Monday, 6 June 2016

Vacationing in Cuba

My wife and I have been in cities in thirty countries, (Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America, North America and Asia) so I know something about hotels. There are three vacation locations that in my opinion really have the finest beaches in the world, (Hawaii, Rio de Janeiro and Cuba) the latter is the one in which my wife and I have recently vacationed.   

This article is about our experience at one of the Cuban hotels (Breezes’ Bella Costa Hotel which is an all-inclusive resort like all the others) that is located on the narrow peninsula at Veradero and which is on the north side of Cuba. It is approximately 86 kilometres in length and around one and a half kilometres in width. The beaches and the hotels are on the left side of the peninsula when you enter it from the small town of Veradero. Right next to the right side of the highway in the peninsula is the water of the Atlantic Ocean.

I have been in three of the many hotels in that peninsula and my wife has been in two of them. The latest hotel that we were in just recently was the Bela Costa operated by Breezes in which our travel agent chose for us.

I looked for the reviews pertaining to the Bella Costa. They were not very encouraging. What all of them did say however was that the Bella Costa's staff out did themselves in making everyone feel welcome. I am in total agreement with that observation with one exception which I will explain later in this article. This can be said about all the Cubans everywhere on the island. For example, I rented a scooter while at that hotel and while scooting around the area, on one occasion when making a sharp left turn, the scooter tipped over and I fell off the scooter and my legs were pinned to the road by the heavy scooter. Being disabled, I couldn’t free my legs and get up on my own. Within seconds, four cars and two motorcycles stopped and I was assisted by the drivers in getting up and getting the motor scooter in the upright position.

One reviewer said that some of the people in the hotel suffered from food sickness. I got diarrhea one day after eating the hotel’s food. I talked to a number of the people at the hotel and their common complaint (as was mine also) was that the food at breakfasts, lunches and suppers never changed. Eating the same food day after day can be boring, to say the least. The potato fries were so hard; you could break your teeth eating them. The chicken slices were so dry; you could use them as shingles on your roof. Apparently, they don’t wish to have mashed potatoes nor gravy as part of the fare.

One guest in 2011 wrote, “Although the food at the hotel was horrible we had a fun filled vacation.” unquote   Obviously, nothing has changed in the last five years.

Another guest recently wrote in part; “The food was not the best.  Breakfast and lunch was just ok (but the) evening meal was disgusting so we didn't eat after lunch.

Recently, a guest wrote; “Stay away. We went there as a wedding party.  The trip from hell had numerous cases of food sickness. The bride ended up with blood infection. Do not stay there if you want to end up like me.  I just returned from the hospital, passing more blood than you want to know about. Value your health. Do not go there.” unquote

 Another guest recently wrote; “The food was one of the worst parts. They had some okay options but we were travelling with vegetarians and that was difficult. Being a vegetarian, there is never many options but it was a buffet so I was expecting a little more. Even the ones that did eat meat said it wasn't the best. (I agree) Something that did blow us away was the pizza lady. There was a girl who made pizzas all by herself and she was AMAZING!!!! Overall the food was sort of a disappointment, but we made it work.” unquote  

I will say this about Bella Costa’s lunches. The hotel has a large open-air pavilion where the people at the beach and the fresh-water pools can eat their lunches in their bathing suits. That is a great idea.

Of course they have several specialized dining rooms but you have to pay to eat at them. In the hotel, there are dining rooms on both sides of the buffet called Jimmy’s Buffet. The first one is located just as you enter the dining area. It is where everyone eats.                         

One day after filling my plate at the buffet, a waitress offered to carry my plate of food and led me to the dining room on the other side of the buffet. There was no one in it expect two male waiters. I got suspicious and asked, “If I eat here, will I have to pay a fee?” The reply was “Yes.” I grabbed my plate back and ate were everyone else eats and pays no fee at all. I complained to the senior waiter in Jimmy’s Buffet and he agreed that I should have been told ahead of time that I would have to pay a fee to eat there.  Every day my wife and I were at the Bella Costa, no one ate at that special dining room. Then eventually the lights in that particular were turned off.  

The hotel is older and maintenance has been neglected in bathrooms and rooms. Our bathroom had many splashes of white paint on the door and door frame. The shower head had to be held in your hand. Unfortunately, no water came out of the shower head. The water squirted out of the opposite end of the shower head in a steady stream like a fire hose.

Every room has a small safe. We couldn’t get our safe open with the key.  A technician was sent to our room to fix it. He squired oil in the key slot and then it could be opened. The hotel should check every safe to make sure that the keys slide in easily.    

The small room where the safe, drawers and place where you hang your clothes on, has an overhead light. When you turn on the switch, it sometimes takes half a minute for the bulb to go on            

The balcony was huge. The trouble was that it was difficult to get to it. We had great difficulty in getting the glass sliding door open. The bottom of the door was rubbing steel against the inside of the steel channel. They should either squirt oil in the channel or put small ball bearings in the slot so that the door will open easily.  Another guest wrote; “The balcony door needs to be oiled as it does screech like crazy when opening and closing.”

Bella Costa has three wings. One overlooks the sea and the highway. The second one overlooks the freshwater pools and the third one. (The one we were in) overlooks the trees, and a small garden. Alas, it also overlooks the machinery that provides the air conditioning to the building and a road where trucks drive to bring items to the hotel and the outdoor pavilion. At night we can hear the motor that provides the air conditioning and one early morning, we heard a truck at four making a hell of a lot of noise grinding something. That truck should have been doing its thing during the day and not in the middle of the night. Avoid staying in the wing that overlooks the so-called garden.

Our travel agent said that we could only get a garden-view room. But as luck would have it, we got a corner room that not only looked over the so-called garden; we could also see the Atlantic Ocean by looking through the window next to our king-size bed and from the balcony itself.         

Every afternoon when the sun was shining through the sliding glass door into our room, if the red curtains were pulled across the sliding glass door, the walls and the ceiling of the room had a warm red glow to them.

Our room was large and so was our king-size bed. Some of the reviewers complained about their beds but I had no complaint at all about our bed.

Now I will tell you about Bella Costa’s beach that is on the right side of the pavilion. About twenty feet (approx. 6 metres) from the water, the beach is OK. Then if you want shade from the palm leaves umbrellas above you, you have to climb up a slope of sand and when you sit on beach chairs or lay on the lounge chairs, be prepared to have your body sloping downwards towards the beach. That area of the beach has large gouges in them that you have to walk around them to get to your chairs etc. That part of the beach is the filthiest part of a beach I have ever seen anywhere. It is littered with dead leaves and twigs. If you want to go to the pavilion for lunch, there are stairs leading to the pavilion from the beach. Can you believe it? The bottom rung of the stairs is too high to get your feet on it so the hotel placed a large rough rock on the sand for you to step onto so that you can reach the bottom rung of the stairs. Why don’t they simply build another step to the stairs?

 I only learned on the final day of our stay at the hotel that the very good beach on the other side of the pavilion was also the hotel’s beach. I thought it belonged to the hotel next to our hotel. My wife and I spent the entire day at that particular beach. Incidentally, the water was warm and clear even though it comprised of salt water.

I made two mistakes when I was at that hotel and the one I was in before that one. In the first of the two last hotels, I didn’t wear footwear when returning from the beach. The pain from stepping on small stones was really tough to take. When I was returning from the beach to get to the Bella Costa hotel, I was walking on smooth pavement of different colours. The hot Cuban sun made the pavement feel like I was walking on a large frying pan. Always wear footwear when you enter or leave a beach.

I only learned two days before we left to go home that all alcoholic beverages were free. I thought only the wine was free. Fancy cocktails are not free however. There is a lesson to be learned here. Get all the information you need when you arrive at your hotel. Don’t make presumptions.

Another bad feature of the hotel is that you have to walk some consider distance before you can get to the bus that will take you to the town of Veradero. The other hotels from what I learned, don’t have that problem.

A month ago, a guest wrote; “We had heard (that) star ratings in Varadero were not on par with other places however this hotel was definitely not what we expected. It is more of a 2-3 star hotel. The first room was dirty and had two single beds even though we booked a double room so we requested to move to another room which ended up being the same poor level of cleanliness and overlooking the back of the kitchen so every time we opened the balcony doors it stunk of grease. The food at the restaurant was very poor and the stretch of beach was definitely not the nicest. Luckily with the help of our holiday rep we managed to move to an upgraded hotel. I would definitely recommend that you can, stay in a 5 star (hotel) in Varadero which most are further along the strip towards the marina." 

Recently, another guest wrote in part; “Our upgraded room smelled of sewage. Our replacement room had a leak in the ceiling and smelled of mold. Our daughter’s room also had a leaky ceiling and ants. Our sons room had a leaky ceiling and also had a window broken from the outside in the night by someone or something, He was moved to another room but, after notifying staff that I needed this investigated as I was concerned about my son's safety. Management never spoke to me nor offered any explanation. Hotel requires a huge amount of investment to upgrade rooms, replace all plumbing. Too bad it has been left in such a state of disrepair.” 

I would be less than honest however if I didn’t add that many former guests wrote favorable reports about the hotel. They said they had a great time and so did my wife and I also. But we won’t return to this hotel again.

There are several interesting features that the hotel has. Their lobby is one of the best I have ever seen. It is large and the sofas and sofa chairs are comfortable. The bar is in the lobby. They have a grand piano at the far end of the huge lobby. I was invited to performed on it since I am a former concert pianist. Each night beginning at seven, instrumentalists and singers gave performances in the lobby until ten. One guest told me that there were dirty drips of water falling on where she was sitting in the lobby.

Outside next to the fresh water pools (which are very clean) is a stage where dancers performed for the first six days we were there and on the last night, we saw an amazing magic show. In one part of the show, a man entered an empty box and seconds later when the box was opened, a woman stepped out of the box instead of the man. In another part of the show, a man with two empty cylinders placed them on the table and when he lifted them up, two bottles were on the table. He did this five times and his performance ended up with ten bottles on the table.   These performers do their shows in all the hotels on the peninsula.


The bus is a great feature of that area of Cuba. For five pesos (approximately eight dollars) you can get on and off at any time. It runs from the far end of the town to the far end of the peninsula. It has an upper deck from where you can take photos of the area.


 We went on two excursions. In the first one, we sailed on a large catamaran that carried fifty passengers. Many of them laid themselves on the huge double nettings at the front of the craft while water splashed underneath them to cool them off.  We spent two hours sailing in the Atlantic and three hours at a beautiful island where we swam and had lunch before returning to our hotel. 


In the second excursion, we went on a safari that took us around the area in five jeeps. (four to a jeep) We visited a farm and then a eep underground cave in which people could swim in its two pools. Then we did horseback riding (it was a short ride) and then we got into five speedboats and drove them for 12 kilometres on a winding river to a location where our jeeps were waiting for us to take us to the bus that would return us to our hoels.

We paid approximately $100 each for each of these two trips. 


 Alas, the hotel claims that it is a four star. In my opinion, it is only a three star hotel at best.


One of the viewers said and I quote; “The hotel (was a) bad experience that cost us way too much money! I could have gotten a real four star in any other place for less.” unquote

Another reviewer said in April 2016, “The hotel is dated and needs updating. The beds are uncomfortable, curtains and furniture are old. We had problems with the electronic cards for the room locks and spent two hours having technicians reset our electronic lock as the front desk people did not believe us each time we had an incident. The following day water was dripping from the bathroom ceiling near the toilet, presumably from the toilet above us. We were moved to another room only after we insisted and spent one of our mornings packing, moving and unpacking. The new room was an upgrade but only modestly so. Half of the cardio equipment in the fitness room does not work. The nightly entertainment was often short 40 to 60 minutes , some of it was good, some of it not so much. Generally most of the front desk staff were not friendly and would make you wait until they finished the conversations they had with each other. (I experienced that problem also when two staff members ignored me while talking about their cats) The bar staff were not much friendlier. The restaurant staff were the friendliest and offered the best service. (I agree) The cleaning staff was okay but gotten significantly better after being tipped. Tipping the bar staff does not result in better service. There was one employee at the Delicatessen store shop in the hotel who continuously provided the incorrect change on four occasions, we found out on the last night there she was also overcharging on some items as there was another employee who provided the correct prices on some of the items we purchased. The weather was fantastic and the beach was great, food at the open grill was good. The al carte restaurants are good. The hotel would not provide one peso denominations so you could tip, so you had to buy items to get change or tip at a higher rate than required. The hotel displays the exchange rate for foreign currency that the bank will pay but not what they will exchange it for, which was a seven dollar extra charge for each hundred dollars charged for their tourist currency. Do not bother with purchasing time on a computer it is painfully slow.” unquote

One guest recently said; “If you go here don't expect a super fancy place, (as) things may not be maintained as you like. We had some water leaking all along the hallway of our floor, and bricks may be scattered throughout the paths.” unquote

With respect to the cleaning staff, I had to wait until four in the afternoons before the cleaning lady got to our room. That means no lying on your bed nude to cool off prior to then until the cleaning lady has cleaned your room unless you want her to see you naked as you sleep.  

Another guest said earlier, “Not good value for money. The hotel rooms are dated and need TLC. Reception staff was helpful with our special request. The pool bar staff was not attentive and at times somewhat rude. Service at the Japanese restaurant was very slow and not acceptable. (My wife who is Japanese-born said that she noticed that that restaurant was not up to Japanese standards so she refused to go to it) This is not a four star hotel....maybe a two star. It was an okay vacation, but we would not return to this hotel, if we were to return to Cuba.” unquote

Recently, a guest wrote; “The first room that we had received was a view of the garbage dump from the restaurant below. Our room was not in the greatest shape and neither was the hotel. Our room had a broken fridge and water damage in most spots. There were a lot of leaks throughout the entire hotel and it just looked rundown.” unquote

I would be less than honest if I didn’t add however that many people did praise the hotel. There are features about the hotel that are very good.

I spoke to a guest from one of the other hotels. She was staying at a five star hotel. It turns out that she only paid a bit more than we did for her hotel. She said that her hotel was really great.

When I spoke to our travel agent prior to going on the trip, I told her about all the bad reviews I had read. She admitted that the Bella Costa it is an old hotel but she added that she was there last year and it has greatly improved. I would hate to be in it prior to it being “greatly improved” It is a hotel that I and my wife do not wish to go to again.

Consider the following statement from Breezes that runs the hotel.

“Breezes is one of the world's most recognizable all-inclusive resort chains. This recognition has a lot to do with the fact that the company offers excellent resorts, affordable rates, and carefree vacation experiences.”

Considering our experience at Bella Costa, I will quote Charles Dicken’s Scrooge.


This was the first time my wife and I went to Cuba flying on Sunwing Airlines. They were an hour late taking off from Toronto and an hour late taking off from Cuba. Hey Sunwing. Get your acts together. 

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