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El Senador Darrell and Brenda Halifax, N.S.


April 8-15/05

This was our third trip to Cuba, first to Cayo Coco. Have also been to the DR and Mexico.


Flight: No Complaints about our WestJet flights, on-time both directions. Very entertaining flight crew on return flight. Both flights very enjoyable. Plenty of leg room.

Airport: The new airport at Cayo Coco is easy and fast to get through (with only one plane landing at a time). The money exchange is slow and sometimes not accurate. Check your money, many “mistakes” made here. VIP lounge offered through your tour rep. We did not go to the VIP lounge. A few members of our party did. They were told that they would have a line to check in just for them. Then pay their departure tax, go through security and to the VIP lounge. I was upstairs, already through check in, departure tax and security watching my friends still checking in. All the duty free shops are upstairs so you have to leave the VIP lounge to shop. The airport was a comfortable temp and the chairs were just fine for the short time we had to wait to board. I didn’t feel the duty free was worth the $20pp.

Check-In: It only took about 15-20 minutes from the airport to the resort. The guide told us some history and finished with, “You can tip the people if you are happy with the service.” We arrived at the resort around noon. Our rooms were not ready so we had to leave our luggage in the lobby. This resort has no locked luggage room available like some do. There was luggage everywhere. We were told to check back by 3 p.m. We found the money exchange, changed our money (no problems with the exchange this transaction April 8th). We ate lunch at the buffet on the Emperador side. When we checked back after lunch our rooms were ready. We were in building 11 on the Laguna side. The porters with the golf carts told us that it was not far so off we went wheeling our suitcases behind us. I think distance is measured like time in Cuba, we all thought it was a bit far to drag suitcases. We found shortcuts later.

Money Exchange: The money exchange is located to the right of the Laguna lobby in the same building as the massage (separate room). Be careful when you exchange your money. A lot of so called “mistakes” are made here. Know what you should be getting back and count your money before you leave. Insist on signing the paper and get a copy for yourself. I think this is the biggest scam on the resort. I fell victim to it myself, I should have been paying more attention. They got me for $20 cdn. One other lady in our group wanted to change 15 paper pecos for coin. The guy kept insisting she gave him 8. Finally he gave up the con and gave her her 15 coins. The rate fluctuated constantly. We heard more stories about the money exchange. Our opinion is one that you should not have to worry about getting screwed out of your money while on vacation. Sometimes the lines were long and they also ran out of money fairly often. The money exchange is not open at all on Thursday.

The Room: We ended up in an end room on the second floor of building 11. We had extra windows in our room which made the room nice and bright. No balconies in our building but the big windows did open. If you opened the window or door the AC turned off. We had two double beds pushed together to make one hugh bed. The bathroom was divided in two with a glass see through door separating the toilet and shower area from the sink/closet area. The key was in the safe. There were two large bottles of water in the warm fridge. Our neighbor had one bottle of water and the next room only had half a bottle of water. There was no problem getting more you just had to ask the maid and she was happy to give you as many as you wanted. We had an ant problem in the bathroom that lasted all week. Everyday I play Kill the Ants. They were around the sink area and on the wall. I sprayed one night with Deep Woods Off and the next day there was a whole new bunch. I just kept my tooth brush in a plastic bag and ran hot water over my hair brush. Our neighbors had ants also. One morning I woke up with itchy legs dreaming of bed bugs (or should I say having a nightmare). I checked the bed but found nothing. I had red welts on both my legs from the knees down. The next day I had a few on the front of my calf as well. Some of these welts got as big as quarters and were unbearably itchy. My neighbor had some as well and on the last morning my husband had some. The itching lasted for about a week. Not sure if they were from the ants, no see-ums or sand fleas. This is the first time in five years that I have experienced something like this. Every time we came back to our room the AC was off and so was the fridge. The maid was taking the card out of the holder next to the door and turning everything off. We had milk in the fridge and medication that was supposed to be kept cold. We just started checking the room everyday after we figured that the maid was finished. I had no problems with anything missing and got a very nice thank you note from the maid on our last day.

Food: We found the Buffets to have a limited selection compared to some other resorts we had been to (I’m starting to compare now, a first-timer would probably have loved the selection). I stayed in a 3.5 star in the DR last year that had more selection than the El Senador. Having said that, we never went hungry, the buffet turned out to be our destination of choice for supper. The good thing about the buffet was that you could see what you were getting. They had the usual breakfast items and an omelet/egg chef. Lunch was usual buffet fare with a fresh grill available, fish, chicken, etc. There was a beach grill that served a pretty good menu at lunch, their food service closed at 3:00 p.m. (French fries, poutine, grilled chicken, hamburgers, salad, nachos, sandwiches, limited salad ingredients and deserts. The pool grill served Pizza, French fries, poutine, sandwiches, etc and was opened until around 10:00 if not later. We tried three of the Restaurants – Italian, Steakhouse and Seafood. I enjoyed all my meals at the restaurants, I guess I just made good choices. Five out of the eight of us ended leaving their dinners behind at the Italian (undercooked and no taste to the pasta dish). Most people liked the steakhouse except the steaks where thin. I had grilled salmon, it was very good. I had lobster thermadore at the seafood (first time for me), wouldn’t bother getting it again. Six people turned in early after the seafood restaurant all not feeling well. Not sure what happened there they didn’t all eat the same thing. I’m not sure, but I think the 24hr snacks may have consisted of pastries at the lobby bar. I don’t know if the pool grill stayed open all night or closed for food at 10:00 p.m.

Beach/Pools: Beautiful beach, if you got there early (around or before 9:00) you had no problem finding a spot under the shade stand (these had poles across the top so did not provide total shade like some do). If you like a nice long beach, then this is it. It probably would take about 45-55 minutes to go from one end to the other. You could snorkel right off the beach in front of the Laguna beach bar. There were a couple of places with coral and plenty of fish. We spent some time around the pool on the laguna side (this was the activity pool). Not as much shade here, but more than on the Emperador side. We didn’t bother with the adult pool, no bar there, some shade, really quite. We never swam in the Emperador pool, this was the biggest pool on the complex.

Excursions: We went on the glass bottom boat. I found it a great value for the money. There was a couple on the glass bottom boat that had been on the all-day catamaran the day before. They told us they saw more fish on the glass bottom boat trip. We picked up people at different spots in front of the neighboring resorts then went out to the coral reef (you can see the boat from shore). We were given free time to snorkel, about an hour. They were playing music while we were picking up and dropping off people. Turned if off while the snorkeling was going on. Maybe this was a safety thing. No alcohol on board that I knew of.

The ladies all took the ½ day trip to Moron. We left the resort at 9:30 and returned at 3:30. We had a horse and buggy ride, spent some time on main street “visiting” the shops as our tour guide called it. He told us it was not the shopping we were used to. We did manage to find some things to buy at very reasonable prices. We left there and went to a place by a train to have a typical Cuban style lunch. After that we went to a lake for a boat ride into the Mangrove trees. Definitely worth it for the money (either $36 or $39), but once you have been on one off the resort tours like this they are all pretty much the same. The buildings and homes were similar to Varadero. The guys went on the Jungle Boat Tour. They left at 12:00 and returned around 3:45. No alcohol or food on this trip. Two people to a boat, you drove your own boat. You could purchase pictures that were being taken. There was an opportunity to snorkel on this excursion. They got to keep the snorkel. A few of the guys said that they should just call this excursion the Boat tour because they didn’t feel they were in a jungle. I didn’t go so I can’t comment. My hubby enjoyed himself. They were hungry when they got back though.

General Comments: This is a very big resort. We’ve stayed on big resorts before, but the way this one was laid out required a lot of walking. You have to cross the lagoon to get to the beach no matter where your room is. The lagoon did smell in some areas. We think that some of the units may be leaking septic. The trash cans were too small and most were always overflowing. There was never any paper towel in the Laguna lobby. Tipping was obvious everywhere. When the buffet opened for lunch, there was already a tip dish by the grill station with money in it. Some people felt pressured to tip. One person I spoke to told me that when they ordered their drink at the beach grill the drink was passed to them and so was the tip glass. I didn’t feel compelled to tip and since I was shortchanged by $20 I felt I had already tipped. We did go to our tour rep with our complaints about the money exchange, he told us he had other complaints as well and urged us to inform guest relations. I have sent an email to them. The two people that were at the money exchange on the day I got taken were at the front desk the next day, so who knows how far my email got. We had several people with us that were first timers I think they really liked the resort. Gardeners and maids were also pleasant and helpful. One of the bartenders at the lobby bar was a bit sour looking, almost unfriendly, and he didn’t know how to make a Mohito!!

We have decided that we will not be visiting this resort again. If I did go back to Cayo Coco it would be to a smaller resort that was beachfront without a lagoon. It would have to be a really good sell-off. With all the changes to Cuba in the last year, the jury is still out as to if we will return or not. I would like to try the Holguin area though before I make a final decision about whether to return to Cuba or not.