Blau Varadero
Cuba,  Hotel Reviews,  Reviews

First impressions of all inclusive resorts

First impressions of all inclusive resorts.

 

Last November Justin and I stayed at our first all inclusive resort, which if you ask anyone who knows us would come as a bit of a surprise. If I’m honest we had some haughty opinions on all inclusive packages and the people that choose them, and from our basic knowledge believed that an all inclusive vacation wouldn’t be to our taste. However, when planning our trip to Cuba we discovered that the majority of hotels in Varadero come as all inclusive, and so we decided to set aside our preconceptions and give the concept a go.

I’m going to be honest with you, even though I myself am from a working class background I’ve always considered all inclusive packages to be a bit chavvy and expected the people that pick them to be laddish types that are just there for the free booze. Going in with that mindset I was a bit apprehensive about what the experience would be like, especially as we usually choose small boutiques locations and our hotel in Varadero was a monstrosity with almost 400 rooms! However, I soon discovered I was very wrong.

Sure on our first night we met a bunch of guys who were getting a bit lairy, but these happy drunks aside we discovered that the people who chose an all inclusive resort are usually older couples and families who are looking for a cheap way to unwind and relax in their own little bit of paradise.

A warm welcome at the Blau Varadero

After the hustle and bustle of Havana, where I didn’t feel hugely comfortable, I totally embraced the laid back attitude of the Blau Varadero, which was our home for the final five nights of our stay in Cuba. From the moment we walked through the door and was handed a glass of bubbly by the smiling concierge I started to warm to the place. With an open mind I put on my all-inclusive wristband got into the spirit. Here are some of my thoughts on the different aspects of all inclusive travel.

Our room at the Blau Varadero.
Our room at the Blau Varadero.
Inside the massive Blau Varadero hotel.
Inside the massive Blau Varadero hotel.

The entertainment

I expected the entertainment options to be a bit naff, conjuring up images of tacky classes reminiscent of those at Kellerman’s in Dirty Dancing (WTF Keri?!). You know what, they were quite cheesy at times, but they were also pretty darn fun.

Every morning we headed down to one of the (many) hotels bars to see what events were on throughout the day. There would be something new starting at every hour and I was really impressed with the variety of sports, lessons and games on offer – all for free. Sadly we didn’t make it along to many of them as we’d either made plans to go out for the day or chosen to escape to the beach with a book, but I loved the fact that they offered things as varied as Spanish classes and bingo (I do love a bit of bingo).

There were also several water-related activities available to guests from the business down on the beach, including free boat rides and hire. For a little extra we paid to go out snorkelling off the coast, where we got to feed and swim with the fishes, a great experience that I would have gone back to do again if I’d had the time.

On the downside we did find that the entertainment could be rather unreliable. Every night of our stay the quiz was cancelled, so we sadly never got to show off our general knowledge prowess. Oh and being Cuba the prizes were always bottles of rum, which got a bit boring after a while (especially as shock, horror, I discovered I didn’t like rum on my first time in Havana!).

Swimming with the fishes!
Swimming with the fishes!

Customer service

After the poor service we received at our five star hotel in Havana and the fact that the hotel pretty much had a captive audience I didn’t have high expectations for the customer service at the Blau Varadero, so I was very pleased to be proven wrong. Throughout our stay we had wonderful service from all the staff, whether they were working the bar, serving food or cleaning our rooms. This made such a difference to my views on all inclusive resorts.

Clearly there were regulars who returned year on year and it was lovely to see their relationships with the staff, who always made time to chat and make you feel welcome. We made a good friend in the pasta chef who would always great us with a loud ‘Hello my friend!’ every time we walked into the food hall. Customer service is the most important thing to me in hotels, and at the Blau Varadero I just couldn’t fault them for anything.

Do all inclusive packages include tips?

Although all the food and drink in the hotel is free, tips aren’t included, so it’s nice to keep some small notes on you in order to tip the staff. In Cuba especially, incomes are low, and as the service was so good during our stay I was more than happy to leave a small tip every time we visited the bar or restaurant.

Enjoying a fruit punch at one of the many hotel bars.
Enjoying a fruit punch at one of the many hotel bars.

The food

One of the things I was nervous about when it came to going all inclusive was what the food would be like. We always love to go out and experience the local restaurants so the idea of eating the same stuff day after day didn’t appeal. It does save you a lot of money though and although the food wasn’t spectacular it was fine, and in a country not known for its culinary delights overall we were happy with the variety of food on offer. Towards the end of the stay I did begin to get a little bored (perhaps more than others because I’m a picky eater so my choices were more restricted than Justin for example) but I liked the fact that each week they had special themed nights, where they decorate the food court and offer special dishes (another example of cheesiness, but still fun). For every week you stay at the hotel you’re also given a meal at one of the two special a la carte restaurants. We saved our voucher for our last night, and had a lovely slap up meal to send us off home with a smile on our faces.

Do all inclusive packages include alcohol?

The simple answer is yes. I’m not a big drinker so my beverage of choice was a non-alcoholic fruit punch, but Justin did enjoy not having to watch his wallet when it came to ordering beer. Often hotel drinks can be expensive and you’ll find yourself nursing a drink for quite a while, but not having to worry about things like that we found we drank a lot more than we usually would, so we kept well hydrated and Justin was happy to enjoy a cheeky beer from time to time as a treat.

On Varadero beach.
Even with rows of sun loungers, grabbing a seat can be tough.
The beautiful Varadero beach.
The beautiful Varadero beach.

Would I choose an all inclusive package again?

In all honesty I still prefer smaller boutique hotels that are less crowded and have a more personal atmosphere. However, I do think all inclusive resorts have their place and I wouldn’t entirely rule out returning to one in the future. They have their pros and cons, which I’ve put out below and I think whether you pick to go all inclusive depends on where you’re travelling too and the kind of holiday you’re after.

Are all inclusive resorts worth it?

In my opinion, all inclusive holidays can be a good deal – with food and drink paid for upfront, and many free activities on offer, they can provide great value for money and a nice, relaxing atmosphere. Again it depends on the kind of holiday you want. If you use your hotel as a base but are always out and about then they provide less value, but if you’re looking to spend a lot of time in the resort, and your focus is on relaxing by the pool or on the beach, then yes, they’re worth it!

The beach and pool might be busy, but we found a wonderful quiet spot to sunbathe under the palms.
The beach and pool might be busy, but we found a wonderful quiet spot to sunbathe under the palms.

Pros and cons of all inclusive resorts

Pros

  • They can provide good value for money
  • Unlimited food and drink
  • Customer service can be great
  • There’s lots of entertainment on offer

Cons

  • They’re often large resorts that lack atmosphere
  • Live music can go on late into the evening, and can often be heard quite loudly in the rooms
  • Entertainment can be cheesy at times and often unreliable
  • The food can be average and you may have a limited choice of dishes

towel art

By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

4 Comments

  • Shikha (whywasteannualleave)

    I felt exactly the same way Keri! Although I still prefer boutique stays, my trip to Cuba made me realise there’s definitely a place for all inclusive travel that I would potentially be open to trying again. While we also had some cheesy entertainment,some of it was lovely like a really swanky piano bar. I don’t drink alcohol and don’t eat plates full so it probably isn’t that cost effective for me but my hubby enjoyed his pizza and beer!

    • Keri

      Yeah I have to say there’s more value for those who like their wine and beer (or in Cuba, rum!) but I did like the freedom to go and get a nice drink or snack whenever I wanted. It wasn’t good for my waistline though, as I have to admit I had a desert after dinner on most days, just because they were there! :s

      It’s definitely not my first choice of travel, but yep, it does have its place doesn’t it?!

    • Keri

      Thanks so much Hayley. I didn’t spend a huge amount of time in Varadero town itself to be honest. One day we took the shuttle bus up there (there’s a bus that goes past all the hotels every half hour so you can check out different restaurants/bars or head into the town) but that was to go to the market to get some souvenirs – if you like a good market like we do, then thats a nice little place to go wander around for a while.

      Otherwise I can’t really tell you much – there’s a few different restaurants and bars there, but as we were all inclusive we decided to save our cash for day trips out and about and just eat at the hotel!

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