!disclaimer: this review deals with our experience… in Cayo… on the resort… for people looking to do an all inclusive trip to the same location. We did not tour all of Cuba (at all).
My boyfriend and I spent a week in Cuba last week. We were trying to decide between the Dominican in Cuba, but after asking a very official poll via instagram story, 90% of my friends told me that Cuba would be the better choice! I’ve been to the Dominican before with my highschool on our graduation trip, so I figured it would be nice to switch it up anyway. Many people that I know told me that the beach in Cuba is next level, so that sold me automatically since I spend way more time at the beach than the pool on a resort.
Once we decided we would go to Cuba, I looked on sunwing.ca to find some ideas of where we could stay and the price range we were looking at. Originally, I was looking at 3 star all-inclusive resorts because they were so cheap, but I quickly realized that if you’re going to stay in Cuba you need to stay in a 4 star at LEAST. Whatever the rating on Sunwing was, the actual resort was one star below it (so if it was a 3 star, it was really a 2 star). I ended up finding the Memories Paraiso hotel in Cayo Santa Maria, a 4.5 star resort, all inclusive. Sunwing showed flights out of Toronto Pearson, so we decided to take that option. Although Detroit is the closest airport, Sunwing is a Canadian site, and the Detroit flights are always way more expensive than the flights out of Pearson. Apparently Windsor actually flies to Cuba as well, so if you’re planning on going from Windsor you could look into that, but I didn’t want to divide up the all-inclusive package.
Memories Paraiso had lots of mixed reviews. I do my research on Tripadvisor and I’m pretty thorough. There were lots of complaints about how the hotel is a 2 hour bus ride away from the airport in Cuba, about how the food sucks, complaints about bugs, etc. I decided that for my boyfriend and I, it would be fine… we weren’t looking for anything crazy fancy, and after spending a year abroad and staying in THE WORST hostels, I knew we would be fine. I usually travel to Mexico every year and stay in a 5 star resort in Riviera Maya with my family, The Grand Mayan, and I still thought Memories Paraiso was completely fine, but I’ll explain more about that later!
To travel, we took the Greyhound from Windsor to Toronto and stayed in the Best Western Plus Airport hotel in Toronto. They were super helpful in giving me instructions on how to get to the hotel from the downtown bus station on Bay St. We took the UP (Union-Pearson train) to the airport and a shuttle picked us up to bring us to the Best Western. We stayed the night there because our flight was at 6am the next day. The flight was super short… like 3 hours. When I go to Mexico I’m used to 5 hours so this was nice! We slept the whole flight. Sunwing also offered complimentary sparkling wine to get the vacation party started which I thought was cute. The airline was good, I never flew it before this. When we got to Cuba, the airport was extremely small but workable. We all went through customs and got our visitor visa. Then we found our coach bus waiting in the parking lot. All of the resorts in Cayo Santa Maria are far away from the airport and on a little “island” type thing, connected by a land bridge. The bus ride was 2 hours long to the resort, but TOTALLY fine. They had the local beer for purchase and there was a tour guide who explained everything as we drove through the cities on the way there. It was actually awesome and the most I got to see of real Cuba off of the resort.
We arrived at Memories and we checked in so easily and quickly. Our room was normal, I booked a junior suite with a balcony but we ended up being on the first floor, apparently a few chairs on a patio counted as a balcony there but it was fine. There were a few restaurants including a main food restaurant, 24 hour snack bar, a la carte restaurants and a 24 hour bar. For a week’s stay, you are supposed to get 2 a la carte restaurants, but the man liked us (s/o to Orlando) and we got to pick 3. We chose the medeterranian, Italian and emporium restaurants. Italian was definitely the best!
The first day, we hit up the snack bar and went right to the beach. The beach was AWESOME, everything that everyone said was true. Soft white sand, pretty shallow, palapas to sit under (without having to get up early to save them), and a bar on the beach. This was my second time at an all inclusive place, and it was really convenient. I do recommend asking for $1 pesos for tips for the food and drinks even though they’re included. Also, you cannot exchange CUC before getting to Cuba, you have to do it at either the airport or the hotel you stay at. I’m not sure which rate would be better, but we did it at the hotel. On the beach, there were some wind sailors who would take people out for a ride for a fee. There were also volleyball courts.
What We Did
It’s hard to tell people what happened on the trip because we really didn’t do much… hahaha. Every day we stayed at the beach for the majority of the day, and then came to the large pool (with a swim up bar) and met up with our friends to hang out before heading back to the room and getting ready for dinner. The pool was also nice, always pretty warm and lively with people and the entertainment team. I don’t even want to hear Danza Kuduro ever again in my life. At night, there was a club but there was nobody ever there. We did go bowling one night which was awesome! It was open 24 hours. There was a fake village attached to all the resorts in the area where you could go to shop and eat (not included in the price of the all inclusive) but it was a nice area to go to break up time on the resort. We bought cigars and got a drink there a few times. Also, they LOVE Canadians in Cuba because Americans obviously didn’t go there much until the recent changes have happened. There were Canadian flags all over the resort, it was cute!
As far as everything goes, it was all totally fine. I did get sick a few times, but once was because I drank a pina colada and I’m allergic to rum (lol) and second because the hamburger at the resort was really gross. Even Milan got sick from it as well. It’s true that the food there was pretty terrible, but you have to find what you like and just stick to it. I just ate rice and chicken everyday, fried eggs in the morning and bread/pizza things at night. Don’t look for a gourmet cuisine! Just eat what tastes good. The seafood was good as well.
Our mini fridge in our room was always full, including a giant water bottle every day. We honestly had a great time, but I feel like I barely saw any of Cuba. I probably would not return as I prefer other places in the Carribean more (Turks and Caicos had the same beach and better food) but I might go back just to see Havana. We were too far from Havana to take a day trip, but that’s somewhere I would definitely like to see.
The bugs there were pretty intense too. I ended up getting bit like crazy (like…. 52 bites on one ankle) at night, because it was raining the last few days and the mosquitoes were out. I had to go to the doc when I got home. Bring bug spray! Also there was a cockroach in our room which kinda sucked… I would recommend trying to get a room that is not on the ground floor, less bugs that way. There was also a baby lizard in our bath tub at one point but that actually made me happy so that was cool.
If you’re a beach person like me, you should visit Cayo Santa Maria. That alone made it worth it. The hotel was fine. If you’re not picky like us and you can handle some bugs and an “old” vibe, just go there. You’re really just going for the beach and pool without spending a ton of money… what else do you need? Next time we would look into excursions a bit more, I know some people swam with dolphins and such, that would have been a nice way to break up the week. I didn’t like how there wasn’t much close by to the resort. I would have liked to visit other places but there wasn’t really an option. Also, wifi is available with purchase, but we didn’t use it all week and it was awesome. It was a nice break getaway that way. My boyfriend and I both decided we probably would not return unless it was to visit Havana, but no regrets going on this trip! I was long overdue for a vacation to do nothing on. I also really liked all of the Cuban people who worked on the resort, they were all so nice and friendly. It was overall a good experience – I would recommend travelling with Sunwing for an all inclusive package like this one!
EDIT: to “Jorge” who’s mad that we didn’t see Havana, Havana was 4 hours away (not 2). Trust me, we we would have gone.