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Questions - Sol Melia Rio de Oro

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Hi all.

My husband and I are planning our winter vacation and have narrowed the choice to Tulum, Mexico or the Sol Melia Rio de Oro in Guardalavaca.

We have never done the BIG resort AI thing before but have read so many favourable posts on this resort that we are persuaded to give it a try.

Any suggestions on the following would be greatly appreciated:

- best places to snorkel from shore in the area and how to get there (we want to see coral, not just sand and fish)
- best boat snorkel expeditions
- best units to ask for and why you would consider them the best
- are there bicycles provided? (my brochure says 'yes', but I've learned to take brochures with a grain of salt)
- can you rent mopeds and can you easily get gas for them?
- do you need reservations for the restaurants and how difficult is it to get them?
- any food shortages in the restaurants ? (have heard horror stories about some resorts in Cuba not having a lot of menu items in stock, slooooooow service etc.)
- how accessible (bicycle? walk?) are the 3 private coves I've heard about?
- I understand that credit cards drawn on American banks are not accepted in Cuba. What about Canadian subsidiaries of US banks such as Citibank Canada or MBNA? We will probably just bring cash for side excursions etc., but it would be nice to know, just in case of a major expense such as emergency medical care.

Thanks in advance for any and all help.

Linda

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    Hi Linda, I can't answer all your questions, but I was at Rio de oro this past February and we were very impressed.

    I don't know much about snorkeling there but I believe there is a reef nearby. The hotel is located on a very long beach which is shared with two other hotels and there are two other little private beaches strictly for Rio de Oro which are about a ten or fifteen minute walk from rhe hotel, but you are still in the grounds.

    Ask for a unit between the pool and the main restaurant on the main drag or close to it. The resort is very spread out but they have little buses running around the grounds about every ten minutes so you never have to wait long for a ride.

    They do have bicycles but they are not very comfortable. The mopeds are o.k. and there should be a place to buy gas in Guardalavaca.

    You do need reservations for two of the restaurants and you can only make them the day that you plan to eat there,
    They are both very small and they have the first seating at 6.30 and the next at 8.00 or 8.30. No Matter what time you want to eat you should be there before 6.30 If you cannot get seated then they will take your name for the later seating.

    There is an abundance of food at this hotel; for example they had smoked salmon almost every day, dozens of different breads,pasta two soups and more desserts than you can imagine, and this is only in the main buffet restaurant. One of the a la carte restaurants serves steak and lobster and the other is a cajun menu.

    One of the bars is open 24hrs and they serve all international drinks.

    There is note a lot to do outside the hotel although the trip to see the dolphins is nice.

    I gather that you are a U.S. citizen and I don't know how you plan to get there, but if you would like to e-mail me I might have some suggestions about the travellers checks. I think you best bet would be checks from a purely Canadian bank but the funds should be in American dollars.

    Hope this has been helpful,
    Kathy

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    Hi Kathy,

    Thanks so much for all the valuable info on the Rio de Oro. I don't think that the relative lack of things to do outside the resort will bother us much. We are looking for a primarily sun, sea and snorkeling holiday. (From past experience we know that when we hit the beach we generally lose most of our sightseeing ambitions - lol).

    We are Canadians and will likely be flying out of Montreal as there do not (at this time) appear to be any flights or packages to Guardalavaca from Ottawa where we live.

    On the subject of money/trav cheques, that isn't a problem - we will likely take US cash with us for any expenses not covered by AI. However, just in case of an unexpected large expense (such as an emergency flight home, medical emergency etc.) I want to be sure that I'm carrying a credit card that will be accepted and am still unclear about credit cards issued on Canadian subsidiaries of American Banks such as Citibank. Citibank is an American bank, but Canadian Citibank Visa cards say 'Citibank Canada'.

    One last question about the resort. Are you limited to 1 meal only in the 'reservations required' restaurants?

    Thanks again for all the help.

    Linda

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    Hi Linda,

    I'm not sure about the Citibank card, maybe you could call the bank and find out. We have a Royal Bank "Visa" and we always use that to pay for our vacation and it also provides health insurance, which is a must. As far as major expenses like medical or flights home that would be covered by your insurance. The Cuban health care system is much like ours; they treat you and bill the insurance company. When we were at Rio de Oro one of the tourists became quite ill and she was admitted to hospital for several days and had some tests done and they were not charged directly.

    You can eat at the a la carte restaurant as many times as you want as long as you make sure to be there for 6.30.and I don't think they are open for lunch.
    If you need any more info e-mail me direct.

    Kathy

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    To answer your questions Linda:
    - on the main beach there is good snorkelling on the right hand side near the cliff. Bring some bread
    - we never went on any side trips so I can't help you with the best snorkelling side trip.
    - we had one of the superior junior suites that are located in single story buildings with two units in each. They ring the property. We were fortunate to have one that looks through the forest to the ocean. We liked these units because they were larger than the standard, had a private outside shower, and a great view. The property is not that large so walking should not be a problem.
    - there are bikes - they were ok
    - you can rent mopeds but lots of people had accidents. You can not buy more gas.
    - I don't think you can use a US based credit card.

    Hope this helps

    You will have a great trip

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    Hi Mark,

    Thanks so much for the additionnal info on Rio de Oro, especially regarding the suites and mopeds. Now, the only problem is that it's such a long time from now till March.

    Linda

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    Hi Linda - we too were at the Rio de Oro last February (unfortunately we had the worst weather but it's been that kind of year all round for everyone hasn't it been!). Anyhow, all of the above posts have pretty well answered all your concerns on the de Oro, but here are just a few other tips if you choose this resort (do try Tulum Mexico next time as it would be a totally different experience):
    - Of the cash you take down, make sure you have plenty of U.S. $1. bills. When you find out that the average worker on the resort only makes $17. U.S a month, and they treat you so nicely, you will find yourself wanting to give a dollar tip here and a dollar tip there. Everything is a dollar, so the $1. bills come in handy.
    - BIG REMINDER - when you land at the airport in Holguin and need to use the bathroom, be prepared to have your own tissues to use as toilet paper or you will have to pay $1. (there is that $1. thing again) for some tissues. I took my own tissues and gave the attendant a $1. anyhow!
    - we were there two weeks so we did the excursion to swim with the dolphins (very cheap at $43.) and the dolphins show that is part of the package is very very good.
    - we also did the train ride and sugar factory tour. that was also very good and gives you a real idea of what life is really like for those people in the countryside (we couldn't bring ourselves to tour through one person's home though - it was one of the stops and just didn't seem right to be poking through someone's home.
    - we also did the countryside tour with pig roast. you visit a school, etc so if you do this one bring lots of toothpaste, toothbrushes, pens, paper, pencils, etc to give to the children or teacher. These are all things that are appreciated by the Cubans.
    - massage is only $13. U.S. an hour so you might want to get some of that action seeing as it's so cheap - the masseuse doesn't press really hard though but it was still a nice massage.
    - definitely no shortages of food and the smoked salmon on every buffet is unbelieveable. do be sure to save some room some night for one of the rum flambeed crepes - they are done up right in front of you with your choice of fruit...ohh and a scope of the freshly made ice cream on top......yum
    - the reservations place restaurant that is outside (I believe it is the creole place) is a wonderful spot! The food is good and has a little more kick to it. Note that Cuban food overall is generally not spicy at all and you might find it quite bland if you like spicy stuff. It's tasty still though. Oh and they don't use much garlic - one night though they had these garlic stuffed potatoes that practically few off onto the Canajun's eh plates!
    - if you have old clothes and stuff that you were planning to give to Salvation Army, save it for your trip and leave it for the room maid.
    If you have any other questions about the de Oro or about the Mayan Riveria (which is our next trip which will be the second one to this area), please do not hesitate to email direct.

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    Hi Debbie,

    What a wonderful post! Thanks for all the great info (especially the toilet paper tip, as that's where I invariably head after a long flight).

    We will definitely be heading to either Tulum or Belize next year. My preference was for Tulum this year, but hubby wants to go to Cuba before Helms-Burton gets lifted and the influx begins in earnest.
    If you have any hotel recommendations on that area, I'd love to have them (I'm leaning towards Ana & Joses).

    At the risk of starting a controvery in this thread, I'd like to ask you a bit more about tipping/gifts in Cuba.

    A friend of mine who went to Varadero last year told me that the hotel maid was far happier with daily gifts of make-up, hair scrunchies, used children's clothes etc. than she was with straight cash. This seemed ( to my North American mind) a tad bizarre and possibly demeaning. I would imagine that people would prefer cash which they could use to purchase whatever they wanted. However, my friend said that there were 2 reasons for this:
    a) Helms-Burton makes it difficult for Cubans to purchase many of the items that we find commonplace
    b) Hotel staff are required to turn all their tips into management, which tuns them over to the government. Once per month a percentage of the tips is distributed equitably among all employees.

    My questions are:

    Why such a scarcity of common-place items? The USA is not the only country that is a source of these types of products. (Indeed, most are made in Korea, India, Taiwan etc.) Has Helms-Burton had a major impact on the trading decisions of countries world-wide?

    I read in one of my travel guides that the practice of hotel staff turning tips over to management was , in fact, a voluntary decision on behalf of staff to help fund a Children's Hospital equipment purchase. Anyone know exactly what the scoop is?

    Anyway, thanks again so much for the delightful post.

    Now, if someone could convince the major vacation package companies that there should be departures out of Ottawa for Holguin, I'd be a happy camper.

    Linda

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    Hi Linda - to answer your questions:

    - Can't help you on the Belize thing but as for Tulum area - just check Sunquest, Signature, AlbaTours for their selection of ai's in the Mayan Riveria. Although we've only been to one and are going back to that one come February, I've not heard a bad thing about any of these places. There is a new resort just built that is very close to Tulum so by the time you are ready to travel there all the 'new hotel' kinks will be worked out.

    - Tipping/gifts in Cuba - unfortunately, your first trip to Cuba invariably becomes your best learning experience in this fashion. I can't really answer your questions about why common place items aren't available in Cuba, I can only recommend further reading such as Lonely Planet's book on Cuba (a bit of tree hugger approach but very comprehensive) and Fodor's Cuba book (not the big annual one, it's a smaller book that also has interesting reading in it).
    We found cash and/or gifts are both deeply appreciated but sometimes the gifts are more suitable because for all the reasons mentioned, these items are just hard to come by, such as pencils, pens and paper. For the room maid I took bottles of shampoo and other toiletries that we just take for granted but the Cubans would never be able to get hold of. Someone once told me that they use their tips (which they keep, they do not turn their tips in, no way, no how as how is hotel management to know what tips the staff is being given) to buy needed items in the hotel gift shop - again, I find this one hard to believe - if someone is only making the equivalent to $17. U.S. a month, they aren't going to be five of that money on one bottle of fancy shampoo! I agree with your friend who left makeup and stuff. I also picked up some kid's hair clips, stuff like that and left it for our maid. Even though she may not have children you know it will get passed to someone who does.
    But for someone like the male bartenders, cash tended to be the 'tip'. If you are at the pool bar at the Melia, you will probably start chatting with the ever-smooth George. Very nice guy and for some reason, you will find yourself and many of the Europeans always handing over $1. tips. We've been to 7 other ai's throughout the Caribbean (where as you know tips are included) but never anywhere where we have wanted to tip as we did at the Sol Melia in Cuba.
    - for the masseuse, you might want to take some massage oil as a tip.

    Don't hesitate to let me know if you have any other (non political) questions.

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    Hi all,
    In case some of you are interested in some updated info on Rio de Oro. We are looking to go there in December 2002. We contacted the resorts and they now have 4 a la carte and 1 buffet restaurants - of which one is air conditioned. I have been talking with people on other sites and this sounds like a great place. Top quality drinks, and lots of great food! Will let you know how we make out after our trip.

    FYI, you cannot use any credit card drawn on an American bank - not Amex - and not American Express travellers cheques. If you want to use traveller's cheques - use Visa ones drawn on the bank of a country other than Canada.

    Happy Sun Seeking!

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    In regards to tipping in Cuban Hotels.

    I have a friend who's daughter works in the Accounting Department for the Melia Cohiba hotel in Havana.

    All staff tips are turned in and then re-distributed equally amongst ALL staff in the hotel. For example, the cook who prepares the meal is not in a position to receive any hard currency tips, the waitress gets them all. Yet without the cook, there would be no food. So you can see the equity of this pooled sharing of tips. It spreads the gravy cash around to all staff. Even my friends daughter receives her monthly "share" of tips for her accounting work.

    From talking with the daughter, I know she has said that her share averages around $80 to $100 USD per month.

    As you can see, this tends to equalize the disparity between table waiting staff and university educated Accountants who unfortunately have no direct contact with the tourists.

    Steve

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