Thursday, March 13, 2014

Paradisus Rio de Oro Resort & Spa, Holguin, Cuba

We traveled to Paradisus Rio de Oro Resort & Spa, in October 2012. The package was with Air Canada Vacations. The flight was not convinient, as it was with a stop-over in Montreal. The total package price was around $1200 per person. 

Our experience at this resort was amazing. The resort definitely stands up to 5 Star standards, at least in comparison to the other resorts in Cuba. The quality varies greatly from the 3* and 4* resorts in Cuba.

Upon arrival, cocktails were served (although we arrived in the middle of the night) by a friendly staff member. As usual, the check-in at the counter was pretty slow. We arrived too late for dinner, but there were snacks (hot dogs, burgers, veggies and fruits) available at the main bar. Also, the resort offers a limited food menu for room service - so we ordered a few items to the room.

The lobby area of the resort is very nice and spacious. It has lots of lounge sitting area, as well as coffee tables and a snack station which has some light drinks and snacks 24/7. It also has some billiard tables which are in great condition. As there are several billiard tables, there usually isn't a long wait to use one.
Lobby area
The regular rooms/suites are very large, spacious, nicely designed and most importantly, clean. The only downside to our room is that it would definitely benefit from renovations. Also, we saw that some rooms on the ground floor have an outdoor shower. Ours did not. 
The resort is on a cliff, so to get down to the beach you have to go down a flight of stairs, which are not very maintained - this may be a problem for some as it did not seem like the beach is wheelchair accessible. The beach itself is wonderful with white sand, cleaned daily. There is a great opportunity for snorkeling right off the beach. It gets deep pretty close to sure, with plenty of corals and colorful fish. Facing the ocean, you could walk along the beach in the left direction, passing by another nearby resort.
Paradisus Rio de Oro from the beach
The resort has a very nice large pool - which is surrounded by beach chairs as well as outdoor beds with mattresses, for total relaxation (but don't forget to bring some towels to lay on).
Main pool area, with beach sitting and beds
There are outdoor whirlpools as well, one right by the pool, and another a bit further away from the pool, just by the edge of the cliff.
Secluded whirlpool by the cliff
One of the best aspects of this resort is the food. The options are endless, and the quality is amazing. With so many options, the food never got boring, even after having spent a week at the resort.

The main buffet restaurant was excellent, with a huge variety of foods to choose from. The meals were not repetitive at all. For lunch/dinner, there was a made-to-order cooking station for seafood and meat, which consisted of a variety of meats and fish/seafood to choose from (our favorite was the red snapper). Of course there was always pizza, a variety of mains, side dishes, salads, fruits, desserts, etc. I think it is impossible for anyone to not be satisfied at this buffet. In comparison to other resorts in Cuba, this one was absolutely amazing!
Colorful meal at the main Buffet restaurant
A-la-carte restaurants at the resort include the Oriental restaurant 'Tsuru', Cuban restaurant 'El Bohío', International restaurant 'Los Helechos' and Mediterranean restaurant 'Mediterráneo'. All 4 provide excellent dining experiences and unique atmospheres. The Oriental Japanese restaurant was very special - consisting of large tables (where you sit with strangers) with live Teppanyaki stir-fry cooking by a very enthusiastic and friendly chef.
Teppanyaki chef at 'Tsuru' Oriental a-la-carte restaurant
The Snacks restaurant 'La Laguna' by the pool was excellent as well. It had an assortment of options, ranging from pizzas, wraps, salads, burgers, and cakes and tropical fruit for dessert.
Delicious pizza at 'La Laguna' pool restaurant
The Snacks restaurant 'Santa Maria' by the beach was great as well, with a small but satisfying menu, consisting of various fish/meat, sandwiches, salads and soups choices. This restaurant is sometimes open for a special 'romantic' dinner which is part of some packages. However, we didn't think that dinner was anything overly special in comparison to the other a-la-carte options at the resort.
Beef dish at Snacks restaurant 'Santa Maria'
There are 4 bars at the resort; a pool bar, lobby bar, main bar and beach bar. At all of them, service and drinks were excellent. The barmen are very attentive and won't keep you waiting for long.
Fresh cappuccino and mojito at the beach bar
Activities at the resort include non-motorized water sports (pedal boats, windsurfing), outdoor yoga lessons, darts, bow and arrow, rum tasting, over-sized chess, etc. The entertainment team is very friendly and enthusiastic; they really seem to love their job and do it well.
Outdoor yoga area
There is also nightly entertainment at the lobby, which is actually very impressive. Performances included piano playing, followed by a dance/theatrical performance, every night after dinner. It seemed like the crew puts a lot of effort into these performances, as the results are excellent. All guests seemed to be entertained and enjoy the shows.

There are some organized trips outside of the resort, to Holguin and such. However, as we already visited this area of Cuba before, we did not go on any trips during this trip. We stayed at the resort, and took long walks on the beach and main roads to surrounding rural areas.

This resort is also famous for its private "royal service" area. This area is restricted. They have their own 'private' beach and spa centre. This beach is a bit of a walk from the main resort area, and can be used by the regular resort area guests as well. It's very secluded and romantic.

In summary, I would highly recommend this resort. I hope you choose this wonderful resort for your upcoming vacation!

Please leave any feedback and questions. Looking forward to hear about your experiences at the resort!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Brisas Covarrubias, Puedro Padre, Cuba

We traveled to Brisas Covarrubias in December 2010, over the Christmas Holidays. Found an awesome deal, from Montreal, at just $600 CAD including tax. The tour operator was HolaSun, and it was our first experience with them. The flight left with about an hour delay, in the afternoon.

The flight was pretty bumpy due to strong winds, and we arrived in Holguin airport at around 8PM, later than expected. The checks at Holguin airport went by quickly, but once loaded on the bus to the hotel, we had to wait quite a while for all passengers to get on the bus. We finally left the airport for a long ride, just under 2.5 hours, to Brisas Covarrubias. The way was really dark so we didn't really see much - but the road was extremely bumpy at times, but bearable.

When we got to the hotel at about 11:30PM, nothing was going on to welcome the new guests. In the lobby there were only a few hotel workers and there was only one worker in the front desk to check everyone in. Our bus was full, so check-in took over an hour. Once we got the keys to our room, we were walked there (in the dark, no real lighting at some areas of the hotel) by a worker. Once we arrived at our room, which was at the back end of the hotel, we realized that the magnetic keys did not work. The worker said he cannot do anything, and told us to take the keys back to the reception. We went back and asked them to fix our keys, but they said the keys were fine, and that the problem was in the door lock itself. They promised to send someone to fix it. We waited in the lobby, it looked like nobody was coming. After arguing with the guy at the front desk for about an hour, he finally asked a worker to fix our door. We were finally let into our room, and the lock was fixed. Now, it was almost 1AM, and since the restaurant closes there at 9PM, only the snack bar was open. They served some pineapple and oranges, and small sandwiches. Nothing impressive, nobody really ate anything, just took a few drinks and went to bed.

All the rooms of the hotel are situated in 2-storey buildings. To our surprise, we got an ocean-view room on the second floor, at the back end of the hotel. The room was very spacious, and seemed in pretty good condition. There was a large balcony with an ocean-view. You could actually hear the waves at night.

The room also had a mini-fridge, which was equipped only with a 1.5L water bottle upon arrival, which was never restocked. Our room also had 2 double beds instead of a king bed, and every time we requested the change, the front desk worker told us that many excuses about why he cannot change our room, each time a different excuse, so we didn't bother. The only downside in the room was that it was not cleaned well (upon our arrival), stains and dust everywhere, especially on the bathroom and sink. The rest of the week the room didn't seem to get any cleaner (despite tips/gifts).

Another important point about this hotel is that because it is isolated, the water containers are transported by trucks to the hotel. The hotel is not connected to a water system. So, at some times, the water either runs out or the hotel turns it off in order to save the water, and you are left with no water whatsoever in the room/lobby. So many complaints were reported to the management regarding the water, but nobody seemed to care - not sure if they had any control over it.

The food at the main restaurant was pretty good. Sometimes they ran out of some fruits (guava and papaya mostly) but there was always something to eat. Breakfast consisted of a made-to-order eggs (with toppings), fresh bread, a narrow selection of cereal, yogurt, juice, fruit, and desserts. A simple salad bar (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, spinach) with a variety of dressings, a few choices for a meat/fish (chicken/pork/lamb/swordfish/etc.), rice, etc. There was usually pizza (one sort) for lunch, and there was always pasta for dinner (make-to-order with your choice of toppings) and usually one kind of soup too. The food was generally very filling and pretty delicious for Cuba. It got a bit repetitive though. One downside about the restaurant is that it isn't large enough to accommodate all the people at the hotel at the same time, so even though the hotel was not full when we were there, they locked the restaurant when it got full during dinner, and people had to form a lineup outside, by the locked restaurant door, waiting for tables to get free to get in.

The snack bar which is open 24 hours serves hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, and fries. It was really good. The pool bar right beside it is open 24 hours as well. The only down side to the bar is that they do not make pina colada from scratch - they use the pre-made slushie instead and just add the rum and liquor to it. The espressos and cappuccinos at the pool bar were great as well! There's also a swim-up bar in the pool, which was not crowded at all, nobody really swam in the pool - everyone preferred the ocean.

The beach bar is open for lunch from noon to 3, and has a small a-la-carte lunch menu, which includes soup, hotdogs, hamburgers, fries, salad, and fruit. It's open-air, practically on the beach, and really is a pleasant place to eat if the weather's nice. The drinks at the beach bar are the same as at the lobby/pool bar, except they do not serve espressos or cappuccinos there.

The a-la-carte restaurant is located by the beach bar. Most people get 1 dinner per stay, but you could reserve another dinner if there is availability. Each night there's a different theme (alternates between italian and seafood). We went for the seafood dinner which was pretty good, a 3-course meal, but most of the food at the a-la-carte is exactly the same as in the main restaurant, but with a smaller selection. Anyhow it's a nice change!

The hotel has a beautiful, white sand beach. On one side of the beach there's a lagoon with mangroves. You could go on adventures there too (by foot or by boat, we did both).

The hotel offers non-motorized water sports: kayaks and pedal boats. Also catamaran in included in the all-inclusive stay, just ask one of the lifeguards and they'll take you on a short trip.

You could basically go walking either way from the hotel, it's really secluded, there's nothing surrounding it, just one road that runs parallel to the beach, and you could just walk on the white sandy beaches that get rocky in times, for however long you like.

Activities at the hotel included stretching at the beach, bingo at around 3PM, archery (which was really fun!), dance lessons, "silly" games, Spanish lessons, and activities for kids. There weren't many participants for most activities, so that made them a bit less exciting. The entertainment team is pretty small, and not exceptional (compared to an entertainment team like the one in Brisas Santa Lucia which is just fabulous!). But they do their job!

You can get a beach towel for free (and replace it whenever you like) from a designated spot, which also provides chess, dominoes, tennis rackets (pretty bad condition), ping pong rackets, and a basketball. There are very outdated basketball and tennis courts, but they do their job.

There's also a disco with drinks included, located right by the mangroves, which opens at 10PM every night. Not many people went there during our stay.

This is a great hotel if you're looking for relaxation. There isn't much going on, but you will definitely enjoy your time there if you know what to expect. Also the service is anywhere close to 5* or even a 4* but if that's not the most important aspect for you then you will just ignore the service and focus on better things that this hotel has to offer!

Please ask if you have any questions or if you'd just like to hear more about anything about the hotel!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hotel La Castellana, Lima, Peru

We stayed at Hotel La Castellana in Lima for 3 nights, on the first night and on the last two nights of our 3-week trip in Peru. It was a quiet, no-frills hotel, perfect for a short stay in Lima.

The room was large, and the bed was really just HUGE, as you can see.

We got a room with a balcony overlooking the hotel's courtyard, because the hotel was not too full at the time.

The washroom was nice as well, looked like it was renovated pretty recently, and very clean too.

The breakfast at the hotel was very good, and included boiled or scrambled eggs (unlike most others hotels we stayed at, where that was not available).
We would definitely recommend this hotel for a short stay. It is conveniently located in a central location. The main road is about a 2 minute walk from the hotel, from where you can take public transport and find many shops/restaurants/casinos/internet cafes and anything else you might be looking for. You can take the road down to the sea, leading you to the Miraflores Shopping centre overlooking the sea.

Please feel free to ask me any questions!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Brisas Santa Lucia, Camaguey, Cuba

Have you visited Brisas Santa Lucia?

We traveled to Cuba and stayed on an all-inclusive vacation at Brisas Santa Lucia in Camaguey, for 7 days. We booked with Nolitours, for just under $1000 including tax in the peak December holiday season.
The evening flight went smoothly, leaving and arriving on time. It took a while to get through customs and get everyone organized to take the bus. The bus ride from the airport to the hotel was very bumpy, but fun!
When we arrived at the hotel, we were welcomed by the entertainment crew, who were dancing and singing and serving welcome drinks. The check-in went pretty smoothly, no major delays. One of the hotel workers led us to our room and helped us with our luggage, showed us the room, and ensured the TV was working. We got a room on the ground floor, which had 2 double beds - we went back to the reception and asked for a King-sized bed, but were told that it was not possible to fulfill our request. The room itself was large with a nice bathroom with tub. It was in an excellent location, we were at one of the buildings closest to the beach. After getting settled, we went to the buffet for a late dinner - suprisingly, there was plenty of food, and a good variety too.

View from our room at Brisas Santa Lucia

During our stay we were taking advantage of the wonderful weather, we had sunshine almost always. Never rain, but cloudy on a few occassions. Hanging out by the pool was always fun - the pool is large and has a swim-up bar, and there is some entertainment going on in the pool area, so the pool is definetely a place to relax during the day.

Pool with swim-up bar at Brisas Santa Lucia

We also used many of the different non-motorized water sports available at the hotel. We went kayaking and used the pedal-boats from which we got a chance to snorkel in deeper water, where we got to see plenty of starfish. There is some sort of a reef situated right off the beach of the hotel. Even when we snorkelled right off the beach, there were always some interesting corals and fishes around.

The hotel advertised that it had wind-surfing, but at the time we were there, the only wind-surf at the hotel was broken, so we were directed to the next hotel to use theirs, which worked out just fine.

The food at the hotel was very good. As I said, there was always a lot of variety in the buffet. For breakfast there was always an option of getting scrambeled eggs with your choice of vegetables and other add-ons. For lunch and dinner there were a few meat dishes, as well as sides and a salad bar, and also a pizza bar where you could get a personal pizza, made-to-order with your choice of toppings. At all meals there were always fresh fruit available (papaya, bananas, mango, etc.), and you could get shakes made out of those as well.
We attended the Christmas Gala dinner (on December 24) which was wonderful! There was a lot more variety and special dishes than on the regular days, and a holiday atmosphere was truly created.

One of the unique meals at the Christmas Gala Dinner

There is also a beach bar at the hotel which offers hot-dogs, burgers, and fries. That was also a delicious option, especially when you want to stay around the beach for lunch.

Typical meal at the Beach Bar

There are 3 a-la-carte restaurants at the hotel: Italian, Cuban, and Seafood. We made reservations for all three, and they were all great. There were also live bands playing in those restaurants.
All the drinks at the hotel were good too. The alcohol was cheap like everywhere else in Cuba, so you cannot expect high quality, but the coctails still turn out good. Pina colada and sex-on-the-beach seemed like everyone's favourites there - they were delicious.
The hotel staff was great, always happy to help. There was nightly entertainment shows on the designated entertainment stage, each night with some different kind of show - some were very very good, some involved audience interaction as well. There were usually parties at the disco after the nightly entertainment too.

We took a trip for an extra cost to visit a crocodile farm nearby. About 7 people in total went on the trip that day, and we were taken in a mini-van, which had no seat-belts, but did its job. On the way to the crocodile farm, we visited a Violin factory and actually saw the artists making the violins (very neat work!). We also visited an old non-functional sugar-mill factory. At the crocodile farm, everybody got a chance to hold a baby-crocodile, and walk through a space surrounded by tens of crocodiles (which was pretty horrifying at first). To add to the thrill, you could get a chance to touch or sit on one of the crocodiles (the workers there basically tie up the jaw of the crocodile and hold it in place.

Crocodile at the farm, ready to be approached by tourists

We also went on a snorkelling trip which was included through Nolitours in the package. We visited a coral reef, which was pretty shallow, and saw many different corals and sealife. It was very nice and worthwhile.
On our last night at the hotel, there was a small "goodbye" get-together on the beach for our group. The entertainment staff made a special good-bye show, and to everyone's surprise - they even had fireworks going off - from the ocean water (a few meters off the shore), just to say good-bye!

Overall, I can say that staying at Brisas Santa Lucia was definetely a positive experience for us. We loved the resort and everything about our vacation. We hope to go back one day, and strongly recommend anyone looking for a great vacation to consider this resort! you will not regret it!

Feel free to post any questions about the resort here, and share your experience!