In the middle of January when winter was fighting to hold on with everything it had, we decided to escape and head south.
We traveled to Varadero, Cuba from January 12 – 20 and stayed at the all-inclusive Memories Varadero Beach Resort. Online, Memories is listed as family -friendly with a lot of things to do for everyone in the family. In researching if this destination was a good fit for us, we checked the reviews out on Trip Advisor.
After reading a lot of the negative reviews, we almost canceled our trip, but now that we have been there and experienced the resort for ourselves, that would have been a mistake. We are all glad we made up our own minds to go.
We traveled from Edmonton, Alberta with my husband and our two daughters, ages 4.5 years and 20 months old at the time. Joining us at the same resort, a couple of days later, was my sister and brother-in-law from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
For reference, my husband, two girls and I stayed on the third floor in an ocean-view room in building 33 and my sister and brother-in-law stayed on the third floor in building 34, also an ocean-view.
For more information on this resort you can read my post on Tips for Traveling to Cuba with Kids.
Getting Around Memories Varadero Beach Resort
This resort is very big and it covers a large area. Walking from the rooms nearest to the ocean back up to the lobby took us about 15 minutes at a solid pace with our girls in a stroller. It is a nice walk and we really enjoyed it, but if you have mobility issues you will want to look in to where you want to spend the majority of your time while at the resort as well as the floor you are on (the buildings are three stories tall, no elevators).
The lobby, main restaurant and quiet pool are located close together so if you think you may have issues getting around, you may want to request a room closer to the lobby.
Or, if you want to spend your time on the beach and near the kids and activity pool (louder pool), then you may want an ocean-view room or a room in the back half of the resort.
There are vehicles that drive around the resort and can pick you up and drop you off, but they aren’t on a set schedule and are sometimes busy with picking up guests who are checking out to get them and their luggage to the front to catch the bus.
If you are traveling with kids who get tired (younger kids), bring a stroller. We brought our double stroller and it was one of the best decisions we made. Our girls loved staying out longer, but were sometimes too tired to walk. With the stroller, they sat and enjoyed the surroundings.
The Diamond Club is offered for an extra charge when you are purchasing your hotel stay at Memories. At our time of booking, it came to about $100 extra per adult. As part of the Diamond Club membership, you get access to some items like premium drinks at the front bar. This was a nice change when we ordered a drink at the front and there is a noticeable difference between some brands of alcohol.
There is also a section of beach that is for Diamond Club members and drink service right on the beach if you are a member.
As part of the Diamond Club, we had access to a concierge and were assigned someone to help us with check in. Having young kids, this was a nice feature. Our concierge was Leodanys. Leodanys first came by when we were eating lunch by the activity pool and asked if he could chat when we were done.
He spent some time with us going over the resort and telling us some things we may not have otherwise known about. I’ll say it again, the resort is huge, and there is a lot going on, too much to share at an orientation, so having access to Leodanys was great.
Leodanys told us about all of the various restaurants, but he also told us at what times we can go back to the restaurants for special events. One of the restaurants also serves as a late-night lounge, the other, as a breakfast buffet in the mornings, and so on.
Since he could see we were there with our young girls, he asked if he could make a note to let the people who fill our fridge know that we would like additional water each day and that day when we returned to our room, there was more water for our girls.
Leodanys was just all around great. When he noticed us, he walked over and said ‘hello’ wherever we were and he kissed our oldest daughter’s hand. I have never seen a four year old grin so big.
The staff was very accommodating and we never felt ignored. Yeransy was the maid in our room and she was amazing. Every day, she left new towel art for our daughters to find, and even dressed some in their own clothes.
The front desk staff answered our questions and the Sunwing staff worked hard to make sure my sister’s lost luggage was found and even had it sent straight to her room to surprise her.
With so many guests at the resort, it is easy to get lost, but staff remembered us. For example, our daughters liked getting a slush drink to enjoy on the stroll back to our room, but I had asked if each drink could be in plastic cups (no breaking), less than half full (no spilling, moderated sugar) and with straws (no spilling). I only asked once and the lady who served us remembered and made them that way the rest of our stay.
Our room had one king-sized bed and we had a cot brought in to the room for our oldest to sleep on. We ended up sliding the cot in-between our bed and the wall so it made an even larger bed. Also in the room was a fridge stocked daily with water and cola, a desk, a safe, a television, and a large balcony.
The balcony was very safe and I had no worries with our girls dancing and playing on the balcony.
The bathroom had a tub and a shower. The only thing we noticed was that a lot of the fixtures in the bathroom were a little loose, so it was just a matter of being aware and not grabbing everything in sight. The resort showed its age here.
For my sister and brother-in-law, we noticed some small ants on the floor in their bathroom (there were none in ours). They weren’t bothered by them, but it is worth mentioning.
Banks and Exchanging Money
There are two currency exchanges located at the resort. One of the guides told us that many of the resort-based currency exchanges in the area had been shut down (and this hotel is only one of three left that offer this service) so hopefully there will still be a currency exchange on site in the future. Regardless, this is a great feature to have so close by.
The first currency exchange is located in the front lobby and, outside of breaks, it is open 24 hours. This location almost always had a line up with the exception of extremely late at night.
The second location is beside the theatre and is about half way between the front lobby and the beach. The lineup was never more than one-person long. This location is not open 24 hours.
When doing any transactions at the currency exchange, you will need to have your passport with you for identification. You may want to ask for some smaller bills when you exchange your money as well. Singles are good for tipping or giving to kids to go to the store for a treat.
It is illegal to enter or leave Cuba with Cuban currency. Travel with your own currency and exchange it when you arrive. Do not travel with US currency, there are fees associated with exchanging US and it will not work out in your favour. We went down with Canadian funds and the exchange rate was very close to par.
The main buffet in the lounge of Memories Resort is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are a lot of food options everywhere and there are even chefs cooking on site, so you can order your own pasta, seafood, etc. Our girls enjoyed the salads, fruit, chicken, pasta, fries, and ice cream. We found some of the food to be a little on the bland side, but it wasn’t a vacation destroyer for us.
There are snack bars at both of the pools and, at times, they were a little low on food, but we usually made due. One funny story we had was when my husband tried to order a plate of fries at the snack bar and he was told that they were out of fries, so he ordered a hotdog. When the hotdog came out, it had a big side of fries with it.
In the evening, there are a total of six restaurants that open up around the resort (in addition to the buffet) to serve a wide range of cuisines including Japanese, French, and Italian to name a few. The restaurants book up fast and we were only able to get in to the Mediterranean restaurant one of the nights. It was close to the beach and fairly open to the elements, and there was a couple of instances of moths flying around the food which turned me off of many of the opened trays. They had a grill going though, and the chicken and seafood were both very good.
We attended the gala dinner one night and it was a fun experience for all of us. Lobster was served to everyone and, while it was slightly over cooked (probably due to being a mass meal), it was still very good.
As anywhere, you need to travel with an open mind about food and find what you like. For example, there is a beef shortage in Cuba, so the hotdogs contain mostly pork and have a different taste and texture. The buns are denser than in Canada. The bread was dense too, but it wasn’t as bad for sandwiches. Find what you like. For me, I loved eating breakfast at the small buffet near the ocean (it’s hidden in the Mediterranean restaurant in the mornings), I had a coffee, juice, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and some cheese on buttered bread.
Drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic)
There are many locations to get different kinds of drinks. The bar in the lobby at the front is open 24 hours and, for those who opt in for the Diamond Club, this is the location that serves the premium drinks as well as the regular.
I recommend asking for a Miami Vice at the front bar. It is strawberry daiquiri mixed with Pina Colada and it is delicious. Across from this bar is a coffee bar where you can order espressos, coffee, tea and some slush-type drinks for the kids. I loved the coffee here.
Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks can also be found around Memories at different locations as well as at both snack bars (located at the activity and quiet pools). There are also a couple of locations near and on the beach. We were able to order non-alcoholic slush drinks for our girls as well.
Resort Activities and Entertainment
Memories excels in entertainment. If the beaches and pool aren’t enough for you, there are a number of free day and evening activities for kids, families and adults. The activities are listed on the entrance in to the theatre and include the location of each. For example, there is dancing and playing inside a big giant ball at the activity pool, music on the beach, dancing in the square and every night, there is something going on in the theatre including various dance routines and wonderful musical shows.
Retail and Convenience Stores
The convenience store located on the premises was nice to have. The store included snacks, drinks (non-alcoholic and alcohol), diapers in various sizes, a small selection of clothes and shoes, cigars and a few other items. The store did not sell any medication or health items such as Tylenol, Tums, etc so bring your own.
If you are thinking about packing snacks, know that they do sell Pringles and Gatorade at the convenience store. The convenience store in the main building closes around 7 or 8 in the evening shortly after supper time, so if you need anything, make sure you pick it up early.
If you want to buy some art, or local items, but don’t want to leave the resort, an area at the theatre opens at 8 :00p.m. each night were you can purchase some items. Note that they usually don’t barter at this location and the prices are slightly higher than in Varadero, but you can find some nice things there.
There is a doctor’s office located on the resort premises for any emergencies. They are open during regular hours and you can find those out at reception if needed.
As far as family-friendly goes, we were extremely happy with Memories resort. Our daughters only brought one sand toy and a doll each, with them and they didn’t complain once that there was nothing to do.
To start, there is the beach. Countless hours were spent digging in the sand, collecting shells and playing in the ocean. One thing that worked well for us was bringing Ziploc baggies on our trip. Our girls grabbed a bag every time we headed out and they collected treasures to look at. Time flew by while we were on the beach having fun together.
Around the resort, kids are very much included in daily activities. There is a kids area where you can drop off your little ones to spend some time with the staff while you have some quiet time. I can’t write more about this because we did not take advantage of this. It was our first time at this resort and there was just too much to do, but we did drop in to take a look around and our girls visited with the kids there and coloured for a few minutes. Everyone was having a great time. I will say that I did notice a lack of toys to play with and if we go again, I will most likely pack some old toys that we don’t need to donate to this room.
I spoke to a staff member in the kid’s area and she told me that all of the kids at the resort were invited to practice a small dance routine one afternoon and that they would be included in a show that was being put on in the theatre on the Thursday evening.
In front of the kid’s room is a playground and a small baby pool that had water in it three of the days we were there. There is also a kids pool (not deep) right beside the activity pool and our daughter loved going by in the afternoon to meet up with her ‘new friends’.
The staff members are all so friendly towards children and our girls felt very welcome everywhere they went and when our kids are having a great time, we are having a great time.
There are two adult pools on the resort premises; a quiet pool for relaxing and an activity (loud) pool for more upbeat fun. We spent time in both pools and they are both great.
The quiet pool is calm. There is no music, shouting, or playing loudly, and it is a wonderful place to relax, read a book and enjoy time on your own. The fun feature in this pool is the swim-up bar.
The activity pool has music and activities and there are a lot of people to watch. This is a fun place to meet other guests, play some games, or go to have fun at a faster pace. The fun feature in this pool is the water slide and the bar in the cave, under a waterfall. At the time we were at the resort, the pools closed at 6 :00p.m.
If you can get an ocean front room, I highly recommend it. Our main attraction was the beach and when we were at Memories, it is probably where we spent most of our time so being close to the beach was a real benefit for us. The beach was clean, and it had a great atmosphere. The walk in to the ocean was gradual and the water was amazing.
There was no shortage of shells to keep us and our girls busy and, while we were there, high waves one night took a portion of the sand away a little walk down the beach and had unearthed a number of beautiful shells that washed back to shore with each wave. We had a lot of laughs in the water as we collected the shells the next morning.
Things I would have done differently
1) Money Exchange – To save time, I would have exchanged more of our money to CUC at once. This would save an extra trip to the currency exchange bank when we wanted to be out enjoying the beach.
2) Restaurant Booking – I would have booked all of our restaurants as soon as I saw the booking lady was free the first time I walked in to the area. Regular guests can wait for over an hour to book, so if you know where you want to go, book it right away. If you are a Diamond Club member, you can book in the Diamond Club members room. Generally the lines are shorter, but we had someone in front of us that had a lot to do, so it was still a wait. VIP can book restaurants ahead of time, before they even get to the hotel. If I could have, would have done this to ensure we got the restaurants we wanted and to save time, again, standing in lines.
3) Packing Food – Knowing that they carried more food items, including the Gatorade and Pringles, I would not have packed those. We did however pack a big selection of bran breakfast bars that I would definitely pack again.
It has been four months since our visit and we still talk fondly about our time together in Cuba. Getting up in the morning and knowing that our only goal as a family that day was to build sand castles and collect shells was fantastic.
We have a ton of photos of our vacation, but I’m only sharing the ones pertaining to this review here. If you want to see more, book your trip and take your own photos ;).
This review is on Memories Varadero Beach Resort in Varadero Cuba, I cannot speak for any other resorts in Cuba, or other Memories resorts as I have not been there… yet.
Disclosure: I received a media rate to help facilitate this review. All of the opinions in this review are my own and are not influenced by any outside factors.