Wednesday, May 4, 2011

RESORT REVIEW: Melia Cayo Santa Maria

Trip date: April 16-23, 2011  
Location: Cayo Santa Maria

Beach junkie rating (out of 5 stars)
Beach: 4.5 / food: 2 / room: 3.5 / pools: 4 / snorkeling: n/a

First of all, I have to mention that I won this trip a year ago. How? Through Metro News, a local Toronto paper. All I had to do was fill out a form online and that was that. This contest was sponsored by Transat Holidays and the resort itself, Melia Cayo Santa Maria. I was hesitant on booking this resort because of all the cats and outdated room photos I saw on Trip Advisor. But with my year deadline almost up to take this vacation and stress from work, I booked for my husband and I to go from April 16-23, 2011. The flight times were ridiculous - 5:25 pm out of Toronto (our flight was delayed until 6 pm) and we landed at 9:30 pm and by 10:30 we were on our way to the resort. If you have never flown into the Santa Clara airport, please note that all the resorts in Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Santa Maria are close to 90 minutes away. Therefore we arrive finally at MCSM at midnight. We are not thrilled with this resort and all I can say is, thank goodness it was free.

Check in
The one good thing I liked was that after you land, go through immigration, security and collect your luggage, as soon as you give the tour rep your hotel voucher, they give you your room key and ask you to fill out the registration form on the bus. It was all so easy and I think it is because we were arriving so late. Once we arrive at the resort, we were on our own. Everyone got off the bus and didn’t really know what to do since there were no bellboys there to help us out.We had studied the map before leaving Toronto and knew where our room was. Before heading to our room, we passed by the 24 hour pool snack bar and got hamburger and French fries along with some beers.

Even though many reviews said that the room are outdated, I agree with them but I was pretty impressed with the room. It was clean, no rusty faucets, the toilet was clean and the bed sheets were, for the most part also clean (a few stains here and there). Two week prior to arriving, I emailed the resort (to an email address recommended by many Trip Advisor members), requesting for an oceanview room (with my contest winning, my contact at Transat Holidays graciously upgraded us to an oceanview room) in building 17 on the second floor with a king size bed (preferably room 1725). When we received our room key, I was relieved and surprised we got room 1722. I say this because in the Trip Advisor forums, most members said they received a email confirmation saying their request would be fulfilled. So my request was fulfilled except for we had two double beds instead of a king. I will share with you a little hint when booking rooms in most resort in the Cayos, all second floors rooms are two double beds pushed together and the king size beds are on the first floor. You have to pick your battles and decide what you want more, the second floor or a king bed. In my opinion, go with the second floor (you can avoid ants, cat fighting outside your balcony and other insects coming into your room).

In the room you have your beach towels, a day bed, coffee table, single chair, bed with mosquito netting, two very comfy body pillows and square pillows, a desk, TV, mini-bar (filled with one large bottle of water, one beer, one cola and one orange pop), safe in your closet, ironing board and iron, hair dryer…all your standard room amenities.

Speaking of the mini-bar, it took an arm and a leg to get it re-filled. At first we thought it wasn't getting filled because after our room was cleaned, we would leave on the "do not disturb" sign, so the next couple of days we didn't put on the sign and waited to see if the guys would come to re-stock. No such luck. Water is treated like gold here. You must save the first bottle you receive and get it re-filled at one of the bars. There is no way that you can get a new bottle at the bars, you must get it through the guys who restocked the mini-bars. I called the guest service line (which I think was front desk) and asked them to send the guy with water. No luck again. So we went to our tour rep and he said that we had to talk to customer service. After waiting in line to speak to the customer service person, he said he would send someone. I told him we really needed water and if he could please just give us a bottle (mind you, there was a truck right beside his desk filled with water bottles). I looked over to it and he said, "I shouldn't be stealing it but I will do it for you". I swear it's like pulling teeth to get water. Finally on our second last day, the guys came twice to stock our fridge. Just a heads up to keep your bottles to get re-filled otherwise, you may be out of luck.

Our maid, whose name I never got was very nice and had our room cleaned by 1 pm almost every day. She left us some great towel and blanket art. When we ran into her one day, she thanked us for the little gifts we left for her (toothpaste, lotion, makeup, along with money).

The beds were somewhat hard, a bedspring dug into my hip while I slept but the pillow definitely made up for it. The one thing that I didn’t like in our room was that the balcony door didn’t lock (thank goodness we were on the 2nd floor) and by mid-week, we couldn’t even open it, it would jam and we were too nervous if we opened it, we wouldn’t be able to shut it. We just had to admire our oceanview from the inside.

I must start off by saying that we are NOT picky eaters. We will eat anything but we need to be able to have something to choose from. We found the resort lack tremendously on variety.  I can make due on meat and veggies with rice alone but I could never find rice so I settled for pizza and fries every day for lunch.

Breakfast - you can eat at the buffet from 7-10 am or at the poolside restaurant from 9 am to 12 noon. We ate at the buffet on our first day. I read about these delicious omelettes and french toast but the omelette line was too long and the French toast was no where to be found. I did find these delicious mini donuts. I lost my appetite this morning while sitting by the window and seeing three feral cats hanging out by the door begging and waiting for food. What grosses me out is the amount of people who pet these wild cats before heading into the restaurant and who in turn use their hands to pick up food due to the lack of tongs and serving spoons. We only went back one other day, the other days we ate at the poolside restaurant and got a fried egg and toast every morning.

Lunch - We ate at the buffet and again didn’t find much selection. I noticed that they serve the featured pasta that was served the night before. We ate twice at the beach restaurant but we took the paella, sausage and roasted chicken with BBQ sauce to our room because the place was surrounded by cats begging for food. We heard that at dinner (the seafood restaurant) and lunch, the cats stare at you and sometimes even jump up on the chairs and tables looking for food. So instead of dealing with that, we ate at the poolside restaurant for most days. On the menu, are sandwiches, burgers, hot dog, french fries and tons of pizza.

Dinner - we ate twice at the buffet, on our first night and Tuesday. The buffet is open from 7-10 pm. Thank goodness we only were having 6 dinners at MCSM and four of them at a la cartes. We ate at the Japanese and French restaurants and twice at the Mediterranean one.

"El Portulano" (Mediterranean) - Both the red and white wine is pretty good here, as in all a la carte restaurants. We went to this restaurant twice since we opted to not eat at the Seafood restaurant because of the cats. Portions are small so don't go there hungry. Some dishes we ate were smoked salmon appetizer, rice with squid ink, grilled vegetable appetizer, cod fillet, styled lamb, pork tenderloin with orange, gazpacho and various desserts.

"Sakura" (Japanese) - Go to this place hungry as you will get a lot to eat. First you get cold noodles with pickled cucumbers, then a sushi and tempura appetizer and then your teppanyaki meal (beef, chicken, shrimp and fish, along with fried rice and vegetables). For dessert was ice cream. It's all a bit salty.

"Le Bistro" (French) - This was our favorite restaurant, mainly because of the atmosphere. The food was okay but better than the other two. Some of the dishes we had - smoked salmon appetizer, shrimp cocktail (shrimp with loads of mayo), lobster bisque and lobster with chicken (chicken was dry and there was very little rice). I can't remember what we had for dessert but I was all excited that they chocolate mousse but when I went to order it, they said they didn't have it. 

There are a couple bars around the resort. A 24 hour lobby bar and pool bar, one swim up bar, one beach bar and a nice bar between the Japanese and French restaurants. We drank beer the majority of the time, had wine with dinner and drank a lime slushie when we needed something non-alcoholic. We attempted to get a mojito from the beach bar and it tasted like crap. Considering Cuba is known for the mojito, they sure don’t make a good one. The best was in Jamaica - who would have thought?! Elvis, the bar staff who goes around the pool taking drink ordered was great. He remembered everyone’s drink, so you never had to ask him again.

The beach at Cayo Santa Maria is absolutely wonderful. If you’re lucky enough to experience a green flag day while at the resort, you will get to see the Caribbean at its best! The water is absolutely clear and the color of the ocean is to die for. On yellow and red flag days, you really get to see the power of the ocean.  It’s still beautiful to look at, the waves get pretty big and is fun to play in. The beach does get really windy on these days and if you are near the lip of the sand bank, you will get sand blasted.

The stretch of beach at Melia Cayo Santa Maria is broken up into 2 parts, the East side of the resort has 2 rows of palapas and is where the beach volleyball court is. You will also see the wedding gazebo on this side. The West side of the beach has one row of palapas and a higher sand bank to climb down on to get to the ocean.  The Beach Bar is right of the middle pathway of the beach.

The week we were there (and we are only speaking for the week we were there) it was impossible for us to find a palapa. One of the days, we couldn’t even  find a couple of loungers on the beach.  Even broken ones! Loungers and shade were pretty much spoken for by 6am on the beach. You can get shade and loungers on the beach later on in the afternoon when everyone else was headed back to the pool but that’s usually when the wind picks up.

You can snorkel at Cayo Santa Maria. You will have to walk west towards the Sol Resort and just past the nude beach is where you can snorkel.  We didn’t venture out that far so I cannot speak of the quality of the snorkeling but from people we met, they said it was just okay.

There are two big pools in the resort and one by the spa but you need to book an appointment with the spa to get their water treatment if you want to use that pool. If you are with Transat Holidays, you get one free hour to use the spa facilities (jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and spa pool). We were thinking of doing this when we couldn’t find any seats on the beach or pool but opted not too. The pool is really cold but very refreshing on those hot days. One thing that bothered me about the pool is that the washrooms near the pool side restaurant are disgusting. Out of the three stalls, only two were working but both doors didn't lock. The floor was filthy and there was no soap.

We didn’t watch any shows even though we had late dinners and finished around 9:30-10:00 pm. Our entertainment was mainly watching movies on TV and reality shows on VH1. We came to relax so we went to bed early and slept in. The animation team does a lot of activities poolside - tai chi, merengue ans salsa lessons and scuba lessons. They also have aerobics in the pool in the morning.  The only think I didn’t like was them yelling on the mic, “WAKE EVERYONE, WAKE UP! I get doing it in the afternoon but in the morning when everyone is reading or sleeping is not ideal. They do a great job in entertaining all the guests.

Maybe it was the fact that the resort seemed to be at full capacity (because we went during the Easter holiday) or the rumoured fact that it was going to be the beginning of low season so staff were getting their pink slips but I found the staff not to be so great. Yes, they are hard-working and I appreciate that . We are on vacation and they are waiting on us hand and foot but they didn’t seem all so friendly. Especially the wait staff at the buffet. They were definitely understaffed. The servers at the pool restaurant were great and same with our maid. Raul, the tour rep gave a great  intro to the resort and was quite funny but I didn't find him all too helpful. We tipped when tips were deserved but we also left a tip even if we felt it wasn’t deserved. These people work hard to please us and make our vacation wonderful even if they are miserable.

Check out
Our flight on the way home was at 10:25 pm but luckily our flight arrived early so we left at 10 pm.  Check out is at noon. The day before we paid $35 CUC for late check out at 4 pm. We were able to use our beach towels and soak up the sun until going back to our room to shower. The bus picked us up at 6 pm on the dot. The bus ride was uneventful was we have seen the cities on the way to the airport the last time in 2009. The rep did a wonderful job giving us tidbits about the causeway and the cities we passed through on the way to the Santa Clara airport. Check immigration and security  at the airport was a breeze. Save some CUC’s if you want to buy some alcohol at the duty free shop and if you want to grab something to eat before you board.

The resort was okay. Nothing exciting, we have been to better in general and in the area. The trip was free so we can’t complain. We talked to a lot of people who were on our flight and some who arrive on the flight the day before us. We came to the conclusion that if this is your first time in Cuba or your first time to an all-inclusive resort, you will enjoy this resort but if not, I hope you paid very little to stay at MCSM. A special shout to the lovely people we met - Pam & her family from Richmond Hill, Barry or Gary from Ottawa, Jocelyn & Jason from Niagara Falls, Serena & Graham from Toronto, Glen & Lynn from Brampton and Benjamin & Margaret from Toronto - they made our trip much more enjoyable.

Still not convinced? See what others think here.

1 comment:

Leeann @ Join the Gossip said...

That's awesome that it was free! I've only been to two resorts. The only complaint about the first one was the food and a few small things. The second was a hot mess (and more expensive that the first!) and it made us realize that the little complaints we had about the first one were not really a big deal. They threw three fo us in a one bed room and we had to complain for a full day to get our room switched. Rooms weren't cleaned. They had NO towels. No joke. So many people were yelling at the staff becuase they couldn't go to the beach or pool even.

Becuase the second place was SO bad, and we booked through AAA, we actually got credit to go to another resort.