*Ash's Melia Las Dunas Review*
Posted 15 July 2009 - 01:37 AM
So here goes:
Sell Off Vacations-- Brilliant and Dilligent TA afer months of insanity
After the CRAZINESS of cancellations and swine flu, DH and I decided to make our final travel arrangements through the new Group Booking chapter of Sell Off Vacations. Their GB department was able to get us a half dozen quotes for Cuba and Jamaica within two days-- and as time was of the essence, it was amazing to have such dilligent and efficient TAs helping us out. Within a week of our inquirey our entire group was rebooked, and at about $300 less than our previous quote. WOO HOO!
They were able t coordinate an upgrade to Executive Class on our flights, and also a beautiful upgrade for our room at the resort for both weeks. It was a thousand times smoother than with our previous TA, and we were very pleased with the service.
Air Canada Vacations-- Flights
Not typically a fan of Air Canada, as I have found their cutbacks have left flights sparse for both service and ammenities. However, our Executive Class upgrade was fantastic! Phenomenal service, really great food both ways, and the mega roomy seats made our trip that much more enjoyable.
On the way home I was extremely nervous about having my entire family and most of my best friends all stuffed into the same metal tube hurling through the sky. Our flight attendent was great and didn't judge me at all as I requested drink after drink to calm my nerves. WOW. I'm not usually a nervous flying, but this one was tough.
BIG BUMMER-- We flew home with our family and friends, and although our Executive Class experience was positive we later found out that our guests had a terrible flight home. They ran out of food (purchasable food, as ACV doesn't offer complimentary meals to Economy Class passengers) they weren't accomodated when requesting beverages, and the staff told them that they could not have full beverage cans because "they were running low and wouldn't have enough." Luckily our family and friends are very laid back, so no one was terribly upset. But it was disappointing, nevertheless.
Santa Maria Airport
We arrived to the Santa Maria Airport at 3:30pm (really cute little airport). Due to Swine Flu issues the airport workers were adorned with masks, and we were required to fill out a "Health Questionnaire" that had to confirm we were in good health. (Which was scary, because I had laryngitis-- Uh oh)
The customs guards immediately snatched my wedding dress from me and sat in on a random table in the middle of the customs check-in area. They were trying to send me through customs without my dress-- LUCKILY I speak Spanish so I was able to chat with the Customs Officer that had taken it, and he said they didn't need it for anything and that I should just take it. (RANDOM and a little worriesome. If this happens, chat with someone IMMEDIATELY. If you cross Customs without it, you may not see it again.)
Air Canada Vacations had their rep and a bus waiting to take guests to the three islands, so we grabbed our luggage (which arrived promptly after crossing through customs) and headed to the air conditioned bus. We then embarked on the 1 1/2 hour trip out to Cayo Santa Maria accross the causeway. Great ride!
Melia Las Dunas-- Arrival
I have travelled a lot to all-inclusives in my life-- but NEVER have I experienced such a smooth check-in! It was AMAZING!
DH and I headed off the ACV bus, told the bell boys which bags were ours, and were guided into a room where they immediately handed us an envelope that had our room number printed on the front. Inside the envelope were: our bracelets for the week (Newlyweds, honeymooners and wedding couples get special ones. YAY) ; a map of the resort, and the flip-side held information like pool and restaurant hours, dress code, etc. ; and our room keys.
We headed to our room to get settled in, and the bell boys arrived almost immediately with our bags.
The Room-- Superior Suite (Don't know the actual name)
Our room was great! Upon entering the room there was a little foyer area for shoes with a mirror and a little ledge for keys, camera, etc. (We stored our extra suitacases behind the door in the area)
Then you walk into a little seating-area with a chair, couch and coffee table. We had a bottle of champagne waiting for us, with two glasses and matches for candles. The bed was a Super-King, and we literally could lie stretched-out without touching one-another. It was HUGE. The matress was TERRIBLY uncomfortable (and I've never complained about a mattress in my life) It was very hard, and didn't offer much for support. However, they have extra body pillows in the closet-- so that seemed to help.
There was a great little balcony with an ocean view. It held a wicker table and chair set, and I spent a lot of time out there reading and enjoying the days. It was great in the rain!
The room also has a little walk-in sink area, with the bathroom to the left-- NICE deep tub, and fabulous water pressure. To the right of the sink area is a walk in closet. Perfect for a wedding dress. There was also complimentary slippers for each of us, and robes too.
(Will add pics of room as soon as I can get them loaded)
The evening we arrived we decided to eat at the main buffet. (There are three buffet restaurants) I had braced myself for crappy food, as I had travelled to Cuba before and been unimpressed with the taste and selection. (Especially when we had been preparing for the incomparable deliciousness that is Mexican food) However, we were pleasantly surprised! The buffet was HUGE, and the food was really great. Although the spices aren't quite as pleasing to the tongue they had a great variety of veggies and meat that accomodated most preferences. DH and I actually ate sushi the first night-- they had this great little sushi master making custom-order sushi. Yum!
We were lucky enough to eat at almost all of the a la cartes (didn't get to the Oriental) As we got 4/ week because of our room classification.
Our favorite A la Carte restaurant was the little Pizza place called "Mi Conuco" it was AMAZING!! They make it all right there in front of you, and the service was great.
The night of the rehearsal dinner the WC had coordinated a group reservation for our entire guest party at "El Romantico" which is the nicest a la carte. They said that children under 7 couldn't enter, but we brought my 2 year old half-sister anyway and they didn't bat an eye. The pork medallions were my favorite but DH really enjoyed the Filet Mignon.
The Italian restaurant was our least favorite, followed by the Caribbean restaurant. The options at the Caribbean were limited, but the guitar duo there was some of the best entertainment around. The Italian was just bland, but the service there was outstanding.
All of the A la carte restaurants had PHENOMENAL entertianment (except for the Pizza place, there was nobody there) Grand Piano in "El Romantico", Spanish guitar trio at the Italian restaurant (My favorite!) cute little guitar duo at the Caribbean, etc.
All in all, surprisingly great food!
To be Continued...
Posted 15 July 2009 - 02:05 AM
OUr WC was Maria Elena-- she was an absolute goddess and very likely the most organized person I've ever met. Because DH and I arrived a week earlier than she'd thought we did, we ended up having to track her down on our own (we were heading to Havana for two days, and wanted to plan before we took off) As soon as we met her, she had a time and place ready for our meeting.
The very next day we sat down with an espresso and Maria Elena and planned everything in under a 1/2 hour. Flowers, Ceremony Location, Reception, Music, Menu, Special Requests, Photog, Videographer... EVERYTHING. Thanks to BDW DH and I already had a great idea of what we wanted-- we had scoped the various ceremony locations, the types of flowers we wanted, and the menu ahead of time.
I was a little wary of securing such vital things so close to the big day, but it was perfect. Very smooth. I felt confident that the day would be perfect. Our WC had already made a group reservation for us at "El Romantico" as a rehearsal dinner, and had booked my hair app't. (Although I wish I would have made it for an hour earlier-- had a bit of a fiasco)
It was GREAT to have everything in place before our guests arrived, and the big day went beautifully!
Havana 2-Day Tour
DH and I decided to go to Havana for two days on the "2-days by bus" excursion. IT cost $169cuc and was worth every penny. IT included trasportation to and from Havana (5 hours); hotel room (beautiful hotel called the Panoramic Havana-- right on the Bay) ; and tour of the city.
We also paid extra to see the Tropicana Show. It was a really great night, very entertaining and I'm happy that we saw it. The only thing that was disappointing was the service-- our waitress was HORRIBLE. She was extremely rude, and seemed to have little tolerance for our group.
I would definitely recommend the Havana 2-Day tour ONLY IF you are staying for two weeks. It takes up a very large chunk of time, and would take away from a one week vacation.
(Our hotel in Havana had English CNN so DH and I were able to watch the entire Michael Jackson drama play out live before going to the Tropicana. As a big fan it put a damper on the show that evening.)
On the Thursday after the wedding (which was on Tues) we took 21 of our guests out on the catamaran tour. It was probably my second favorite part of the week (second only to the wedding, of course) We took off from the resort at 9am on a large tour bus and headed to the port on Las Brujas (One of the adjacent islands). The tour was PACKED with people, but we took up an entire side of the boat so our group was able to stay together all day.
The Catamaran was HUUUUUUGE! It holds 65ppl, and was a beautiful ride. It had two bathrooms, an open bar, and the most fantastic Cuban crew a girl could ask for.
The tour includes a stop at a secluded island, two snorkelling stops and a lobster lunch. Both were fantastic-- and we spent our stop on the island jumping off the boat into the water (having diving / back-flip competitions
The snorkelling wasn't great, but the first stop takes you to a sunken ship-- very cool! Our group had a great time and we saw a baracuda, a jellyfish and a few starfish-- as well as a million beautiful tropical fish.
If you're contemplating an excursion, THIS IS THE ONE! It's the most popular, and I can definitely see why.
MLD-- Random info. Bars / Shows / Disco
Shows-- Meh. They did a lot of the "individual participation" shows. They had very talented entertainment staff, and it would have been nicer to see them dance and showcase their own talents as opposed to watching drunken tourists gyrate. A lot of singing (in English) and not enough dancing.
Bars-- We spent a lot of time at the 24 hour sports bar. It was extremely close to the beach and very central as a meeting spot. They served great food all day and night and also served bottled imported beer. (Corona and Becks)
NOTE: When it rains on this island the crabs LOVE to come ashore. One evening a scary looking white crab almost snapped my friend Mike at the sports bar. A littttttle frightening.
The Lobby is definitely the hoppin' place in the evenings. The bartenders there are probably some of the best staff. If you can, find Eduardo and ask him for an "Especial Eduardo." Best drink on the resort!
The Disco-- the BEST airconditioning on the resort. Our crew preferred to hang out at the more low-key pubs, but my BM and a friend and I decided to hit the disco one night. They played GREAT tunes, and the entertainment staff is readily available to teach you the Samba, merengue or salsa. So fun!
Beach bar was fantastic, but very busy. The Beach restaurant was delicious and they served beautiful paninis stuffed with fresh veggies. Sooooo yummy and perfect for the beach.
If you are thinking of doing "welcome drinks" try and ammalgamate everyone at the 24 hour sports bar. It's the easiest place to find lots of empty seats, and has a great atmosphere. Tip the servers, and they will make sure you don't go thirsty.
Wedding Info Comming...
Posted 15 July 2009 - 02:30 AM
After much deliberation DH and I decided to spend the night before the wedding together. I'm really glad we did. It was really great and relaxing to wake up next to him, and know that the next time we saw eachother it would be as I walked down the aisle. He got up and left for "Breakfast with the Boys" at 8:00am and I didn't see him again until 6pm at the ceremony.
My sister / MOH did a great job of arranging a Girls / Boys itinerary. Her ultimate goal of the whole week was the keep DH and myself from seeing eachother on the big day. SO the girls all met for breakfast at 9:30 at the poolside restaurant on the adult side. We stayed at the pool and tanned for the morning, and at 2pm I headed up to my room to prepare some last minute favors for the evening. (candy bags-- pics later) I had taken my uncle up with me to help (He's never been out of Sask!), and we sat on the balcony, had a coffee and chatted about the week so far. TIME FLEW! Before I knew it I had to head to my hair app't (4pm)
Hair Salon-- 4pm
BAAAAAAD experience. It took them FOREVER to curl my hair, and while they curled it they assumed I didn't speak Spanish and proceeded to talk trash about "snotty" tourists who just got pampered all day long while they worked their off. I hadn't even said a word, and so when they asked me what type of flower I wanted, I answered in Spanish. They sheepishly asked if I spoke Spanish, I answered yes. THey were nothing but angels after that. Talk about putting your pie in your mouth.
My hair looked NOTHING like the 16 angles of the photo I had provided, and it was 5:30pm by the time the disaster was finished. I rushed back to my room, walked in calmly, and started bawling IMMEDIATELY when I saw my sister. "SOMEBODY FIX MY HAIR PLEASE!" Well my amazing sister / MOH fixed it up in a moment as I applied my make-up, and we were ready to roll at 6pm when Maria Elena arrived.
My bouq was gorgeous-- all white, with a mix of lilies. my BMs carried smaller bouqs that had this crazy flower (the name I can't remember, but I promise pics soon) and two white lilies. They were gorgeous, and mine wasn't too heavy (which I was a little worried about)
We decided not to have extra flowers added to the ceremony, but there are some simple flower decorations added to the location. TBH, I didn't even notice them. lol
Maria Elena prepared bouts for our dads and corsages for our moms-- I also grabbed a flower to give to my grandma with a velum poem that I had found. It represented my grandfathers presence, and I gave it to her as a way of symbolizing him. It was very hard, and very sad, and I am tearful writing this-- but I know it meant a lot to her.
Photog and Videographer
I had done a bit of research, and realized that there were no photogs available in the Santa Maria area for private hire. So after doing a bit of careful planning we found a great resort photog through the FB site I had joined. His name was Alfredo and he did great work. He had the best eye of all the photogs I looked into-- he actually ended up doing a next day TTD for free because he "enjoyed shooting us so much" and wanted to use us in his portfolio. He didn't speak a word of English, and I think he liked that he and I could chat-- he was a really nice guy and spent over two hours with us for TTD. We tipped him well, and he surprised us with extra prints and the end of our stay. ASK FOR ALFREDO. Heart him.
Videographer was also great. Both he and Alfredo arrived at the room to take some "getting ready" footage and photos. The videographer was really great at acting like he "wasn't even there" and we now have a great memory of our ceremony. (I'm sure all brides can attest to the fact that it all goes VERY fast. It's nice to have the DVD memory) The only annoying things was the videographer's shirt. It was this CRAZY loud t-shirt that really made him apparent in a lot of the family photos later on. He cost $150 for the getting ready, the ceremony and the photos and made a beautiful DVD at the end. Tacky music, but a beautiful montage.
We had our ceremony at the Lobby. It was beautiful, and the gazebo is surrounded by water. The funniest part was how busy the lobby was during the ceremony. The location is off to the side, and the other guests were very concious of our ceremony. The best part was when we were walking out to head to photos-- the entire lobby broke into applause, and everyone was shouting "bravo!". It was ABSOLUTELY hilarious!! BUt also, so sweet and memorable.
Reception-- Dinner / Afterparty
The reception was wonderful. We arrived a little late to dinner, but the reception area looked beautiful! We chose to host it at the Poolside Restaurant on the Adult side, and the room looked GORGEOUS when we arrived. My sister did a great job of setting up the centerpieces that we forgot to give Maria Elena (simple orchid floating candles in hurricane vases) and they went beautifully with the decorations that the resort provided.
We chose menu option #4-- started with a Chef salad, followed by a shrimp appetizer and then a Duo of Cremes soup (Tradition Latin American soup. Half Calabaza (pumpkin) half tomatoe. Our main dish was the filet mignon. The resort was great in accomodating our special requests-- one of our GMs is Jewish and couldn't eat the bacon, so they made him a special steak. And two of our younger guests are picky eaters, and recieved chicken instead.
Again, the service at our reception was second to none. We were never without drink or food and our guests were very well taken care of. They have a system to play cds that we had prepared, but we decided to use their Cuban music for our background playist while we ate.
The Cake was really delicious-- it was two tiers (the top was supported by four crystal champagne glasses). They had placed our hilarious cake-topper on ahead of time, and dubbed up "Just Eat it" by Weird Al just in time for us to cut the cake. It was a fun and lighthearted night.
We left the reception and headed to the Disco, but then decided it would be more fun to head to the Sports bar for a nightcap. Everyone was pretty tired from the big day, and we decided it would be more fun to sit and laugh, drink and eat more before calling it a night.
My MIL, mom and myself were treated to an afternoon at the spa (Thanks babe!) the day before we left. We did the hydrotherapy treatment, and then each had a 30min massage. It was UNREAL! THe massage therapists are outstanding, and the facilities are so serene and beautiful.
I would DEFINITELY recommend the hydrotherapy. It was a series of hyrdotherapuetic treatments that is meant to detoxify, hydrate, promote blood flow and relax. I would definitely do it again.
Final Thoughts on MLD
I LOVED this resort. It was a great place to spend our two weeks. The resort is built along the ocean-- which, in Cuba is quite unique. Typically resorts are built perpendicular, making the beach a heck of a walk from most rooms. This resort accomodated every different lifestyle. A great beach with both an entertainment side, and a serene adult area. Fantastic restaurants, mostly fantastic service (with only a few bad bartenders, that chose to ignore us a couple of times) a wonderful spa, and amazing organization.
I WILL return to this resort, and definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a great place to host a wedding. They do many weddings every week, and therefore have mastered the art of hosting a celebration.
I'm so sorry this has been sooooooo long. If anyone has any questions, or notices something HUGE that I missed, please let me know. I hope this helps some of you girls as much as some of these reviews have helped me.
Posted 15 July 2009 - 08:52 AM
I also can't believe that you mentioned how much you loved your photographer and TTD photos, yet you didn't post any. :-)
Congrats on your wedding, and again I can't wait to see some pics.
Posted 15 July 2009 - 09:58 AM
Can't wait to see pics!
Posted 15 July 2009 - 10:19 AM
Posted 15 July 2009 - 10:27 AM
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