Cuba’s tourism today is a $2 billion per year industry and as American visitors pour into the country, this income will undoubtedly grow exponentially. Currently, American visitors are only allowed to make “educational tours,” which was the purpose for our tour. This kind of travel suits me fine, but a lot of Americans are more interested in the beach and all-inclusive Club Med-type resorts. We were initially told that our tour would not include such an experience, but it did, and I’m glad for the opportunity since I have never been to such a place!
Cuba has several sites for these all-inclusive resorts. Our group went to Varadero on the northern coast of Cuba about 85 miles east of Havana. As we descended our bus into the Iberostar Laguna Azul, we were greeted with a fruity rum “welcome drink.”
Our first stop was the reception desk where we lined up for our room keys and wristbands, which identified us as paying customers. We were there in time for dinner and while the hotel took care of our luggage, which had been piled up near the registration desk, we went downstairs to a food extravaganza in the “dining hall.”
At first the “dining hall” appeared to be a giant college cafeteria in terms of the noise level (this was a family place) and wide array of choices for nourishment — maybe 1,001 choices of meats, seafood, pizza, vegetables, fruits, pastries, breads, soups, appetizers, cheeses. I looked over the whole thing to devise a plan for my repast. However, just as a few of us began to make our choices, our guides told us we had a special meal just for our group in another room. Ah, a more civilized venue, which of course, began with another “welcome drink” and then a meal of pork steak, vegetables, black beans and rice (a national signature dish). We also had a birthday cake for one of the fellows. Throughout this wonderful meal, we were accompanied with American music from a disc jockey, who at the end of the meal as we filed out played the sonorous Pachebel’s Canon in D. Somehow that seemed both surreal and appropriate.
My room was an experience, too. We had been staying in five-star hotels throughout our trip, but this one topped them all. Just look at the décor — and the view from my window.
The next morning we had no schedule so I stayed in bed as long as I could and eventually went down for breakfast (this time in the cafeteria extravaganza), met up with a couple fellows and then went down to the beach. I had not intended to swim but just wanted to see the water, dip my hand in it and go back to the hotel. I hate sweating and the sun was incredibly hot even at 10 a.m. What was astounding was the view at the shore: hotels up and down for as far as the eye could see. I assumed that most of these were all-inclusive venues like our hotel. And, there were still more being built!
Such luxurious venues are really not my style. I like warm weather in the winter and plan to escape the frigid weather and snows of Michigan for the entire season once I retire. However, I would not be inclined to come to places like this. When I travel I like to see history and architecture, talk with the locals and live like a local. Nevertheless, I’m glad we were afforded this experience. Like Las Vegas, I believe everyone should go to a Fantasy Island-type resort at least once. The only thing missing from this one, however, was Ricardo Montalban, Tattoo and “the plane."