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Our time in Varadero, Cuba

Last month, I went to Varadero, Cuba with a friend. I hadn’t been to the Caribbean for years, and my memories of sun, sea and sand had faded into a blur. We booked an all inclusive 5* hotel, the Barcelo Solymar. We picked it from the First Choice brochure because the photos looked stunning and it was actually affordable. We’d heard Barcelo have a good reputation too, which encouraged us to take the plunge and book.

A typical Cuban street – I want that car!

When we arrived at the hotel, we were so pleased. It looked just like the photograph in the brochure. Check in was swift and we were upgraded to a sea view room. Fatastic! Although we were tired, we were too excited to sleep, and instead we unpacked and went to explore. It was like paradise. The pools were so big and blue, like lagoons, and so clean. After locating the poolside bar and activity pool, we had a stroll down to the beach via the gardens to get our bearings. The beach was lovely, again, just as it looked in the brochure. First impressions of the hotel were great, and we thought we’d made a great choice.

However, there was a significant downside that, in a way, ruined our holiday. We first noticed whilst ordering drinks from the bar. There were lots of Canadian holidaymakers staying in this hotel, and they were such lovely people, so much so that they tipped (seemingly every time) when ordering drinks, even though they were all inclusive. Of course tipping is optional, but it meant that those not giving a tip didn’t get served! It was often quite unfair – although we stood at the front of the queue, people behind us were being served first. It quickly became a huge effort to fight for service, and we just felt frustrated and cheated. I’m not against tipping in any way, but it is my belief that you should tip after good service, not to get service! It’s a shame that something so simple has let such a beautiful hotel down. Also, the main restaurant is in the style of a canteen, with everyone rushing around it felt so stressful just standing still! My friend actually said one day “come on then, let’s get it over with” which summed meal times pretty well. It was never a good experience.

The sea is so turquoise

Varadero seemed very safe as a town, unlike other places I’ve been on holiday. It was just like Spain’s more exotic relative. There was no hassle at the markets or bars which was nice! We really enjoyed going out and about. We ate out a couple of times and the food was cheap and tasty.

We took a local coach to Havana and stayed 3 nights in a hotel we had booked online beforhand. It was called the Deauville and although basic, was perfectly located. We were really pleased. It cost less for the two of us to stay 3 nights B&B booking independently than it would have done if we had gone with the rep for 1 night! We still felt really safe at all times.

Although it’s a shame, I wouldn’t choose to stay at the Barcelo Solymar again. I’d definitely go back to Cuba though. Havana was lovely, I really want an old American car!

Eileen & Tom, Cheshire

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