That’s the title of an article in yesterday’s Sunday Mirror. The author, Rachel Murphy, describes her family’s holiday to Canada and Cuba, focusing on the experiences of her three children.
Why Cuba? Murphy explains:
We were attracted to Cuba by its tropical climate and the idea of going to the Caribbean on the cheap (it’s not as expensive as, say, Antigua or St Lucia).
Also, with its leader Fidel Castro now 81 and in poor health, we felt it was our last chance of seeing Communist Cuba before its unpredictable future unfurls when power changes hands.
After their short stay in Canada, Cuba was next:
By lunchtime the next day we’d touched down in the sunshine of Havana, and were checking into the Melia Cohiba hotel in the new part of the city. Sitting in the lobby cocktail bar, drinking in views across the Gulf of Mexico along with our rum punches, we knew our holiday had just got even better.
An afternoon of lazing by the luxurious hotel pool and a fabulous evening buffet of sushi, fresh fish, steak and pasta set us up a treat for sightseeing the next day.
We took the hotel’s courtesy bus into the heart of Old Havana, just 10 minutes away, and immediately felt we’d travelled back in time. The 1950s American cars we’d heard so much about cruised down the narrow streets while local boys happily played baseball with sticks and plastic bottle tops. Salsa music blared from doorways, and a peek inside revealed impromptu jam sessions held in sparse front rooms.
When the children got tired we took a horse-drawn carriage tour around the city and trotted past Havana’s beautiful colonial buildings – and saw the yacht Castro and Che Guevara used to invade the island in 1956, plotting their revolution.
We had lunch at El Baturro on Gido – a favourite with locals – where a Latino band played the pulsating Guantanamera as we sampled black pea soup (yuk!), chicken and salads. Lunch for five set us back about £50, which was expensive by Cuban standards, but it was a memorable experience.
Youngest son Archie, aged seven, was soon desperate for his own bongo drums and maracas and, after a hassle-free browse round the shops, we picked up enough wooden instruments to start our own band – all for less than a tenner.
We felt one day of city sightseeing with children was enough, and four days after leaving London we were all finally ready to hit the beach.
Varadero is Cuba’s largest beach, stretching 12 miles across the northern coastline, and about three hours east by road from Havana.
We checked into the all-inclusive Tryp Peninsula and felt like VIPs when the bellboy drove us to our rooms through landscaped gardens. The hotel has been carved out of a stretch of land in the Punta de Hicacos Natural Park. It’s teeming with palm trees and flowers, and the gardeners happily chop down coconuts and offer you a straw to drink the fresh milk. We were delighted with our accommodation.
With a family of five sleeping plans can prove tricky, but this worked well. We had two bright, spacious inter-connecting double rooms plus a single bed, complete with two balconies and mini-bars full of cold drinks.
Best of all, we were a two-minute stroll from a shrub-lined passageway that led straight to the beach. And what a beach! With white sand, crystal-clear shallow water, crashing waves to jump when the breeze blew in and water sports galore, it was everything we had hoped for.
To our surprise, a lifeguard found us a palm umbrella to sit under and fetched us some sunbeds, which he dusted down and laid out.
There were plenty of pedalos and kayaks to help ourselves to, and if we fancied a catamaran ride or a whiz on a banana boat, we simply booked slots in the day. The nearby children’s pool has a small slide and is next to a large wooden play area and kids clubhouse, which made a pleasant change from the beach some days.
Henry, 12, and Molly, 10, enjoyed games of pool, tennis and basketball across the road at the sports centre, while Archie played football as we watched from the poolside, and we never felt the need to use the organised kids’ club.
Food was in plentiful supply at all times of day, whether it was a large buffet breakfast, lunch at the Italian restaurant or an evening meal in one of the four a la carte restaurants.
The children enjoyed the freedom of the buffet while we preferred being waited on – but the a la carte restaurants had to booked in advance, which wasn’t that easy. We heard some adults (without kids) complaining about the standard of the buffet and the queues, but Cuba is not renowned for fabulous food and as one of the many Canadians we met said: “If you want gourmet food, go to Paris.”
Our days were topped off quite spectacularly by the evening “chow”, as the Cubans pronounced it. From 10-11pm every night we all sat enthralled, watching professional song and dance routines based on musicals, movies and Latin-American themes.
Coming home was a bind on two counts. Firstly we had to do our Toronto trek again but without the stopover, which made for a very long journey. And nobody wanted to wave goodbye to Varadero. When your children (and your husband) say, “I really don’t want to go home”, you know your holiday’s been a soaraway success.
I am most definitely not in favor of unfettered travel to Cuba, for all the reasons stated in this blog over and over. Still, it comes down to a matter of choice for those who live outside the U.S. and can travel to Cuba as many times as they want. We’ve all read some of the horror stories of tourists who have managed to venture outside of the resorts into the real Cuba, but the Murphy’s Cuba stay was pretty much by the book: stay at the resort, go to Old Havana, do the buffet queue, etc.
My only hope when I read these accounts is that the vacationers learned something about Cuba beyond what is pictured in the promotional brochures. This is particularly important for children. Murphy’s article is mostly free of politics, so we can only speculate about her feelings regarding Cuba’s apartheid-like tourist industry. However, I can’t help but feel a mixture of sadness and anger when I read about people complaining about the quality of the food at the nightly buffet when the average Cuban could only dream of having that luxury, thanks to the government.