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A quickie trip to Cuba, January 2013

My wife Donna and I really needed to warm up a bit and catch some sun at the end of last year. We had talked about visiting Cuba before, so we decided to book an all-inclusive vacation through Air Canada at the Melia Las Dunas Resort which is on the North Coast of Cuba, about 200km east of Havana. The trip needed to fit between two of my medical appointments which were scheduled for January 3rd and January 17th. The second appointment was with my cardiologist who, I expected, was going to change my medication. This would have effectively barred me from travelling for three months because I would not be covered by travel insurance, so we were eager to book a sunny vacation quickly. As it happened, there was no medication change and so we were off again to Waikiki for Donna’s birthday in mid-March!

The Melia Las Dunas Resort was one of many new resorts on that part of the coast - apparently built in the last six years as part of Cuba’s concerted effort to develop tourism as the state’s primary industry (according to the Cuba Government website). Cuba’s principal export and primary industry used to be sugar which is now being replaced by tourism to the tune of some $2 billion a year.

The Melia Las Dunas Resort is on the North Coast of Cuba, about 200km east of Havana.

The resort is a gated community, and has an interesting layout. The central services core is flanked on either side by a double circle of villas clustered around a large pool complex. One of the pool complexes focuses more on facilities for children and families but both include a pool bar, restaurant and exercise and “play” areas. Each play area has a large chess set with chess pieces up to two feet tall. The chess sets provide a unique opportunity for adults to relax but they are also irresistible toys for kids to play with.

A large chess set in the play areas proved to be an irresistible attraction for this pair of siblings. They happily grouped and regrouped the chess pieces until the girl noticed me taking pictures. There was absolutely no way I could talk her into rejoining her brother after that.

This was a good size resort built to accommodate over 900 guests in two-story villas. There were 43 villas altogether in both clusters, and each villa had 26 guest units. Each unit had a generous sized balcony but, aside from the balconies facing the pools, each balcony had almost complete privacy from the interconnecting walkways and other villas. The grounds and the walkways were well designed and meticulously maintained. There seemed to be many ground staff and gardeners as if each was responsible for a small segment of the grounds. They were happy people, smiling and each wore a name tag.

The walkways at the resort were often lined with meticulously maintained hibiscus hedges.

We befriended a gardener working on a corner patch halfway between the central complex and our unit. His name was Alexander. Alexander almost succeeded in explaining to us, in his exquisite Spanglish, the reasons why he was planting those particular palms and plants in his corner of the garden. An engaging young man, he surprised us one morning by producing a grasshopper toy out of his trouser pocket and offered it to us as a gift.

A close up of the grasshoppers that Alexander, one of the gardeners at the resort, meticulously crafted out of narrow palm leaf strands.

We were thrilled to realize what joy such a gift would bring to our little granddaughters Kirra and Sydney. We asked him if he could make one more for us. He did that and presented us with two of these beautiful creations the following day. The things were absolutely marvelous, most meticulous workmanship made from narrow palm leaf strands. On another occasion Alexander presented Donna with an Orquidea freshly plucked from a bush on the edge of his patch.

This is Alexander, our friendly gardener, at the resort presenting Donna with a freshly plucked pink Orquidea. Note the name plate on the right side of his chest. All staff, including gardeners and grounds men and women wore name plates, and perhaps rightly so, since they were all share holders in this state owned enterprise.

The centre of the service complex of the Melia Las Dunas Resort was a cavernous reception area with the registration desk forming a 50 foot long structure along one of the sides. This reception area opened up on one side to a large bar facility and a theatre, and on the other side adjoined two large buffet halls that were opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner to all the guests. In addition, there were five special cuisine restaurants opened for dinner for guests with reservations along with several cocktail bars, snack bars and beer halls which were located outside of the service core.

The resort’s reception area shows the registration desk forming a 50 foot long structure on the left. Some stores, a large bar area and a theatre were part of this central structure on the right side with the far end opening up to an outdoor stage.

Each evening there was pre-dinner entertainment in the main bar area and an after-dinner show, or concert, or a dance on a stage defined by a circle of double columns just up from the reception area. A palm-tree lined avenue led from the stage past the special cuisine restaurants, some stores and a beer parlour to an elevated walkway towards the beach. At the beach, there was a beach bar and a snack hut designating the central part of the Resort’s 800 metres long beach front. There was a solid line of palapas, palm leaf-roofed shelters, in both directions and the beach was well stocked with lounge chairs and alive with guests. Other than the pools and the beach, the main bar area was the daily social interaction hub until the early hours of the morning.

The west entrance to the 800m long beach is marked by the 3 yellow sails of beached boats in the background. This is the west half of the Resort’s 800m long beach with the west entrance marked by the 3 yellow sails of beached boats in the background. The snack hut and the beach bar are located on the left, just out of the picture.

It was a memorable stay – the food was plentiful, there was an enormous variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and the Resort proved to a most excellent place to visit. And then there were the staff and servers, always pleasant, smiling and helpful. The most outstanding servers were the ever-smiling barmaids wearing their red scarves tied around their waists.

The ever-smiling barmaids wore their red scarves tied around their waists, they were hard-working and pleasant giving their all in providing outstanding service.

But of course, the warmth and the sun were the most perfect rewards of the trip and we still cherish those unforgettable sunsets behind the gently swaying palms.

Lojzo Skoda z Malaciek

A Google Satellite image of the Melia Las Dunas Resort shows an interesting layout of the central services core being flanked on either side by a double circle of villas clustered around a large pool complex. The relatively narrow beach is most likely due to strong coastal currents. There are 21 villas on the west side and 22 on the east side. Each of the two-story villas contains 26 guest units. The strip at the bottom left side is a wide road leading to the Resort finishing in a circular driveway in front of the reception structure.

An elevated walkway leads guests to the beach. The structure prevents guests from causing any damage to the ecologically sensitive sand dune vegetation. The conical roof in the background is the Beach Bar. A beach snack hut is located on the left of the Bar structure down at the beach level.

Palms sway gently in the wind as the sun sets and another day in paradise draws to an end.

DDaily evening shows took place on this stage defined by a circle of double columns. The palm tree-lined avenue in the background leads to the central part of the beach past special cuisine restaurants on the right and a couple of shops and a beer hall on the left.

The walkways at the resort were often lined with meticulously maintained hibiscus hedges.

Text source: Lou Skoda
Photo: Lou Skoda

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