So I went to Melias Las Dunas with my parents, April 22-29th 2014. It is located in Cayo Santa Clara, a city that has a big crab symbol because they actually come out after rain. Lucky for me, I even got to see such one big crab eating grass after rain in our hotel. I never knew that they even come out of the water and somehow I began to consider them more as animals as compare to just fish after this experience.
Mixed emotions about this trip though. It was great to spend time with my parents and to enjoy the beach and warm weather. However, some things are just not acceptable considering that this was supposed to be a relatively high end hotel (4.5 stars). Please let me remind you that I’ve been to Cuba prior to that 3 times.
Can you imagine, we were victim of one of the most common tourists scams? My father went to change some money and got tricked at the currency exchange that was located in the hotel. Actually even though it is not part of the hotel officially, the Sunwing representative recommended to change money there. So he exchanged over $200 Canadian dollars there as soon as they arrived. Perhaps he though this was normal, but they didn’t give him a receipt. I guess that should’ve been the first warning.
However, only when we went shopping 10 days later we had another not so nice surprise. Turns out that instead of $50 Cuban peso the staff person substituted a $50 Mexican peso, thus ripping us off in the difference of the exchange rate. He didn’t notice among the other bills that one of them was not Cuban since all the currency was foreign to him anyway. We reported it only when we found, but there was nothing they could do because there was no receipt, even though we spent a good portion of the day explaining and writing reports. My dad, as a matter of principle, would go as far as filing a police report, but they said that police will not come to the hotel and we’d actually have to go to Santa Clara for this.
Currency exchange scams are common in Cuba. Actually there are many cases on the internet where they will give “Cuban peso” instead of “Convertible peso”. However, I have not come across a scam where they’d substitute it for another currency all together.
Like any tropical country, Cuba is full of all sorts of critters, some pleasant and some not. I am somewhat phobic of spiders and cockroaches I must admit and I had a selection of all sorts of things in my room – small ants, big ants, a couple of roaches, moths, mosquitoes, a spider and a gecko lizard climbing on the wall. I love the lizards, so I had no problem with those, but the other insects I wasn’t so keen on having there. Perhaps a better solution would be to ask for a room on the 2nd floor.
Outdoors, where they belong, there were many cute lizards and chameleons. One review on trip adviser claims that they had a toad jump out of their toilet. There were also some street cats that seemed to be quite happy, I even saw one playing with its kitten.
OK, so insects maybe manage to get in somehow, but how do you explain the basic negligence like not doing laundry properly? At first I saw that the linen wasn’t flawless and thought that probably it’s just an odd case. My pillow had black marks on it and some of my towels too, I also saw some yellow stains on the bed sheets. There was some kind of a musty smell from the linen. Usually I am not picky about beds, but the beds there in Las Dunas were not as comfortable like in other hotels. I kept on missing my bed at home that is so comfortable to sleep on.
So later on I made friends with some Polish women and they were quite upset about the same thing. Turns out that one of them marked her towel with some nail polish and threw it on the floor. When she returned, it was neatly folded, with that same mark. What made her do that was that she had a suspicion of her towels not being chanced since she felt that the “new” ones were somewhat damp to touch.
Turns out to they don’t wash your towels that you use, they just fold it. That Polish lady brought it up and got an answer that there is a problem with the laundry. Well, she had to throw a real fit to ensure that her towels would be changed daily. Lucky for her, she spoke Spanish fluently, so they couldn’t pretend like they don’t understand.
May be some people notice, maybe some people don’t, but sometimes it’s the small things that make a difference. We had no facial tissue paper there in the room. Even cheap motels offer a box of Kleenex in their rooms. Another thing that was quite crucial in my opinion that was missing was a an alarm clock or at least some kind of a clock to tell the time. Even in buffets there was no time anywhere.
In every room there is a mini bar and it was constantly refilled. That was a pleasant surprise and something to enjoy in front of television in the evening. Beer, pop drinks, water. If I would have a “don’t disturb” sign, they’d leave a bottle of water by the door.
Food selection was alright, but could be better if compared to hotels in Mexico let’s say or in Punta Cana. I really enjoyed freshly cooked seafood and meat. However, some tourists mentioned that squid was undercooked frequently. Exotic fruits were always a nice touch, but of course I must admit that mangos could be cleaned better and at least peeled. Every morning there were freshly squeezed juices.
On one of the reviews I saw a person writing about seeing roaches at the buffet and the manager said that it is an isolated incident. I’d like to confirm that it happens because I had a shocking story to share. I saw a cockroach on top of the cheese plate at the buffet and asked the waitress to come, hoping that she’ll change that plate and get rid of the pest. To my surprise she simply chased off the roach without harming it, put the plate black, smiled at me and laughed that the roach was hungry. Then she walked off to do her work and that plate, sampled by the roach earlier, was still there for customers to enjoy. On another recent review I saw a person mention that there were cockroaches in the bread basket on daily basis.
In customer service employees learn that to the customer they are the brand, they represent the brand. Maybe hotel management at Melias didn’t get that training. I was surprised to see so many students with no English in customer service positions. I am all for training and so on, but these students should’t actually do the job, simply observe it and learn first. I asked twice for something at front desk and the young girl didn’t understand me at all. One of the questions was quite simple – “can I go see another hotel?”. Only later another one there told me that she is a student, otherwise I wouldn’t know. I wonder how this is OK, especially in front desk where visitors get their first impression and last impression.
Same story happened at the snack bar when I went there with my mom to get a pizza. Whoever came up to our table didn’t understand anything at all and said something in Spanish, then walked off, came back, and said “NO”. My mom asked why, since she got pizza there before, and then finally someone emerged who spoke some English and said that pizza is only for lunch. Why do students approach customers when they can’t even talk about the menu?
Otherwise staff are friendly. We went to the same waiter / waitress on daily basis and they gave good service and were really nice. Of course, we left them gratuity and even some of our used clothing for their families. People in Cuba don’t have much, they appreciate whatever clothing they can get.
I gave away most of my used clothing to girls who did the fashion show there, they were skinny, my size, so it would work for them. They were so happy to get it and thanked me so much. Here is a photo of them all posing together.
At some point my parents decided that I went dancing and didn’t come back, they were freaked because they couldn’t get a hold of me. Turns it that calls didn’t go through. Actually I was in the room, waiting for my guy to call me from Canada all evening and in the morning surprised that my parents didn’t call. So for whatever reason the phone half the time would not ring. I missed many calls and that drove me crazy and my parents too. I reported the problem with my phone to front desk and to the phone service room, but it was not fixed. Later on other reviews I saw that some people complained about the phone service too.
There are some stores in the hotel (even though they officially don’t belong to the hotel) that sell rum, cigars, and other items. Demand receipts at all times because otherwise they don’t give it to you and make up other prices. My dad at first was surprised that on some items there were no price tags, so he right away suspected something dirty there. If you ask for a receipt, you will see that the price they charge you is lower than what they told you. Once I even demanded a receipt for 3 cigars, and the staff was refusing to give, saying that I don’t need it for Canada, but I still insisted to have it.
One night there was a man in the lobby with a whole set up, he was making fancy cocktails like you see here, but I don’t remember the name of them. It had liquor, whipped cream, coffee beans, and chocolate. These were delicious! I think I even got a little buzz after. That was quite an experience just to observe how it was made and many people were making videos.
There is a craft market walking distance from the hotel and another market that is accessible by a bus or by cab. I saw many cool things there and bought some leather flip flops for myself and leather slippers for my guy. Well, that was basically the memorable visit when we found out that we had Mexican currency instead of Cuban currency.
OK, finally let’s get to some good things. Very good beach there, one of the best ones I’ve seen! I enjoyed beach aqua fitness, it was so much fun to do exercise in the water. The water was warm, the beach was clean, and there was no rocks or sea urchins there. I had a really good time at the beach and in the water. My parents would have to wake up early though, at 7 a.m. in the morning, to reserve a spot in the shade.
There was also a live band playing every evening and lots of shows on stage like contests, acrobatics, and so on. I even got to dance a little. As far as I know, there was a disco there too, but I never went there and drinks there are not inclusive as it turns out. One of the big entertainment high lights for me were the fashion shows and the magician.
I already knew that I’ll have no chance to go on the internet, so I delegated it to my assistant to do herself while I’m away. But in case you want to know, there is no Wi-Fi and the only computers provided by the hotel have very slow internet.
Overall it wasn’t so bad because I enjoyed spending time with my parents, but this is not a 4.5 star hotel. It’s more like 3 star hotel. Actually, maybe in some cases even less, because according to some recent reviews I see that the laundry problem and the roach problem didn’t disappear.
It was under different management before and this hotel was recommend to us by our travel agent and her daughter, both of them went there and loved it. So it had good reviews over a year ago, but it went downhill. But now it looks like they cut a lot of costs and the service goes with it.
Some videos from Melias Las Dunas in Cayo Santa Clara: