Double Duty Daddy

Trip Report: Cuba Travel With TWINS

Veronica and her husband Guillermo recently decided to take a trip to Varadero, Cuba………with their TWINS! As parents of toddler twin girls and with much buzz (still) over traveling to Cuba, they embarked on their Cuban adventure with kids in tow and here is her trip report. 

View next to hotel

BOOKING 

My husband and I had always been intrigued about Cuba, being that we live in Miami where the Hispanic population is dominated by Cubans and Cuban Americans. We thought now would be a good time to visit Cuba because commercial flights from the US are relatively cheap and we anticipate tourism picking up drastically in the event of a possible embargo lift.

Did I mention we are parents of twin toddlers? Yeah, that complicates things a bit. We were looking for an excuse to travel with them as lap children before their 2nd birthday when they are no longer free. We stumbled across Varadero while exploring destinations on Google Flights. Luckily, Southwest flies direct to Varadero from Fort Lauderdale and we found the rates at all-inclusive hotels on the peninsula to be very affordable in comparison to others in the Caribbean, so we pulled the trigger.

Varadero Beach

Traveling to Cuba is different than traveling to any other Caribbean destination in many ways. One being that you can’t really just book a hotel online on any of the usual sites like Hotels.com. You can book directly with a hotel chain such as Melia through their website, but you can’t pay with a US credit card, so you have to pay with cash in Cuban pesos once at the resort.

We chose another alternative which was to book through a travel agency specializing in trips to Cuba. We used Tocororo Travel and they had better rates than booking through the hotel chain directly. We paid them with our credit card (earning points) and they paid the hotel directly, giving us a voucher to present upon check-in. I liked this option because it was simpler and we didn’t have to worry about exchanging hundreds of US dollars to Cuban pesos and incurring the 10% currency conversion tax. The key is to find a reputable travel agency, and luckily we had no issues whatsoever.

TRAVEL DAY

Fast forward to departure day. At Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International airport (FLL), there is a special kiosk in the baggage claim area where you have to purchase your Cuban visa for $50/passenger PRIOR to checking in for your flight (you can’t check-in online for flights to Cuba). Then you have to go to a special counter, also in the baggage claim area, that is exclusively for checking into flights to Cuba and Cuba only. This was a bit stressful for us as we were cutting it close to our flight time and would have missed our flight had we arrived to the airport 5 minutes later. A common problem when trying to get anywhere on time with twin toddlers.

Once on the plane, we chose the last row as we’ve done in the past in order to increase our chances of having an empty seat or two to use for the girls rather than have them sit on our laps. Southwest’s open seating policy and 2 free checked bags works amazing for our families. We got  lucky and had a row of 3 seats for the 4 of us, which was comfortable enough. The girls were easily entertained during the 45 minute flight with snacks, books, and coloring activities.

After landing in Varadero, we had to fill out customs declarations forms and pass through immigration before heading to baggage claim. Once we got our bags is where we got a bit confused. I had done as much research as I could about getting from the airport to the hotel and the guaranteed best option was to take a taxi (widely-available). There were plenty of coach buses which would have been my preference but even though we asked if we could pay to go on one of those, we were denied because they were reserved for Canadian travel agencies.

So we took a “cab”. They are old cars not marked in any way to indicate they are taxis. And by old cars I don’t mean the classic vintage cars you see in the pictures. I’m talking about something comparable to a 1970 Honda Civic. The kind of vehicle that hasn’t received maintenance in 40+ years. But we didn’t really have a choice, so we went and I prayed the entire ride. It could have been worse (actually the return to the airport was worse).

The classic looking car we DIDN’T take from airport to hotel.

Soon after the car ride, we got to the hotel – Melia Marina Varadero. It’s modern and has a nice resort feel to it. We checked-in but our room wasn’t going to be ready for another hour and a half so we took our cranky un-napped toddlers to the lunch buffet. We waited in a line for about 15 minutes because the buffet was just opening and the girls were very unhappy about that, to the point that another guest was kind enough to allow us to cut her in line so we could feed the girls and stop the crankiness. They ate and a major hungry meltdown was aborted.

We were ready to go after lunch and arriving to the hotel!

ALL-INCLUSIVE HOTEL

The Pool was nice and warm

I did a ton of research before the trip and felt I had realistic expectations going in but I was still disappointed in some areas. I read that a 5-star resort in Cuba is more like a 3-star resort on another Caribbean island and I think that was accurate in terms of accommodations and amenities. But even then, the property was just not well-maintained and it showed more signs of wear-and-tear than a 3-year old resort should.

Our room was large with a (hard) king-sized bed and a sitting area with small table, 2 chairs, and a couch. We used this area for the 2 cribs we had requested and luckily were provided with. We enjoyed the balcony quite a bit, with a very nice view of the marina and sailboats. The bathroom was the most modern aspect of the room and had a nice separate shower, tub, and toilet room with it’s own door.

I read that the food at the resort was not great, so I went in with low expectations. Still, the food was by far my biggest let-down of our stay. There were very few meat and poultry options and what we did eat, was downright inedible  (think no flavor and plastic-y texture), so we stayed away completely. We mostly survived off of rice and black beans and pasta with tomato sauce.

Breakfast was better because they had an omelette and crepe station and the fruits and juices were good. We were only there 2 nights and didn’t get a chance to try any specialty restaurants, so our dining experience was limited to the buffet.

Girls Playing in the Sand

The beach was nice but honestly, nothing out of this world. Seeing the pictures in magazines and always reading about Varadero being one of the best beaches in the world, I expected more. But we’re also from Miami and have been to amazing beaches in Mexico, Bahamas and Greece so we have somewhat high standards in this area. I liked that the water was shallow but we got very unlucky with a windy weekend, so we weren’t able to enjoy the beach as much as I’d hoped.

Windy day at the beach but girls wanted to get in the water.

WHAT TO PACK

So what did we pack? I feel like I kept it as simple as possible yet it still felt like I was packing supplies for a month-long vacation. You have to bring everything you need because Cuba has a major shortage of baby supplies in general. It’s not like you can just go buy something if you forget because Cuba has a major shortage of supplies. There isn’t a CVS or Walgreens down the street like you see in the U.S. Basics like diapers and wipes for twins take up a lot of space and we only took 1 large suitcase for the 4 of us with 2 small backpacks as carry-ons.

Aside from the usual beach vacation supplies like flip flops and sunscreen, I packed sippy cups, powdered milk, our double umbrella stroller, books, crayons, and an iPad. I also packed a few small sand toys and my new favorite beach/pool accessory for kids – their Puddle Jumpers. These took up a lot of space in the suitcase and I debated bringing them but they made a huge difference. The girls were able to enjoy the beach and pool with more freedom and we had piece of mind while they were wearing these.

Puddle Jumpers were amazing!

Note that we didn’t bring car seats and I debated it quite a bit. I did miss them and wished we had them but we wouldn’t have been able to use them since the taxis are so old that 2 car seats + 3 adults, a stroller and a suitcase just would not fit. Plus most taxis don’t even have seatbelts in the back seat!

The hotel was adequate in terms of accommodations for families with twins our age. They were fully-booked but still were able to provide us with 1 regular crib and 1 pack-n-play. The buffet restaurant however, only had 2 high chairs total and those were usually taken. Luckily, my almost 2-year-olds were fine sitting in regular chairs as long as they were entertained with food. There was also a small playground and splash pool in the kids club area which we enjoyed in the afternoons.

 

CONCLUSION

All in all, our stay was pleasant. The girls absolutely loved the beach and pool and were more than entertained the entire trip. My husband and I have mixed feelings about the experience but we don’t regret going. We don’t necessarily care to go again any time soon, but we’re happy to have crossed Cuba off the bucket list, even if we didn’t get the “real” Cuba experience and just visited Varadero.

 

Have you been to Cuba with kids? 

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