Cuba: The Lodging
16 - 22 June 2017
"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"
I stayed in three different hotels and four different rooms while in Cuba. This was by design.
On 14 June, while in Tampa ahead of the U2 show that evening, I finally booked the first night (16 June) at the Four Points by Sheraton in the Miramar district. I also booked the last two nights at the Hotel Deauville.
That was all I had arranged prior to leaving the States. That left me with three open nights for maximum flexibility. At least that was the thought.
A big irritation — amid the broader stress of planning this trip — was in trying to find hotels with options to cancel, in case the whole trip fell apart and in the event my plans while in Cuba changed. Even for those who did offer a cancellation period, it tended to expire several days before check-in.
Four Points by Sheraton, Miramar District
Upon arrival in Havana, I decided to take advantage of what the Four Points had to offer — including a free shuttle into Old Havana (the hotel's 12 km/7.45 miles outside Old Havana). Given the 3-hour flight delay, I arrived at the hotel later than expected, and only 15 minutes before the next shuttle departed. I dumped my gear in my room and hopped on the bus. No time for a more casual adjustment to Cuba!
I then booked a second night at the Four Points via Elvoline — yes, while in Cuba! The nightly rates were reasonable, particularly given the high quality of the rooms. But it was also too nice; it wasn't the Cuban experience I was looking for.
- Nightly rate paid (Friday, Saturday): $159.68USD (Double Room), $127.12USD (Single Room) - allowed to stay in same room both nights
- Breakfast: N/A
- Location: 2/4 (for what I was doing)
- Room Quality: 4/4
- Overall: 3.5/4
Hotel Clasico Plaza, Old Havana
Given some of the logistical and timing issues with attempting an excursion at the last minute, on Sunday I booked a night at the Hotel Clasico Plaza (or, simply, Hotel Plaza) for Monday night, then finally booked a second night at the Plaza for Tuesday night.
That little issue with timing led to my checking into two different rooms at the Plaza. The first was a single-person room. It was room number 437. A room I will never forget. It made me think of the old expression back when I was a kid: 7734 upside down spells "hELL." Room 437 was indeed the room from Hell. The air conditioning didn't work. The refrigerator didn't, either. It was a frickin' sauna. But I dealt with it. It was quite the ordeal checking in. The front desk spent an hour trying to find and confirm my reservation, made online via Elvoline the day before. Processing time? A little slow. Deal with the room, or deal with the front desk.
The second night was a little more expensive, but it was thankfully a two-person room and I therefore was able to check out of 437 and get into a bigger room with a working A/C unit.
Breakfast was located in a rooftop dining area. I pretty much stuck with pastries and fruit, along with juices and coffee. It was a so-so experience.
At breakfast on Wednesday morning, a Hotel Plaza marketing guy came by with a survey. I let it rip on room 437 and recommended it no longer be used, at least not before fixing it up. They'll need to catch up with current standards before they'll be able to keep the proposed influx of tourists happy.
The other service I used was the phone. Yeah. I had to wait outside for a guy to finish his call, then a woman behind a window "patched me in" with the number to a classic car driver. It was the only way I could get ahold of him; his email bounced back as being blocked by a spambot. I then paid the woman for the local call toll.
The place has history. It dates back to 1909 and some of the hallways have historic photos documenting its illustrious past. It'd be great to see the PLaza restored to its former glory and fixed up for modern times.
- Nightly rate paid (Sunday, Monday): $93.73USD (Single Room), $156.84USD (Double Room)
- Breakfast: 2.5/4
- Location: 4/4
- Room Quality: 2.5/4
- Overall: 2.5/4
Hotel Deauville, Old Havana
The final two nights were at the Hotel Deauville, which provided me with a long balcony and view of the Malecon. It was the cheapest place I stayed at ($75USD/night) and it was also the best. No, the "quality" wasn't on par with the Four Points, but everything else was much more in line with a decent Cuban experience. A great view, convenient location, working A/C all balanced by an overheated lobby and restaurant that were less than comfortable along with a broken elevator and a semi-comfortable bed.
The Elvoline site was a savior. It was a site I stumbled on while looking for cancel-friendly hotel rooms. Other sites offered higher rates, a smaller selection and absolutely no cancellations. Being able to book while in Cuba — without digging into my limited cash — helped make the trip run smoothly, at least in terms of an American in Cuba.
The dining room was overly warm, but they had live music during breakfast. Much like the Plaza, the food was a little suspect, so I stuck with pastries and fruit.
As shown in the photo gallery, the furniture in my room was a little worn, but it was also inconsequential to my stay. I liked the place. Particularly the location.
- Nightly rate paid (Tuesday, Wednesday): $85.98USD (Double Room)
- Breakfast: 2.75/4
- Location: 4/4
- Room Quality: 3.25/4
- Overall: 3.5/4
Hotel Ambos Mundos, Old Havana
I attempted to book a night at the Ambos Mundos, to take in more of the Hemingway vibe. Alas, while Elvoline indicated a room was available, it wasn't meant to be. The reservation was canceled, there were no vacancies.
My impression is it's a nice place with a reasonable staff. Granted, when I asked reception about vacancies, the woman wasn't heartwarming and friendly when she told me no rooms were available. (Hence, the online attempt.)
The bar area — and its access to Wi-Fi — became a bit of a haunt for me. La Bodeguita del Medio, another Hemingway favorite, also served as a sort of work station for this traveler in need of food.
One of the classic taxi drivers questioned my staying in hotels. He wondered why I wasn't staying in a casa particular, a room in a house, a sort of Cuban spin on the bed and breakfast. It's cheaper, better he advised.
Sure. Cheaper. Better. But also more challenging to coordinate when one is in a country without use of a smartphone and with Wi-Fi extremely limited. Making the connections and coordinations with those houses is less than convenient in such an environment, even with all those payphones hanging around. Compounding matters, virtually all of my cash transactions involved paper currency; my pockets weren't jingling with convertible coins to use in those payphones. Sure, I had some coins on occasion, but it's simply one more factor in the "convenience" equation.
By the way, while I was trying to make arrangements with this driver, his email bounced back with a permanent error. Finding him on the street later, I confirmed I had the correct address. Checking the error again, the delivery failure message said the client host had been blocked by spamcop.net.