viernes, 30 de diciembre de 2011

VI Hotel Riu Varadero

I Introduction

The Riu is a nice hotel, it's suppose to be like a 4 star hotel, but there are some stuff missing. My main reason of choosing the hotel was that the price was great comparing it to other 4 star hotels. And the facilities were totally new
So here is my review, already posted in

This hotel is kind of a mix. Because its a new hotel their amenities are in very good but also the service sometimes is not that great.

Check in/Check out
Both of them took less than 3 minutes. At the check in, the lady just gave us the keys and a map of the city. It was after that our driver, that took us in a gold cart, explained us more about the resort. We were also offered drinks at the check in
4.5 out of 5 points

It disappointed me. The whole resorts is very nice and new but it seems that not a lot of effort was put into the rooms. They were 2 beds and a sofa bed which was hard as a rock. The tv does offer plenty of channels. There is also a mini bar which is stocked with free sodas, beers and bottles of water. The bathroom was ok, never had a problem with the hot water, but the toilet did not functioned and we had to call someone to fix it. So it does offers all the basics a hotel room needs but it's just very basic and they seem a bit old.
The only "mayor" problem was that 2 times a frog came into the room. Although the first time we handled it, the second time we had a bit of a problem and we were not going to sleep in a room were a frog was jumping around. (And if a frog was there, god know what else could be there). So we called for help and although we solved the problem, the guy laughed at us as we were exaggerating.
So just saying, a hotel which was built in 2009 and have "old" rooms, it's not the best thing
I give 3.9

Because its an All Included Hotel, the food quality isn't excellent but it is quite good. There is a general buffet restaurant and 5 more specialty restaurants. The buffet was almost the same every day, except for Christmas, and the food was good, but not the desserts. The breakfast was the same every day, which of you are planning to stay for more than 5 nights, it kind of s%cks. And for the Specialty restaurants... Well I was lucky enough to get a reservation for only 1. Because I stayed only 4 nights, and you have to make reservations one day before, there was nothing available. But the lady "got" us a place at the seafood restaurant which was very good, but Im sure the others are better.
So for being All Included, the food quality is good
I give 4.2 pts

This resort is big and it has a lot to offer. The main pool has activities the whole day long, which are kind of fun. There is also a bar and plenty of available chairs around the pool (not like in other reviews).
There is also a "relaxing" pool, which is more like a boring pool for older people. There is a kids club and tennis courts but we did not used them. The walk to the beach is long, at least from the rooms at the relaxing pool is about a 7 minutes walk! So ask for a room near the MAIN pool. The beach, although is nice, it's very small, not even 20 meters. All of the amenities are in very good shape and are examples of a 4 star hotel
4.4 pts

It's bad. The hotel is located at the very end of the Strip, although its 1 mile away from the end point. If you want to go downtown, it will take you 15-20 minutes and it costs 15 CUC one way! I spent more on a taxi than on the restaurant. You can also take the red bus which stops outside the hotel and costs 5 CUc pp all day long. But you might end up waiting the bus up to 22 minutes.
Is it the worst location? No, but it's not a good one either.
3.8 pts

Some people are very nice and helpful, but others are sleepy with an attitude of "do it yourself". For example, the waiters at the restaurants are very lazy, I even asked the chef if they had a cheesecake and his answer was : You can check over there, were the desserts are. But I actually asked him because there are no signs at the buffet. But most of the people are hardworking and have a good attitude.
4 pts

Sorry frog, you can't come with us, we aint going to Miami :)

Cuba is not cheap, it's actually the most expensive island in the Caribbean, and Varadero is probably the most expensive city in Cuba. For my dates, all the hotels were very expensive. The Riu was at the same rates as some of other 3 star hotels. So what was my rate? 240 USD per night for 3 people, so it is a normal rate an actually good considering that it's a "4 star hotel" and everything is included. But I wouldn't stay here if it was more than 260 USD per night.
So for Cuba standards, this hotel was worth it.

The hotel is pretty and in good conditions. 80% of the time service was very good but there is still something missing so it can be a real 4 star hotel. But remember that is Cuba.

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VI Day 1 in Varadero

I Introduction

Let's put in simple words: It was a relaxing day.
Varadero is not like Cancun, there is not really a town. You can find a street full of cuban artwork and souvenirs but thats about it.

So the whole day we decided to relax by the pool and the small beach.
But because we are not big fans of the buffet we decided to have dinner at the Casa Nostra. Which is supposed to be the best restaurant in Varadero. It was good but I'm pretty sure there are better.
The only complaint about the hotel, is that it's at the very end of the Strip so a roundtrip taxi to the small town costs about 30 CUC, and dinner was 25 CUC.

miércoles, 28 de diciembre de 2011

V Day 3 and 4 in HAV

We started the day a bit late but after having breakfast we were off to see some of the tourist attractions we were missing.
Our first destination was the Rum Factory. We were told by Alex that the factory was working but he was wrong. The factory was closed because of the holidays but a small souvenir store, a rum shop and a cigar store were open.

We then went to a big market full of Cuban artwork and souvenirs at great prices, where we were asked by a very gentile old woman if we had any toothpaste or medicine, and indeed we did, so we told her to meet us outside the hotel in the afternoon.
For lunch we picked El Mercurio which is a pretty restaurant with good food but higher prices.
And after we headed to the "Camara Obscura" in which you see great views of all Havana.Later we rest and met with the old lady we went to "Fortaleza de San Carlos" to see the cañonazo. This typical event is a must. It is a representation of the old times and you can see it every day at 8:30. But be sure to arrive 45 minutes later, to see the "house" of the Che Guevara and the souvenir market and get a good place to watch the show. You can even pay 3 CUC to enter a "VIP" place where you can get drinks, snacks and a good view of the show.
But unfortunately we had dinner at the worst restaurant of the city: the Bodegon. It's also located in the Fortaleza but offers bad food, my lobster was rotten and the chef said it tasted good, and there was a small cockroach on the plate. So don't eat here.

Day IV
Although we departed from Havana around 12:00 we still went to the "Museo de la Revolucion" and I was a bit disappointed. This is suppose to be the museum that shows all the good things from Cuba and should explain all the events during the Cuban Revolution pretty well, but it didn't. Although the building is very nice, it's just a collection of photographs and clothes from the revolution. The only information provided is about the photos or the clothes and it's not very clear. And their car/plane collection is nice but a bit small. But the best part were these images

Ronald Reagan, George H.W Bush and George Bush

After the museum, a taxi organized by Jorge took us to Varadero. Although Varadero is just 150 km away from Havana, it takes 2 hours to get there. The main reason is that the average speed is about 85 km/hr. And we were in a Hyundai Accent but we never went faster than 100km/hr (60 miles per hour). The highway is in very good conditions and the views are extraordinary.
We arrived at the Riu Varadero which is almost at the end of the strip around 2 pm.
We settled in our room few minutes later and went to have lunch at their buffet.
So because Varadero is like a Cuban Cancun, one of the must is to relax at the pool and at the beach. And that's what we did the whole afternoon. And of course like many All Included hotels in the world, they offered an entertainment show. Each night was different, and this one was a Cuban show. And although it did entertained us, it wasn't as great.

lunes, 26 de diciembre de 2011

III Hotel Parque Central

I Introduction

This is probably the best hotel in all Havana. Cuban standards may not be that high but if this hotel was to be in a city in the US it will be a 4 star hotel. I will describe my visit in parts

Check in/Check Out
I stayed at the new hotel but arrived at the old part. When I arrived a a guy opened the door, and I asked him if I could change currency, but he thought I was not a guest so he just told me no in a very impolite way, then he saw my bag and he was just embarrassed.
Then I walked all the way through a tunnel to the other side of the hotel. The check in there was fast and so the check out.
4.5 points out of 5 points

I'm sure that the rooms at the new part are the only hotel rooms build in this century. The design is basic but modern and it offers all the necessities you need. It has a small hd tv with a working desk and a so so comfortable bed.
The things I did not liked was the small space to put our clothes and a very weird bathroom. The shower doesn't has a door and there is a window in front of the bed.
Another negative point was that all of the furniture, even the closets, were dirty. And the view was not great.
And a big hint: DON'T TAKE THE WATER FROM THE MINI BAR, just go out of the hotel take a right and cross the Paseo del Prado there is a small grocery store with bottle of waters for only 40 cents!
4.6 out of 5

In my own opinion, the location is great. It's just next to the Central Park/Capitolio and the Paseo del Prado, in conclusion, the hotel it's in a very nice zone. It's also blocks away from Obispo Street and the Plaza Vieja with the best coffe shop: Cafe Escorial.
5 out of 5

The hotel, at least the new part, offers free breakfast. The buffet basically has cereal, cheese and ham, rice with milk, juices, coffee, and a chef that can do you several types of eggs.
There is also an ice-cream "store" but they are not that good. The bar at the old part is great, specially in the afternoons where you can enjoy the live music
My only complaint was the the very short room service menu, they only have 3 salads and 2 snacks.

Both pools are nice. The one at the new part is more much calmer and slightly bigger. The other one it's a bit more crowded but offers great views of the Capitolio.
I did not used the business center, because this hotel is one of the very few hotels in all Havana to have wi fi. They will sell you an ETECSA wi fi card, ( 1 hour 8 CUC, 5 hours 35 CUC) but you can only use it at the lobby of the old hotel.
There are also computers for you to use but more expensive.

Service was great, Cuban people are very courteous and hard working people. I did not had any problem with any employee, from the porter to the front desk clerk to the waiter, they were all absolutely great.
My only small complaint was the impolite porter at the old section.

It was around 240 USD per night, a bit expensive, but this is because we were 3 people and in the reservation it was marked only 2, so make sure to book your reservation with the exact number of people to don't get higher prices.
All of the other "5 star hotels" will be cheaper but they will not be as nice as this one. The only rival is the Saratoga which is an old hotel, very very pretty but extremely expensive. The Nacional is a nice historic hotel but it's ... old.
The price for other things, except the mini bar, was appropriate. I think that the rate I paid was more than appropriate and after all, it is the best hotel in all Havana, even the Air France ladies and "hot" Virgin Atlantic ladies come here.

Overall.. A 5 star or a 4 star?
It depends.. If you are based on Cuban standards this will be a 5 star hotel right away. But if this hotel was to be in a US city, the new part would be a 4 star hotel and I'm pretty sure the old part too.
If you want the best hotel with with all the basics you need, great service and a good location then this the hotel.

Get a good cell phone package. If you
dont find a cheap one, you can get a cellphone (25 CUC) and rent a line (3 CUC per day) and you can receive calls for free (1.20 CUC to USA)

View from the pool

Old and New part

miércoles, 21 de diciembre de 2011

Day 1 and 2 in La Habana

Day 1
After waking up we headed to a Cadeca to change money and later we had breakfast at the hotel, which is included.
Then we met with Jorge and our tour guide at the lobby and started our first tour, a 4 hour walking tour in Old Havana.
Amaizing prices!

Our tour guide, Alex knew everything and more, he explained a lot of the history, architecture and more things found in this region. What I liked more about the tour was the flexibility of the tour, you can choose were you want to go.
We had lunch at Jardin del Oriente, which is very good typical Cuban food, specially the ropa Vieja, for great prices (menu)

For the dessert, we headed to the Cafe Escorial at the Plaza Vieja (old plaza), and if you happen to come , you have to eat the small chocolate/coffee candies and of course a Cuban coffee.

We then went back to the hotel and rest.

Day II

After our free breakfast we started our 3 hours tour with Alex in a car. We were able to see all of the rest of Havana and places such as :Monumento a Jose Marti, Hotel Nacional, Vedado, 5th Avenue, Malecon and more.

Beautiful parks.

We were able to learn a bit more about the daily Cuban life.
After the great tour we went back to the great restaurant Jardin del Oriente and walked around old Havana. We then had dinner at the Paladar Vista Mar in Miramar. Jorge organized this and took care of the transportation, a red old Buick convertible. And the restaurant was great but I wished I was there during the day to take advantage of the great views.

domingo, 18 de diciembre de 2011

II Flight MEX-CUN (Volaris) CUN-HAV (Cubana)

1st Flight MEX-CUN

Volaris is actually the 2nd biggest airline in Mexico; although it's a low cost airline, it's a premium low cost airline. Their service is great and they offer a lot of extras.
Check in was very quickly (3 mins) considering that it's high season. The bad part, was when I saw at the tvs and saw that the plane was going to depart 50 minutes late. And although we just arrived 40 minutes late, the good thing is that Volaris will refund you certain percentage of your ticket if they arrive 30 minutes or more late.
So I had the cheapest ticket, but I'm still going to get 50% of my ticket.

After arriving at the Cancun Airport, I picked my bags and went straight to the Cubana check in.
Something I did notice, was the quantity of tvs, games, that Cubans were taking in. One was even taking a tire!
The check in was ok, (15 mins) and we even asked why did they changed the aircraft and the guy told us that the other one (Yak40) was so old that was scary to fly in. The sad thing is that they couldn't change my ticket, so I actually went with option 1. I decided to pay about 360 USD to change my volaris ticket and stay about 30 hours in Cancun at the JW Marriott, using my Marriott points. So, I guess it wasn't all bad after all.
But now the bad part.. Again. There was another delay, my plane was delayed about 45 minutes, and 10 of those we were stocked in a bus.

The flight wasn't that bad. Cubana has reviews of having the worst service, but on board the crew was very nice and polite. And they even gave some Canadians candies and Cuban drinks. But something that impressed me was at the end, I believe it was the co captain, he passed to every seat offering candies. And I've never seen this in my entire life.

The arrival at Cuba wasn't that good. First we were 45 minutes at customs/immigration. Then we waited 20 minutes for our bags. Then I finally got out and met with our great taxi driver that Jorge organized for us. And although we planned before in changing the currency at the airport, the lines were so long (1 hour) that we decided to go to the airport.

The drive to the hotel was about 25 minutes long but it seemed that it took for ever.
But as soon as I arrived to the hotel, I knew it was a good option. Although I arrived at the old part and had a reservation there, I had already sent an email if a room at the new part was available and they replied with a yes. So I went through the underground "trail" and did the check in with a small problem. In Cuba it's very important to put the exact number or guests even for kids, but everything was solved.

Maybe my arrival wasn't that good, but I'm ready to have a great time.

And wait for the next post and some pictures....

viernes, 16 de diciembre de 2011

Cuba is here... with some changes

I Introduction

So I'm just 48 hours away from getting to Cuba and I'm very excited. But I'm also angry at Cubana (the arline).
So last Monday I checed the schedule and everything was fine, but it wasn't until today that I saw a change in both of my flights with Cubana (CUN-HAV, HAV-CUN) Both were bad. In the first flight I was going to be at the Cancun airport for 3 hours and 45 minutes, now I'm going to be 4 hours and 20 minutes.

But for my returning flight, I had 2 hours and 50 minutes and now I have 1 hour and 50 minutes. The problem here is that I have to pass through customs (might take 5 or 50 minutes) and then I have to check my bags at least 1 hour before my flight. So if I was flying a normal airline, this could be done without a problem but I'm flying Cubana. I've heard that 99% of its flights are at least 15 minutes delayed, so if the plane arrives 30 minutes after, I would have less than 20 minutes to get off the plane, pass customs and run to another terminal. And if I don't make it, I totally loose my plane and have to pay for new tickets.

Of course Cubana will not pay me anything. So then I have this 2 options
1) Change the flight with Volaris (Cancun- Mexico City) 485 USD
2)Forget about the Volaris flight and pay for a new ticket on Aeromexico 360 USD
3) Try to change my Cubana flight from Havana to Cancun, to Havana to Mexico City.

So I might go with the 2nd option, because the 3rd isn't very possible and I'm very mad and my trip hasn't even started yet.