Category: All-Inclusive

Cuban Resorts

Iberostar Ensenachos, Cayo Santa Maria (Isla).
Cayo Ensenachos Santa María Clara, Cuba

Iberostar Ensenachos

Iberostar Ensenachos

Well, I am overdue on my articles but, I am still unsure of what to say about this resort, this area and this Country. It is almost a question of writing about the country to understand the resort.

One one hand, I want to compare this resort to other Caribbean resorts I have stayed at, that were of a comparable price but then on the other hand, I have to look at this and say, ”This is Cuba!”. Read on to understand.

If I were to say all things are equal and I am comparing the rooms, service, restaurant quality, beaches etc. from other resorts to this one I would come up with a different chat to the one I have today. It is almost each area need to be rated. For example, the beaches in this area are among the best in the world. I’m not just saying this, it is a fact in the Cayo Santa Maria area. Much better than the other areas where resorts are allowed in this country and yes, even better than Bavaro or Negril.

On the other hand, we have all the problems of the Cuban Management System to contend with. Up to this point, I really don’t understand this part fully. I know that multiple resorts have pulled the on site upper management and replaced it with experts in the field. However, they were not experts in the local government and improvements did not happen as planned. This seems to be a consistent theme among the resorts.

You may not know what I am referring to here so just as a point or two for reference and there are many. Let’s see; from time to time, you may not have beach towels available. the official excuse for this is that all towels need to be laundered and serviced by a local Cuban company, employing people in the nearby towns and even building these towns to a larger size. At first, this sounds great. As Canadians, we tend to say, it is okay to go multiple days without a clean towel, as long as we know we are sacrificing to save the local economy.

This is a very real problem and will happen to you at some point on a trip to this country. What I do not understand is why the management, knowing that from time to time, this is going to happen, do not stock an extra week’s worth, or even two weeks worth of towels at the resort so they have a supply to draw on as needed? Seems like an easy solution that would be paid for with the saving of one bad review, not to mention 20-30 about this problem.

Another example would be repairs to pool areas, walkways, lighting I.e. Maintenance problems; Honestly, this one happened to me personally. I had a maintenance issue in my room and they were sending someone over as soon as “he” was free. this seemed odd to me so after a few minutes, I used my property management background experience to solve the issue and called and cancelled the request. When i did, I asked how many were on call for issues and i was told that there was one person for this.

I went out and headed for the main lobby and as i was walking along the path, I noticed one person working on the wiring to the path lights. I stopped and chatted to him and between broken Spanish and broken English, it soon became apparent that he was that one person looking after everything. Now, since the resort is supposed to be employing local Cubans for this work, wouldn’t it make sense to hire four or five people to make sure that no one on the resort who has a problem has to wait an excessive amount of time?

Again, I don’t profess to understand the problems with the Cuban government, but I do understand good Hotel Management and from what I could see, many of the problems I have encountered in four trips to this country are never what they seem to be. There just can’t be that many bad managers.

We Canadians are a very mild-mannered people. You can step on our toes as long as it does not hurt too much. I do think that so many of the positive reviews are Canadians defending this cherished little island that we have had as our private playground for far too many years. This is going to change for all of this country over the next several years if relations with the US start to allow tourists from that country to come to Cuba.

Americans are not Canadians or people from the EU. I can just about guarantee that they will 100% not put up with the poor management that takes place at these resorts currently. I am not just talking about Cayo Santa Maria Resorts, but also Varadero and Cayo Coco as well.

In the past, we Canadians have enjoyed trips to Cuba at one half the cost of Jamaica and about a third less than the Dominican Republic. but, this year, it is changing. I think mainly because of the demand, costs are climbing closer and closer to other Island nations and with that, they will have to compete with some of the best resorts.

Even with a hands down best beach area, they can’t continue to offer terrible service, terrible food, terrible mold filled accommodations. The sad thing about this is that it seems that it is the Cuban Government, according to the resort staff, that have caused this problem. What seems to be missing is the damage it is doing to the reputation of the nation on whole. If there are government regulations that are to be followed, then at the same time the government should have regulations on Minimum standards. resorts should face fines or penalties if they are found to be damaging the image of the Cuban Nation.

Can the Cuban tourist industry be saved? Of course it can, but not by this article. I doubt I will find a buyer for this rant so it will go largely unnoticed short of Social Media. No the solution to all of this will come from an unexpected area. I truly believe that people from the USA will be allowed to visit and spend their money in Cuba in a few years. When this happens, the reviews and hostile response that they will have for problems will force the Cuban government and the Resort Owners to come to a quick solution. Let’s see what happens.

Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=503

The Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta

The Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta

Posted by Laura Snow on March 7, 2015 1

Casa-Magna-Marriott-Puerto-Vallarta-2-900x675[1]

Nestled in the Puerto Vallarta Marina beach strip, the Casa Magna Marriott is a beautiful beachfront resort, with a full conference center, five restaurants, three pools and a fantastic fitness centre. The tropical grounds of the resort are covered in cacti, palm trees, flowering vines and lush gardens. The moment we walked through the front entrance, I immediately felt like I was in a tropical paradise. When you walk up the front steps you can see straight through the other side of the building to the pool and beach!

The hotel is very close to the airport, which is amazing when you just want to get to your hotel and put on cooler clothes on your arrival. It’s set outside of the downtown area, but still only a 10-15 minute bus or taxi ride to the city center or hotel zone. We had no trouble getting around Puerto Vallarta during our stay, and greatly enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of the area. The Casa Magna is not an all-inclusive hotel so has fewer people who just came to drink and party.  Even though we left our kids at home we appreciated the family atmosphere. There are three golf courses near-by, the hotel has a five star spa and you can do many water activities right from the beach in front of the hotel.

The marina is only a five-minute walk from the hotel, and has many shops, services, restaurants, boat charters and dive shops. We spent a lot of time there since we took a scuba diving trip from PV Scuba in the marina. The marina has a totally different feel at night with many open air restaurants and boats all lit up.

The grounds, pool areas, and guest areas at the hotel were kept very clean. Our bed was extremely comfortable and the room had everything we needed. You have to pay for internet in the room but wifi is free and very fast in the lobby and pool area.

All of the staff at the hotel were very friendly, and helpful especially the bellhops at the front door of the hotel. They helped us get taxis, let us know where we could walk to and remembered us when we came back.

There are many locals selling their hats, jewellery, blankets and souvenirs on the beach in front of the hotel every day. They are very nice people. Talk to them. If you don’t want to buy anything just tell them no a few times and then start a conversation. They love to talk and often have questions about where you’re from!

We ate at three of the restaurants on site and I would highly recommend any of the Mexican dishes from any of them. The buffet was excellent with many, made to order, items including a local specialty: Chicadiles. This breakfast plate is made with taco chips, eggs, shredded chicken, ranchero sauce and cheese. My husband highly recommends it! There were also made to order omelettes and breakfast fajitas! My favourite drink at the Casa Magna was a fresh juice made from cactus, celery, orange juice and some other veggies/fruits I can’t remember. It was delicious and I had it almost every day. I would not recommend getting the american style food at the resort – the “american” cheese isn’t what we’re used to. It’s a much better idea to order the local food, and try new things!

The hotel has a fantastic view of the ocean, and city, especially at night. I was also lucky enough to see a humpback whale, in the ocean, from the hotel on my last day. The rooms all seem to have a wonderful view, but we really liked ours, with the sun setting over the ocean, directly in front of the balcony.

The beach was a little rough, at times, to swim in, but clean and warm. My husband did not hesitate to play in the waves, more than once! I stuck to the pool, which was warm and had a pool bar!

While we were at the Casa Magna, Marriott Hotels had a program going on with Go Pro where you could test drive a Go Pro Hero 4 camera. This was such a fun opportunity! We took the Go Pro with us on our scuba dive to Los Arcos and are so happy we have a video to remember it by!

via The Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta.

Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=494

Is Cancellation Insurance worth the cost?

Is Cancellation Insurance worth the cost?

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailBefore today, I would have questioned on how to answer this question. Being in Canada, the inexpensive  flyer to the islands is Sunwing. I have had great and not so great, vacations in the past,  but the price being so far below the commercial carriers, it is hard to complain too much.

This time around, I was booking a trip to Cuba. Now I wanted the great prices of Sunwing, but I also wanted the 24 equal interest free payments  from Sears Travel offered there.  This meant I has to book through Signature Travel, owned by Sunwing, Through Sears Travel. Isn’t booking fun here in Canada.

To make matters worse, Cancellation Insurance from Sears was over $200, but I was able to get the same from Sunwing for $50.00. Go figure that one out. I decided to take it at that price and also ordered the Privilege upgrade for extra leg room and pre-boarding etc. on the flight. Not giving this part a second thought.

I went ahead with the booking at my hotel, a new one in that was just opening and I thought that it would make for a nice series  of articles to be at a resort that very few had been at.  This might have been great except, two months after the grand opening, the bad reviews started coming in. To make matters worse, others, that stayed earlier, started writing in stating that they also had a bad trip but did not want to write about it since it was so soon after the opening.

iberostar-ensenachos[1]They hoped that things would get better as staff training progressed, however, people reporting later showed things were getting worse and not better. This led them to the more reviews of what they experienced.

Now I wanted to have an experience where I could write about it, but I did want it to be positive so for the first time I decided to change hotels. Here is where I was surprised by Sunwing.  Because I bought the privilege upgrade package, it turns out there was an undisclosed benefit where they would allow me to change my plans once and only pay the difference between my current hotel’s rate and the hotel of my choice’s posted rated.  This did not affect my cancellation insurance so it was a great deal for me and saved my vacation.

For those following my posts, I am now booked into the Iberostar Ensenachos. Still flying into Santa Maria on the same flight but,  at a resort that has almost 1,400 5 out of 5 star reviews. Not to shabby.

More on this resort soon….

 

Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=479

Beware of the Hidden Mega Resort!

Looks like a beautiful Resort, But beware, it is larger than you think!

Looks like a beautiful Resort, But beware, it is larger than you think!

I am finding a disturbing trend in the resort industry. It’s been known for awhile now that most people don’t really like a resort with 2,000 plus rooms in it. In fact the perfect maximum size seems to be between 6-750 rooms. If you find a resort with say 1-200 rooms, many people would expect to pay a premium for this type of location.

This is creating a dilemma for the resort operators that want to have as many people as possible per square metre of ground space as this means maximum revenues can be achieved. So what is “their” solution? It seems the trend is to still put up these mega resorts, but to simply divide them into smaller sections called … wait for it … Resorts!!

That’s right; they have a layout of say 2,000 rooms, running down to the beach. It has a centre pool area and specialty restaurants at the top and somewhere near the bottom. You know the ones I am talking about. Here is the Steak, the Italian, the Japanese, the Seafood, etc.

So here is what is happening. All the rooms to the left of the pools are called Resort “A” and the ones to the right of the resort are called Resort “B”. Now they can advertise a resort of 1,000 rooms instead of the 2,000 rooms. But wait, it gets better. This number is still too large for that magic figure, so they take the rooms closest to the beach and make them Premium and … you guessed it, these are now another Resort. Let’s say “C” and “D” of 250 rooms each. These rooms are usually “Adult Only” and come with Premium drinks a private small, sometimes very small private pool area and so on.

You are looking at 6 different resorts when advertized to you.

You are looking at 6 different resorts when advertized to you.

Now the main two resorts are now reduced to that magic number of 750 rooms each. Here is where it get’s nasty in my books. If, for the entire 2,000 rooms, there are say 7 specialty restaurants, they are available to everyone at all the “Resorts”. The same goes for the main pool area and sometimes the one pool swim up bar and other bars. So, what is advertised to us, the buyers of these rooms? They will tell the tour operator the following

  • 750 rooms
  • 7 specialty restaurants
  • 2 buffet restaurants
  • 8 bars (only one open at night in the main lounge area)
  • 1 large swim up bar
  • 1 Gym
  • 1 Spa
  • Beautiful beach area.

The problem is that this is all true except all of these services are being shared and sought after by 2,000 room guests or say 4,500 people.

4,500 people competing for

  • Restaurants
  • Seating at the bar areas and show areas
  • Spa appointments
  • And a seat by the pool or beach.

Any experienced traveler knows in these situations, that if you have one person in your party that is an early riser, they are elected to travel to “your” spot and claim your chairs for the day with the old towel and book routine.

But, we, as innocent travelers arrive at our 750 room resort with all of the restaurants and amities, do not feel the need to rush down and select your reservations for the entire week and guess what happens? You are at the buffet for most of your trip, you missed the lobster that you saw in the picture and it takes you 4 days to figure out the towel and book routine.

Of course, the Premium section does not have to go to the main guest services to book the restaurants. They have a special number to call or a private guest services that will either book the restaurants for you or in some cases, sometimes depending on your tip in advance, will watch for a cancellation and get you in whatever night you want.

Have a closer look at the bottom of the map, you will see two of the "lobbies"

Have a closer look at the bottom of the map, you will see two of the “lobbies”

So, what do we do about all of this? Can we boycott it and expect it to change? On a trip I took last year to Mexico, this really became apparent to me and started me on this research. I called the resort and they said this is normal business, I called the tour operator and they said they cannot check on the facts sent to them from every resort and have to assume they are telling us the truth.

Well, that was a year ago and you will still find the same resorts advertized as smaller ones. With a very small amount of work, it is easy to figure out. The resorts do not hid it once you are there, so if you find pictures people take of the resort maps, of the names of the resorts as you drive in, you will pick up on this.  As well all most any resort built more than 10 years ago is most likely a single resort. It is the newer ones that are constructed to take advantage of this.

To give you some examples of this, and yes, I know you are waiting for this part, let look at the Majestic / Colonial resorts in Punta Cana of an example of this done right. Here they have two resorts next to each other. I say next to because everything advertized as being in one resort is in that resort. There are no ads to my knowledge where they include any restaurants from the sister resort.

They have the Colonial and the Elegance resorts. Each has its own pool areas, their own restaurants, etc. but you can walk from on to the other easily.  

In Mexico we have the newer style example. For example, you can book a room at the Grand Sunset Princess but, at least through Canadian tour operators, you cannot book a room or even have a hint that, across the pool the Grand Sunset Riviera exists. I just re-confirmed now and they still advertize that this resort has the following:

Property Amenities : • 672 Room(s) • 12 Pool(s) • Medical Centre ($) • Beauty Salon ($) • Air Conditioned Gym/ Fitness Centre • Jacuzzi • Kids pool • 11 Restaurant(s) • 9 Bar(s)

Once you arrive, you will discover that most of these are shared between over 2,100 rooms. To me, this just does not seem right and YOU need to be aware of this beforehand.

What can we really do? Check out the resorts. I strongly recommend that you read the reviews I have posted here at http://StevesTravelBlog.com and everyone’s reviews at TripAdvisor.com Spend one hour researching the Resort, not for what you want, but what you now know you do not want. Ask questions on blogs and you usually will receive answers quickly.

I hope this has helped you have a great upcoming vacation.

Yes, that is my hand and I was being a "Crazy Gringo!" but having fun at this huge resort.

Yes, that is my hand and I was being a “Crazy Gringo!” but having fun at this huge resort.

On a final note, I am not saying that you will not have a great time at these resorts. Most people have an awesome time, I just want you to get what you pay for. I would guess that up to 80% of travelers go for the fun in the sun, the more the better and only go indoors to grab a bite at the buffet and to sleep. It is for the ones that enjoy the extras and the atmosphere expected that may experience disappointment without this information. At the Resort(s) I am talking about in this article, the staff were all fantastic. 

Enjoy, travel well, and I just might bump into you somewhere this spring season.

 


Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=211

What to take or not take (Part 2)

Best Bavaro Runner Guide ever!  Luis R "Mimi"

Best Bavaro Runner Guide ever! Luis R “Mimi”

In my last letter, I covered some of the basics on light travel packing. Now I want to share a few interesting things I discovered over the years.

Once you go to an area for five or more times, you will most likely buy less and less to bring back with you, In fact you may find yourself leaving more there then you bring back.  Many times now we have packed in many different formats with thinking about what can we bring to benefit the locals to how we can save money on travel bags with those nasty airline fees.

So here are some helpful tips for different types of travelers.  I hope you read my earlier article and think about how you can get your packing down to smaller amounts of bags. It might be from 4 to 2 or as my wife and I travel from two large to one small suitcase.

  1. For the traveler that loves to shop and will be buying something for all the Grand Kids, Friends and neighbors, let me suggest a few things. First try to get your own packing down to on average suite case.  Then with a matched set of luggage, the real packed bag can fit inside of the larger one. If you can’t quite do that, you will find lots of room around the outside of the smaller bag to free form pack things like T-shirts, or other things that can be rolled.

    With our set, we can even put a soft sided medium duffel bag on wheels. So if you are travelling somewhere new that you want to buy “stuff”, you will only pay the airlines for one bag on the way down and you will have the choice of one or more bags to hold the goodies and only pay for that portion on the extra bags.

  2. Now for people traveling to returning locations, you most likely can get away with the one bag and save in both directions, but I want to suggest that  the more you know about a people group, the traits of a country, the more you can have an extra highlight by bringing things that people will really like.

    Now, this is directed at the traveler that is going to one location, usually today this means an all-inclusive vacation that you will be staying at for a full week. In this case you will travel with two pages and do the double bag trick and return with one bag.  Let me share with you some of the things that you might want to do.  The first time we went to Cuba, we knew the basics that we could take for people.  Ten years later we returned to Cuba and this time we did it a little differently.

    Now before I get into this, you have to realize that we get a real kick on seeing faces light up and knowing that we gave them a few things that are sometimes hard to get there.  It is not that they cannot afford to buy them, the resort staff are very highly paid in tips (and sometimes supporting large extended families), but they just cannot buy things that are extras.

    Travel Bag in a bag

    Different shot showing all the extra space between the smaller bag and the larger one.

    So knowing that the staff in the rooms will change sometimes day to day once they know you have gifts and you will also meet a bunch of great staff in the restaurants, and on the resort in different area. So my wife spent all of a few extra dollars and went to the dollar store for gift bags and tissue paper to make up nice looking presents. The staff, were all so pleased with this and it really did make our trip better seeing the smiles.

    I remember on the day we left, we asked if the people who were so friendly to us could meet with us for a little something. To our surprise, they were ALL there and lined up in a line to say good bye.  It was very touching and it was so nice to have the gift bag concept ready to go so we could personalize each one.

  3. Finally, I want to switch gears to the Dominican Republic. How can we apply the same thing here?  On one hand we have a country that still has a very low income level, but we are dealing with resort staff that really do make a good living compared to other countries. 

    One of the things that you will find here is the need to help the school systems. There are other writers that are trying to make a mark and tell you not to bring school supplies as the delivery of the supplies causes interruptions and actually hurts the system.  All I can say is we have never experienced this and there is a right and a wrong way to do any of these outreach things.

    In this case, I have to really tip my hat to a local company that supports one school each year. The school agrees to be interrupted in order to get the much needed supplies. Seems like a good trade off and everyone is on board with it. The company is Bavaro Runners.  When you take their safari trip, and you let

    Bag in a Bag minus our cat.

    Great trick to save on paying for 2 bags when you will only need 2 in one direction. — No the cat is not being packed.

    them know you have school supplies,  they will stop at one of more remote schools, away from the resorts that are really, truly in need of paper (heavy and costly to import), pencils, rulers, etc.

    If you want to read more on this check out their “Giving Back Page” 

    I want to also recommend a good friend and one of the best guides they have. If you want to go this route and you are in the Punta Cana area, please ask for “MiMi” and tell him Steve from Canada sent you.


Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=197

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