My girlfriend and I as well as some friends of ours just returned from our vacation to the Royalton (January 29 – February 5, 2013). Wow – what a trip! We could not have asked for more from our time in Cuba. It was memorable, entertaining, and relaxing; it was exactly what we were looking for!
With that being said, I’m going to spend some time focusing on some of the less appealing areas with some tips for those who are headed to this resort or for those still on the fence about whether or not to head to Cuba. Maybe some of this will help with your decision…
I’d like to make it completely clear from the outset though that we enjoyed our stay 100%. I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone who is considering it, and I will be recommending it to my friends and family.
The trip to the hotel was on modern, comfortable and air conditioned tour buses. The two hour trip definitely did get boring though, especially when we stopped at two other resorts before we got to the Royalton. The scenery is nice and there is a tour guide on the bus who was happy and helpful. In the end we had no issues with the transportation. They serve cold beers (Crystal) but nothing else unfortunately. One of our companions was pregnant so she had to go 2 hours waiting for a drink once we got to the resort. If you're looking for juice, water or pop you should pack some in your carry-on.
The check in was fast and easy – no complaints here. They took our bags straight to our rooms (within 10 minutes) and our butler, Alex, quickly showed us where to find everything in the resort.
The Royalton caters to approximately 200 guests I believe, and the grounds are perfectly suited to this number. We never had to wait in line for drinks or restaurants and the pools barely ever had people in them. The cabanas around the pool get scooped up pretty early every morning (a problem that all hotels seem to face), but if you were to compare this resort to the two neighbouring resorts (Memories Azul Beach Resort and Memories Paraiso Beach Resort) you will be overwhelmingly satisfied that you chose the Royalton!
The pools are not heated. In the winter months (November through March ish) this can make for some pretty cold swimming. We noticed that some of the other hotel guests brought toys for the pool (tubes and other stuff you could lay on). This was an excellent idea and one that we wish we all would have thought of before we had come.
The rooms themselves were pretty basic. The resort just recently opened, so all of the fixtures and furniture are brand new. There were one or two mornings we woke up without any hot water, but these issues were quickly remedied as soon as they were identified to the staff. The “Gardenview” is barely a view at all, so if you’re planning on staying in one of the basic rooms you shouldn’t expect too much. I’ve included a picture of what you can expect to see.
The servers, butlers and animation teams are absolutely top-notch. I’ve never seen so many people bend over backwards just to make sure your every whim and desire were met. Our group had 6 members and all of our reservations were modified once the last two people had arrived to ensure that we could all be seated together at restaurants. The 24 hour room service and the butlers are not limited to any specific menu or grouping of services – if the staff members can accommodate you in any way, they will! We had bottles of wine delivered to our rooms, we ordered bacon sandwiches at 3:00 am in the morning and they came freshly delivered within 15 minutes. The service was truly the best I have ever experienced while travelling!
As I’m sure you’ve read or been told, the food in Cuba was par at best. Our two biggest complaints were:
- The lack of condiments, though there was plenty of salt and pepper, contrary to what I had heard from other Cuban travellers
- The lack of any snack type foods. Things like nachos, cookies, etc. The only real food you could order was a full meal off the menu, and sometimes all you really wanted was a snack. The only way to get finger foods was to buy them in El Pueblo
These two issues can be easily remedied if you come prepared. Friends of ours brought bottles of ketchup (they do have ketchup, but the flavour is a little off) and a bottle of Sriracha sauce. I had never tasted Sriracha sauce before but it really helped give some of the more bland dishes the kick that they needed. Any hot sauce would do though so I would highly recommend bringing any sauces that you’re used to at home.
Other than the few bland dishes and a few menu items that were unavailable, the food wasn’t as bad as we were expecting. There was also a live band at each of the restaurants for pretty much every meal – for such small restaurants and so few guests, you really feel like royalty as they play popular tunes and theme music throughout your meal.
Make sure you try the cappuccinos – I think I had at least 10 of them over our 1 week stay!
Similar to the service, the Royalton’s beach is the best beach I have ever seen. Perfect sand and the water wasn’t too cold. The one downside of the beach was that because the Royalton neighbours two much bigger resorts (the two Memories resorts) which, at maximum capacity, house nearly 3,000 guests, you get a lot of spill over as people stroll down the beach to get away from the crowds. Because of this, the beach will not be as modestly populated as the hotel grounds. That being said, we had no problems with the amount of people on the beach – even with the spill over it was still less populated that some of the other beaches I have been to in other countries.
Royalton guests get full access to all of the facilities and services that are available at Memories Azul and Memories Paraiso. We made use of their tennis courts, the buffet for one of our lunches (which I would not recommend), as well as several of the themed restaurants which required reservations.
And trust me, taking a stroll through the two Memories resorts will make you very glad that you chose the Royalton!
Next to all three of the resorts is a small town called El Pueblo (though it is owned and operated by the resort). There are quite a few smaller restaurants and vendors if you’d like to buy souvenirs for back home. There’s also a bowling alley and a few spas for those interested.
The prices are all marked and, thankfully, the people selling the arts and crafts are not pushy. We rarely felt pressured into buying anything. Make sure you take the trek up the bell tower to get a few of the resorts and the ocean from the top! Well worth it.
My girlfriend and I as well as two of our friends took the $170.00 excursion (which included a bus trip and a short flight) to Havana. Definitely a great tour, but just be prepared – the tour doesn’t stop at nearly enough locations to get a true feel for the culture of Havana. You could spend a week or two there and still not see everything. We all definitely enjoyed the trip though. Little bit pricy – but definitely worth it.
TIP: Don’t tip with loonies or toonies. They are useless to Cuban’s because exchange bureaus don’t except coinage. We were approached by a couple of resort workers on our way out who were looking to exchange their Canadian coin change for Cuban pesos. Tip with Cuban pesos and save your hosts the hassle.
A personal shout-out to Alex and Ramon, and definitely to our late night conversations with Real. Without each of you our trip wouldn’t have been half as good as it was!
The Royalton is by and large the best hotel in Cayo Santa Maria. A quick stroll through the two neighbouring Memories resorts confirmed that for us for sure. Pick the Royalton and enjoy your stay in Cuba – we can’t wait to go back.