My sister and I just came back from Memories. Just like you, I read all the reviews, got a great deal, booked and hoped for the best.
Let me start off by saying - PLEASE do listen to the bad reviews. I really don't know what these people are talking about. Sure nothing is perfect, but then . .. are WE?
First off - I have been to many parts of Cuba over the years - first time in Santa Maria. Yes, the beach is FANTASTIC.... no I didn't see any garbage on there - to be honest, I barely saw seaweed. We walked for miles and miles. Leave Azul in the morning and the tide is in - yes some sections are less wide than others (is there a beach in your backyard?). Walk back to the hotel in the afternoon and the tide is out and it's like a whole new breathtaking beach. You will love it.
For starters - you booked your trip KNOWING there was a 1 1/2 bus ride to the hotel. .. why complain about it. If you arrive in the evening, yes it will be dark and no you wont see anything. However the commentator has some very useful things to say. .so sit back, relax and listen. On the way home you will do the same drive and you will see everything you didn't see on the way in. Free excursion my friends, enjoy.
At the hotel - you can go straight to your room, the bar, the beach, the pool where ever as soon as you arrive as you have received your room key and info package on the bus. Explore, enjoy, ask questions and relax.
The Room - we were in Building 55 facing the ocean. Third floor. Fantastic, clean, great cleaning staff, always had bottled water. No, the rooms are not the Ritz, but did you pay for the Ritz? They are clean and comfortable with the AC and water always working. No complaints.
The Resort - clean, wonderful colorful flowers, friendly faces, everyone says Hola. Did I mention clean. And for you smokers - lots of ashtrays around. Easy layout and nice walkways.
The Food - well, IMO, the food was fantastic.. Not "Cuban fantastic". Just regular North American fantastic. No, you may not like everything YOU ordered, but it's the same possibility at home. The wait staff work hard, long hours. They always had a smile on their face and happy to oblige. We went to all the A La Cartes except Tex Mex. I don't have a favorite as they were all exceptional. We always went to the Grill for breakfast and lunch. Excellent.
The Staff - EXCELLENT. Everyone was always helpful, friendly and wanting to please you. I can't say enough about them. Just ask, and you will receive.
The Spa - the Spa is located in the little market about 10 minutes away. Make a reservation in advance if you can. Pay cash when you arrive for your service. I heard on line that you can charge your room. You can't. No credit cards either. Again, service was excellent. Beautiful spa. Prices very reasonable.
Evening Shows - we went to most of the shows. Some were better than others but they all had something to offer. You will like them or you wont. It doesn't mean they are "bad". It means they are or are not to your liking. The theatre was big and comfortable.
My only negative - sorry if this offends but. . ..again, a review is a personal opinion. I am used to going to an Adult Only resort. I knew there would be kids at Memories. There are a lot of kids there - perhaps just the week we went but.. . it IS a family resort. There will be kids. Some will be better - or less behaved than others. I read there was an adult only pool but I did not see one - HOWEVER.. there is a pool on the other side of the hotel that was QUIET and we spent a lot of time there. If you are looking to get away from your kids for a week, this may not be the right hotel
Overall - I would recommend Memories in a heartbeat. Everything about it was fantastic. Please don't "listen" to all the negatives. This hotel is wonderful. A vacation is what you make of it. If you are looking to get away from the phones, computer, boss, daily stress and want to enjoy the life of leisure for a week....pack your bags and go.