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We would like to stay in a 5 star hotel in Cuba, but don't want the all inclusive feel (crowds, line ups + buffets) if possible? We'd like to be on one of the nicer beaches where we can take long walks and snorkel. With all this said, does this exist in an area where we'll get a feel for the culture and country?

Thank you!

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    Hi Cassidy:

    Well despite what gplimpton has posted, Cuba does indeed have some very nice 5***** hotel properties. We can start splitting hairs and see if they are Michelin Guide standard, US standard, International standard or other rating system. At that level, much of what determines is pretty subjective and a personal choice.

    So here's a list of 5* hotels that are located on beachs in Cuba and what city they are in/near. You'll notice that many are Melia hotels, an International Spanish hotel chain so I would suggest that their standards are also international in nature.

    Mansion Xanadu, Varadero
    Arenas Blancas, Varadero
    Bahía Príncipe Varadero, Varadero
    Meliá Cayo Coco, Jardines del Rey
    Meliá Cayo Guillermo, Jardines del Rey
    Meliá Las Américas, Varadero
    Meliá Varadero, Varadero
    Tryp Península Varadero, Varadero
    LTI Varadero Beach Resort, Varadero
    Playa Pesquero, Costa Norte de Holguín
    Paradisus Río de Oro, Costa Norte de Holguín
    Paradisus Varadero, Varadero
    Solymar Beach Resort, Varadero

    If you need more information, please ask, and you might also consider posting your question on;
    www.caribline.com
    and going directly to their Cuban forum. It is a very active discussion forum and it also has many trip reports. You will get some great advice there.
    All the best, and enjoy the Cuban experience.
    Steve

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    I was curious about what Cuba had to offer so I went through the list provided by Canuck-Canada. While I haven't been to Cuba I'll have to admit I was (and am still) skeptical that there are any true "5 star" resorts in Cuba if you're using American hotel standards as a reference. That is, if the Four Seasons New York, or the Peninsula Chicago, or Ritz Carlton Naples are unquestioned 5 star resorts, how do the best Cuban resorts fall into line?

    Well, Cuba has some nice beaches and such, but the best resorts are still 'old world' style places and standards are definitely below those of better US resorts.

    Take a look at the room photos at Arenas Blancas (http://www.conquestvacations.com/hotels/ARNB.html#). (If those are "5 star" quality then an 8 star rating scale is being used).

    Check out the Melia Tryp Peninsula at http://www.supercubatravel.com/hotels/sol_melia/tryp_peninsula.asp. This would be a 3-4 star hotel in the US.

    The Melia Varadaro at(http://www.supercubatravel.com/hotels/sol_melia/melia_varadero.asp) won't be mistaken for a 5 star resort in the US.

    Melia Las Americas (http://www.supercubatravel.com/hotels/sol_melia/melia_lasamericas.asp) same thing. 3-4 star tops. Look at the room photos. These are like good Holiday Inn or Ramada rooms in the US.

    The Mansion Xanadu looks nice but has just 6 units and is more of a private home than a resort.

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    Well rwilliams, it is so boring to argue about whose "world class" listing we use to rate hotels. But for sure I do not use American hotel standards as a reference. When rating people such as the "Official Hotel Guide" who charge pricely fees for their ratings and list a Superior Deluxe Rating as their top rating post a list that has the top 31 places worldwide all being American hotels in the USA, well can you spell the word "bias".

    And of course your ability to look at a commercial travel website, view a 1" by 2" web photo of a hotel and pronounce the quality of the hotel, well I am simply amazed at your perceptive talent.

    The list I provided to Cassidy was provided from an non-American International website and I rather think that these people have some idea of what they are rating. I also do believe that they have actually been to the hotels they are discussing. As "Service" is a big part of a hotel's rating, I think I will give their opinions the trust it deserves based on their first hand experiences.

    Oh, and as a final note, the Mansion Xanadu which you dismiss as a private home was just that. It is the former estate mansion of the American industialist Irénée DuPont who in 1926 owned most of the Varadero peninsula. The colonial Spanish-style mansion of Dupont who named the green-tile-roofed-mansion Xanadu is now an opulent hotel for private old world charm, service and accommodation. The Dupont family lived here until 1959 and the mansion now forms part of the Clubhouse complex of the Varadero golf club. Just a private home..... hardly!
    And FYI, notorious mobster Al Capone also had a home on the peninsula along with dictator Fulgencio Batista.

    Steve

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    So, what you're really saying is that each different area of the world should have its own rating system. This would, of course, be a useless exercise in futility since the whole point of rating systems is to allow comparisons.

    If a 5 star hotel in Canada is equivalent to a 2 star hotel in Burma, but people in Burma say "to heck with you Canadians, we will call our 2 star hotels 5 stars if we want to", that's as ridiculous as claiming that the Most Valuable Player in your kid's Little League baseball league is just as good as Barry Bonds (the MVP of Major League Baseball) since they're both MVP's.

    Why is it important to make comparisons and to try to have a universal standard? Because without a standard, consumers are at the mercy of marketers and entrepreneurs.
    Most people come to Fodor's to educate themselves so they can make good decisions in their travel planning.

    The point isn't to bash Cuban or Canadian or Burmese hotels. It's to communicate information in a useful way. Cuba appears to offer truly outstanding vacation value. Money from most other countries goes a long way in Cuba. People argue about what 5 star means. But if 5 star is meant to imply the best possible accommodations, not obviously exceeded by those anywhere else, then Cuba doesn't have 5 star accommodations (unless you're limiting your universe to Cuba itself).

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    Very interesting points you make rwilliams, but not quite valid.

    I'll refer back to your original post to make my point. You state....
    "I'll have to admit I was (and am still) skeptical that there are any true "5 star" resorts in Cuba if you're using American hotel standards as a reference."

    And that is EXACTLY my point. Cuba does in fact have 5* resorts.... PERIOD!
    You choose to not believe this, and insist that only the American hotel standards should be the reference, implying in a typical US fashion that anything that is not American or based on American values and systems must inherently be of less value nor as acceptable a standard.

    You complete the circularity of your argument with your statement....
    "People argue about what 5 star means. But if 5 star is meant to imply the best possible accommodations, not obviously exceeded by those anywhere else, then Cuba doesn't have 5 star accommodations"...
    What is the basis for your statement? Have you personally visited these Cuban resorts, written reviews, compared culinary styles and service? I think not. You compare three specific American hotels as your definition of the gold-plated standard. In other words, your American standard should be the de-facto standard which the rest of the world should follow and/or be compared against.

    Have you never though that other world standards might be equal, or dare I say, superior to American standards. Would you trust the Michelin Guide as a recognized standard for travel in Europe? Other countries strive for their own standards and attempt to implement by treaty and agreement world standards that all can follow. Think Koyoto..... ooops.... sorry, you Americans won't join the majority of the world on accepting standards such as this unless you get to make the rules.

    In summary, Cuba does have 5-Star hotels, whether you choose to personally accept them or not. But to sit in your armchair and on the basis of a commercial travel site postage size photo declare that YOU think they are only 3 star at best, well that smacks of arrogance and a condesending attitude, not the factual information that Fodor's readers are looking for.

    Steve

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    Right on Steve! It's too bad that by now, the original poster has probably gone AWOL on us. I'm learning one thing on this board and that's trying to please someone who wants quality but doesn't want crowds but wants a nice beach - go figure that most people want a nice beach which means a crowd whether you like it or not. And most of the 5 stars you listed are all inclusive so it's damned hard not to get that all inclusive feel. And if you want to get a feel of the culture and the country, well the quick solution is to simply get off the resort and explore. I am always stymied by those who think/assume all inclusive means you're locked inside the gate once you enter!
    Having got that off my chest, I would say (based on our two humble experiences in Cuba), that something like the Paradisus in Holguin would be this answer - perhaps it's not 5 star in rwilliam's good-ole-USA terms but it's a lovely resort and the rooms are large and clean, what more do you need. Ask for one of the suites in the buildings that line the cliff and it's a short walk not only to snorkeling but a nice long walk along a beautiful pristine beach. There is a massage hut built out over the water and when you are face down on the table, you can see the blue caribbean waters through the glass floor. There is buffets as well as damned good specialty restaurants, and well, be prepared but there is a line up at the fresh made-to-order crepe bar. Live with it.
    If you don't want the crowds, go in November after hurricane season. If you want a feel for culture take one of the excursions through the sugar factory, etc.
    So skip asking for a 5 star comparable to US or Canada and research any of the nice resort chains such as Melia or Iberostar where you are sure to get the quality you desire.

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    I must say that your comments reveal a very large chip sitting on your shoulder about American products and standards.
    The reason I have referred ro American hotels as a standard is because 1) most people at this forum are familiar with American hotels (giving them a natural frame of reference) and 2) most of the world's 5 star hotels are American. Like it or not, both of those facts are beyond debate.

    Also, please keep in mind that nowhere have I stated or implied that American hotels are the only true 5 star hotels in the world. Many reputable travel writers and rating sources will contend that THE best hotels in the world are in southeast Asia.

    Also, I've vsited and stayed in what I believe are many of the world's best hotels in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific...in addition to many in the US and the Caribbean. So I believe that I have a very good personal frame of reference for judging the quality of hotels. And in many cases it's pretty easy to look at a website and see that a hotel is not going to make a world's top 100 list. For example, if I see linoleum floors in the room, cheap modular furniture, cheap curtains, no attempts to create a stylish atmosphere, cheap bathroom fixtures and cheap lights, it doesn't take a whole lot of psychic insight to deduce that the place in question is not going to meet a worldwide "5 star standard".

    As for "American arrogance" about the quality of hotels, you simply look foolish if you're going to try to argue that there are NOT more world class hotels in the US than anywhere else. First off, the USA is the world's 3rd most populous nation--and since the first two are China and India (with very few luxury hotels between them) the USA SHOULD have more luxury hotels than other countries simply based on its size. Factor in the per capita income, and it is even less surprising that there is a large number of luxe hotels. look at any balanced list of the world's top hotels, as rated by whomever you choose. If you list the top 100, 500 or 1000 hotels you'll find more of them in the US than any other country. What has that to do with "American arrogance"? Americans consume more luxury goods than any other country, so it should come as no surprise that hoteliers have chosen to try to capitalize on this.

    To complete the point, feel free to use southeast Asia as the standard against which all other hotels are judged. Doesn't change the fact that Cuba won't have any hotels in the top echelon, and doesn't change the ranking of any US hotels either. All it does do is emphasize the names of many hotels which readers of this forum likely won't recognize.

    As for your implied comments about the importance of "style and service", those are things which have to be experienced to be assessed. Can't judge them via a website or travel book. But the issue is moot if the accommodations don't measure up. A top notch world class hotel must excel in all major areas, and at the top of the list are the physical elements of the hotel. Mediocre rooms with great service and great food might qualify for 4 stars, never 5.

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    Well rwilliams it puts me at somewhat of a disadvantage to debate with someone who is as unarmed as you appear to be. So I will endeavour to increase your knowledge base, quoted from American sources so there is a reasonable chance you might actually believe them.

    You might try reading the following.

    Analysis of the World's Top Rated Hotels
    by Chanop Chaisawat
    Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, University of Houston.

    http://www.hotel-online.com/Trends/AdvancesInHospitalityResearch/AnalysisRatedHotels1998.html

    You might be enlightened by the summary.

    Euromoney found the following results.
    The Number of Top Rated Hotels in Each Region: Euromoney from 1994 - 1996
    North America 1
    Europe 16
    Asia 11
    Australia 2

    Meanwhile, Conde Naste Traveller reported somewhat different results.
    The Number of Top Rated Hotels in Each Region: Conde' Nast Traveler
    from 1994 - 1996
    North America 12
    Europe 8
    Asia 9
    Australia 1

    And lastly, the Institutional Investor reported entirely different results again.
    The Number of Top Rated Hotels in Each Region: Institutional Investor
    from 1994 - 1996
    North America 11
    Europe 10
    Asia 9
    Australia 0

    What is interesting is that there are only 4 hotels listed in all three publications. They are:

    Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong
    The Oriental, Bangkok
    Shangri-La, Singapore
    The Peninsula, Hong Kong

    And if you TOTAL the three publications, you will see that Europe leads handily in top ranked hotels.

    24 North America
    34 Europe
    29 Asia
    3 Australia.

    A full bibliography accompanies this University paper which will also allow you to further your education should you care to read further.

    As to your final point, that physical facilities must rank at the top of the list, please note the following chart based on readers surveys which show which items are most important.

    Reasons for Choosing Hotels
    __________________1995____1994
    Location____________1_______1
    Peace and quiet_____2_______6
    Comfort_____________3_______4
    Service_____________4_______2
    Room Size___________5_______5
    Price_______________6_______7
    Business facilities_7_______8
    Prestige value______8_______9
    Food________________9_______3
    Source: Euromoney (1995)

    You really should consider going to the origional report and reading the full paper as there is a nicely presented analysis for these figures, what hotels do to improve their rankings, and industry trends.

    Oh, and I should say that I have no preceived "chip" on my shoulder in regards to Americans. Rather I have a larger viewpoint shaped by world attitudes, events, perceptions and facts.



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    Well - as somebody from the UK I have to say that I agree to some of both sides to this discussion.

    I stayed at Sandals Royal Hicacos which is a 5*. I totally loved the place to the extent that we are returning in April.
    However Cuba is not the same as other countries (its uniquness is part of its charm). It is also a very poor country and if someone is expecting standards in Cuba to be the same as North America or Canada then they may travel with false expectations.
    In my humble opinion (and its only a rule-of-thumb) a 5* in Cuba would rate a 4* by international standards. A 4* would rate a 3* internationally.
    But the bottom line is - don't worry about it - go to Cuba. The place is different but fantastic!

    By the way - I have stayed at (reputedly) one of the top 5 resorts in the world - Le Touesseroc in Mauritius which cost an absolute fortune but had a more enjoyable time at SRH, Cuba!

    Regards
    Martin

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    No "edit" facility so I'll tack this on afterwards:
    Just done a bit of digging - Le Touesseroc is not one of the top 5 (I must have been taken in by the hype when I went!) but it is well up there on the scale.

    And to try to answer Cassidy's original question if you stay in a 5* hotel or resort you will usually be isolated/protected from local culture (in any poorer country). So it is really difficult to suggest somewhere that meets his/her criteria.
    I hesitate to recommend SRH because although a fantastic place - it has an international rather than a Cuban "feel".
    You would need to get out-and-about to get some "real" Cuba.

    Regards
    Martin

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    Ummmmm....I haven't had time to look thru any of your references, but I think you just confirmed my point.
    The USA has more top rated hotels than any other country. Period.
    Recall that Europe is made up of quite a few different nations. And if you look at where the top North American hotels are located, most are in the USA.

    As a quick confirmation, if you look at the CURRENT CN Traveler (rather than ones which are going on 10 years old) and consider that on their Gold List rating scale of 1-100, achieving a score of 90 is difficult and serves as a surrogate for a "5 star" rating, you'll find the following numbers of hotels get rating of 90 or more:

    USA: 30
    Thailand: 5
    Indonesia: 5
    Italy: 5
    France: 4
    China (Hong Kong): 4
    Canada: 2
    Germany: 2
    England: 1

    Why is this so difficult for you to grasp?

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    Well for me, I think I can safely sum up my thoughts thus.

    - I have stayed at Cuban 5-star resorts and have never left feeling that I was at anything other than what was advertised.

    - I am very thankful for the quality of service, friendliness, and joy of spirit show to me by my Cuban hosts.

    - I have returned to Cuba six times, and without doubt I will contine to spend my travel dollars in this unique travel destination.

    - I must agree entirely with Martin (Gyromancer) when he says "You would need to get out-and-about to get some "real" Cuba." I believe that if more people left their luxury resorts to experience domestic Cuban hospitality, there would be much less "rhetoric" cast about on the world political stage. Whenever possible I have enjoyed my experiences in "Casa Particular's", where the beauty of true Cuban hospitality shines through.

    - And lastly, as Mark Twain loved to say, "There are three types of lies. Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics." So rather than trot out another source quoting yet another set of statistics, hotel ratings, numbers and opinion, I will leave it to Fodors readers to come to their own conclusions.

    Steve

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    Wow. This thread got way off track.
    To Steve: sorry I started a flame war here. The truth is buried in the various comments above. If you love Cuba that's what's important. No two people's tastes are alike. There's not as much information available about Cuba so your positive comments are a welcome addition. I didn't mean to imply Cuba doesn't have any nice resorts. And I won't belabor the point further.
    (BTW, it was Benjamin Disraeli who made the quote about statistics. It's one of my favorites. He was Prime Minister of England back in the 1800's).

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    Nice debate, but Cuba remains a country that is illegal to visit from the United States. I know that not all of the posters are from the U.S., but they should probably be encouraged to go elsewhere also.
    Cuba is a poor country with an evil dictator.
    Recall that nuclear missles were pointed at Washington DC from Cuba within the past 50 years.
    Spend your money in a country that cares about its people and the rest of the world. Skip Cuba.

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    Well mbrad006, I was wondering when politics would rear its head in this discussion.
    Just to set the record straight, you should be aware that it is not technically illegal for an American citizen to go to Cuba. However under US Treasury Department rules it is illegal for them to spend money there. Small distinction, but important. If you really wish to explore the situation, I would highly recommend you to the website of the National Lawyers Guild in New York City.

    http://www.nlg.org/

    Specifically they have a highly informative Cuban section that I believe should be a must for all US citizens.

    As to the nuclear missles pointed at Washington. Well you should also remember that in the tit-for-tat world of the 50's and 60's cold war, the United States also had nuclear tipped missles located in northern Turkey, aimed at Moscow. A distance less than from Havana to Washington. Although JFK did his best to avoid linkage of the two countries missle sites and policies, when the Cuban missles were removed, the American missles where shortly thereafter removed from Turkey.

    Is Castro a dictator. Without a doubt. But then again, Americans must be very familiar with dictators, having propped up many a country's dictator when political and economic interests warranted. Seems to me that when there's a buck to be made, American economic interests always take precidence over human rights.

    But rest assured that when I spend my money in Cuba, to the greatest extent possible I see to it that it goes directly into the hands of my Cuban friends and other average citizens. Not into the hands of Castro. It's really no different than me spending money in the United States. I can buy an American made product, made by American workers, without supporting or agreeing with the policies of your Washington minions and the current Bush cabal.

    Over 100,000 American citizens visit Cuba every year, mostly travelling through third countries. I highly respect those folks who have chosen to find out for themselves the true nature of the Cuban people and their unique island nation. Politics be damned!!!

    Steve

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    Very Interesting Thread....

    I have learned that people are people and there for the Grace of God go I. Not everyone is lucky enough to be born in the comforts that we so take for granted. We are all at the mercy of our government, no matter what country we live in or born into. To many, living in a poor country, our 3 star hotel is the lap of luxury some of what many will never see. When you go to different country, espically one run by a dictatorship, you cannot expect the same level of luxury you have grown accoustomed to. I would think that when you visit Cuba, you are not going to be pampered, massaged and 4 Seasoned, but instead you go to experience a different culture, meet lovely people and experience something other that self indulgence. Sometimes its the difference between vacationing and travelling. Many people love to "vacation", get away from their hectic lives, visit an island and isolate themselves without ever experiencing the destination. Some never leave the hotel or take thier nose out of a book. What a waste of time and very sad IMHO. When you come home from a destination where you learned something, or opened your heart or mind and made some kind of connection with someone who walks away realizing you are no different than they are - that's something really special. I have never been to Cuba, but from what I understand, its kinda like that.
    I know how easy it is to book a vacation in the most expensive, luxurious destination - just open any travel magazine. Sometimes the best trips are not rated by stars....

    My interpretation of the original poster was not to be 4 seasoned. I think he is looking for a "cuban version" of luxury with an authentic experience and feel for the island which you do not get with an AI. It sounds like he wants to be comfortable and explore.

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    I think SandyFeet has read between the lines of what is really going on here.

    I also get the impression that Cassidy would like to go and find the cultural enrichment and experience the beauty that Cuba and her people have to offer while staying at a resort/hotel and
    enjoying a comfortable and relaxing vacation.

    I agree that going to a destination and staying within the confines of a plushy, luxe hotel without ever leaving is a shame, but it is some people's choice to do so.

    Of course, I've seen one of the (to be left unnamed) poster's many other contributions. This person is interested solely in impressing others with all of the 5 star resorts he has stayed at, and can never comment on the people or culture he has experienced - only how thick the towels are or how rare the carpaccio appetizer is.

    While that impresses people at cocktail parties and a few of the neophytes on here, there are those of us who appreciate the opportunity to see and learn how others live and learn more about their music, food and lifestyles.

    People like the aforementioned poster would never consider going someplace like Cuba (wouldn't impress the co-workers enough), so I am endlessly confused as to why they feel compelled to offer their (uneducated) input...

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    Well I am heartened to say that SANDYFEET has indeed said it so much better than all the rest of the above rhetoric (MINE INCLUDED, I'll admit) and she sound like she truly understands the difference between a vacation and travelling.
    And perhaps that is the reason that threads such as this seem to take on a life of their own. The Vacationers cannot see the viewpoint of the Travellers and vice-versa. Sandyfeet has shown us how to step back and see BOTH viewpoints.
    Thanks Sandyfeet.
    Steve

    p.s. If you wish to see part of the "why" I travel to Cuba, check out my website at.
    http://photopilot.tripod.com
    Note that there is NO www. in the URL.

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    You know, Diane, psychologists say that many people become openly critical of others when they spy traits that they don't like in themselves.


    Hypocrisy is one of your long suits, apparently. I note that you have bothered to take the time to openly criticize people who are overweight, who don't share your taste in resorts, and who don't share your taste in clothing.

    You brag about your BMW, how often you "travel internationally", your visits to many Ritz Carltons and Four Seasons, the trauma of having your fresh "steak Diane" spoiled by other diners in a fine restaurant, the $200 meals etc etc.

    But of course travelling to the most expensive resorts, eating the best food, and driving the most expensive cars allows you to, as you put it "see and learn how others live and learn more about their music, food and lifestyles".

    Yeah, right.

    You need to take a little look in the mirror before you start throwing stones.

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    I am kind of shocked at some behaviors here.

    With the Anniversary of 9/11 a few days away have you forgotton what life is really all about?

    To quote John Lennon:

    "Oh boy, when you're dead you don't take nothing with you but your soul - THINK!"

    I don't think it needs much explanation.

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    I stayed at the Nacional and Solymar and they are waaay not 5*. Pretty nice for Cuba and better than I usually have, but waaaay not 5*. I have never stayed at a 5* but I know Solymar does not have turn-down service, phone service, mini bar, in-room massage, spa, gourmet restaurant, flowers, etc that one expects in a 5*. Nacional had a shower curtain that did not fit and cracked plaster... and that was the honeymoon suite. I am pretty sure there are better hotels in Cuba.

    * systems do vary world wide. I am a 3* traveller. I like the European 3*'s more than the American ones. You get a pretty sanitized experience in an American 3*; in Europe they have similar amenities, are smaller, but have more charm.

    I saw the word "Authentic" in the original post. Authentic is a paladar. No 5*'s there, but it for my style of travel, its more fun.

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