The Melia Peninsula is an all-inclusive resort perched on the picture-perfect beach peninsula of Varadero, Cuba.
Going on vacation to Cuba, one enters with the knowledge that a 5-star rating does not necessarily mean the same thing that it would in other countries around the world. Unfortunately, the 5-star Melia Peninsula in Varadero doesn’t even feel like they are trying.
Melia Peninsula Overview
On arrival the impressive sleek white and breezy lobby welcomes you, but the promise of luxury ends there.
Having just arrived from the Melia Habana, where we were pleasantly surprised as our room was beautiful, the staff helpful and the breakfast buffet offering more variety and flavour than we had anticipated given Cuba’s culinary reputation. We arrived at the Peninsula with our expectations set (and heightened somewhat) and perhaps that was the problem as Melia Peninsula didn’t quite live up to our expectations.
Given that the peninsula is recovering from the devastating hurricanes a few months prior. On the surface, the hotel looks untouched (barring the few rooms under construction) it’s freshly painted, the gardens are neat and palm-filled and all the amenities are up and running.
The pool areas, for example, are lovely to look at, however, they had absolutely no semblance of poolside shade or umbrellas. Although the hotel’s beach is lined with palm frond umbrellas and sun lounges, the sand white, the water clear and the waves small.
We arrived at sundown and after a slow check-in were zipped off to our room in a golf cart. Which we envisioned would be our sanctuary for the next 4 nights.
Only to step in and feel like we had entered a backpackers hostel. Beside the dull orange bedspreads, that simply blended into the wicker furniture of the rest of the room, were bedside lights with no lampshades. Just an exposed energy-saving light bulb. The beds were also hard and literally made a crinkling, crunching noise every time you moved.
The sound of the aircon hummed like a Boeing engine and the few holes in the wall helped to distract us from the realisation that we were also across the path from a building site. A block of rooms still deep in the trenches of construction which they happily built and clanked on through the night.
As I stepped in to inspect the bathroom a giant cockroach skittered past me. And with that, I was left hopping on the bed contemplating how we would rather forgo our few days in “paradise” and return to the frigid cold winter of Toronto asap.
If these issues had arisen in isolation I would have brushed them off. However, compounded into our first 30 minutes of arriving into what was supposed to be paradise was not a good way to set the tone or start off our vacation.
We took our grievances to customer service who were not much help. The following day on mentioning the disappointing night we had to the Transat representatives (the tour operators we booked through), they hopped into action and arranged a new room for us. Although in a better location and with a quiet aircon we still had no lampshades and we were again treated to another cockroach welcome party.
Food & Drinks
The hotel certainly tries to cater to everyone’s tastes with bars and restaurants tucked all over the resort. Some significantly better than others.
The main breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet was very underwhelming, which could be pegged to resort bulk food production or Cuba’s limited cuisine. The à la carte restaurants were good and the lunch beachside restaurant had a lovely vibe and the view and convenience more than made up for the slightly more limited selection.
The Japanese restaurant is definitely the hotels crowning jewel. A Japanese themed teppanyaki restaurant where the chef is not only a delight to watch, the food was the tastiest we had at the resort.
We also tried the French à la carte restaurant. Although the food is not authentic french the restaurant is once again more intimate and the food surprisingly good. I had the squash soup, mushroom crêpe and poached pear for dessert.
The cuisine aside, their attention to details would have made the overall experience more enjoyable. A good and attentive waiter was often hard to come by and there seemed to be a lack of staff in areas that would really help to alleviate queues and wait times. The lobby bar was always overwhelmed after dinner as one bartender attempted to serve almost the entire resort. The morning omelette station and evening grilled meat stations were only ever manned by one chef even though there was enough space for two chefs at each grill.
Perhaps we were plagued by bad timing, as Cuba pulled through one of the worst hurricanes in history and perhaps the hotel is usually better than this?
But when your benchmark for a hotel room becomes as simple as a lampshade you know you are compromising on your standards. If anyone is looking for a slice of stress-free, paradise in Varadero the Melia Peninsula hotel is not up to scratch.