warning: this review will probably be as long as it gets. after graduating high school, 17 of us (all aged 17/18) decided to take a trip together to Cuba. I've never travelled to any Caribbean places, only Thailand and around the Asia's so I was quite worried about my heightened expectations. we picked the right location, and although the resort itself I would give 3/5 stars, the experiences I had on it would definitely be 5/5 stars. I thought that because we were teenagers, we wouldn't have been taken seriously, but that was not true at all. we received excellent service, even while we were somewhat rowdy! (all inclusive + free booze + teenagers , how could you not)
getting 17 teenagers, half of us not quite of legal age, all through customs was a lengthy process. the immigration staff was nice to us, but with the Spanish-English language barrier it was very hard for us to understand them. our luggage was all safe and arrived on time. the bus ride into the resort was a good hour and a half, but there was a lot to see as we drove through local Cuba, and we were all excited and singing extremely loudly (sorry to the family sitting on the bus in front of us) the check in at the resort was quicker than I expected. we waited half an hour at most, and keep in mind that's to check in 17 different people, as well as other guests in between. while waiting, we were served cute cocktails.
MONEY EXCHANGE (4/5)
after checking in, we proceeded to the money exchange, where we waited for no longer than twenty minutes to exchange from CAD to CUC. that's not bad considering how many of us there were.
as a group, we requested all of us to be in the same building, preferably building 7 or 15. although we didn't get the building we wanted, we all got put into building 6, which still faced the beach. most of us were on the top floor, and some on the second floor. my room (0662) was the only room with the breathtaking ocean view, so naturally everyone came to hang out here. there was enough room, these rooms are surprisingly spacious. we had two double beds, which we ended up putting together to create a giant bed. the beds were comfortable, however the pillows were old and worn. the mini fridge had three beers, two pops and a big bottle of water, and was refilled everyday at around 4pm. cleaning staff were loud at 6am but were always extremely friendly to us and left cute towel sculptures. always gave us flowers whenever they saw us. we would tip them with a bag of candy, a thank you note, and three pesos every morning (there were three of them) the only issue I had with the rooms personally was that the towels had stains on them, and some even had holes. the bed sheets were clean and they smelt clean, but they had marks on them as well. also, the shower head had hardly any water pressure. I heard some talk of bedbugs but did not experience them myself.
Lobby Bar (4/5) excellent, great vibes. as a teenager sometimes I felt like I was in the wrong crowd because there were many older adults there drinking coffee and lounging. Robin served us and was very sweet to us.
Pool Bar (2/5) service was great, Hanoi made a delicious Miami Vice with the perfect amount of rum. almost too easy to drink. I just felt that it was not the most cleanly bar, as there was sand on the pool floor and on the seats in the swim up area as well.
Beer Garden (3/5) did not have a good selection of what I wanted (I don't drink beer, so yes I was at the wrong location) but it was always packed with people watching the FIFA World Cup. great vibes, and at night it was really quiet before it closed at 10, so we would head over there for the guys to grab some beers. Javier served us and we were nothing but impressed with his service.
Snack Bar (4/5) hung out there a lot as it was open 24 hours and us teenagers never went to bed. the alcohol selection was all there, but the food selection at night was lacking. a lot of the time they ran out of the crowds favourite, the chicken fingers. service was hit or miss on most nights, however by that point we were probably too drunk to even care.
Cigar Bar (5/5) we went there after the theatre show at 9:30 every single night. certain nights were more quiet than others and we found that a lot of the times it was just our crowd. it was the only air conditioned bar and at around 11-11:30 music would turn on and everyone would get up and dance. we bought cigars here because the bartenders seemed to genuinely know what they were talking about. they also cut the cigars and lot them as well. a lot of seating and bar stools. Yadiel served me the first night, and wasn't wearing the bartender uniform but was still very nice to me. Andy was also serving but on the nights he was working, there was no music playing. he offered fast service but did not seem like he was enjoying himself. Jorge is by far my favourite staff member on the resort. so sweet, hung out and spent time talking to him for a little while. always entertaining even when he's making you a drink, and makes you feel so special. be sure to ask for Jorge's Special if you see him - and tell him Tatiana told you about it.
theatre bar was very well maintained, great service from Roberto the bartender. never had a shortage of anything, I guess because the bad connects to the cigar bar so they share their supply of alcohol. the shows were all very entertaining, my favourite being the romantic show because my friend got to go up there and dance. hung out with Kamerun a few nights after the shows and he showed us a good time. shows were supposed to start at 9:30 but all the show times were very inconsistent (tough to plan our predrinking) and it was extremely warm in the theatre with so many people there.
Asian (5/5) excellent service, excellent food. a favourite amongst most of us. we ended up dining their twice. servers dropped a couple wine glasses but never had a problem with them serving us our food.
Italian (2/5) reservation was at 6 but did not end up being let in until close to 6:30. the AC wasn't working for the first half an hour so we were all sweating in our dressy clothes. menu was very confusing. the lettuce in our salad was not fresh and very chewy. my veal was very tough, but the flavour was delicious. our server did not look like he was enjoying himself.
Buffet (4/5) hit or miss. some days the food was absolutely amazing, other days we would stray from most food items. always had fruit, although the grapefruit and pineapple could've been fresher. never went wrong with the fried rice bar, pizza bar, and seafood/meat grill bar. these guys serving are fast and friendly and make delicious food.
POOLS (4/5) we mainly hung out at the big pool in the middle of the resort. the water was not very deep but perfect to stand in and socialize with friends. there were always loungers available although they were darkly coloured and always got scorching hot at around noon. sometimes the bottom of the pool had sand in them, which made them feel not as clean as they should be. we also went swimming after dark in side pool next to building 5, before we read the sign that said no swimming at night (sorry about that) but that was a very nice pool. it was clean and quiet, and very big.
I've been to many beaches in Thailand, and this beach in Cuba beat my favourite Surin Beach in Phuket, Thailand. I have never seen water in so many different shades of blue. the sand was practically white and although there are rocks going down to the shore, the sand was soft and smooth. we went during the rainy season so the water was very choppy but the waves were fun to play in. the free catamaran rides were fun, according to my friends. I felt uncomfortable walking back up the boardwalk because there were builders on the gazebo cat calling us girls.
selection was alright, but the staff was not welcoming at all. they were in their own conversations and brushed me off when I tried to ask a question. don't buy cigars from here, they will rip you off... go to the cigar bar for that.
personally, I only went on the catamaran excursion. the boat was beautiful and the sailors were really sweet. we snorkelled (snorkelling was better on the speedboat excursion apparently) interacted with dolphins, ate lobster and visited a beach. it was a good time, but not sure if it was worth 85 pesos.
we went into town by bus on a Sunday where almost everything was closed. I imagine if it was open it would've been a better time. we managed to buy some souvenirs but wish we could've made it to the bank to exchange more money. we visited two different night clubs (discos as they say) and it was cool to experience. mainly people from different resorts but it was fun to meet new people. drinks were not free at these clubs outside of the resort so we all drank before we left. the bus ride there and back was awesome, a double decked bus with an open top for 1 peso.
most of the staff were very friendly. everyone, including gardeners, greeted us as we walked by. many even picked me some flowers, which was a very sweet gesture. I was a very generous tipper but all of the receivers were extremely grateful. special thanks to our room staff (don't remember their names, one of them was Jorge with tribal tattoos) for the lovely room, the chefs behind the grill in the buffet, and Jorge L in the cigar bar for the amazing time.
I had an amazing time with my graduating class here at Hotel Playa Cayo Santa Maria. some minor fixes needed but definitely got my money's worth and exceeded my expectations. trust me, I will be back very very soon!
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