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A friend and I (we are both in our mid 20's) just got back from Sol Elite Palmeras, on Varadero Beach - Cuba. It is rated a 4 star. We went to this hotel based upon relative's suggestions. We went with Air Canada vacations. We left May 25th 2002 and returned June 1st 2002. I did a lot of research on Cuba and hotels before we left and could not find much on this hotel, which is why I am adding my insights.
Departure: The flight down was fine, on time and everything. Varadero airport was quite empty so we moved through pretty quickly. We were met at Varadero airport by an Air Canada representative and shown to our bus. I was asked if I wanted my bag carried but I did not as it was on wheels anyways.
Check in: Once at the hotel, the check in was very slow. They took photo copies of our passports, gave room keys, did a $10.00 deposit on a room safe as well as a $10.00 deposit for every beach towel that you wanted to use during your stay. We were then shown to our room.
Room: The room was good. We were on the 4th floor (the top floor). We had an ocean view with a balcony. It was decorated in blue and yellow. It had two twin beds, a mini fridge, a closet with the safe in it, a TV (that got about 3 English channels), in the bathroom there was a hairdryer, small bottles of hand cream, shampoo, etc. There was also a large bottled water available every day. The maid did a good job at cleaning the room. We had taken down some things to give to her (smelly soaps, nail polish, old t-shirts, etc). She was very grateful and wrote us notes of thanks and gave us extra towels and pillows. Which we needed as the pillows were quite flat. She also did neat arrangements with the towels. She made swans and boats out of them and decorated them with flowers.
Hotel: As for the rest of the hotel. It has quite a large property. There is the main hotel that is in the shape of a horseshoe and then there are also bungalows off to the side of the hotel. The hotel grounds are quite nice. It is nice to see a hotel that is not all concrete. This hotel has palm trees everywhere. In fact, although we had an ocean view, it was also a view of all the trees. There are some gift shops on the lower lobby of the hotel. I can't say much about the pool, as we did not use it. Part of it was under construction though during our stay. But the other part of it and the kiddy pool were operational. And I did see people out cleaning it on a daily basis. The beach and the ocean were great. Since it is a large property it has quite a large length of beach to itself. The ocean is shallow for some distance out, and the water was clean and warm. There were hardly any people on the beach wanting to sell you things. We were approached only once.
Restaurants: On to the food. Now before going to Cuba I had heard bad things about the food. So I will tell what I thought (keep in mind that I am a picky eater). There is the main buffet restaurant. It was quite large, and had a large variety of things to eat. Most of them however were not things that I wanted to eat. There seemed to be a lot of mystery meats in weird sauces and a lot of pickled things, etc. I found that with the foods that I did eat, they didn't have much taste to them. A lot of things tasted like nothing. It seemed like most days the buffet foods stayed the same. The one thing that I did not like about the buffet was that there were a lot of flies buzzing around. Then there is an Italian restaurant, it was pretty good. It had the usual.ravioli, cannelloni, spaghetti, etc. There was also an outdoor sit down BBQ restaurant, I did not like this one much as the menu was quite limited. It had chicken (which is a leg of chicken), fish, and veal hamburgers. There is a Chinese restaurant but we were not sure where it was and were never that interested in going anyway, but from what I heard form someone else, it was good. Then you could get snacks like sandwiches from the Lobby bar area (which we never did). There were some other bar areas by the beach that I think may have had grills behind them, but during our stay they were not being used. I think that this might have been because we were not there during a peak time but I can't be sure. I wish they had been open though because I thought it was a pain that for all meals you had to get dressed and go back up to the hotel to eat. I thought there should have been food accessible to the beach area. So as a result we never went for lunch, just ate a bigger breakfast. So the food is not great in my opinion, but I got by on fruit, pasta, rice, and pizza. But the way I look at it, who goes away for the food anyways.
Entertainment: There was nightly entertainment from 9:30 - around 10:30/11:00. It was okay I guess, I've seen better though. For the first half hour there was a band that played and singers that sung along. We found that quite boring and starting arriving at 10:00 once that had ended and the actual show started. But the shows were always the same type. Singing and dancing in costumes. I think it could have used some variety. As for other entertainment. On the beach there was kayaks, catamarans, paddle boats, a banana boat, water skiing, and there was a parasailing boat. I think they also offered introduction scuba lessons on the pool.
Weather: We went during their rainy season. The week before we left I guess it had rained the whole week so we were worried. But the weather for our week was great. It was only overcast the first day of our stay, and it rained a little at the end of our last day. Other than that the weather was great. Very hot though. The sun is very strong. I had SPF 30 and I would recommend higher as I was still getting burned after only sitting in the sun for like 10 minutes.
Check out: Our check out was a much easier process than the check in. The bus met us and returned us to the airport, which was once again empty. We had no problems and our flight left on time. One thing that I found interesting while waiting to leave. There are women that sit outside the men's and women's washrooms who serve your toilet paper and then want to be tipped.
Bugs: There seemed to be a lot of mosquitoes after you in the morning and at night. I came home with about 10 mosquitoes bites.
I went to Dominican last year during one of the peak seasons and had a much better time, I wonder if going at off seasons makes a difference on the quality of food, and entertainment.Mind you it was nice not have to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to reserve beach chairs.
Overall, I had a great trip. Would I go back to Cuba? Yes. I love traveling and I would go pretty much anywhere. Would I go back to Varadero? Yes, the beach was amazing, but it might be nice to see another part of the island. Would I stay at Sol Palmeras again? I probably would I guess. I would recommend it, but personally I like trying out new places.
Thanks to Marnie for this trip report ...