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Home > Destinations > Cuba > Trip Reports > Trip Report

Cuba - Trip Reports

Barcelo Solymar Beach Resort - Varadero

Depending on brochure, star rating for this hotel is 4 or 4+. In our opinion it is definately a 4+ resort.

My husband(53), myself(49), our son and his girlfriend, ages 24, spent one week at this resort from Jan. 28 to Feb. 4, 2002. My husband and I had recently been to the Breezes Jibacoa in Dec. 2001. We loved our first experience in Cuba and were anxious to return, this time to Varadero. Let me begin by saying that this resort is a "work in progress", meaning that because it is so new, there are still some things that need to be worked out or completed. Barcelo of Spain very recently acquired this property, but it is managed by Gran Caribe of Cuba. The resort has a more elegant, european flavour, rather than the layback Canadian style. Total capacity of this resort is about 1050 guests, but there were no more than 250 guests at the time of our stay. Sections of the main hotel building(west side) are still under construction. The property is beautifully landscaped, but time is needed for the vegetation to grow and flourish. The lobby is very impressive. There are five elevators, one of them glass.

ACCOMODATIONS: There are actually three types of rooms available at this resort. We experienced two. We spent the first night in the main hotel building(east wing) on the second floor facing the main roadway. The room was well appointed,with a comfortable bed, bathroom with bidet and european style wall mounted shower in a deep bathtub. The dressing area and wash basin are separated. Hairdryer is provided. The closet was spacious. We chuckled when we saw the bathroom weigh scale which is provided! Unfortunately, there were no facecloths or a box of kleenex, so bring your own. There is also no coffeemaker in the room which the brochure had mentioned. Perhaps they are yet to come. There is a mini fridge in all rooms which is refilled daily with 2 juice boxes, 2 cokes, 4 water bottles(carbonated and non), 2 cans of beer and 2 chocolate bars. The room was nicely decorated and spotless. Unfortunately, the disco is on the lobby level under this section of the hotel.

Between the traffic noise and the pounding noise from the disco, we didn't sleep a wink the first night and asked our Signature Rep to please move us elsewhere. Our rep., Francarlos was great, and we were moved the next day to rooms in the two level outside buildings. These are part of the original resort, a bit older, but nonetheless very clean and spacious with the same amenitities as in the new five storey main building. Thankfully, there was NO bathroom scale! Our building was very near the west side of the main hotel building, on the ground level, with the balcony facing a quiet service road and the beach. Unfortunately, a very noisy generator comes to life every evening from about 6 to 10 pm., but otherwise it was very quiet and peaceful. Again the rooms were spotless and stayed that way. The third type of accomodation at this resort is a two storey bungalow with a living and kitchen area downstairs and the sleeping area upper. Again these are part of the old section of this resort and other guests told us they were very spacious, especially if you have children.

THE BEACH: Three boardwalks lead over a small sand dune area to a beautiful wide very fine white sand beach. It's gorgeous! While we were there, several more palapas were being built. Otherwise there is little natural vegetation to provide shade. There were plenty of lounge chairs. Hopefully, they will also build a few beachfront showers to rinse off the salt water in the future as these are lacking here. On days when the green flags are out, watersports are available. We used the kayaks and also went out for a catamaran ride. There is no decent snorkling in front of many Varadero beachfront resorts in this area, so we opted to pay $15.00 per person to be taken by motor boat to a nearby reef. Peddle boats, wind surfers and banana boat rides are also available. The closest bar to the beach is in the large rancheron which doubles as the buffet lunch restaurant. It's a bit of a walk. Drinks are served in small plastic cups. We had taken thermal mugs which were filled very reluctantly. The bartenders were great and very apologetic in explaining that the Barcelo management frowned upon thermal mugs. The Spanish management don't want guests to drink too much! As long as management was not close by, our mugs were filled, otherwise the bartender gave us two or three drinks in plastic cups which we then filled into our mugs. Hopefully this policy will loosen up a bit in the future.

FOOD AND A LA CARTES: The food was amazing, both in it's variety and presentation. Our son's girlfriend is a picky eater and she had no problem finding lots to eat. The soups were especially delicious. The desserts were super! Occasionally, the buns were a bit on the stale and dry side, especially for the evening buffet. Another guest did comment that the food was a bit bland, but then Cuban cuisine is not spicy like Mexican. If you really like it hot, bring a bottle of hot sauce or tabasco.

Breakfast and dinner were served buffet style in the main hotel indoor restaurant. Be aware that even for the buffet dinner, men MUST wear long pants! Lunch buffet is served in the large rancheron near the beach. Must wear T-shirt over your bathing suit! There is also a light lunch and snack restaurant by the main swimming pool (under the sails). Again, you must wear a T-shirt to receive service here, even for a drink! We stopped by for a glass of juice, but because I was wearing my bathing suit and had only a short pareo, we were asked to sit in a chair next to the pool where there are almost no shady areas to sit and we were served our juice in a plastic cup. Probably just as well in hindsight because the obese gentleman wearing Speedos and a brief T-shirt which barely covered his tummy who did receive service here, made me lose my appetite. Again the waiter was very apologetic, but these are the Barcelo management rules. The snack bar by the second, activities pool is great. Pizza is yummy. They have a small stage and sound system here, so in the late afternoons it's a fun place to be.

We had heard from other guests that the Italian a la carte was disappointing and didn't bother to eat here. Seemed it was empty most of the time. This restaurant is located in the main building, next to the buffet restaurant and becomes the 24 hour snack bar after 11 pm. We did however eat at the International restaurant which is located in a small building beachside, next to the rancheron. The food was okay, but it was very hot and stuffy by the 9 pm seating and they don't like to open any windows because it is air conditioned. There was no music and lacked some atmosphere. We did noticed another guest getting sick outside after their meal. We were fine after dinner, but are wondering whether our mild case of the trots came from eating here. Our favourite a la carte was the Seafood. Not only was the food excellent-try the crab salad appie and the shrimp or lobster entree; but this was the only place where you could eat outside and enjoy the warm tropical nights. Reservations for all a la carte restaurants are made at the customer relations desk in the lobby next to the front desk. Considering the total guest capacity of this resort, seating for the a la cartes is very limited and can only be made one or two days in advance. Service was excellent!

ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT: A schedule of daily activities is posted in the lobby, however we did not see many happen. Perhaps there were too few guests or not enough participation. The dance lessons were great and lots of fun. The activities staff were a wonderful group. We tended to see them more in the late afternoon and evenings when they mingled with the guests. There is a games room, but it is located on the far east side of the resort. The games room is however well equiped with pool tables, backgammon, chess, etc. This is also where you pick up your towels for the beach and pool. A bit out of the way actually considering the location of the two pools and beach.

For children, we noticed a Kids Club building as well as a nice playground. There were few guests, and even fewer with children, but I did ask one family for their comments. The four children were ages 8-12. Activities were offered by the staff of the Kids Club to the two families, and the children did spend some time away from the parents, but it had been the parent's choice to entertain their children themselves. They were very pleased with what their children were offered.

The evening entertainment started at 10 pm and was again located inside the main building; same room as the disco. This was a big disappointment for us as all other resorts we have been to, always had an outdoor stage and show. The first couple of nights, the shows were decent but the volume was so loud that your eardrums actually hurt and we left after 15 minutes. Later in the week, the volume was finally turned down(many guests had complained), but the shows were either bad and boring or just mediocore. We noticed the house band performing as the disco entertainment. The band was good, especially the percussionists.

The piano bar was pathetic with a portable keyboard, but the bartender there was great as was the talented fellow playing the keyboard. Again, this area is a sealed off air conditioned room, across the hall from the disco/party lounge. It seemed to be empty whenever we walked by. The 24 hour lobby bar was amazing with it's beautiful grand piano and excellent service. A delightful quartet played in the buffet at lunch and dinner. If you are like us, and enjoy spending your time outside in the evening, this place is not for you. We almost resented being forced indoors. There is no mosquito control either, so don't forget the bug repellent or you'll be eaten alive.

SHOPPING: Varadero is a short walk from the resort. You can also walk along the beach, about ten minutes to one of the flea markets. There are a few vendors with loaded bicycles walking along the beach, but no one bothers you. The tobacco and gift shops in the hotel are very well stocked. Prices are competitive, but unfortunately they have not yet received the credit card machines, so cash only for now. We opted to take the tourist shuttle bus, $1 per person fare, to the Plaza of the Americas. Lots of shops, great selection, decent prices (depending on the store) and you can use your Visa.

SUMMARY: The check-in must improve! One person at the front desk and one bellhop made for a very tedious and lengthy process. The keycards for your room also operate the in room safe. Be aware that this card is computer programmed to stop working exactly at check-out time- in our case five minutes earlier. Don't be late or you'll have a problem getting your travel documents out of the safe! Be prepared with dressier clothing for evening meals- no shorts allowed! The staff are all required to wear white shirts and bow ties- terribly uncomfortable and somewhat pretentious. All of the doors are glass, so we presume that staff are posted to open the doors for guest safety.

We did enjoy a relaxing week on the beach, but would not return to this resort. We are more down-to-earth people who enjoy a relaxed outdoor atmosphere in a tropical resort rather than a "refined elegance" type resort where most of your time is spend in an indoor, air conditioned environment. Hopefully in time, some of the silly and petty rules set down by Barcelo will be changed. This in itself would make many staff and guests much happier.

Enjoy and let me know how it improves in the future.

Thanks to Christel for this trip report ...
February 2002

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