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Cuba’s All-Inclusive Experience

 

The view from the lobby of the Paradisus Princesa del Mar
The view from the lobby of the Paradisus Princesa del Mar

Call it, if you will, a camp for adults coming out of the cold.

The Paradisus Princesa del Mar, an all-inclusive, reasonably-priced ocean-side resort in Varadero, Cuba, caters to tourists in dire need of a break from the grip of miserable winter weather. Not surprisingly, most of its visitors are Canadians.

On a direct Air Canada flight from Toronto, Varadero is only three and a half hours away.

The summer-like weather in Varadero is the chief attraction, of course. In January, day-time temperatures in Varadero range from 21 celsius to 27 celisius. Nights are wonderfully balmy, from 17 celsius to 18 celsius. During our week-long stay, it rained only once, very briefly. Otherwise, Varadero has the kind of perfect and near perfect climate Canadians can only dream of as they cope with snowy and icy conditions.

A 30-minute bus ride from Juan Gomez Airport, the Paradisus Princesa del Mar is a five-star hotel, at least by Cuban standards. When we were there, most of the guests were middle-aged, middle-class couples in their 40s, 50s and 60s, with a sprinkling of younger couples in their 30s and 20s. In a few conspicuous cases, older men around retirement age could be seen with much younger women who may have been their wives.

The grounds of the resort
The grounds of the resort

On a purely esthetic level, the resort is quite attractive. Three-storey pastel-colored bungalows are scattered around the immaculate grounds of rolling lawns, flower beds, coconut palm trees and shrubs. It’s an idyllic vision to behold during January, when Toronto is generally bleak, grey and dreary.

My wife and I were assigned a spacious and comfortable room with a view of tranquil gardens. We had access to a private patio with two chairs, but rarely used them. Sea views cost more.

The furniture in our room was dark, stodgy and somewhat dated, and would have been perfectly suitable in a three-star hotel. It was musty after we had turned on the air conditioner.

The swimming/wading pool was a two-minute walk from our room. On most mornings, we were content to lounge on deck chairs facing the pool. We read, talked, dozed and sipped pinya coladas. What a life.

Relaxing next to the pool
Relaxing next to the pool

After lunch, I went to the sandy beach, a short walk from our room. On a warm, crystalline day, it’s a wonderful place to be. The Atlantic Ocean in these parts is calm, soothing and theraputic, and the color of the water is aquamarine near the shoreline and cobalt blue further away. I passed the time reading, people watching, gazing out at the sea and walking along the shore, sometimes dipping my feet into the lukewarm surf.

 

The beach is inviting
The beach is inviting

We ate most of our meals in the large self-serve buffet near the pool. There was a wide variety of hot and cold foods, but the quality of the fare was middling and boring.

The chicken was hard and dry. The rice was overcooked. The soups and spaghetti sauces were watery. The fish was virtually tasteless. The selection of cheeses was fine, and the sweet table was always good. The tropical juices were great, but the sliced pineapple was unappetizing. The bread and rolls were passable. The beer was satisfying, but the coffee was diluted. Far better coffee — cafe au lait and cappuccino — was served in the various cafes and the lobby.

As we had already learned from a trip to Cuba in 2014, Cuban all-inclusives are not exactly noted for their culinary excellence. If you want first-class food, look elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Reservations were required for the specialty restaurants. Of the three we tried, two were acceptable — the Japanese and French. The Italian restaurant was a bust, from appetizer to dessert. Indeed, some of the items on its menu were unavailable. This reminded me of my travels in communist Poland in the 1970s and 1980s, when restaurant menus promised much more than they could possibly deliver.

The entertainment program was superior. Every night in the main square, Cuban musicians and usually scantily-dressed dancers put on a variety show that was dazzling and daring by turns.

Solicitous waiters circulated, politely taking orders for coffee and alcoholic drinks. Tips were expected, here and elsewhere.

Fine weather drives tourists to Cuba, especially in winter
Fine weather drives tourists to Cuba, especially in winter

The all-inclusive vacation is not for everyone, particularly for those who prefer an active holiday of constant sightseeing and shopping. But if you like a tropical ambience, plenty of sunshine, a slow, relaxed pace, a never-ending array of “free” food and drinks and the infectious rhythms of pulsating Cuban music ringing in your ears, it’s an experience well worth savouring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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