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Trip Report Trip Report - Melia Varadero

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My wife and I recently spent 2 weeks (23 Feb. to 8 March) at the Melia Varadero Hotel in Varadero, Cuba. I thought I would provide a trip report to assist any other Fodorites planning to visit the same local.

The hotel itself was very nice, clean, with a superb housekeeping staff. We were located on the 5th floor, first wing (there are six wings). When checking in I requested an ocean view. Well, I got my ocean view. However, given that the hotel is located on a narrow peninsula you are pretty much guaranteed an ocean view. What I should have requested was a view of the beach as our room overlooked the golf course in front of the hotel with the ocean just beyond. Given the beautiful sunrise each morning we decided to stay put. The room itself was not fancy but I did get the requested king size bed. I believe the rooms in the wing 3 or 4 would offer the best view of the beach side of the hotel.

This was the first time we had stayed at an all-inclusive resort. When planning our vacation I was somewhat concerned about the quality of the food. I worried for naught. The buffet was not bad at all, except certain dishes (meat especially) could have been hotter. While many items would be repeated day after day, there was sufficient change at supper time to avoid boredom. The 24 hour Guantanamera Café offered cheezeburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and not a bad pizza. The other 4 restaurants were good. However, you had to reserve and could only eat at them once per week.

The beach was Ok but certainly not the nicest beach I've see in my travels. Given that and the large number of people vying for the best spot to set up camp, we spent most of our time at the pool Now, I am not silly enough to expect a heated pool in the Caribbean but yikes the water was cold. We did eventually get used to the initial shock and quite enjoyed our mornings pool-side reading. There were a fair number of people who would rush down in the morning and park their towels on the lounge chairs. Often they wouldn't show up for hours to claim their spot. I am not sure what the etiquette is in these situations but I certainly did not raise any objections when others came along and removed the parked towels.

We went on three tours, the Bellmar Caves outside Matanzas, a catamaran outing for snorkeling and lunch at Cayo Blanco and the tour of Havana. We enjoyed the cave tour and the stop at the farmers market in Matanzas. I was not at all impressed with the snorkeling. We saw lots of coral but no fish, others boaters saw some fish but no coral. There are much better snorkeling destinations in the Caribbean. We were glad we saw Havana. It does have some interesting architecture, however, you really have to stretch your imagination to see what Havana would have looked like in its glory days. For you classic car enthusiasts, there are an unbelievable number of old cars.

As far as shopping goes, well not much of a variety. Everyone sells the same stuff, be it at your hotel, the International Plaza next door or the ?straw market' in Varadero.

The Cuban people are wonderful. The only people we had any difficulty with were the street sellers in Havana. However, given their particular situation their in-the-face attitude can be forgiven.

As far as tipping, here is what we did. Before leaving Canada we went to the dollar store and purchased close to $100. on various items (toothbrushes, mirrors, lip stick, crayons, pencils, pads of paper, dolls, toy trucks, yoyos, bandages, mickey mouse bandages, creams, etc.) We also purchased postcards of Ontario and Ottawa area. Prior to leaving I went to Altavista.com translation site and had three different messages (thanking the housekeeper for keeping our room clean and tidy) translated and then printed on labels. Each morning we would put a label on a postcard and leave 3-4 items for the housekeeper. We would sign the postcard and put our room number just in case she was asked where the items came from. She really enjoyed the gifts we left her children. We had also purchased seeds (corn, tomato, onions, carrots, beans, flowers) at Ronas and left them as tips for the housekeeper and waiter. The seeds were well appreciated. In addition, we always left a dollar or two as a tip at dinner.

We had unexpected weather over 5 days the first week we were there. There was a bad storm in the Gulf which caused high wave conditions and blustery (yes blustery) nights. Over those five days no boats went out for the scheduled tours. Since this was winter in Cuba (and given its proximity to the US and the effect weather patterns in the US have on the Gulf area) the landscape was not as lush as you would find on other islands.

If I were to return to Cuba it would likely be for a quick week away, no touring, simply sitting by the pool in heat rather than snow. I would go later in March or early April. I would definitely stay at the same hotel.

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    Hi JJDave, good report...the seeds are an excellent idea to leave for 'tips'! We stayed at the Melia Cayo Guillermo in Nov 2002 & I remember one hard working gardening fellow who would have loved something like that - he showed such pride in the landscaping of the resort, I wish we had thought to bring something like that for such a person.
    Another idea you might want to make use of are caps - my husband always has lots either from giveaways (golf tournaments, etc) that he's collected up & so took a bunch down to give to the guys at the dive shop..much appreciated 'tips' as well.
    Our first time in Cuba was at the Melia Rio de Oro (now the Paradisus) in Holgin for the the last week of Jan/1st week of Feb and we could not believe how cool it got in the evening. We had well over 9 days of rain and/or cloudy weather & have vowed never to do that again. And really when you look at the travel books, the avg day temps are only upwards of 24C.
    The next time we returned it was for a quick week away, no tours, just diving for him and relaxation for me...the Melia Cayo Guillermo is a good spot for this...and at the end of November the weather was very nice..just before the cooler "winter" temps set in.
    You might want to consider this spot though..very very nice and same Melia quality..you don't need rooms overlooking the beach as there are none really & it's good and close. The beach is really nice and when the tide's out wonderfully shall such that you can walk out forever into the water. They have two specialty restaurants and we were allowed to eat in both..the international one was very very good.
    So if you're heading back (and April is probably a better time) think about Cayo Guillermo.

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