Last month I travelled to Varadero, Cuba, for a relaxing holiday with friends. Through a travel agent, we booked a seven-day all-inclusive stay at Iberostar Laguna Azul. Most Canadians love to run away somewhere sunny in the spring when school ends and the weather is still too damp and cold to really enjoy. I wanted to share with you my thoughts on this resort so you have all the information when you’re booking your next vacay.
First of all, let me say that at twowildtides, we freakin’ love Cuba. It is a beautiful country with the kindest people and fascinating history. The sun is hot, the sand is soft, and the culture is vibrant. Check out our other articles about Cuba:
- Hotel Review: Ocean Vista Azul Varadero
- A Privilege: Ocean Varadero El Patriarca
- Snapshots of Cuba
- Snapshots of Cuba, Part 2
- An Action Packed Day in Matanzas, Cuba
- Caribbean Style Guide: My Favourite Outfits from Cuba
- Cuba Video Diary
- The Cuban Capital: Havana for a Day
- Hemingway’s Home in Havana
Next, I have to stress the value of travelling all-inclusive. If you’re less interested in getting the most out of a new culture and more interested in soaking up some rays, eating delicious food, and sipping Piña Coladas all day, all-inclusive is the way to go. Through companies like Sunwing, West Jet, and Air Canada, either with a travel agent or on your own (be careful with vacation sites), you can buy vacation packages that include airfare, bus transfers, hotel stays, food, and alcohol all in one payment. Prices can range from $1000+ depending on the quality of the resort and where you are travelling from, but the deal is usually better than booking everything separately and paying for drinks and meals at your destination. If you still want to have cultural and/or adventure experiences, you can book day-long excursions that leave right from your hotel.
With all of that out of the way, let’s talk about the resort: Iberostar Laguna Azul. Built in 2009, this hotel is one of the older ones in Varadero. It has over 800 rooms, but the layout is relatively small, letting you walk anywhere on the resort in a reasonable amount of time without needing a golf cart. Despite having so many rooms, it doesn’t feel crammed in the pool area or on the beach even when the hotel is at capacity. There are three pool areas (two quiet and one with more of a party vibe), plenty of bars, a gorgeous beach, a snack restaurant/lunch buffet, the main buffet restaurant which serves three meals per day, and several a la carte restaurants. For a seven-day stay, you have three a la carte suppers included.
When we arrived, we were checked in to a ground-level room despite having requested an upper floor with a balcony. We wouldn’t have complained, however, this room also did not have a safe and the patio door didn’t lock very securely. The bathroom door was also broken, the mirror was somewhat rusty, and the toilet didn’t work very well. It wasn’t dirty, but you could tell that the room was old and hadn’t been updated or refreshed in quite some time. The next morning, reception was able to put us in a new room and luckily, we had a much better view and the room was on a higher floor. The new room (pictured above) was much nicer. It felt cleaner, brighter, and everything (mostly) worked. Our bathroom door still didn’t close and the tub took hours to drain, but we had a safe for our valuables and a securely locking door. Unfortunately, our mini fridge was only occasionally restocked, and although we were given clean towels every day or so, the cleaning staff only made our bed once throughout the whole time we were there and the tub wasn’t cleaned at all.
I still stand by my statement that the rooms at this hotel are very dated. For me, this is not a big deal, especially considering how inexpensive the vacation actually was. And I don’t need a fancy room to have fun, and that’s what we were there for. It’s really up to you: are you looking for a modern, luxurious hotel room experience? If so, this probably isn’t your place.
The last thing about the rooms at Laguna Azul is a pretty serious complaint: there are no chains on the doors, and the deadbolt is unlocked by the key card. Like most hotels, when you shut the door, it automatically locks and can be opened using a key card. Although in most hotels, there is a deadbolt lock which can only be locked and unlocked from inside the room. In this hotel, the key cards unlock both the deadbolt and regular lock, and without a chain, anyone with a key can come in at any time. It doesn’t feel very secure when you know that during the night any staff member (or guest who may get a hold of your key) could come in while you’re sleeping. We’re hearing more and more stories about hotel room break-ins and hotels should be helping their guests be as safe and secure as possible by providing working deadbolts or door chains. (It wasn’t just our room– it was our first room, second room, and our friends’ room, leading us to assume that it’s like this in all rooms.)
We spent most of our time in the main pool area. It was large with lots of pool chairs around and most importantly, it had a swim-up bar. There were lots of guests around having fun and consistent activities hosted by staff throughout the day. I’d give it 5 stars without hesitating. Both buffets are nearby if you want to grab a snack and you don’t have to walk far at all for a bathroom. No complaints here.
Same goes for the beach. It’s very big, the sand is soft, the water is clear, there is a bar, and there are lots of chairs to flake out on. There are fun activities also hosted on the beach throughout the day by entertainment staff, such as sports and dance lessons. Again, I’d give the beach a 5-star rating.
At both the pool and bar there are staff members walking around serving drinks from your beach chair which is lovely. Although, I will point out that this service, as well as service at any bar on the resort, is quite slow. We waited up to 30 minutes for drinks at some points. It was like this at the pool, the beach, and in the lobby. The theatre bar and cigar bar were probably the quickest. It seemed like the hotel may have been understaffed as they didn’t have many people working the bars, which created the extremely long waits for drinks. Pro tip: the cigar bar (near the washrooms in the lobby) is hardly ever busy so you can get immediate service from friendly staff.
Speaking of the lobby, it is quite lovely. The staff at reception (and throughout the entire resort) are amazing. They were all so kind, friendly, and as helpful as possible. In the lobby area, there is a bar, tables and chairs for lounging, wifi (1 CUC per hour), washrooms, guest services, vacation reps, cigar bar, gift shops, and a game room. The only downside to the lobby is that you’re allowed to smoke in there, which gives it a dingy smell. Nonetheless, we spent many evenings in the lobby drinking cocktails and playing cards and many mornings drinking coffee and checking the Internet.
Let’s talk about food: overall, I was impressed. At every meal, the food was tasty, flavorful, and well-cooked. Unfortunately, the buffets have absolutely no variety. Every day, at basically every meal, they provide the same options. No matter how good food is, nobody wants to eat the same thing three times per day for seven days straight! The a la carte restaurants were quite good. I tried the Japanese, Italian, and steakhouse. The food was delicious and the options were pleasing.
Finally, I’ll mention the nightlife. Of all the resorts I’ve stayed at, this one had the best nightlife. The theatre and disco were bopping every single night. There were lots of people, young and old, excited to party and let loose. The hotel staff kept people pumped up throughout the evening. Lots of fun all around. If you’re looking for a party, this resort will be great for you.
Overall, I had a great vacation. Holidays are what you make them. You can choose to let the little things get you down or you can make the best of it and have fun anyway. That’s what we did. It was worth our time and money. The rooms could definitely use updating, the service could be quicker, and they could use more variety in their food, but the beach and pool are gorgeous, the restaurants were lovely and the food tasty, and the nightlife and entertainment are on point.
If you have any more questions about this resort I’d be more than happy to answer them. Reach out to us on Instagram or Facebook (@twowildtides) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hearing from our readers and I am glad to help in any way I can!