|Villas Oasis |
|We traveled to Cayo Coco from March 15-25, 2008. We are a couple (I’m 44, he’s 52) who have been traveling to Cuba regularly since 2001. This was my tenth trip to Cuba – my first trip was in 1988 as part of a University field school. We have stayed in fancier, newer resorts as well as older hotels in Havana and Santiago and private casa particulares. Our experience is that vacations in Cuba are tempered as much by the traveler’s attitude and expectations as by the accommodations, and so this review is an attempt to help with the “reasonable expectations” side of that equation. I apologize in advance that this is a very long review, but I felt it would be worthwhile to be thorough as this is a relatively new property for Canadians, it has recently re-opened after a change in management and we had difficulty finding information concerning the resort prior to booking. If you just want to cut to the chase, overall, we would stay at this resort again if the price was right, but we hope that there will be improvements on some issues now that it’s under the Oasis management. We would classify it as a 2* resort.
Flight, Arrival, Check in and Changing Money
We flew Sunwing for the first time, which was a pleasant change from some of our previous flights. For $25 each way per person we were able to book the exit row seats in advance and had the advantage of considerable leg room along with a choice of hot meal. Check in for the flight was chaotic and very slow however, as there were three flights (2 at 6:10am and 1 at 6:20am) all checking in at the same counters. Sunwing gave us a last minute waiver for our NJT humanitarian aid (medical supplies), and we were not charged for excess baggage. Note that we discovered on this trip that you have to advise Sunwing in advance if you intend to take sports equipment or you can be charged for excess baggage. The flight itself was fine, with a choice of hot entrée, champagne and a first run movie. Transfer to the hotel was relatively painless.
Our arrival at the hotel at 10:00am EST was a little awkward because for us it was already 11:00am. We arrived on Saturday, March 15th and Cuba didn’t go onto daylight savings time until 1am March 16th. Having been up for over 8 hours, we were hungry. The hotel had made no provision for this possibility though. Breakfast had ended half an hour previously, and lunch was not going to be available for another three hours. Our rooms were also not ready, so we were ushered to the bar to await access to them. The 24 hour bar did not serve snacks until 11am in theory, but in fact they weren’t ready to serve anything more than stale rolls at that time, so we contented ourselves with cappuccino for about an hour and a half until we could check into our room. On the plus side, we saw a parrot, hummingbird and 2.5 foot iguana in our first 30 minutes! We later discovered that the parrot is a pet of one of the maintenance workers, but we saw this colourful display of wildlife as a good omen.
I had emailed the hotel in advance of our arrival as it was my birthday on Sunday the 16th and we wanted to make a reservation for the Japanese restaurant and we also asked for a nice, secluded room with a queen bed. Both requests were honored, and we were delighted with our room’s location, which was half of a small villa overlooking the ocean. There are 48 rooms on this property; 8 are in 4 of these small bungalows grouped at the back of the resort facing the ocean and the other 40 rooms are in ten two-storey buildings – some of these also have ocean views. Beach towels were delivered to our room by the fellow who helped us with our luggage, and thereafter every evening around 5:30pm he came to our door and exchanged towels with us.
Our Sunwing rep (Betty) had Saturday off, and so we didn’t have a welcome briefing until the next morning, although folks on our flight staying at every other hotel except ours and the Oasis Playa Coco did get a briefing later on their first day. I strongly feel that arrangements should be made to answer basic questions from guests on the day of their arrival unless it is very late. This is even more important in smaller resorts that don’t have lots of other staff available. For example, we lost three days of diving because instead of being able to book on the Saturday morning of our arrival, we had to wait until Sunday for the rep to make enquiries and then get back to us on Monday, so we could begin on Tuesday. If we had been staying at the Oasis we could have booked at the tours desk that day and done a dive Saturday afternoon. If the rep or someone else had explained the way things worked the day we arrived we could at least have taken the local bus to the Oasis hotel to book excursions and diving there for Sunday.
Also, we were told at the airport when we tried to change money that there wasn’t a cadeca available on the arrivals level and that we would get the same exchange rate at the hotel. This was not true. If we had been staying at one of the bigger hotels with a bank or cadeca, we would have gotten .85 pesos to 1 CAD, however the reception at the Villa was only able to provide .81 pesos to the Canadian dollar. This is the sort of thing you need to hear about right away from your rep. I also don’t understand the basis of this conversion as the exchange rate listed the day before we left (and that is still listed at the http://coinmill.com/CUC_calculator.html website) is .91 Cuban convertible pesos to 1 Canadian dollar. That is a hefty difference. It was cheaper for us to pay for scuba diving and excursions using our credit card. They charged us in US dollars and at a better exchange rate. Regardless, this information should be available on your first day, along with the ability to arrange excursions and book activities.
The room (2002) was spacious and because of the placement of the sliding doors to the balcony and the window, we had a breathtaking panoramic 120 view of the ocean and beach – once the windows had been washed. ;) We had a small fridge that contained one 1 L bottle of water that we were asked to have refilled at the bar once we had emptied it. We also filled the fridge with beer and juice purchased from the tienda. The bed itself was terribly hard causing me to wake during the night and in the morning with some pain, so pack the Tylenol arthritis if you suffer similarly. The bed was made with four small pillows, sheets and no coverlet – just a blanket. The air conditioning worked fine and we had no difficulty with electricity. Closet space with drawers were ample, and there was a small safe included in the room. There were also two nightstands with drawers, a vanity table with drawers and a table and chair in the room. The balcony had two plastic chairs and a wicker table. Pretty basic amenities, but it was definitely adequate.
I noticed that there was an adjoining door to the next room, so I suspect such requests could be accommodated.
Power in the room is 220v, except for the razor outlet which worked reliably at 120v for small appliances. No clock, CD player, coffee maker or iron was provided. We didn’t watch TV, but the maid did ;) and it seemed to be working the day we invaded her work. She always left the room impeccably cleaned, with the typical arrangements of towel art.
On the subject of towels, it should be noted that in addition to the traditional absence of face cloths at Cuban resorts, there were also no hand towels or even a bath mat, which made for some slippery exits from the shower! There is a full bathtub, and the shower was possibly the worst one I have ever experienced in Cuba. It was a handheld type with a mount on the wall as far up as the hose would stretch, which was well above my 6’3” spouse’s head and high for (5’10”) me to comfortably reach. The mount was only attached with a single screw and so the weight of the shower head made it hang at 90 with the water falling straight down – in other words, you couldn’t get under it properly, and no matter what you did, the room got wet. I reported that the shower didn’t work well, but nothing was done to fix it. Also, the tub was very, very narrow and the soap holding apparatus/grab bar was in the middle of the arrangement and extended so far into the tub enclosure so that only the slimmest-hipped person would have been comfortable turning around. Water temperature, pressure and availability were never at issue however.
I’m pretty sure I heard my spouse grumbling that the toilet seat could only have been devised by a lesbian-separatist conspiracy to umm, err, “separate” him from his member. Suffice it to say that the seat would not stay up. ;)
On the plus side, the vanity and sink were adjacent to the shower/toilet room, allowing one person to perform pre-dinner ablutions while their companion struggled with the shower…
We had two additional problems with the room. Our little patio/balcony was about 2.5 feet above ground level and surrounded by rough rocks which was lovely for watching the waves, but wasn’t high enough off the ground to deter the bathing suit thief. We used the balcony to dry off our scuba gear most days, but usually took everything in overnight. When we left my sweetie’s bathing trunks and (expensive brand new) rash guard pinned to the railing overnight however, they were both gone the next morning. They even took the plastic clothespins! Foolishly, we left his second bathing suit tied to a chair on the balcony the next night, and sure enough it was missing the next day too, despite the fact that someone would have had to climb onto the balcony while we slept to retrieve it. We reported both thefts to the reception desk, but nothing was done.
On our third day we realized that the balcony door (which was heavy and very hard to slide) wasn’t locking properly, and we reported this to the reception desk. That day they had someone come and install a sliding bolt mechanism into the floor in order to lock the door, but many times we returned to the room after the maid had cleaned to find that she had not locked the patio door. This was a bit worrisome given the thefts from someone willing and able to clamber onto our balcony from outside.
All in all, I would request a second floor room from now on if I were to book this resort again.
The resort was pretty small, so the grounds were easy enough to get around. There is a large pit or crater in the centre of the resort outside the buffet restaurant that is said to be inhabited by iguanas, but we didn’t see any there. There were lizards and frogs that made appearances from time to time. The resort definitely could use some TLC in terms of the overall appearance of green stuff though, and when it rained the stone paths could be quite slippery.
Mosquitoes are also a real problem here and they do fog for them. On our second evening, as I was hanging articles to dry on our balcony, I heard something that sounded like we were being buzzed by a helicopter, and I looked up to see a bi-plane headed directly for my nostrils. I shouted to my napping companion “it’s a bi-plane!” just as it singed my eyebrows and he opened one bleary eye when it zoomed back on the return trip and wondered whether a) he was still dreaming, b) he was (still) drunk, c) he had been time/space-shifted back to England, circa 1944, d) we were under attack by crop dusting anti-Castro Floridians. I guess the moral of this story is to get inside quickly so as not to breathe in large quantities of the fumigation gas when you hear the plane approach... and possibly to drink less in the afternoon. ;)
Beach and pool
The beach was small but big enough from our perspective. There were no towel war type games being played where folks tried to reserve chairs that they weren’t actively using, and we always seemed to be able to get chairs in the shade when we needed them. The same was true around the pool in the afternoon. Everyone was pretty civilized.
There wasn’t great snorkeling directly from this beach, but when we snorkeled to the west, toward the international clinic and spa, we did see some amazing things.
We spent some time at the main beach because we were scuba diving and I would say that by comparison, the beach at the Villa just as nice and was far less crowded. Of course, the best beach we saw on our trip was Pilar Beach on Cayo Guillermo.
The pool was small but generally not crowded. It only got to 1.5 meters deep at one area, with a wading pool for kids off to the side - it isn’t a pool for swimming laps. It was well maintained and enjoyed full sun during the day. There were loungers under palapas surrounding the pool for shade. Some of the lounge chairs and plastic chairs around the pool were pretty battered though. One night a brittle chair collapsed when my sweetie was sitting in it (ouch!) and many loungers had rusted and broken metal supports and seemed untrustworthy. The pool bar isn’t of the swim-up variety, but you could wade from the pool directly to steps that took you to the bar, so it wasn’t much of a hardship to refill your thermal mug with fresh cervesa.
Restaurants, bar(s) – and (evil) taxis!
OK, so this was a bit of a disappointment from our perspective. To begin with the dining tables in the buffet were very low with wooden struts that hung even lower meaning that anyone older than 10 had difficulty getting their legs under the table comfortably. The chairs were also designed for Lilliputians.
The food wasn’t bad exactly, it just wasn’t great. Because it’s such a small place, you serve yourself from the buffet for salads, deserts and appetizers but you order a main course from a choice of 2 or 3 items on a menu. Our first night one of the two choices was beef heart and the second was the only bad roast pork I’ve ever had in Cuba. Breakfast, which is usually the best meal of the day, contained no fresh juice ever, no bacon worth eating (if at all), no sausages, bread that was usually stale from sitting out uncovered, butter pats that were near impossible to open, no toaster, no cappuccino unless you got it from the bar (and the machine did break one day, which meant no coffee at all) and very little fresh fruit. We didn’t starve though, and for lunch I looked forward to the feta-like cheese cubes and marinated left-overs as well as the occasional feed of shrimp dripping in tomato sauce. We found out by accident that you could order lobster for $16 CUC at the front desk one day. You pay when you order, and then you are issued a ticket to redeem at dinner on the night and time of your choosing. It was a huge feed and well worth it! Oh, and the ice cream was varied, plentiful, non-caloric (just kidding!) and heavenly. I didn’t lose any weight on this trip.
I wouldn’t bother with the Italian a la carte restaurant at the Villa again, which was really just a little room that reminded me of a moldy cottage. The food wasn’t much different than the buffet, although the lasagna was good. It’s only open Tues-Thursday and is by reservation.
A couple of times we treated ourselves to fries at the pool bar and once to pizza. We brought malt vinegar from home, and the fries were sufficiently decadent. The pizza was pretty plain, but edible. I saw hamburgers being served and once tried a traditional Cuban sandwich made with untraditional processed ham – yuck! The drinks at the bar were somewhat limited, but what you’d expect. Lots of Cristal beer, good Spanish coffees after dinner, Daiquiris and Pina Coladas made by hand. There were Mojitos only when mint was available (two or three times) and the dark rum and pineapple drinks were made with reconstituted pineapple powder (in the pineapple capital of Cuba, no less!) and never with really dark rum. Oddly, there was no wine available at the bar, only at the restaurant with lunch or dinner, and no mixed drinks were available at the restaurant.
As a result of the limited dining options at the hotel, we booked the three a la carte restaurants at the sister Oasis hotel. A previous review mentioned that it was difficult to book these restaurants, but our rep told us in advance when the reservations agent from the Oasis would be at our resort. It wasn’t a convenient time for us, so we took the local bus to the Oasis in order to use their cadeca to change money (better exchange rate!), and we just got in the lineup in the lobby and had no difficulty booking the a la cartes with the rest of the Oasis guests. You can do it any day. We arranged taxis to go to these restaurants at the desk at the Villa. Our second night (Sunday) we went to the Japanese restaurant and although we did as the rep suggested and booked the taxi that morning at the reception desk, when we arrived at the lobby to meet the cab we were told that there are never taxis available on Sundays. The guy working at the desk was very eager to help however, and so he called around and found a guy with a tour bus who picked us up in time for our reservation and returned us at 10pm for the standard $15CUC round trip taxi fare.
The next time we were not so lucky. The rep advised us never to pay the cabs in advance or pay them part of the fare when they drop you at the Oasis, but to pay them the full amount when they return you to the Villa. She also advised to make sure that the cab driver understands when to pick you up after dinner before you get in the cab. Well, we did that on the Thursday we planned to go to the seafood restaurant. The cab finally arrived to pick us up nearly 30 minutes late, but we confirmed our return time with him before getting into the cab. When we got to the Oasis he demanded $10CUC and told us to get out of the cab, refused to pick us up later and insisted that the procedure was for us to order a taxi from the front desk at the Oasis for our return. If I had known what was to follow I would have told him just to take us back and refused to pay him, but my sweetheart paid the money and we went to the desk to order a return cab and then had an altogether forgettable meal at the Oasis seafood restaurant. I think their buffet might have been better – we went to the buffet once for lunch, and it was quite good actually. So, when we checked at the desk to see whether they had a return taxi for us, the answer was “no – there are no taxis, because they are all at the airport”. There was a flight late arriving from Canada and despite the fact that there are buses to take tourists to their hotels, some will try to take taxis to beat the rush. Since the taxis charge as much for this service (or more) than to shuttle tourists back and forth between the resorts they would prefer to wait at the airport. Nobody could persuade one to come for us, even after the bus had arrived at the hotel from the airport. After an hour of waiting, we called the emergency Sunwing number and the rep said he would try to find us one, and after another hour of waiting a minivan taking people to the cave nightclub stopped by to pick us up and they demanded $25CUC for the one-way trip back to our resort. The feeling of having been held captive for several hours and then fleeced – no, extorted - by these cab drivers stands out as the worst experience of our trip. We discussed it with the Sunwing reps the next day and they said that the cab company isn’t related to the resorts, but admitted that part of the arrangement between the Villa Oasis and Oasis Playa Coco is that there is supposed to be a cab available for shuttle services between the hotels at all times. They promised to do something to improve this service. We had two other dinners later in the week at the Oasis and both times we were picked up and returned promptly by a Cuban peso cab (same $15CUC fare).
The Italian restaurant at the Oasis Playa Coco served a nice, long-pants-wearing-worthy dinner. We actually got to go to the Japanese restaurant twice, and it was the best of the three by far. It was also a performance, and they were very professional about my sesame seed allergy. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves there. My only caution is to beware of other diners attempting to spear the chicken in the little game they play… No one wants a hot chicken filet in the face (or crotch!).
Travel to other resorts
There is a local bus that travels between all the hotels on Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo that leaves the Villa 6 or 7 times/day and returns as many times for a flat $5CUC charge each day, but the times are more frequent in the early and late parts of the day. The last bus returning to the Villa is at about 6pm. The Villa and Oasis hotels are next to each other and are only 10-15 minutes apart. You can’t get a taxi to take you one way between the resorts easily though, and if you get one the cost is between $10-15CUC. You can eat or drink anything at the Oasis Playa Coco, but although you can visit the tiendas (stores) in the other resorts, you will have to pay for anything you want to eat or drink and we were warned that it can be expensive. We got stuck at the Oasis once having just missed the 11:40am bus, until the next one came at 2:45pm, so plan your trip carefully. The store at the Oasis is much better than the Villa, but the best shopping was on the departures level after security at the Cayo Coco airport.
Scuba Diving and Excursions
The main purpose of our trip to Cayo Coco (in addition to relaxing) was to do some scuba diving. We have taken the NAUI open water course, but could not schedule our open water dive and so we are not certified divers. We decided to try to rectify this, and so we took the ACUC “scuba diver” course that takes two days to complete versus four days for the open water course. This was primarily for reasons of time and weather conditions (see my earlier diatribe about why it’s nice to get to see a rep on the first day of your vacation). It cost $180CUC each for this course and it included a written test as well as two dives. In fact, we managed to get three dives out of this because my partner developed a sinus condition and was unable to dive on our second outing. The first dive, at Las Coloradas, was about 12 meters and would have been spectacular, but the visibility was poor due to the previous two days of windy conditions. We did see sandfishes though. On the second dive at about 18 meters I had the great pleasure of seeing a green moray eel up close, as well as a king mackerel, a queen angelfish, French and gray angelfish, many large stoplight and rainbow parrot fish of both genders, a whole school of bluestriped grunts, black and Nassau groupers, squirrelfish, porkfish, rock beautys, butterflyfish as well as the typical wrasses, sergeant majors, yellow tail and Cubera snappers. On the third dive (about 15 meters) we also saw hogfish, a few rock hinds, royal grammas, dusky and yellow tail damselfish, blue chromis, and a school of blue tangs along with a small wreck that we explored. Overall the coral was in good condition and we didn’t see any debris or obvious signs of abuse.
The dive shop is located at the Tryp hotel and they arranged and paid for our round trip cabs on all the days we were diving. The dive shop was very professional and seemed to have just received new gear. They had brand new shorty wetsuits, BC’s and regulators. The only problem I observed with gear was that the wetsuits seemed to all be for men, and the two women we dived with were both quite petite and the wetsuits didn’t fit them at all in the shoulders; they were freezing the whole time. Also, if you are like me, and a bit arthritic, you will have trouble getting on and off the dive boat. Be prepared that there is no ladder, which isn’t such a big problem at shore, but getting back onto the boat after diving involves much yanking on the part of the boat crew! Dives seemed to cost $40CUC including gear and transportation, but the rates went down if you did repeated dives, stayed at the Tryp or had full gear. Two dives in the same day were $70CUC.
The only other excursion we took was to Pilar beach and Media Luna Island for snorkeling. The bus was meant to pick us up around 8:30am and brought us back around 4-4:30pm. It cost $49CUC each and included transportation to Cayo Guillermo, time on the beach, a speedboat ride to Media Luna, a short snorkeling excursion (20 minutes or so) and then a lobster lunch, followed by a return boat ride and more time at Playa Pilar. There was little instruction from the guide prior to entering the water and there were way too many people on the reef at once, most of whom didn’t have a clue that they were standing on delicate living structures. The island itself requires water shoes because of the thistles underfoot and many people cut themselves at the rough entry to the water, so be careful! There was also no ladder to get on and off the speedboat and people bigger and more arthritic than I am had a pretty tough time getting on and off the boat. You also have to be able to carry your gear above your head so it doesn’t get wet. The beach at Pilar was beautiful and I would have happily spent a day there just hanging out.
NJT Suitcase Delivery
For folks who don’t know what this is about, Debbie used to have a FAQ in her reviews about Not Just Tourists, but I couldn’t find it, so if you want to know more try http://www.njt-pqt.org or email me. We had been warned that Cayo Coco is an uncertain destination for taking humanitarian medical aid because the Cubans know that the nearest community is Moron, which is an expensive taxi ride from the resorts. As a consequence we were prepared to relinquish our bag to the officials at the airport, but nobody even asked to inspect our bag. They were far more interested in all the Easter candy we were carrying (marshmallow bunnies are quite a novelty apparently) and my partner’s portable photo printer. When I asked the rep about the best way to deliver our medical stuff she told me that the Cubans wanted us to take it to Ciego de Avila, not Moron, and not to a clinic, but to the offices of ICAP (Instituto Con Amistad de los Pueblos, or Institute for friendship with the peoples). We were a little disappointed not to be taking it directly to a clinic, but as we had arranged to visit friends in Ciego de Avila anyway (a certain 7 year old’s birthday party turned out to be the highlight of our trip!), and we had arranged a good taxi rate ($100CUC return) we did as they asked. The folks at ICAP spoke good English and were very pleased to see us. They said they would make sure the equipment and medicine got to the places that needed it most and asked that we email them if we come again with more things. I will pass the email information on to my NJT contacts in Ottawa and Toronto, so if you are planning on taking an NJT bag to this destination you might want to make sure the person you are picking up the suitcase from has emailed in advance about the logistics of your delivery. ICAP might pick up your bag(s) at the airport, which will save you the trip into Ciego de Avila if you weren’t planning on making one.
Animation and Miscellaneous
We missed music more than anything else at this resort. There was only live music once at the buffet restaurant on the second to last night, and a duo played for a few songs at the evening entertainment once in the 10 days we were there.
The nightly show was really every other night, and it consisted of dancing for between 30 minutes and 1 hour. The dancers were talented and we enjoyed their performances. There were only about 6 tables around the bar area where people would gather in the evening to watch the show and if you didn’t come early (by 9:00pm or so) you couldn’t always get a seat. Every other day the entertainment was a contest or bingo or other distraction around the pool/bar area. We usually hung around until 10:30 or 11:00pm. A couple of times the animation staff offered to take people to the cave nightclub departing around 11:00pm and returning around 2:00am – we’re too old for that, but folks we met said it was fun.
In the afternoons the dancers frequently rehearsed and there was Cuban pop music by the pool and the daily “dance lesson” was around 3:00pm. We usually lounged around the pool in the afternoon reading or floating in noodle chairs we brought from home.
The majority of tourists to this resort were French Canadians, but most staff spoke a bit of English as well as French. Animation was in all three languages. There were some families with kids, but the majority of travelers were in the 30-60 age range. The general ambience was pretty quiet and laid back. This is definitely not a big singles or party destination!
Don’t expect to find much at the tienda for this resort. It’s tiny, not reliably open, and only carries a very small selection of rum and snacks. It has a very poor selection of souvenirs and I don’t think we saw any common pharmaceutical remedies, like Tylenol or feminine hygiene products.
An unexpected bonus is that the international medical clinic for Cayo Coco and a large spa are located directly beside this resort. This is where we found sinus medication for my partner, and they seemed very well stocked. The spa offered many treatments, all reasonably priced. Massages there were the same $25CUC for an hour that was offered at the resort. I wish I had tried their services, but I did have a massage at the Villa resort. I don’t think I would do it again. The massage was not what I consider therapeutic, but was relaxation based, and my several requests for attention to particular areas around my neck and shoulders were ignored in favour of areas I did not wish massaged.
There was one computer available at a kiosk in the lobby with the usual slow-speed dial up access for $3CUC per 30 minutes. We didn’t use it, but saw someone there pretty much every day so it was working.
We brought children’s clothing, stuffed toys, Easter candy, pretty underwear, hosiery, over the counter medications and toiletries to give away, and all of this was appreciated. There were several staff expecting children and baby stuff would be gratefully received if you’re going in the near future. Diaper flannel is always a good thing to bring, along with diaper pins. If you want to know more about specific people and what they might need, send me an email. There is one man who is looking for medication for a kidney condition and if you are willing to take photos of the parrot to its owner we would be grateful.
We had a great vacation! I’m sure it doesn’t sound like it from reading my review, but mostly we had good weather, the Cuban people are almost without exception the warmest, most gracious and resourceful people I have ever encountered and we enjoyed their hospitality immensely. Would we go back to the Villa Oasis? If the price was right (less than $100CAD/day taxes in), yes we would. I’m not sure I would spend as much time trying to get to the Oasis unless the cab situation improved. I would ask for an ocean view room with a second floor balcony. I would bring a bathmat and some hand towels. I would arrange a slow and painful death for any fellow tourist who accompanied the musical trio by playing the spoons (drunkenly and badly) on the only evening we had live musical entertainment. And I would hope for a better mattress. All in all, we made friends among the staff and enjoyed the low key ambience of this resort. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com and I’ll do my best to answer them. We have a link here to photos, including one of the resort layout/map:
|Villas Oasis |
|Genny and Tony |
|My wife and I visited the Villas Oasis for two weeks over Xmas and New Year's Eve. This was our sixth trip to Cuba from Ottawa, and the second time to Cayo Coco. For the first time we booked through Sunwing Vacations, and as usual we did our search and booking exclusively online.
We were looking for a quieter spot to relax but with the option of having a few nights out at other restaurants and resorts. The Villas, with just 48 rooms, seemed what we were seeking as Sunwing advertised that we could also use all the facilities and restaurants at the Oasis Playa Coco.
The flights to and from Cuba had less cramped seating and far better food than others we had taken, but the outbound flight was delayed nearly 4 hours and the return left some 3 hours late. In addition Sunwing neglected to ensure that the bar was on board the return flight. Immigration formalities at Jardines del Rey was as slow as usual, but painless. The short bus ride to the Villas was pleasant, and registration was swift and hospitable.
Our room was large, half of a pretty bungalow, reasonably well appointed, and right on the ocean with a lovely view. It was certainly more than we had expected at what was advertised as a 3 star resort. When we arrived there were only two dozen guests at the hotel, but by the New Year there were about 100. We learned that the hotel had previously been called the Villas Gaviotas and that it had been closed for some 7 months prior to being reopened just 3 or 4 days before our arrival. It is currently used only by Sunwing.
The lobby was well appointed and decorated with many potted plants and a large bar. Unfortunately this bar remained closed for our entire visit, but the bar at the pool was well stocked and the service and snacks it provided were excellent. The beach bar consisted of a single 2 litre pop bottle that the lifeguard refilled at the pool bar with draft beer.
The beach was large and totally private with sufficient chairs and shade for some 20 people, but lots of room for others who just wanted to stroll or were content to lie on the sand. The pool was a good size for the number of chairs around it, about 30, and it was well maintained. The landscaping around the pool and the rooms showed the lack of attention of the previous 7 months when the resort was closed, and it was clear that the cattle that roam the island and the horses from the Krystal that use the nearby trails had used the lawns and footpaths a little too well, and too often. Regrettably, no effort was made to clean up the evidence and we had to be careful where we walked.
The hotel has a buffet restaurant and a 10 to 12 seat a la carte restaurant. Both serve just about the identical menu. The only difference is that the a la carte had nicer flatware, linen and china, and is candle lit, and that you do not have to serve yourself the salad and dessert. The buffet served the main course from a menu of usually three items, with the salads, pasta, rice and desserts available for self-service. Unfortunately both restaurants had difficulties in reopening and in ramping up over a few days to serve a full complement of guests. They ran out of coffee beans after a couple of days, the bread was often stale, the orange juice was rancid for a few days, and if you tried for a later breakfast, lunch or dinner, at best the choice was very limited and frequently there was no main course to be had. On the positive side, if you arrived early, ordered the main course immediately, and grabbed a dessert at the same time as the salad, the food was reasonably tasty and well prepared.
Noting the problems with the food we went to the Oasis Playa Coco on several occasions, but far fewer times than we wanted. There were four problems limiting our visits. The Playa is some 12 km from the Villas. The local bus had a 'maybe' schedule (maybe it will come and maybe it wont). Some days cabs were available and some days they were not...even at 10 peso each way. And the only way to book at an a la carte restaurant at the Playa was through a representative of that hotel who came to the Villas occasionally on an unscheduled basis. The meals we had at the Playa were excellent.
During the first week of our stay the water for showering, flushing, or even drinking was off for long periods on four consecutive days, and no alternative provisions for basic hygiene were provided. In addition, throughout our stay there were frequently no towels ( clean or used) in our room, and rarely any beach towels to be had.However, lining up at the laundry at 7 pm for a towel enabled us to meet lots of interesting people.
The 'animation' staff were delightful and tried hard to do there best with the limited resources available.
In summary, we would not recommend this resort.