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Choosing a luxury Cuba resort? So was I. Did I pick the right hotel? More importantly, is it the right hotel for you? Here’s a detailed Paradisus Princesa del Mar blog post review – the good, the bad and the beautiful
A 5-star vacation in Cuba
The muscular water aerobics instructor at the Paradisus Princesa del Mar grabbed his breasts, shook his shoulders and jumped high in the water. Red faced but giggling, the women in our free aerobics class followed suit.
Laughing like a hyena, I torpedoed out of the water, completely out of time with the music. Who cared? It was fun and silly and at that moment I loved the 5-star Paradisus Princesa del Mar Resort & Spa in Varadero, Cuba.
Other times, not so much.
I enjoyed the resort even more when I was lying under a thatched palapa umbrella on the spectacular beach of this all inclusive adult only resort. But, as this is a warts-and-all Paradisus Princesa del Mar blog post review, I have to admit it wasn’t all sunshine and sparkling water.
Choosing a 5-star Cuba resort – why the Princesa?
After searching for a luxury resort in Varadero, Cuba, I’d narrowed it down to three choices:
- The Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort & Spa. Why? It had good reviews on TripAdvisor and my travel agent recommended it.
- Paradisus Varadero. Why? I’ve stayed at Paradisus Palma Real in the Dominican Republic and love the Paradisus brand.
- Paradisus Princesa del Mar. Why? Same reason as above, plus, like the Royalton Hicacos, it’s an adult only all inclusive resort.
Note: The only reason the Iberostar Varadero wasn’t in the running was because I’d been there before and wanted to try something new. According to our taxi driver in Cuba, the Iberostar Varadero is the best resort in Varadero.
The Princesa wins
In the end my husband, Mark, and I chose the Paradisus Princesa del Mar Resort & Spa in Varadero because, according to the Melia website (Paradisus is the high end hotel line of the Melia brand) it was recently selected as Cuba’s Leading Resort at the World Travel Awards.
Hard to go wrong with that.
The best part of the Paradisus Princesa del Mar Resort & Spa – the beach
Ah, that beach. The water is a clear turquoise with an abrupt change to ultramarine where it gets deeper. The beach is wide, well groomed, and breezy.
I was worried it would be too breezy as it’s around the far point of the long Varadero peninsula, but it wasn’t any windier than other resorts I
snuck into visited to take a look.
The Paradisus Princesa del Mar pools – also nice
The pools are too shallow for my taste, but they’re pretty and the grounds around it are lovely. Yes, there is a pool bar. My husband made good use of the pool bar. What people (like my husband) see in pool bars I have no idea. So you sit in the water and drink. Big deal. I can do that on dry land. But to each his own.
Note about the pool cabanas: You will never get a cabana. Never. Even though it clearly states in the hotel’s policy (yes, I actually read those binders of info in resort rooms) that you cannot reserve cabanas, people sneak out in the morning, set down a book and a towel and then they stay empty (the cabanas, not the people) for most of the day.
Once. ONCE, Mark and I had a half an hour at a cabana when someone left the pool for the day. It was very nice.
Is the adults only Paradisus Princesa del Mar romantic?
Yes, because your husband can drink at the pool bar while you do your water aerobics and then you’re both in a good mood.
Seriously, it was a romantic week in Cuba. There is something about lazing around that wonderful Varadero beach … plus you can do all the long walks in the sunset your sweet sentimental heart craves.
Sunsets are phenomenal. But don’t ask me about the sunrise because I never saw one. Hey, it was a vacation.
A downside of the Paradisus Princesa, which will eventually be an upside
One of the main reasons Mark and I wanted a luxury Cuba vacation was to relax at a luxury spa, and by spa I mean hydrotherapy circuit, which is a fancy term for spa pools, Jacuzzi, sauna, steam bath, etc. According to the Melia website when we booked, the spa was being renovated and would open two weeks before our arrival.
I was majorly annoyed when we arrived and learned the spa wasn’t even close to being finished. On the upside, it will be a great asset to the resort when it is.
We complained to our tour rep, who told us we could pay to use the spa facilities at the Meliá Marina Varadero across the street. That spa was closed, too.
How the Princesa staff handled the problem
Sometimes it’s more about how a problem is handled than the problem itself. Eventually, after a fair bit of whining on my part, Mark and I were given complimentary spa treatments at the small spa in the Royal Section of the Paradisus Princesa, so the staff get points for trying to help.
The staff at the Princesa
I’ve heard of some major hassles with staff at Cuban resorts trolling aggressively for tips, but despite one or two glitches I thought the staff at the Princesa were excellent.
The servers at the outdoor terrace at the breakfast buffet, where Mark and I spent many lazy mornings, were always helpful and cheerful, as were the women at the Royal Spa, and the pool aerobics instructor was hilarious.
And while things went wrong at the Paradisus Princesa, as they tend to do in Cuba, the resort staff members usually did their best.
Paradisus Princesa del Mar activities
There are plenty of things to do at the resort such as live shows at night, cocktail making demonstrations, rum tastings, beach volleyball, etc. We did none of them. Call me lazy, but don’t forget I did water aerobics!
Is the Paradisus Princesa del Mar a party resort?
No. It’s thankfully serene, except for that one loud couple, but never mind.
The worst part of the Paradisus Princesa del Mar – mould
This doesn’t need to ruin your trip! Just change rooms.
When we first walked into our room, it smelled a bit like an old shoe but once we opened the balcony doors it seemed fine. It took me two days to realize the air conditioner leaked (I kept thinking I’d spilled water on the floor), which was probably the source of the problem, and one afternoon after a bad rain the smell of mildew was unbearable.
We had to move.
Don’t suffer in silence
Why did I let the room problem go on so long? Partly because I’m lazy, and partly so my husband wouldn’t think I was a princess, though at the Princesa, it’s a title that seems fitting.
The front desk clerks were fine about us changing rooms. They were even polite after I rejected the second choice.
Third time lucky. Room 5312 was a beaut. I was so much happier there (and because I wasn’t constantly complaining, my husband was happier, too. Haha. I told you it was a romantic resort).
Is upgrading to Royal Service at the Princesa del Mar worth it?
Here’s the thing. I love luxury. I would have been happy to have Royal Service. Ecstatic even. And this Paradisus Princesa del Mar blog post review probably would have been a lot more glowing if I’d stayed there.
The Royal Service Section has more pool cabanas, a private section on the beach, an attractive pool layout and a couple of private restaurants (though any resort guest can eat at the Hill Top Hideaway if there’s space).
If you have the money to upgrade, go for it. If you’re aiming for luxury on a budget like we were, don’t worry about it.
Note: You can always upgrade to Royal Service when you arrive. When we checked in the Princesa had an ‘upgrade for 5 nights, get the 6th free’ special. But we, meaning my husband, decided against it.
Is the food at the Paradisus Princesa del Mar Resort good?
Depends who you ask. I liked the food at the Paradisus Princesa del Mar more than my husband did, which is strange because I’m usually more picky. He found it bland but honestly, if I can stuff my face with endless plates of fresh papaya and guava and drink fresh-squeezed juices in the morning (though why they add sugar to some of the juices is beyond me) and feast on lobster in the evening, I’m not just at Paradisus, I’m in paradise.
Where’s the lobster?
The downside. There wasn’t a lot of lobster to feast on. They were more like snack-sized samplings unless you wanted to pay a premium. There is lobster on the evening menu at the open-air Cuban restaurant, which, during the day is the Port Royal Beach Grill, and at the French Marseille restaurant, but portions are small. After seeing another couple ask for double, next time I’d try the same.
Hill Top Hideway Restaurant at the Princesa del Mar
While we had one excellent dinner at the Hill Top Hideaway (I had steak), the Surf and Turf Night was a disappointment. The turf was pork and the surf was shrimp. My lobster dreams were dashed.
Lunch: I liked the Port Royal Beach Grill, the restaurant nearest the beach, for its daily grilled fish.
Best place to hang out at the Paradisus Princesa Hotel
Other than the fabulous beach and the pool? The lobby bar, where you can have all the cappuccinos and mojitos you want. It’s one of the happy perks of a 5-star all-inclusive.
Where you don’t want to hang out
Customer service. Between our room problems and the spa issues, I spent more hours in that windowless room off the reception desk than I care to remember. Decisions are made slowly in Cuba, with much ‘wait here while I check with the management’ going on.
To the resort’s credit, because
Except that then the front desk insisted we didn’t have late checkout and we were locked out of our rooms. Eventually, however, they found the person at customer service who’d authorized late checkout (Yay! More time to wait in customer service for me!) and we had our wonderful late checkout after all.
This Paradisus Princesa del Mar blog post finally wraps up
So there you have it, my sun-seeking friends, one (long-winded) Paradisus Princesa del Mar blog post review. Hopefully it will help you when choosing a luxury Cuba resort.
Travel guide for Varadero, Cuba, and the Paradisus Princesa del Mar Resort & Spa
Taking a taxi from Varadero to resort or airport transfer
If you have an all inclusive Cuba package vacation like we did, you might want to consider taking a taxi from the Varadero airport to your resort instead of waiting for your airport transfer. Unless you have private transfers of course.
Taking a taxi to the Paradisus Princesa del Mar was one of the best choices we made. It cost about $35 (you’ll need to change money into CUCs – there’s a money exchange right outside the arrivals gate) and saved us at least an hour and possibly two – as we arrived in the evening this was a huge bonus. It was easy to find an official taxi right outside the arrivals exit.
Why a taxi saves time: The Paradisus Princesa del Mar Resort & Spa is one of the farthest hotels from the Varadero Airport so you may have to make several stops to drop off other passengers if you take the airport transfer. You’ll also have to wait until everyone is through customs and has their bags.
If you decide on a taxi, make sure you tell your rep you’re leaving so that they’re not holding people up to look for you.
Note: We took the airport transfer back and it was fine. We only ended up making two stops.
Why choose Cuba for a luxury vacation?
Cuba is probably the cheapest Caribbean destination, so you can get a 5-star for a reasonable price. There are still shortages so be prepared. And bring things with you to give away, new pens, toiletries, etc.
Do you tip at an all inclusive?
Considering how little Cubans earn, it’s a good idea to tip. A little goes a long way, and don’t forget the staff at the buffet.
How do you book an all inclusive adult only package at the Princesa del Mar?
Canadian tour operators such as Sunwing, Transat Vacations and Air Canada Vacations offer a number of all inclusive adult only resort packages in Cuba.
You can also book the Paradisus Princesa del Mar Resort & Spa on the Melia website or through a travel agent, we used Flight Centre.
Americans travelling to Cuba
Sorry, my fine American friends. At this point, the only way you can do an adult only all inclusive vacation in Cuba is by flying in from another country such as Canada – as this isn’t strictly legal I’m not recommending it.
However, it’s now much easier for Americans to legally visit Cuba – U.S. citizens can now visit under 12 categories of activities including professional research, participating in an athletic event, working on a humanitarian project, performing in a concert, taking part in educational activities and the ever popular people-to-people travel.
Paradisus Princesa del Mar accommodation advice
Book the third (top) floor if you’re a light sleeper. You won’t get any noise from people above you.
Tip for booking the resort restaurants:
Book when you first arrive. The French restaurant Marseilles and the Hill Top Hideaway are the most popular so they fill up.
Price: Paradisus Princessa del Mar
We paid $1575 each including air, airport transfers and a week’s all-inclusive stay. Obviously prices vary wildly depending on time of year.
Read more Cuba
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Hm. I don’t know how you would, Linda. We just exchanged money at the booth at the airport. Actually, it’s just outside.
Fabulous article. Can you buy CUC with a credit card? Love the taxi idea. Thank yoy
Hi Susan, I can’t really say about the rooms because I was in a higher category at the Iberostar than I was at the Princesa del Mar so it’s apples and oranges. Same with the food. In general, I liked the food at the Princesa better than my husband did.
Hi Carol, which resort – Princesa del Mar or Iberostar had the better food? Also were the rooms at the Iberostar better?
It’s really hard to say, Mishie. Possibly the Iberostar would be livelier. It’s so hard to choose, I know!
Hi! This I felt that was a great and honest review. You covered a lot of my questions about this resort.
It will be our first time in Cuba this April and I was wondering which resort you could recommend for an early 30’s couple. Iberostar Varadero or Princesa del Mar? We like to leave the resort and explore, but we also love to bum on the beach and don’t bother with pools, and we like salsa dancing. I guess I’d also like to know how the food compares between the 2 hotels.
HI Carol, how much was the hotel wanting when you asked to upgrade to Royal Service? We are arriving in a few days and are trying to determine the cost and if it’s worth it.
We went through the exact same thing, Kathy! I really wish I could answer your question, but as I didn’t stay at the Royalton I can’t say for sure. If I went again I’d give the Royalton a try, just to try something new. Please report back and let me know how it went.
I’m having a hard time deciding on between Paradisus Princess del Mar and Royalton Hicacos.Any advise?
Hi Birgit, Even though I’m not Lesley, I’m pleased you read my article! Ha. I hadn’t thought to do the Romantic Getaway at the Paradisus Princesa. It sounds absolutely fantastic, and I’m so glad you had a romantic getaway.
Hi Lesley, thanks for the review. Was there in summer 2015 myself with my husband. We had a blast in the hotel. The food was great for cuban standard. One tip i have is to book the romantic getaway for 150 cuc. We celebrated our 20. wedding anniversary , it was the most romantic day of our live. The staff did an exellent job preparing an unforgetable day. From upgradingbthe room, everyday reservation for the restaurant, champagne at the beach, lobster souper at the beach in the royal cabbana, flowers, cake and a photographer (extra 100 cuc) to late check out and a nice present in the room we had in the Hill top buildings with ocean view.
Thanks, Lesley. Taking the airport cab from Varadero was a great deal for us. I’d tried to pre-book and it was more expensive.
The Paradidus Princesa was relaxing, Suze. With the addition of the spa it will be even better.
Luxury Columnist (@LuxuryColumnist)
A shame that the spa wasn’t open and about the lack of cabanas but looks like a relaxing holiday all the same and with some fun water aerobics!
Gorgeous photos, Carol, the Paradisus pool looks beautiful and I also love the photo of the rooster. That’s a really useful tip re the taxi from the airport. It’s well worth $35 for two people to save one or two hours of waiting and shuttle time.
Janice & George (@SandInSuitcase)
Great to read this “warts and all” review on this Cuba hotel! We’re going to send it to friends who told us they’re planning a week’s all-inclusive stay in Cuba soon (think they said they’re checking out the Melia?). They might also want to check out the Paradisus Princesa too. The price sounds right for an affordable luxury stay :-).
Vicky and Buddy
I love how honest you are! It sucks that the spa wasn’t ready yet, but it’s cool that they were able to help you get complimentary spa treatments somewhere else. Like you said, it’s all about how issues are dealt with.
Americans can travel to Cuba from other countries…Mexico is probably the most convenient.
Thanks for writing, Ollie. I think a lot of Americans will start travelling to Cuba now that things are changing.
Thanks, Candid. I appreciate your support. And so does Cuba.
Everything about Cuba is special and this luxury resort looks heavenly. Contrasting sky… Crystal clear pool and specially delightful customer service.
A good review complimented with some great photos. Retweeting it.
Ollie | The Ollie
Hotel really looks luxurious, I would never guess there are hotels like this on in Cuba. Nice tips, and I had no idea about travelling from United States, interesting.
Same here, Fiona. It would be fun.
Fiona @ London-Unattached
Carol, I do hope one day I have the privilege of meeting you! I’m sure we’d have a laugh together!
I have a soft spot for resorts, Brianna – but I get that it’s a specific type of travel. An ‘escape the cold’ type of travel.
Oh, I hope you have a great trip, Jackie. I suppose you’ll be doing a ‘People to People’ trip, they seem the most popular way for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba right now.
Cool, Travel with 2, you can drink mojitos with my husband.
Hey, I love pool bars! The Paradisus Princesa looks like a good luxury hotel to stay in Cuba. Out of ignorance, I did not know there were such beautiful resorts in Cuba. You are always seeing some run down building online. Beautiful beach as well.
Doing a lot of research these days on Cuba, as hubby and I will be heading there in 2016. Accommodations seem to be the bigger challenge because, as you said, Americans aren’t able to go for a beach vacation. However, it’s good to know about different resorts and have a clearer picture of our options. Thanks!
While resorts typically aren’t my gig this one does look lovely
It won’t be long, Brenda. Thanks for reading.
Brenda, Andrew & B (@DishOurTown)
This was a great post on luxury in Cuba, I appreciate all the details you added. It’s great to know how helpful and accomodating the staff was. Alas, we’re American citizens so will have to hold off until we can travel to Paradisus Princesa Del Mar legally.
Carnival’s Fathom line plans to start cruises to Cuba in spring, Mags. There’s a starting place.
I’ve wanted to go to Cuba for so long, mostly because it’s been off limits for us in the U.S. The resort look gorgeous. I’m a sucker for a swim up bar!
Ha ha, good luck with your travels, Travel Guy.
That’s exactly what I’m saying, Lelde. Though there are more categories than before, US citizens will still have to hold off on that lie-by-the-pool vacay.
I think the “US citizens visiting Cuba under the official categories” excludes a beach vacay :(( The guidelines are designed that way.