Tuesday, 24 February 2009

My trip to Varadero, Cuba

We just got back from a week-long trip to Varadero, Cuba with Signature Vacations.

We flew from Vancouver to Varadero on Skyservice Airlines and we were booked into Star Class both ways. My overall experience traveling in Star Class was that I found it well worth the upgrade charge to take Star Class. This is still 3 and 3 seating, so it's not a wider seat, but the leg room is much more than the regular seating. Also, there are so many extras that come along when booking Star Class - advance seat selection, priority check in and priority luggage, 30KG luggage allowance, headsets and bar service on board complimentary. The meal service was the same for all of the passengers, and our morning flight was served a Western baked egg omelet with cheddar cheese on an English muffin, orange juice and Yoplait yogurt. It made for a comfortable journey traveling in Star Class. We did have the luggage come off first both in Cuba and back in Vancouver, so the priority luggage tags that are put in when checking in do work and bags came out on the carousel first!

My last trip to Cuba was about 5 years ago and I did notice a few things that have improved/changed, and that is the quality of food and variety certainly is better to what was available on the previous trip. Cuba is rich in culture and I found the people very friendly. A trip to Havana even just for the day is a must. To see Old Havana is quite incredible and very interesting rich in history of the country. Currency is the CUC (Convertible Cuban Peso) which is on par or higher than the US dollar so this does make Cuba a bit more expensive for Canadians when there, however there is not a lot of shopping to be had so one will not spend a lot of money. Of course Rum and Cigars are good deals and if you make the trip into Havana check out the Rum factory you will get some great rates on Rum and cigars. Hotels will exchange Canadian Money to the CUC but be sure to only change small amounts as you need it, for you will lose again when you have to convert it back to Canadian money. You cannot convert CUC outside of Cuba so you must do this before you leave the country. The airport does have a currency exchange however if you had an early flight it would not be open.

Tipping is quite the norm now and one will find they will tip small amounts even in the all inclusive resorts. We did find service a bit better if we had tipped and I still brought some small gifts for the maids and I left a small amount of money at the end for the maid. They really appreciate this and I had the maid leave me a nice note to thank me for the gifts. Any excursions taken you should expect to take some money to tip the tour guides etc at the end of the trip. Guideline would be the same as tipping in Canada for tour guides etc. They really do just appreciate any amount and they are very friendly and helpful one does not mind tipping for the great customer service.

Here is some information about the hotel where we stayed in Varadero:
Hotel Sirenis La Salina Varadero
  • Large hotel - 1035 rooms

  • New hotel and largest in Varadero - Opened in 2007

  • This hotel is built in a Ecological park so a lot of the area respected and protected when built

  • There is a relaxation pool as well as the main activity pool

  • 7 a la carte restaurants

  • 10 handicapped rooms located on the main floor nearest the lobby area

  • Centre Square, as it is called in the resort, is where the theater area is located at this resort

  • Piano bar- which turns into the disco later in the night

  • Waterslides off the main pool area with swim up bar in the main pool area

  • Mini club with 2 kids pools

  • Baby club – 0-4 years – mini club for 5-12 years

  • Standard rooms with either 1 king or 2 double beds

  • charge for safe of 2 CUC per day
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