My trips usually involve a visiting a city for the weekend or backpacking around for a few weeks, staying in a mixture of hostels, cheap apartments and mid-range hotels. I haven’t been on an all-inclusive trip for a number of years, as these aren’t my preferred type of holiday to be perfectly honest.
Although not a convert to resorts, relaxing around a pool, eating and not much else, I jetted off to Cuba for a two-week all inclusive holiday in June and I loved it! It was a family holiday (thanks Dad!) and we stayed at the Royalton Cayo Santa Maria. I thought I’d put together an honest review in case you’re thinking of visiting Cuba or staying at the resort. Or for if, like me, you’re just nosy and like looking at photos of people’s holidays!
The easiest airport to travel to is Santa Clara. There are limited flights from the UK; we flew in Premium Club with Thomson Airways on the Dreamliner and I’d highly recommend it. The transfer time is around 90 minutes to 2 hours. Other hotel guests that we spoke to flew with Virgin in to Havana, which involves a 5/6 hour journey by taxi.
Cayo Santa Maria is a beautiful island, just off the mainland and connected by a causeway. In terms of culture and sightseeing, Cayo Santa Maria has none of that. Think beautiful, white sandy beaches and clear water lined by a number of all-inclusive resorts. The nearest town is Caribean, famous for its crab.
The Royalton is on a beautiful stretch of private beach. The sand is some of the whitest I’ve ever seen and is ridiculously soft and powdery. The water is warm and great for swimming; if you watch out for the jellyfish! A few guests got stung during our trip, so be careful.
The walkway down to the private beach
Powdery white sand and clear blue water
Cayo Santa Maria is around 6 hours from Havana, so it’s not an ideal base if you want to explore the capital city extensively. If you do, Varadero is probably a better, albeit more touristy, option.
The swimming pools and grounds of the Royalton are absolutely incredible, definitely a highlight of the hotel. There’s a quieter infinity pool up near reception (my favourite!) and a livelier one down near the beach. Both are lovely and have loungers in the water, perfect for lazing on with a cocktail in hand!
The “lively” swimming pool
The beautiful grounds
There’s a free gym in the pueblo, just around the corner from the hotel and a beautiful spa (not included in hotel price).
The pueblo is only a minute walk away from the hotel, and has a number of restaurants and shops. It was built just for tourists and isn’t authentic Cuban by any means, but is still super pretty and worth a wander.
Compared to your usual all-inclusive, the set up food-wise is much better. Instead of buffets, all the food is a la carte except for breakfast. At lunch time, you can choose from full a la carte, a snack bar, customised pizzas, a barbeque or quesadillas at the beach bar. The quesadillas were my favourite option for lunch, delicious!
The beach bar
At dinner, you can choose from two a la carte restaurants, both of which serve similar menus. I enjoyed the food overall but it was hit and miss at times. I think this is more to do with Cuba and the supply of food being dodgy, rather than the hotel. Saying that, I’d avoid large pieces of chicken as these were rarely (excuse the pun) cooked.
You can also make a reservation with your butler (more about that later) to eat at one of the other restaurants at Memories Hotel next door. Although this adds a bit of variety, the food was very average in the Mexican restaurant that we visited.
Watching the sunset over dinner
The drinks were much better than I expected and have experienced at other all-inclusives. Premium, imported spirits such as Bombay Sapphire and Jack Daniels, plus unlimited Champagne!
The cocktail selection was pretty good too, and they had a whole bar filled with different gins. Heaven.
The service at this hotel is second to none. You’ll be assigned a butler, who will take care of your every need. Ana and Alexis were our butlers and nothing was too much trouble for them. Saying that, we were pretty low maintenance, only booking dinner reservations and the odd fruit platter delivery to our room.
The staff across the entire hotel are super friendly and helpful. They earn a pittance, especially given the hours they work, and so tips are much appreciated. We made sure to give out generous tips to everybody at the end of the trip. Other guests also took along soap and other toiletries for the staff; items that can cost a lot and be hard to get hold of in Cuba.
Two weeks of lazing around in the sun isn’t for everyone (certainly not my cup of tea) and so the hotel offers a number of tours, including snorkelling boat trips, trips to local towns and tours further afield to Trinidad and Havana.
I booked on to both the Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus and the Havana by plane day tours. Although short and sweet, I’d highly recommend both to get a taste of the real Cuba.
Main square, Trinidad
Overall, I’d definitely recommend the Royalton if you’re looking for a relaxing and luxurious beach holiday. The grounds, swimming pools, beach and staff are simply amazing. If you’re a real foodie, I’d say this place isn’t for you. The service was some of the best I’ve ever received and the staff really do make your stay very special.
Hotel facilities: 5/5
Check out the Royalton website here:
Have you visited Cuba or a Royalton hotel? What did you think? Have you got any recommendations for luxurious all-inclusive hotels?