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Sol Elite Palmeras - Varadero

June 2008
I would like to thank the staff at Sol Palmeras hotel in Varadero for the most awsome time i had whilst i was in Cuba. I arrived back home yesterday and feel really demotivated and depressed to do anything. Cuba was a great holiday destination, people are great, hotel resort was awsome and the country is just beautiful. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to have a great time.
Sol Elite Palmeras - Varadero

February 2008
Flight , taxi, etc. no problem. Customs, ditto. Check in - no problem. Room great. Balcony very roomy with chaise lounges., dead flowers. So what? It's winter there too. The bathroom and rooms ( we had a suite) were clean down to the floor. Walking in bare feet it NEVER felt clean and I spotted the same little piece of paper in the same place on the floor for a few days. I never heard a vacuum cleaner once. I think they use mops when they use anything. We had a coffee maker, but no filters and no coffee. We bought coffee at the local shopping centre but couldnt get filters or milk. Eventually we got coffee in little bags like tea bags from the hotel. . We bought coffee mate.After the first day or so we got 1and 1/2 liters of bottled water per day. There was a liquid toothpase with the shampoo in the hotel "provisions". It was quite pleasant . It was a nuisance to arrive at noon , put our luggage in a locked room until checkin time at 4pm. We complained at 3pm and got in at 3.30. We werent expecting this. We left in the middle of our stay for 2 days in Havana. Same thing .. we had been encouraged to take the 3pm bus because we were not going and coming on the same day. The day we left Cuba, our flight was at 9pm. We paid $20 or 25 . dollars extra to have late check out until 3pm. We sat in the lobby after 3pm. and read for 2 plus hours with free very good coffee from the bar. That was better than being at the airport which didnt seem to be airconditioned and was very crowded when we did arrive at 6pm. It was possible to pay someone to stand in the very long line to pay the leaving tax . There was a charge to get into the elite lounge, altho we were travelling economy. A snack was provided there. Take packages of Kleenex to be sure of having paper in washrooms. We felt the food at the resort was pretty fair. The breads were fresh and good. The grill stations had at most 4 to 5 people waiting. We are used to better beefsteak than they had but the fish was good. The Bananas Foster to order at the dessert station was a treat. The red wine was not to my taste, but it was plentiful. The white was better and there was lots of bottled water. Wait staff was very attentive. The coffee is good altho out of a dispensing machine. The dining rooms are properly appointed with white cloths always The pool is large and not crowded. If there was anything I would avoid another time, it would be this whole checkin/checkout hassle and the noise between 3 and 6 when a loud speaker at the pool area conducted activities for the energetic.
Sol Elite Palmeras - Varadero
Eddie and Maureen 

September 2007
FLIGHT: The flight on Virgin Atlantic was good (apart from the beer the flight attendant knocked over onto my trousers). The in-flight entertainment was excellent (all the latest films). Alcohol and soft drinks, as well as wine with the meal was free. Food was pretty good too. Cabin staff were helpful and friendly. Would recommend Virgin.

ARRIVAL: It is important to ensure your Cuban tourist card is filled out correctly as any errors will cost you another £15 for a new one!

CUSTOMS - Not too bad. We were processed fairly quickly and without fuss. The Customs officials are reasonably friendly. Take your passport out of its holder if you have one.

LUGGAGE COLLECTION - I was surprised at the speed in which cases started to arrive at the carosels as we had been told that it was going to be a long wait. The carosel appears to be in a figure of eight so it doesn't matter which area you wait at you will eventually see your case.

BUREAU DE CHANGE - Unless you do not intend to tip the Bellboy at your hotel for taking your luggage to the room, or indeed tip the rep and driver, change some money at the airport - the exchange rate is comparable to that of the hotel so don't change too much. Make sure you count your money as the couple in front of us were short-changed.

TRANSFER TO THE HOTEL - Find your representative, he or she will direct you to your bus (look for the number on the side of the bus). Porters will ask you whether you want your luggage taken to the bus and expect to be tipped (another reason for changing some money). If you do not want this service politely decline, they are fine about this. However, this is a poor country and any tip is gratefully received.

CHECK-IN: Fairly slow with surly reception desk staff who begrudgingly answer questions. Not the most welcoming after a two and a half hour journey from Havana airport. Don't forget to ask about beach towels and the in-room safe key as these are not offered at the time of check-in. Be prepared to pay a deposit of 10 CUC per towel, (which you will get back at the end of your holiday). The Bellboy will then descend upon you - this service is well worth having as not only do you have your luggage transported, you will get a run-down of where everything is in the hotel and how things operate in your room - very useful.

ROOMS: The room was OK and I would say borderline 4-star. However, the room was clean and very spacious. It also had a colour TV with some english channels but the reception was poor. There was a small fridge with an ice cube tray compartment but sadly no ice cube tray. A 1.5 liter bottle of water was provided everyday. The down side was the air conditioning which although working, it was not suffient to cool the room. The maid who serviced our room left us without towels on two occasions and no toilet paper on one and we had to contact customer services who arranged for replacements. She did however create a swan and a heart out of the towels for us on three occasions - personally I would rather she concentrated on the job in hand!

MONEY: Be sure that you receive CUC (Cuban Convertable Pesos) whenever you part with or exchange money. These are brightly coloured and have tourist symbols on them (buildings etc). Go to the shopping centre to exchange your Sterling as you will get a better rate. You may have to queue outside the bank as the guard will only allow 2 people in at any one time. Bring a bottle of water as the wait may be lengthy.

FOOD: Pretty poor and just about edible. I think it is because they are trying to cater for visitors from different parts of the continent. The soup was tasty but powdery and beware of the fish as it is mostly unfilleted so bones a plenty! The fruit on the buffet mainly consisted of banannas, pineapple and watermelon. Some of the food was stone cold and therefore inedible. The self-vending coffee machines sometimes only dispensed hot water and by the time someone rectified this you had lost interest. At breakfast, the bacon (I think it was bacon) was under-cooked. If you like runny boiled eggs - forget it. Fruit juice was OK but on occasions the glasses ran out and were not replenished for ages. The waiters and waitresses were friendly but you may have to wait for some time before you got a drink with your meal. However, the a la carte restaurants wern't too bad but be prepared to get up at 7:00 am to book them. Again luke warm food was a problem, and the Steak House is really a grill. The piece of steak we had was wafer thin and very fatty. The chinese restaurant was excellent (all food piping hot). You will be serenaded during your meals and a small tip is greatfully received. All in all I would suggest sticking to the a la carte restaurants for the majority of your stay.

LOBBY BAR - Unless you are Spanish-speaking forget about getting served quickly. Those clients from Argentina, Columbia etc would shout from behind you and get served. The bar staff were surly and I don't think I saw one of them smile. For the first week beer was served in a wine glass which meant frequent trips to the bar. For cocktails, the glass was loaded with ice and then filled - same scenario. The waiters never made eye contact thereby avoiding the need to take orders - their main function seemed to be collecting empty glasses. Even after tipping there was still a reluctance to serve you. I quickly learnt that if you did not tip from day-one you would not get served - I believe in tipping for good service, and generally like to do it at the end of the holiday, but if you adopt this approach be prepared for a long wait at the bar or your table. Again the self-vend coffee machine would occasionally vend hot water only and the wait for this to be rectified was similar to the buffet restaurant. The seating was pretty uncomfortable and, unless you ate early, getting a table in the bar was virtually impossible.

POOL BAR - What a diiference! The staff here were courteous and friendly and extremely efficient. Although drinks were dispensed in plastic cups for safety reasons, you were served quickly. It was a pleasure to be beside the pool.

ENTERTAINMENT STAFF - Fantastic! Non-stop, hard working and ultra-friendly. Cannot praise them enough.

MOSQUITOES - Going in September we expected to be bitten but not quite as badly as we did on this holiday! Even after spraying we were still bitten - the little devils seem to immune to sprays. It got so bad that the Hotel installed electronic mosquito repellers in the corridors. Be prepared to get bitten if you go in the rainy season!

BEACH: Pure white sand, not over-crowded, plent of shade - superb.

POOL: Big and very clean, lots of chairs. You cannot reserve sun beds although plenty of people did. I did see one couple remove towels from a sun bed that had been reserved which was just as the people who reserved them did not turn up until 4:00 pm! They found their towels and had to search for beds in a more exposed spot - that's what you get for being selfish!

TOURS: The Havanna Tour was interesting if you like museums. Bizarrely we went to a cemetary to look at graves of people I had never heard of. The old cars in Havana are held together with chewing gum and string but you do get some examples of lovingly restored ones. Russian Lada cars are everywhere and some have put sports exhausts and alloy wheels on - what a waste! The Che motif on the building is worth a picture but I suppose every tourist who visits this site gets their photo taken there. Cigars seem good value but I suspect that the tour guide took us to the one we went to because there was something in it for her!

CHECKOUT: Our flight was not until 5:00pm, and we had to leave at 10:45 am as we had to be at the airport to collect passengers from the incoming flight. Luggage was secured in a locked room and you were given a claim check.

OVERALL: I would NOT recommend Hotel Sol Palmeras, Varadero. The food is bad, the lobby bar and reception staff are surly and will ignore you, the maid service is below par and the a la carte restaurants are not the best I have been to for an all-inclusive holiday - try Barbados or even dare I say, the Dom Rep and see the difference . The groundsman and pool side bar staff were the only staff members of the Hotel that I found to be friendly. The Virgin rep, Eduardo, however was friendly and helpful.
Sol Elite Palmeras - Varadero
Canmore, Alberta
April 2006
FLIGHT: YIKES - Sky Service. Due to mechanical problems, they flight was delayed 1 hour before we were allowed to board. Once boarded the Captain announced that there were still some grey areas, so in the interest in safety, we could not fly - fair enough. A part and /or a new plane was on its way from Toronto to calgary. That plane arrived at 9:00pm, however because of the regulations regarding hours of work for flight crews, our flight would not depart until 4:00am, April 11. So a day was lost. Sky Service has offered a $125.00 credit to your next trip per family as compensation. The flight there was very cramped as it was only a 737, the meals that we were supposed to eat the night before was served for breakfast. The in-flight entertainment was adequate, but the earphones provided are made of hard plastic and very uncomfortable. The actual flight itself was otherwise uneventful in both directions.

ARRIVAL: Make sure your passport is signed and your Cuban tourist card is filled out correctly. A small error might be overlooked, whatever you do, do not cross out anything or else it will cost you anywhere between $17.00 - $20.00 Cdn dollars to purchase a new card. Fill the card out on the plane once you are airborne. Find out how to fill out the card prooerly before you leave - check with your travel agent or the internet. The Skyservice cabincrew does not know how to fill out the ards - they never have to for themselves.

Customs - Is a slow process. Make yourself comfortable and set you bag down on the ground. When it is your turn, you will find it difficult to hear the custom agent's questions, be sure you have your ear directed towards the hole in the glass. Be prepared to confirm you marital status, job, etc.

Once through customs, you will be able to pick upi your luggage from once of the carosels. The areas is very open and not very large, so it should be easy to find your bags. Next you have the option to convert your money at the cashier located at the airport. I found the exchange rate between the airport and Hotel rather comparitive, so if you do not want to wait in another line up, you may just want to convert the money at the Hotel.

Outside of terminal was representative who spoke perfect english and directed us to bus and you couldn't miss the big number in the window. It was verified again before you boarded that you were in the right place. Porters will appear to help you with your luggage, but be prepared to tip, this is how the earn their living. If you do not need help, just be polite, but firm, they will eventually move on to assist another vistor.

CHECK-IN: Slow and the reception desk staff seemed very unhappy, barely grunting in my direction. Fortunately I spent my time in line paying attention to the questions the other guests checking in were and returning to the desk to make inquires for, so that when my time came to check in, I was able to secure items such as the in-room safe key at the same time I secured my room key.

ROOMS: The room was adequate. I booked a budget vacation and did not have any major expectations. The room was clean, spacious, had working air conditioning, a color Tv with some english channels, a small fridge with an ice cube tray. A 1.5 liter bottle of water was provided everyday.

MONEY: At the airport I exchanged $80.00 Cdn and received $61.80 CUC. At the Hotel I exchanged $80.0 Cdn and recieved $60.00 CUC. $20.00 CDN = $15.00 CUC at the hotel. Upon departure you can buy Canadian money back - the Hotel could have taken advantage of this, but exchanged at the same rate they sold at. When the cashier ran out of Canadian money, they cashier offered US funds instead, but when this occurs you are lucky as $1.00 CUC is exchanged on par for $1.00 US dollar.

FOOD: Well - similar to my experience at an all inclusive Hotel in Costa Rica, you will be able to keep yourself alive, but you certainly will not be going back for seconds. I did not once during my stay see a lemon, lime or orange. Fresh Fruit on the buffet mainly consisted of banannas, pineapple and watermelon. Fresh bread/buns were non-existent. At home the bread and buns that were served on the Sol Palmeras buffet would have been thrown out for being too hard/stale or reserved to make breeadcrumbs.

There were other restaurants in the resort other than the buffet, but you literally had to line up before 9:00am to reserve a restaurant 3 days ahead of time and the restaurants were always fully booked, at least on paper. I was not sure if a tremendous amount of guests simply no-showed on their bookings or if the restaurants were deliberitly under-reserved. I personally work in the Hotel industry, thus aware of how restuarants and Hotels run (in Canada, anyways). We arrived a day late, so we had no chance of getting any reservations until ate least Friday night. I eventually sacrificed some time and waited in line for an hour to get a reservation at the "Cuban" restaurant on Sunday.
For breakfast , the buffet restaurant was a free for all. Staff are on duty, but it is up to the guest to seat themselves. This often meant that you lined up at the varoious stations and got your food first, then found a table. Everything is self serve, including the orange juice and coffee ( generous descriptions of these items - the orange juice tasted like it was cut with Tang organge crystals and on the last day, I have no idea what I was drinking. The coffee came from a machine - if you wanted coffee with milk, you pushed the button that said Coffee with milk - as tasty as it sounds) I tried to avoid lunch whenever possible - but on a couple of days I became desperate and grabbed a hot dog ot burger from the snack shack. There must have been some sort of food value as these items held me in check until dinner time.
Dinner , again the buffet restaurant. Again it is up o the guest to seat themselves. However there now staff memebers on duty to be available to bring you wine (if you must, stick with the white, the red if awful), beer or cocktail. Once you have secured your table you now must begin your hunt for food. One thing is for sure, the cooks do not believe in letting you have food until all the life, moisture has been cooked out of it. Thank goodness I have all of my own teeth.

BEACH: Easy to access, but is a public beach in the sense that all resort have access to the same strip of sand, but they seem to be far enough away from each other that this was not a concern. There was never any crowding. The most unfortuate part about the beach it that all smokers treat it as a giant ashtray. Cigarette butts everywhere. It was windy during the dates of my stay, so in the morning it was chilly to be on the beach and then would get blasted by sand with every wind gust - this must have died down as the day got warmer as more people could be found making their way and staying on the beach later in the day. My family seemed to prefer the lounge chairs pool side, but I personally found the hammocks in the palms to be the best spot. You can get a tan with indirect sunlight, read a book and drift in and out of sleep in a perfect temperature. Be sure to hit the Hammock before 2:00pm - after that they will be full as there are only about a dozen available.

POOL: Although we are not pool people, the pool area was always busy and full of vacationers. Pool was big and very clean, lots of chairs and a bar very handy. You still need to secure seats and a territory relatively early in the day - be sure you consider where the sun will be throughout the day if you are not able tolerate the strong sun.

A LA CARTE RESTAURANTS: You were able to make you reservations upto 3 days in adavance. The time frame to make dining reservations was restricted to 9-11am each day. Be there before 9:00 to reduce you wait time in line. The restauarnts are always full, so it will be unlikely you will be able to secure a reservation for the day of, or tomorrow. The food experienced in the Cuban restaurant was better tahn the buffet - the bread here was actually fresh and soft andit was a nice change of pace to be served your food rather than waiting in line or elbowing your way through other diners at the buffet restaurant.

TOURS: I had planned on doing a Havanna Tour, but because the loss of one day of the vacation, I decided to just relax and rest. I particpated in the Scuba lesson in the pool and probably against all reasonable advice, took the risk and went for my first ever scuba dive on a small reef. It was al right for my first experience, but nothing to exciting. The other tour I participated in was the Catamaran Tour. This is a full day excursion and apparently is one all the guest usually rave about - I must be hard to please. It would have been more fun if ione could afford to do it in a smaller group or privately. The day consists of travelling on the catamaran to a reef, where you will be able to snorkle for about 20 minutes - be sure you note the name of your boat as there will be about 4 other boats that look exactly the same as yours.
Then once you load back up, you will be brought to the dolphins. The dolphins are kept in open water cages in which everyone on the boat will be split up into two groups and allowed to "swim" with the dolphons. In reality you are instructed not to touch the dolphins and you pretty much tread waterwhile the dolphins swim around everyone. The dolphins are trained to touch you and on a signle from the trainer, will come around and give you a kiss.
WARNING - these are bottle nose dolphins and their noses are hard, so don't be surprised if get a hard kiss. Everyone will get an opportunity to pose individually pose with the dolphins for a picture $10.00 CUC. The dolphins will pose giving you a kiss and out of the water you go. You will not be able to take any photos of your own, as this is how they make a lot of money.
After the dolphins you load back up onto the boat and are taken to an island for you chicken or lobster lunch. If you have any shellfish allergies, better bring a packed lunch. The rice and french fires served with lunch tasted like fish. The lobster was not great either - I caught myself performing a risk assesment versus hunger before eating.

As you are being seated at the same time as about 4 other boats (50-75 people per boat), try to stick close to your group as you are literally being herded like cattle to assigned spots - In the unloading process Part of my family got seperated and we ended up not having a spot to sit in the designated area for our boat. I had to be very firm with the restaurant organizers - I selcted the closest table I could to my group seated myself. This was not agreeable to the trip organizers, but I held my ground until they realized that I was not going to be pushed around for their convenience. After lunch you have a few hours to kill on the beach until the boats come back for your return trip back to port. There are about 4 cabannas for about 300 people to use, so be sure to bring a hat or be preapred to hang out in the shelter of the open air restuarant.

Overall - if you choose do do any excursions, be sure to budget $80.00 - $100.00 CUC a day per person.

CHECKOUT: As our flight was not until 11:00pm, I was able to arrange a late check out for 2:00pm, although the staff were reluctant to do so. Luggage was secured in a locked room and you were given a claim check. Do not take your wrist band off until you have left the resort. Even though eveything is supposed to end at noon- feel free to continue to eat at the restaurants. I was not the first to do so and nobody is checking anyways.
OVERALL: I would NOT recommend Varadero a destination. The food is bad and the area is expensive in comparison to Costa Rica nd Mexico. The only reason I went was to attend my brothers wedding. ( If you are planing to get married overseas - please save yourself some heartache and only do so if you have been at the destination before and know what to expect. My brother's wedding was not at all what he he was promised and there is nothing sadder to see than a bridal coouples day ruined.)
The housekeeper, grounds keeper and possibly a few wait staff were the only staff members of the Hotel that I found to be friendly and to recognize me as an individual. The Sol Palmeras mission statement is "all things are possible", but anytime you asked for anything, the answer was No. The reception desk staff were often more interested in their own personal conversation with each other or friends on the phone. I was so frustrated with the staff, that I had to grit my teeth often and remind myself that I was not at home and if needed something from these staff members, I better be nice in order to get it.

The Signature Vacation rep was great - he was not only friendly, but actually helpful as well.
Sol Elite Palmeras - Varadero
Heather and Jason 
Orangeville, ON Canada
February 2006
A great place to get married and to bring a group! We got married on Feb 15th, and everything was taken care of! We had over 25 people with us which rewarded us with a free wedding! We communicated with the wedding Coordinator at the resort via email (Valentine) for approx 2 months prior to arrival. We let her know what we wanted, and everything was taken care of for us, as well as our group! We were married at 3:00pm in the gazebo by the pool. The resort made this spot very special. There were Roses leading down the isle, and the gazebo was dressed up with flowers, and everything in white to make it special. The ceremony was approx 30 mins long. It was in both in Spanish and English. If you're planning on doing this, you can prepare your own vows as there is the opportunity to share them. Other than that, you will exchange rings, and say "I Do". We then walked around the resort for fabulous pictures. Anywhere from the beach, to the Pool area, to the gardens around the Bungalows. We have some fabulous pictures, as we found some very nice spots around the resort. After the ceremony, we had the Italian restaurant booked for the reception at 7:00pm. They gave our group ½ of the restaurant on the upper level to keep it intimate. We were also provided with a CD player to play our own music. We had dinner, a few dances, and speeches at the reception dinner. From dinner, we headed to the private Disco for the remainder of the reception from 9:00 - 11:00pm that night. The Disco was closed off during this time for our group! They provided bartenders, as well as a DJ. We brought CD's of music we wanted to be played for our 1st dance, etc....and the DJ and bar staff totally took care of us! This was a wonderful, stress free and beautiful way to share our commitment to each other. Absolutely everything went smoothly, and we wouldn't have done it any other way! All of the staff at the resort treated us like the two most important guests at the resort that week! We had free rounds of golf for the group, room upgrades, dinner reservations when requested, Champaign in the room, turn down service every night, and an unforgettable week of fun and relaxation! I would definitely recommend this resort if you're planning on being married in Beautiful Cuba! Take a look at the wedding packages posted on the resort website, as we've only shared a few in this review. Here is a link to see some our photos from the wedding. www.spaces.msn.com/baileypictures/

When we checked in, we were upgraded to a Suite, and the rest of our group were on the same floor in very close proximity. This was something that we requested! My sister and her family requested a bungalow, and they were pleasantly surprised to be the 1st bungalow #125, closest to the resort! Our suite faced the pool, and was very nice! The standard rooms are basic, but very clean and accommodating! The bungalows are also very nice! If you request a bungalow, try and get in the 100 series, as you will be closest to everything!

This is a large resort and very well kept. Everywhere you look, you'll see staff sweeping, mopping, cleaning, and taking care of the greenery. The gardens are beautiful, the washrooms are very clean, as well as the restaurants and bars. All areas of the resort have very pleasurable staff with a smile every time they greet you with a "hello", AKA "Olla"!!!! The restaurant and Bar staff were amazing with our group. We took care of the pool staff bar tenders the 1st day....and every day after, we didn't ever wait for a drink. Estevez took care of us in the evening at the Disco, or when we were outside the disco, chilling out! Estevez has a 5 year old son, so we gave him all the pencils, books, colouring books, and learning activities that we brought along! If you take care of the staff and are friendly, they will take care of you! You aren't obligated to tip the staff...but it's definitely appreciated. When you get there...you'll find out how much the staff make a month...it isn't very much! Like we're talking NO more than 20 convertible peso's per month! So our suggestion would be to bring along a few things from home that you can part with, and give it to the staff that take care of you!

There is a great variety of restaurants. You can visit the Cuban, Steak House, Beach Bar, Fondue, Chinese, Italian, and the Buffet. You will definitely be able to find something to your liking! For dinner, all the of the above were great! Breakfast, you should go to the buffet, and for lunch - we liked the Beach Bar. You can get a hamburger, great French fries, hotdog, etc... FYI - if you like Ketchup - bring your own! Here it tasted like a sweet and sour sauce! For those that like seafood, a few days they had mussels, and shrimp at the beach bar as well. Our favourite was the Italian and Chinese for dinner! You'll be pleasantly surprised how Americanized the restaurant cooking is. Always remember...you're in Cuba on vacation...not back home!!!!!!

All in all we had a wonderful week! We would definitely recommend this resort, and would like to return some day again!
Sol Elite Palmeras - Varadero
July 2005

My wife and I went to Cuba last year to Las Brisas Hotel in Guardalavaca, this year we went with my bother and sister-in-law to Sol Palmeras as we thought Varadero would be more lively than Guardalavaca. My wife and I had a bungalow and my Brother and his wife had a hotel room.

On check in for the flight at Gatwick we were informed that the aircraft we should have been using had been damaged on the ground by a truck so another had been substituted which did not have a premium cabin for which we had paid. We were given £20 per person vouchers to use on the flight or in a restaurant at Gatwick plus we would be given the money back for the loss of the cabin. This was disappointing but these things can happen and in fact we still received the same level of service on board.

The return was a different story altogether. On check in we found that my brother and his wife were not seated together, this was blamed on the seating format of the aircraft 2-3-2. As so few were parties of 3 it meant that some couples would be split. This happened to my wife and I last year when flying with Thomson so this year when we booked with Thomas Cook we asked to pay to pre assign seats in the premium cabin and were told it was not possible. Imagine our surprise when talking to people on the return journey who had been able to pre assign their seats. When I checked with Thomas Cook on our return I was told it was a new option, a shame they had not bothered informing their customers.

I shall not book with Thomson or Thomas Cook in future unless forced to due to holiday location, and who ever I book with I will demand to book pre assigned seats on premium cabin or not book the holiday at all. For a 9-10 hour flight this is important to us so if this is important to you then be aware.

Check in and reception
For us the check in went smoothly as we were taken as a large group to a quiet area of reception with 2 staff where we were given registration forms to fill in and our keys to our rooms. Later we saw very long queues at reception for others checking in as it was pretty hit or miss if there were any staff on duty at all in reception but mostly there was usually just one person trying to handle all check in, money change and other queries. In general I would say that the reception was poorly handled. As I say we had our keys but then we tried to find help to get us to our bungalow, none was forthcoming so we decided to walk, luckily it was all downhill as we were as far away from the reception as possible. In fact we were nearer the reception of the adjacent hotel than we were to ours. Bear this in mind if you go for a bungalow it can be a fairly long walk.

Reception area is large and links directly to two bars, one the 24 hour and one only used in the evening. Just by the evening bar there is the separate entertainment area with another bar. As you walk through the reception there are steps down to the buffet restaurant, nightclub and shops. This whole area has extremely poor air conditioning, which even the staff found uncomfortable.

Our bungalow had a patio which we never got to use due to mosquitoes (more about them later) a large lounge area with an extra single bed, then main bedroom with twin beds pushed together (why do hotels do this??) and a nice size and well lit bathroom with shower over bath. Down side, apart from the distance to hotel, was very poor storage space. There was only a small wardrobe and three good drawers with two more small bedside drawers.

The hotel rooms are what you would expect a reasonable sized bedroom with an en suite bathroom with shower over bath again and a patio or balcony. They do have two large double wardrobes plus more drawer space.

Pool and beach
The pool is medium sized and gets busy, there were just over 700 guests when we were there but the complex can take up to 1200+, when it is full it will get very busy. There is a bar in the middle of the pool reached by two bridges but this is not a swim up bar. There is a second bar nearby which opens at midday plus or minus an unspecified time, this is Cuba after all.

The beach is superb with clean white sand a slowly shelving water line ideal for children as it is very safe, but as with most hotels including a 5 star hotel in Cancun, there is never enough shade. This means that the chairs under the shade go quickly and people are out in the mornings from 6:30 onwards putting towels down. If you want one of these canopies you have no alternative but to join in. There is another bar on the beach which also seems to open when it likes where you can also get midday snacks, usually seafood.

The beach also has non powered water rides available, you must try the hobbie cats. Intermittently they also have a motor boat arrive which can take out skiers or a banana ride.

Much has been written about the restaurants and in fact when we arrived there were a lot of people complaining. We tried all the restaurants and had great meals at all the specialty ones, by the way they say you can only go to each one once a week, however there seems to be no check as we went to the Italian three times in one week. The buffet restaurant tries to cater for a lot of people so do not expect too much and you will not be disappointed.
Try the sweet and sour chicken in the Chinese, pizza in the Italian, chicken in the Creole and kebabs in the steak house.

Much was written about this hotel last year that the entertainment was poor. We saw a couple of productions and were very impressed. The animation staff were friendly and helpful. It may be that the staff have been replaced or they have learnt how to entertain the guests better.

There is an on site night club the “Fun Bar” which was fully air conditioned and opened from 11pm to 2am. The music was rather repetitive with a lot of rap, the bar staff were great but the biggest problem was the young British kids 12-17 year olds that had been drinking all evening and then continued here. As a Brit I must aplogise for the idiot British parents who let their little darlings drink too much and flaunt themselves across the dance floor. I would suggest that the hotel find a better location for these children and reduce the amount of alcohol they serve them then make the Fun Bar for adults (over 21s only).

You must leave the complex though and check out the town, a cab costs 6CUC (Convertible Pesos). Go to the bar on 1st and 62nd for live Cuban music. Try the Rumba Club for a loud disco for 10CUC including drinks all night. The opposite direction takes you to Mambo Club with live Cuban music and dancing again for 10CUC including drinks.

You must visit Havana! Try to take the two day trip as the one day trip is too short and rushed you will also see the only camels on the island.

The catamaran cruise to Cayo Blanco is fantastic especially if you join in the fun and have a few drinks. Dolphin show at end of cruise was an absolute waste of time and we would have preferred to stay on the boat a little longer.

Don’t believe the pictures of the “Swim with dolphins” the water is not blue, far from it. My brother went on this excursion and loved it.

We booked to go to the Indian village and steam train but due to the devastation of hurricane Dennis the place was wiped out. Others who had gone previously said it was worth the trip.

There are many more trips available either through your rep or directly through Cubanacan.

This is where I get on my soap box. We heard many complaints about the surly and rude nature of the waiting and bar staff when we arrived. We did not find this at all. I feel this is a matter of respect, if you respect the staff they will respect you and you will actually make friends. You must also understand that many Cubans attend university and work towards degrees but then have alternative but to wait tables or serve wealthy tourists in bars. In general we found the people warm and inviting who dearly love to talk about their country and its history if you show any interest.

Reading a few other reviews that suggest drugs were on offer is contrary to our experience and in fact the possession or selling of drugs is treated with much more vigour in Cuban courts than in the UK which all but eliminates the problem. We of course were offered cigars, even whilst swimming, but the people are so polite that a friendly refusal is enough to send them away with a “Have a nice day” from the prospective seller.

Now talking about people I must comment on the quality of the visitors. Why do visitors feel they can leave plastic bottles and cups lying around? Why do they think they can demand things they would not be able to get back home e.g. One obnoxious guy demanded a reservation for 12 people that night at one of the specialty restaurants? This is a country whose people are proud and do not want the Ibiza experience or the people that go with it.

Do not listen to the tour companies, take British cash. If you take travelers cheques you pay this end and then charged 6% in the hotel. There is no charge for cash and the exchange rate is just the same. You have a free safe in the room to hold your cash.

Hurricane Dennis
On 8th July hurricane Dennis landed to the south of Metanza province and swept north passing to the west of Varadero which put us into the windy side. Initially the hotel did an excellent job in organising the situation we also had an influx of refugees from other hotels. Food parcels were sent to the rooms and drinking water was available. As the storm started electricity was cut in case of fire and alcohol was no longer available to ensure people were sober in case of an emergency. During the storm running water was also lost. The problem came after the storm was over as the management of the hotel have no concept of customer service, they kept promising electricity and water which they could not keep. They should have under promised and over delivered, I am sure this would have avoided a very nasty confrontation on the 11th where many people had a very loud and aggressive conversation with the manager.

These bit everyone. We were told that they arrived early as they normally arrive in August during the rainy season and although it affected all hotels my feeling is that they were not tackled soon enough, crop sprayer arrived on our last day. As there is a lot of vegetation between hotel and beach they thrive here. In contrast we were not bitten once last year as there was no vegetation between hotel and beach.
You will need jungle strength mosquito spray but even then I guarantee they will find a bit of skin that has not been sprayed, they even bite through clothes. Following the crop sprayer they appeared not to die off but just get angry and swarm BE WARNED.

Having stayed in 3,4 and 5 star hotels I feel this hotel does not justify 4 stars and could only be described as 3 star. The staff were friendly if you respected them. The restaurants are fine. The reception and management poor. The bungalows although nice can be quite a walk and have poor storage space. The hotel rooms are reasonable. Beach and pool nice but will get crowded in peak season. Mosquitoes are a nuisance in the rainy season.

Would we go back – no. But we will return to Cuba.
Sol Elite Palmeras - Varadero
July 2005
Just returned (15 of us) from the Sol Palmeras and we had a fantastic time. We had been there once before about 10 years ago and the place is even better than we remembered it to be with more dining options, etc. We flew from Toronto to Varadero for 2 weeks.

Flight and Tour Operator: Our flight from Toronto left about 1 hour late (we were waiting for a pilot) but we made good time. We flew on an Airbus and they have given a bit more legroom it looks like and nice leather seats. The food was actually not too bad. Our tour agent at the hotel was Alex and he was the best agent we have had so far in Cuba (or anywhere for that matter). This was our 10th trip to Cuba.

Hotel: Absolutely beautiful. The grounds are well manicured and the pools are clean. We were repeat guests so we received an upgrade to a suite with a beautiful view of the ocean. The bathroom was huge and all marble. Check-in was very organized, seamless and did not take more than 20 minutes.

Dining and Bars: Lots of bar options to choose from and you are never far from a bar whether you are an ocean or pool person. There are 4 al la carte restaurants and we honestly could not choose a favorite between any of them. You could reserve a restaurant up to three days ahead which was very convenient. Mostly we all ate together. There was a Chinese, Italian, Criollo (Cuban) and Steakhouse to choose from and they were all excellent. We ate at all of them at least twice. The buffet was also very good and provided lots of options and choices for any meal. We always had breakfast in the buffet. Lunch was a choice of three restaurants with great hamburgers by the beach. The bartenders were terrific and were never stumped on a drink. They also made the best mojitos I have had in Cuba.

Service and Staff: Keeping in mind that the second weekend we were there Hurricane Dennis hit with full force, I want to commend the staff for the work they did. Boarding up and taping each and every window in the hotel, reassuring guests, putting up with rude and screaming guests (I honestly don’t know how they kept their cool) making sure that even without power for 60 hours (other than the hotel generator) that everyone was fed (at the height of the hurricane they delivered sandwiches, cold chicken, fruit, water and dessert to each room) and lots to drink. Yes it was an inconvenience for the guests, however the staff pulled double and triple shifts to keep everything running while worrying about their own families and never once complained. When the hurricane was over they were all out cleaning debris, draining and filling the pools, etc. so that within 1 ½ days after the hurricane everything was up and running again. So I would say the service was always excellent and the staffs were absolutely amazing.

Trips: Since we had been to Havana many times we wanted to do it again without a guide so we hired a taxi van and a driver for the day (at $30.00 per person). My husband made a list of places we wanted to go and we did. We also had the best lobster lunch of my life in the embassy section of Havana in a paladar (private home) for $15.00 a person. Many others in our group went snorkeling, some went on the jet skiis and others like to look around Varadero.

Would I go again? Tomorrow. Would I go back to the Sol Elite Palmeras? In a heartbeat. We saw weddings, families, groups and honeymooners. It really is a resort for everyone.

If anyone wants more info on the resort please contact me at plkc2244@hotmail.com
Sol Elite Palmeras - Varadero
June 2005
Not a 5 star at all. The staff not friendly. Had problems with lighting in my room and took hours to come and fix. Had a leak in my room as well. The staff were moderaly friendly. The gardens were amazing and you could tell the age of the gardener. Buffet - the pits ate pizza most of the week and I'll eat almost anything. You also need to wait in line for the 3 resturants they have. If you can get in the steak house is well worth the wait, the Italian was ok and the chinese I do not know.

The beach and view is awesome. They have little venders by the beach as well. The Ronco Burger joint did not cook the burgers for lunch any of the 3 days I tried it.

Rooms are average. Apart from relaxing this was a bust maybe give this place a 3 star. Very disappointed. Will not go back to Cuba again.
Sol Elite Palmeras - Varadero
March 2005
We arrived feb. 21 at the sol palmeras hotel to attend a wedding. we sayed there from feb 21 to march 7. The run through the airport went very smoothly. We were quickly on a bus headed for the sol palmeras hotel. At the hotel we were assigned to a room within minutes. We ended up with a room in the hotel. There are also many cottages on the property, but some are a 10 minute walk from the hotel . Not very good if it"s raining at meal time, also a long walk for coffee in the morning. The ones in our party who didn't want the long walk ,were moved to the hotel the next day. If you wanted privacy, the cottages were the place to be. None of the rooms in the hotel has ocean view. This turned out just as well, as it stopped all the juggling for a particular room. Our room was good, with everything in working order. The beach was fantastic. We have been to mexico and the dominican which have nice beaches, but not as nice as this. Only 3 days in two weeks the water was to rough to go in. No compaints with the staff. The maids were fantastic. If I had one compaint, it"s that they could use more bartenders after 4 oclock. They could also open the other small bar earlier, perhaps around 4 oclock. In the evenings we got very good service from the small bar in the corner. A one peso tip for a round to a table of four does"nt seem out of line to me. The meals in the main buffet were very good, lots of selection. I don"t understand the email complaints about the food always being the same. Do we acctually have more choice on the table at home. You can have your choice of fish or shrimp cooked in front of you while you wait. Your eggs in the morning the same way. They seem to have one spot, which changed every day. I had turkey, ham, pork roast, chicken. there was another spot were they cooked pork chops while you waited. If you did"nt want to wait to have your selection cooked, you could always get your food at the self serve warmers. It wasn"t quite as good but adequate. The salads and deserts were very good with lots of selection. The service was great. It was hard to empty your wine glass, someone was always there filling it up. I think some of the complaints are from people who did"nt eat their meals untill later. It did"nt take us long to figure out that the best time for meals was 7.30 am.,1.00 pm and 630 pm. We had our choice of tables and food, with no line ups. We only ate at one of the resturants that required reservations, the food was not warm enough. I found it much better at the main buffet, were you could get your meat right of the grill. The wedding supper at the italian restaurant was good . Our exit to the airport went smoothly as well. We would definately go back to the sol palmeras
Sol Elite Palmeras - Varadero
Marni & gang  
February 2005
ARRIVAL - My husband, myself, our 5 year-old son and my parents all made the trip on Jan. 9, 2005 via Air Canada Vacations. It was a direct flight that other than being delayed 2 hours went as planned. We arrived and got onto our transfers and arrived at the hotel at approximately 10 pm. local time. (Cuba does not observe Daylight Saving time so don't forget to calculate that in your time change.) Our first question was where could we eat because we had missed the buffet and there is a 24 hour "sandwich" bar at the main bar in the lobby by the Italian restaurant that had Ham and cheese sandwiches (a Cuban staple as we found out!) or croissants. They also had drinks and a cappachino/espresso machine that others seemed to really enjoy. We are not the evening coffee types so didn't experience this for ourselves. The bar was busy but the staff very pleasant especially when they were run off their feet by people ordering specialty mixed drinks when it was too busy. After having read some reviews about "rude" staff I will tell you right now, none of the people in my party ever experienced any rudeness by any hotel staff but we did grit our teeth a few times at some of the guests! Anytime it was crowded, you could find a quieter location or time if you just tried, but some people acted as if they were the only ones that mattered and if I was the staff I would have barely been able to force a smile. A good tip for breakfast is to get there before 8 am and there was never a line up, wait until 8:15 or later and you could be in for a stand.

ACCOMMODATIONS -We got upgraded into a bungalow which was very nice with our son being 5, he could go to sleep and we could still sit on the porch or watch t.v without disturbing him. A lot of people did get upgrades and the staff was very good at room changes if you needed them. We asked to move closer to my parents and they arranged it for us. I didn't see any reviews for traveling to this hotel with little kids but I can say that it was fabulous. Our son only tried the kids club one day and it looked like it would have been a lot of fun but he was not quite 5 yrs. old yet and missed us after an hour so they brought him back. Depending on your child they will be very entertained and amused by the kid's club or just the place itself. Ours just loved to swim, look for coconuts that were sprouting, finding little geckos, chasing the waves, digging in the sand etc. There was plenty of food choices and if you have a milkaholic like we do, don't worry, they have the boxed UHT milk and he loved it and the waiters were excellent at having his "cuppa milk" handy at meal times when it wasn't in the buffet or at the specialty restaurants. I had taken a couple of boxes in my suitcase and these didn't go to waste and were handy in our fridge at our wee "house".

On to MEALS -.......We couldn't get over the variety and overall quality of the food both at the buffet and the specialty restaurants especially after all we had heard from other travelers and even this web site's previous reviews. It was difficult to get a reservation at the restaurants that were getting all the "talk" during the week but the two we had no problem getting into were the Chinese and Italian and we all enjoyed them very much. (You will have to be in line before the 9 a.m. opening the day before for reservations but there is no limit in the number of times you go to any a la carte.) I am not a big Chinese food fan, but it was pretty tame fair and my son and I both loved the won-ton soup and sweet and sour chicken with a side of rice. They did have a spicy chicken dish for anyone who complains that the food is bland and according to my husband it had a good kick to it. The red wine was very nice and we are all big red wine drinkers, if you like a mid priced cabernet sold in Canada, you should have no problem with the house selection at this resort except for consuming too much! We did hear comments that the Italian restaurant had small portions but they had a wonderful salad table as you entered full of Italian meats, cheese etc. and with an appetizer (I had an artichoke salad) and the main course (I had Cannelloni that was as good or better than any Italian restaurant in Calgary anyhow) then follow up with the very generous portion of tirimisu.....you should be stuffed! We never made it to the steak house but everyone was saying it was great and my parents stayed the extra week and enjoyed their dinner there. They had beef and lamb chops and said it was a very nice meal.

As for kids, my son loved the shrimp pasta at the Italian, and anytime he wasn't that hungry the pizza at the buffet (available morning, noon and night) was really good and they always had several kinds including plain cheese. My son is a very adventurous eater at home, but the food available at the resort would have been fine for any of the picky "little" eaters I know of. Breakfast always had cereal (even that awful bright colored kid stuff and something cocoa puffy) and toast and eggs cooked how you wanted including omelets to taste, tons of brunch type items, yogurt and fruit etc. etc. and of course pizza and croissants! They even had a diet food section that I never sampled. I 'll worry about that now that I am home!

TOURS -We first decided on the catamaran snorkel, dolphin, lunch trip and all thoroughly enjoyed it. They motored the huge catamaran out to the site (about an hour) then snorkeled if you wanted for 1/2 hr. on to the dolphins for pictures swimming with them (a true highlight for us) onto a lobster lunch and free time at the beach and then the grand finale where they motored out, shut off the engines and put up the enormous sails to sail us back. Very cool. It was also open bar the whole trip and it took most of the day.

Our second adventure was to hire a cab into the city of Matanzaz which is only 30 minutes away to see some of the real Cuba. We really wanted to get to Havana but the cigar factories were closed, we only had a week and with a 5 yr. old a 3 hour trip seemed a little long. We will go back next time. This way we still saw how the people live and learned a lot, we handed out my son's old clothes, toothbrushes & paste, vitamins, dollar store toys and pens, coloring books, etc. and they were very happy to get it and very polite and didn't mob the car. We stopped at a snorkeling beach but there was a storm approaching so we just admired the water and carried onto the Saturno caves and went for a swim in them which was kind of cool. We also took the little train available free to Palmeras guests to the little Plaza Americanos shopping center and as we read previously, prices are about the same as in Varadero for most things and cigars were actually cheaper at the Plaza 's government store than the one in Varadero (only by $1 for Montecristo 4's) but still there was no advantage to buying them in town. It is worth checking out the flea market if you are a souvenir hunter but T-shirts are pricey for what you get, look for other items if you are on a budget, there are plenty of neat crafts and souvenirs.

We took the double decker bus to Varadero, hired a horse and carriage to go to the cigar store there and on our return got off at the Plaza Americanos Centro again and hired a Coco-cab back to the hotel. This was all mostly for our little guy's fun but the double decker bus only comes by every hour plus, so once in town other transport to get around makes more sense if it is a bit of a walk.

Over all, our trip was great, I have been to Hawaii ,Cancun, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas (a lot) and 2 Caribbean cruises as well as Haiti (during a UN mission) and it was an interesting change, the food was more than acceptable while not being cruise ship standards but really if that is what you want, go on a cruise or travel to Europe! It is more convenient to travel to Mexico (bank machines, credit cards etc.) but a change was very nice and interesting the culture, music and wonderful people , like Mexico, just different. Even though the people are poor, the poorest area was so much better than Haiti as far as pride and care of the streets and garbage etc. As for money now, it is best to take CDN cash because there is a 5% commission on travelers cheques and credit cards are limited to tours, liquor stores, cigar stores, gift shops, and clothing but not taxis, or restaurants. My best advice on the money issue is to use your credit card where you can for the big ticket items because the exchange rate is more fair and then you won't run out of cash when you need it. We ran into this problem on our departure because our rep told us that the plane was early and we had to hurry through customs and may not have time on the "other side" so I used up our cash to buy rum instead of using our credit card and ended up with only 10 left in bills (they won't exchange CDN coins at all) and once on the "other side" (where there are more services than the airport leads you to believe on arrival), we found out our plane had a mechanical problem and wouldn't be leaving for 4 hours. It was dinner time and 10 Cdn doesn't go far at the Varadero airport for highly questionable food!. No matter what you are told, you will have time after clearing customs to do duty free and change your money. And you never know if you are really leaving until the plane lifts off the runway and communication at this airport is very iffy at best. It really was the only sour note in our whole trip so unless there is a major change go to the Sol Palmeras and enjoy!