With so many reviews and comments referring to the food in Cuba, it’s no wonder people are sometimes hesitant about visiting this unique country. We’ve all heard it before: “The food in Cuba is bland”. That is one statement I can’t argue with, that’s IF it refers to resort food. BUT, Cuba has so much more to offer.
As much as I’ve travelled to different destinations over the years, until recently, Cuba still remained one of my bucket list destination. If you’ve already visited Cuba, you’ll know that Canadians hold a special place in Cubans’ hearts. After my very first visit a few weeks ago, I can now say that Cubans hold a very special place in my heart.
When arriving at Varadero airport, you feel it right away, the simplicity and sterile feeling of the surroundings. Don’t take this the wrong way, it’s just that things here are very simple and there are no “fralalas” in Cuba. I, for one, found it very charming; it was like being transported to another era. Old cars passing by, horses and carriage passing by, locals walking to work, you could feel that this was a tourism town, but that the culture was different here, a good kind of different.
As soon as we entered the resort grounds, the staff was very welcoming and attentive. A glass of champagne and a cold towel welcomed us to our week ‘stay at this beautiful adult’s only resort. We were immediately treated like family and felt part of it for the whole week. The staff at this resort shines in all areas, from concierge to servers to gardeners, a smile and a Hola were always greeting us. Although not a new resort, everything was kept very clean and manicured. Our room was clean, spacious, and the furniture and décor were more traditional. Every room has a spacious balcony with two chairs, which we used in the morning and before dinner to take in the sounds of nature of our surroundings. The in-room amenities are very simple. You have what you need and not more. A mini-bar with soda and a few Crystal beers, two big bottles of water, and ice bucket (but we never found the ice machines). There were no coffee makers, IPod docking stations or other “modern” accessories in the room. Although room service was offered, we never took advantage of it.
As I set to explore the resort grounds, everything was very well manicured and tropical. Most of the resorts in Varadero have some sort of shrubs separating the ocean from the resort grounds, and this is joined by a bridge/walkway. Upon walking across this walkway, my eyes spotted that gorgeous turquoise water, splashing on the white powdery sand. That beach!!! The color was mesmerizing to say the least. The wind had picked up making the surf rough, but oh so breathtaking. During the week, I was able to have a few days of relaxation on the beach where I played in the waves and I even took time to snorkel from the hobby cat in the middle of the sea where fishes of vibrant colors swam around and in between the snorkelers.
Connectivity in Cuba is still very scarce. There are certain hot spots where you can connect by purchasing an internet card which costs 2CUC for two hours. Fortunately, (or not) the Royalton had a hot spot which we could connect to the internet with the purchase of this card. I only used it once as I was really looking forward to a week of disconnecting from the outside world. Imagine; this is just like how Cuban people live, most of them are not aware of what’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even on television. They simply live through tourists ‘stories, hearing news and updates through their conversations. How intriguing is that?
Although every one has different taste food wise, I was always skeptical about other people’s opinion of Cuban resort food. I was going in with an open mind, but soon realized that the resort food really is bland and simple. We had a few great meals at the A la Cartes for dinner, but that buffet…eesh…we are spoiled here in Canada! On our second night, we ventured into Varadero town, enjoying the old soul feeling of this small tourism town, taxiing in a horse carriage through the streets. We ventured to experience a very delicious meal at one of the restaurants. It was very tasty, well priced and worth every penny to eat that delicious chocolate truffle cake. We then spent the evening at the most happening spot in Varadero; the Beattles Bar! The rock band playing was rocking the audience and everyone was enjoying the show. It’s a venue not to be missed if you’re are staying in the area.
We were blessed with the opportunity to visit Old and New Havana. Blexie, our tour guide was a young, smart English professor with a passion in history. He explained the Cuban history and culture as we drove through Manzatas town, up to Havana. It was a day full of new discoveries. We walked the cobblestone streets of Old Havana, discovering the history behind the famous tourist attractions and exploring the back streets of old buildings housing locals, where tourists are sparse and the streets are alive with Cuban people working, walking and socializing. There was so much to take in, that there is no way to really experience the vibrant beauty of Havana in just a short day. As we finished our short exploration of Old Havana, Blexie then took us to a local restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch. This was another meal that I thoroughly enjoyed. We then ventured to explore New Havana, exploring the Revolution square where I stood on the day of November 25th, 2016. A day where Cuba made history, as Fidel Castro passed away on that night. As we had learned so much about the history, it was a peculiar feeling being in Cuba to experience the atmosphere and feelings that the Cuban people felt towards the passing away of Fidel. His mourning would last nine days, where people would gather to pay their respect and abstain from any music and parties. Our resort, The Royalton Hicacos, even organized a small memorial in a private location with pictures of Fidel where guests could pay their respect and sign a farewell message in a book of memories.
And this is where Cuba shines! The people; they are the friendliest and most welcoming of any country I have visited so far. Safety here is not an issue, they have learned to respect others and it shows in their conversations and manners. We always felt like we were part of their family. I’m not sure if it’s a “Canadian” thing, but many became friends, even during our short stay.
I still can’t believe it took me all these years to visit this special country. As much as every destination goes through growth, whether it be tourism growth, government change or complex culture, Cuba still remains that old soul country. But all this might change soon, following the passing away of the “father of the revolution”. To sum this up, I am still in awe with this complex, vibrant country and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit this unique Gem before the changes take place, as some of them have already started to appear. And I hope one day to return and explore more of what Cuba has to offer.
Are you looking for a picturesque getaway for your destination wedding or honeymoon? With it’s unparalleled romantic atmosphere, you won’t find any spring breakers here. The décor throughout this resort is unpretentious with a true Caribbean vibe. Tropical plants, palm trees, grape trees amongst beautiful tropical flowers and little koi ponds engulf the pathways and buildings of it’s surroundings. It is literally this inspiring! Visiting the same resort twice is very rare for me, as I love to experience different places. Admittedly, I have visited this one twice, and would go again in a heartbeat; I love it this much! Here are some highlights of this amazing romantic oasis located in Negril, Jamaica.
Romance Rewards Program – Once booked at this resort, you can access their rewards program to do your pre-check in, receive some rewards and resort credits based on the number of nights previously stayed. With this, you can pre-order your mini-bar and make your room requests. On my 2nd stay, my significant other & I received two t-shirts with the Couples’ logo, a resort credit of $300 which I used at the spa and my hubby used against his upgraded diving course fees. A great little bonus to make you feel special as a repeat customer.
Dedicated private airport lounge (Montego Bay) and private shuttle – at no extra cost! Here you can enjoy a cold red stripe on tap, change into lighter clothes while your private airport transfer becomes available. No matter how you book this resort, the airport transfers are all privately dedicated to Couples’ customers, either couples staying at Couples Negril or Couples Swept Away, so there are no other stops along the way.
The service – As we entered the lobby, we were instantly greeted with a cold towel and a glass of champagne. Although no one steps over your feet to wait on you constantly, the general service around the restaurants and bars were top notch. Beach service was a hit and a miss, so if you’re someone who needs this kind of attention, don’t be disappointed if no one waits on you every minute of the day.
Rooms – Although the rooms are very basic with a rustic flare, they all have amazing spacious balconies. There are multiple room categories, but my favorite is the Beachfront Verandah Suite. It is literally steps from the beach. Waking up and having coffee in my rocking chair on the balcony while looking and hearing the waves crash on that smooth sand was one of the highlights of my trip! Yep, I’m this simple…
Food – One thing that stood out to me was the freshness of the food. All prepared to order, from jerk chicken to sweet potato chips, everything was mouth watering. With 5 restaurants to choose from, you won’t go hungry here. The snack bar, which offers delicious jerk chicken and more fast food options, is open 24 hours; or you can choose to eat at one of the finer restaurants with a more romantic atmosphere.
Amenities – One of my favorite; the sports complex. A full blown sports complex located across the road from the resort with a lap pool, a running track, open air weight room, gym class room, tennis court and spa. It has a fresh juice bar on site, some loungers and a very serene atmosphere near the spa area. A great way to shed some calories from the indulgence of Jamaican food and Red Stripe beer!
All included activities – This is where the resort shines from the others. Everything, I mean EVERYTHING is included. From tips, snorkelling, diving, golf to the catamaran excursion, you won’t have to dish out your extra hard cash here. Unless you want to buy some souvenirs or indulge in a spa treatment, no money is required for the duration of your stay. The catamaran excursion is a great way to explore Negril’s sea side from the water, sailing along the coast up to the Cliffside area. The crew on board knows how to make sure everyone has a good time with rum punch, beer and some singing and dancing.
Beach – So, I’ve saved the best for last. There are no words to describe the beauty of the water and sand that make up 7 Mile Beach in Negril, Jamaica. White powdery sand with crystal clear turquoise water is what it’s all about. As another bonus, Couples offers chair cushions that serves as a floating mat for your use in the warm Caribbean Sea. I mean, what more could you ask for? A drink in one hand while laying in this glistening sea! Pure Bliss!
At the end of my week ‘stay I felt like a new woman. Rejuvenated and relaxed. A true romantic getaway that couples need every now and then to re-spark that connection. If you would like to learn more about booking this resort, reach out to me HERE and I would love to plan your next romantic getaway to the beautiful Couples Swept Away!
P.S. I could go on and write more amazing things about Negril, but I’ll save that for another post – where I’ll share more great insights on my love of Jamaica. Stay tuned!
Travelling solo for the first time can be intimidating. But it can also be freeing. After finishing my travel consulting training, I was offered the opportunity to travel to Vancouver for the annual conference with my host agency. Having one of my close friend move to Seattle not long before, this opportunity gave me the perfect excuse to get this adventure on path. As I took care of all the details, my bags were packed and I was on my way to Toronto to catch my flight to Vancouver. I still couldn’t believe I was going to Vancouver AND Seattle! Yep, this girl was EXCITED! Here’s a summary of not to miss places to visit if you’re in the area on a short time frame:
The Westin Wall Centre
After settling in my hotel, The Westin Wall Centre, I was ready to take on Vancouver by the horns! The views of the mountains out of my room were breathtaking! Unfortunately, the evening took its toll, and I settled for a glass of wine to unwind, relax and catch up on my zzzz’s as I prepared for my 2 days of conference with travel suppliers and other advisors. (By the way, the Westin heavenly beds are by far my favorite when staying at a hotel). Fast forward 2 days of conference and networking and I was ready to explore this beautiful city!
First stop – Gastown! – Beautiful lush greenery follows the roads and sidewalks. Even the gigantic buildings have greens growing on the rooftops! How amazing is that! (Yep, it doesn’t take much to get me excited – remember I come from a VERY small community) My first stop was dinner at Steamworks Brewing Co. A great little pub with locally brewed beer. Food was delicious with lots of options, from steak and seafood to burgers and salads. After indulging in the delicious food and locally brewed beer, it was time to continue my explorations.
I discovered lots of little boutiques shops, coffee shops, pubs and historic sights to explore, including the famous Steam Clock. This was a hit! If you’re in the area, it really is worth visiting and exploring.
There was no other way than to finish the evening with a drive through Stanley Park and the Lion’s Gate Bridge. It was just what the doctor ordered – some time to relax and get lost in that gorgeous sunset. A sight not to be missed! A true way to rejuvenate the soul.
As I settled for the night back at the hotel, I was more than satisfied with my day of exploration. My next day was proving to be a busy one as well. I was itching to explore and see more…I mean I can’t come to Vancouver and not see Canada Place or Granville Island!
As I started my day refreshed – I had the most amazing night’s sleep (I am in love with the Westin heavenly bed!), I was ready to take on the day with my first stop at Granville Island.
The easy to navigate streets made the perfect morning to shop in the markets and unique boutique shops around every corner. As my feet got tired, I even took time to sit and enjoy the breathtaking views that surrounded me. I think I could have stayed here for a while…but there is so much more I want to see. Off I go to continue my journey. I decided on taking a water taxi to navigate the waters towards Yaletown and finally to Canada Place.
Yaletown to Canada Place
Ok so I’m downtown Vancouver, literally! Even in this congested city, the sights are amazing. I could sense my eyes glaring at Canada Place. My lucky day! There were a few cruise ships in port! I had never seen a real cruise ship with my own eyes, so this was exciting! There were people buzzing at every corner, coming and going with suitcases, this city was on fire!
As I walked around the area, my day was coming to an end and so was my brief stay in Vancouver. I had to go pack my bags & continue my journey to….yes….Seattle!
After an uneventful 4.5hrs coach ride to Seattle, my friend met me at SeaTac airport. I thought Vancouver was congested, well getting out of there proved to be a little hectic, but we made it home! As I only had a few days in Seattle, we spent the next day exploring Pike Place Market.
First stop, Starbucks! Yes, the original. The line-up was brutal! I wasn’t up to waiting in line an hour for a coffee, so I settled for a picture.
This place has endless shopping booths…
As we made our way towards downtown, we settled to eat lunch at The Crab Pot. Holly crab legs!
Deciding to head home before the end of the work day rush didn’t go so well. A 50 minutes ride home took 2.5 hours. Oh well, the day was a great one of new explorations & what better way than to bond with my girlfriend!
As much as I love to travel, I also love to go back home (well sometimes, but I think I like to travel more…) Vancouver is truly a magical city with endless possibilities. I could have stayed longer to explore more and it is still someplace I would like to re-visit one day.
Are you ready to explore Vancouver or Seattle? Let me help you plan your perfect holiday. Connect with me here.
Travelling and nature is good medicine for the soul – which I can say is true for me. It saved my soul more than once! It can take you to magical places where you can discover some amazing new things about the world and yourself. That is one thing I know for sure about myself! I LOVE to travel and the ability to just get lost in it! As a woman from a small town (Lavigne, ON – try finding that on a map!), finding myself was (and still is) sometimes very confusing in this material, opinionated and judging world.
As I started my young adulthood working 9-5 jobs, it seemed as if I was making it through ok, living in a safe small community, starting with a great career in banking at a young age, growing to a fabulous teaching career. Having changed career paths often, I always wondered if there was something for me out there that would stick, which would ignite my passion. You see, this world is full of judgments, but it is our mind that is the worst judge of all. It captures the fear of the “what ifs” and can be very convincing at making us stay status quo in the comfort of our day to day routine. As society’s “rules” and fears of the unknown were anchored in my subconscious mind from childhood, working the typical 9-5 job seemed like the right thing to do. As far as I knew, life was meant to work, eat, sleep, have a few hours of fun, a few weeks’ vacation a year AND THEN you can have fun travelling & living your “dream life” when you retire at an older age… Humm? Wait a minute! Life’s not meant to be a prison until the age of retirement (well…. unless you decide it to be…) Life’s meant to make you happy and being happy doing what you love. Isn’t it? Well for me, travelling to warm tropical places (it can get quit chilly here in Northern Ontario during winter months), as well as being surrounded by nature, is what makes me happy, so I intend to do it more than 1 or 2 weeks per year!
As I started my own home/virtual travel agency Rachel’s Travel a few years back, I let my “programmed” subconscious get in the way. Fear of failure was my worst enemy – all of society’s “rules” anchored deep down. I let what I LOVE doing take a backseat to my life –sharing my love of travelling the Caribbean and being outdoors when the warm months come along. My mind was in constant fear. Your actions usually follow what your mind tells you, so it did. As I let it be, it always bothered me that I wasn’t doing more of what I love, still lingering as my dream, my passion. It was the one thing in my life that when I was doing it, it felt like a hobby and it still does. Well that my dear IS doing what you love, following your passion! The rest will follow if you put your mind to it!
With this, came a blessing of acquiring our very own seasonal tourism endeavor – RB’s Riverside Properties & Marina. A perfect blend of summer fun and hard work with rewarding down time during winter months to explore the Caribbean. Having the opportunity to acquire this business in the last year has been an awakening for me. At first, everything seemed to have flown by without even seeing our first season. As we were rolling with the punches, I was trying to juggle a full-time teaching career and trying to manage a few businesses. So much was going on, that I barely had the time to really enjoy the whole process and somehow I got lost in all of it. After having some time to myself, I began re-discovering my real self, the purpose of my soul. You know those “ah-ha” moments, well they exist and I’ve had a few! (a good yoga teacher can help too – thanks Kim @the Healin’Hart). I can now say without a doubt that I am on my path to living the life I love, my dream lifestyle that is meant for me at this moment. Being able to enjoy nature, all things outdoorsy during the warmer months through our tourism business, I can also focus on my travel consulting business and have the freedom to travel to warm tropical places during the winter. I feel that when your path aligns with your soul’s purpose, you are able to adapt to different challenges & situations more calmly and deal with stress better and therefore living a healthier and happier lifestyle. No doubt, working any job or owning a business has its challenges, but how you are able to deal with them and enjoying what you do, determines your success and happiness. So as I pursue this journey of discovering what my soul needs to feel at peace, at home, I discovered the Travelling Soul, a blog that sparked a part of me that was longing to be awakened. As I go through this adventure called life, you can join me as I set to inspire you with some lifestyle and travel experiences. As for the purpose of this blog, all I hope is for you to find your soul’s purpose and to take the path that is calling out to you, no matter how hard and fearful it may seem.