In April of 2005 my wife and I went to Cuba for our honeymoon. We had an excellent time and it was quite relaxing. We waited until a few weeks before our wedding and then found sale prices on all inclusive packages in the Caribbean. One of the best for the price was in Cuba so we bought it. The basics of our trip were this.
- We flew Air Canada direct from Calgary to Varadero Cuba.
- We stayed in the Sandals Princesa Del Mar Resort and Spa.
- We stayed for 7 nights.
- It cost aruond $1200/person
You don’t need to get one in advance, you can just show up. You do need a passport though. A lot of places require your passport to be valid for 6 months past your stay, but Cuba is actually only 1 month. So if you were going to return May 1st, your passport should not expire until at least June 1st.
The flight was fine. Typical Air Canada style where there was nothing really special about it, but it was on time and we didn’t have any hassles. The flight took about 5 1/2 hours.
At the airport they don’t stamp your passport. They just slide a entry/exit card inside it and stamp it. This is to encourage Americans who are not allowed to visit the country to do so if they want without having evidence of it in their passport.
There are a lot of people there who will transport you if you want, but this was included in our package. Our drivers told us we had to pay $5 each, but we knew it was included so we said we would pay later. Just a little scam they had on the side, but no worries.
They have two currencies in Cuba. One is the regular peso and the other is the tourist peso. The tourist peso is equivalent to the U.S. dollar, basically all the time. So exchange for some of this when you get there and you will be set.
Princesa del Mar
This was quite a nice resort. It is a 5-star facility in Varadero. For those of you who don’t know, the resorts at Varadero are on a peninsula that has restricted access so it feels separate from the mainland somewhat.
Sandals resorts themselves are typically “couples” resorts so there were no children where we were staying. Being April, it was low season so some parts of it were closed down. This wasn’t a bad thing, it just meant some nights not everything was open. The pool and main eating areas were always open of course, but just way less busy so it was nice.
There are variety of 2 story buildings on the property that have around 20 or so rooms in them. They are open air and half the rooms have ocean view, which can see gorgeous sunrises. There is a main buffet eating area that is open for breakfast and lunches. However, scattered around the property are different “theme” restaurants that you can eat at. There was a French, steak house, Japanase, Italian, along with others. The only catch is you have to reserve in advance the restaurant you will go to. Because it was low season we just had to reserve the morning of, but in busy season you book all your evening meals when you arrive for the week. If it is your honeymoon, you will be invited to have a “special” dinner at the restaurant on the hill (the fancy living arrangements area). All the food and alcohol is of course included. The food was good, but I wouldn’t say amazing. We were told this is typical for Cuba since they can’t order anything from the U.S. because of the trade situation.
If you enjoy scuba diving, there is a free dive every day if you want one. They bus you to the Bay of Pigs or other locations and you go with a divemaster from the resort. This can be a bit of a drive though and if you are on your honeymoon you might not feel like doing this (like me).
We took a day tour by mini van to Havana. This is was a great way to break up the week. I think it was $75 US per person. It seems a bit steep, but you get a good tour around and lunch is included. You’ll see the scenery as you drive to Havana which is interesting. When you arrive you will see the old architecture, the old and new capital buildings, markets, and more. We had lunch on a nice little restaurant that overlooked parts of the city. We also saw the little “corner store” type establishments where citizens can come collect their rations (eggs, milk, etc). You even get to see the little bar where Ernest Hemingway would drink his mojitos. Later we visited a rum shop where you can buy their prized Havana Club.
O.K. if you are going to buy the cubans here is some advice. The “legal” cigars are sold like almost everything else in Cuba, by the government. The price will be basically the same, everywhere you go. The same for Havana Club Rum. So buy it at the resort if you want. It might be a bit fresher if you buy it when you go to Havana but that is it. Be warned if you try to sell them when you get back. This is illegal in Canada, since you are supposed to pay the taxes on this if you are doing it. You are allowed to bring back 2 boxes tax free. Shops won’t buy them from you here though, unless they are a bit shady themselves. They know how much you paid anyways. Unless you can line up a friend or some other buyer before you go, you might as well just buy them for youself. There will be Cohiba and the ever popular Monte Cristo. A box (25) of Monte Cristo #2 will run you around $240US.
You don’t need to tip money and you shouldn’t. Take lots of little things from the dollar store as gifts and tips. They love them. Everything from paper, pens, coloring books, old t-shirts you don’t want, pencil crayons, hair elastics, hair bands, and more. Some people said they would leave aspirin and tylenol, but is a little dangerous I would think.