We stayed here for seven nights as part of a package from The Holiday Place. We flew Virgin Atlantic to Havana and then stayed three nights at the Iberostar Parque Central. The original package deal included a bus transfer and I was up-sold a private transfer during the booking process. I wrote about that in ‘when a great deal turns out to be an average deal’. However, I’m actually glad I paid the extra for a private transfer.
I’d also added the ‘Diamond Club’ package for £150 per person. It wasn’t quite clear what the benefits were, I assumed it meant better rooms, service, top-shelf spirits, private areas and priority booking at a la carte restaurants – and it turned out I was mostly correct.
We arrived at the hotel just before 2pm. Check in wasn’t busy and we were given hot towels and a glass of sparkling wine. We were happy not to been given all-inclusive wristbands. Our room was, I think, pre-allocated on the what is called the ‘sunset’ side of the hotel. ‘Sunset’ doesn’t actually refer to the direction that your room/terrace is facing, it’s just the area left from reception. My guess is that all Diamond Club guests stay in ‘Sunset’ as that is closest to the Diamond-only Beach area and also has a small quieter pool. I would say that ‘Sunset’ is the better side, but I haven’t seen the rooms in ‘Sunrise’.
Our room wasn’t quite ready, which was fine as we were early. Our bags were tagged and taken away by the bellman. Our butler had a day’s holiday and so Alex, the Diamond Club manager took over the role. I think all guests have a butler – they are your point of contact with the hotel and book the a la carte restaurants, assist with laundry turnaround and can offer non-essential services such as unpacking and running a bath. Your butler is also responsible for taking you on a tour of the hotel before you go to your room. We were happy to wander around as our room wasn’t ready, we’d only had a two-hour drive from Havana and were already in holiday clothes. However, I don’t think I would have been so interested if I’d just arrived from a long-haul flight and just wanted to get a shower and some sleep.
I didn’t offer Alex a tip as he was a manager and I decided he might find it insulting. let’s hope he wasn’t expecting anything.
We arrived at our room. It was a ground floor room overlooking the small ‘Sunset’ pool. We’d normally choose a higher floor, but I hadn’t asked for a high floor and the room looked pretty good. Our luggage arrived within a few minutes. There was a mini fridge with soft drinks and beer. On top of that were two litre bottles of water and bottles of vodka, rum, whisky and red wine. We really appreciated the large bottles of water being part of the all-inclusive offering.
The bathroom was large, with a good selection of toiletries. The bath itself was huge and had a good shower built-in.
The first part of the room was laid out as a sitting room. This then lead down a few steps to a large bed. The bed was quite high above the floor, but I liked that as it was obviously easy to clean underneath and nice to see that there weren’t any bugs hiding there.
The terrace had two chairs, but not sun loungers.
There was a key-operated safe and we weren’t charged any extra for the key – just remember to ask for one when you check in.
Our room was cleaned really well each day and we had a turn-down service each evening. Both cleaners excelled at making designs from our towels.
On the first night (about 4am) I spotted a medium-sized cockroach in the toilet, which was a small room off the bathroom. I wasn’t in the mood to chase it and squash it and so I sprayed it with DEET mosquito repellent. It was gone the next day and is probably still wandering around somewhere without being bothered by mosquitos! I saw and squashed a small roach the next evening and was starting to worry that we might find one every day, but that was it. Perhaps our room had been unoccupied for a while beforehand and the renewed cleaning activity deterred any future visits.
Alex provided our a la carte restaurant bookings and they were for the dates and times we’d requested, except for that first evening where we needed to visit the buffet restaurant. I was initially disappointed until we ate there.
The buffet restaurant is nicely themed, with various counters offering pasta, meat, fish – all of which were freshly prepared. The display fish and meat were never used and our choices were taken from refrigerated units. Salads, antipasto and main meal sides were all self-serve. The antipasto included prosciutto The waiters were friendly and the red wine was surprisingly good quality. The only downside was the number of flies in the restaurant – it wasn’t swarming, just annoying, but I did worry about the open self-serve buffets and whether we could be ill – we didn’t have any problems, although we met some other guests who reported that there had been several guests taken ill.
We visited the beach. There is a nice beach restaurant that also has an allocated area for Diamond Club guests. The restaurant serves grilled fish and burgers during the day and then becomes the TexMex in the evening. The staff there are friendly and make a good pina colada to drink while you watch the sunset.
The sunbeds seemed busy but I think there were some available. One end of the beach has an exclusive Diamond Club area with plenty of available Balinese beds and also sunbeds, plus a small bar with a couple of friendly staff who will serve you drinks on the beach. There’s also a security guard checking that you are a Diamond Club member. The sea was clear but there weren’t any fish – so snorkelling wasn’t much use.
We weren’t bothered or bitten by any bugs at any part of the beach and that was great.
We met our butler the next day and she was really friendly and helpful, although we didn’t really need many things except to put some clothes through the hotel laundry service. Our butler managed to arrange this so everything was back the same day and that was the quickest service I’ve ever had in an hotel. A few days later we had to ask for additional bottles of water but these appeared really quickly.
The lobby bar is a large circular space, open to the elements. The bar is open 24 hours a day and was always quite busy. This was partly due to it being the only area of the hotel with wi-fi. You need to purchase a 1-hour CUC4.50 (US$1=1CUC) card from reception. It’s worth checking that your device can connect to the hotel wi-fi prior to purchasing – if you can display a log in screen, then you can buy the wi-fi card. You don’t need to use the entire hour at once, just log out of the wi-fi when you’re done. The lobby bar had a good vibe and there was often a band and people up and dancing – including the cleaner on one occasion which was good to see. There were quite a few annoying flies.
The Caribe a la carte restaurant is the largest of the three a la cartes. There was no problem having the good quality all-inclusive red and not choose from the wine list. There were some good specialities such a yucca fritters. A small band visited each area of the restaurant and on one night, we were entertained by opera singers who we later found were in the evening show. This restaurant also has a toilet, whereas the Italian and buffet don’t – although it’s only a short walk out to the facilities.
On the subject of toilets, all were nicely maintained and I was especially pleased and surprised to see they had installed Dyson air blade dryers – which are the best hand dryers on the market.
The seafood restaurant is cosy, although not overly seafood themed. Here they really try to go for a high-end dining experience, with large prawns, lobster bisque pouted tableside and lobster on the main course menu plus good desserts.
The Italian restaurant has the same three varieties of pasta (shapes) as the buffet. We’d become so spoiled that we were expecting ravioli. But the sauces were good – especially the bolognaise made that day by the Italian chef. The only items missing were olive oil for the antipasti and bread (which was available in the buffet restaurant) and sambucca (which was available from the bars).
There is a 24-hour open air bistro that serves crepes, burgers and fish. We tried that once but were bothered by too many flies. Unless you want to eat out of normal restaurant hours then I wouldn’t bother with this place.
There is also a cigar bar and an ice cream bar – but we didn’t try these. I did buy a cigar from the shop for CUC7.50 and later found the same cigars for a few CUC less at the airport.
Entertainment: There are plenty of small bands of entertainers in the restaurants and bars. The evening entertainment is in a central open-air theatre. The Michael Jackson show and the musical theatre show with opera singers were really very good. On one evening there was an aqua ballet show in the pool.
We were invited to a Diamond Club drinks party. This was just a few drinks and a chance to meet the hotel management. There was also a photographer a printed version of the picture he took was delivered to our room the next day.
We didn’t see any mosquitos (or hardly any) and didn’t wear any repellent. I was bitten a few times on the legs by something, but nothing serious.
The main pool was nice enough, usually surrounded by guests on sunbeds. The pool bar crowd looked a bit shabby, which I guess wasn’t surprising as they seemed to stay in the pool all day drinking. They had a foam party one day, but that turned into a farce as the foam machine wasn’t working properly.
The small ‘sunset’ pool that we could see from our terrace was quiet until the last few days of our stay. It had a hot tub that we decided could do with a clean.
Canadians: I guess it’s pretty cheap to fly down to Cuba from Canada. We’d seen a large group of Canadians hanging out by the beach bar and the pool bar. All had their own large insulated drinks tankards and were obviously making good use of the all-inclusive drinks. They were loud and like most groups, unaware of the disruption they were causing. Had this not been Cuba, we would have branded them as Americans as Europeans tend to think of Canadians as more refined. I wonder how many times Americans have been blamed for the poor behaviour of Canadians elsewhere in the world?
Sadly for us the Canadians decided to spend the day at the Sunset pool. They played their music loud, chain smoked and drank. We weren’t around that much but it was annoying to see how indifferent they were and how little they cared for the other guests. That night, around 11pm, they decided to have a guitar sing-along and yes I was that guy who called reception and had them send round some security. I really don’t want to be that guy, but those people deserved it.
Despite the Canadians, we really enjoyed our stay and would return.