Cuba's Melia Cayo Santa Maria Hotel Resort Review & Photos

poolside Cuba's Melia Cayo Santa Maria Resort
poolside Cuba's Melia Cayo Santa Maria Resort
Melia Cayo Santa Maria Hotel Resort front entrance
Melia Cayo Santa Maria Hotel Resort front entrance

Get into the holiday mood with some hot Salsa music...

Melia Cayo Santa Maria Resort beach restaurant and bar
Melia Cayo Santa Maria Resort beach restaurant and bar

Review & Photos of Cuba's Meliá Cayo Santa Maria Hotel Resort

¡Hola! Having just returned from vacation at Cuba’s Meliá Cayo Santa María all inclusive resort in Santa Clara, I am excited to share my in-depth review and photos of this laid-back, shabby-chic, island resort with you. From helpful tips before you go, flight info, up-to-date reports on the restaurants, beach and resort spa, right down to gift ideas for the people, insider suggestions and more, it’s all included right here just for you. My other article "Simple Spanish For Vacationers" might also be of interest to you to read right after this one. It's a mini guide with all the key Spanish words and simple phrases to use while on vacation at a Spanish speaking resort.

When you're done reading this review, watching the fun videos, and perusing the pictures, rate the article please (green button located at the end of this story) and maybe drop me a comment if you'd like to let me know what you thought. It's a good article to bookmark too, so you'll have it as a handy travel reference guide. Enjoy, and have fun on your vacation...

Meliá Cayo Santa María Services & Amenities: round-trip economy class flight; junior suite; 5 restaurants/snack-bars; daily buffet breakfast, lunch, dinner; 3 bars; unlimited select drinks; disco; tour desk; car-rental service; salon; spa; gym; 3 outdoor pools; free-use of water sports equipment; free-use of bicycles; outside tennis court; volleyball court; 24-hr room service; 24-hr snacks; Games; satellite tv; internet access; gift shop; laundry service; on-site currency exchange, on-site doctor; day/evening entertainment & activities; Air Transat representative assistance; airport shuttle service.

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Photo slideshow of Melia Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

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Useful Information:

  • UPDATE: You'll probably fly Air Transat, because Skyservice went out of business (imagine that eh). You might want to consider booking Air Transat's Club Class for more seating room.
  • For any travel outside of Canada, I strongly suggest you visit the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website to check out their travel warnings and recommendations concerning your destination, as well as to sign-up on their online registration as a Canadian citizen traveling abroad.
  • Travel with a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the return date of your vacation in case of any unexpected delay in returning home.
  • Bring 2 pens in your carry-on luggage. You'll need one to fill out all the upcoming required forms, and more than likely your seat mates won't have any, so they'll want to borrow yours.
  • Tourists must buy a tourist card (visa) when visiting Cuba. The price of the tourist card (visa) is included in the airline ticket price. While in flight, you will be given the card (visa) to fill out and must keep it to show to customs.
  • Cuba’s checked luggage weight limit is 20 kg or about 42 pounds per each piece of luggage; maximum two pieces of luggage per person. The over weight luggage fee is around $5 per pound over.

Flight To Cuba

We booked with Air Transat Holidays, and flew economy (aka cheap flight) with Skyservice from Pierson to Santa Clara.

Our tickets and seats secured online, we arrived at the airport bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. After sitting cooped up in the airport terminal for over two hours waiting (it's amazing how even the uninteresting becomes facinating when you have nothing to do for hours), our flight was finally called for boarding.

Now I’m a fairly small girl, yet even I felt squished like a jammed in sardine on this three and a half hours flight to Cuba . Skyservice doesn’t even offer a Club Class, so we couldn’t even opt for more room. Nope, with Skyservice, you’re stuck with economy class, and that’s all there is.

What’s more, the seats on this plane were so narrow and hard, that there was barely enough breathing much less leg room to be comfortable.

Then, each row being wedged so closely together, the food tray carved itself into my man’s stomach every time the person seated ahead of him dared lean back in their seat. The "everything is great, because we're on vacation" attitude started to dwindle quickly in these situations, let me tell you.

On the somewhat less irritating side were the miserly, micro-waved food, the unreliable audio headset which kept shorting out, and the boring, barely viewable movie (how in the world did they expect us to enjoy watching a tv that is smaller than my 17" laptop screen, hung from the ceiling three rows ahead of us, and which required craning the neck upward to view it?).

On the good side, the stewardess’ provided friendly service, and the pilots handled the aircraft very well despite a bit of turbulence. Needless to say, the flight was quite cramped and decidedly uncomfortable, but hey, it was a safe flight and the landing went smoothly.

Photos slideshow of Melia Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

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Useful Information:

  • Knowing and speaking a little Spanish will help out everywhere during your vacation.
  • Cuba will stamp the tourist visa, but usually will not stamp your passport.
  • There are strict rules for bringing in certain electric, electronic and satellite devices into Cuba. Ask your travel agent or call the Canadia n Cuban embassy to get the correct details on what is and is not allowed in.
  • Bring toilet paper or tissues with you for your first rest-stop at the airport.
  • Consider purchasing a VIP Voucher, $20 CUC/person, when you land in Cuba for your return home. Vip Vouchers give you a separate room to stay in at the airport, advanced departure boarding and free drinks and snacks while waiting.
  • Customs isn’t really scary here; just remain relaxed, be courteous and speak politely to the customs officers, as you would at Canadian customs.
  • Consider exchanging your Canadian money for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) at the airport Cadeca (money exchange office) before you walk outside the airport doors. This way you'll have pesos to tip the bus driver and staff without having to hurry to the currency exchange when you arrive.

Arrival in Cuba

Landed safely at Santa Clara airport, we disembarked after a fifteen minutes delay, and we were immediately directed into the immigration waiting room. There, customs and health officers all greeted us wearing white masks. As it was explained to us, they just didn’t want to catch any of our diseases like H1N1 (yeah me too, so where can I get me one of those masks, eh?).


Customs
Standing in line for customs, we observed that the airport was small but very organized. Once called forward, we had to show our passport, the declaration form and the visa we filled out on the airplane. Customs went quickly with the usual polite, unsmiling faces, probing questions and intense appraisals (well it more like them staring us down), mixed in with me saying several times, “Huh? Um could you say that again please, I didn’t understand?”

After passing through immigration security and while waiting to retrieve the luggage, we visited the ladies washrooms. The washrooms were clean, included an attendant, but were devoid of toilet paper in all but one stall (the guys told us a similar story about the men's loo).


Luggage Retrieval

Baggage claim went just as swiftly, aided by Cuban helpers who assisted everyone with the removal of luggage from the carousel. Now could someone please explain to me WHY we don’t have this value-added service in Toronto?

One of our suitcases was held back and checked (rifled through), because it held an electrical item they were unfamiliar with and wanted to inspect further. Even this inspection was done without much delay and courteously. Through customs, we headed outside to the waiting bus and welcome heat.


Safety

Cuba is one of the more safe travel destinations available. However, there are minor crimes, such as pickpocketing and stealing from tourists occurring, and major crimes are on the rise in the larger cities. As you go about your vacation, remember to be cautious and aware of your surrounding and personal items just as you would at home in Canada ,or in any tourist city, to ward off potential disappointments or petty crimes of opportunity.

Photo slideshow of Melia Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

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Useful Information:

  • Consider taking a flight that arrives during the day, so that you can see the scenery and causeway on the bus ride. It's WELL worth it.
  • Be sure that before you board the bus, you watch the driver place your luggage in the bus’ luggage compartment. This way you KNOW your luggage is traveling with you.
  • Cubans are very proud of their amazing feat of building the 48 kilometer wide causeway which took 10 years to build and which connects some of Cuba's smaller island to the mainland.

Bus Ride

The short walk outside to the bus blasted us with welcome hot, humid air. Looking around, there was security and lots of buses waiting nearby to whisk tourist to their resort destination.

Standing in front of the bus, we were greeted by an Air Transat Representative who checked us onto the bus, handed us a package containing our pre-assigned room and room keys, room registration form to fill out, a map of the resort’s layout, and a contest form to fill out should we attend the resort’s presentation the next day. Wow! This was the most efficient and brilliant check-in method we had ever seen by any resort.

On board the air-conditioned bus, another Air Transat guide regaled us with jokes, Cuban history, and explanations of the sites and small towns we passed by and through. The hour and a half bus ride was long, but it was a highlight of our holiday giving us some valuable insight into the Cuban people and their land.

UPDATE: You may not get the drive into Santa Maria and over the causeway, because a new airport was constructed in Santa Maria just a short while ago shortening the travel from airport to hotels, bypassing the wonderful, causeway scenic drive.


Useful Information:

  • Tourists must keep their passport identification and the tourist visa on their person at all times. Use a copy of your passport as identification, and lock away the original.
  • If you didn't change your money at the airport Cadeca, you might want to change some money as soon as you arrive at the resort for tipping the bellboys and other staff.
  • A Cadeca is a money changing office where you sit alone with an agent who changes your Canadian money into CUC; much like at a bank.

Arrival At The Resort

Located beachfront Santa Clara, near the Biosphere Reserve in Cuba’s Villa Clara province, Meliá Cayo Santa María was opened in 2003 and rated a 41/2 star. This adults-only (16+) resort is mainly flat; spread out over 14 hectares with over 356 spacious rooms (some with sea views) in two-level bungalows.

Dismounting the bus at about 2:30PM, we faced an impressively high lobby painted in muted, tropical colours. As we took in the cane seating scattered throughout, and noted the check-in desk to the left, we could not help but be riveted by the humongous, shellacked, dead tree artfully plunked in the middle of the room and flanked by eight huge, white columns.

Standing at the lobby entrance to greet us was one, lone, resort waiter holding a solitary tray of what we assumed to be rum punch in cocktail glasses. Unfortunately, since we had sat towards the back of the bus, by the time we and those behind us got off the bus, all the punch was gone and the waiter never returned with more for those of us who hadn’t gotten any.

We were also disappointment that there weren’t any entertainers or dancers to greet us, nor beautiful flower arrangements anywhere, nor tropical drinks offered to us when we arrived; it would have been a really excellent way to start off the vacation.

Oh well, already checked-in (done on the bus), hot and sweaty now, plus our luggage would be attended to by the bellboys, we headed straight to our rooms to freshen up and change.


Photo slideshow of Melia Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

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Useful Information:

  • Ask your travel agent at the time of booking to request a room on the second floor with a king size bed and close to the beach. You won’t necessarily get what you requested, but if you do, you’ll enjoy more evening breezes, fewer ants, more privacy being that you’re on a higher floor, and a shorter walk to the beach. Having only one bed means that you won’t be falling between the twin beds (I’ll tell you that tale another time (smile)).
  • Put aside the $25 CUC per person departure tax now, so you won't use it and have it for your departure.
  • The electrical outlets are 220 V. As there was only one plug (the blow dryer plug) that fit a 110 V, you might want to bring a 220 V adapter with you.
  • Most hotel resorts won't want to take responsibility for stolen or lost items. Therefore, lock your valuables (money, passport, jewelry, airline tickets, etc.) in your suitcase or in the provided room safe.
  • Pay no attention to the snooty, older, male salesperson in the gift store. It appears he's off-hand and stuck up with everyone.

The Rooms

Leaving the lobby behind us, out into the resort we went in the direction of our room. Lush gardens framed the brick pathway as it easily flowed and curved beneath our feet leading us onwards. One by one we passed two-story bungalows painted in muted shades of yellow, blue and coral, while glimpses of the glistening pools teased and tempted us to wade in. Rounding a bend, our bungalow came into sight; two floors holding 8 rooms. Peeking into some rooms as we passed by, they all appeared to be the same size and layout more or less.

Entering our air conditioned suite on the second floor, off to the right side was a pillow-filled daybed and cane chair. Of course we had to flop on the daybed to test it out; comfortable. In the center of the room was a white mosquito net hung above two pushed-together twin beds covered with pillows and blue beach towels in some sort of abstract arrangements. On either side of the beds two nightstands stood guard with a CD/MP3 player atop one. Yep, you know we had to flop on twin beds too; (sigh) hard.

To the left side of the beds were glass patio doors leading to a private balcony with two white rattan chairs and a small table. Opening the patio door, we stepped out into a cool breeze, but not much of a view what with the tall, bushy palms and thick hedges just a few feet away. Fortunately, that didn’t matter much to us (we were on vacation after-all!). The patio door on the other hand was difficult to push open and the entire time we were there, it refused to close properly without a real battle; definitely a maintenance issue there.

In front of the beds to the left were a shelf and two built in cupboards. A small, satellite TV, coffee cups and a coffee maker sat on top of the cupboards. Inside one cupboard was a small fridge (mini bar). We opened the fridge to check its contents and temperature; all was good there. Next to the cupboard, a curtained off room lead to the washroom. On the right of the curtain, stood a mirror, desk, chair and lamp.

The full size bathroom was separated into two areas. In the one room with a door was a tub/shower, toilet, douche (bidet, very European), and telephone. In the other, a sink, magnifying mirror, long counter space, hair-dryer, full length mirror, and closet. Resting atop the vanity was a complimentary bag of generous sized shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and three round soaps ( a very nice touch). Within the closet we found six good sized clothes drawers, 10 hangers, an iron, ironing board, a scale, a safe (at no extra charge), and two extra blankets and pillows.

Overall, the rooms were very spacious, clean, and colourful, if a little worn down and musty smelling, but we soon got past that. There was lots of hot water and strong water pressure during our stay, except during the morning and evening shower rushes. Everything worked fine, the air conditioner was cold, the fridge kept its items cool, only a handful of ants, and no bugs nor mosquitoes.

Photo slideshow of Melia Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

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Useful Informaiton:

  • Tip the mini bar guy nicely and request the mini bottle of champagne daily.
  • It was suggested that tipping big right at the start of your stay to staff members you will be in contact with most often gets the tipping out of the way. Some in our group tried this tipping method and found that it worked for them, and some found tipping in small amounts throughout the stay worked just as well. Try both ways and see what works for you.
  • the maids and bartenders are the "richer" staff at the resort because people remember to tip them and/or also offer them gifts. Consider also tipping and sharing your gifts with some of the other staff you don't come into contact with as often, but who help make your stay enjoyable; like the lobby cleaning staff, the gardeners, the persons who sweeps off the beach lounge chairs and walkways, the performers, etc.
  • Do NOT tip the staff with Canadian coins. Canadian coins are useless to them, because the Cadecas at the resort will not change/accept coins. Either use Canadian dollar bills or Cuban Convertible pesos (CuCs) for tips.

Room Service

Every day the room is cleaned and the used towels and sheets can be changed, if you so desire. Every evening around 6:00PM, the mini bar gent checks in to see if you are in need of any beer, soft drinks, juice or water to refill the fridge. This mini-bar service was great.

Unfortunately, the maid service was not as great. Our maid was very friendly and helpful, but I found the cleanliness of the room upon arrival to be slightly sub-par, and throughout our stay the floor was not well swept and the mirrors were not cleaned. In my attempt to be fair, I will say that I’m a bit of a neat freak ,and I know that the maids have a lot of work to do. However, it would have been really nice if they had done just a little bit better of a job with the room cleaning.


Resort Staff:

This resort has by far the best staff that we have ever encountered on our travels. Most smiled and tossed off a cheerful ¡Hola! greeting as they passed by; gardeners and constructions workers made themselves scarce as we approached (ordered not to bother the guests I'm sure), waiters/ waitresses smiled throughout every meal (and not the fake kind neither), bartenders were friendly and polite (even when a few drunks became obnoxious they never lost their cool), maids gladly helped whenever asked, and some staff even shooed us away when we tried to “do their job” when they were a bit busy.

Most of Melia’s staff was, throughout our stay, the most gracious, kind and gentle people. Furthermore, the most amazing thing about this staff besides their genuine friendliness was their ability to act quickly to solve a problem or complaint when they encountered one, without ever seeming to do things because they expected a tip, but rather because it needed to be done. For this, I say BRAVO Melia Cayo Santa Maria!


Tipping

Tipping is not expected nor a must with an all-inclusive package, but it is a customary practice by most guests as they realize that the staff is dependent on tips to boost their salary (just like any Canadian waiter/waitress, etc). Instead of bringing small gifts to give away (frankly we did not know what was really needed or appreciated), we did a lot of tipping and asked questions to learn what to bring the next time around.

In the beginning, we tipped bellhops, maids, any helpful staff, the gardeners and after every drink and meal served. About halfway through our vacation, we realized we were spending a LOT of money ($1 CUC= $1.21 CAN). After that realization and noticing that we were running short on cash, we tipped at least $1 up to $5 CUC at the end of every sit down session at every bar, buffet table, special meal preparation, serenade, or other service, depending on the value of the service in our opinion. In the end, the staff was very appreciative of the tips and in turn offered us their best service and we spent less on tips; a Win-Win all around we thought.

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Useful Information:

  • Some food condiments and spices are scarce or unknown in Cuba. If you are particular about your food, you may want to bring your own hot sauce, steak spice, ketchup, peanut butter, jams / jellies, and maple syrup.
  • There was a long wait in line to toast bread, because there was only one toaster to serve everyone in the buffet restaurant. We were told this toaster problem would be resolved soon, but it wasn't during our stay.  Be aware that you might encounter the same on your visit .
  • To avoid the long lines for your turn at the food, try arriving around 7AM to the restaurants or eating later than the rush hour periods.
  • This is a tropical island where all the restaurants are open to the outside. There are flies buzzing around in all the restaurants. You'll have to get used to it.
  • There is a more formal dress code for the a-la carte restaurants.
  • During our stay at the Melia Cayo Santa Maria, there was construction ongoing on two new restaurants reported to open in May 2010.

Restaurants & Snack Bars

Ok, so we were really hungry after the airplane ride, and I for one couldn’t wait to hit the restaurants and EAT! The food at Meliá Cayo Santa María resort was very good. We found most everything we ate at the buffet restaurant to be tasty, well seasoned, largely healthy, and at times, bordering on delectable. The variety was a little repetitious, but the existent selection was more than sufficient, so as not to have to eat the exact same thing over and over again in a one week period, if one chose not to.

For breakfast there were eggs, made to order omelets, made to order French-toast, ham, bacon, cereals, oatmeal, fruits, freshly squeezed juices (the mango juice was fabulous), breads, bacon, buns, coffee cakes, pancakes, teas, coffee and more.

For lunch and dinner there was turkey, fish, beef, pork, chicken, cold meats, pasta to order, steak to order, fish to order, stir-fry , veggies, breads, ice creams, deserts, crepes, puddings and stuff I can't even remember. The made to order fish was absolutely delicious. Then the crepes seared in rum, oh my, they were mouth watering.

The beach restaurant made a great whole snapper stuffed with shrimp, and its white bean soup was simply scrumptious! The pool snack bar had fries, pizzas and sandwiches, but I didn't find any of the food at this snack bar tasty at all.

The a-la-carte restaurants, Italian and Mediterranean, served excellent food and provided good service. The veal meal with red wine at the Mediterranean is well worth the price of the red wine.

Stomach Troubles

Drinking from bottled water, avoiding ice and washed vegetables is usually recommended, because Canadian stomachs are not familiar with the bacteria found in the local water which could cause stomach problems for sensitive tourists. However, this resort seemed to take great pains with its water, because none in my group nor it seemed none from other groups had tummy troubles! We ordered every drink with ice for the entire stay and were fine. You'll however need to determine your own sensitivity as it concerns the the vegetables, ice, salads and water.

Useful Informaiton:

  • The lobby bar has the only pool table in the resort.
  • The Cadeca (money exchange branch) is found beside the pool table in the lobby bar.
  • In the mornings, chilled champagne and orange juice, as well as a variety of teas and coffee are available self-serve in the lobby bar area.
  • The bars and beach restaurants are all built open to the outside air, and smoking is allowed everywhere that is open to the outside.  So if you are vehemently against smoking, this may not be the place for you.

Bars

There are three bars at Meliá Cayo Santa María hotel resort; the beach bar, the swim-up pool bar and the 24-hour lobby bar where just about everyone hangs out in the evenings. The staff/bartenders in the lobby bar are very friendly, proffer excellent service and are quick to respond to drink orders. Not once were we left for long without a filled drink at our table, and after a day or two, they knew what we ordered and were right there with it when we sat down. No watered down drinks here neither. The ron (rum) was potent, the whisky crisp, and the tequila in fine form! You’ll never want for your favourite drink or just a cold, non-alcoholic thirst quencher! If you’re in the mood for some local fare, try the Cuban cerveza (local beer). It’s mellow yet sharply languid when ice cold; NICE!

Every evening, and sometimes in the afternoon, there are different musicians playing for the crowd. For about two hours, despite the dim roar of people having a good time, a wonderful bistro ambiance permeates the air as these artistes take center stage to perform international and local tributes. With your favourite drink clasped in one hand, a lit cigar cocked comfortably between two fingers, and a warm, tropical breeze fluttering over your skin, you’ll find yourself totally relaxed and magically transported to dreamscape.

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Useful Information:

  • Bring a large, insulated, seal-able mug with you, so that when the bartender comes to take your order on the beach, you can ask him to fill your mug with your drink, instead of the tiny plastic cups provided by the resort.
  • The sun may not feel very strong, but rest assured that it is. Plus don't forget the strong sun reflection off the ocean and windburn that could happen. Tan safely by bringing sufficient sun block lotion to protect your skin.
  • There is a clubhouse near the beach where you can exchange your used beach towels for new ones.
  • The clubhouse is also the place to borrow games such as cards and chess.
  • The beach volleyball area, complete with sand and a hammock off to the side is located right beside the clubhouse.

Beach

Beautiful, long, narrow and spanning over 13 kilometres, Meliá Cayo Santa María’s beach is made up of fine, near white, cool to the touch, soft sand. Palm frond palapas line the beach like stalwart soldiers guarding the clear, turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Fairly deep after a few feet in, the ocean was calm and crystal clear on warm, sunny days and rough with high waves on breezier, cooler days.

Shared with two other immediate resorts, the Melia Sol to the left and the Melia Las Dunas to the right, the beach has few rocks, but does have crushed shells ground into the sand. For the most of its distance, it’s soft under the feet and perfect for those who like to stroll. For some parts of the beach however, the crushed shells and thicker sand pebbles hurt the feet bottom. Speaking of walking, if you are inclined towards the ‘naturalist lifestyle,’ there is a ‘clothing optional section’ of the beach found about a 20 minute walk to the left; towards the Sol resort. Never too hot during February, there was always plenty of breeze to cool down the mid afternoon heat.

Every morning the resort’s staff cleared away the overnight seaweed washed in, swept up the trekked in sand on the wooden walkways and dusted off the kicked up sand on the blue, beach loungers. These loungers were then placed in neat rows to await the new day’s sun worshipers. What a beautiful sight that was to see the row after row of loungers on an empty beach.  Around 1PM every afternoon, a waiter walks the long beach taking drink orders.

Watch out for the palapa/chair hogs who arrive very early in the morning ,or overnight, to place their beach towels or clothing on a beach chair underneath a palapa then return anywhere from two to six hours later claiming that spot as theirs. Well this homie didn’t play that game. Instead, I just brought an extra towel with me on which I nicely dumped their personal effects when they did not return to that chair/palapa after one hour. Really! People need to stop that crap of trying to reserve (I say hog) beach chairs.

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Useful Information:

  • There is not enough palapa perlounge chair ratio, so be prepared to either stay in the sun or bring your own beach umbrella.
  • If you prefer to swim in a quiet pool, consider the pool without the swim-up bar which seemed to be the more popular of the two main pools.
  • Know which season you are traveling in and pack clothes accordingly. Cuba's rainy season is from May – October with usually hot, humid, rainy temperatures in the 30+°C. Dry season occurs November – April with warm, sunny temperatures around the mid 20+°C, and occasional “cold fronts”. Hurricane season happens from June - November.

  • Bring at least one sweater, one long sleeves shirt and one pair of pants in your luggage to keep you comfortable should an unexpected cold fronts or rain showers blow in.

Pools

Three outdoor swimming pools are at the center of the resort. Not overly large nor very deep, but quite pretty to look at, the pools were surrounded by many blue and white loungers beneath interspersed palapa sunshades. Beyond the loungers, lush gardens displayed their vivid jewels and abundant coconut offerings. To one side, a bubbling hot tub sat regally higher up in its own palm thatched beach hut. Across from that, a good-sized swim-up bar.

Like the beach, a bartender navigated his way between the glistening, prostrate bodies around the pool taking orders and serving drinks. The faint smell of chlorine wafted through the humid air most days. Staff told us that the pools were cleaned and 'clorined' daily. Depending on the weather, people either filled the pool area (on cool days) or filled the beach (on hot days). Of course here too people hogged the palapas; placing their towels on loungers at 6AM.


Weather

Cuba is warm all year round, with the warmest weather occurring during the summer months of June to August. The summer time though is also hurricane season (June to November). In February however, the weather is usually warm with occasional cool fluctuations.

For our trip, the forecast was for around 21 to 27 Celsius. Sadly, Mother Nature didn’t listen to our weather man. After the first beautifully sunny and hot day, we found ourselves immersed in cool weather with four out of our seven days quite cool and windy in the evenings. The weather didn't stop us from having ourselves a great time anyway.

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Useful Information:

  • Stop a gardener and ask him about his day and about tending the gardens. The gardeners are very interesting people.
  • Ask a gardener for a coconut. He will pick, slice and pierce a coconut for you to drink its water. This is a fabulous, refreshing treat. Remember to tip him for this service.
  • When you see a gardener toiling away in the hot afternoon, stop him and offer him a cool drink. He will thank you, and truly appreciate your thoughtfulness.
  • Debit cards are not accepted in Cuba. American credit cards are not accepted in cuba.
  • Bring a Canadian credit card with you, (only Visa or Mastercard from a Canadian bank is accepted) but only use it for emergency money or big gift purchases to avoid extra fees.
  • There are wild cats that roam the resort freely.  They don't bother anyone.  Cute as they are, they seem trained not to enter any of the bars or restaurants.

Grounds/ Gardens

Lush, blossoming, clean, and well landscaped describes the mature, well-tended gardens at the Melia Cayo Santa Maria hotel resort. Everywhere we turned there were palm trees, a multitude of bougainvillea in showy colours, young red and white hibiscus, laden coconut trees, verdant croton plants, aloe vera clan cacti, exotic shrubbery and sculptured rocks flowing alongside brick pathways which wound around the entire resort providing easy access to everything. Nowhere was there any trash visible, and the trash cans blended in well with the garden colours. I would imagine the grounds in the summer months would be absolutely verdant and outstandingly beautiful.

Without doubt, the gardeners spent and continue to spend long, laborious hours each day trimming and nurturing the gardens, they showed beautifully!


Money Exchange/ Cadecas

Tourists in Cuba can only use Cuban Convertible Pesos, abbreviated as CUC, for money. At the Melia Cayo Santa Mario there is no bank. There is a Cadeca, a money exchange office, located to one side of the lobby bar. It is open daily for most of the day.

In the Cadeca room, you sit down alone with an agent and convert your Canadian money into CUC. The conversion percent starts at around 19% and fluctuates daily ($1 CAN=1.19+ CUC). Try to exchange only what you think you’ll need for your activities and tipping each day, because the Cadeca does not convert CUC back to Canadian, and CUC is only of value in Cuba.

Bring only Canadian dollars (the bills) to exchange because Canadian coins are not appreciated. Also, make sure that you bring crisp bills; one that are not overly creases and devoid of ink writing or rips, because they will not accept damaged bills. Traveler’s checks are accepted, but incur extra fees to use/cash them.

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Useful Information:

  • Consider asking another guest or guests at the resort to chip in with you for a tour or taxi tour lowering the cost of some of the excursions.
  • Grab a bicycle early in the morning and ride out fifteen to thirty minutes along the causeway for an inexpensive, simple tour that still packs a punch.
  • If you find it to be a long walk to visit the sister hotel (Melia Sol), ask one of the staff members you see zipping around in the golf carts for a lift there and a pickup after your visit.
  • No special vaccination is suggested for Cuba, but a hepatitis vaccine is always recommended when traveling to any tropical destination.

Activities/Water Sports/Tours

There were a variety of day activities available; dance and spanish lessons, morning exercises, fashion shows by the pool, archery, etc. The activity co-ordinators were not pushy when trying to get guests to join in. At night, performers took to the outdoor theatre for a couple of hours of amateur but fun entertainment. Following the performers, the disco opened for heart pounding, booty bumping business.

If you aren’t into on-site activities, there were also tours away from the resort available; jeep trekking, fishing; deep sea fishing, a night in Havana, etc. These ‘full day’ tours ranged in price from $180/person up to over $350 for a group of four. Because the resort is on an island far away from the main cities, tours took over four hours to reach their destination. Besides the time it took for the tours, we also found the prices to be very expensive. We opted to stay put and use the free bicycles, plus tour Melia’s sister property, the Melia Sol. We heard good reports about the deep sea fishing trip though.

If you prefer to spend your time on the beach, there was water sports. The water sports center was located between the Melia Cayo and Melia Sol resorts. The equipment was freely available for use including catamarans, kayaks, pedal boats and snorkeling. When the ocean was calm, a staff member took many guests out on the ocean for a stunning ride on the hobie cats. Life vests were mandatory and always readily available. Several lifeguards were always seen walking up and down the beach.

Medicine/Doctor

There was a doctor on call at the resort; available for minor illnesses. The charge for a medical visit we were told was about $25, plus the cost of any medicine.

Click to see photo slideshow

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Useful Information:

  • A complimentary (free) thermal water service comes with your vacation package. The spa will not call to ask you about booking this freebie service, nor will they remind you of it should you book in another service. If you do want to try the free thermal service (I was told it was excellent), you will have to walk over to the spa and book it in person.
  • The spa massage prices ranged from about $55 CUCs ($approximately $65 CAN) up to about $200 CUCs.
  • You will have to book an appointment in person at the spa. Drop-ins rarely work, but you can always try.
  • All guests of the Meliá Cayo Santa Maria Resort are allowed to use the facilities of the Meliá Sol; its sister resort located beside it.


Spa Services

Spa services are not included with the vacation. However, a complimentary "thermal water introduction" is offered, so guests can experience” the spa’s sensations for enhancing the well-being of both the body and spirit.”

Well, I did not try the thermal waters, but I did try a massage. Located on the resort, a short walk in the direction of the Los Dunas resort, I made my way over to the spa for what I hoped would be a rejuvenating encounter. During the short, quiet walk to the spa, the pathway was bordered by the most lush, pink bougainvillea shrubs and overflowing coconut trees. I just had to stop a gardener who happened by and request a coconut (for its delicious coconut water). After watching the fascinating sight of the gardener slashing and slicing the top from the coconut with his machete, I moved on towards the spa.

Entering the inside of the spa, my first impression was of an old roman bath house replete with high ceilings, thick columns, off-shooting tiled rooms, hushed atmosphere, a round outdoor pool in the center, and sheer curtains billowing from a raised, open to the elements, massage room.

The spa ‘s staff greeted me with a smile and reserved professionalism (you know, polite but none too cozy). I told them of my scheduled massage and was asked to wait a moment. Within five minutes, I was introduced to and whisked away by my masseur (hmm nice! Come on, I’m a girl and having a good-looking, fit, Cuban masseur who spoke with a sexy Latin accent was definitely not wasted on me, wink). Following the usual massage prep (any illnesses importanto, remove my pantalone y blousa, lie flat on the table and cover with the sheet por favor), I had been told to ring the delightful little bell when ready to begin my massage.

Exactly 55 minutes following a relaxing mixture of massage types, soothing, lyrical, spa music and heavy scents of essential oils, my massage was finished. As I have massages quite often, I will say it was good but not excellent. It didn't get me to the ahh zone I prefer to feel after a massage, but it was good.


Gym

There is a gym at the resort, located next door to the spa, but we didn't use it (walking the beach and moving a glass of rum to our lips was all the exercise we needed). A few of the other guests did visit it and we were told that it had a decent amount of equipment there.

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Souvenir Shopping

There was only one gift shop at the resort, but another was found at its sister hotel (Melia Sol) next door. Offerings were sparse, but the quality was good. Prices on the other hand, were quite high; no deals there. Almost everything we paid for in the resort's gift shop was comparable in price to Canadian prices. For example, the Havana Rum seven years aged was $29.98 here, compared to the 29.99 CUC (plus 20% exchange) we paid there. Cigarettes and cheap cigars were the exception to the high priced rule.

Local vendors are not allowed on the beach. You will find them selling their wares at specific gift huts at each resort. Items like leather and shell bracelets, canvas paintings, hand-painted silk sarongs, colourful cotton dresses, wooden sculptures, and more were paraded for sale. Some items were well prices while others were expensive. Usually I like to haggle while shopping wherever I go, but in Cuba, I felt the people made so little money to begin with, I just bought things at the price told to me. If you love shopping, unfortunately your thrill will not be quenched here. There was just enough selection to pass perhaps thirty minutes browsing. What you saw was what there was. Still, it was nice to see the culture displayed in artistic wares.

Useful Information:

  • The Melia MaS card is useless for late checkout at this resort (at least it was during our stay).
  • If you hadn't bought a VIP Voucher when you first arrived in Cuba, you can still buy a VIP Voucher for the return trip home when you arrive at the airport for departure. Speak to your Air Transat Representative at the airport to help you with this.
  • Buy your duty free alcohol and cigar at the airport. It is less expensive than at the hotel, had a larger selection, and the salespersons were nicer.

Departure Cuba

It was that time; departure. Our exciting vacation was just about over, and the high of being pampered in a foreign country was coming to a close.

The morning of our departure, we hit the front desk very early expecting to get a late checkout (we had visited the front desk the day before with our MaS member card enquiring about early checkout and had been told to return early on check-out morning. Supposedly late check-out was available on a first come first served "upon availability" basis). So patiently standing in line behind another guest who had enquired about the same late check-out and who was told he could have it if he paid $35 dollars didn't faze us. After all, we had a MaS card which supposedly would “reward your loyalty” and give us “exclusive benefit” like late checkout amongst other goodies.

Well to our amazement, when it came to our turn requesting a late checkout, we were told that there was no "availability" with the MaS card, but we could pay $35 and get late-check out. What?! We thought we had misunderstood, so we asked again. Nope, no doubt, that was what they said; no money paid no late checkout. Needless to say we were pissed, and our story wasn't the worst story reverberating around the resort that day. Another guest had paid for a late checkout, cancelled it figuring he didn’t need to pay because he had the MaS card, then found that he couldn’t get late check out with the card but he could if he repaid the $35. You can guess what we think of this card!

Check-out at the resort was at noon. We pulled our luggage from the room to the front of the lobby. When it was finally time to leave, we showed our eticket, watched as our luggage was stowed away on the bus and boarded one last time . One hour and thirty minutes later, we arrived at the airport. Taking a last look outside at the distinctive palm trees, we joined the long line-up for check-in.


Airport Departure

At the airport check-in counter, our bags were weighed (remember they had to be less than 20kg) and the agent asked us for our passport and ticket. From there we were sent to pay the departure tax; $25 CUCs per person. Once that was done, it was over to stand in the immigration line. Stamped ticket, passport, and tourist visa in the hands of the officer, we were asked several questions, then told to proceed through to the next tier of security. All our carry-on, coin, belts, etc. laid on xray belt and personal scan done, we were finally into the departure lounge. With three hours to wait until our flight's departure, we shopped the duty-free, chatted about the trip and braced ourselves for the sardine flight back home. Oh well, as least we can listen to Celia Cruz on the way back!

The INCOMPARABLE Celia Cruz singing Guantanamera

Conclusion

It's usually the people who make any resort location worth returning to, and that point is certainly true in the case of the Meliá Cayo Santa María hotel resort. With its colourful, well-kept grounds, adequate variety of dining choices, tasty dishes, daily on-resort activities and entertainment both day and night to keep guests amused, almost half a kilometre long, lovely stretch of white, sandy beach, warm breezy weather, and beautiful, blue sea, this Caribbean resort is good value for the money.

We loved the friendly staff, enjoyed the hotel, praised the food, were thrilled by the tropical beauty, rejoiced in the peacefulness, has tons of fun and were absolutely pleased with the staffs quick response and excellent service. The Meliá Cayo Santa María is certainly worth visiting at least once.

However, it's important to know that the Meliá Cayo Santa María hotel resort is a very quiet resort suitable for romantic getaways, relaxed travel, and low-key tours. In fact, the Melia company even recommends it for "couples, weddings, honeymoons and wellness/spa," even offering free weddings. If you're expecting the hustle, drama, wild nightlife and plenty of singles found in other areas like La Habana or Varadero, you won't encounter that there. Located on a small island off the main, far enough away from the any town to make excursions taxing, this resort relies on its peaceful charm to draw tourists. Yes, there are two other Melia (and other hotel) resorts on the same island, including a soon to be open entertainment centre (disco, shops, bowling alley, etc), yet it still retains its quiet atmosphere.

As well, this resort is beginning to show its age after nine years, and the battering by a few hurricanes. It could use some upgrading of the buildings and sprucing up of the rooms and lobby bar to bring it back to a 41/2 - 5 stars resort. It would also have been really nice to have had more on-resort activities which promoted the Cuban culture, experience and music.

Despite those points though, we believe that the Meliá Cayo Santa María and its staff are jewels among affordable, tropical resorts and well worth our visiting again!


Some Suggested Items To Bring To Cuba As Gifts

Gifts are always appreciated by all the staff at the resorts. Remember to keep your gifts in their original packaging though.

  • For women: nail polish, nail and pedicure tools, nail tips, make-up, perfume, gold jewelry, costume jewelry, stockings, shoes, clothes, hair accessories and products, hand/body creams, tampons, sanitary napkins.

  • For men: cologne, razors, shaving cream, gold jewelry, baseball caps, sandals and running shoes.

  • For performers: make-up, tights/stockings, musical instruments parts (ie guitar strings, mouthpiece, drum sticks, picks, etc), and dance shoes.

  • In general: baby clothes, baby toys, soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, sunglasses, aspirin, deodorant, shoe inserts, Tylenol, ibuprofen, bandages, ointments, cold/ flu/allergy medicine, tissues, clothing, first aid kits, flashlight, batteries (AA & AAA).

More Useful Information

  • Travel insurance is always recommended for every trip you make away from home, even if you have your own medical insurance or you’re very healthy. Comprehensive travel insurance usually includes most unexpected medical costs, but make sure you ask your travel agent exactly what the travel insurance covers under the policy. Even more important, READ the policy to make sure what is importand is included in the policy.

  • If you plan on renting a vehicle to tour the area by yourself, you will need to bring your drivers licence with you to Cuba. By the way, the rental company when we were there would not take a credit card and required the rental to be paid in CUC cash. So bring extra cash ($60+) for this rental.

  • An insulated backpack to hold your canned drinks taken from the fridge comes in useful on the beach.

  • Consider making two copies of your passport, credit card and airline ticket. Give a copy to someone you trust (like a family member) just before you leave on vacation, and keep the other copy with you in your carry-on luggage. Should any of the originals become lost, you will have easy access to a copy.

  • If you enjoy eating lots of snacks, you may want to bring your own supply of candy and snacks to last the length of your stay, because junk food is difficult to find in Cuba.

  • Did you know that in Cuba it is illegal to photograph anything to do with the airports, military, police, railroads and harbours? Well it is.

  • Though Cuba is one of the better places in the world for medicine and doctors, some medical items may be difficult to obtain. Over the counter items such as allergy , aspirin, tylenol, cold, upset stomach, and anti-nausea/ diarrhea medication are difficult to find, so bring your own over the counter drugs.

  • Make sure that any prescription drug that you bring with you for your own health has the pharmacist's identification label attached.

____________________________________
callmefoxxy.com, my pen is a mighty sword!


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Comments 23 comments

Dan 6 years ago

Very informative and well written....thank You


Chris Eddy111 profile image

Chris Eddy111 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Wow, what an amazing, thoughtful, informative and detailed hub. Lovely pics. Extremely well done callmefoxxy. I really enjoyed all of it. Thank you. Now, question is can I go on your next trip?


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Wow, what an amazing, thoughtful, informative and detailed hub. Lovely pics. Extremely well done callmefoxxy. I really enjoyed all of it. Thank you. Now, question is can I go on your next trip?

OOPS! Chris Eddy took the words right out of my keyboard!

Don't take Chris Eddy Callmefoxxy. Somebody told me she snores!

I love Cuba. I'll sleep at the foot of the bed to keep your feet warm. Puleeeeeze!!

You know- This is about fur or five hubs. Incredible. Thank you Dear!! Viva la revolution!


callmefoxxy profile image

callmefoxxy 6 years ago Author

@Dan. Thanks so much. Glad you stopped by to read it and comment. That's always appreciated.

@Chris Eddy111. Hiya luv. Thanks so much! I tried to cover all the questions that I had (and then some ;) when I was getting ready to go myself. Don't tell anyone yet, but there's still some more to add to it, shhh. Can you come next time? um... LOL... (see my comment to Micky Dee below)

@Micky Dee. ¿Que pasa, asere? Muchas gracias! Hehehe, you... (wagging my finger at you). I can only take one other with me, and Chris Eddy111 asked first... She warned me you would say something like that just to get to go on the trip, lol, but I do love it when you say "Puleeeeeze!!" so hmmmm. I'm not saying yes, but I'm not saying no neither. (BIG smile)

callmefoxxy, my pen is a mighty sword!


wayne 6 years ago

Very well written.style,pics,suggestions,tips and recommendations are a nice touch..Well done!


callmefoxxy profile image

callmefoxxy 6 years ago Author

Hi Wayne! Thanks for reading my review, and thanks for the kudos; I really like those (wink)!

callmefoxxy, my pen is a mighty sword!


Michael Shane profile image

Michael Shane 6 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

Looks like a great place for me & my wife to visit one day...Great hub!


laswi profile image

laswi 6 years ago from Sri Lanka

This is a great hub. You are effectively encouraging the reader to visit the country and the hotel next time.


Ken 6 years ago

This was a great, detailed review of Melia Cayo Santa Maria . My flight leaves from Pearson this afternoon for a 1 week stay so based on your review I expect I'll have a great time. Thanks for posting this informative review and photos.


callmefoxxy profile image

callmefoxxy 6 years ago Author

Hi Michael Shane. It is a beautiful place, and we think well suited for couples who enjoy spending time together. Thanks for stopping by, and should you go, drop me a line to let me know how you found it.

.

Hello laswi. Thanks for your comment. Well, we found the hotel and the country to be wonderful. We will surely return...

.

Hi Ken. Thank you for your comment. I do try to give lots of details to be as helpful as possible. Have a great time on your vacation, and let me know how things went when you get back...

callmefoxxy, my pen is a mighty sword!


Michael Shane profile image

Michael Shane 6 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

Thanks, will do....


CUBAMAN 6 years ago

Excellent review. I highly recommend this resort.


Mike 6 years ago

This definitely changed my mind about going to the resort. My wife and I are thinking of heading here in Nov and now I'm very excited to go. Thank you for sharing your review and pictures with us! Any recommendations as to what building to ask for?


Kathrine 5 years ago

I was kind of reluctant about this resort but after reading your review, I CAN`T wait to get there.

I`m off with my family in just a couple of weeks.

Thanks for this great review.

Kathrine.


callmefoxxy profile image

callmefoxxy 5 years ago Author

Thank you Katherine. I'm so glad you found my review useful. Have a wonderful time, and please send us back some of that lovely sunshine, lol. When you get back, drop me a line and let me know about any changes there...

callmefoxxy, my pen is a mighty sword!


TerriLee 5 years ago

We are going here next Saturday and I have been reading all kinds of reviews. Yours is the best one yet. Thank you so much. I am so looking forward to our holiday and gettting out of this cold weather. I am sure we will have a great time.


callmefoxxy profile image

callmefoxxy 5 years ago Author

Hi TerriLee. Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you about getting away from the cold weather: I just finished shoveling snow from my driveway. Have a wonderful time at the Cayo, and soak up lots of sun for us poor sucks who are stuck in this last hurrah of winter, lol.


TerriLee 5 years ago

This is my first trip to the Caribbean since 1989 and I am looking forward to it. I have heard different things about Cuba and what to expect. The Melia Cayo looked beautiful and the reviews have been pretty good so we booked this one. There are 4 of us going and the beach looks beautiful. Did you find it very windy most of the time? Is the Calamari at the beach restaurant as good as the reviews I am hearing it is? We don't get into Santa Clara until after 9pm so I guess we won't see anything on the bus ride. Do they check you in on the bus or do you have to wait until you get to the hotel? Sorry for asking all the questions. Cheers!


callmefoxxy profile image

callmefoxxy 5 years ago Author

Hi TerriLee - no problem, ask away :)

Well the Melia Cayo Santa Maria was very beautiful when we went, so I hope you and your friends/family find it to be as wonderful.

The beach and resort area were windy, but not to any disturbing degree; it was in fact quite nice on those few hot days we had.

I didn't have the calamari and don't remember hearing if they had that on the menu, so I couldn't give you a review on that, but the fish soup and red snapper fish at the beach restaurant were amazingly yummy! All the food was near excellent.

Check in was on the bus before leaving from the airport.

Concerning the bus ride to the resort, things have changed since we went I'm told. They have put in a new airport which is closer to the resort, so the long ride to the resort has been eliminated; a shame really.

Well enjoy the lovely weather and the fabulous Cuban people there... We may be returning in a few weeks ourselves.

callmefoxxy, my pen is a mighty sword!


Monette 5 years ago

Hi,

I'm SOOOO thankful for your information. I'm leaving with my family (my hubby and my two teenage boys) for the first time in twenty years. Going to Varadero, not at the same resort as you - going to Breezes Bella Costa but I had no clue about anything at all. I absolutely adore that you went through every single detail and step that we are going to go through. I will certainly take advantage of all your suggestions and comments. Thank you sooo much!!


callmefoxxy profile image

callmefoxxy 5 years ago Author

Hi Monette,

You're welcome. I'm very happy that you found it informative and useful... Have a great holiday, and bring back some sunshine, would ya pulease! lol.


Loulou 4 years ago

Thank you very much for taking the time to post all of this information, much appreciated and so very well done !

Cheers !

Loulou :)


callmefoxxy profile image

callmefoxxy 4 years ago Author

Hi Loulou. Thanks for leaving your comment. Thank you for the kudos... Glad you found it useful. Hope you have a wonderful time...

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