Review: Ocean Varadero El Patriarca, Varadero, Cuba.
I was excited to experience a resort in communist Cuba. Would the experience meet up to our expectations? Would a stay in a land governed by communism and twenty five years of sanctions from the United States make for an interesting stay? We would end up discovering a different stay experience filled with interesting (and rationed) food, supply issues and some odd touches. It ended up being a unique travel experience unlike many others.
This post is one chapter on our trip to the isolated country of Cuba. This trip was planned through Westjet Vacations. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.
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Read More from This Trip
- Trip Introduction: Havana and Varadero, Cuba via Westjet Airlines
- Westjet Airlines: Abbotsford – Calgary
- Westjet Airlines: Calgary – Varadero
- Ocean Varadero El Patriarca, Varadero, Cuba
- Commercial Shopping in Communist Cuba
- Overland Travel: Varadero to Havana, Cuba
- Landing into New Havana, Cuba
- Climbing on Havana’s Most Famous Fort and Stepping into Old Havana, Cuba
- Tackling the Four Squares of Old Havana, Cuba
- Westjet Airlines: Varadero – Calgary
- Westjet Airlines: Calgary – Abbotsford
Review: Ocean Varadero El Patriarca, Varadero, Cuba.
After arriving to Varadero, Cuba off Westjet Airlines Calgary – Varadero, we changed some Canadian Dollars into Cuban Convertibles to have some local currency.
We found our Westjet holidays representative who identified the bus number for us. Varadero was really set up for the tourist experience and there were rows and rows of buses available at the airport taking travellers to various resorts.
It was about 45 minutes drive by bus along some rickety roads towards one of the 60 hotel resorts in Varadero. The highway was quite dressed up by comparison to other areas with full street lighting, no pedestrians and no homes. The homes that I did see were all quite similar in style and few people had cars, despite all having car park areas.
The Ocean Varadero El Patriarca was the first of four stops on our bus transfer. The property advertised itself as a 5 star property according to the Cuban rating system and a four and a half star property with Westjet Airlines vacations. The property was at the level to be expected when dealing with Latin American properties – slightly less than what was advertised. The entrance way was not grand like the resorts in South East Asia and had a rather minimalist theme to it.
After our transfer in, we were unloaded and checked in. Our bags were placed on a golf cart and we were driven to our room.
The Room: A Deluxe Room
The rooms at the Ocean Varadero El Patricia are 6 to a floor, with 2 floors to a building. Overall, MrsWT73 didn’t care much for the room. I found that they were pretty much to be as expected for a non major chain hotel in Cuba.
On arrival, there were a few insects wandering around the bathroom (large cockroaches and other insects from the shower drain) and the bathroom area appeared quite dusty from the white tile floor. She attempted to change the room but we were told that none were available.
The Deluxe Room itself was a large and comfortable size – not quite a suite. It was showing a bit of wear and tear for a property that was only 3 years old. There was a slightly strange colour scheme happening here; contemporary with a retro theme.
The bathroom had the continued green theme throughout. It was a little compact for my tastes but it was perfectly functional.
There were a few Cuban touches – the television was a strange Chinese brand that I’d never heard of before – it actually had an on and off flip switch on the side, despite also having a remote control. The host that showed us the room on arrival explicitly pointed out that it had Cuban radio available on channel 7.
I ended up finding several national radio channels, consistent with old style communication before the wired internet days. It’s also worth noting that Cuba just got wi-fi in the year of our visit in 2016. The internet was limited to dial up speeds in the lobby of the property, so there is no wired connectivity in the rooms.
Most of the voltage outlets were on the North American plug configurations, but had 220V power scrawled onto the outlets.
An In Room Mini Bar:
The in room minibar featured Cuban colas and soft drinks. There seems to be no importation of Cokes or Pepsi sodas due to the economic sanctions against Cuba, and it’s probably cost prohibitive to get them from other areas.
Overall, the room was fairly comfortable, although not much to write home about. It was comfortable and quiet, although we weren’t encouraged to spend much time in the room.
Around the Hotel:
The Resort Pool:
The resort had a reasonable pool, although it didn’t face or have any ocean facing exposure. I am wondering if that was a deliberate design as a result of the tornadoes that pass through this region?
Cuba has been catering to the Canadian tourism markets. The host on our bus ride in indicated almost 70% of their tourist traffic is from Canada. Over the course of our trip, I wasn’t all to impressed with my fellow travellers – I happened to see a lot of bad behaviour; cussing, swearing across the pool, large amounts of smoking everywhere, yelling or shouting at other family members across a large pool. General debauchery and over indulgence that can be typical of the once a year holiday crowd. I’ll admit at times to cringing at some American behaviour when traveling through the USA, but now I was cringing at my own brethren.
The highlight of this resort in Varadero was the beach. The beach overall was in very good to excellent condition. The beach faced north so it meant spinning your lounger around to get the sun to face inwards towards land, if you wanted more than your shoulders tanned. It was nicer than our beach in Costa Rica, although nowhere near as nice as some of the alcoves and strips in Hawaii (Makena Beach on Maui comes to mind).
The sand was of really good quality on the beach. The beach was also quite well taken care of. There wasn’t any garbage or other debris on the beach. Although it was not raked or otherwise maintained, it was pretty pristine it’s natural state.
The Cactus Gigante:
The Ocean Patriarca Varadero was adjacent to one of the national parks of Cuba. There was a Cactus Gigante that was next to the beach. The admission was 2 CUC ($2 USD). The admission to the Cactus was not included in the Resort Fee. Just kidding, the Cuban’s haven’t caught onto the ancillary charges just quite yet. The cactus was supposed to be over 200 years old.
Snorkelling off the Resort:
Just before we left, we took in a morning of snorkelling from the resort beach. There wasn’t any snorkelling from shore, since the shallow beach went out quite a ways. We booked a morning snorkel on a hobie cat, which is a small non motorized mini caravan (imagine a caravan scaled down).
We took the boat about 25 minutes out into the bay. It wasn’t that far since the boat was wind powered, but much further than I could swim. There were lots of fish but only because the operators were using bread to attract them. Seas were a bit tough and the corals were so so.
There wasn’t so much variety like other great snorkeling spots like Maui or the Maldives so after we got used to being out there, it was an exercise in just enjoying the fish.
Our guides happened to find themselves some lobster for dinner. They were able to neutralize it right on the boat itself. An unexpected surprise for these waters!
I happened to see some schooling but MrsWT73 had the underwater camera so I couldn’t get any shots. All in all, it was an interesting experience but also a “once and done” experience. The fish were pretty average compared to some of the other spots we had seen in the world. Needless to say, Cuba will not substitute for the Maldives any day!
Aside from the absolutely beautiful beach, I have to echo the general theme of Cuba; the food is absolutely terrible. With almost now sixty one countries visited – Cuba is by far among the worst food of the lot. I’d have to rank it on par with my dining experiences of Russia and China. However, unlike Russia and China, there isn’t a fancy restaurant around when you decide that you want something else, so there is no opportunity to escape it. On the menu at the resort were odd items like sautéed cabbage and pumpkin making an appearance as an ingredient in many buffet items- for breakfast! They must have to rely on the ingredients that are available. Making matters worse here are the staff appeared to be very tip motivated – the service can be quite slow. On the date of our arrival, placing an order for “French fries” at the snack bar at 11 PM – we were told everything was 30 minutes. The food eventually turned up at 45 minutes later and had obviously been sitting out for quite some time as the fries were cool.
There were also some strange supply issues with the food. The resort would put out a deluxe menu item at the buffet (like fresh fish) and it would be gone within the first 45 minutes of a 4 hour dinner service. Often, there would be no sauces or condiments available (ie: mustard, mayonnaise, steak sauce). At times, Ketchup would make an appearance, but often the bottles were out for show, and at other times, they were only 1/8 full, on display like models, and never refilled. The main condiment was salt and pepper, which we enjoyed in copious amounts. The supply chain of these items must not be very reliable as they frequently ran out.
My Thoughts on the Ocean Varadero El Patricia:
Overall, the resort was what was expected. A five star property that was probably somewhere between a 3 1/2 star or a 4 star depending on your tastes. The beach was absolutely spectacular and a restful way to spend a few days. The experience as the days led on was particularly “Cuban”, with a lot of surprises along the way. The challenges weren’t any thing that couldn’t be overcome, but rather subtle omissions or changes that made for an entertaining, unique and different travel experience.