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Home > Destinations > Cuba > Trip Reports > Trip Report

Cuba - Trip Reports

Sandals Royal Hicacos

We chose Sandals Royal Hicacos in Cuba as our Honeymoon destination. The resort is very nice, but it is not what we expected from a Sandals resort and was certainly not worth the price that we paid for it. We stayed for 2 weeks from 21st July 2003.

We booked through The Holiday Place in the UK; we spent many weeks looking for offers for either an all-inclusive or a cruise for our honeymoon. We eventually chose a Sandals resort (this resort was the cheapest) as we thought it would be the most luxurious and pampering holiday from all those offered. From the advertising that Sandals gives on TV and in brochures, their resorts certainly look perfect for Honeymoon couples.

Our travel agent sent through our tickets in the wrong name (yes, we should have double-checked them, but like you don't have enough organise when you get married!) so we had 3 hours of intense stress at the airport finding a way for us to fly. Eventually we had to cough up 750 in cash to buy a new ticket (we got it back from the travel agent, but only after a lot of straight talking.)

We will talk about all the things we thought were great before mentioning the things that were not so great. No doubt many people will disagree with our comments about the resort. Most people we spoke to were having a great time and loved the resort. All we can say is that this was our personal experience and these are our feelings about it all.

Good things

Food was fantastic mostly, with lots of choice. Favourite restaurant was the Italian with their great pizzas and king prawns at dinner. Seafood restaurant had immaculate service. Beach grill had great views of sunset at dinner and tasty lunches. Buffet was just wonderful, service very friendly and efficient and food amazing! We particularly liked the way you could choose your meat/fish and have it cooked right in front of you at the chef station. The desserts are very nice and beautifully done.

Rooms are large and clean. The bed is enormous so not exactly designed for cosy moments if you know what I mean! We found ourselves waking up every morning miles apart from each other.

Balcony is huge and a great place too sit during the day, the rail is a great addition for drying off your swimwear etc. The bathroom is very spacious with a separate toilet room. We loved the huge bath, even if it did take absolutely ages to fill!

Piano bar was our favourite place to spend time in the evening. The pianists are not always brilliant, but they play with conviction and are very friendly. This bar is well air-conditioned so a welcome relief to the humidity.

We loved the floating loungers in the pool; they are foam with a raised section for your head. Everyone floats around on these for hours or mucks about with them, great fun! By the way, they also make a great umbrella when the heavens open!

Pina Colada's from the pool bar were delicious, they come from a machine rather than hand made, the hand made ones were not so good in all the other bars. Drink flows freely and the Champagne (although only cheap Spanish sekt) is very drinkable. The house wines, of which you have a small choice, are extremely nice and so there is no need to purchase the bottles they have for sale.

People have said that all the drinks are premium brands, but we didn't find this to be the case. Coke and Sprite are their own local brand and the beer is Presidente. They are fine but would have preferred the brand names, especially in the beer.

Take insulated mugs with you, as the take-away plastic cups are very small. There were not many of us with insulated mugs but we got a lot of envious looks! The bar staff are happy to fill them.

Beach is lovely, turquoise clear water and silver-white sand. We have been to prettier beaches in the Caribbean as this one is straight and runs for miles, but it's still lovely.

Watersports offered are very good. We spent quite a few hours on the paddleboats and took a catamaran ride. Free scuba diving for beginners is a good bonus.

Snorkellers should be happy. Lots of fish to look at, including sand coloured ones that swim in shoals right by the shoreline! If you don't like fish then you won't want to go into the water.

We saw 2 huge jellyfish right after we got back onto our paddleboat after swimming and a huge scary looking black fish (shark-like) only about 10 metres out from the beach - be careful out there!

Our maid was fantastic; she did a great job and left us notes and 'towel art' everyday. We chose to leave her tips.

Take a taxi to Varedero flea markets for your souvenirs and presents. Remember to bargain with the sellers! We bought lots of lovely wooden statues for great prices. A taxi from the resort cost us $7 there but they will charge you more to go back, about $12. Coco taxis are great and more fun, but they cost a little more. You can go jet skiing near the flea markets, not on the beach but on the other side where there is no sand. Ask your rep for details. We did 15 minutes for $15, not bad price at all.

We enjoyed 2 tours that we took through our rep. The first was an overnight tour to Havana, we stayed in a four star hotel that was very nice and were had an escorted tour the first day and left to our own devices on the second. The lunch provided on the first day was really lovely in a local restaurant in the outskirts on Havana. We chose not to include the famous 'Tropicana' show in the evening, we went to a jazz club instead with another couple and had a fabulous time - we highly recommend that. Ask the tour guide to give you details of where to go, we went to 'La Zorra Y El Cuervo'. The journey to and from Havana takes over 2 hours each way, if you did the day in Havana you would be exhausted to travel back that night, that is why we stayed overnight - we highly recommend it.

Swimming with dolphins was the best thing we did while we were there. It is a few minutes drive from the resort and a small minibus takes you - we paid $59 each to swim for 30 mins with them, this is about half the price you would pay to do this anywhere in the Caribbean. You swim in a group of about 10 and get to kiss them and they do some tricks with you. The dolphins seem very happy to interact with you and they are not forced to do anything. One of the 2 dolphins with us disappeared for about 10 minutes and it was no bother to the trainers. The water is not clear, it is in a salt-water lagoon - but you can still see then dolphins swim around you. Don't be nervous about them, they are friendly and make you feel so at ease around them. The trainer recommends that you don't wear a lifejacket, as the water is buoyant - don't know why they say this, as you have to tread water for 30 minutes! Most people in our group found this very tiring, get a life jacket!

The pictures they take are worth the $10 you pay for them, but the video at $35 is not. If you can find someone to video it for you (you have to pay $10 I think for the pleasure) it would be much better. An absolutely wonderful experience that we will never forget.

Bad Things

We flew with Air Jamaica from Heathrow to Havana. Service was not great, food was just about adequate and entertainment was terrible. Oh well, it's only for 9 hours.

On arrival in Havana we had a 2-hour wait in a queue to get through immigration, then we were shown to the Sandals transfer coach. We had to wait another hour or so for all Sandals customers to get through immigration and board the coach. At 11pm we set off for the resort, it takes approx. 2 and a half-hours to get there. At 1.30am we arrived at the resort. We had read on this board that you are greeted with Champagne and a hot towel and shown by buggy to your rooms, this was not our experience. We were given our room card and a map and told to make our own way to our room and luggage would follow shortly, there were hot towels on the front desk but they were not offered to us, only the concierge guests. We sat in reception for about 10 mins while we sorted out some details with the staff, and we were eventually offered some Champagne.

We found our room and went to get a late night snack from the Italian restaurant; the toasted sandwiches were very welcome! Our bags had still not arrived an hour later and we called reception, they then turned up after 15 minutes.

Our room had a huge ice machine just outside the front door; this made a lot of noise and caused us to wake up during the night. There were no bathrobes in the room as expected (and advertised) and no welcome note or anything similar.

The next day we went to reception and asked to move rooms, which was possible as the resort was only half full. We checked to see if they knew we were Honeymooners, as we had specifically asked our travel agent to notify the resort - you get some upgrades if you are Honeymooners. They said they had not been notified of this and so because we were Honeymooners, offered us a stocked mini-bar (very useful addition, but for the price you pay everyone should have this), 2 T-shirts and a welcome bottle of Champagne. We also asked for bathrobes, which were delivered that afternoon.

We then went to make reservations for dinner for the next few days. As we were Honeymooners we were invited to special romantic candlelit dinner especially for Honeymooners in the Caribbean restaurant that evening. When we arrived we were quite shocked to find that everyone was on a table seating 8 people! Not quite what we call romantic.We made the best of it and got chatting to a couple from Canada that were very nice - swapping wedding horror stories!

Our next evening dinner reservation didn't exactly start well either, we arrived at the Italian restaurant to be told that they had no details of our reservation and that we would have to eat in the buffet restaurant. We were quite upset and after 5 minutes of checking they revealed that they were only joking and of course we had a reservation. Now this may be funny to some people but after everything else, this was not funny to us.

The design of the resort is very nice, the water moats that surround the resort are a great idea, but it's a great shame that they have been designed badly. They have no drainage or filtration and so are full of muck and stagnant water. The moats closest to the main area are cleaned daily but many of the moats near accommodation are absolutely disgusting, they smell bad and are breeding ground for insects. Also the moats are painted a beige/yellow colour that makes the water look uninviting to start with - green/blue would have been a much better idea.

We found the raised seating area in the room quite redundant. The TV is on the other side of the bed so you cannot watch TV from here. There is no room service available for non-concierge guests; maybe you would use this area for eating if you have concierge service? On this subject we must complain; we have been to 4 star resorts that offer room service at a supplement, why does Sandals not offer this? The resorts is set up for couples on romantic holidays, we would have loved to have had breakfast on our balcony or a quite dinner in our room on occasion, but there is absolutely no facility for this. Very bad in our view.

Concierge service costs about 44 per room per night extra, for this you get continental breakfast delivered to your room if you would like it, a stocked mini bar, someone to handle your dinner reservations for you, 15% discount on spa services, bathrobes to keep and an invitation to a concierge drinks party. We would definitely not recommend anyone paying to upgrade to this; it is not worth it in our book. Concierge rooms are the same as all the other, but have a view of other balconies instead of views of the road or the next door building site (great!) There are no sea-view rooms at all as there is greenery that is between the resort and the beach.

From this board we read reviews that said you could look at the night sky while you took a bath together - this is not possible at the resort anymore, as every room has bathroom shutters that do not work. The bathroom may as well be an inside room, as you cannot get any natural light in there. W called reception to ask if it could be fixed and the told us that every shutter in the resort is broken and can't be fixed.

Public toilets are not kept in great condition. There are no locks on any of the doors and are often dirty with no paper. This is not what you expect from a 5 star resort.

The boat that takes you water-skiing and scuba diving leaks out loads of oil and petrol into the sea. This is terrible and Sandals really should do something about it. Water skiing is not great, as the boat does not go fast enough.

The Jacuzzi in the main pool did not work for the whole 2 weeks we were there. The whirlpool near the concierge block was often dirty and the air jets had been moved so it was not a 'whirlpool' anymore.

The resort was about half full when we were there, with maybe a few more people the second week. On 3 occasions we could not get any towels as they had run out. We could not find any loungers by the pool or at the beach on a few occasions. This is big problem, what will people do when the resort is full? There is no man-made shade by the pool, and very few trees that offer any shade for long. Why are there no sunshades with a small table for drinks?

The shades at the beach are large, but very closely spaced together - forget any privacy, you are basically lined up on the beach next top each other. There are not shelves or tables attached to the shades or loungers, so your drinks have to go on the sand, seems silly when they could have just made a small shelf for drinks. There are no foot showers from the beach to the resort, that would have been a useful addition, most resorts we have been to have had this.

Service can occasionally be very bad. We were ignored for 15 minutes after being seated in the Caribbean restaurant and had to ask to get our candle lit and for a drink. We waited 1 hour for food after being ignored for 20 minutes in the beach grill; we left before the food arrived as we have far better things to be doing than wait 1 hour for a snack. We loved the Italian restaurant and the staff are very nice, but they do get orders wrong all the time! We had 2 meals there that were not what we had ordered from the menu and saw other couples having the same problem.

There is a photographer but we only saw them twice, they took our photo at the Honeymooners dinner and we saw them once at the beach at sunset. Everytime we went to the beach at sunset to get a photo taken they were not there. We had to ask a security guard instead. They should be out and about at dinner taking pictures of couples and also by the pool. Honeymooners want decent pictures of themselves together, we had to ask other people all the time to take a picture of us.

The resort is for adult couples only, but we saw quite a few children about and even in the restaurants. We think they were children of the staff.

We were amazed at how many couples seemed to not want to spend time with each other, but to join up with others and become a huge group of loud tourists. It is mostly the British that do this. The pool bar is full of them in the afternoon and it can be quite disruptive. We had to leave the piano bar one night as it was full of groups being loud and lairy - you couldn't hear a note of what was being played.

The entertainment team seem to encourage this behaviour with party games etc. We didn't expect this from the resort, we thought it would be classier than this.

The dance shows that were put on are not of the highest standard, but we were expecting that. The singers can be quite painful on the ear!

We were looking forward to getting dressed up for dinner and dancing together when the opportunity arose. Unfortunately this didn't happen, there seems to be nowhere to dance except for the nightclub which we didn't visit properly. We stayed for 5 minutes and didn't like it.

There is a dress code in every restaurant and public area but a lot of people ignore it. We saw lots of people in trainers and shorts at dinner and women in bikinis with no cover-up on at lunch. The staff should enforce the dress codes.

Many women go topless on the beach and by the pool, even sitting at the swim-up bar topless. We found that quite surprising.

We saw a few weddings taking place and we were not at all impressed. The gazebo that they use is very close to reception and rooms on the other side. You will be looking at dirty moats and other people's balconies as you take your vows.

They decorate it nicely though and the cake looked very pretty.

Basically we were very disappointed in our trip. We had a nice holiday but we did not have the Honeymoon we dreamed of. We feel that Sandals have misled us, because they advertise one thing and deliver another. There are no romantic, secluded spots for a couple to spend time in; the Jacuzzis that work are huge and not at all intimate. There is no opportunity to dance together; there is no room service. We did not feel at all pampered and the service was not always very good.

This is a nice all-inclusive resort with good food. It deserves 5 stars for the food and for the size and amenities in the room, and for the pool. But for everything else, it is in our book a 4 star. We feel that their holidays here are over-priced already, and prices are due to go up.

We urge you to hesitate before booking here for your Honeymoon, we had an option to do a cruise for the same price and we wish that we had done that instead. We used to work on cruise ships and the standard is very high, much better than Sandals Royal Hicacos.

No doubt many people will disagree with our comments about the resort. Most people we spoke to were having a great time and loved the resort. All we can say is that this was our personal experience and these are our feelings about it all.

Thanks to Sheri for this trip report ...
August 2003


 
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