REVIEW BY: K Hopton - January 2010
My husband and I booked a twin centre package through First Choice to celebrate our honeymoon and we stayed at the Saratoga Hotel for three nights from the 2nd ? 4th November 2010.
The twin centre package consisted of the following:
Gatwick Airport to Holguin Airport (10 hrs)
Coach from Holguin Airport to Guardalavaca (1 hr)
Playa Pesquero Hotel, Guardalavaca for 1 night (all inclusive)
Coach from Playa Pesquero Hotel, Guardalavaca to Holguin Airport (1hr)
Internal flight from Holguin Airport to Havana Airport (1 hour 10 mins)
Coach from Havana Airport to Saratoga Hotel (1hr)
Saratoga Hotel 3 nights (room only)
Parque Central Hotel 1 night due to hurricane (meal and 50CUC worth of drinks inc.)
Coach from Parque Central Hotel to Havana Airport (1hr)
Internal Flight from Havana Airport to Holguin Airport (1 hr 10 mins)
Coach from Holguin Airport to Guardalavaca (1 hr)
Sol Rio de Luna y Mares Resort 9 nights, but would normally be 10 (all inclusive)
Coach from Sol Rio de Luna y Mares Resort to Holguin Airport (1hr)
Holguin Airport to Gatwick Airport (9 hrs 30 mins)
We were supposed to leave The Saratoga at 2am on the 5th November to catch an early morning flight back to Guardalavaca, but got a call from our rep at 11pm the night before to say that the flight had been cancelled due to hurricane Tomas and that he would let us know what was happening the next morning. We didn?t end up hearing from the rep until 4pm the next day! We were supposed to be checking out of the Saratoga at midday, but had nowhere to go! When we finally heard from the rep he informed us that we were going to be staying at Parque Central Hotel for the night and they would try and get us to Guardalavaca the next day. The Saratoga let us keep our room all day free of charge while we were waiting to find out what was going on! First Choice may have cover this charge, but we were unaware and it was hassle free as far as the hotel was concerned.
Anyway, onto the review for the hotel itself!
The Saratoga hotel was absolutely lovely! So classy!
We arrived late morning. Reception were busy so the concierge (Jorge) dealt with our check in. Our room would be available from 3pm. He gave us a map and told us about the area, where we could and couldn?t go, where was good to eat, what there was to do in the evenings and about the Saratoga itself. He was very informative and answered all questions we had. We used that map for the whole of our stay and we got good use out of it! I think we covered every square inch of the city. I have never been anywhere so interesting ? what a culture shock! The map shows the areas where you can and can?t go. They don?t recommend you go into Chinatown (no Chinese people, all black people), but we did stray on our first day. We got approached twice by young black couples. They were really friendly and we didn?t feel threatened, but I was wondering what their motive was! They try and tell you about the area and about salsa festivals. Lots of men try and sell you cigars on the street (not just in Chinatown), but they are not pushy at all. I felt more at ease with the locals in Havana than in other places I?ve visited such as Turkey.
There was no welcome pack or welcome meeting from First Choice when we arrived!
We had lunch at the hotel on that first day as we hadn?t quite got our bearings yet! We had a chicken baguette in the bar on the rooftop terrace. The baguette was really nice ? it cost about the same as you?d pay for one in a bar in the UK. The bar had a good drinks menu which included cocktails, soft drinks and coffees, etc.
There was a restaurant (Mirador) on the roof terrace, but this never seemed to be open.
The roof top views were amazing! Straight ahead was Chinatown and to the right was the Capitol Building.
The rooftop pool was really nice, usually pretty quiet. We only used it once as there was so much to see and do in Havana. There were some lovely comfy sun loungers on the terrace, but I couldn?t lie there for long ? it was just so hot, a real sun trap up there!
There was a towel service on the roof top ? you could borrow a towel for use by the pool and then return it after, you just had to give your room number.
Our room was on the second floor and the view was brilliant! There are window seats and you could lie there and watch the world go by, all the old cars, the horse and carts, etc and obviously the grand buildings ? the cigar factor is just across the road. It was so quiet even though it was right on a busy road, but if you opened your window you could hear all the hustle and bustle of Havana.
The room itself was immaculate. One of the cleanest hotel rooms I have ever stayed in. All modern and new. The bed was huge! There was a TV and DVD player plus a desk with internet connections. The wardrobe was big with lots of storage space. There was a safe in the wardrobe and this was free of charge.
And then there was the bathroom! Wow! It was a big bathroom with a bath and a walk in shower! It was so bright and clean and spacious with mirrors everywhere and loads of toiletries. The hair dryer was rubbish though! It did work, but had hardly any power and took forever to dry my hair!
There was a mini bar in the room which contained a good selection of alcohol, but as a large bottle of water in the hotel was approximately ?4 we didn?t have anything from the mini bar! There was no price list for the drinks in the minibar. The hotel offered room service, but we didn?t use this apart from the breakfast which was included in the honeymoon package. This consisted of croissants and pastries, Spanish omelette, coffee and orange juice. It was average, the pastries were a bit dry.
We ate at El Template Restaurant on our first night here, Jorge recommended this and it was delicious (see separate review). This was a fairly short stroll from the hotel.
We had a letter inviting us to a meal in the hotel?s Italian restaurant, The Anacona, as part of the honeymoon package. The meal itself was on the house and we just had to pay for drinks. The wine wasn?t that nice and was about the same price for a bottle in a restaurant in the UK. I had tomato bruschetta for starter, which was absolutely delicious. I had spaghetti pesto for main and my husband had spaghetti carbonara ? neither were great, rubbery and dry! The staff in the restaurant were really nice and very attentive, but then that wasn?t difficult as there were only three occupied tables on the night we were in there ? it always seemed to be quiet. It was a really nice restaurant though, with Moroccan d?cor.
There was the Mezzanine Bar on the first floor, which was really nice. Similar selection of food and drink as in the roof top bar. There was a pianist playing during the evenings, it was a lovely atmosphere. The strawberry daiquiri cocktails were delicious!
If you walk right out of the hotel you pass a couple of small shops which sell water and a small selection of snacks. It?s the same as anywhere abroad ? the local biscuits, etc were cheap, but if you wanted a Twix or a Mars Bar they were pretty pricey! The main boulevard of shops and bars is also in this direction and so is the sea wall, which is definitely worth a look. There is a market as well ? it is small, but does have quite a lot of nice things for sale and very cheap. There was another market in the square everyday as well, which mostly sold books. No one bothers you trying to sell you things.
Most of the bars in Havana had live music. We had drinks in Bologna one day. The cocktails were too strong and not that nice and the staff were rude, but the live music was really good and it was worth going in for that.
We eventually saw our First Choice rep (Jos?) and were offered some trips, but they were quite expensive. We did do the one to Caf? Parisian though, which was good (see separate review). Jos? was Cuban, not that easy to understand and a little bit miserable.
The staff at the Saratoga were all very nice and polite. There were always men on the door holding it open for you and there was usually a porter there too and one of them would stop you a taxi if you needed one.
Overall, an excellent hotel worth its 5 stars.