At nightime the waiters are supposed to top up your glasses with wine etc.. or get you beers from the bar - this took ages. One night I was even asked to go and get my own glass of wine! The food wasn't bad but became a bit predictable after several days - although the pastry chef was fantastic.

I love going abroad and I particularly like Spain, and the Spanish people. However, the waiters definately seemed more inclined to serve Spanish people rather that any other nationality - and I spoke Spanish wherever I could. Some of the waiters were better than others but it really did ordepend on who was serving you wether you enjoyed you meal or not. There are 5 reataurants advertised in the hotel description - but they do not tell you that you are only allowed to eat in three of them once a week. The chinese was absolutely awful, the buffet restaurant we had to queue every night for up to ten minutes to get in, the Italian we didn't try. The Trinidad served seafood in the evening but the portions were very small and not really exciting. The paella round the pool was excellent, so too was the sangria.

We did complain to towards the end of our holiday and the Public relations lady we spoke to listened with some shock to our experiences and our view that the service was really letting the hotel down. She noted all our commments and arranged a room extension on our day of departure, a bottle of champagne on the house in the special restaurant. We also returned from a daytrip in Havana to find a beatiful hand crafted coach and horses made out of chocolate in our fridge. The lady in question also ensured that she saw us off and thanked us for bringing our concerns to her.

Getting bags booked onto plane and going through customs etc took 5 hours - not funny if you are two grown-ups let alone a family.

Our opinion - if you have not travelled much before or never done 5* before you would think that this place is wonderful. However, we were in Mexico (Moon Palace two year ago) and this place doesn't even come close. If you are thinking of going to Cuba the beaches and weather is great but do not expect the same standard of service of other 5* hotels. We went to a daytrip to Havana and that was quite enough - you get hassled everywhere you go for dollars and tips - from ging to the toilet to walking down the road. This is a very poor country and people will try anything to make a dollar or two. We are glad we tried it but the airport fiasco finished us off and we vowed never to return to Cuba. If you decide to give it a go and are unhappy - go and tell the management, they would much rather know what is going on that guests go home disgruntled.

Final note - we met lots of other europeans at the hotel and many of them recommended Dominion Rebublic over Cuba.
Melia Varadero
June 2004
Okay, we (my husband and another couple) just got back (May 23rd - May 30th, 2004)from 1 week at the Melia Varadero in Cuba...it was WONDERFUL!!! We are in our late 20s, early 30s...we found lots to do, lots to eat, lots of fun and it couldn't have been better. From day one, we had perfect weather -- not one drop of rain nor cloud in the sky and 30-33 degrees every day!

Check-in was fine...there was a bit of a line-up and did have to wait about 10 minutes or so. But who cares...you're in Cuba, on vacation, in a great hotel!!!

The hotel was fantastic...I've been to other places in the Caribbean and this was definitely the best yet! Tons of restaurants to choose from...we ended up doing 5 a la carte restaurants. Although we knew we were only allowed 4 dinners, we tried for the 5th and no one said otherwise. Our favourite by far was the Fueterventura (sp?)...we had Filet Mignon, Chauteaubriand (sp?), and the bread....WOW, it was amazing. The Cuban (Trinidad) was beautiful with the view of the ocean and the breeze...very nice!

We stayed away from the Chinese restaurant as we were pre-warned about the food there. The Italian was good (great salmon), the 24 hour restaurant had FANTASTIC personal-size pizzas. Beach BBQ grill was good too...good burgers and crispy fries. We had the paella near the pool one day...however, the cook there decided he was going to serve a table of girls he knew even though they were seated 10 minutes after us! But that's okay, we laughed it off! Finally the buffet -- how could anyone NOT find something to eat there?? They had everything you could think of and we tried a variety of foods. Great dessert table -- especially the fried peaches with cream and chocolate sauce!! The service was quick and everyone was smiling and having a great time.

The beach and ocean were great!! Crystal blue-green warm water, plenty of lounge chairs, massage right on the beach etc. Pool was great too -- lots of people hanging around the pool bar. They had great coconut drinks -- cracked fresh coconut, rum and a straw! What else could you ask for?

The resort was excellent -- jewellery shops, art gallery, nightclub (quite nice with it's velvet booths), clean bathrooms, friendly staff, tons of restaurants to choose from. We too left little gifts for our maid (toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap etc) and were greeted with towel sculptures & flowers everytime we came up to get ready for dinner.

We did the Seafari Cayo Blanco -- great experience!! One of the crew guys got his snorkeling gear on and caught 15 or so fresh lobsters!! They cooked them onboard and sold them for $10 a piece -- well worth the money, the best lobster I've ever had!! The secluded island of Cayo Blanco was picture-postcard perfect!! I would highly recommend this excursion which includes a dolphin show, catamaran sailing, snorkeling, open bar & lunch on the island.

We went to Cueva del Pirata (Pirate's Cave) nightclub twice -- once on Monday night and because we liked it so much we returned on Friday night. They have a show at 11PM which is definitely worth it -- colourful costumes, good music and fantastic dancers -- WOW can they move!! After the show everyone is up on their feet dancing to both Cuban tunes and stuff we listen to here. $10 bucks for cover charge and drinks all night long -- but beware, their drinks are much stronger than ours here. We spent Tuesday lying in the shade trying to shake off our hangovers. Definitely check this place out.

They had a piano player near the Las Palmas bar which was a popular hang out for the after-dinner crowd...we spent our last night lying on the lounge chairs by the pool facing the ocean and enjoying the warm breezes already sad knowing we'd be leaving early the next morning.

I am definitely staying at the Melia Varadero when I go back to Cuba...why risk it and try any other place?? At the airport on our way home, we heard some horror stories that other travelers had experienced at some of the other local resorts.

All in all, we totally lucked out with the resort we chose, the weather that week, the people we met, the food etc. They rate the hotel a 41/2 star, but in my opinion, it should be a 5 star!!!
Melia Varadero

May 2004
My girlfriend and i visited the melia varadero from may 15-22, 2004. THe resort itself was unreal, don't be fooled by the older looking exterior because once you are inside you are absolutely blown away. I found teh staff to be quite rude especially the women and older men. The younger men were very nice and what you would expect from a resort of this caliber. We noticed that we were a minority when it came to speaking english. There were not too many of us int eh resort, there were mainly spanish speaking guests. We have no complaints about the food except that it gets quite repetitive at the buffet restaurants. The specialty restaurants were great mainly the seafood (trinidad) and the international (fuetureventura). The international was great with 3 violinists and a cellist playing while you eat and the filet mignon was as good as you would get anywhere in Canada. With both of us being in our mid-20's we found this resort a bit too out of our league. We were so underdressed compared to the european population of the motel. We also found that the night life was almost non existant. The piano bar seemed to be the meeting place for most everyone before taking in teh nightly show. Overall the experience was one i would never forget, but would not recommed this resort to younger people who expect a little more action.If you are looking for a nice relaxing atmosphere with no kids to annoy you, then this is the place for you.
Melia Varadero
May 2004
We were at Melia Veradero in March for one week (4 1/2 star). Our first time at the resort and to Cuba. We are in our mid-30's.

We read all the reviews before going to Cuba and came over prepared - didn't need the Off, ant powder, Imodium, Tums etc....

We had an excellent time, no ants, no bugs, good food (although bland), whether was great, not one drop of rain.

We flew with Air Transat from Toronto - early morning flight, had no problems at Veradero airport. Found our bus ok. It was about an hour before we got to our hotel from the airport. We had to stop and drop people off at various other resorts. The trip home was also uneventful.

Front Desk:
Check-in was slow, if you want to know something, ask (if you can find someone that speaks English) - nobody will volunteer any info.

Standard room - very pleasant - no problems with anything, had a garden view.

We tipped excessively, especially at the Piano Bar (worth it because it got quite busy) and the Beach Grill.

We ate at each restaurant on the resort. The only restaurant that was really really bad was the Chinese Restaurant (we went to the buffet afterwards). Otherwise the food was great.

We did manage to find a young man at the front desk who spoke excellent English - he gave us a lot of info about local clubs, told us to see the entertainment people by the pool area with respect to arranging a "Club Bus". This bus left the hotel around 11:45pm and returned at 2:00am (the clubs close at 2:00am). All clubs are $10US all inclusive (but all you get is Crystal (the local beer) and the rum based fruity drinks.

You can also take a cab to these clubs for about US$5-$6 - 10 minute ride.

Mamo Club - live band, cuban music - excellent band, Sunday night was not busy.

Club International is very Westernized, live cuban show at 11:00pm at 12:00 they play our club music. Both Tuesday and Thursday evening were busy.

Cuevos Las Pirates (the Pirates Cave), played a mix of music. Smaller than Club International - wasn't very busy on Wednesday night.

Our Resort Club (Karaoke?) - each night was busy from about 11:00pm to 1:00am.

Side Trip:
Did the day trip to Havana, other than being hounded by the locals, it was a great learning experience, beautiful architecture, lots of history. The cigar tour is a must. It was exhausting, try not to book a Wednesday (it's the busiest tourist day).

Had a great vacation would highly recommend Melia Veradero.
Melia Varadero
March 2004
We just returned from Melia Varadero after a two week vacation. This is our third visit to Cuba and the first to this resort.

The resort is very nice and we found the service excellent. Rooms were very nice and comfortable and our room attendant was excellent….very detailed and friendly.

The hotel facilities were very good and clean for the most part however the washrooms on the main floor near the inside elevators were often heavy in odour.

The beach was good and while we had some inclement weather, it was still nice to sit near the beautiful ocean.

The pool was also very nice and we found all of the bars friendly and consistant in good service.

We only have one complaint and that is the food. We found the selection, while numerous, did not meet our expectations. It was mostly cold or luke warm and sometimes not labled so we didn’t know what it may have been.

Our overall assessment is that we would not return to this resort under the present food conditions. As mentioned, this is our third visit to Cuba and our previous two were great and we will definitely return to Cuba.
Melia Varadero
February 2004
We stayed at the Melia Varadero in late November 2003.

It was a great resort. We found the rooms large and clean. The property was beautiful and had nice pools. Although a bit of a walk to the beach, it was quite long and there were always chairs available. There was also a beach bar which was handy (definitely bring a drinking thermos - those little cups they give you don't hold much).

I can't say enough about the staff - very friendly. Speaking of the staff, make sure you bring soaps etc with you to leave for your maids and the other staff. They are very appreciative of receiving these types of items as they are incredibly expensive to purchase.

There was a good selection of restaurants (we loved the fact the Cafe was opened 24 hours). However, you could only eat at each of the restaurants (excluding buffet) once during your stay (week long). The food was satisfactory, but I did end up getting sick during our stay. In general I think that the food is what you can expect anywhere in Cuba (I bet the Melia is above standard). Considering that, if you are very picky or expect a certain standard of food don't go to Cuba.
Melia Varadero
Toronto, Canada
December 2003
This was one vacation my wife not myself will ever forget. This resort is amazing, the staff, service, atmosphere...even the food was okay. The weather was cloudy the first three days, but we did other things like shopping, sight-seeing and we even took a tour to Havana. The resort is beautiful inside and out. The beach on the one side of the resort is gorgeous, about 1 km long, but the other side has coral which is hard to walk on barefoot.

This hotel is great for couples but not for singles. There were a few single people but they didn't really fit in. Reviews give this resort a "4 1/2" star, but I would give it a "5". I am definitely going back.
Melia Varadero
November 2003
Our Arrival: Our arrival was uneventful. The bus ride was quick as was check in, the staff at the front desk spoke English.

Our room was on the 5th floor we had a partial view of the beach. The room was nice, nothing special.

Grounds: The lobby was beautiful it had a rainforest feel.

Pool: The pool was very nice, however, very shallow. Tons of lounge chairs and umbrellas were available at all times.

Beach: This was a little disappointing. It was a long walk to the beach and the sand was very rough and rocky. The ocean was great.

Bugs: This was horrible. On the second night, while sitting in the lobby lounge I got bit 9 times, by mosquitoes. One bite, on my left arm, swelled up to the size of baseball and was extremely itchy. The next morning instead of getting better it got a lot worse. That night I had to visit the doctor’s office, however he was not there. The nurse saw me. The language barrier was a little scary, as we did not understand each other at all. She wanted to give me a steroid shot but I refused. She prescribed antihistamines and a topical cream. The pharmacy was nice enough to deliver the meds to my room. I took an antihistamine that night and the next morning the bite was almost gone!

Restaurants: The buffet restaurant was the one we mostly ate at. There was always plenty of food and a nice variety. We did have dinner at one of the a la carte restaurants (Italian) and it was nice.

Staff and Service: The staff were great, always smiling and always helpful.

Activities: There was always something to do either on the beach or the pool. Our favorite activity was napping by the pool.

Shopping: There was a mall attached to the resort. Shopping was very convenient and with more than 20 stores you can find anything you are looking for.

Going Home: Again, uneventful, it was an early flight, arrived in Toronto before noon.

Summary: This was a nice, quite, relaxing trip.

Please feel free to email me should you have any questions.
Melia Varadero
Hamilton, Ontario
July 2003
Our group was 8 people, 2- couple in there 20's and 2 in there 50's. We flew Sky Service which was in our opinion quite unimpressive, service was bad and the food was bistro style. Arrived in Cuba 30 minutes early, arrived home 15 minutes late.

Hotel: The hotel grounds are beautiful, lots to see and do on the resort, be sure to get your bearings straight the star shape of the hotel takes some getting use to, on our last day we were still going the wrong way. The rooms are gorgeous, be sure to get the renovated rooms, which are in the hallways with tile not carpet. The rooms had a tv (3-5 english channels) a fridge, two double beds, fairly large closet with mirrors, a desk with chair, a balcony and a beautiful bathroom with bidet ( I want my bathroom in my house to look like this). The resort has a fairly small pool with a bar (not swim-up) which has lots of lounge chairs around the area. There is the Melia Las Americas Shopping mall next to our resort which you could buy souvenirs from, we went into downtown Varadero to the market and the prices were roughly the same.

Beach: The beach was beautiful, the walk around the 100 FEET OF EXPOSED CORAL WAS NOT. I cannot believe that no one mentioned this before, from pictures you can see the large rock formation in front of the resort, but where the actual beach is supposed to begin there is 100 - 200 feet of exposed coral which you must walk around in order to get to the beach, in other words your basically walking to Melia Las Americas or Sol Palmeras beach (HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT). The beach grill was amazing, go early (12:45 pm) and get the Skewers, I wish I could have them right now.

Bars and Clubs: Their are 3 bars, Piano Bar, Karaoke Bar and the 24-Hour Bar. All three bars are about the same depending on what your in the mood for, we stuck mainly to the Piano Bar. We went to two Clubs/Discos, The Pirates Cave (Cuevos las Pirates) and Mambo Club. Pirates Cave was awesome, its a huge cave with a bar and dance floor, cover was $8 and was all inclusive. Hint: tip the waiter and he'll be your best friend, he would bring me drinks on the dance floor. They put on a show every-night before the club music came on, the show had dancers, live band and a magician. Mambo Club was nice but they played live salsa and meringue till basically 1 a.m. then the club music came on. Cover was $10 all inclusive.

Food: There are 8 restaurants, go to all but the Chinese they must have changed the menu because it was awful. The other restaurants were great, the best was the Fancy restaurant (Fueterventura) they had lobster tail (no extra $$$) and service that was better than 5 stars in Canada. The buffet was good but not recommended for everyday. The everyday menu for us: Breakfast: buffet omelet with bacon and little mashed potato crisps. Lunch: Beach grill burger or Skewer. Dinner: Alternate Buffet/Restaurant. In general the food was really good, I've been to three different countries/resorts all 4+ stars and Cuba is number 1 I'm speaking for all of us when I say that. One person in our party did get really sick, canadian doctor said it was Travelers Bug, I would not want to catch this, our friend was bed ridden for two days. They said it could happen anywhere to anyone.

Entertainment: The shows were all the same Dancing/Live band music, it was good but repetitive. The animation team was really good, always something to do. Try the aqua-size in the ocean very fun and good for you too, there was tons of stuff to do from Beach Volleyball to table tennis.

Summary: This resort was amazing, the food was good, the beach was amazing (other than Rock formations). I big thanks to this site without it I would not have picked our resort and had such an amazing time, thank you to Debbie.
Melia Varadero
Halifax, Nova Scotia
May 2003
We were a party of three couples all in our mid forties. This was our second trip to Varadero. We booked through Go Travel Direct and flew on Zoom airlines. We loved the service on Zoom. They even passed out hot towels at the end of the flight, nice touch. The food was very good also. Since we were the last flight for Zoom for the season, our return flight left Cuba early and arrived back in Halifax 50 minutes early.

Hotel: If this had been my first trip I would have been very impressed by the hotel. I have been to two others, and now I find myself comparing. We have been to the Brisas del Caribe in Varadero and Hodelpa Caribe in the DR. The Melia is in third place. There is a circular garden just past the front desk with a pond and tropical birdcage. The garden is open to the sky with trailing philodendrons that hang from the top floor. There are three or four elevators two are overlooking the garden with a glass window. One of the other elevators beside the lobby/piano bar was not working a couple of times. One night for entertainment we sat by the Piano Bar and just watched people get in the elevator and press buttons. When the door opened they would have a bewildered look on their face. We would tell people that the elevator was not working and they would still get in, maybe they didn't understand our language. One woman asked us if there was a hidden camera. Go to the intro with your tour rep, he/she will be able to answer most questions you have about the resort, Varadero and Cuba. The resort has an art gallery and shops. You can use the facilities of the Sol Palmeras and Melia Las America but will be charged for drinks and food. We took a walk in and around the Sol Palmeras, we liked the layout better there than at the Melia Varadero.

Room: The room was beautiful and spotless. Two double beds pushed together made one huge bed. There was a mural of two people over the bed. Faux paint finishes on all the walls. The bar fridge had bottled water. You could ask to have it stocked for a $5. delivery charge, we never bothered with that. We had a view that overlooked the ocean over the top of palm trees, it was nice. I only bothered to look out the window when I did my morning weather check. The bathroom was beautiful. Another mural painting of an angel. The way the mirrors were hung (there were three wall mirrors) you would see multiple images of yourself and you could see the back of your head when styling your hair. There was also a magnifying makeup mirror attached to a swing arm. I'd love to have one of those at home. There was a hairdryer in the bathroom. We left the maid little gifts everyday, and she would leave us towel sculptures. Water was replenished daily.

Bars - Three outside bars: beach bar, pool bar and one on the side of the Trinidad Restaurant. Lobby Bar and bars in the buffet, café and a la carte restaurants. The piano bar got a bit busy in the evening. The pool bar got busy around 4:30 when people started to come up from the beach. I found the drinks in the piano bar better than at the pool. The pool bar served warm pina coladas, yuck. They made nice strawberry daiquiris though. Ladies, if you want rum in your pina coladas tell the bartender or they might just leave it out. The beach bar at the first of the week was giving out bottled water, mid week they started to pour it into cups. This was a pain, you had to keep going for water, and at least with the bottle you could have a drink and cap the bottle for later. We also noticed that the plastic glasses at the pool bar got smaller later in the week, maybe they just ran out of the other size. The bartenders will also fill your own insulated mug if you bring one. There was a man set up at the entrance to the beach stairs making coconut drinks. He would chop the top of a coconut, pour in some rum and add a straw. In one of the other resorts that we stayed at two years ago the bar had sample drinks made up. You could point to the drink that looked interesting to you and try it. They did not have anything like that at the Melia. We had asked for a few different types of drinks, they either did not have the ingredients or didn't know how to make them. The piano bar seemed to be the best for different drinks. My husband thought service at the piano bar was a bit on the slow side. I think it was because they had one bartender a lot of the time and he had to do other things as well as serve the guests. You were better off to sit in the chairs and let the servers bring your drinks.

Food - There are 8 different places to eat. We had no problem with the food. At the buffet you could always find something to eat. There were always cheeses, breads, and different tropical fruit. They had an antipasto bar. Different types of meats chicken and fish were always in abundance. Friday seemed to have a seafood theme; we found lobster, shrimp and other delicacies of the sea. All kinds of different vegetables and rice dishes. There was a salad bar, you pointed out what you wanted and they tossed it together for you. I would have preferred to prepared my own, there was always a line at this station. At some meals there was a pasta bar and other meals, a stir-fry station. Desserts were tasty and we loved the ice cream. Breakfast - fried eggs, boiled eggs, sliced cold meats, bacon, sausage, potatoes, omelet station, breads, cheeses, fruit, fresh juices, yogurt, cold cereals, granola and things I can't remember.

Service at the buffet was good. If you didn't have something you needed, ketchup, water, etc. the wait staff would get it for you. We just got up and got the ketchup ourselves if the staff was busy.

The Café was the 24 hour snack bar and the menu changed to Italian for supper. You could get calzones, pizza, French Fries, burgers, sandwiches, etc.

We ate at the Chinese and Fuentaventura (may be spelled wrong), you needed reservations for these. The Fuentaventura was very nice, a little formal. The Chinese was inside the buffet as was the seafood restaurant. Some of the menus had items that you had to pay for; they were indicated on the menu. If you were not sure, you only had to ask. The Trinidad Restaurant was in a thatched roof building just over from the pools. The menu was pretty good, fish, steak, chicken, etc. Most meals came with salad, rice or potato and some kind of vegetable. You could also get French fries here. This restaurant had no doors and a few birds flew through. Musicians played and when they took a break, they would try to sell their CD's, if you were not interested, all you had to do was say no thanks. The beach grill was in the same place as the beach bar. Another thatched roof building that had no walls. Birds liked this place. If you don't like flies hovering around your food, you better not look or go someplace else to eat. We did eat here a couple of times; the food was good and well cooked. You could get burgers, chicken, chicken wings, hot dogs, French fries. We had no problem with service at any of the restaurants. Just over from the pool, they served a fresh cook paella around 1 p.m. every day except Sunday. They served Sangria, salad and rolls. They would put the frying pan right on the table and you just took what you wanted. Each table got their own pan of paella. We tried this once. One day they had a pig roast. We missed out on that. There may have been other events that we missed out on also. Check the event boards everyday.

Beach/Pools/Grounds - I was looking forward to beautiful flowers and gardens. Everything was green except a few flowers at the front entrance. We took a walk next door to the Sol Palmeras, we found the flowers, they're grounds were beautiful. The area around the pools was very nice. Plenty of loungers and lots of space. We would find a vacant chair and drag it to the spot we wanted to sit. We prefer filtered shade and we always managed to find just the right spot. Three pools, one had a volleyball net strung across. The second pool had an island in the middle and the third was a tot wading pool. One pool spilled into the next. They were on different levels. The pool area was nice. The pool bar was nestled in between the pool with the net and the one with the island. There were stools in the two pools but you needed someone between you and the actual bar to serve you, the bartenders were on the other side of the bar. The deepest spot in the pool was about 4ft. They didn't have a hot tub, but they did have a whirlpool set in the middle of one of the swimming pools. While at the pool, they did not announce what was taking place at the beach or vise versa.

To get to the beach you had to walk down a couple of sets of stone steps and walk past some coral. The beach has rock cliffs on both sides. At one end of the beach is the golf course. The beach is directly in front of Plaza Las Americas. It is a public beach, the locals usually sat between the trees on the grass. If was not a long stretch of beach like some resorts have in Varadero. You could go snorkeling right off the beach. One day we took a paddleboat out and snorkeled from it, we had it for a half-hour, it took five minutes to get to the fish. We wanted to do this again, we got rolls from the buffet and were all set but the beach boys would not let us take the boats out because the wind was up. We tried two days in a row; I ended up tossing my rolls into the ocean. Beside the beach bar was a massage table where, I was told, you could get a great massage for $10. The beach was a little hike from the main resort and we are still not sure if there was a bathroom at the grill or not. If there was, it was stuck in behind and none of wanted to go there to find out. If you had emergency while at the beach, you had a long walk to get to the bathroom.

Side Trips: We only did one tour. We booked a tour to Havana through Go Travel Direct $63.00pp. We left at 8:30 a.m. and returned at 6:30 p.m. We traveled by air conditioned motor coach with an English speaking guide. Lunch was included, as was entry into all the places we visited. I totally recommend this tour. Some people hire cabs or locals to take them to Havana and pay half what we did, but I feel we got the better deal. Some cab drives speak very little English. Havana is steeped with history and architectural beauty, I doubt a local from Varadero could give the guided tour we got. We also got to shop at the market. I wish we had had more time, we had 1/2 an hour to shop. There were some really good buys. I'll warn you now, people wait for the tour busses and practically swam the tourists. There were guys drawing sketches, musicians and people just plain begging. This overwhelmed a few of the tourists. We were even approached by a couple of ladies working in one of the museums to give them money, candy or soap. Just tell them you don't have anything if you don't. As we were getting ready to leave old Havana, one of the young ladies on the tour made the mistake of opening her bag outside the bus to get something out to give to some of the young boys that were waiting around the busses. They swarmed her and started grabbing stuff out of her bag. I would suggest that if you bring items to give away, pass it to the tour guide and let her dish it out, she could speak the language.

Night show: The evening show was in an enclosed room that was, in my opinion, too small, too loud and stuffy. I don't think it was air conditioned. There were doors to the outside, but they were never opened. I did not enjoy this place. There was an outdoor stage that would have been a better choice as far as air quality goes.

The Karoke Bar was a little dank smelling. Might be because it was dark and closed up most of time. The couple of times we went there it was just a bunch of kids fooling around. The times they were open did not correspond with the times posted.

Summary: As I said above, if this had been my first trip I would have been amazed. I had this feeling that there was something that I did not like about this place but could not put my finger on it. In retrospect, I think it was the fact that I was expecting beautiful flowers and gardens and was a little disappointed that there was none. The beach being a distance from the main building is another minus, we all agreed about this. That being said this is still a very nice resort and I would recommend it. If I return to Cuba I would like to another area, maybe Holguin or Cayo Coco. I would be happy to answer specific questions. Email me at bmnichol@hotmail.com
Melia Varadero

May 2003
Booking and the flight
No problem here, only got delayed a half hour at the Airport arrived late at night and went to bed early.

The hotel
The hotel is nice, rooms are very small, not like the pictures in the brochures. Alot of bars around, but they often use a low alcohol type rum to serve. Meaning 50 drinks later and your still wondering what's going on!

The Staff is often friendly but you have a few weirdos! Alot of guys on the animation team were catering more to the female guests. I wonder why? Alot of women from other hotels were complaining about being accosted constantly by Cuban guys and not being left alone. Especially girls in 2's. I was approached several times by one of the animators for clothes and he wouldn't leave me alone. Most of the staff don't speak english unless you have something to give them.

Were a rip-off so I didn't take any. I went into a cuban town nearby and hung out with some locals and had lunch. I gave out some stuff, and that was good enough for me and alot cheaper. Be prepared to spend 70 to 200 U.S. for any excurions that's half decent.

The Beach
This was the best part of Varadero, beach is beautiful and clean at least around the Melia hotel.

Room Service
Good Luck service is slow. You won't even bother.

La Rada is said to be where mostly Cubans go and dance but if tourists get wind of this information by their hotel you can guarantee they will all go. Mambo club is mostly Cuban and Spanish music and the women in that club were very rude. Again if your into the Ricky Ricardo thing and you speak Spanish have fun. Don't count on hearing Madonna. After a few days in Cuba you will be dying to hear something American.

Guys this place is horrible if your single. Mostly all couples in Varadero. Men have a hard time if they don't speak Spanish. Most of the European guests are rude, especially the women. If you don't speak to them in Spanish often at times they will simply just get up and walk away to go find their friends. Even some Cuban girls are stuck up in Varadero believe it or not!

Last Words:
Go to Varadero and enjoy yourself! Your just another guy.
Melia Varadero
Calgary, AB
April 2003
Well, I guess it’s finally my turn to write one of these…. For anyone who has contributed to Debbie’s website, I’d like to say “thanks” - your feedback/comments really helped my friend and me make a great choice for our vacation. I’ll try to write this so it’s from my perspective, but overall I’d have to say that both of us had pretty much the same opinion about the details of trip (so there wouldn’t be much chance of misrepresenting my friend’s view anyway).

We are two single females from Calgary, Alberta in our thirties who spent a week at Melia Varadero (Mar. 28 - Apr. 4/03). Although we had horrible weather for a few days - cool (and almost cold in the evening) and WINDY - we still had a fantastic time. This is my first all-inclusive experience, though I have visited friends in the Bahamas (Nassau) so know how beautiful the Caribbean is; my friend has been to an all-inclusive in Puerto Vallarta, but has never been to the Caribbean.

Booking and the flight
…. Two things I have to say I was definitely disappointed with were our experiences with The Flight Centre and, to a certain degree, Conquest vacations. Once we selected and paid for our trip, The Flight Centre pretty much ignored any of our questions or requests (an on several occasions tried to blame this on Conquest). They rarely returned phone queries (didn’t even call to say they didn’t have an answer but were still on it), some staff didn’t know the difference between 220 and 110 volts, and one staff member was completely rude when we came down to their office in person to get some answers on our questions. AFTER we booked our trip they also told us that they didn’t recommend Conquest to anyone due to their lack of responsiveness….. sooooooo why didn’t they tell us that when we booked and then make it sound like our fault that we picked Conquest? We also didn’t have our tickets until just before we left and had to pick them up at the airport the morning we left (which was at 6 a.m., so we were at the Conquest desk at 3:15 a.m. - only to discover that Air Canada, the airline we flew with, wasn’t open until 4 a.m.). We had also requested that we be seated together, but that didn’t happen either (at least on the flight down). To be fair though, one individual at the Flight Centre was very helpful (he even looked up some addresses for me when I got back to Calgary), the flight to Varadero was fine (though I slept for half of it, so I’m the wrong person to ask), and our Conquest rep at the Melia was very helpful/informative, too. I’ve also had other people say that they had positive experiences with Conquest, so I might consider using them again in the future.

Getting through customs at the Varadero airport was fine, too. Had to wait in line for a few minutes, went through security and customs w/ no problem. And everything I read about the restrooms was true - some of them don’t have seats and you have to pay for toilet paper (this is true in many out of the way places in Cuba). But this is Cuba, not downtown Calgary so I guess it’s part of the adventure! Finding the shuttle to the resort was very easy, too, and it didn’t take too long to get to our resort, even though we had to drop some people off at other resorts along the way.

The hotel…..
For those of you who haven’t seen pictures, the Melia Varadero is built in a starburst shape around an atrium with a ton a greenery, a goldfish/koi pond, statues and a few bird cages with colourful birds (though one did look a little sick). There are lovely beige, black, coral, and green marble tiles everywhere and some antique-looking mirrors. It’s beautiful and really adds to the atmosphere of the resort, which has a fairly elegant feel.

Check-in was uneventful and the staff were fairly helpful, though not overly so (or overly friendly). One “weird” thing was that the bell-staff seemed pretty offended that we wanted to pull our own luggage and said something about Canadians all want to handle their own luggage. He also mentioned something about us being afraid he’d steal our stuff (huh?!) We had requested that our rooms be adjacent and they were, so that was great.

The rooms…..
I don’t know what they use for cleaning products, but there was some kind of smell in the corridors to the rooms that was absolutely wonderful - very fresh and green. The room was BIG!! Same beautiful tile (ours was very shiny beige and coral), a little walk-in area with a huge mirror, a balcony w/ a table and chairs, small fridge (which was a little reeky, but I didn’t use it anyway), decent-sized bathroom (though the tub was small) with funky mirrors and a bidet (which I didn’t try to figure out), plenty of closet space (in-room safe was here), and a very convenient luggage rack. I was so impressed w/ the room that I didn’t notice how horrible it smelled of cigarette smoke (ewwwww) until after we went out for a while and returned to get ready for dinner. I went down to the front desk to request another room, and they said they’d spray the room but would not have another room for me until the next day. Left my balcony door open for the evening (fell asleep to the sound of waves - heavenly), and by the next day, the smell was gone so I stayed where I was. A note on leaving your balcony doors open….. don’t be surprised if you wind up with a gecko in your room! He was absolutely adorable, but as he wasn’t paying for his share of the room and freaked me out when he almost fell on my head when I switched the bathroom light on, he had to leave (thanks to my very brave friend for capturing him in a water glass and setting him free on the balcony). TV worked fine - mix of Spanish, English, French and German stations. But honestly - who comes to Cuba to watch TV?

I took down a TON of little gifts for the maid (barrettes, toothpaste, earrings, make-up, etc.) and she always left nifty towel designs on the bed after she cleaned the room, which seemed to be done by noon or 1:00 p.m. each day. Though I did notice toward the end of the week that the designs got kind of repetitive, so maybe next time I’d alternate between cash and “stuff”. The room was always cleaned very well, though. She left a huge bottle of water the first day, and when I saw her that afternoon and went to thank her, she gave me another. There were always two huge bottles of water waiting for me every day after that.

The activities/entertainment….. I didn’t do too many of the activities - a few dance lessons only - because I came for the beach. The staff were friendly enough and while we weren’t at the resort on the day the weather was horrible (thankfully we had planned to go into Havana that day), it sounds like they tried to get people involved and keep their spirits up.

I didn’t go into the pool as I don’t like pools. Besides with the ocean there, who needed the pool?

Only went to a few shows (dancing, singing, different themes each night). They were OK. Not Vegas calibre, but not horrible. As I’m not into shows very much, I’m the wrong person to make fair comments. But I do have to say that the male lead singer (Alexis?) had an absolutely amazing voice, and the all-male drag version of Lady Marmalade (from Moulin Rouge) was a scream!

The beach…..
Where to start! The main beach had beautiful, powder-soft sand (though the sand in the Bahamas was more a white/coral colour - this had a bit of a grey tone to it, but could still be considered white in my mind) and bluey-green water that was fairly clear on calm days. It was a bit rocky close to the stairs leading down to the beach. Also, the stairs might be a little tough to negotiate for someone with difficulty climbing stairs - a few big steps and no real convenient railing that I could remember. The beach was fairly clean, though there was the odd straw and plastic cup in the sand. And cigarette butts (come on, people - geez - if you’re going to smoke at least have the decency to clean up after yourself). There was a lot of sea grass on the beach on the windy days (can’t swim on these days anyway), but they cleaned it up for the sunny warm days we finally had. The beach area to the right of the resort was littered with cans and bottle caps (at least on the rocky part and close to it), as was the rocky area by the DuPont Mansion.

You can take a catamaran to the reef which is about 200 meters (or so I was told) off the shore, though apparently this costs 15$ or something. I just swam out there - took me about 10 minutes - and was able to swim among the fish the people from the catamaran were feeding. It was awesome! Several different types of different fish (tons of some, just a few of others) - some cream/grey coloured ones w/ a yellow stripe running down their bodies to the top part of their tails and a bit of purple on the bottom part of their tails, blue and yellow striped damsels, long slender silver fish with really long noses (I love these!), something that looked like a grouper, and a few others. The only sad thing is that I don’t think there are too many live corals on the reef (though saw some sea fans that looked alive) - a lot of the reef had that bleached-out look. We also saw a few of the blue bottle jellyfish on the beach after the really windy days and apparently these are the ones you need to watch out for - pretty painful sting I’ve heard/read. Didn’t see any in the water though. Did see several of another kind of jellyfish in the water on the day it was really calm. I’m pretty certain they were a species of comb jellyfish which are VERY cool (saw them at the Long Beach Aquarium last year) and technically aren’t true jellyfish. They also don’t sting (if that’s what they really were - I know I didn’t feel anything when I was swimming). Almost transparent so they’re hard to see, not very big, but they have tiny cilia inside their bodies that they use to move through the water. When the sunlight catches them just right, the cilia look like tiny multi-coloured lights inside their bodies - absolutely magical. Sorry for the detail - I'm very into ocean life.

The food and bevvies….
I have to start this off by saying that I am a very picky, finicky eater. Partly food sensitivities, partly health-nut, and despite my best efforts, most foods upset my stomach a fair bit - even healthy stuff. Add to this an international travel nurse that made us absolutely paranoid (don’t eat this, don’t eat that, only eat this, only eat that) and unfavourable comments I’ve heard/read about the food in Cuba. So I went down there trying to balance not having high expectations and keeping an open mind, armed with Pepto, Tums, acidophilus, candied ginger, etc. I never needed any of it - the food was GREAT overall (though most of the reviews of the Melia said the food was good, which is one of the reasons we picked it - I don’t want to fork over that kind of cash to be sick for 7 days).

Our first night at the buffet we looked at all the fresh fruits and veggies (which according to the nurse were absolutely FORBIDDEN), looked at each other, and dug right in. Overall, I’d have to say the quality of the food was high - if you can’t find something to eat at the buffet, you have a major problem. Breakfast was pretty standard and had everything you can imagine - fresh, dried, and canned fruits (the fresh papaya was great!), tons of breads and pastries, jams, juices, cereals, cheeses, an omelet station (pretty busy), a smoothie station, different kinds of yogourt (though they were more like a beverage than something you spoon into a dish) - the coconut one was great, fried eggs - bright yellow yolks unlike the anemic stuff you get in Canada, bacon - better than stuff I’ve had in Canada, sausages, some of the stuff you’d find at dinner (veggies mostly), cut up hot-dogs in different kinds of sauces (OK, not my thing but edible for those who were into it), pancakes (mostly great, though the quality varied from day to day - I don’t think they have real syrup either), a tea station. And the coffee - omigod - the coffee. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but converted on this trip. It’s strong and dark, but has no acidity or bitterness to it at all. They said it was Cubita, but when I got home and brewed the coffee I bought in Cuba, it just wasn’t the same.

We only ate lunch at the buffet one day, but it seemed to be the same as dinner. Lots of salads (some were a little different though I’m sure were fine – just didn’t appeal to me) and at dinner there was a salad station with a woman who would mix whatever you wanted - though I noticed they didn’t have any lettuce, different kinds of chicken, beef, pork, fish, other types of seafood (lots of calamares - yum!), different starches (rice, pasta, potatoes cooked in different ways), cooked veggies, cheeses, pickled stuff, different kinds of desserts - squares, pastries, cakes (most of which were OK, but not stellar), and of course, ice cream (lots of people rave about the ice-cream in Cuba - I thought it was fine - different from Canada – not better or worse, but not sure how to explain it).

Service at the buffet was pretty good overall. Some of the wait-staff were friendlier than others, and we often were greeted with a European/Cuban style kiss on each cheek with some of the staff we got to know better, which is kind of fun (though beware - some of them will go for the lips!) We generally left a tip (except once or twice when the service wasn’t too great), which seemed to make the service next time around even more attentive.

We also ate at the Guantanamara Café (24 hour restaurant) a few times. Nothing really healthy to eat there, but it was OK if you needed something when everything else was closed. Good fries! The Trinidad was OK - very good chicken, though. I was pretty disappointed with the food at the Fuerteventura which is the a la carte gourmet restaurant (portions weren’t very big and my salmon was overdone). I had to go to the buffet afterwards to get more food. To be fair, I think the people we ate dinner with were pleased with their meals, and I know my friend really liked her lobster. The service was fantastic, though. We had reservations at the seafood a la carte for later in the week, but cancelled and just went to the buffet instead. Food at the beach grill was GREAT! We tried the burgers, chicken, and grilled calamares (not all at once!) - it was all yummy and came w/ a small side of veggies and rice (or fries). They seem to use a lot of lime, garlic, and some type of peppers as seasoning - can’t describe it accurately, but it’s awesome.

The staff at the beach grill were also really great with the bevvies - the bartenders always served up bottles of agua (water), cervezas, mojitos, and whatever with a huge smile, so we tipped them well. Which led to more cervezas and mojitos (stronger ones - I had to tell them to go easy on the rum). I’m still trying to figure out how to make it through my day without a constant supply of mojitos.

The staff at the pool bar weren’t overly friendly to start with (really a struggle to get a bottle of water instead of a small plastic cup) - despite our best attempts to be friendly, smile a lot and make use of our limited Spanish. But after a tip here and there, they warmed up to us. You don’t have to tip every time, but the occasional tip goes a long way - both in terms of speed and quality of service. Besides, these people earn very little money salary-wise (depending on their job, likely 8$ - 12$ per month), so going through 10$ worth of tips per day (meals, the odd drink) isn’t such a big deal in my mind. One more thing.... I think the pool bar could use another bartender on busy days, too.

We went on a private tour of Havana (thank goodness it was on the day where the weather was really horrible and we didn’t have a beach day planned) through a taxi company (Transtur) one of our co-workers recommended to us. The price was a little higher than doing the group tour (we paid 90$ each - 75$ plus 15$ tip, plus lunch), but I think we got better value for our dollar. If you go w/ 4 people instead of 2, the price is cut in half as you rent per vehicle, not per person. And we were driven around in a very new Mercedes CDI 200. Our driver/tour guide was fantastic! Exceedingly polite, knowledgeable, spoke great English (and French and Italian and Spanish!), and accommodating – he also had well-planned stops for the restroom, which was important to two females. The drive out to Havana went pretty quickly and we stopped just outside Matanzas to take pictures of the bridge and view. Very beautiful countryside.

Havana was very interesting and not too crowded, but that was the day the weather was so horrible, so don’t know if that’s how it generally is. The architecture in Havana is stunning - breathtaking stonework, ironwork, and stained glass. Lots of courtyards. There’s a lot of restoration going on, so some stuff was blocked off (and the Hemingway museum was closed for some work). With the weather being so poor, the open market was also closed, so that was disappointing, but with the waves being what they were, it wasn’t surprising. They were crashing right over the sea-wall and onto the Malecon (road beside the ocean) and had flooded some of the streets by the ocean! Felt very safe, and would have felt safe without our guide as well - there’s military everywhere. Wouldn’t hesitate to go walking around on my own (though I got the same feeling in Matanzas and Varadero, too). Just didn’t have enough time in Havana, but it was a good scope for next time (will spend the night next time, too). We also missed out on the cemetery, but again, that’s for the next trip.

Also did the tour of Matanzas and Bellamar Caves. Well worth the 25$. Again, we had an awesome guide. It started at the pharmacy - very interesting – still has a lot of the original medicines/herbs. We then walked through the town to the arts centre and the bridge. It was neat to see the buildings and local people just going about their business. We didn’t get stared at as much in Matanzas as we did in Havana, either. Bellamar Caves was AMAZING, and I’m kicking myself for not taking my camera in (have to pay 5$ to do this). There are no postcards or anything to buy after your tour, so be forewarned The rock formations are very unusual and there is so much variety in the cave. Very peaceful in a way, too.

Didn’t see much of Varadero and only stopped there on the way back from Havana and just went to the market, though I think it’d be interesting to walk through the town if I had had more time.

I’m not much of a bar person, but I went to two nightclubs with my friend and some people from the resort (fellow tourists and some of the activity staff) - Mambo Club and some place near the marina. They were OK. The Mambo Club had more Cuban music (at least while we were there - my friend went back another night with a group of people from the resort and said there was more American music). The place near the marina was small, but they played more American music and there seemed to be a lot of Canadians there. Other bars I’ve heard are good are Cueva del Pirata and Rumba.

That’s about all of the big stuff I can think of! Just a few other points/tips (and learning experiences)….
- Everyone smokes everywhere, so if you’re into a smoke-free environment, stay in Canada!
- Tip when you get good service. Even just once in a while goes a long way and is appreciated.
- Bring a few long-sleeved shirts/tops - the weather can be sneaky (and the forecast I saw on the internet a few days before we left was totally inaccurate).
- Don’t worry about bug spray - didn’t see many bugs at all - just the odd fly.
- Drink lots of water!
- Consider spending the night in Havana - it’s a very interesting city.
- Bottom line…. Yes, I’d recommend the Melia Varadero – and Cuba - without hesitation.

Thanks, too, Debbie, for your AWESOME website. Hugely useful and very much appreciated.