Thursday, October 20, 2016

Travel Diary: Sanctuary at Grand Memories Varadero Resort Review


Entrance to the Sanctuary

Recently, I went on a one week vacation to Varadero, Cuba with my friend. When we were looking at what resort to stay in, I didn't find much information on the internet so I thought I'd help fill the void with a review of the Sanctuary at Grand Memories Varadero. The biggest question that was asked on TripAdvisor is "Is it worth it to pay the extra?"

The Sanctuary is the Adult Only section of the Grand Memories resort in Varadero. Prices are usually $200-$300 higher than the general grand memories resort for one person for a one week all inclusive. For reference, we paid $1280 each including flight from Vancouver. This section of the resort has it's own pool, restaurant, lounge, lobby, and section of the beach.

So let's see if it's worth the extra cost!






Sanctuary Lobby

What Grand Memories says about the Sanctuary: "This adults-only resort is a tranquil property that caters to guests over 18 years of age only. It features everything necessary to create a tranquil and relaxing moment to enjoy the comfort of a kids-free haven including an exclusive à la carte restaurant and bar, and a crystal clear, adults-only pool. Sanctuary is a unique and stylish accommodation option for those searching for a more exclusive tropical getaway."

Guests can have access to all of Grand Memories restaurants, bars, activities, and health and wellness facilities. The additional benefits are complimentary butler service, 24 hour room service, and deluxe suites.

Room


The room type we received was the Deluxe Junior Suite. The room comes with either 2 twin beds or a king bed. The mattress is a spring mattress which at first felt very uncomfortable. However, I didn't actually end up having any trouble sleeping. The room is very spacious and contains a sofa, coffee table, full closet, The bathroom has a bathtub, a glass shower, and a separate door for the toilet.

There was an in room liquor dispenser which is a great addition. Although surprisingly we used it very sparingly. There was also a mini fridge that came stocked with pop, beer, and 1 large bottle of water a day. The room was very clean but definitely lacked the modern decor and amenities I've come to take for granted at a "luxury" hotel.

Although I didn't see the rooms in Grand Memories, lots of photos on Trip Advisor showed dirt or damages to the room. I thought our room was in great condition although maybe not so easy on the eyes. Worth it.

Food + Drinks


The Sanctuary has it's own restaurant and lounge which is exclusive to Sanctuary guests. The restaurant has a rotating menu each night so it means you can eat at the same place all week but with different food. The quality of the food is hit and miss. At the beginning of the week we had a lot of trouble with our food but by the end, we started liking more of our dishes. The Sanctuary restaurant also features a live band 2 nights of the week which is a special touch.

I prefer to have choices which is why I originally chose Grand Memories. They advertise having 7 restaurants which I thought would be tons of choices. However, they actually only had 4 restaurants open when we went, which was disappointing. (buffet, Ging Seng, Sanctuary restaurant, and one other that rotates each night)


Food really is bad in Cuba and it's not even that it's bland. What you see on the menu is never what you receive. So just go in with an open mind, and you'll have a much better experience.

Overall, if you like the convenience and routine of  going to the same restaurant while experience a different menu each night, the Sanctuary is very much worth the extra price. However, the quality of the food is not necessarily better than the other a la cartes. Maybe worth it.


There was also a lounge exclusive to the Sanctuary that served up the BEST drinks in all of the resort. I think the bartenders are a lot more skilled and because there's less volume in the lounge, they can take longer crafting your drink. There is an extensive cocktails list. While the rest of the resort tends to serve you in small plastic cups, this lounge always served me in glasses which I appreciate. There is also air con +WiFi access which makes it a really nice spot to just hang out when you have some time to spare. Worth it.


Activities

Lack of activities is a better way to describe the Sanctuary. The whole resort has an activities schedule that is very loosely followed. In the Sanctuary, the activities are already pared down to a minimum of some stretching, games in the pool. However, they are rarely to schedule and happens whenever the entertainers feel like the crowd is interested.

We ended up going to the general beach area and pool to check out the activities as it's a lot more active and fun. I guess this should have been expected as the resort is called the "Sanctuary". For some reason, it never clicked to me until we were there. In my past experiences at all-inclusive, the day is filled with activities. Unfortunately this was not the case at the Sanctuary. Not worth it.


A weekly schedule that is loosely followed

Service

The other large differentiation in the Sanctuary is that there is suppose to be better service. I was drawn by the butler service and 24 hour room service. The word butler in my head was suppose to be a personalized, on call service. However, it is just one person in the lobby for the entire Sanctuary resort. They are also only available 9am-6pm. They only helped me book dinner reservations and was not very helpful at all about questions on seeing the town and the rest of Cuba. I was really disappointed with this.

Also I found the service in the two times I ate at non-Sanctuary restaurants were much more friendly than what I received at the Sanctuary restuarant. Maybe we didn't fit the clientele of the Sanctuary guests? Either way, I definitely did not feel the extra we paid increased the friendliness and helpfulness of service. Not worth it.

I noticed that on Trip Advisor many people had amazing service stories. Maybe we didn't tip enough? Maybe we didn't get to know the staff as well? I'm not sure what the factors are but my experiences were clearly different from the reviews.



Final Verdict?

Overall I really enjoyed my stay and was glad to have experienced the #1 ranked hotel. I do think it was worth it paying for the extra due to the following factors:
  • Our building was much closer to the beach
  • There is a separate section on the beach with nicer beach chairs and a quiet atmosphere
  • The lounge has AC and WiFi and makes the best drinks in the resort
  • Swimming Pool was never crowded
  • Room was clean and we didn't have any issues
  • Ease of booking dinner reservations with the butler instead of visiting the restaurant itself
However, I was pretty disappointed by the lack of activities and service. We actually spent a lot of time in the main resort as there's not much going on in the Sanctuary. I was expecting to great service from the butler and 24hr room service which was not experienced. Additionally, I wanted the resort to have many activities which in hindsight is my fault for choosing a resort with "Sanctuary" in the name.

I do think for some people, this would be VERY WORTH IT. There were many older couples at the resort. The convenience of going to one restaurant that's close to your room would be a big draw. I think if you are looking for a quiet getaway, the amenities will be exactly what you are looking for. I forgot how loud kids can be until we ate at a non-Sanctuary restaurant and went to the main pool.

TL:DR: Worth it if you want peace and quiet, upscale amenities, and are content with each others' company. Not worth it if you are expecting personalized service, lively activities, and meeting new people.


Grand Memories lobby

Since we spent a lot of time in the main resort, I thought I'd share some photos of Grand Memories Varadero resort.

Grand Memories lobby bar

Lounge area outside the lobby

Grand Memories rooms

Nice landscaping throughout

I didn't discover this coffee cocktail menu until the second to last day!

Alexander Coffee- Yum!

Map of the resort.

I hope that was a helpful review of whether it's worth it and the amenities at the Sanctuary Grand Memories Varadero. If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave a comment below!

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