Monday, September 5, 2011

The Cuban Show, continued

I guess, having never been on an all-inclusive resort vacation in the Caribbean, there were a number of things that seemed surreal to me.

The Daily Routine:

We awoke at virtually the same time every morning to beat the breakfast rush, and get to the beach quickly to reserve our palapa for the day (see below) - no sleeping in, even on vacation (just like Truman, heading out to work at the same time everyday)!

As we left our room and headed to the elevator each  morning, our maid (who was terrific) would be working on a room just down the hall. And since our Spanish was limited to one word, and her English was limited to just three words, our conversation was the same every day:

Us: "Hola!"
Maid: "Hola! 'ow arr ju?"
Us: "We're good, thankyou - have a good day!"
(I felt like using Truman's every day refrain: "Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!")

The Breakfast Buffet had the same selections EVERY day -- decent food, but by day 7, we'd had enough!
The waiters were the same every day (for the most part unhelpful), and we sat with virtually the same patrons all around us every day. But we never tired of the views from the dining room windows!

Photos of Melia Las Americas, Varadero
This photo of Melia Las Americas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

After breakfast, every day, we headed back to our rooms, put on bathing suits, picked up our provided beach towels and headed for the beach, where we claimed our spot under virtually the same palapa with the same view every day.

The beach was to die for - pure (clean!) white sand, and an azure blue ocean, with (at the beginning of our stay anyway) gentle waves.

Lunch was either the buffet, again the same decent selection every day -- although a little bland, and boring after a few days...or at the snack bar on the beach where one could have a burger and  fries - not bad, actually!

Photos of Melia Las Americas, Varadero
the buffet
This photo of Melia Las Americas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Weather permitting we would stay on the beach until dinner. It was HOT!
DOTH, ever resourceful, had brought a thermometer with her and this was the temp most days:

Almost 113 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ocean registered at around 32 degrees, which I believe is close to 90 F -- so rather than cooling off, it was a little like having a warm bath. I got quite a bad burn the first day, even with lotion. Learned my lesson and slathered it on for the rest of our stay and kept in the shade as often as possible. But believe me, we were NOT complaining. Actually the Cubans were complaining - one of their hottest seasons for a long time, they said. The air conditioning in the hotel was definitely struggling to keep up!

Dinner was also the buffet with pretty much the same as the lunch selection, but we had been forewarned, and to break the monotony, had signed up for some a la carte restaurants on site: Japanese, Italian, Fine Dining etc.

Photos of Melia Las Americas, Varadero
The Buffet
This photo of Melia Las Americas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

These were interesting. One had to reserve well in advance -- we thought because they would be jam-packed with patrons wanting a relief from the buffet - but, no!

For example, in the Japanese restaurant, where the food was terrific, there were only eight of us, all arriving at the same time, out of a 350 room hotel! Remember this is an all-inclusive resort - no extra charge!. Again, it was surreal because there was all the pomp and circumstance over the meal...

Photos of Melia Las Americas, Varadero
This photo of Melia Las Americas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

...with the 'flambe' and the ongoing patter of the chef, wooing us with his fabulous food etc, but so few of us to enjoy it -- after we'd HAD to reserve!  Turns out the most likely reason is the sparse availability of the specialty foods in Cuba.

In the Fine Dining restaurant, where we saw people sent back to their rooms to re-dress suitably (honestly!), again there were only about eight of us - and again we all arrived at the same time. Yet we were wined and dined like the Queen of England, with our chairs pushed in under us, and our napkins laid on our laps with a flourish, the food served on covered plates, and an extremely talented, easy to listen to, quartet playing classics throughout the dinner:

Photos of Melia Las Americas, Varadero
This photo of Melia Las Americas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

(not a very good photo, but you can see three of the quartet)

So what was so surreal?  One got the impression, as the evening progressed, that the environment, the pomp, all the hard work, the beautifully displayed food on the plates, the extravagance, along with the 'live' music,  in all the restaurants, was not so much a desire to give excellent service to the patrons, but was designed simply to elicit a good tip. Which was unfortunate and left one feeling quite uncomfortable. The biggest surprise was when the violinist, towards the end of our meal, approached each table selling the quartet's CD - it seemed SO out of place!

In fact, the whole vacation, along with the side trips, which I will talk about later, really were marred by the blatant request for tips.

I think DOTH and I were finally able to qualify all of this, in retrospect, by remembering, again, that Cuba is a poor country. It was just difficult to stay aware of that, in our beautiful surroundings.

Our room, with an ocean view which we paid a little extra for. The hotel is rated as a 5-star: it is clean, comfortable etc., but not completely up to our 5 star standards

Hotel lobby from the front door looking towards the 'back door' access to the beach

Access to beach from the lobby
 I would like to say that I am not really complaining. We did have a fantastic vacation and would highly recommend the hotel to anyone, but it was just a little unusual in many respects.

I will soon be posting some of our more fun experiences for you to see,
 In the meantime, if any of my blogging friends have had any experiences like this, or any wisdom to add, I'd be happy to receive your comments!


  1. The beach and ocean look wonderful. The tipping thing we have found to be all over any where south of the Mexican border. Often it is the children who are sent to ask. To me it is somewhat depressing, because obviously we have so much more but we can't give to everyone. Then I begin to feel taken advantage of and made to feel guilty. Sadly there's always the haves and the have nots and I don't think there's a solution to that until the Lord comes again.

  2. It sounds fabulous and reminds me of a hotel in Italy. The head waiter there was very strict on dress and fussed about everything. Whilst you were waiting for your meal to arrive, he would suddenly reach past you to straighten your plate so that the hotel crest was at the top. It was tempting to turn the plate when he was not looking but I resisted the temptation.
    Cuba was really hot, but I don't think you will be in any danger of burning when you come on your next trip.

  3. Wow, this all looks wonderful and it is the unusual things that will make it memorable to you. Giggling because I've got a picture in my mind now of Snafu turning his plate around whenever the waiter's back is turned!