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Two of our major vacations over the past two years were all-inclusive trips to Cuba. We chose Cuba for its beautiful beaches and reasonable prices and on both occasions happened to book with a Melia resort. We weren’t disappointed with either trip but there were definitely differences between the two areas, and the two resorts, which resulted in different experiences altogether. The first trip was to the Melia Las Dunas in Santa Maria and the second trip was to the Melia Marina Varadero.
The Melia international chain of hotels is a Spanish owned chain with over 350 hotels worldwide. While we’ve only been to two (and both were in the same country), I can honestly say we were truly impressed with both stays. In this two part series we’ll discuss both resorts individually and then provide a summary for those looking to vacation in Cuba.
First Impressions of Melia Las Dunas Resort
Our first trip was to Santa Maria and the Melia Las Dunas Resort. The resort is about 1 hour 45 minutes from the airport in Santa Clara via resort shuttle and the route takes you over the Cayo Santa Maria causeway which makes for some pretty nice views.
When we arrived at the resort we were immediately greeted with warm smiles and offerings of tropical beverages. We were given our room keys right away and set off to explore the resort. As we stepped out of the lobby we were immediately hit with the tropical feel of the place. Palm tress, shrubbery and flowers created a truly isolated, island oasis. The entire resort has this welcoming, enveloping feel and made walking around a truly pleasant experience.
The Room – A Private Oasis
Rather than one main building, many individual 2-storey units house multiple rooms. The room we received was clean and spacious with a small entrance-way and sitting area as well as a vanity separating the closet and the bathroom. Every morning we received a different towel design on our bed. We were hoping for a swan and heard that other couples had returned to their rooms after breakfast to find one awaiting them… the above picture was the most complicated creation we found during our stay. This was the only real disappointment of the trip.
The Beach – Paradise & Perfection
The view of the beach on Cayo Santa Maria is one of the most surreal experiences. Stepping onto soft white sand, looking out at crystal clear water that is the colour you think only exists in photoshopped photos, we felt like we were in paradise. The water was warm and for half of our stay it was calm.
The only thing we noticed was the lack of shade. Few palm trees or cabanas decorated the beach and the ones that were present, were taken early and rarely left for the duration of the day.
Be aware that on some beaches in Cuba, as in most sandy beaches, sand fleas are present at night time and are vicious biters. Socks, shoes and full length pants would be your best bet if you plan on catching the sunset on the beach, but this still won’t guarantee those pesky critters won’t find their way to your skin.
The Pool – There’s More Than One!
There were two pools on this resort. One in the “family” section of units, where any one could go, and one on the “adults” section, where children were not allowed. Both areas had activities during the day, obviously geared for the age ranges present, and both featured swim-up bars.
We didn’t spend too much time at the pool until the end of our week when the weather became overcast and too windy to spend long hours at the beach but we were always able to find a lounger.
The Food – A Pizza Love Affair
Despite what many people have told us, food at Cuban resorts is not always bad. I was prepared for flavourless meals but instead found some pretty delicious food. The buffet changed from day-to-day. Not altogether, but significantly enough so as not to tire of the options.
The a la carte restaurants were also a nice change from the buffet. Our favourite was the pizzeria which was not only an a la carte option for dinner, but was also open for lunch without a reservation.
At the airport on the way home, passengers from other resorts commiserated over the bland and inedible food they experienced. Fortunately, we were unable to relate to their experience.
The Service – Smiles & A Helping Hand
From the concierge to the bartenders, the pool staff to the waiters, our Cuban hosts were always smiling, friendly and willing to help. At the end of our stay, Macrae fell pretty ill with the flu and we received a great deal of support from the concierge and the wait staff. The only issue we did have was with our room attendant (and no, not just because we didn’t get any fancy towel swans). She was often missing in action, failing to re-supply the toilet paper, or not altogether friendly when we did find her, but from those we spoke to on the resort, she was one of the exceptions and we were usually able to find another attendant at the neighbouring units to help us.
The Entertainment – Always Something New
The resort seemed to have a significant number of families the week we were there. Many activities were available for children but there were also numerous adult oriented activities including sports, such as tennis; dance classes, such as salsa; and even Spanish lessons. There was nightly entertainment in an open theatre off the main bar which showcased dancers, comedy acts, magicians, and a night for Disney characters and songs. Random entertainment also seemed to pop up regularly. Musicians in the lounge, “Cuban Day” festivities with music, dancers and, my personal favourite, popcorn and cotton candy machines, were all unexpected enhancements to our stay.
Excursions also run from this resort which vary in price and depend on what tour company/airline you use. We had to cancel our snorkelling/swim with the dolphins excursion as Macrae was too sick to get out of bed, but friends we made there said it was incredible. There is also a marketplace that sits between Las Dunas and another resort which is set up with vendors during the day and has a bowling alley, discoteque, and restaurant for later in the evening. These are not included in the cost of your trip but are relatively inexpensive.
The Location – A Secluded Island
While it may have been the time of the year in which we visited (late March), we found our resort to be a quieter, family-oriented location. This suited us fine as we weren’t looking for a spring break atmosphere. The location was also remote, requiring air transport to Havana or any other distant tourist locale. The snorkeling here is supposedly some of the best on Cuba and while we were unable to experience it during this trip, we hope to make it back one day and see if it’s true.
Even though we ended up being limited to our activities towards the end of our trip (and even though there were no swan towels) the trip was still tons of fun and incredibly memorable. The overall experience at the resort was fantastic and we’d highly recommend it for anyone looking for a more relaxed vacation, with unbelievable beaches, amazing service and good food.
Looking to see another location in Cuba? Check out our review of our second Cuban all-inclusive vacation to another Melia resort, the Melia Marina Varadero.
Have you been to Cuba? Where is your favourite location and resort to stay?