Spent a week at this resort from Feb 21-28. First time in Cuba, I was looking for a last minute inexpensive trip but was convinced by the local travel agent in town to come to Memories. We spent an extra $10 per person for the Diamond Club, which was definitely worth it! We were greeted at the airport by the Diamond rep, got our room key cards and bracelets on the long but fun bus-ride to the resort (there were only 3 other couples on the Diamond bus with us, very nice!). Bought some beer on the bus, but there was no washroom, so a pit-stop at a gas station in Remeidos was required. TIP - ladies, it's "buy a slice" of toilet paper, which is problematic, since you likely don't have any Pesos yet. Bring a napkin!
We arrived and went to the Diamond lounge, where we were upgraded to Unit 52 in Azul (originally 53). Check in was quick and painless in the Diamond lounge, and while we did have to leave our passports, we picked them up again later from the Front Desk. We were a little unsure of what extra perks we had with the Diamond Club, so don't be afraid to ask if you don't know.
Room was fine, no issues with the amenities, although it was a bit random with the minibar being stocked daily - some days we'd receive one beer and three pop (should have been 2 beers, 2 pops), but always had fresh water (1.5 litres). TIP - we learned from another couple we met to tip the guy who re-stocks the fridge - it is not the maid service that does this - they tipped the first day and always received plenty of alcohol for the room. Flag him down in the afternoon, if you want the extra drinks (not really needed, though, as there are plenty of drinks available always throughout the resort.) The room was equipped with a ceiling fan, but it didn't work (likely just decoration). It was difficult finding the sweet spot for the room temperature, usually woke up too cold by 3:00 AM. The ceiling fan would have been perfect to move the air around. Bed was huge, a bit hard but no worries. Great view of the pool from 5270, 3rd floor. Probably the best room in the resort would be 5269 or 5267 with their beach views.
The food - neither of us had any issues with the food. There was always lots to eat, nice choices. A bit bland, next time I would bring some black pepper with me, they only had white pepper. Maybe a small bottle of hot sauce. However, while we had no issues, it is not Canadian or American style, so be prepared for some different tastes and textures. Burgers at the beach were excellent - beef, chicken or pork (made with a panini press!) Burgers at the Family Pool were cooked over charcoal and had bacon one day, also very good. Burgers at the Azul Pool were ok, but the chef was fantastic, very personable and fun! People might think, "Burgers? I'm at an all-inclusive, I don't want burgers!". But they were nice if you had a late breakfast or wanted a little snack.
The alcohol - people suggest you bring your own mug or Bubba keg, and I scoffed at this at first, but realize now that it makes sense. The draft beer they offer is served in small flimsy plastic cups that hold about half of a small can. Enough for about three swallows, so if you like your beer you are always out, if you use their cups. I started having them fill my 800 ml water bottle, but it's not insulated and warmed up quickly. I'd suggest one of those clear insulated cups with the straws and the lids and will bring one myself next time. I'm not into the mixed drinks, but did try a Mojito, it was great. Cristal beer is very refreshing 4.5%, Bucanero was also good, 5.4%. Diamond Club brings the perk of top-shelf liquor at the Lobby Bar, so there was Jameson, Chivas. One day at the Azul Pool they ran out of Canadian Whisky and served Jameson instead, Diamond or no Diamond. Booze carts in the afternoons along the walkways, you were never short on drinks at any time.
The beach - Beautiful! Clean, sandy, spectacular, not too busy, perfect. We found shade every time we went and did not try to reserve our spots early in the morning. This "reserving" is very frustrating and should not be allowed. One day we saw a whole palapa go unused for the entire day, someone had "reserved" it but didn't show. We all deserve to use the facilities, we all paid our $$. If your chair goes unused for an hour, it should be up for grabs. The Diamond palapas typically had room for four loungers (tight but shade nonetheless) - we usually squeezed in and it was always ok. Weather was perfect!
We did the Swimming with the Dolphins Catamaran trip, our bus had a flat tire on the way to the marina and had to unload most of the passengers to make it there. No worries, we were a little late but as a result our Catamaran was only about half full, lots of room to move around. Snorkeling was nice, dolphin experience was ok. TIP - you can't take pictures or video of your dolphin experience, they try to sell you professional photos or videos. If you are a couple, don't go in together if possible, then one can film or shoot the other from the railing. Lots of alcohol on the boat, beautiful scenery, a fun party day if a bit expensive ($103 pesos each!). I found travelling on the water that the shoreline looked a lot like any lake in Muskoka. Cuban vegetation is not very exotic, and the water was darker. The stop at the beach was beautiful. Crew were fantastic guys!
We also did the Cuban Festival ($20 pesos per person), and it was fun, although a bit late for us older folks! It's supposed to start at 10PM, but didn't really start until after 11PM. Once the parade finished we didn't hang around too long.
We were going to rent scooters, but there really wasn't anywhere to ride that would have been interesting.
Some other random observations:
- there is supposed to be WiFi in the Azul Lobby. It costs $6 pesos for 30 minutes. I was going to use it to Skype home, but it was not working the day I wanted. Phone service to Canada is $2.50 pesos per minute. I found this frustrating as I wanted to touch base with the kids back home. I ended up sending the occasional text message ($.75 per message from Rogers). I would recommend you get an add-on from your provider if possible if you want to phone home, don't rely on their service.
- the banker in the Azul lobby shorted us 2 pesos when we had Canadian $ converted over. He did a little thing when he counted out the coins at the end, which I didn't see but my partner did. We should have counted the coins back in front of him, and I didn't really care too much, but it was the principle.
- the staff everywhere were fantastic, very polite and friendly, and hard working. It's easy to over tip and it does become expensive, so tip wisely (but as much as you can).
- I would skip the a la carte meals, they aren't worth it unless you get overwhelmed with the noise at the buffet. The food is the same as the buffet and the service is a bit slow. A waste of time, in my opinion. Definitely avoid the Seafood a la carte, it was really poor.
- the Azul pool is a great place to hang out if/when you get tired of the beach. Never really busy or noisy.
- the patio at the Lobby Bar was a great place to hang out in between the beach/pool and waiting for the Buffet to open.
- we upgraded to the VIP Lounge through Sunwing on the day before we left. It was an extra $25 pesos per person, but turned out to be worth it.
The morning we left was early, but again being Diamond Club we boarded a private bus with 4 couples and went to the Airport. Check-in was quick with the VIP lounge, and Security was also quick. TIP - no lighters or liquids/perfumes in your carry on luggage. The VIP lounge was small and not quite as luxurious as you might think, but there was free alcohol and sandwiches & snacks, as well as couches and air conditioning. Our flight ended up being delayed, 1 hour in Toronto because of the cold, and then the plane was diverted to Varadero just before it landed as there was a rainstorm. So we spent four hours in the airport, but in the VIP, so it was comfortable. We also got to board the plane first.
A great vacation, for your basic sun and sand, drink and food. No surprises, nothing too exotic, but no complaints. I would go again and recommend this resort. Definitely do the Diamond Club if you can, the little perks are worth it. Cheers!
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