11 JUL 2018: Some clients want a beach, a pool, a great bed, and a drink. For them, the vacation is a chance to unwind, and get reacquainted with their loved ones. They do not want to run around and see things.  

Villa Clara Keys fits that purpose beautifully. It has been a popular destination in Cuba since the 48km causeway was opened in1995. In 1999 the Villa Las Brujas opened with 24 rooms, my first trip was there in 2001 shortly after the opening of Melia's Sol Cayo Santa Maria. And, even though this destination was badly hit last fall by Hurricane Irma, when I was there at the end of the November, most of the resorts were open and ready for your clients. Last May when I arrived again, it was better than ever. Today there are 10,572 rooms in 17 resorts, with 3,000 more opening this year.

The hotel is less than 18 years old, and everything has had a coat of paint, and other updates after the hurricane last September. They've also opened two new tourist plazas. The whole area looks fresh and new.

So, how do you help your clients choose?

You know the main brands like Melia, Iberostar, and Memories but there's some new names around.

The Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts' first Dhawa property in Cuba launched at the end of 2016. It is the first Asian hospitality group to enter the Island.

This property according to Annika Klint, managing director of the KAI group which represents Banyan Tree in Canada, is a "modern contemporary property being marketed toward a sophisticated and younger crowd, with a focus on cuisine including French, Italian and Cuban specialties."

I have never spent so much time in a lobby as I did when I stayed at the Dhawa. No, not lining up at the lobby to complain, in fact I found the front desk staff amazing, even when they had a crush of International Journalists all explaining at the top of their lungs how important they were. I had some problems I needed the front desk to help fix and each time they went out of their way to solve the problem.

The lobby is as it should be ... the living room of the resort.

Artfully divided into sections, it was very livable. The happening 24- hour bar was in a separate area, and another section has a sit-down area where people used WiFi and listened to the live entertainment. In other parts of the lobby were comfy chairs and pleasant efficient bar staff waited on the whole area.

I was able to get Chivas scotch, which is really quite rare in an all-inclusive. The second day I was there checking my email, when the server arrived. "What age of Chivas would you like?" She asked. I didn't even know you could choose 12- year old, 15 or the very rare 25- year old Chivas. Of course, I ordered the 25 year old, and then spent several nights sipping my favourite drink. In an all-inclusive? Simply amazing.

And yes, there were TV's, and also in one corner a pool table with a large comfy couch for your clients’ fans to cheer the game on. Outside the bar, between it and the big lobby, is a courtyard garden... I saw a fashion show there one day.

The resort has 516 rooms, one half with an ocean view, 246 Superior, 122 Deluxe, 120 Premium Ocean- front, 16 Junior Ocean Front, 12 Premium ocean front one bedroom suites. There are 5 dining rooms, and four bars, one a swim-up. The covered theatre holds 545.

There are two huge pools, a lovely beach, no not quite as long as some others in the area but very acceptable. Of course, there is a spa, a gym, and a kid's club.

Poolside is a huge 24 -hour snack bar, and guests raved about the fast food there. "Get there early for the pizza,” I was told. Someone else said, “have the calamari.”

Was every guest happy? Of course not. Since the Villa Clara Keys decided to centralize some services, there are problems with some of the third party central suppliers that the hotels have to use - like laundry. And every resort in the area has the same problems. These are mostly the issues guests complain about - Wifi cards, and towels.

I'd love to see the people running the spray truck given more time to do their job, so they could pause for a moment while people walk by instead of spraying them.

The biggest asset in this resort is the G.M. Jose Luis Barrera (pictured below). He seems to be everywhere. I even came across him carrying a suitcase for a very pregnant guest. He was so thoughtful, I thought the guest must be his wife, but it wasn't.

I found the entire staff amazing, during my visit, and I'm sure it came from Jose's example.

He also replies to all reviews personally and gives an individual reply to each one.

I found my myself reading them all, and some out loud to my husband, who said "That guy is good."

Indeed, he is.



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Sam Ion

The expert on All Inclusives, Sam delivers up-to-date info on alternate Wednesdays in her column Not Just All Inclusives.

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