Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pros and Cons

On our last vacation, in Cuba, the other week, my family and I did something that we've never done before when we've visited another country.

Stayed put in one location.

Typically, when we travel, we like to explore as much of the countryside as possible, to meet the locals and experience the world from their perspective. Eat their food. Shop where they shop. Walk the streets that they call home.

On the tourist island of Cayo Coco, none of the Cubans actually live on the island. Each day, the employees of the various resorts and businesses get on a bus, typically in Morón, and travel for one hour, or more, across the man-made causeway that separates Cayo Coco from the main island. At the end of their shift, these Cubans catch a bus back home.

While my family and I did manage to venture beyond the resort, to Morón, to a world-famous beach, to a coral reef, to a dolphin pool, and to a local market, we spent the vast majority of our week within the confines of our all-inclusive resort.

Was that a good thing? Let's take a look.

Here are the pros and cons of staying at an all-inclusive resort on Cayo Coco. I'm limiting my observations to this island getaway because it's the only such resort I've been to, and because I'm sure that other resorts that are closer to local communities have their own pluses and negatives.


Being in an all-inclusive resort means that you don't have to worry about eating. At our resort, there was a 24-hour snack bar that served sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, and pizzas, as well as having a bar and a fairly decent coffee machine. There was also a large room with a buffet that was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and offered a wide variety of food that made going to the snack bar unnecessary.

With food so readily available, it was one last thing that you had to consider on your vacation: if you are hungry, you just eat.


Because you have unlimited access to food, you're not inclined to go beyond your compound to pay for a meal. And that's a shame, because as good as the resort food was, it wasn't authentic Cuban food. It wasn't even remotely Cuban. It was international cuisine.

As I said, with travel, I like to experience the local food, and I just didn't do that because all of my meals were already taken care of.


The service at the resort was amazing. From the people who seated us at a table for the buffet and brought us drinks to the bartender who made amazing Margaritas, to the servers on the beach who set up your lounge chair under a shady tree on the beach and brought you a steady supply of cool drinks, whether you asked for them or not, we were made to feel special. For the whole week, we felt pampered.


These folks have one job: to pamper the guests and make them feel special. And they know that when they go that extra mile, they'll be well-tipped in return. My only interaction with Cuban people, on the resort, are those Cubans whose sole purpose is to serve.

We did hire a taxi driver, for a day, to drive us to Morón, but sadly, he spoke no English and my Spanish is too basic to have any sort of conversation. DW, who took a Spanish class in university, was only a bit more conversational.

Also, in Morón, we had an English-speaking "tour guide," who walked us up and down the impoverished town's main street, only to take us to shops that would try to sell us cigars, rum, and souvenirs. He did keep us safe from people who tried to exchange our money with the local Peso, which is worth nothing to tourists, and he did try to keep beggars from harassing us (especially, keeping them away from our daughters).


The resort was lovely. Two pools, the most beautiful beach we've ever relaxed on, helpful staff, a theatre that had live entertainment every night, and it was absolutely spotless.


The guest rooms were old and beat up. Our closet door became jammed and fell off the tracks. The door that connected to the next room looked like at one point it had been pried open (luckily, we shared that accessway with our daughters, who stayed in the room next to DW and me). The bathrooms had cracked tiles and the shower head was in need of clearing. For a four-and-a-half-star resort, the rooms were two-and-a-half stars.

The daily activities that were organized by the staff around the pool were average to lame: dance lessons that lasted only 10 minutes and showed only basic steps; aqua-fitness classes that amounted to walking in circles in the water; running from one end of the pool, near the bar, to the other side, carrying a tray with plastic cups that were filled with water, in a race.

We said no to all but the dancing, and I almost immediately forgot the moves afterwards.

Several of the other guests were less than desirable. Folks who smoked in the pool and extinguished their cigarette butts on the edge of the pool. Screaming abuse at their spouses. Complaining about the food. Spending all day, seated at the pool bar, blaring their music out of their Bluetooth speakers, turning their northern bodies into plump, rotisserie chickens until the skin peeled off.

Loud. Obnoxious. Rude.

Being in a resort, you couldn't get away from them.


Being in a safe, confined environment, where, if you wanted to do one thing and your kids wanted to do another, you could do your thing while your kids did theirs. DW and I preferred to relax on the beach, while our kids preferred the pool, so we went our separate ways. The kids wanted to have hot dogs in the snack bar when DW and I wanted to have a fresh, grilled fish at the buffet. So we all got our way.


Some days, feeling confined to one location.

I've laid out some of the benefits and drawbacks of being in our resort, but overall we did enjoy our stay. We did find ways to get away: we took a local bus to Playa Pilar, a famous beach on the western end of the island. We took a bus to a market for some souvenir shopping. We hired a boat to take us to a coral reef, where we saw myriad sea life, from striped fish, to sea urchins, to sharks. We let the kids swim with dolphins.

My idea of sun block.

Would I do this sort of vacation again? Maybe.

I would want to be at a resort that was near a town, so that we could get out and see local life, experience the true country.

I'm disappointed that we didn't get to Havana. When we booked the trip, my aunt told us that we could take a small plane from the Cayo Coco airport; however, when we arrived at the resort, we learned from our resort representative that the excursion flight only ran during high tourist season and that we would only be able to get to Havana if we rented a taxi—it's a six-hour drive.

This representative, however, misled us. Her company, Sunwing, didn't offer excursions at this time of year. The Cayo Coco airport, however, had regular flights to Havana. Sadly, we only learned this when we were at the airport, awaiting our flight back to Montreal.

If I were to return to Cuba, I wouldn't stay at an all-inclusive resort. I would stay at a place that I could use for a couple of days, then tour the countryside, and then stay at another place, on the opposite end of Cuba, before returning to Havana and then back home.

This trip has taught DW and I that we liked Cuba enough to go back. Soon. Perhaps, with friends.

Who wants to come along?


  1. a few years back we went to cuba with another couple and did a sort of split trip package... the first 4 days and 3 nights were in havana right in the heart of the city where breakfast was included and we roamed from bar to bar in search of the best mojito in cuba.. (thirsty work, but someone had to do it... the results are... uhh... blurry...)

    the second half of the trip was at an all inclusive resort where the food was bountiful but middling at best, the entertainment was as you described, but the beach and the pool and the non stop beer made up for it...all four of us agreed if we went back we would just spend the whole week in havana... we ate fabulous meals in hidden little paladars and often times had several rounds of drinks and would walk out spending a little more than what you'd pay for a burger, fries and a coke under the golden arches.. ;) there was plenty to see, the hotel had a nice pool and the locals were friendly... and as long as you were aware of your surroundings everything felt nice and safe (one of the other couple even toted around a hefty camera bag with little concern)

  2. I would suspect that you are definitely NOT cruise people then. :-) For a week of stress free family fun we like resorts but you get what you pay for and it is really buyer beware so you have to do your homework.