I have just returned from Cuba - again…and it was a successful, positive getaway.
Yes, I did say Cuba.
Travelling to Cuba over the last decade or so has been inexpensive and not-so-luxurious compared to other Caribbean destinations.
Once you have visited Cuba, met their wonderful people and learned a little more about what it's like for them to live and work there, you start to get a better understanding of how hard they work to please visitors and you begin to see your next trip there a little more positively than you anticipated.
For those who haven’t visited Cuba, here is a very brief overview to start things off…
- If you have never visited an all-inclusive resort, please try to make Cuba your first destination choice. To fully appreciate this salsa-loving, always-smiling country to its fullest, you need to have a bit of a thick skin and lower expectations. If you are already used to 5-star accommodations when you travel, you will need to be prepared that a 5-star resort on another Caribbean island is NOT a 5-star resort in Cuba. The overall rating (star) system is based on services and amenities within that country and overall expectations - not compared to other countries.
- If you like music, want to like music, wish you could dance, want to learn to dance or like watching others dancing - there is no other musical hotspot like Cuba to visit. The boy running the towel hut is most likely an accomplished salsa dancer, your breakfast waitress sings latin jazz like no other and even the gardener working on your flowers outside your bungalow can blow a mean trumpet. It is in their blood and they are always happy to share in their musical passion.
- Cubans do not have access to the things we, in North America, take for granted. Wifi is always scarce and overly controlled - regardless of the star rating of the resort or its proximity to a tower or how much you tip the front desk attendant who is selling the wifi cards. Vegetable salad is just that - whatever vegetables they can scrounge up by the time you have ordered it. It may be under-ripe tomatoes, thin slices of cucumber and shaved lettuce, but they are indeed vegetables and more than the waitress serving you usually gets to sample herself on a daily basis. Imports are rare or restricted somewhat so that particular bourbon that you have recently become infatuated with is not likely to be on the lobby bar’s lineup. Cuba is not a wine-making or wine-drinking country, so pouting that they don’t know a cabernet from a merlot is a waste of time.
- I have never met a traveller who hasn’t raved about the people in Cuba. The staff, the locals who work in the shops nearby, the airport personnel, the technician who comes to fix your toilet in the room - all are humble, smiling, enjoy their jobs andmore importantly - life as they know it.
- The food at the resorts will NEVER live up to your expectations. See Number 3 above.
Now for a few tips for the fellow food-lovers out there who are nervous to come and eat here - or anywhere that is different than home.
- Local is ALWAYS better. Why go to Cuba and order pizza and then be stunned that it isn’t as good as your favourite from home? The same goes for a rib eye steak, a French Onion soup or a lamb curry. This is Cuba - so anything that Cubans eat here will be the best of what is available. Most resorts will either have a local dish on a buffet or will at least try to introduce a “cuban lunch” once throughout each week to showcase their best dishes to the fickle dining tourists.
- Ask for what you want. It takes me, as well, 2-3 days before I finally get frustrated that there is no toast served with my eggs in the morning and I get over my Canadian over-politeness and ask. Usually a waitress will reply with either “of course, Madame” or “We only have croissants today. Is that ok?”. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive.
- Speaking of being overly-polite…it irks me to see rude tourists snapping fingers at waitstaff, raising their voices in the lobby about the lack of sparkling water in their room (again - see Number 3 above) or filling two massive plates per person from the buffet and then leaving them half-overturned and barely touched on their table as they scurry away to find another rum punch. Rudeness is never OK, but being overly-polite doesn’t get you much more either. Don’t like the table that you are being offered at dinner? Ask if there is another one available that isn’t right beside the front entrance or the bathroom door. Aren’t crazy about the “special cocktail” that the crazy lobby bartender suggested you try? Just tell him that it is a little too sweet for your taste and then request something closer to your liking. As long as you decline politely or express your disappointment in a calm, informative-only manner, they will fix what’s amiss and try everything to please you again.
- Focus on the positive. Instead of thinking (or saying) “I don’t like beans”, perhaps you can ask for another side dish that is still local, plentiful and “agrees with you” better. Instead of thinking (or saying), “This hamburger bun is dry. “, think - the burger is juicy enough that I can eat it like a steak with those fries!
- Things break, ingredients run out, stuff happens. The coffee machine breaks just when you sit down for breakfast. It isn’t anyone’s fault, exactly. The machine is old and there isn’t enough cashflow this month to fix it or replace it right away. The bedspread is a little worn? The resort is most likely refurbishing one room at a time when they have the money (just like you would do when you want to renovate and cashflow is scarce) so try asking for another room if it is ruining your visual.
I was very pleased to hear that the resort that I just spent the last lovely week at just won the designation from TripAdvisor as the "#1 All-Inclusive Resort In The World".
...and yes, it is in Cuba. And yes, it was well-earned.
...and here is a little serenade JUST FOR YOU!