When I arrived in Cayo Santa Maria, I was very ready for some beach time. Meliá Buenavista did not disappoint.
I had three beaches to choose from: a long one perfect for strolling along the soft dunes and swimming through the soft waves, a perfect white crescent protected from the open ocean, and a wilder beach ideal for nature walks with Navy, who knowledgeably identifies fish and birds, and even finds immense sand dollars.
This boutique resort has just 105 rooms, all with The Level service, so you know you will be completely taken care of, not only by all the staff but by your butler too. Rooms have a lower sitting room at the front with a balcony overlooking the pool or mangrove beaches, and a large raised bedroom, backing onto a multi-roomed bath and closet area. There’s a large bathtub as well as an outdoor shower. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to catch an episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones on my large flat-screen TV — unusual for many hotels, let alone those in Cuba.
While there’s lots of activities to choose from, most guests are content to soak up the sun and take lazy swims in the resort’s two pools or in the warm sea. Guests who skip the morning yoga session are missing out. The class takes places on a palapa-covered deck in the sea, reached by a long and picturesque boardwalk. It’s also an ideal place for a sunset dinner.
All meals are à la carte (breakfast and lunch have a few buffet selections too) in the resort’s three restaurants. Menus aren’t large, but provide choices to suit all tastes. Quality and flavour were amongst the best I’ve had in Cuba (the US embargo affects imports). Room service is available, though with a limited menu. Meliá provides shuttle service to two nearby sister resorts for other restaurant selections too.
Meliá Buenavista is the Cuban resort to choose if your ideal holiday includes genuinely friendly staff who remember your name and your preferences, pristine beaches, an out-of-the-way quiet location, and the quality that only Meliá’s The Level service can provide.
This ultra all-inclusive resort is all about the sea. You can see it from, I’m told, 95% of the property and while I didn’t measure, I was pleased to see the Caribbean cerulean almost every time I looked up from wherever I happened to be in the resort.
Paradisus Varadero is within the eco reserve in Varadero’s Rincon Francés zone, and has one of the best beaches on the peninsula. It’s also one of the only beaches in the area that has natural shade, from the tall coconut palms lining the soft sand. On the regular side of the resort is a wide crescent beach, gleaming white, lapped by calm waters. On the Royal Service side is a straighter sandy stretch ending in a rocky drop off which is better for snorkeling. In both directions you can walk seemingly forever
Families are central at Paradisus Varadero, particularly when the new Family Concierge section opens in November 2016. This resort-within-a-resort will offer all the Meliá Royal Service extras in an exclusive area designed especially for families. Kids will delight in the water park’s fountains, and with the indoor and outdoor play areas, and the bar and buffet just for them. Parents will love the luxurious surroundings, dining and services. Parents and kids might argue, however, over who gets the milk and cookies left with turn-down service!
Paradisus Varadero has an abundance of restaurants, bars, and places to play and relax. The resort boasts ten different pools, and some rooms and bungalows have a swim-up pool entrance. Greenery and flowers are everywhere, and whether you like a quiet area or a place in the action, you’ll find your ideal spot for both day and evening.
Often at all-inclusive beach resorts, the rooms can leave something to be desired. Not so at Paradisus Varadero. Rooms are large and well-furnished with a sophisticated colour scheme and decor. Bathrooms are meant for luxury, with big soaker tubs, separate showers, multiple sinks, and lots of counter and closet space. While families won’t feel crowded, junior suites, suites and connecting rooms are available too for additional space and privacy.
Once the new Family Concierge section opens, the gorgeous Royal Service section, nearer the ocean and the spa, will become adults-only.
Meliá’s best resorts are Paradisus resorts, and the best section of these is the Royal Service section. My stay in Paradisus Princesa del Mar’s Royal Service was fabulous.
Arriving in Varadero from a brief trip to Havana, I was taken via golf cart to the exclusive Royal Service reception area. They knew who I was when I arrived, and greeted me warmly with a cool towel and an even cooler drink. I was introduced to my butler, and escorted to my gorgeous junior suite.
Inside the large space, decorated with calm taupes, was an immense bed beckoning me for a nap and a huge jetted tub beckoning me for a soak. One look outside, though, and I knew the pool was going to win.
On my patio was my own Balinese bed, its white curtains floating in the slight breeze. Directly in front was the pool of the Royal Service section. I jumped in and enjoyed a lazy swim first to one end and then all the way to the other of this curving lagoon-style pool. While I was tempted to climb onto the Balinese bed for my much needed nap, I needed to check out the beach.
Walking across a pretty white bridge over the pool, I followed the boardwalk path toward the sound of the waves. Passing through a row of trees, I was immediately calmed by the stunning Cuban palate of the bright blue of the Caribbean Sea next to the white sand of Varadero. Pelicans flew by. A snorkeler peered up from the depths. A couple strolled by hand in hand. A woman napped on a bed under a palapa. And I jumped in the water for a salty swim.
There are several restaurants to choose from at Paradisus Princesa del Mar. Royal Service guests have two exclusive à la carte restaurants, as well as access to the resort’s other six restaurants. At the Hill Top Hideway, I enjoyed excellent ceviche and was torn between the tuna steak and the truffled lobster ravioli, and happily chatted with fellow Canadians over dinner. I ate most meals at the Bellamar restaurant, with its impressive selection of specialties and standards. Other resort restaurants serve Japanese, Asian, French, and Italian cuisine, as well as snacks and an international buffet.
Like all of Meliá Cuba’s Paradisus resorts, stays at Paradisus Princesa del Mar include a daily one-tank dive (a second dive is $50 CUC (= US$), and subsequent second dives during the rest of your stay are 20 CUC each). Leaving after breakfast, we took a quick bus ride across the highway to Meliá Marina where we were outfitted with all the necessary gear in great condition. A speedy boat ride over the blue sea and we were soon underwater looking at immense Caribbean lobster, moray eels, healthy corals and sponges surrounded by very friendly fish.
Paradisus Princesa del Mar’s Royal Service is ideal if you’re looking for an adults-only luxury stay in Varadero. I’d love to go back!
Only 50 metres from Havana’s famous Malecón, Meliá Cohiba is the perfect hotel for lovers of classic cars. Brightly coloured Oldsmobile sedans, Chevrolet Bel Airs, Hudsons and Dodges, all from the 1940s and 50s, purr along this seaside motorway. Parked next to the hotel are even more beauties, ready for a taxi ride or a longer rental for cruising around Havana.
The hotel is located in Vedado, a modern district of Havana, and the five-star Meliá Cohiba is also modern. Cohiba’s 462 rooms are housed in a 22-floor tower which gives views of Havana and the sea unlike any other in the city.
Like in all Meliá hotels, stays on The Level floors are the most luxurious, but you won’t be disappointed in any of Meliá Cohiba’s rooms and suites whether you’re in town for business or pleasure. The art lining the corridors and public rooms is for sale too.
Meliá Cohiba has a free-form pool, and several bars and restaurants to choose from, including the Havana Café nightclub on the ground floor, where the Buena Vista Social Club plays.
As you might expect by a hotel named Cohiba, you can try the finest of cigars at Meliá Cohiba, selecting from their large humidor in the cigar bar. Rum tastings are also offered.
There’s a large gym, squash court, sauna, and massage service, plus shuttle to Old Havana if you want to get out and explore.