logo Old Reviews - Arenas Doradas
Arenas Doradas Varadero
Kamloops, BC
December 2008
"A wonderful experience! Large, very clean rooms and I didn't need a universal adapter to plug in my curling iron or charge my camera batteries! Clean towels and bedding every day. Beautifully landscaped property with a walkway to the white sandy beach where there were plenty of lounge chairs, and miles of beach to walk on. The pool was beautiful and not overly busy as most were on the beach.

The 24 hour lobby bar was excellent with comfy chairs inside and tables and chairs outside and the bar tenders would mix any kind of drink you would like. The staff was terrific! Stop in and see Daniel at the pool bar and try one of his Daniel Specials and get my friend Marlen to show you how to dance the Salsa by the pool or play volleyball at the beach. Plenty of food and lots of places to eat. Cuban potatoes and the fresh breads and buns are the best and the snack bar by the pool has the best hamburgers and fries! I would suggest taking your own salt & pepper for the food though as Cuban food is quite bland and chips/cheezies etc for snacks as theirs are not the same as ours in Canada. This was my first time at this hotel and I will definitely go back!"
Arenas Doradas Varadero

August 2008
Hotel Arenas Doradas: 3 stars ( 2 will be proper )

Rooms: 2 stars: pillows disgusting (smelling), no air conditioner, we were there for 7 days, towels service was the worse, big issue, the bar refrigerator did not work, one bottle of water when you arrived then you have to buy then at 2 to 3 cuc each one.

Food: no variety, same food each day, You have to stay in huge line ups to get something decent to eat at main restaurant. We cound not make reservations, most of the time they were booked. We ended up eating cheese sandwiches and French fries.

My major pet peeve with regards to this hotel, is the expectation of tipping every day to everyone. Now, this is an all inclusive hotel, and I did not expect to spent $150 canadian dollars on tips!

we have to pay 5.00 Cuc/ $ 5.00+ CDN per person for the bus to takes us to the city called Varadero? The beach is amazing and water is very hot. It was very calm and we enjoyed the beach alot.

We would like to come back to Cuba, but we will have to do some homework and check the place before purchases the vacation packages
Arenas Doradas Varadero

July 2008
Just to make this story short here is my summary

Overall Arena Doradas: not more then 3 stars rating (3 is more then generous)

Rooms: 4 stars – standard types of rooms as in all Cuban hotels. I found them very clean at Arena Doradas

Food: 3 stars – no variety, same food each day, if you are fruit lover forget this resort otherwise you will be eating only bananas (if you are fast to grab them). All non alcoholic beverages are pure chemicals – they don’t bother to mix fresh fruit drinks. You have to stay in huge line ups to get something decent to eat at main restaurant. We ended up eating junk food as the safest way to survive in this resort – hot dogs and French fries.

Entertainment: 2 stars – not sure if I can call it entertainment. They had standard one show per night but during day time you couldn’t see anyone entertaining guests. Occasionally they will organize water aerobics at the beach or bingo for kids. Although they have club house (which is by the way closed) for kids they do not have organized kids club like in other resorts. Guests are left on their own to find fun and entertainment.

Service: 2 stars – employees at this resort do only what they have to do and it is so obvious they hate their jobs. We ended up one day without towels as their laundry was not working and nobody cared. Cleaning lady left note saying that we should use same towels for bath for now as they have problem with laundry. Everyone expects tip but they do not do anything to deserve it.

Beach: 4.5 stars - Only what makes this resort attractive is their beautiful beach.

Overall if you do not get the best deal ever on this resort (cheapest price) then do not consider this resort. In my opinion talking in Canadian dollars all inclusive from Toronto to Arena Doradas adult package you should not pay more then $600. If you find the price on line that is more than $600 I can guarantee its not good deal – look for another deal. I paid $2100 for two adults and two children and I think that I got faire deal and I can not complain – I got what I paid for.
Arenas Doradas Varadero

April 2008
We stayed from March 27 to April 3 2008 in AD.
We loved this Resort. We went there with our 3 small children. All people was very nice and helpful.
The suite 1103 was clean and every thing works well.
We gave nice gifts to them include the gardening people.
The weather bautiful and sunny. Beach and pool nice.
We loved the food. No body was sick.
We will go back next time to AD. We met nice people there. Usally i write in German.
We flight with Air Canada from Toronto to Varadero. No Delays.
Arenas Doradas Varadero
A family (2 adults &2 kids) 
August 2007

People who said Arenas Doradas is 3 stars are generous. For us the experience was more like a 2 stars.

We were there for a week in August, where there is “low season” for Cubans.

Perhaps that explains the total indifference that the lady from reception welcomes us and treats us when we had small problems during the week.

The safe in the room was a joke. Any combination of numbers (+letter B) opened the safe. We reported twice and nothing happened.

The TV remote didn’t work and we received a new one in our last day.

We left each day a pesos plus some extra to our cleaning lady but she did only the minimum (no mopping floor each day only 3 times during our 7 days).

People who like junk-food: hot-dogs, pizza and hamburgers that’s the place. For the rest there are 3 a-la-carte restaurants.

One on the beach where mosquitoes will kill you in the evening and two in main building, an italian with no air-condition (was broken) and one international where the service and food are pretty good. But you need reservation so reserve as soon as possible (the next morning).

The choices of the food at the buffet are limited and we had the impression that they put some food from days before.

The only think that we have no complaints was the beach and the ocean. The water was clean and warm and safe for children.

I don’t recommend the hotel for families. With some extra money go the Blau Varadero. We spend an extra night there (the plan didn't take off because of technical problems) and this is a real 4 stars. See the reviews and there are true. The rooms are fabulous and food is very, very good and a lot of choices.
Arenas Doradas Varadero

July 2007
Since the reviews posted for this resort helped me while I was there, I decided to send mine too! I went to Cuba - Varadero on April 27 2007 for 1 week with my mother. This was our first trip to Cuba, not our first all inclusive since we went to Mexico (Mayan river). Let's say we had a wonderful trip from the beginning till the end! ***I'll write my review in english but you can e-mail me at srouillard@hotmail.com for details in FRENCH! I'll be glad to answer questions both in french or english!

DEPARTURE : we were in Club transat with Air Transat Canada. It cost 160$ each to have a nice seat, great service, everything free (alcohol and drinks) and a wonderful breakfast, it was worth the price! Nice flight!

ARRIVING : It was a complete headache trying to find our luggages in Cuba ... it took us almost 1 hour just to find our luggage. Well, everybody seemed to be looking for theirs and not finding them... (this is the first of my only 2 complaints)

AT THE HOTEL : Since we were with TMR Club... we had a little drink when we arrived at the hotel, it was nice cause the weather was really hot! As our flight was early in the morning (we arrived at the hotel at 12h30pm), we had to wait for 3 hours to have our room... It was really annoying but we had the chance to eat and our luggages were secure at the reception desk. (that was the last complaint..) Everything else since then went so well!!


FOR SUPPER : Not a lot of choice but everything was good! We had sushis once and they were excellents! Lots of very good bread! You can ask the chief for pasta of your choice (2-3 sauces with vegetables, meat or seafood). You can also have some grilled chicken, pork, sausage or fish on the BBQ.

FOR BREAKFAST : really nice service with Yohanna, she's so nice!! The smoothie are excellents. The pina juice is also a good choice! You have to taste the omelets that are made with your choice of ingredients! Just make sure the ham looks nice before adding it ... You can have pancakes, eggs, fruits... so delicious! For those who like COFFEE : only in the morning of at the Lobby bar, which is very good!

FOR LUNCH : We discovered too late that the Italian restaurant in the main building was open for the lunch time... It was very good! Try the cannelonis! mmm ... The Pool grill was fabulous for the Club (egg, ham, chicken, tomato and lettuce) and the fries... so good, maybe the best fries I've ever had... Try the ham and cheese sandwich, very good too! The buffet at the beach was great for the entertainment (a group of 5 that was singing one day), but the food was so and so, better eat at the grill!

A LA CARTE restaurants : The International (on the second floor in the main building) was very cute, nice service and a well done beef tenderloin! Great soup too... The Italian in the main building was very good too! The chief Rafael was awesome :) The tenderloin there too was so good!! With the balsamic sauce... The grill by the pool at night was good! A lots of things to eat, maybe too much! We had the Royal Parillada which was brushetta to start and then fries with chicken breast, tenderloin, sausage and a pork chop on the bbq... very good!

DRINKS : I thought that the Pina colada at the beach bar was the best! Also, the Arenas Doradas drink at lobby bar was very good. The Lemonade was very refreshing! They put a lot of rum... even though you ask for just a little ... ;)

probably one of the best beach in the world!!!! We took a picture where we had water at our waist and we can see our feet very clearly! It was amazing... nice sand, no rocks, just a little seaweed when it's very windy... so wonderful! Hot and calm all the time, not too much animation, so it was a nice place to relax! Lots of chairs, even though we arrived sometimes after noon...

POOL : Nice, big and not so crowdy (max 10 persons in the pool when we were there!)... a lots of chairs there too. Nice swim up bar! A lot of animation there between 1pm and 5pm. Danse courses every afternoon, very cool!

ANIMATION : you have to see the night show!! Especially the show in the pool (the best ever, probably as best as the Cirque du soleil show in Las vegas!). The Mr arenas doradas show was great too! The only show that was so and so was the "beauty show".

FREE BUS TO VARADERO : Very nice! But ... you have to take the VARADERO BEACH TOUR that costs 5 pesos for the entire day... It's better because it goes farther, and brings you to the big mercado so that you can shop. And the varadero tour bus is coming every 30 minutes or so, the free one is 3-4 times a day!

SERVICE and TIPS : In the room we left some money and presents for the maid, she seemed to be happy with both! As presents they like lotions, shampoo and every other fancy things that are expensive for them. You can also bring some presents for kids... It cost me 10$ in a 1$ store in Montreal to bring some presents, and they were so happy and grateful! Well ... I think that's it! So ... for the beach, the n ice service, the nice drinks, the food (especially tenderloin and club) and for the nice weather for the low prices, I highly recommend to everyone the Arenas Doradas!! Please write to me if you have any questions... Ne soyez pas gênés de m'écrire :)

Arenas Doradas Varadero

March 2007
Let me start by telling you that this is my 3rd visit to Cuba, I’ve been to Caya Coco once, and Varadero twice I’ve stayed at Villa Cuba and was very content with that trip. But this trip to Arenas Doradas was the worst. The people weren’t friendly, most of them couldn’t have cared less about being there. Many of times we ran out of dishes & clean glasses, imagine a buffet and a whole bunch of people scrambling around to find clean dishes…unacceptable. Towels in our rooms were changed maybe if we were lucky 4-5 times in 14 days and even when they did change them they didn’t change all of them just 1 or 2….again very unacceptable.

Beach Towels – had to keep the same towels for 2-3 days at times.

Beach chairs – lots but all broken and if you didn’t cover them with a towel risked getting cut on the broken plastic….

Cleanliness – “NOT” broken glass found on the grounds almost daily. The trees were not taken care of, coconuts falling around us. Glasses all over the resort were not cleaned up.

Staff – not friendly and had to set up our own table many times. Resort – beautiful resort needs a major uplift, lights need to be changed when they are burnt, flag posts need flags, lobby fountain would have been nice but was not functioning the whole time we were there. When we arrived we didn’t get our cocktail drink, we were escorted to our room they basically give you a map of this huge resort and have to figure it out by yourself.

Room – the maid didn’t sweep the floor everyday, the shower wasn’t washed once I’m sure (shower head was full of soap scum). The air conditioner was on all the time yet the room was always humid/muggy. Water pressure most of time was good, except a few times we had none & ran out of hot water twice. 24hr pizzeria – doesn’t exist – oh yes the pizzeria is there but they are only open from 10pm – 3am.

End result – I would not recommend this resort to anyone. If I ever go back to Cuba which is very unlikely I would not go to anything less than a 5*.
Arenas Doradas Varadero
February 2007
I would like to make sure those reading this review don't think I am a typical, whiny tourist. I lived in the Dominican Republic for 10 years, and have been in the "deluxe" and roughed it.
This time we traveled with 5 adults, 3 kids (ages 12, 8 and 5) to a 4 star hotel. My major complaints about the Arenas Doradas circulate around what I hear are typical problems of being in Cuba. Someone suggested that they build 4 and 5 star hotels, but didn't give them the instruction books that come with it. The small things that make a great hotel, or even a really good one are missing. The hotel is plain, but nice. The lobby is a lovely place, and has a bar of its own. Unfortunately, it is enclosed, and the only bar open after 6pm, and everyone is smoking cigars! Not a great after dinner location for kids. The food, well, I have to agree with pretty much everyone else, yes, you will find enough to fill you up, but with the exception of the bread (its incredible!), the food was pretty rotten. I will happily eat the local fare, but it does need to have some taste, and the meat should be from this week. I found the cleanliness around the pool to be very sloppy. There were pieces of glass on the deck in the mornings, and the inside of the pool had mould growing around, as did the deck. There was a large wind storm when we were there, and the coconut trees were laden with fruit, which blew down everywhere, this is a danger, and any other 4 or 5 star hotel I have been at has taken pains to cut down the ripe fruit. Here, the bartender told one of our group that if he wanted a drink in a coconut, he should scour the grounds for one that has fallen, and then he will make one. The staff, although friendly, doesn't seem to care very much. I understand that this is probably the communist way. There is no real motivation to do more. Every morning we went to the buffet and put together 3 tables so that our party of 8 could eat together, not once did the staff (and they all stood around and watched) even offer to help. Also the staff seems unable to handle adversity, or any change in plans, they only know their own job. The room comes with ONE bottle of water. After that, you are on y our own. You can refill that bottle from the jug in one of the restaurants, or pay 3 pesos (about $3.50 Canadian) to buy another. The exchange rate of One Canadian Dollar equaling about 70 centavos (less than one peso), turns the buying of items into an expensive ordeal. Rather than the DR, for example, where your money is worth 30 to 1 or more. So although it might be an inexpensive vacation initially, to buy once you are there is quite expensive. My major pet peeve with regards to this hotel (and others in Varadero, so I understand) is the expectation of tipping every day to everyone. In front of every station (the bartender, the egg maker, the pasta maker, the bus driver, the shuttle bus driver, the pool bar, etc.) there is a small basket with the request for a tip. Now, this is an all inclusive hotel, and I did not expect to have to carry cash with me everywhere I went. If I was to tip each one of the stations, I would have spent another $50 a day! I certainly expect to tip, but, once, at the end of my stay. Take a flashlight or something with you, as the rooms and the pathways are very dimly lit. It made it hard to read in the room at night, as well, there are no clocks in the room, so if this is something you want, bring your own.

All in all, we had a nice vacation, I wouldn't call this a family friendly hotel, I never saw one child in the "kids club". Honestly, I'm sad to say, I wont be returning to Cuba any time soon.
Arenas Doradas Varadero
Gaelage 42 
Ontario, Canada
July 2006
Arenas Dorados, Varadero
10 June to 24 June 2006 Autopisto Varadero, Km 17
Varadero, Mantanzas
Tel: 53-45-66-81-50 al 56
Fax: 53-45-66-81-50 al 59
www.hotelsc.com The Arenas Dorados (Golden Sands) is a wonderful resort that we keep returning to, because of the beautiful grounds and the great staff. It’s about a 20-minute ride from the Varadero airport and a 10-minute drive from the town of Varadero. Our trip was marred this time by the noise. The animation team is a bit out of control with their music, and the boom-boom of the bass was pretty relentless, in our rooms and on the beach. But, I am hoping that enough people will talk to the manager about this and get it back on track. It’s too good a place to lose people over the music. The manager does talk to the guests, and listens to them, so I do hope this is improved.

General atmosphere:
The grounds and the staff are what really make this place what it is (well, and the beach, but you can get beach anywhere along that strip). The grounds are huge, and very well taken care of. Because of this, it’s a pleasure to walk around the grounds, and to go from place to place during your day (room, restaurants, beach). They’ve even put signs out now to tell you what some of the plants are. There’s plenty of wildlife at the resort that kept us amused. There are two kinds of lizards and they are everywhere. There’s also a lot of birds, such as doves, king fishers (the national bird of Cuba), and a slight scary sort of crow that will puff its chest and unswirl its tail if it’s angry (like when it expects you to feed it!). There’s also a lovely family of large white ducks that we fed every day (eventually twice a day). There are also turtles and fish. On a good day, at the little river, you can be feeding ducks, fish, turtles, sparrows, and crows, and the kingfisher will be watching all (and even occasionally diving in for a fish). There are also crabs that get up onto the land. We had one that was living under the balcony of one of the rooms in our complex and it was thrillingly creepy to see him every day and night (he came out of his hidey-hole at night). The place is very relaxed, of course, and the staff are, for the most part, very friendly and approachable. We always have such a good time here because we talk to so many of the staff. The fellow travellers are the ones who can make for a bad atmosphere. There are a lot of children here, and my fellow Canadian families often have one screaming child out of control. The European kids are quite well behaved, but every time I am at this resort, I have had to spend a few days listening to an out of control child in the dinner buffet. If you really don’t like kids, this may not be the place for you because there are usually about 5 to 8 families there (in June, anyway). The rest of the people are usually early 40s to senior. The few 20-somethings who do come are usually bewildered at not being at a party resort.

Food and drink:
The food at the resort ranges from “just fine” to “really great”, depending on what it is (the roast beef is always great). The fact is, it’s a buffet system, so it’s pretty hard to make extravagant meals. And it’s better than what I make at home most days. The variety is astonishing, too. They got a new head chef last year and I think that made a big difference. There were a lot of smaller salads this visit, with interesting ingredients (for example, black beans and chickpeas, mixed with red peppers and onions). And the breakfast croissants are out of this world.

There are several restaurants. They are:
• El Escarpe (the buffet)
• Trattoria Dolce Vita (24 hour pizzeria)
• Natura (upstairs in the main building)
• Los Loritos (pool grill)
• El Galeon (beach grill/buffet)

There are also a few bars (and you can get drinks at all the restaurants as well): • El Patio (lobby bar)
• Los Pelicanos (beach bar)
• Pool bar Breakfast is served only at El Escarpe buffet, the main restaurant. You can get lunch in the main building (at the 24-hour pizza place, which is air conditioned), El Galeon, and sometimes El Escarpe (not when we were there in June, but maybe in high season), as well as the pool grill and the beach buffet. El Escarpe buffet is very nice, with tablecloths and real napkins in the evenings. One night a week is romantico night, with candles and romantic music played by Roberto and Daniel.

Everyone at this hotel is wonderful, with a few exceptions… the front desk staff are always cold and unhelpful. This is surprising, since you would think they’d be expected to be the nicest. We had a few things where we needed their help, and even talking to them in Spanish did not seem to work. The daytime staff at the lobby bar are also fairly aloof. Also, the women in the main shop (the toiletries and grocery/liquor shop) are quite unfriendly, again even when you speak to them in Spanish. The women in the tourist shops across from them are very nice. However, the other staff are the best. Everyone lit up to see us again, and we always had an “hola” from every single staff member as we walked by (except the above folks). We know many of the staff now because they are so friendly, and that makes for quite an enjoyable stay. If you talk to them just a little bit in Spanish, they love you for it, and you get the most extraordinary service (instead of the “plain” excellent service the other patrons get). Not that we spoke to them well to get good service… but it was obvious that they really enjoyed talking to us and serving us. I don’t speak Spanish but my boyfriend taught me some basics and it went a long way. You are in for a treat at the dinner buffet, where two accomplished musicians sing and play guitar (Roberto and Daniel). At the beach buffet, there’s a great trio, whose names I don’t know. They played a version of Dos Gardenias for me that had me crying because they have such beautiful voices. They are all a bit assertive about moving around and playing for tips but this is how they make their living. They will still be nice to you and play well for you if you don’t tip but we always tipped them well because they are professional musicians. Also, if you want to take gifts for the musicians, guitar strings are appreciated, as are music CDs. I love all the staff in the dinner and breakfast buffets because they are so kind and friendly. We have one good friend there, Maria, and every year we make more friends because they are so friendly… from the staff our age to the young university girls on their practicums. If other people ever find the staff unfriendly, it’s because they are not talking to the staff (and you don’t have to speak Spanish; I talked to many of the staff in English, and spoke to some in my extremely limited Spanish). The evening bar staff at El Patio are really fun and energetic. I especially like Dayana, who is sweet and a hard worker. She’s quiet but if you say hello to her every night, pretty soon she may be shooing you outside and sending your drinks out with a server (generally you take your own drinks outside). They have a cowbell at the bar that they ring every time someone tips them, and they make a lot of noise about I (they like to jest a lot at the lobby bar, which is fun). One thing you may want to do is give your insect repellant to the lobby bar staff when you leave, because the mosquitoes get inside the lobby, plus the staff go outside to clear tables. They can’t readily get bug spray in Cuba. (And, yes, do take bug spray to the resort. In June, at least, the mosquitoes can be bad at night if you don’t spray). Some of my favourite people at the resort include ones I didn’t see much of, maybe only once or twice a day (and not always to talk to), but I always got a big smile. Luisa at the money exchange booth is very nice, as are the fellows at the beach bar, whose names I don’t remember. The maids are also very nice (and one remembered my boyfriend from a visit three years ago!). In short, the staff are just incredible at this place. We even stopped Señor Juan (the general manager, who roams the grounds and the restaurants) to tell him how wonderful the staff are. He said he is very proud of them and that they are the resort’s greatest asset. The fact that the general manager is out and about, and eats in the restaurants (and also checks the presentation every day… he does a wandering inspection over the buffet tables) makes us feel good about being there. And we are happy to see that the staff do not flinch or scurry when he comes in; they greet him warmly and they receive such a greeting in kind. Happy, respected staff make for excellent service.

There are eleven buildings of rooms on the resort, with 30 rooms apiece. We got a ground floor room this time, facing the pool, which was not so good, for two reasons: the bugs, and the noise. We could feel the bass beat from the pool music, which went from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., every single day. On the days when we were not feeling good and wanted to rest in the room, this was unbearable. The music and animation team sort of run the place in terms of the noise, but it may’ve changed by now if enough people said something about it, either directly to the manager or on the evaluation forms they hand out. Some people may not mind that kind of noise but it really bothered us. I don’t know if you can ask for a second-story room, but that may be another option (the noise of the loud music itself was bad, but it was also the boom-boom vibration, through the ground and so into the room, that got to us). For the bugs, we sprayed with our insect repellent around the door, patio door, bathroom door, and vent in the bathroom, and that seemed to help. The rooms are very nice, with a safe (2 CUC a day), double beds put together to form a giant bed (so-so mattresses), beautiful blue walls, good TV, and a small fridge. There’s a fair amount of drawer storage (one drawer in a nightstand beside each side of the bed, two drawers on the table by the TV, and a 3 drawer unit in the closet). Bring some hangers because there’s not enough for two people (I brought about 6 hangers for a 2 week stay). Each room also has a patio with a table and chairs (you are not supposed to dry your towels or clothes out there!).

Bathroom: good showers, nice big counter top (with fossils in it!), pretty good towels (ours were changed daily when we had our regular maid), towel hooks. It’s a good idea to bring one of those travel clotheslines, for drying bathing suits. You get one large bottle of water in the room, included. The hair dryer was pretty bad but very amusing (it looks like a goose neck and head).

Getting downtown:
It’s easy to get downtown, as long as the bus is running. Sometimes the bus is broken but it is still running… it’s Cuba, you just have to go with it. The bus is free and it leaves for Varadero about 5 times a day (except Sundays). You get an hour and a half in town if you want to take the same bus back. You can also take a cab to town, which is about 10 CUC. The bus stops first at the Plaza des Americas, a boring mall with expensive stores (there is a good cigar shop there, though. You can get cigars at the hotel shop, for just a little bit more money, if you don’t want to go to the Plaza. Don’t buy cigars at the store right in Varadero; it’s very expensive). Then it heads into Varadero. It’s about a 10-minute ride. The driver should get a 2 to 3 CUC tip. You get dropped off at the second market. There are several now, instead of one large one. The place you get dropped off at, right across from the Santa Elvira church, is not bad. The really big one is about 30 blocks down (3 CUC for a cab). The stuff for sale is now sadly similar to the market kitsch you find in Havana (much of it is factory made, a friend told us), but there’s still some good finds. Also, there’s usually a table every day at the hotel where some of the same stuff is available. There’s a lot of black coral for sale at the markets and even, sadly, at the hotel shop. Black coral is an endangered species and in many countries, it is illegal to bring it back with you. You should check with your country’s import restrictions before you go, and resist the urge to buy black coral. Do not listen to what other people say about this because they don’t know what they are saying. I had some people tell me it wasn’t so bad, that is wasn’t really illegal to take home, but I know some countries will confiscate it and possibly fine you, because I work in an area of government that deals with imports. Most bone and horn is ok (there’s a black material made from cattle horns), as is the hematite (also black). There’s not much chance of mixing these up, since they look different (you can see from a Google image search). The vendors are proud to be selling black coral, so if you ask if something is coral or horn, they will tell you. Wood is usually ok to buy, but watch for holes bored into it by insects. Bringing that back to your country could be quite dangerous to your country’s environment. There are some interesting things in town, like an art gallery and a couple bookstores. There’s also a very nice restaurant with great Cuban food, called Restaurante Esquina. It’s at Calle 36. An all-you-can-eat ropa vieja and salad is about 7 CUC. There’s a tourist medical clinic, I think close to the Santa Elvira church. I know it is definitely on the main road in Varadero because we see it every time we are there. Always good to know it’s there (but there’s a nurse at the resort, I think). You can take coco taxis around town but if you take one back to the hotel, it will take a very long time (about an hour, I think). As will a horse and carriage. The hotel bus or a taxi is the best way to get back. There are other restaurants around town but we only went to the Cuban one because Maria recommended it when asked for a place that serves authentic Cuban food. There’s a well known one called Don Quixote, that’s between Varadero and the resort, but I don’t know what it’s like, in terms of food or price.

Other amenities:
Safe rental (2 CUC a day)
Beach towel rental (you pay a deposit but get it back. You can exchange your towel up to once a day)
220 volts in the rooms
Various equipment for playing in the ocean
Horse rides on the beach
Moped rental

Keep in mind that Cuba does not always have the same safety standards we take for granted, so using or renting equipment there may not be as safe or regulated as you are used to.
Arenas Doradas Varadero
Karine and Richere 
Montreal Canada
July 2006
Just got back from Arenas Doradas in varadero. We traveled with Tour Mont-Rayal on Cubana Airlines. The flight was spacious. Much better than Air Transat. The hotel is supposed to be a 4 star but I guess compared to Dominican Republic standards, it's more a 3 star. We still loved it. It was super quiet. It was almost empty. Because of that, there is not much entertaining. At the disco, there was about 10 people. We didn't go see any shows , so I can't comment on that. Buying gifts there is pretty cheap, so much we didn't even bargain. 1-2 pesos for a necklace compared to the 5$US in Punta Cana. Not many Canadians. More Europeans. The beach is amazing and water very hot. Very calm. There are only 4 kayaks, 2 pedal boats, and 1 catamaran, but there was soo little people, that it's enough. There are always chairs in the shade even at 11:00 o'clock. There is only one vendor on the beach and he just park his thing and doesn't bother you at all. It's a sunset beach. The food is good. I am not a picky eater so it was fine with me. There is the main restaurant for breakfast and supper ( not really air conditioned), and for lunch there is the pool restaurant with I think only hotdogs, hamburgers and fries, or the beach restaurant that has a bit less than the supper buffet. They also have a pizzeria. The pizza is ok. They have a "Natura" restaurant that is good, smoke salmon, steak, etc.. but there is no air conditioning in there and it gets sooooo hot. The restaurants don't offer much choice, but I found what they had was good. The presentation sometimes looks iffy, but once you try it, it's good. If traveling with kids, they will probably eat only cucumbers at supper. There are not many "kid" favorites. At lunch at least they get the pool restarant. Supper there is always the pizza. The rooms are very clean. Only two stories high, you don't really get an oceanview because of the trees. The air conditioning worked fine. Hot water all week.There are no face cloths or kleenex. You can drink water from the tap. They supply you with one big bottle of water when you get there and that's it. Maids appreciate a tip in money more than gifts. She left us notes in french a few times. Ask for a second key to keep your air working all day or bring a peice of cardboard or something about 2 inches wide by 3 inches long.

The excursions: We did the snorkeling and swimming in the cave for 30 pesos each (about 35$ CND). The snokeling was ok but the cave swim was great. We also went snokeling with the catamaran from the hotel with the guy from the sport shack for 15 pesos each (about 18$ CND). The guy has lots of bread for the fish. That was worth the 15 pesos. The excursions are much cheaper here than in Punta Cana. There is a free shuttle that takes you 4 times a day into Varadeo from the hotel. We were two girls, and had no problems walking around Varadeo. There is also a free shuttle on Wednesdays that takes you to Havana for the whole day ( 2 1/2 hours drive away) for some sightseeing and shopping.

Kid's Club: closed because there were so few kids. The pool is nice, but we never put a foot in there because the beach was amazing. There isn't alot of shade.There are areas for kids in the pool (not deep). There is also a spa. The bars are ok. The glasses are very small. We came with 2 bottles with big openings (to fill with ice cubes) to have cold water. The bartenders at the main bar ring a bell with each tip and still don't give you a better service.

Summary: 3 star ressort, very quiet, clean, good food but not much for kids or the picky eater, amazing beach. We had a great relaxing time. Would go back if a great deal came through. Temperature was very nice, hot and humide, hardly no rain, even if there was suppose to be showers and thundershowers all week. Enjoy
Arenas Doradas Varadero

April 2006
Hi There! Me and my cousin, just got back from Arenas Doradas Varadero Cuba on good friday. we left march 31st and got back on april 14th. We had a 2 week vacation that had its up and downs.

Lets start with our room. he toliet didn't work for the first week, and even after numerous times of asking them to come fix it for us. we would have called the front desk to fix the toliet but the phone didn't work either. at night it would have been nice to be able to watch a movie or something because we heard the tv was english but we couldn't do that because our tv didn't work either. finally they came to fix our toliet but still no phone or tv. thts ok we can deal that at least the toliet was working. We would always leave money and something else for our maid (lotion shampoo tampons etc.) but we rarely ever got new towels, and the only thing she would do is make our beds kind of. We both felt very unsafe there, we were constantly harrassed, by the locals and by people who work there. we understand that it also could have been 2 white blonde and young girls but it shouldn't have been that bad we are use to some from home. The trip Havanna day started off bad, our bus almost left us at a rest stop because we had to wait in line for the bathroom, we didn't mindthe wait but the fact the bus was driving away and we had to run after it was not good. we had to meet at the capital at 4, no big deal right. wrong. they dropped us off at least 50 blocks away and said have fun. we had no idea where we were, we took a taxi to get there so at least we would know we were in the vacinity of the capital. but the cab driver took us to a "cafe" then made us buy him the beer he was drinking and his meal then finally when he dropped us off still made us pay the fee, so for a 15 minute ride it cost us about 60 peso. then men started following us everywhere we went. some followed for 3 hours we went into museums and stores and tried to think of places where you had to pay to get in and they would still follow us. we understand that people there are probably like that, but we were scared and felt very unsafe. I do suggest though when going to havanna bring guys with you! lots of them! Ooh and the food, it wasn't what were were used to, it wasn't bad just not what we were used to, lets say it was fine. The entertainment at the resort was fairly minimal too, not alot going on. we tried to stay awake forthe nigt entertainmen but most of the time we were just wiped, we did try to watch a couple but each time it took them almost 45 minutes to get ready so we left. And the drinks there are strong, it was funny to watch them being made, my cousin loved the drinks, i thought they were strong so i drank beer most of the time. you just have to find something you like and stick to it.

The beach was BEAUTIFUL! and the pool was awesome. there was always loungers at both places you never had to wait for one. The tours we did were so much fun!! we did the discover tour that was my favorite!! i loved driving the jeep and my cousin liked to drive the boat! we went and swam with the dolphines, we did the expensive tour and i would not recommend it the cheaper is from what i heard better and less of a drive. ours was ok i mean we got to swim with dolphines but it was a 4 hour bus ride there and 4 hour ride back plus no dolphine show. and we also did a snorkling one that was awesome! we had lots and lots of fun.

Even though there were some major downsides we did our best to have fun and we totally did. we had TONS of fun but next time we are definately going to have bring some big guys with us. I don't think i would recommend this hotel to anyone, but that is just personnal perference.
Arenas Doradas Varadero
Terry and Jeff 
Sarnia, Ontario
February 2006
short and to the point..."an almost 4 star"....first of all, reading the reviews helped us alot, helping us, as to what to bring and expect..the ROOM we had was just like the brochure/webpage...one huge bed, a small tv with satalite -- but only cnn, espn2 (basketball and nascar), mtv and 3 spanish stations, but then again we weren't there to be in the room alot...a small fridge that they originally stalk with bottled water......we brought pencils, crayons and markers etc for our maid's kids and she kept leaving us a bottle of rum - great trade...she was very grateful and friendly and we figured it was smart to stay on good terms with her...a peso tip every day is cheap to recieve good service.........BREAKFAST -- like all the other reviews, we were in cuba, but if you cannot find something to eat when they have 25 things on the buffet, you are way too picky...for breakfast, get your partner to stand in line for the omlettes (or eggs any way you want them, and as many as you want), while you get the bacon, fresh squeezed o.j. etc...it seemed that we were both sitting down to eat at the same time by doing this.......LUNCH - again, by reading the reviews, we learned to eat at the poolside grill, and we did every day...the hamburgers, hotdogs, and cuban sandwiches served with french fries were awesome...plus, your own beer tap is only 20' away...sitting down in the shade and getting a break from the hot sun is wonderful, and eating food like we have a home helps alot....we had lunch there all 7 days...........SUPPER - there will be one or two line ups with main course meals, along with the usual 25 things at the buffet...and of course, you can ask for beer, white or red wine, or do as i did, serve yourself...we did the 24 hour pizza place twice - and actually it was quite good...it's a change from the crowded main "caferteria" and it is a relaxing, quiet, sit-down meal where you can order pasta, or your own small personalized pizza with any toppings...it's kinda nice actually...we tried booking the "natura" restaurant at the start of our stay, but it was totally booked all week, and after talking to people that did eat there, we didn't miss anything special...........BEACH - very crowded, and alot of the times people were walking back to the pool area and dragging lounge chairs down to the beach because they didn't have enuf...there was more people walking the beaches here than in florida...it was very busy.....POOL - awesome...not heated, the entertainment/games starts around 3, which was good for us, because after being in the sun for 4 hours already, and having some of daisy's "delux" drinks, that was our siesta time -- which we had every day...great swim-up bar with lots of chairs...we never ventured into the hot-tub, simply because we have one at home and there was alot of people using it, and we didn't know how often they changed the water........GROUNDS - well kept and manicured, clean...we really liked the resort layout, and it only being 2 stories...all little seperate complexs all spread out...and it doesn't matter if you get a room near the beach or the main lobby, no-one can see the water from the balcony...there is too many trees etc - i'm not complaining about that, just mentioning that an oceanview room cannot be had, because there is only 2 stories...we wanted a 2nd storey room just because we thought that a ground floor would be more likely to have "critters", and my wife hates critters...we never saw one ant/bug etc our entire stay...that has to be a huge plus.......SERVICE - we have been to quite alot of places...mexico, cuba, d.r., jamaica...that said, mexicans are the friendliest...in general...like i said before, our maid was wonderful - we treated her nice and with respect and we got the same in return...and there are a few wonderful hotel personnel there...daisy at the swim-up bar, and the omlette lady...all deserved tips...but the main lobby bartenders...there were times that i would be standing there, no-one else waiting for service, and two of the bartenders would just stand there and talk, sometimes for a minute before they would wait on me...that was annoying, and therefore they recieved no tip...the front desk/money exchanger ladies...for some reason, no-one speaks very good english -- it was hard to communicate with them most of the time...and the money exchange girl -- every time we would ask to change money, she would be on the phone, and it wasn't business...she would do her job, but wouldn't talk to you...this really pissed my wife off..................HINTS - bring some small gifts for your maid (pencils, pens, markers toothpaste etc)...leave her something small every day, with a peso...tip the help every so often...we spent around 40 pesos for the week...that's 50 dollars canadian...that's a cheap investment...i just left our room in the morning with 5 pesos in my pocket for the day, and spead it around to the friendly servers...................
Arenas Doradas Varadero
Stanstead, QC
January 2006
My two girlfriends and I just came back from the Arenas Dorandas this past Saturday January 21st. I cannot say enough wonderful things about this resort. When we checked in we were not happy with the location of our room, it was too close to the disco and they could not do enough to help us find another room. We were so pleased on how fast they found the room, and it was wonderful. Yes the rooms could be refurbished but in whole it was very nice.
The beds were comfy even the cot and it was very very clean. The pool was excellent and clean, the swim up bar was great and Duniel our bartender was so nice! As was Daisy, very sweet and fun. The food was very good both at the buffet and the beach buffet at lunch. You could always find something that you liked and was very tasty. The meat was excellent! You have to realize you are in Cuba and they may not have everything at hand but they do make very good meals and the bread is made on site and oh my very very good.

The only thing is no diet soda, but then again we are spoiled Canadians eh?
We felt extremly safe being 3 woman alone, the male staff is very very respectful and helpful. Islay in the buffet restaurant was so sweet and took very good care of the "Canadian girls". In closing I had a trip that dreams are made of and can't wait to take my husband next year for a well deserved get away!
Arenas Doradas
Mandy, Tony, Brent and Dave 
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
November 2005
Travel Background:
Hi there, this was my boyfriend and my third time to Cuba and our friends Brent and Dave’s second trip to Cuba. This was our first trip to Varadero, we previously had travelled to Holguin. We range in age from 32 to 42. We booked this trip two days before departure through selloffvacations.com. We paid only $703 a person inclusive. We were not expecting the Ritz Carleton. Date of Travel, November 19th through November 26th 2005. Tour Rep and flight was with Sunwing.

We travelled from Toronto from Terminal 1, Sunwing airlines is a very new airline and all the bug weren’t worked out at the airport and we had to take a shuttle from one terminal out into the middle of the airport to another terminal. The flight was excellent, free champagne, chicken or pasta for dinner. Very generous portions, free headsets. The return flight was just as good, pasta or shepards pie, free wine, complimentary drink with pretzels. We would definitely fly with them again.

Airport and Transfer:
Airport was a bit unorganized and slow, there were welcome mojitos for us and our Sunwing rep was there to direct us to our bus. The trip to the resort was fairly quick and the bus was comfortable.

Reception and Rooms: Incredibly slow check in with only one woman working the desk. Tony and I were assigned a room three buildings down from our friends. There was a huge two inch long bug in Brent and Dave’s room. Both their room and ours were on the ground floor. Our room was infested with ants and a huge flood from the room above ours. The next morning we asked to switch and were put into building 9 with our friends. Our new room was on the second floor and we had no more problems. Rooms were basic but good enough. Beds are lumpy and hard. Hot water was plentiful but pressure alternated from too little to too much. The maid did a fantastic job cleaning the room each day.

The Grounds:
The place had lovely flowers and ponds with fish. There are a lot of palm trees and a gazebo. I think because we went during off season there wasn’t enough staff to keep the grounds as well maintained as it should have been. In some places the weeds were a foot high.

The evening shows were pretty good and you can tell they put a lot of work into them. My favourite was the water ballet, it was really beautiful and well done. The shows usually start at around 9:30pm and before and after them, there isn’t much to do. There is a disco but we never saw a soul in there and most younger people looking to party would pay each night to be taken to another resort’s disco. The cost was $2 pesos to get there, $10 to get in and then pay your taxi cost back to the resort which was anywhere from $6 to $10 pesos depending on the distance. There are some free shuttles to Varadero each day, the schedule is on the lobby reception desk. My friend Dave and I didn’t use the free shuttle but opted to walk to the end of the resort driveway and wait on the bench for the double decker bus. It costs $5 pesos but once you pay the ticket is good all day from 9:00am until 9:00pm. It stops at each resort and every few blocks in Varadero so you can get off and look through the markets and grab a bite to eat. We also rented mopeds from the resort and drove into Varadero for a look around. The cost of the mopeds was $9 pesos the first hour and $3 each additional hour or you can rent one for 24 hours for $24 pesos. It was fun but be careful, there are some big potholes in the road.

The Pool:
The pool is a good sized one with a swim up bar. We spend some time around the pool and there were always enough lounge chairs. The pool bar was pretty good and the bartender would usually remember your drink of choice. Sometimes the music around the pool was too repetitive, I think if I had to hear Gasolina one more time I would have died, or the Follow the Leader song. The Jacuzzi was funny, it looks like a two man tub and the water isn’t hot.

The Beach:
Hey, it’s Varadero and it’s known for its beaches. It was beautiful and long and you could walk for miles. This isn’t a beach for snorkelling though as there isn’t much to see. You can pay at the beach for them to take you to a snorkel site but we didn’t bother because we didn’t know about it until the last day, the cost is $15 pesos. The beach bar was pretty good but doesn’t stay open late enough. I think it closes around 6:00pm as does the pool bar. If you want to drink after hours you have to drink at the lobby bar.

The Food:
I am not a picky eater and I’ve been to Cuba before and to the Dominican. I can honestly say I’ve never been subjected to such horrible food.
There is only the one buffet, there was always weird combos of stuff you wouldn’t normally think to put together like spaghetti with raisins. One night was liver, the next beef hearts. You never knew if the potatoes would be good because sometimes they looked like a regular boiled potato but then they would be soaked in some vinegar sauce. I lived off the spaghetti bar where you pick your type of pasta and fixings in the sauce. It was the only think I liked.
The bacon in the mornings was raw. One night they cooked a whole turkey and it looked lovely. I bit in and realized that only the skin was cooked and the rest was raw. Not a little raw but totally raw. At the pool restaurant my chicken kabob was raw. I’m not a doctor but can’t that make you horribly sick? Isn’t it dangerous? In the main buffet there was never very many people working and we had to set our own table for breakfast and lunch and get our own drinks.
Sometimes there would be no clean glasses so people would put juice into a soup bowl. Not many of the foods were labelled and sometimes you would get potatoes and rice back to your table and realize there is seafood in it. If someone has food allergies I wouldn’t recommend this place. The lobby bar, pool bar, pool restaurant and beach restaurant all have prices on their menus. This through us off and we thought we’d have to pay but ignore the prices as you won’t have to pay as all inclusive guests but people not staying at the resort have to pay.

We took advantage of the free trip on Wednesdays to Havana. It was the highlight of our trip. Havana is beautiful and ugly all at the same time. There will be a breathtaking building with monuments on it beside a blown out building that looks like it went through a bombing. Look out for beggars wanting money. A small child even tried to take money out of my curled hand while waiting in a line up at the bank. People will constantly ask if you want to buy cigars or CD’s or drugs. If you don’t mind being firm and telling people no, then go to Havana because the architecture makes up for everything else. We also took the catamaran excursion through our tour rep, Sunwing. The cost was $85 pesos. They catamaran was huge and there were a lot of people crammed onto it. Drinks were all included, you stop and one site and we swam with the dolphins for a couple of minutes and you could get your picture taken with them for $10 pesos. Then we were taken to a snorkel site but there wasn’t much to see there, hardly any fish or coral and none of the crew came with us. We had done this kind of excursion before in Holguin and the guide actually came out in the water with us to point out awesome things and to take our cameras and get good shots that we couldn’t get ourselves. Then we were taken to an island for lunch, you could have a seafood lunch or chicken. Neither was very good in our opinion. Then swim at the beach and then back to the resort district. It was a fun day but not worth the expense.

In Closing:
If you have low expectations and only care about the beach, pool and drinking, this resort will do. If you want some action or good food, this is not the place for you. The resort was okay, I would give it a 3* rating overall and the food a 1*. My overall impression of the Varadero region is that it is too commercialized and even the wait staff will try and sell you cigars and cd’s. Everyone wanted and expected a tip. Every bus you go on, the driver wants a tip, every bathroom you use off the resort will want a tip and they won’t give you toilet paper unless you do. And there won’t be any toilet seats off the resort either. Even lying on the beach people asked if we wanted to buy stuff. I felt pestered both on and off the resort. One night at the resort they wanted money to allow you to watch the evening entertainment. The airport on the way out was overpriced for food and drink, $2 pesos for a pop or water, $6 for a sandwich. None of our party was overly thrilled with Varadero and I know I probably won’t return. Not even for a 5*. We all much preferred Holguin and I would recommend the Playa Pesquera resort, a true 5*. If you have any additional questions please feel free to email me at giddddyup@yahoo.com and I’ll try and answer your questions.
Arenas Doradas
G & K Smith  
Brantford, ON
November 2005
April 2005 I am submitting this review in November because this is how long it has taken for me to be able to submit this review with a accurate and non-emotional response. In a nutshell this was the WORST trip of our lives. We will never again travel to this resort and maybe never travel to Cuba again. The Arenas Doradas hotel is advertised as a 4+ star resort. It is more in line with a 2 star. When we returned home we were told by sunquest tours (which was equally terrible to deal with) that this was a Cuban rated hotel and they did not need to meet the standards that the North American chains were required to meet. The staff were very friendly, and went out of their way to help you. Daisy was amazing she was friendly and always there to greet you with a smile! Our maid was wonderful as well and we took the advice of the website to bring some gifts for them, she left great notes and very creative bed animals.. The pool was beautiful but closed by 6:30 each night along with the pool side bar. The beach was also beautiful but was not very well lit at night so enjoying the beach for a late night swim felt a little dangerous. The food, to say it was sub-par is a compliment. We expected the food would not be great a little tasteless but at least cooked. They do not cook the food very thoroughly, the poolside restaurant was good and the cuban sandwich was great. We ate there almost daily. The cleanliness of the buffet was not very good - I was travelling with 2 chefs so this stuff was probably more noticeable because of them.. however, we sat down to eat one night and a bug crawled out of the rice on my husband's plate. We went to the a la carte restaurant where they had signs for Lobster when we went to order it, we were told it wasn't part of the all inclusive and we would have to pay $20 per plate. So we went with the "steak and Chicken" but were told that it was a "Steak of Chicken" - didn't know that you could make steak out of chicken. It was a chicken breast - very undercooked. Needless to say, we ended up in the bathroom for the next two days - make sure you bring the immodium and pepto - you will need it! The resort itself is very nice and clean, the grounds are well kept and its nice to walk around The rooms, were standard rooms - the beds were OK - pretty much what we expected The Havana excursion we took the free bustrip from the hotel - what a mistake! The CanCuba tour guide offered to stay with us for a "tip" when we declined, she walked over and spoke to some of the market people and almost instantly we were swarmed by people begging. We had brought some toys for the kids that were there, and the parents even told us "we dont' want that - what else do you have?" They will tell you they need milk for thier babies, its a huge guilt trip, one even tried to put her hand in my husband's pocket. The architecture is incredibly beautiful, but as in any foreign land, you need to be aware of your surroundings and can really trust no one. We went to a restaurant in a "mall" for lunch. It was probably some of the best food we had all week and it was very resonably priced. We made our way to the Capitol building where the guard offered to trade us our jewellery for some drugs. We spent most of the day inside the capitol building waiting for the bus back. Save your sanity and just go to the market in Veradero - its much much nicer. The catamaran with swim with the dolphins this was absolutely the BEST part of the vacation!!!! the food was incredible and if you still want more, you can ask to talk to the cook - they will sell you another plate of lobster and shrimps for about $10 and its worth it! we really enjoyed this day.

All in all, we met some really great people and we did have some fun but this resort did not meet my expectations of a 4+ star resort. I was pretty dissapointed.
Arenas Doradas
Gary & Judy 
May 2005
My wife and I left Edmonton to meet our best friends there who by that time had been there a week already, They gave us a suite with a fantastique and by the next day i was hoocked. Most of the staff were great and we made some friends there. More people from Canada than anywhere else. Two things we fould lacking was a shortage of bathrooms ans although the food was not like home, after all , we were in Cuba. If you can find a good translater you might even get to drive to Havana and try the real Cuban food in these small blackmarket homes and boy was it ever great. The hotel was laied out perfect and some of the shows at 9;30 were first rate (some were not),The ocean was warmer than the pool bar. You can't go to the pool bar without havind a Daisy Special and sayind hi to one of the nicest people there Danelle he was alot of help and perfect english. We would return again.
Arenas Doradas
April 2005
We just returned from a week at this resort. We thought it was just fabulous. We were met at the airport and quickly made our way to the hotel. We were welcomed with champagne and check in was done in minutes. A porter was called, packed our bags onto a golf cart and we were whisked away to our room (500 series near the ocean).

HOTEL: The grounds were beautifully kept. Because there are so many different buildings, it didn't seem crowded, almost as though we were on our own. The building is made of stucco and therefore very quiet. Air conditioning worked perfectly all the time. We always had hot water, water pressure perfect. Room was kept clean, bathroom was amazing. Marble floors, long counter, as well as a bidet.

LOBBY was so attractive: Just like in the pictures. One could just sit there in comfortable couches, it was made of glass doors which could be opened and a nice breeze wafting through. A waterfall in the middle. Early evening there was a cuban band providing back ground music. One of the nicest lobbies I've encountered including those in canada and the u.s.

RESTAURANTS. Well, Cuban food is very bland. Not bad, but spiceless. We love seafood so we were happy with the shrimp. There's always chicken which was good. We could always find something that we rather liked. The 24 hour restaurant served inedible pizza and pasta. Any toppings on the pizza were placed in clumps on the pie, olives unpitted, mushrooms canned, sauce dreadful. The sauce on the pasta tasted like heinze tomato soup. It was a nice atmosphere in the restaurant by the ocean, food the same. We found the drinks good, not as watered down as others have reported, especially in the lobby, Try the mojito, the cuban national drink.

STAFF: The people working at the hotel were wonderful, very friendly and helpful. We always left a tip, usually a peso at dinner. These people make about $8USd dollars a month and so appreciate anything you leave. We left our maid a peso a day as well and some stuff like toothpaste, etc.

BEACH: The water is gorgeous, as everyone says, turquoise and clear and refreshing. There is a man near the beach, near the bar, who has a cache of coconuts and a machete and a tree stump who will hack open one for you and give you a straw and you have your very own cocunut milk drink and coconut to eat as well (remember to tip him, this is what he does).

TRIPS: DO NOT LEAVE FOR YOUR TRIP ON WEDNESDAY. The free trip to havana only goes on wednesdays. We arrrived on wednesday and left on wednesday. The first response was "oh, too bad.." Well after speaking to our sunwing rep who first said it was between us and the hotel, did get involved and after some back and forth discussions, the hotel agreed to send us on monday or tuesday. We waited the rest of the week and thought that was the last we heard from them but on monday morning the manager told us we were going on Tuesday. They hitched a ride for us on a german tour bus which dropped us off in havana and gave us a ride back. The free trip to havana is just the ride there not a tour. We were very happy to be able to wander around ourselves, off the beaten track where the people live. It was so so interesting. We were obviously tourists and everyone is after you for money (or your shirt in one case). But we felt perfectly safe all the time. BRING YOUR OWN TOILET PAPER when venturing on an excursion. Most places will give you maybe four sheets and expect a tip. Paper is very scarce for them. We found a couple of wonderful restaurants while in havana but there didn't seem to be a name in front. Staff will come out on the sidewalk and invite you in. They are very very nice inside and prices were reasonable. (You can always walk out). We had paella (a rice dish with seafood and it was delicious). Thanks to the reviews we read before we went, we knew not to overpay for the buggy ride. He wanted much much more but we paid ten pesos for one hour which was ok with us. He wasn't the greatest guide but we did see quite a bit of the downtown area. As said in other reviews, the shows at the hotel were pretty lame. Bring your own tylenol or advil. These are not available at the hotel, only in the 'farmacia', a fifteen minute walk. It's a very tiny tiny building off the road, about eight feet by eight feet. Bring immodium. Bathrooms are hard to find outside the resort. It was mentioned in a recent review that the family had a cold but didn't want to spend money at the clinic. They probably could have picked up cough medicine at the 'farmacia'. There's also one at the Plaza des Americas and in varadero, across Cuatro Palmas Hotel. Getting all this information was time consuming. They don't seem to tell you right away, you have to dig it out of them. Just like the telephone. We wanted to call home. They told me to dial 881. Well i tried and tried. Called operator. Well, she said she didn't know what was wrong. Maybe it's busy. Went downstairs to the 'telephone office'. Dial 881 she said. I did, I said. Oh, well maybe she should unlock my phone. Well, maybe that would be a good idea....You can't seem to get anything really directly. At the hotel store, we asked if they take visa. Maybe, they said. KNOW YOUR PRICES. Become familiar with prices, they vary so much. One souvenior in town cost 3 pesos, in the hotel, 12 pesos. The vendor near the main restaurant in the hotel has good prices and you don't have to barter with him. At the beach there are vendors. We bought some crotched tops from them. I think they were ten pesos, we got three for 22 pesos. We had a good time. Everyone was friendly and helpful and it certainly deserved its 4 1/2 rating. Only the food wasn't great but you find that in most resorts I guess.

There are two speeds in cuba, slow and slower. These people are not in a rush and there is absolutely no way to rush them. If they are on the phone when you go to reception, you will wait. If you go to the bar and they are having an animated conversation with someone else, you will wait. They move slowly, serve slowly, etc. But if you can get into that unrushed mode, you will be fine. It's nothing personal, it's just a different culture.
Arenas Doradas
Geoff, Liane, Quinlan and Keely 
Hamilton, Ontario
April 2005
We just returned from a week in sunny and warm Cuba. All the reviews on this website certainly helped prepare us and our two kids (9 and 5) for what to expect. We were at the Arenas Doradas from April 17-24, actually my husband and son arrived on April 17 and my daughter and I arrived on April 18 (my 5 year-old daughters passport had expired - it was issued when she was 2 and they only give you a 3 year passport when they are that age. I assumed hers expired when mine did - bummer!) We traveled with Conquest -NEVER again! At Toronto airport they were not helpful at in all in terms of alternate arrangements for my daughter and I! We had great help from Trevor at Sunwing Vacations, who helped walk us through getting the new passport and getting us on another flight the next day!!! So after a rough start we were finally together. The weather was awesome and made us forget the trek down!

HOTEL: The hotel is nice and the grounds were kept very neat and clean. Our maid was great - took advice from this site and left gifts for her each day. She always left a nice note and great decorations on the bed that the kids loved! We were lucky enough to have a suite. There was a huge living area with 3 chairs, couch and table with mini kitchen area (mini fridge and sink), also small dining table with 4 chairs. The bedroom was huge too. I don't know how they do it but our two double beds were pushed together and all 4 of us slept there with no injuries! The kids slept with us even though we had 2 cots too! Only problem in the room was Saturday, the day before we left, my daughter and I found a lizard hiding in a corner in the living room, after an hour or so he was gone - no idea where he went never saw him again - thank god! We were in room 1106, the building closest to the buffet restaurant.

FOOD: Know what to expect and don't expect much! I will admit that by Saturday morning I was dreading meal time a little. Same food and therefore I really had no appetite. My kids lived on fries, hot dogs, bread, pasta, veggies and pancakes - they really didn't care for the food but picked their faves and stuck to them! That's pretty much the rule there! Always ask for bacon well done.

POOL and BEACH: Both are what make this resort! The pool is huge and my kids swam everyday - ALL day! They even swam to the swim-up bar and Daisy got them their fave drinks. The beach is gorgeous. The sand is soft and the water is crystal clear and very warm! We walked along to check out other resorts (friends were at the RIU Turquesa) and never had problems with security or peddlars! ETC...: Bring a thermal mug. I got one for each of us at Dollarama and left 2 for the maid and the other two we left with some girls from TO who were going to use them the rest of their holiday and then leave them for their maid too! SUNSCREEN! Bring a ton of it! My kids were lathered up constantly and still they got burnt shoulders, us too! SHOPPING: Really isn't much to buy there aside from the rum and cigars. The outdoor market in Varadero is big but the same stuff over and over again! I did bring down those glow-stick bracelets from the dollar store for my kids at night. While at the market a woman saw my package of them and asked for them for her daughter, she agreed to a trade - so I grabbed some small leather souvenirs from her booth. She was very happy and so was her daughter who was clutching the pack of bracelets. We didn't do any day excursions because our kids couldn't be torn away from the pool!

Aside from the rough start to our holiday the only other bummer was that myslef and the kids were sick with a cold the whole week and we had no cough medicine. My daughter had a slight cough before leaving which turned into bronchitis by the time we got home. My son now has it and they shared it with mom too! We didn't go to the doctor down there because someone said they used the doctor and paid $120 pesos to have a band-aid put on a cut finger. Oh well - live and learn! If anyone has any questions email me at lianecarruthers@sympatico.ca
Arenas Doradas
Leo and Gail 
New Brunswick
April 2005
We stayed at Arenas Dorados the first two weeks of April. We traveled with Conquest Tours and this hotel should not be listed as a four star resort. It is more like a 3 star. We had no air conditioning most of the time during our stay. A lot of vacation time and energy was used trying to get the reception desk to get the maintenance man to come and fix the air! When we would get it fixed it would only last a day some times only and hour or so. Food was not great, we truly enjoyed the pool, lots of shade and the swim up bar staff were wonderful. The rest of the resort was somewhat as I expected. It was the lowest priced four star in the book and $500 to $600 lower than the other four stars for a two week holiday for two so WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU.

I would return to this resort if they had air conditioning and the price stayed the same, however I think after four trips to Cuba that is enough for us. We will travel in the Dominican or Mexico. The service is better for your money. All in all we had a great time and met a lot of wonderful people.
Arenas Doradas

April 2005
have just returned from the Arenas Doradas Hotel and am honestly wondering how they are given their star rating. arrived 11 am Sat March 26, received room at 7 pm. Sat in lobby and waited and waited. no one to help with the luggage from the bus, so here it was 80 degrees and I was sitting in the lobby until the sun went down because my room wasnt ready. 7pm get my room, after getting the lizards out gave up went to bed. The food was the worse thing about this whole trip. NO! I WASNT EXPECTING A LOT! I HAVE BEEN TO CUBA SEVERAL TIMES THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I HAD TO COMPETE WITH THE BIRDS FOR THE BREAD AND SALAD BAR. There was bird shit everywhere. My room was nice quiet near the beach. Swim up bar and pool excellent only part of the resort that you got good service.

BLTs in pool bar good as long as you removed the bad lettuce. Too many birds in beach resturant again bird shit everywhere Wed went to my room after an excurison in town to find out my key had been changes. when I went to the desk, they told me my husband had wanted the key changed. I WAS TRAVELLING ALONE!!!! Got the manager requested to be put in anyother hotel, they said none was available. Game to my room with me rekey locks, needless to say I never felt safe the rest of the trip. I usually stay in 3 stars when in Cuba and never had a problem. This was my first time at a four and personally I would give this hotel a 1.5 star. Overall I found the staff bad...rude slow only wanting tips the exception to this was the pool bar staff they were great.
Arenas Doradas
Jennifer, Sommer and Courtney 
March 2005
Jennifer, Sommer and Courtney or (Spring, Summer and Winter) We just arrived back from a fabulous trip to Arenas Doradas in Varadero. Admittedly, we didn't do all that much other than soak up the sun, have some drinks, enjoy meeting people and heading out on the town. We left from Montreal with TMR and AirTransat. Flight down was fabulous arrive 20 minutes early. It took us roughly a half hour to get to the resort from the airport. We arrived at probably 11pm and were checked into our room by 11:30pm Front desk staff was exceptional. We really wanted an oceanview room but had a poolview room. Being young woman, we didn't know what we wanted. The woman was very patient with us and we took her advice and stayed in our original room which turned out to be amazing. All three of us adored our room. We were met from the bus with welcoming drinks. Security deposit box was a chinch and on we went.

Food: To be perfectly honest, understanding that we are in a third world country and their food is prepared differently than ours, the food was just fine. Of course there were options that we thought 'I'm not going to even bother trying' but there was plenty of options to choose from. We all enjoyed going to the Pool Restaurant to eat BLT's , and Club Sandwich's and fries. At every restaurant there is oodles of cabbage and cucumbers which we enjoyed. Pasta is readily available each night as is a grill station which tended to have chicken (fillets, skewers etc)

Beverages: Strong. Winter and I were pretty much done with the Rum come day two of our trip but the vodka and cervesas were just fine. Sommer remained with the rum and enjoyed herself.

Beach: WOW! This beach has got to be the most beautiful in the world.....oh well second to another beach which I'll tell you about in a bit. Arenas Doradas are very good at keeping the beach in great shape.

Pool: Although bottom of the pool wasn't entirely clean it was wonderful. We did sit and swim in the pool daily.

Bars: Swim Up - Fabulous - service always with a smile and even delivered to the edge of the pool at times. Beach Bar - It's a bar has drinks, nothing too exciting. Lobby Bar - Very friendly, serving whatever you like.

Shows: The shows were a lot of fun and if you get to know people you end up becoming a part of the show. I have two shows that stand out in my mind right now that were my favourites.

Animation Team: Fabulous. Our group and the three other groups that we spent a fair amount of time with became quite close to several of the animation team. Of course, if you are willing to go the extra step and actually take part in activities you tend to enjoy yourself a little more. One step to make things even better: There is no schedule for events so if you don't get to know the animation team or are not the type to go see what's going on yourself, you will miss out on the events. We suggested a bulletin board.

Excursions: We only went on one. I forget the company name something like "Cercuso del Sol" (Catameran).....we left at 10am on the boat, had a stop for snorkelling in the coral for an hour, took off again and went to Cayo Blanco and had a fabulous lobster lunch (Best lobster I've eaten in awhile) We were here for about 2 hours. The sand at this beach is like flour - white white white and super soft. We set off from there and travelled to swim with the dolphins. A wonderful experience. We arrived back at the Marina at 5:30. All drinks and lunch were included on the trip.....75 CUC or approx. 94 Cdn. We felt this trip was a must and found our crew amazing (Royal and Mossimo).

Room: Our room was almost identical to the pictures we had seen online. We really like it. Airconditioning pumping and very very cold. Maria our maid was fabulous. We brought several gifts for her and her children and she was very appreciative.

Night Club: WOuld be much more fun if people didn't go out to other clubs. We teneded to have a great time at Memories before heading out somewhere else after our show. Clubs we visited and loved: Havana Club, Pirate's Cave, and International at Iberstar Staff to get to know: Frankie from Memories and the Buffet, George from the Buffet, Ivan from the Lobby Bar, Nelson and Evertt, Aeilei, Julia and Betty all of Animation Crew and the manager. They were all wonderful to us. We plan on returning either for New Year's next year or March Break again. These people really helped to make our trip fabulous. IF you got to Arenas Doradas be sure to meet these people, let them know you read the review from Sommer, Spring and Winter - specifically to Aeilei (Pochahontas). It's only two days since our return and we really really miss them all already. Enjoy your trip. Feel free to email me with any questions.

Jenne (jnalon@sympatico.ca)
Arenas Doradas

March 2005
We stayed at Arenas Doradas from February 17th to 25th and are very thankful for the reviews so we were prepared. There were others who did not know what to expect and I honestly think that by reading the reviews on this site it made our vacation more enjoyable. It was the first time to Cuba for the 4 of us and we had a great time. Airport - DO NOT BRING WALKIE TALKIES. They will take them as you are not allowed to have them. My brother in law had to leave his with customs but got them back when we were leaving to return home. Check in was slow and in general we found the service good but everyone is on "cuban time" so you can't be in a hurry. We had problems operating the safe and we had to call 3 times before someone came to show us how it worked. As others have said the pool and beach were gorgeous. The beach is very clean and although the pool was cool we found it refreshing. Everything was clean and that is what is important. The rooms are spacious and well kept. We did have a problem with ants on the ground floor but we had 2 rooms and the one on the top floor was better...although still a few ants. Keep any food in the fridge or tightly sealed. The food was better than I expected from all the reviews. There was usually something for everyone on the buffet, I just found they don't cook things as thorough as we do which made me weary at times. We tried the a la carte restaurant but were not impressed as we had ants on our buns. In general the buffet was better. Drinks were good everywhere. The beer is draft but good - don't bring a coolie cup or beer skin. We took advice from this site and brought our own cups - the bartenders got to know us by the cups so that helped better service. I also brought my Tim Horton's mug to keep the blender drinks and rum punch cold....it worked very well! We tipped everyday but not everytime. Basically I think you get a little better service if you tip....however send up the same person who did the tipping to get the drinks! We went on the horsebackriding, snorkeling, cave, and riverboat trip ....forget now what it was called! Rio something. It was very good and worth the $45 CUC. It is definitely a "young person's trip". Much better than the $75 CUC Catamaran trip. It was good also the first one is just better value for your money. They offer fresh Lobster on the Catamaran trip and take you to an island to have lunch and drink more. It was gorgeous and a nice trip if you like boating and the water.

All in all we had a good time there and would recommend Arenas Doradas if staying in Varadaro. The staff is very nice and the hotel is clean.
Arenas Doradas
February 2005
We went to Varadero 13-20 Feb 2005, a family of four (2 kids ages 9 and 13). We had never been to Cuba before, but thanks to the reviews, we're quite prepared. We flew Jetsgo, so no complaints about the seats (I paid the extra money for seat selection to get window seats for the kids). The airport was interesting - unfortunately way too much smoking for us - but not much I can do there. Customs was a little unnerving - the kids were on my husband's passport, I went through the line first (no problem). But they were a good 7 minutes behind me, the customs agent kept typing in on his computer and looking at them. If I go back, I will have passports for the kids too. I exchanged Cdn dollars into the peso at the airport, just be careful to ensure the amount they say you gave them is the same as what you gave them (they tried to short me $10). You can also exchange money at the hotel - the exchange rate varies all the time - and you really have no control over it. The bus ride to the hotel was uneventful, nice comfortable bus, with a guide telling you stories and customs (quite interesting). Check in at the hotel was no problem - I took the advice of someone on an earlier posting and emailed them for an upgrade - asking for cots for the kids in a quiet place. It was perfect - large suite, huge dining/living room, seperate bedroom, and two cots for the kids. As stated before, the pillows are flat - but would I take the space in my luggage and bring my own?? Probably not. We were a little cool the first night, but asked for extra blankets - no problem. Room was kept clean, no problems with ants or anything. It was great to wake up each morning to tons of birds singing. In regards to the check in, you should pay your $40 pesos deposit for the towels right then, they will give you a ticket that you need to take to the shack at the pool for the towels. You can exchange them when they get dirty, but sometimes we couldn't, as they had run out. Also at check in you should ask for the safety deposit box key - $2/day - even though the hotel is very safe - it's nice to be extra safe. Also don't forget to save $25/per person for the departure tax - cash only. Also if you have any pesos left, the only place to change them back to canadian is at the airport. They don't count loonies and toonies as money, so leave them at home. As stated before, the pool and beach are gorgeous. The beach is shallow for the kids and great for walking for miles and miles (smoking again). Yes, the pool is cool, but after being on the beach all day, a dip in that water was sooooooo refreshing. The kids were addicted to the cubean music played at the pool, and we bought a CD for $10 pesos. In regards to the food - if you have fussy eaters or are looking for American cuisine, Cuba is not the place to go. We enjoyed the unique variety, and I'm glad to say I did not gain any weight there. We managed to find enough to fill us up each meal - the kids really like the hamburgesa at the pool snack bar. The bread was delicious !!!!! They don't have milk at any meals - so to compensate they had ice cream twice a day. The pasta at the Italian restaurant was good. There was also usually chicken at each meal. For those of you who like tea - they only turn on the tea/coffee machine at breakfast - but I then discovered you can get tea from the piano bar throughout the day. There was no real kids club the week we were there - but supposedly the week before there were 18 kids - a hit and miss. Our son would go to the club in the morning at 10 to play some playstation, the girl in charge didn't mind it that it was just him.

We took the bus to Varadero market a couple times to get some souvenirs - and get out of the sun. Most stuff is reasonably priced, and no one really bugs you. Overall, I found the Cubans to be a happy, easy going lot. Have a good holiday.
Arenas Doradas
February 2005
We are a family of 4 from Canada, late 30’s with 2 Kids; 18months and 4.5 yrs old. All of us had a great time at this resort. It was our first time to Cuba. The following is an honest impression of our time there:

Charter with Skyservice – cramped but since the plane was not full, arranged for us to have 6 seats so the kids could nap. Both ways the plane left early! – Who would have thought that?!!

30 minutes by bus from airport to hotel. Reception was slow, although we were lucky to be near the front of the line. Only one person was checking us in. We emailed ahead to make sure a crib was ready as we were arriving late at night and ask for a ground floor room. They upgraded us to a suite (separate bedroom – real bonus if you have napping kids or ones going to bed early) and everything was provided that was asked for – porter took care of luggage so we could take care of kids – overall good for us. On the last day the check-out time was 12:00pm but our flight was at 10:00pm so the manager let us have our room till 6pm (at no additional cost), the bus for the airport was leaving the hotel at 7:00pm. We were really grateful as our little one needs an afternoon nap.

Nice huge suite room with huge terrace, fridge with water, kitchenette, good bathroom with excellent water pressure. Some ants in the bathroom but not really a big deal. Room was cleaned nicely every day with fancy bedspread creations. Beds okay but pillows thin and hard (bring your own). Couch was more of a bench with cushions.

As expected in Cube it can be plain. We always found something good to eat though – roasts, shrimp, lamb, fish, pasta bar, chicken. Fries were often old and soggy. In season were – tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, papaya, guava, pineapple, water melon, squash, shredded carrots, and onions – in other words lots of stuff. Breakfast and dinner were always in the buffet restaurant, lunch at the beach one (this was my favorite meal of the day though sometimes repetitive). Ketchup sucks so bring your own.

Water and weather
We were lucky every day was sunny and hot (27 – 29 C). Be careful as week before was cold and week after us was too. Beach was awesome, ocean a comfortable 25 C with wave < .5 m. All days but first were green flag. Pools however are cold in the winter at 20 C. Swim up bar is nice. Never had to worry about finding a spot on the beach or loungers – plenty for all. Loved the hammocks by the beach under the palm trees. Water toys: kayaks, paddle boats and my favorite a laser sailboat were available. Pool also had plenty of loungers but hammocks in greater demand.

The hotel provided an included bus trip to Havana. Even with the kids this is a must do! Sign up early not to be disappointed. Once in Havana (2 hour trip) you have about 6 hours. I recommend you hire one of the horse and buggy with tour guide – they’ll show you the hidden places and various plazas and make sure you’re back at the bus pick up on time. We had a great guide who spoke excellent English, knowledgeable of Cuban history, places to eat and places to buy cigars. His name was Vincent – carriage 42; ask for him when you arrive and one of the other guides will find him for you. Havana was an awesome city – we never felt uncomfortable but the guides make sure of that for you. Short bus trips to Varadero are available but I wasn’t that impressed by the place.

Overall Impression
We were very happy with our vacation and would return. We met people there who were returning patrons.
Arenas Doradas

January 2005
Hi everyone, sorry if my review is a little bit short, but I'm French and I've some difficulties to write in English. My full review in French is here http://www.choukroun.com/cuba/ with a lot of pictures of Cuba and the Hotel itself. First I would say that I'm very surprised by all the good reviews I've seen on this website. We haven't got the same feeling at all! We were a group of 17 people and we met there another group of 10 people coming from France. We really liked Cuba, La Havane, le 'Pirate' disco close to the Arenas Doradas and Cardenas (small city close to Varadero). About the Hotel, we have the experience of travelling (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominican Republique, Mexico, Miami, Fort Lauderdale etc...) so we can compare. Everyone must be warned, it is no more than a 2* (internationnal rate) and not a 4*. I'll list the issues and good things just here so everyone will be warned.

Plus :
+ the room are cleaned everyday and the room mate is very friendly.
+ TV and small fridge with water and Coca.
+ the sea is beautifull
+ the swiming pool is great
+ the country is great
+ cubans are friendly
+ the gardens are very nice and clean
+ the free travel to la Havane, worth to do.
+ good Entertainment shows (specially the Water Show)

Minus :
- the animation team was at the bar or in the Internet room, but almost no animation.
- loud music at the beach and at the swiming pool. Internationnal title mostly (Ozone every hours!!!!)
- water is cold in the swiming pool. No more than 20°C in winter (between november to March)
- the food is awfull. Several persons of both our groups were sick. They reuse the food all the time in salads. Even french fries are really bad. You need to got to eat early or you'll not have the main course anymore.
- coctails are really bad (they add water to the rhum), Cubans explains that to us.
- the sea is great, but as soon as it get bumpy you can't go to swim because of corrants and medusas. We only swimt 3 days in our 10 days trip.
- don't go to Cuba in Winter : it is cold and sometime you may have rain all the time.
- clean? At the beach and sea bar, they are concervating orange juce in a non refrigered can all the day, they are not washing the glasses (just a little bit under non filtrated water). Lot of cleaning issues in the restaurants too much to list...
- no died drinks, only with sugar, or beer.
- almost 3 hours from the Airport in Bus!!! Only charters are going to the Varadero Airport, big planes must land to La Havane!
- the disco is awful where is the animation team? The DJ is so bad that sometime he forget to change the music, and the music stops! there is no one there after 1 AM. We paid 1800 EUR to get there and it is only worth 600 EUR.

For sure no one of us will go back to this hotel, we have visited much better ones in Vadadero (all the 5* are much better, and the Briscar 100 meters away is better too!).
Arenas Doradas
Ontario, Canada
January 2005
My cousin and I stayed at the Arenas Doradas from Dec 5 to 12, 2004. We are both female, ages 26 and 30. We had a GREAT time at this resort! This forum was extremely helpful in helping us choose, so it's only fair that we put in our two cents!

Flight: Skyservice from Toronto. Our early morning flight (6:10 a.m.) left on time and it was a smooth ride. There isn’t a lot of leg room on Skyservice, but I think everyone knows that by now. We received a small breakfast of ham & cheese on a croissant, a piece of banana bread, and orange juice. There was also an in-flight movie. By the way – if you bring your own Discman or mp3 player with headphones, don’t waste your money on the pair of headphones they sell on the airplane. I thought we had to buy those ones because of the “special” two-hole plug on the armrest. After shelling out $5 for the crappy Skyservice headphones that I could barely hear out of, I got frustrated and decided to try out the Sony headphones from my Discman. They worked fine when I plugged them into the right outlet.

Arrival: We landed at 10:40 a.m. Customs took about 20 minutes. Our luggage was already off the plane and on the carousel by the time we got there. We decided to exchange our Canadian currency at the airport. This took another 20 minutes. We found our tour operator outside the airport with no problem. We arrived at the hotel by about 12:30 p.m. Our room wasn’t quite ready (they said it would only be about a half hour), so we booked the free shuttle to Havana, then grabbed some drinks from the lobby bar and waited. 15 minutes later, front desk called us over and told us our room was ready. We were on the beach by 1:30.

Accommodations: The layout and grounds were very pretty. Unfortunately, like most hotels in the Caribbean, our room was a bit damp and smelled musty, but we were expecting that. It was extremely well maintained by our lovely maid, Marisol, who kept it very clean and always arranged our blankets and towels in interesting shapes around our room each day (swans, hearts, butterflies, etc) and notes wishing us a good day. Each day we left her a “tip” of soap, lotion, chocolate, etc. One night we lost power in part of our room. I told the front desk and it was back on again by the time returned to our room just over an hour later.

Beach: Beautiful. It was raked every night and the loungers were always neatly stacked in the morning. We never had to rush down to the beach early in the morning to “reserve” chairs with our towels as many claim to need to do at other resorts. Then again, we were there during off-season. We would usually hit the beach sometime between 9 and 10 and there were always plenty of chairs to be found. There were, of course, different activities like beach volleyball, kayaking, banana boat rides, catamaran rides… some free, some not… same as anywhere else.

Pool: Very well maintained. We divided our time equally between the beach and pool. Again, we never had difficulty finding a chair. The staff at the pool bar was especially friendly and always very attentive. I celebrated my 30th birthday while we were there. They arranged a cake and a group of singers with guitars sang happy birthday. It was awesome. Thanks Daysy and Liuva!

Weather: We couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was definitely a good time of year to go. We only had one day of rain during our whole stay (the last day). The rest of the time it was sunny and gorgeous. I and most others also found the nights to be quite warm (only my cousin, who gets cold easily, would disagree).

Food: I've heard that the food in Cuba isn't as good as in some other countries. It wasn't terrible, and I'm not an overly picky eater, but I have to admit that by the end of the trip I was anxious to get back to Canada just to have something a bit more familiar. Breakfasts at the buffet were best - eggs, french toast, lots of pastries. We loaded up each morning. However I found the buffet became a bit repetitive, especially at dinner, and after getting sick on the fifth night of the trip (I think it was the rice and beans dish I ate – I should have known better, my system doesn’t always agree with spices), I had to stick to bland foods like white rice and roasted potatoes. The restaurant at the pool bar was good for their cheeseburgers, omelets, and fries. I went to the restaurant at the beach once - I didn't care for it much, but some people I’d met raved about the fish and paella they'd had earlier in the week. We didn't take the opportunity to dine at the a la carte restaurant. We tried to make reservations for it one night, but couldn't find anyone around to make the reservation with. The 24-hour pizza place was hit or miss - some nights the pizzas were great, other nights they seemed a bit undercooked.

Drinks: The best drinks on the resort are served at the lobby bar, especially the pina coladas (at any of the other bars on the resort, they seem watery). The daiquiris weren't bad either. We were drinking banana mamas at the pool bar quite regularly at first, but I found after a while they were too sweet. Jaime-Lynn especially liked the mojitos. By the end of the trip, I was tired of rum and stuck with cerveza.

Entertainment/activities: The animation staff ROCKED! They are an extremely energetic group of people and work very hard from about 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day, organizing various activities throughout the day and putting on the shows at night. On our first day as we passed through the pool area we were greeted by a very friendly staff member named Ivan. From that point, we knew we were going to have fun. And sure enough, he, "Julia Roberts", Tatiana, Beverley, and the rest of the crew always kept things going, encouraging us to join in the various activities (volleyball, dance lessons, scuba lessons, various games and contests). No worries, if you're not interested in that sort of thing, they will leave you alone.

Disco: We were disappointed to find that very few people went to the disco in the evening, which is unfortunate because it really is a very lovely facility with a nice dance floor. Instead, the entertainment staff offers to bring resort patrons, via shuttle, to clubs off the resort. It was usually $15: $5 for the bus ride and $10 cover charge to the club with all drinks included. The only thing is that they don't leave until the nightly entertainment has ended and doesn't always seem to be well thought out. We decided to go one night, but when we arrived at our destination, unbeknownst to the staff members who had accompanied us, there was a cabaret show going on at the club. It was already 11:30 by this point. So our "escorts" rounded everyone up to go to another club. We asked for our money back and found our own way back to the hotel because we didn't think it was worth the $15 (by the time we would have arrived at the next club it would have been 11:45, and the clubs close at 1:00 a.m.). If you want to go dancing off the resort, I would say round up some people earlier in the evening, share a taxi to a club for $1 each (instead of $5 for the bus), and get your $10 worth by being there for a good 3 or 4 hours instead of just 1 or 2 hours.

Havana: You MUST take advantage of the free shuttle to Havana. It's scheduled to leave at 8:00 a.m. (we didn't actually leave until 8:30) and takes about an hour and a half to get to Havana. We arrived by around 10:00 at The Capitolio. Be prepared to be bombarded by various horse and carriage drivers offering to take you on a tour of the city. We lucked out and found an EXCELLENT tour guide named Vladimir (carriage number 8 – and no worries, he was pleased when we asked him if we could put his name on this web site).
At first, he asked us for $10 CCP/hour each for a 2 hour tour (there were 4 of us, so it would have been $80 CCP). We told him it was way too much. We offered $30 CCP flat for 2 hours which he accepted after some initial hesitation. We weren't quite sure what to expect since he settled on such a low price. Well, he definitely surpassed my expectations. His english was excellent, and he was really quite passionate about his heritage and incredibly knowledgeable. He gave us background on all the buildings and statues while his father, a sweet man simply known as "Poppa", drove the carriage. They stopped to let us take pictures at various places, and he took us around on foot at points of interest. Vladimir also acted as somewhat of a bodyguard as we walked through the streets, making sure that we weren't hassled by panhandlers. Next thing we knew, it was 4 hours later! We were extremely pleased with our experience and each happily gave him $20 CCP. After we left Vladimir, we wanted to do some shopping. We were told that Obispo street was the place to go for shopping, but I think that's for more locals because we didn't find much there. We managed to find our way to the open market and bought many pieces of silver and beaded jewelry and crafts. We were able to haggle a bit, but truthfully a lot of the merchandise was pretty cheap anyway, so we didn't have to go down much in price. The most expensive item I bought was a necklace for $8 CCP. Anyway, we were pretty tired by the time we were done, so we took a taxi from the market back to the Capitolio even though it's in reasonable walking distance. Before we got in the taxi, we asked how much. The driver said $4 CCP, but we knew how close we were so we offered $2 CCP, which he accepted. Never be afraid to barter! The bus left Havana at 4:00 p.m. and we were back at the resort by 5:30.
Scooters - We rented scooters one day to take a drive into one of the towns. We weren't really sure where we were going to go, and ended up driving all the way to the town of Mantanzas. We didn't realize how far it would be until we got there. We'd only rented the scooters for 3 hours ($15 CCP each) and ended up bringing them back about an hour and a half late (he only charged us for an extra hour - $5 CCP). We should've just rented the scooters for the entire day ($25 CCP). The scooters are easy to drive, and they're locked so that you can't go any faster than 60 km/hr. But only rent one if you're confident in your ability because in Cuba, if you get into an accident there is no insurance included in the rental, and the accident is immediately considered your fault and you will be responsible for any damages. Shuttle service – Free shuttle offered to Place Americas (shopping mall) and “downtown” Varadero. Shuttle times 6 times per day.

Tipping - Although we'd read many reviews before our trip, we still weren't really sure what the protocol was for tipping. We started out offering $1 almost each time we ordered a drink, but soon discovered that it wasn't really necessary. We tipped whenever we felt someone really deserved it. Also, we brought a lot of different items like soaps, lotions, toothpaste, makeup, t-shirts, children’s toys, etc. At the end of our vacation, we gave them all away to our favourite staff members. I don't think the service we received would have changed if we hadn't tipped, but we wanted to anyway to the ones we received the friendliest service from. By the way, please do not tip Cubans with your Canadian coins. It is a nice gesture, but useless to them unless they can find another Canadian willing to take the coin in exchange for a Canadian bill or Cuban pesos. So if you can at all help it, stick with $1 Cuban coins or bills.

Departure: Our flight was at 11:00 a.m., so we were required to be in the lobby at 7:30 a.m. to catch our bus to the airport. Check out from the hotel was a breeze (literally about 30 seconds). The line up at the airport was pretty long. I think it took us almost an hour to get our boarding passes. But customs was fairly quick. Our flight left on time and we arrived back to the snow and cold 3 hours later... wishing we were back at the Arenas Doradas! :)
Arenas Doradas
Andrew & Terry 
December 2004
We just got back from Arenas Doradas in Varadero Cuba the other day, most of the reviews that I have read were positive - and so is ours. We won't talk about the leg room on Sky Service, who cares - its not about the airline - its about where your going. The people were all very friendly, a nice greeting as soon as you arrive. A little trick is to email the resort a couple of days before departure to upgrade your room. My wife and I ended up in a huge two room suite with a super king bed. They also delivered a fruit basket, bottle of champagne, and a lobster lunch the following day. The resort has a good layout - you don't need a golf cart to get around, like some resorts. Nice pool bar and large pool that surrounds. Down to the beach there is of course a beach bar and a beach buffet(for lunch only-very good). The ocean was aqua blue and powder sand. Also you can try the pool restaurant and have a great BLT (without the T - no T's in Cuba). Really the only place for dinner is the grand buffet, it has pretty much everything when it comes to Cuban food. If you have never been to Cuba before, lower your expectations a little as far as quality of food. Remember they don't have the luxury of all that we do. The same place for breakfast, eggs , bacon, sausage, coffee, cereal, fruit, pancakes, toast - no complaints here. A little trick so you don' t have to purchase your water(because you only get one big bottle in your room fridge when you arrive) is to refill it either at the beach bar or the buffet at the water cooler (its bottled water - same thing) this will save you 2 pesos per bottle if purchased at the resort store. Speaking of liquids - the drinks flow like water around here. All the bar tenders are very quick to be your friend, don't forget to tip, they will wait on you like kings and queens. Also don't forget to tip your maid - they will set up your room daily with bedsheet swans and fresh towels. We have been to Cuba before, and this time we brought old clothes such as jeans, socks, shoes,tshirts, ball caps, toiletries, purfume, candy. Most of this stuff went to locals off the resort. If you walk down the beach you will see several young kids come out of the bush (don't worry they are very friendly and they know what would happen to them if they ever harmed a tourist). These are the people that really need the extras you bring. You can convert your Canadian dollar at the resort if you like, at that time we were getting 76 convertable pesos for $100 Cdn. If you go off the resort and to the bank you will get about 80 convertable pesos, since the resort will charge a little fee. If you change it at the airport you will be in line for ever, if you have to tip at the airport don't give them any coins because they are useless to them - only bills, but the lowest is of course a $5 (just carry your own bags - be quick though because they will grab them first). Save a couple of pesos for when you go home for snacks in the airport and your departure tax of 25 pesos. You will be approached by security, cashiers, bathroom attendants to trade with them their Cdn coins and dollars to pesos - if you have enough I would suggest doing it, that way your not losing the exchange. Anyway back to the resort. We would highly recommend going to this resort - not one complaint.