Tuesday, January 6, 2015

How I spent my Christmas vacation by Cindy Smith

Doesn't that look pretty? It's the views from the beach of my resort.

My family of three spent New Year's in Cuba, specifically Cayo Coco, a remote island separated from the mainland. Nobody lives there. It is only used for resorts. Because of this, it was very tranquil.

We stayed at the Iberostar Daiquri.

If you're looking for an action-packed, party atmosphere, this is NOT the resort for you.

If you want a lazy vacation (and family friendly) where you can lounge all day at the beach or poolside in somewhat peace and quiet (if you don't mind music blaring from 10 am to 7pm) this the resort for you.

If you're seeking luxury accommodations, this resort isn't for you. If you're looking for a vacation where you can sleep on a clean bed and take a shower and not spend any more time than that requires in a room - this is the resort for you.

This was our first time in Cuba and we stayed here from Dec 28/14 - Jan 4/15. I hate crowds. I dislike PARTY ALL THE TIME and I want a long beach (and it was long), white sand (it was stunning) and friendly staff (they were fabulous) - this is what we got from Iberostar Daiquiri.

The resort is in the middle of nowhere. It is two hours to the nearest city and definitely a place where you can go to drink as much as you want, eat as much as you want and sit in the sun all day long without being bothered to "do something". If you've ever stayed at a Club Med resort then you know what day camp for adults feels like and this resort is nothing like that.

Our first room was in the Trinidad building where it smelled like Tremclad paints had decided to hold a user convention. The room stunk of oil-based paint (the building had been recently renovated and our room wasn't finished -- fishing line held up a pole from the ceiling that acted as a shower rod and the electrical outlet was missing from the bathroom). I'm sensitive to chemical smells and spent the whole night on the balcony borrowing the chair from inside the room (as there was no balcony furniture) where I was quickly consumed by sand flies (a smaller version of a mosquito). That first night I was bitten 39 times, on the arms and legs. This made for a miserable, itch-filled, blister-inducing week as it quickly demonstrated I was allergic to the bloodsuckers. In the morning, Liana at the front desk was sympathetic and switched us to the Santiago de Cuba building which was a HUGE and WELCOMED improvement. It was also quiet and much closer to the beach and main restaurant.

The sand flies will only bother you if you're the kind of person whose skin reacts badly to any kind of bite. Some guests weren't bothered and others joined me in my misery. Bring DEET.

Internet is not free at the hotel. You will have to buy time, sold in one-hour slots, for 4 cuc. $5 CAD will also buy you a card which has a user name and password. Be sure to log out of the actual server webpage because turning wifi off on your phone doesn't log you out. You don't have to use the time all at once and can spread it out over the days you are there. Gmail will not work. Facebook is accessible. You can charge your phone using the 220v outlets in the hotel. Just make sure the transformer you plug your USB cable into has 110v to 240v stamped on it. You don't need to bring, borrow or buy a transformer, unless you need to curl your hair.

Cuba is a socialist country where people are paid no more than 489 pesos (about $22 USD) a month in salary, regardless of the position they hold for whatever work they do, according to our tour guide. Yet, these are hardworking people and tipping is encouraged. I also encourage it, especially the hotel housekeepers. If you spend $6 on Starbucks, you can spare $5 CAD to give to your housekeepers. And what is great about the staff at this resort is even if you don't tip, because you ran out of money, the service is still the same. These people truly enjoy what they do.

We had Isabelle and Mary looking after our room. Both did an exceptional job and our fridge was always stocked with bottled water, pop and beer. They cleaned the bathroom spotlessly every single day. The towel art was a nice touch.

With the bartenders, make sure you tip at the beginning of your vacation, and establish a relationship, this way you don't have to tip after every drink. My husband and I brought $100 in $5 CAD denomination and this is what we tipped with. Drivers, tour guides and staff. We made it all the way to the end with this budget. Gifts are also appreciated and we brought small things with us like ball caps with logos (baseball teams), batteries, and bought cigars to hand out in appreciation.

The food gets a little repetitive and I would discourage anyone not used to Cuban cuisine to refrain from being too adventurous. My husband did not heed this advice and spent the last three days of our holiday chained to the toilet. If you don't know what it is, don't eat it. If you want to try it, try a tablespoon - and that's it. I find that the buffet could be better suited for children as many aren't willing to try new things. My daughter ate hard-boiled eggs, french fries, ice cream and pizza for seven days straight as nothing else appealed to her. A grilled cheese sandwich station and chicken fingers (if they can be imported) would be two things to add to the menu. Cubans don't drink coffee with cream so if you can't take yours black, opt for the lattes prepared by Nelson at the Mojito bar. He does a great job -- so does Loberto at the poolside bar.

The pina coladas are fantastic. Beer is Cristal which has a light and crisp taste. Opt for lime daiquiris over strawberry and try the pineapple juice with rum. I highly recommend it.

At the beach, Roberto will reserve chairs for you. Get to know him, he makes the day highly enjoyable.

The gardeners make hats out of palm leaves as well as grasshoppers and bird art. Tip them well. Offer them water. Cayo Coco is stupid hot.

The one thing that annoyed me about the resort was the lack of deck chairs. Most would be dragged from the pool area to the beach by guests and this should be policed better. Also annoying was the practice of laying towels on chairs that would remain empty til late afternoon when the guests who claimed them finally showed up to sit on them. We went many hours sitting on the concrete on our own beach towels while our daughter swam in the pool. This wasn't comfortable at all.

On the fourth day of our seven day holiday, I had my Birkenstock sandals stolen from beneath a deck chair while I went to fetch my husband from the bar. This was a real low point as they were being used by my daughter who went without shoes for the remainder of the holiday. Thankfully I had thought to pack her running shoes or else she would have arrived barefoot back in Toronto in -3C weather. Who the heck steals someone else's sandals? Especially worn sandals? Just odd. So keep your valuables close.

If you want to visit "the real Cuba" make sure you book through your tour rep and definitely attend orientation. You will save money this way and can be assured some security and safety as you tour mainland Cuba. I highly recommend the day trip to Moron.

We also did the Dolphin swim and this was the highlight of the trip.

Also, never leave without toilet paper stored in your beach bag and hand sanitizer. You'll be glad you were prepared!

If you go, more information about the resort is available on their website.


Anonymous said...

Can I ask how much it was for the three of you? And this was all inclusive (flight/hotel/food/drinks)?

C.J. Smith said...

$3100 taxes in - all inclusive.

Bicky said...

Cuba has never been on my radar as a place to visit. Looks lovely.

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Cindy
Thank you for this wonderful review.

C.J. Smith said...

I told you I would deliver!

Skin Man said...

Looks awesome!