At the Melia Las Dunas in Santa Maria we were travelling as a couple but on our second trip to Cuba we travelled with our family in a group of 8 adults and 2 children. It wasn’t intentional that we stayed at a Melia resort our second trip to Cuba but we were glad we did. The resort was perfect for us as a large group and offered many opportunities for all the couples and smaller families to have time on their own.
We definitely think this is a place for families or groups of friends looking for a vacation destination, but more than that we really think it is a perfect romantic destination. If you’re looking to plan a romantic trip, we’ve put together some other amazing anniversary trip ideas that are great for any couples getaway!
Initial Impressions – Enter Paradise
On our second visit to Cuba, we stayed at the Melia Marina Varadero. The resort is only about 45 minutes from the airport via shuttle through local areas which provides a very brief, but fascinating, glimpse of Cuban living. We were told when we booked the trip that the resort was still under some construction but when we arrived there was very little evidence of any construction left to be done to the main portion of the resort. The bulk of the remaining work was on the areas surrounding the hotel where non-inclusive shops, cafés and a bowling alley are being built.
Once again, when we first walked into the lobby, we were immediately embraced with a tropical island oasis feel. The only issue we had was with regards to check-in. We unfortunately had to wait 2 hours after the listed check-in time to receive our room keys. Since we had gotten to the resort 2 hours prior to this time, we were pretty tired but it’s hard to complain when you can check your luggage at the front desk, grab a drink and sit on a gorgeous beach to wait.
The Room – A Great Marina View
Unlike the Melia Las Dunas, this resort had one main building of hotel rooms around which the rest of the resort was built. The room we received was large, bright and clean, as was the bathroom which had both a bathtub and a large shower stall. We also had a balcony with a beautiful view of the marina.
As in Santa Clara, we were hoping to receive a swan towel. This quest for a swan towel at a hotel started before Cuba and has been an ongoing joke of ours since. Although we got some very nice curtain and bed sheet designs this time around, we were still left without a swan by the end of the trip. (You can find our first swan towel, and the excitement that ensured, at the Swiss Lanna Lodge in Thailand.)
There were also a set of apartments as an alternate room option, in which one couple in our group stayed. The two bedroom apartment came with a family room, two bathrooms, kitchenette and laundry area and was not only large but clean and comfortable. The apartments also had their own roof-top pool and fitness area.
The Beach – White Sand, Turquoise Waters
Considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Varadero beach will have you taking a moment of silent reflection as you look out over the pristine water and white sand. From the resort, the beach is accessed by a boardwalk but it was not too far of a walk and there were staff driven golf carts for those that wanted. The other benefit of having the beach slightly off the resort was that the sand fleas (if there were any) also remained at a distance. The water was clean, calm and warm and the resort staff put on water-aerobics every morning which was actually a lot of fun and got us interacting with other guests. The beach also had plenty of cabanas and beach loungers so there was always shade if we needed.
The Pool – Family Fun
There was one large pool behind the hotel with a swim up bar and a 24 hour restaurant. There was less shade by the pool but plenty of loungers. Cabanas could be rented and there was entertainment and activities throughout the day. Again, we spent more of our time by the beach, but enjoyed taking some time by the pool at the end of the day.
The Food – Another Pizza Love Affair
Once again, the food was not what is expected of a Cuban resort. We actually looked forward to the buffet to see what new items were added and which of our favourite dishes were back again. It seems like a pattern with us in general, but the pizza was one of our favourite foods. The cook who makes it was a delight to chat with and has an obvious passion for what he does. He even made us a heart-shaped pizza with toppings of our choice. We still talk about how delicious that pizza was.
The restaurants by the pool and beach both offered a different menu and were enjoyable as well. Unfortunately, the a la carte options were limited as they were still in the process of putting together more restaurants but there were 5 to choose from. we would recommend the Latin restaurant. They were incredibly accommodating and entertaining and the food was good.
The Service – Impeccable!
For the most part the service at this resort was 5-star. The waiters and bar staff were helpful, friendly, and always going that extra step to make the guests happy. The above photo is of the marina bars “surprise”. It was recommended by one of our favourite bartenders on the first night and they remained a staple for our entire group for the rest of the trip!
The manager of the resort could be seen quite frequently interacting with guests and overseeing the staff to ensure all aspects of the resorts’ service was spot on. The only area where we felt was lacking was the front desk. They were less helpful during the delay in check-in and less friendly when asking questions throughout the stay. As a whole however, the service was impeccable.
The Entertainment – A Must-See Every Night
The Melia Marina Varadero had a plethora of entertainment and activities throughout the day and into the evenings. From beach- and pool-side activities to evening shows by the marina, there was always something to do and see. Every evening there was a different show prepared for the guests and each one was well produced and thoroughly enjoyable, including a magic show and a salsa/variety night, to name a few.
In addition to the scheduled nightly performances, there were musicians frequently playing in the lounge during the evening and random surprises throughout our stay. On one afternoon during our stay, we decided to go to the pool after our day at the beach and were surprised to see an animal show being organized. Dogs, a monkey, a horse and a donkey were among the animals in this funny and entertaining act that had the full attention of both adults and children.
Sometimes the thought of spending a full week in one location can seem monotonous but our visit was filled with a variety of performances and activities we could choose to participate in, or forgo. For those looking for late night entertainment, there was also a disco where guests could dance into the early hours of the morning.
The Location – Perfect for Beach Lovers and Explorers Alike
The great thing about a resort in Varadero, is the ease in which you are able to venture into town. There is a bus service with stops by all the resorts, for tourists exclusively which will take you along the main road into the heart of town and back again for a few pesos.
Stepping off the bus in town was like stepping into another decade. Classic vintage American cars, faded brick buildings, and locals sitting on front stoops chatting, were prevalent and really hit home the differences between Cuba and where we are from. Playing to the masses of tourists, market squares, street vendors and restaurants are also very common.
We would highly recommend at least one day visiting Varadero. While it is obviously a tourist destination, there are still glimpses of local lifestyle between the elements of commercialism.
Dining Out in Varadero
Local food is also a great treat. We ended up choosing a restaurant we had passed twice, La Vicaria. We noticed that there seemed to be many locals dining there and decided that it was a good sign. We ordered an appetizer of cooked shrimp and as our mains we ordered a pork chop dish and paella.
We would highly recommend the paella which came as an assortment of meats, fish and wonderfully seasoned rice and had us wishing we had ordered two bowls. It was a great chance to taste some of the local cuisine and only cost us about $20 CDN for the entire meal, including an appetizer and drinks.
Overall, both our experiences at Melia resorts were memorable. If you are looking for 5-star dining, then you may want to look outside of Cuba, but we can’t complain about the quality of meals we received. With the differences in locations, each resort offered a slightly different atmosphere.
The Melia Las Dunas in Santa Clara felt more isolated, family-oriented and laid-back, whereas the Melia Marina Varadero had a faster-paced feel with loads of entertainment. The ease of travel to Varadero was also a bonus with the Melia Marina as you are able to escape the confines of the resort and explore Cuban culture.
Either way, our experience with the Melia chain has been fantastic and we look forward to comparing more Melia resorts, as well as other chains, in the future.
Looking for a different resort in Cuba? See our previous review of our first all-inclusive Cuba vacation at the Melia Las Dunas, Santa Clara.