Do you remember that person in high school, who would remind the teacher about the test? The one who would serve as the epicentre of the communal scathing sentiments and evil glares imposed by the rest of the pack. Because no matter how young or naive you were, it was considered unfathomable that you could partake in such a taboo.
Shaking off the “all-inclusive” stigma
Sometimes, in the travel world, terms like “all-inclusive resort” bear the same brunt, scorned at by those with a tendency towards passing judgement. I have always been more content with formulating my own opinion of travel experiences and so with seven years under my belt since my first all-inclusive experience in Mexico, I embarked upon round 2 at the Royalton Hicacos, Varadero, Cuba.
The Royalton Hicacos Resort and Spa, Varadero
Truth be told, if you are seeking luxury resorts with ample facilities, it is difficult to find Varadero hotels offering accommodation on anything but an all-inclusive basis.
Th elite Royalton Hicacos property, formerly under Sandals management, will appeal in particular to couples and honeymooners given its adult-only status and consistently positive reviews (at the time of publishing this, it was holding on tightly to it’s number 1 Trip Advisor rating).Located right on the mesmerising beach, the rich teal ocean and absorbent infinite white sands lend the clearest reminder that we truly are in the Caribbean. I myself recently made the blunder of telling someone, “I’ve never been to the Caribbean”, when in fact, in visiting Cuba, I had visited the largest island in the Caribbean.We basked in the array of water-sports available under the all-inclusive umbrella including numerous times on the pedal boats in the sea and just the one attempt at sea kayaking (our lazy biceps atrophied from not holding anything but rum-based cocktails!) We borrowed their snorkelling gear one day but soon discovered that the four fish hovering under the water didn’t make for much of a view. There is no coral around here so if you are seeking an opportunity to participate in these activities, take a look at some of the excursions available to book through your hotel or tour company.There are plenty of non-water based activities to get involved in for those who prefer to keep dry, including crazy golf and giant chess. I can’t play chess so found myself just lifting up pieces and putting them down again. Easily entertained much?I took two early morning aerobic classes before breakfast and if I sound smug, it’s because I am, as this would be almost unthinkable for me at home in London. It’s funny how you suddenly become more motivated to exercise when the backdrop looks like this! Pumpkin, after a bit of coaxing from myself and the guides, got involved in the beach volleyball – I think he’ll forgive me for saying that our trans-Atlantic fellow travellers are rather better at this than we are! And after playing a round of tennis* with me on honeymoon, he opted this time to take up the free one-to-one coaching on offer at the resort instead.
*Tennis with me involves hitting a ball back and forth with no rules, no aim, no direction and completely outside the lines.There are those who find forced entertainment and activities at all-inclusive resorts irritating but ultimately, they aren’t forced. The facilities are there if you want to use them and for us, only spending a few days in this wonderful resort and never being ones to care about a tan, we were eager to make the most of what was on offer.Our room was comfortable and spacious with effective air-conditioning, which was our lifeline on this trip and was around a three minute walk to the pool but rather handily, we would find a cafe en route serving crepes 24 hours a day! 3am crepe just for the sake of it? Why ever not?!We also found a rather large bottle of Cuban rum in our room, again free of charge. I wouldn’t expect any less in a country where rum almost seems cheaper than water! WiFi facilities are available but much like other parts of Cuba, the connections are slow and I found that the outdoor seating near the main bar and concierge was one of the best places to try to catch it but it didn’t work at all in our rooms. You can find plenty of other useful tips for your first visit to Cuba right here.Aside from the buffet restaurant, there are several la carte restaurants available for you to dine in at no extra cost but they do book up quickly so we made our reservations with concierge as soon as we arrived. Perhaps you’ll be tempted to try traditional Caribbean cuisine, fine Italian or even meat fresh from the ocean-side grill with your feet in the sand (stay covered up and don’t forget your insect repellent cream – I got mauled) My overall experience of food in Cuba had been mixed but with a bit of research, there are some great foodie finds waiting to be discovered and food at Royalton Hicacos, was generally very good, although perhaps not quite in the same league as some comparable hotels in other parts of the world that I have visited.
That said, the custom-made pizza and pasta stall proved a hit with us both. Perhaps that five minutes of aerobics I would do the next morning would burn it all off…
And with a couple of bars and a night club, the location of choice for me for a post-dinner drink, without a doubt, was the piano bar. Pumpkin and I once went to a London piano bar, shortly after we met. It was actually the day of the last UK general election but funnily enough, despite the next election coming up shortly, we haven’t managed to return since.It was for this reason that I was so delighted to sip to the beautiful notes of the live pianist in the dimly lit, elegant and romantic bar. She even played our wedding song on my request but those who know Pumpkin will know that it takes more than one cocktail to get him on the dance-floor so I settled for his hand that had reached out in an understated but doting manner.I am not someone who would be able to do the all-inclusive thing year on year but once in a while, especially if you travel in between the confines of a hectic job, there is nothing nicer than being in a place where you don’t have to worry about a thing and where you can truly switch off for a few days.
And for that purpose, nothing ticks the boxes quite like the all-inclusive mould and Royalton Hicacos is an ideal choice for those seeking a touch of luxury in Varadero.
Have you ever stayed in a Caribbean resort? What were your experiences?