My husband and I have wanted to go to Cuba for years because we had heard about the great beaches and excellent ocean swimming. Family and friends who had been to this Caribbean island raved about their holidays, saying it offered great value for the money. But I had my worries. As much as I had enjoyed these all-inclusive vacations in our pre-kid days, I felt our boys were too young and I worried that they’d get sick from the food or water or be swallowed up by the ocean! So we waited for many years.
Then last May, we took the plunge and booked a week at the Cuban resort Melia Cayo Guillermo. Upon our return, the only question we asked ourselves was: why did we wait so long? My boys, ages 8 and 10 had the time of their lives. We all did.
I’m a veteran of family vacations where I have to oversee plans for daily activities, meals, cooking, driving, navigating, etc. This trip was not only 100 per cent hassle free, but it was well within our budget of $4,000. This included the airfare, hotel, entertainment and all you can eat food & beverages, including alcohol.
Finding the right place, however, seemed overwhelming in the beginning. I scoured the Internet for family-friendly, safe resorts but there were simply too many choices. So I called Margo Pedersen at Lara Travel and gave her my budget, dates and an idea of what I wanted in a vacation. She in turn gave me a list of about five resorts with prices and links to their websites. In addition to those websites, I also checked out tripadvisor.com to see other people’s reviews of these resorts. When I narrowed the choices down to the one I wanted, Margo answered all of my questions, booked the trip on my credit card and emailed me the tickets. It was the easiest vacation I ever planned!
I used to have the misconception that booking through a travel agent would be more expensive and would not allow us the same discounts offered by those last-minute websites. That turned out to be false. Margo did much of the work and it didn’t cost us any extra.
We took a direct, 3 1/2 hour flight to Cuba and then a 45-minute bus ride to the hotel. The place was perfect for our family. The beaches were picturesque, with soft white sand and clear blue water. The ocean water stayed shallow for hundreds of metres, and the waves — even at high tide — were gentle with no under tow. My boys played in the water for hours, scouring for starfish and conches. Schools of fish would swim around us and the boys fed them with bread and bananas from the buffet.
The only snag was our room, which was incredibly tiny. We were basically climbing over the beds to get in and out of the room. The cramped quarters weren’t going to cut it for the whole week, so we requested an upgrade and were given a suite. It cost us an extra $300 but we ended up with a huge bedroom, two full bathrooms, a living area, an eating area, a private backyard and a Jacuzzi. Heaven!
I’d heard from friends that the food in Cuba could be bland so my expectations for the meals were pretty low. However, the food turned out to be the highlight of the vacation. The buffet was always fresh and plentiful with a good variety every day. Nobody fell sick from the food or water. Chefs cooked your entrée of choice right in front of you. And the variety was fantastic — there was something different in the kids’ corner every day — whether it was meatballs, chicken nuggets or hot dogs — perfect for Alex, my 8-year-old. There were also plenty of choices for vegetarians. If you ever did tire of the buffet, you could go to one of the three restaurants at the resort.
My boys loved the fact that they could eat and drink as much as they wanted without having to pay. It was such a novelty to walk or swim up to any of the bars on site for a free “Fanta” or lemonade. Matthew, my 10-year-old who would love to eat pasta everyday of the week, actually ate a different type of pasta for every lunch and every dinner topped with as much freshly grated parmesan cheese that his heart desired.
With paddle boats and catamarans at our disposal, tennis courts, poolside games, pirate shows and bingo — there was plenty to keep the whole family busy. The resort had a kids’ club for ages 4-12 as well as a baby club for children under 3, with supervised activities throughout the day. At night, there were family friendly shows with magicians, acrobats and string quartets strolling through the resort. It was an island paradise for us.
Our week went by quickly — especially as we started to get to know the staff and other resort guests. And when it was time to come home, we were sad to say goodbye to our Cuban friends who had been so kind to us. We will definitely be going back — and I know better than to wait another 10 years!
Tips if you go to Melia Cayo Guillermo
- The rooms are on the smaller side — so I would recommend booking a junior suite or suite. The extra space will keep everyone happy.
- Expect to tip the waiters and staff for their service.
- Pack a snorkeling mask & tube and some sand toys for the kids
- Pack a small flashlight to look at the large crabs that come crawling onto the grass near the shore at night.