Any hope of saving a “vacation from hell” to Cuba?

If you were less than impressed with your last vacation, you’re in good company. Say “hello” to Colette Blanchette, who recently traveled to Cuba for what was supposed to be a relaxing tropical getaway.

It was February, and she and her husband were looking forward to escaping the cold Toronto winter. They’d booked a week at the Husa Cayo Santa Maria through Transat Canada. The trip was booked through her sister-in-law, who is a travel agent.

“We are not inexperienced travelers to Cuba, and know that you don’t go for the food but for the beaches,” she says. “But what we experienced has so soured our outlook on Cuba that we have decided to never travel there again.”

Blanchette calls it a “vacation from hell.”

How did the Husa Cayo, which describes itself as a “five-star” property, let them down? Let us count the ways.

No water. That’s right, they had no water in their room when they checked in. “The water did not come back on until Sunday night,” she says. “The water went off again on Tuesday all day and did not come back on until the evening for the entire resort.” It went out for two more days while they were at the hotel. The situation was so bad, she says, that the resort was directing guests to get water from the pool in order to flush the toilets. Water was not delivered to the rooms, guests had to go to the front desk in order to get bottled water and were limited to one bottle per person.

Food shortages. On top of the water outages, the couple reported frequent food shortages. When they tried to use the buffet on Sunday, they were met with a long line. A few days later, they decided to wait in a long line, only to find that there was no food left at the hot tables. “The line for the pasta and grill stations was one hour long,” says Blanchette. “By Wednesday there was a full-out brawl in the buffet due to the lack of food. People were frustrated and hungry.” (Riots at a tropical resort? That’s something you don’t hear about every day.)

Indifferent management. The couple contacted both the hotel’s management and their tour operator to complain. “Neither were willing to do anything to remedy the situation for the food or the water issues,” she says. “We spoke to other people at other resorts in the region and they assured us that they had water as we were being told that the whole island was out for water, which was a blatant lie. No compensation was offered or any alternative to the situation.”

After she returned to Toronto, Blanchette contacted Transat in writing. It didn’t respond to her, but sent a letter to her travel agent with the following explanation.

We are truly sorry to hear of your disappointment with the services and facilities of the Husa Cayo Santa Maria.

While every property may experience the occasional technical or operational problem, we do expect our guest to be provided with quality service and speedy resolution to any problem reported.

Transat strives to provide memorable holidays and we regret that it was not as expected. It is through this type of feedback that we can confirm the direction and quality of our services and that of our providers. The inconveniences you experienced during your stay are not to the standards of service Transat expects and we convey our sincerest apologies.

A constant and rigorous follow-up is performed to make sure our clients receive all the inclusions they are entitled to.

Regretfully, in some countries there is sometimes an unforeseen lack of supplies or a sudden shortage of hotel staff which prevent the hotel to deliver all the services in accordance with our contract.

This being said, we were assured by management of the resort that any problem reported is promptly attended to. One must keep in mind that conditions in other countries, both natural and man-made, may be significantly different from those we are accustomed to. As such, please know that your comments have been duly noted and a copy of the correspondence was forwarded to hotel management and our product department for their review.

Mrs. Maria Teresa Pont, General Manager of the Husa Cayo Santa Maria has responded and asked that we convey her sincerest apologies for any displeasure you may have experienced during your stay.

She has informed us that due to a major technical problem on the Island of Cayo Santa Maria, the Husa resort experienced a lack of water from time to time. Regarding the food and the lack of condiments, they are redesigning many procedures in the kitchen with new staff in order to offer more quality and variety of food.

Transat offered her a $200 voucher for a future Transat purchase. She wants a full refund. The company didn’t deliver the vacation it promised, plain and simple, she says.

I think a $200 voucher is a nice gesture, but Blanchette will need to book another Transat vacation, which I doubt she wants to do. If hers were a petty laundry list of complaints, I wouldn’t even be writing about this case.

But no water? No food? That’s unacceptable in any country.

Update (June 30): I contacted the tour operator. Here’s its response.

We were sorry to note that the last response letter and offers from our office did not meet with Mrs. Blanchette’s expectations.

With regards to problems affecting lack of water at the Husa Cayo Santa Maria, we were informed by Mrs. Marisa
Pont, General Manager that it was a problem with the main waterline pipe that supplies water to several hotels in the area affecting intermittently the water at the hotel.

As explained in our previous correspondence, this situation was out of the control of Transat, as we cannot predict a water problem or lack of condiment.

While we can understand the concerns raised by Mrs. Blanchette we respectfully consider that she and Mr. Durocher
received and benefited from the components of their package in accordance with our representation. Our offer of
$200.00CAD total was accepted and check cashed by Mrs. Blanchette as a goodwill gesture.

Should I mediate Colette Blanchette's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Erik

    This sounds like the Cuba that people live in: No water, food shortages, and indifferent management.

    I’d almost suggest that as Ms. Blanchette booked a hotel that’s likely co-owned by the Cuban governement, she got what she deserved. However, I also think a contract is a contract, and that yes, Chris, you should mediate her case and get her money refunded.

  • y_p_w

    Uh – Cuba? I think it’s pretty well known that Cuba has lots of economic and infrastructure issues. A visit would be more of an adventure than visiting a country with proper infrastructure.

  • Robert Karpel

    What does her sister, the travel agent, say? And I voted “no”, the company and the hotel are in two different foreign countries, not worth mediating. Besides, the trip was far from ideal, but worth a full refund? In my opinion, no.

  • DChamp

    Can we get people to agree, when we pay in cash, we get a refund in cash?
    They KNOW people won’t use the vouchers, so they might as well give out toilet paper.

  • John Baker

    I’m really sorry that they had a bad time but ultimately they went to a country that has a history of failing to provide its inhabitants with basic services such as food & water. They experienced issues with having food & water which seems to be the “authentic” Cuban experience. This also seems to be what Transat is saying in their letter back.

    Ultimately, Cuba is a third world country economically. At its best, its the USSR of the 80s. If you go, you should expect no customer service plus issues with basic services. It isn’t Florida just a tad farther south.

    Transat takes people other places than Cuba. Maybe they should argue for a larger voucher from Transat to use some where else. Without knowing what they paid for the trip, its hard to know if the $200 is appropriate or not.

  • Jim Zakany

    I would say a full refund of the hotel portion of the cost is the least appropriate resolution.

  • Sabrown71

    You posters are really hostile to the fact these travelers went somewhere out of your comfort zone. I personally would like to visit Cuba but I would insist on food and water.

  • Casa Mariposa Panama

    No matter what country you are travelling to, if the hotel is billed and rated as 5 STAR, then you should expect food and water.

    There is no possible way the OP could have enjoyed their holiday under these conditions, (brawls in the food lines????) and the way Transat treated them was shoddy and downright disrespectful.

    Transat should give a full refund, including the flight, because Transat needs to accept responsibility for the service quality at this resort, and all their service providers. To do otherwise is simply not acceptable.

  • $16635417

    If I’ve been offered cash, or a much larger sum in a voucher, I may take the voucher. An “either or” would be even better. $200 cash or $200 please. $200 cash or $500 voucher…I may be persuaded to take the voucher if it is something I would truly use anyway.

  • Raven_Altosk

    You travel to a 3rd world craphole, you get a 3rd world craphole. I can’t find much sympathy here. Perhaps “Five Star” in Cuba just means they actually have toilets? Working toilets…not so much. But the plumbing is there!

    That said, she deserves her money back, not hotel funny money.

  • backprop

    sounds like the third world is outside of the OP’s comfort zone. Understandably so, but it isn’t my comfort zone that was being violated.

  • backprop

    You can get people to agree to that, but you are failing to understand that Transat is not offering a “refund”.

  • RWD

    Anyone traveling to Cuba gets what they deserve. Good grief.

  • KarlaKatz

    Gee, Cuban resorts aren’t up to snuff? Really? Almost as surprising as finding sand in the Sahara, or expecting tropical sunsets in Siberia.

  • MortarMagnet

    Politics aside, I think she deserves more than a $200 voucher. Europeans and Canadians have been investing heavily in and touring in Cuba for some time now, and this breakdown of services at a 5-star hotel it just unconscionable

    I would mediate this case, Chris. I doubt she will ever see a complete refund, but perhaps a $200 airfare voucher and a complete re-do of the stay as an apology might pique Ms. Blanchette’s interest.

  • vipalpinetours

    Hmmm. It is very surprising Transat did not do more. The travel consultant should also be pursuing this. She can reach out to the different tour organizations as well as her rep with Transat with her consortium if she is small. This is unacceptable. The airline did get her there safely as well as to the resort, so transportation services were provided, but there should be more compensation for the hotel.

  • MarieTD

    They stated that they weren’t inexperienced in travel to Cuba. It sounds as if their previous trips were satisfactory.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Actually, I’d rather have toilet paper than a voucher. TP is at least good for something.

  • Daddydo

    1) Cuba is not ready for tourism. Their infrastructure is miserable! Canadians still love going their. My “People to People” experience was decent, but not spectacular their.
    Last week, I was in Riviera Maya during Tropical Depression Barbara. Dozens of vacationers were moved to bigger and better hotels as flooding did occur. My agency moved all the clients that had insurance for free, (they will get reimbursed by the insurance company) and the others were moved with different options by cost. That’s what travel agents do, not the tour companies (they work with us, not for us during emergencies). No water is an emergency! Collette is blaming the wrong people, it’s her travel agent that needed to be totally involved.

  • Daddydo

    I am still trying to prove that the hotel is a 5 star and by which rating service. Bey I come up with 2 stars at best.

  • Daddydo

    The Paradissius is a great hotel with a great beach, 4 1/2 star all the way. Expensive! You get exactly what you pay for. Be careful with travel to Cuba, it is still illegal for American to just go there. Be sure that your travel agent uses Treasury Dept certified companies.

  • kmwcary

    The hotel bills itself as a 5 star, although the photos don’t look 5 star to me! But Air Canada only rates it 3 and a half. The tripadvisor Canada reviews are mixed.

  • JenniferFinger

    If this vacation had happened in many other countries, I’d say go for it, but I don’t see what luck you’re going to have trying to get more than what she got out of Cuba.

  • kmwcary

    There seems to be a lot of animosity towards Cuba here. Perhaps this is “ignorance breeds contempt” since it has been so difficult and often impossible for US citizens to travel there. However, it is not such an unusual destination for people from other countries. A search on “cuba travel uk” turns up a slew of agencies offering vacations there, plus see: or

  • Cam

    I voted yes, but I don’t think a full refund should be given. Perhaps the amount offered in vouchers but as cash.

  • TonyA_says

    The hotel says it has a cafeteria bar. How much food you think something like that has?

  • Kevin Mathews

    I think it’s interesting that everyone here is bashing Cuba. While I tend to agree with most of the opinions on the country itself, regardless of the country you are in, a 5-Star resort should have similar standards.
    No working water for more than half the stay is NOT up to par…
    Food Shortages should never happen at a resort. Given that they know the number of occupants, they should be able to plan meals accordingly with enough supplies.
    Indifferent Management is a big issue, but I’m willing to bet that they were probably overwhelmed with the number of complaints and requests coming in all at the same time…
    Assuming they got a package deal, I would say that a voucher worth 50-75% of what they paid would be fair compensation.

  • TonyA_says

    Some of the best fishing and diving are in third world countries.
    I’d say be flexible and adjust your expectations.
    My best vacation is doing nothing, vegetating, while on a hammock below the shade of palm trees, sipping juice from a coconut waiting for fishermen to come back with their catch so I can grill that spiny lobster and grouper over coals. Beats living with Manhattan traffic.

  • TonyA_says

    Why? Is there any moral reason for us to hate Cuba? Didn’t that used to be the AMERICAN vacation hotspot till the 50’s or something?

  • TonyA_says
  • emanon256

    I voted for mediation in hopes that they do get some actual money back, as I agree, that sounds like a vacation from hell, but I also have many questions.

    Why is the sister-in-law travel agent silent here? Shouldn’t she be their first point of contact?

    If they spoke to other people who said their hotels had food and water, why didn’t they try to get a room at those hotels and check out of theirs?

    Really? They went to Cuba expecting a “relaxing tropical vacation”? I guess I would too, but with different expectations.

    The water issue is not too uncommon for third world countries, I have stayed at resorts in Mexico that went without water for sometimes over a day. Cuba, does not equal the US or Canada. Its good the resort gave out bottles water, but water outages come with the territory, their agent should have informed them. Although, in the OPs defense, it sounds like the water was out more than usual.

    Whats the deal with condiments? The resort says they complained about a lack of condiments? Did they send a laundry list of nit-picks, or just the serious issues?

    They had to wait an hour for the buffet? Try Vegas, Ive waited over 3 hours of a buffet there, on Thanksgiving we waited 5 hours, had people come and go holding our place in line so that we didn’t go bored. We even had to bring lunch to eat while waiting for the buffet. Also, was the food to be included, could they eat off property?

    I do believe they should get a cash refund if food was promised, and truly not delivered. And if other things were not as promised, they deserve even more money back. But I also think people need to research where they are going, and set their expectations accordingly. If they expected water issues and poorer conditions, they may have still had a good and relaxing time.

  • TonyA_says

    No food, no water, no electricity, no everything. Hmm, isn’t that what a US embargo hopes to achieve? It must have been successful. So why blame the effect when the cause is what you voted for? Duh.

  • bodega3

    I find the hotel’s website to be slow in loading but what I have seen and read on the site so far doesn’t show this property to be an all-inclusive. So did they get meals with their package? If so, they have an issue. If not, they had an inconvenience.

  • TonyA_says

    Cuba not ready for who? You must be reading some nutty propaganda :)
    I’d say AMERICANS are not ready for Cuba while the rest of the world is already there.

  • Deborah Orth

    Except it says that they are from Toronto Canada there is no Canadien Embargo on Cuba

  • TonyA_says

    And what caused Cuba to be that backward? If not for Europeans, it still will.

  • bodega3

    While they wanted to get away to a warm weather destination, they picked a location that is economically depressed and with standards different than what they have at home. I am wondering if they did their homework before picking this property as the reviews are not very positive and certainly doesn’t appear to be what the hotel calls itself as being ‘5 star’.

  • Deborah Orth

    In your original comment you said that the US embargo must have been successful. So why blame the effect when the cause is what you voted for. Please explain how the OP’s who are Canadien voted for the US embargo.

  • backprop

    Great question about the sister-in-law travel agent.

  • DavidYoung2

    While some people feel entitled and some are just whiners, I gotta side with the OP on this. Running water is a basic necessity. Going down to the pool with your trash can to get water to flush your toilet and one bottle of water per person per day in tropical Cuba are not even meeting the basic necessities of living, much less a resort experience. Between the resort, Transat and the agent (even if it’s her sister-in-law), they need to make this right.

  • TonyA_says

    But isn’t Cuba the favorite beach of Canada?

  • TonyA_says

    The YOU in my comment means everyone here.
    I hope YOU are all intelligent enough to know what happened to Cuba.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Just my 2 cents but…

    While I don’t believe the OP should get a full refund, they are certainly needing for something to be done. My feeling is, if the resort wants this customer back again, they need to give them a discount so deep on another visit (and don’t let it expire, please) they have no choice but to come. And THEN – make sure they’re treated like royalty.

    A happy customer tells roughly two or three people of their fun. An angry customer tells roughly 10 to 15. Also, since her sister was the travel agent who will probably not book that resort again because of this, it’s going to cost the resort more in the long run. Add to that, the travel agent sister will probably share with her fellow travel agents what happened and how little the resort offered to make things right.

    In the long run, it will cost them a lot less in bad publicity than it would cost to pony up and invite this couple back as their guests.

    And, yes, it sounds like they stayed at a state run resort.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I’d LOVE to go to Cuba and am on a list at the Cuban tourism office for being available to go on a press trip. To be honest, this could have happened at any resort, anywhere. Because it happened in Cuba, people are up in arms. But, you’re right, I’d have insisted on food and water, too.

  • TonyA_says

    In trip advisor, the manager seems to be saying that food is prepared or served by 2 other nearby restaurants. I have been in other hotels (not in Cuba) where you eat outside the hotel for an inclusive meal.
    From the looks of it this is a small hotel trying to do a Thomas the tank engine since Cuba’s tourism is booming thanks to Canadians and Europeans. Chinese coming soon.
    Anyway, maybe the TO arranged the meals like in most tours.

    CORRECTION: while their website looks quaint, this is not a small place.
    According to Airtransat this hotel has 1308 rooms and, get this, 9 restaurants.
    Also has 4 and half stars in the TO site.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Until the embargos went into place, Cuba was THE place to go for the rich and famous from the US. Hemingway loved it there so much he stayed there. I’d LOVE to see his estate (open as a museum, now, complete with a six-toed cat) and his boat, Pilar.

  • TonyA_says

    FYI, that was how we flushed our toilets here in Fairfield county, CT and Westchester and most of Long Island, NY during hurricane Sandy. Mostly quite expensive homes here. So you do what you need to do.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Tony, you’re beating a dead horse. Everyone hates the US until they want our money, aid or weapons, then they ALL want us around. They fail to understand just how economically vital the US is to the rest of the world and refuse to acknowledge otherwise.

    If the US lifted the trade and tourism embargos today, within a month, Cuba would have more money than they could handle. Heck, the cigar sales ALONE could support a small country.

  • John Baker

    I checked the Transat website and they don’t list it as 5 star either. Interesting….

  • Michael__K


    Roundtrip flight
    Roundtrip transfers
    Buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner
    Unlimited domestic and select international drinks
    Mini-bar restocked daily (water, soft drinks and beer)
    Nolitours representative
    Hotel taxes and service charges
    Family Air Services (for NoliKids only)
    Priority check-in and boarding (Air Transat & Canjet)
    Priority baggage handling (Air Transat)
    Free seat selection for Air Transat Kids Club members
    Priority meal service (Air Transat)
    Onboard surprises for the kids (Air Transat & Canjet)
    Stroller service (LIMO) for Air Transat passengers at Canadian airporst

    Transat Canada links to here:

  • TonyA_says

    Proper Infrastructure? People are still trying to go home after yesterday’s train problem at the LIRR here in NewYork. Not too long ago Metro North derailed here, too. It’s not just Cuba.

  • TonyA_says

    Close but no (Havana) cigar.

  • Michael__K

    We offer a varied range of cuisine with 4 a la carte restaurants, 2 buffet restaurants, 2 grill restaurants and 8 bars.

    According to Transat Canada’s link it’s 9 restaurants and 8 bars:

  • Deborah Orth

    Yes I am. I never questiuoned your intelligence, but here is a tiny bit of the history. Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevera led a succesful revolution that unseated Batista the US backed Cuban leader. When the US government tried to kick Castro out he turned to the USSR for aid and support. He has survived every US president’s best efforts to get rid of him. I hope you are intelligent enough to know not All Americans support the embargo. I for one have always thought it stupid and immoral. I hope that you also know that there still many Cuban expats in south Florida who not only support the embargo but probably would love to see us invade Cuba.

  • bodega3

    Thanks Michael.

  • Frank Windows

    With all due respect to Cuba, it sounds like the Blanchettes were looking for a cheap vacation but did not do enough research into Cuba (and apparently lucked out on earlier trips). A quick Web search shows that there are infrastructure issues and that power and water outages are a regular occurrence. It also sounds like they weren’t willing to leave the resort, which is too bad — I’m sure there is plenty of decent local food. I voted NO to mediate. I think the Blanchettes should take this as a lesson learned, and spend a bit more money to travel to a place within their comfort zone. Puerto Rico is a lovely spot, as is Hawaii.

  • bodega3

    In the winter, condos in Hawaii are booked full by Canadians, who stay up to their allowed time for visitors to the USA. Palm Springs and Palm Desert here in CA are also very popular in the winter with Canadians.

  • Michael__K

    Going through and looking at 7-day packages for February, 2014, the prices are in the $2300 to $2700 (CAD) range. $1139 to $1459 (CAD) of that is for the all-inclusive accommodation (depending on room type).

    If they paid a similar amount, then a $200 voucher is absolutely not appropriate (IMO).

  • TonyA_says

    Looking closer, this hotel is owned by Spain’s HUSA group. They are a large hotel and catering conglomerate. This is getting more interesting. We are not dealing with a small business. I change my perspective, now. Go for it, Chris.

  • Deborah Orth

    The fall of the USSR also hurt Cuba at one time the USSR bought 80% of Cuba’s sugar crop and 40% of its citrus crop. They also snet Cuba most of the oil they imported.

  • emanon256

    I’ve noticed people are hung up on the 5 star issue and how a 5 star resort should have water. What annoys me the most is that certain websites and hotels have their own star ratings, claim star ratings, etc. And people hold them to the true Mobil Star Rating. Just because a hotel or random website says a hotel is 5 stars, does not make it 5 stars. The resort the OP stayed at is not a five star resort. In fact, I can’t find that it is even rated.

    Star Ratings are issued by Mobil, based on very narrowly tailored criterion. Diamond ratings are issued by AAA based on very narrowly tailored criterion. Unless a hotel has been star rated by Mobil, or diamond rated by AAA, their rating isn’t worth a lick of salt.

    I will reply to this with the criterion for the two main rating authorities.

  • TonyA_says

    Ok putting politics aside, after doing a little reading, I realized that we are not dealing with a local hotel here. This resort is a owned by a big Spanish hotel conglomerate. So I change my expectations of the place. It is supposed to have European standards, or Spanish whatever that is. In other words, the experience FAILED to live up with what one can expect from a Spanish company. Compensation required.

  • TonyA_says

    Tourists invade Cuba, that would ne nice :)

  • emanon256

    Mobil Hotel Star Rating Criteria

    A Mobil One-Star Lodging Establishment is a limited service Hotel/Motel that is considered a clean, comfortable and reliable establishment.

    A Mobil Two-Star Lodging Establishment is a Hotel/Resort that is considered a clean, comfortable and reliable establishment, but also has expanded amenities, such as a full-service Restaurant on the property.

    A Mobil Three-Star Lodging Establishment is a Hotel/Resort which is well-appointed, with a full-service Restaurant and expanded amenities, such as, but not limited to: fitness center, golf course, tennis courts, 24-hour room service, and optional turndown service.

    A Mobil Four-Star Lodging Establishment is a Hotel/Resort/Inn which provides a luxury experience with expanded amenities in a distinctive environment. Services may include, but are not limited to: automatic turndown service, 24 hour room service, and valet parking.

    A Mobil Five-Star Lodging Establishment provides consistently superlative service in an exceptionally distinctive luxury environment with expanded services. Attention to detail is evident throughout the Hotel/Resort/Inn from the bed linens to staff uniforms.

    Mobil Travel Guide recognizes the individualized nature of many different types of lodging establishments, such as bed-and breakfasts, limited service inns, guest ranches and other unique hotel properties. For that reason, we have chosen to place our stamp of approval on the properties that fall into this category in lieu of applying our traditional Mobil One – Five Star rating.

    Lodging Criteria and Expectations
    Note: The following criteria are suggested criteria of what a guest can generally expect at each star level. They are not individually mandated nor are they limited to those items listed below. These are merely a representative sampling of the hundreds of points covered during our inspection process. Additionally, at each level the lodging establishment is required to meet or exceed the requirements of the previous star rating. For example, a Two-Star hotel meets the criteria expectations of a Two-Star hotel as well as the One-Star hotel. A Three-Star hotel meets the criteria expectations of a
    Three-Star hotel, a Two-Star hotel and One-Star hotel, and so forth.

    For the information on One-Star criteria see the next section.

    Four-Star Lodgings:
    Four-Star Lodging Establishment indicates an outstanding hotel providing the guest with a luxury experience in a distinctive setting, including expanded amenities and exceptional service. Guests at a Four-Star Hotel, Resort or Inn can expect to find all of the qualities for a Three-Star Hotel, Resort or Inn plus the following characteristics:

    Services Detail
    • Written confirmation is automatic or offered, either by mail, fax or e-mail.
    • Guests name is used effectively, but discreetly, as a signal of recognition.
    • The time from arriving at the reception area until registration is complete does not exceed five minutes (includes queuing).
    • Bed is plush and inviting with oversized or numerous pillows.
    • Bedcovers are elegant and stylish and with linens of exceptional quality and comfort.
    • All written information is provided on good quality paper or pads, custom-printed or logoed.
    • Bathroom presentation and placement of amenities and linens is thoughtful, careful, and elegant.
    • Fresh ice is provided during evening service or at another time during the day.
    • Turndown service is automatically provided.
    • During turndown service, guest clothing is neatly handled and guest toiletries are neatly arranged and displayed on a cloth or shelf.
    • Room service is delivered within 30 minutes.
    • Room service order is delivered within five minutes of quoted time.
    • One hour pressing is available.
    • If resort, two hour pressing available
    • Same day laundry and dry cleaning is available seven days/week.
    • Wake-up call is personalized with guest’s name and time of day.
    • Wake-up call is delivered within two minutes of requested time.
    • Special service desk identified as concierge/guest service is situated apart from reception/front desk.
    • If Inn, Workstation where guest can access Internet (may be “borrowed” office) is available.
    • If spa services are present, treatments are begun and ended on schedule, within five minutes of expected or booked time.
    • If spa services are present, during treatment, therapist appears to be genuinely expert, moving seamlessly through the treatment as described and expected.
    • If casino services are present, when playing slots for more than 20 minutes, drink service is offered.
    • If casino services are present, when playing a table game for more than 15 minutes, drink service is offered.

    Facilities Detail
    • Lobby areas feature elegant live plants and/or fresh floral displays.
    • A dedicated and secure luggage storage area is available.
    • Public phones are equipped with seats, privacy panels and pad/pens.
    • Public washrooms are furnished with upgraded materials and appointments/luxurious design.
    • Televisions feature premium cable TV (two movie channels, two all-news, two financial).
    • Guest room telephones have two lines.

    Guest Room Detail
    • Selection of at least 10 hangers including a variety of bars, clips and padded.
    • In-room safe is present.
    • If Inn, in-room safe is present or readily accessible on-site.
    • If minibar is present, it is non auto-charge, and premium products are attractively displayed.
    • Bed is triple sheeted or features washable duvets.
    • Live plants are present in guest rooms.
    • Shaving/makeup, lighted magnifying mirror is present.
    Specialized Facility Detail
    • Fitness equipment is available with personal headphones/televisions.
    • Current newspapers and national-title magazines are provided in fitness and locker areas.
    • If spa, treatment rooms are equipped with individually controlled temperature and sound systems.

    For information on the Five-Star criteria see the next section.

    Five-Star Lodgings:
    Five-Star Lodging Establishment has consistently superlative service and expanded amenities in a luxurious, distinctive environment, making this establishment one of the best in the country. Guests at a Five-Star Hotel, Resort or Inn can expect to find all of the qualities for a Four-Star Hotel, Resort or Inn plus the following characteristics:

    Services Detail
    • Staff is extremely well spoken, polite and clear, avoids slang and phrase-fragments.
    • Staff is extremely well informed about requirements within their department.
    • Overall service is flawless from initial reservation call to departure service.
    • Choice of at least two complimentary newspapers is distributed.
    • Twenty-four hour room service is available, including hot food.
    • Any work undertaken by the staff is handled with complete professionalism, as would be expected by professional secretaries; and returned to guests neatly, in folders or envelopes.
    • If Inn, choice of at least two complimentary newspapers are offered on-site.
    • If Inn, a restaurant on-site, serving full breakfast and dinner is available.
    • If pool service is available, guests are proactively greeted and escorted to their chairs, and set-up assistance is provided or offered.
    • If pool service is available, during a 90 minute period and in warm conditions, some sort of complimentary refreshment is offered (for example, mineral water, fresh fruit, water spritz).

    Facilities Detail
    • Public washrooms feature well-maintained cloth towels, fresh plants or flowers.
    Guest Room Detail
    • Each guest room has three phones, including one in the bathroom.
    • CD player/stereo is present and functional.
    • Ice bucket and glasses are high quality (glass, metal, stone etc.), with tongs which are clean and hygienic.
    • Fresh flowers are present in guest rooms.
    • Separate shower and tub are present in bathroom.

    Hotel Star Rating Criteria:
    Understanding the Mobil Star Ratings process and the criteria for each Star-Rating level will give you the background you need to get the most out of the ratings and reviews on

    Mobil Five-Star Hotels: An exceptionally distinctive luxury environment offering expanded amenities and consistently superlative service make these hotels and inns the best in the U.S. and Canada. Attention to detail and the anticipation of guests’ every need are evident throughout this exclusive group of hotels. The Mobil Five-Star lodging category includes such hotels as The Peninsula Beverly Hills, the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago and The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco.

    Mobil Four-Star Hotels: Outstanding establishment in a distinctive setting with expanded amenities and exceptional service to create a luxury experience. Services may include, but are not limited to, automatic turndown service, valet parking and 24-hour room service. The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, Mandarin Oriental Miami and Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas are prominent names in the Mobil Four-Star category, known for personalized service and hospitality, in addition to luxurious accommodations.

    Mobil Three-Star Hotels: Well-appointed establishment with a full service restaurant and expanded amenities and services such as, but not limited to, room service, fitness center and optional turndown service. Many Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, and Westin hotels are established names in the Mobil Three-Star category. Other notable Three-Stars include The Beverly Hilton and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.

    Mobil Two-Star Hotels: Comfortable establishment that is clean and reliable with expanded services including a full-service restaurant. Doubletree Hotels, Courtyard by Marriott and Four Points by Sheraton are well-established names in the Mobil Two-Star category.

    Mobil One-Star Hotels: Clean, comfortable and reliable establishments with limited services and amenities. Some hotels may not have a full-service restaurant or dining room. Many Hampton Inns and Fairfield Inns consistently earn a Mobil One-Star rating

  • TonyA_says

    Mike what is the relationship between Airtransat and nolitours?
    Which one is responsible ?

  • Joe_D_Messina

    My sympathies to the OP, but I doubt there is anything that can be done. Obviously, this was totally unacceptable, but from the sounds of it, I’m going to take a guess this wasn’t an isolated incident at this property. And I’m also wondering why a family member who is a travel agent would send the OP to Cuba, of all places. I would have to have firsthand knowledge of a property there before I recommended it to family or friends. Because there are tons of other tropical destinations where running water and food shortages wouldn’t be an issue.

  • bodega3

    Having sold travel for decades, as an agent, you work with companies that are there for the clients when problems arise. I am not familiar with this vendor nor carrier. Usually carrier packages, are not owned or operated by the carrier, but by a company that contracts with the carrier to put packages together, like Delta Vacations, United Vacation, USAIR Vacations, etc. Then there are charter based packages that are put together by a company that has contracts with charter carriers. In our area, we had Suntrips that use to offer these. Since I seem to be having an issue with slow internet speed today, I can’t research the company the OP had their package booked with to know which it is.
    I do know that when clients have had issues, the tour company I have booked the travel arrangements with, have been the ones to give money back to the clients. Then they go to the vendor that didn’t meet the standards for reimbursement. This is where the rubber meets the road in good or bad service and why I won’t book just any company. Nobody cares until something goes wrong and when you book solely on price, you then see how good the company isn’t!

  • y_p_w

    That they’re Canadian wasn’t the point. The point was about the US embargo’s effect on Cuba’s economy and development.

  • TonyA_says

    On a different note… Many of these resorts put up in the developing world are by large hotel groups. The one here is by Spain’s Husa. I did not recognize the name immediately as it was not Melia, NH Hoteles, or Barcelo or even Iberostar.
    That said, I expect Western hotel resorts that cater to its own tour groups to have the quality expected at their home country. Running water and sufficient food is expected in Spain, so I think their resorts should have the same.
    It would be different if I booked in a local hotel because I expect that hotel to have a service level only the locals expect. If the locals experience blackouts and shortages then so be it.
    There are tropical islands where you will see a true 5 star hotel (i.e. Shangri-La’s) and not too far a rinky dink motel for backpackers. But if a foreign group puts up a resort for their own people, then I think it is only appropriate to use their home standards.

  • Michael__K

    On the booking page, these are the “general conditions (wholesaler)“:


    Terms & Conditions 2012-2013

    The purchase of packages, coach tours, flights, cruises, car rentals and hotel rooms (hereinafter referred to as the Services) offered by Transat Tours Canada Inc. operating as Nolitours (TRANSAT) constitutes a contract between you (the Customer or Customers) and TRANSAT which includes namely the terms and conditions described hereinafter. Please ensure you carefully read and understand these terms and conditions prior to booking….[more]

    [broken link removed — there does not seem to be any static link — these terms are only visible during the booking session]


    Then there’s a separate “conditions of sale (Transat Tours Canada)”“:


    PS: The booking page says “you have 10 minutes to fill in the booking form”. Imagine reading all those terms carefully (the wholesaler terms are not linked at any prior point that I can tell) — and filling out the passenger and payment info — in 10 minutes….

  • TonyA_says

    We need to be careful here. There are many foreign owned resorts that are an oasis and do not represent the living conditions of the host country. They are only there for the nice sand and beach. The best example of this is in Haiti. People were crushed to death in the city during the earthquake while foreign tourists in the resorts felt nothing. Cuba has the same dichotomy. You really cannot say you have been to Cuba if all you saw was the inside of your resort.

  • emanon256

    I’m curious how a hotel could provide water and electricity when the infrastructure isn’t in place. I suppose they could have generators, but having water supplies seems much tougher. I have stayed in big name hotels in Mexico that always had running water, and other locally owned ones that often loose water and power. I do have to say, the locally owned ones were much nicer, more hospitable, and had better food, but at the cost of modern day conveniences. However, the big resorts have the financial baking to bring in their own water and their own water treatment, so I suppose this resort should be doing that. I am honestly surprised the resort doesn’t have worse reviews than it does.

  • TonyA_says

    After reading so many articles here, does it really mater how many real or fake stars they give the place? There comes a point when people are fooling themselves. I would be more interested in researching the reputation of the Husa group since they run the joint.

  • Deborah Orth

    The point is the story is not about the embargo it is about 2 Canadiens who went to Cuba and felt that they did not get what they paid for, and should Chris mediate. How about trying to stay on topic instead of going off on a rant about US foreign policy. Nowhere in its reply does the resort say sorry you had a bad time go blame the US embargo its not our fault.

  • TonyA_says

    In the island I stayed in, the upscale hotels have massive generating equipment, water towers, and their own dock since they bring in their own guests and supply.
    If you want one of the best, go here

  • emanon256

    Wow! I want to go there. Sadly its way out of my price range. But maybe one day.

    This is the nicest island resort I have stayed at: We splurged for 2 nights in a beach bungalow for part of our honeymoon and it was worth every penny. The rates were also much lower when we stayed and our agent got us an amazing deal (it was off season too). The rest of our honeymoon was on points.

  • TonyA_says

    Isn’t Tahiti one of the most (insanely) expensive place to visit?
    Think about how they get water, electricity, food and booze to that place?

    I once had an opportunity to listen to an upscale independent resort owner talk about how he put up his dream resort (when we were staying there) to my folks. He has a minimum of 10 day supply of water, several caterpillar diesel gensets, private security, boats to ferry people and supply, his own private dock (to escape port traffic), shuttle from resort to dock, etc. etc.
    Looks like he was running a tiny country :)

  • wiseword

    This was CUBA, not the French Riviera. And for just a beach they chose it out of the whole Caribbean, not to mention Florida? Must have been cheap, cheap, cheap.

  • oldft

    Be serious! You want “western” amenities, go to a “western” country…You want to try “3rd world” living, you’ve found it!

  • LucTerje

    I would not have picked that city as first trip to Cuba. Possibly a 5 star in Varadero for the first time.

  • emanon256

    Wow, that’s almost how this resort was, like a tiny country. Closest commercial port was 30 minuets away by boat. They did have a helipad. So boat or heli were the only way on or off the island (Like Jurassic Park). I am sure they had massive hidden water systems, and massive amounts of generators. Half of the island was off limits marked with signs showing little tiki men stating “Taboo.” I assumed it was living quarters for the employees, but there is probably a lot of equipment, water, etc. I am still amazed we stayed there for so little. It was a whole different world.

    Actually, our whole Tahiti trip was pretty low cost, but we were lucky to be able to use points for 6 hotel nights. We stayed 11 nights on Tahiti’s Islands, 6 were on points, 3 were a buy one get 2 free at a local eco resort that was new and trying to get customers, and then we paid for the two at Le Tahaa. Airfare was about $1,000 a person. This is one of the trips where a travel agent is a life saver. The whole trip, air fare from home, hotels, inter-island airfare, boat transfers, 7 excursions, 2 nights at the Bellagio in Vegas on the way back, with food, was just under $6,000. It was 14 nights total (One night on the return flight). Our agent negotiate all of the paid rates including the two free nights. She also gave us tips on food, such as order the American breakfast for 1 for your first morning, its enough food for 2 people for 3 days. There are many areas where we can get free fruit. We were given walking directions to grocery stores when we were on more populated islands, etc. It was amazing!!! Definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

  • TonyA_says

    Please google map the property:,-79.040151&spn=0.021227,0.038581&t=h&z=15
    and then tell me if there is anything third world “nearby”. It looks like the whole island is operated by a few Spanish hoteliers.
    This article has very little to do with Cuba. It really is about lousy service at a ‘Spanish’ resort.
    A refund is in order, IMO.

  • Zod

    Come on people! It’s a repressed 3rdworld Communist country. What did you expect? I mean, I wouldn’t expect white tablecloths in Ethiopia either! If you want the beach vacation of your dreams, go someplace that specializes in treating guests and people well. Cuba isn’t really known for it’s human rights you know!

  • MeanMeosh

    “I’m curious how a hotel could provide water and electricity when the infrastructure isn’t in place.”

    Tony beat me to it, but it’s not as uncommon as you might think. India is notorious for power cuts and water issues, but most “star hotels” have massive generating equipment and fully-stocked water tanks that can keep the place up and running for several days in case of system failures. For that matter, so do many major office buildings and upscale apartment complexes that cater to expats.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    I would not expect much luxury traveling to Cuba. After all, this is a country that has a wonderful collection of 1950-era cars on the roads.
    Maybe in a couple of years, you might expect better accommodations…maybe.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    It is not animosity that we have towards Cuba.
    We just recognize that their infrastructure and economy is less than par.

  • TonyA_says

    John read this website
    It is very interesting. Looks like the whole place is an extension of Canada. Their airlines seems to have booked everything in there.

  • TonyA_says

    Isn’t Guantanamo Bay in Cuba? I wonder how modern that place is compared to the rest of Cuba.

  • TonyA_says

    Actually Deborah, Cuba is a side show. The real story is how a European run hotel-resort can’t provide enough food and water for its guests. It is run by a large Spanish hotel group. So shame on them for lousy service.

    I would add though that these (Western) guests must have creature comforts 100x better that the average Cuban who lives in a nearby village.

  • Chris Johnson

    Most of the rest of the world can travel to Cuba, but we Americans are not so privileged (for the most part – I believe journalists and humanitarian organizations can do so), so I wouldn’t know whether the OP had unrealistic expectations or not. But if a Canadian travel agency/tour operator is enthusiastically booking trips to Cuba, perhaps Chris can refer the OP’s complaints to a Canadian counterpart – I’m sure there are numerous other travel bloggers in Canada that could better help these people.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Typical Navy base – lots of recreational facilities, water treatment plant, power generating station, commissary and exchange, medical and dental clinics, etc.
    Everyone I know who was stationed in Guantanamo Bay loved it…of course, they were Navy and Marines…not detainees!

  • kmwcary

    It wasn’t their first trip. (Re)read the post (or was that hidden under an annoying banner ad with no “close” option?).

  • TonyA_says

    There are plenty enough bad reviews in TripAdvisor for the whole place – Cayo Santa Maria hotels. What do you expect if they put 8 hotels and a total of 5,273 rooms in one beach front that is uninhabited by locals?

    This is similar to the fake tourism (i.e. beach resorts) you get in Mexico and the Caribbean. It’s a vacation factory and the defect rate is high :)

  • TonyA_says

    Considering where the place is, I doubt anyone can simply book a flight and get there. It is an inclusive tour haven for Canadians and mostly sold by their (charter type) airlines. This particular beach (but not the whole Cuba) while supposedly in a “Biosphere Reserve” is one place Americans would be lucky enough to avoid.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Mediating/advocating internationally is doable with a little persistence. I did it twice for myself. Once in France another time in Belgium.

  • bodega3

    You can get regularly scheduled flights from many places to Cuba, just not from the US. I would love to visit Cuba.

  • Lynnae

    I think she deserves a whole lot more than the $200. I also think her travel agent should be more proactive in mediating this problem for her. Isn’t that one of the reasons we are encouraged by travel agents to use their services. I’d be looking for a new travel agent next time.

  • TonyA_says

    Sure you can fly from Toronto to Santa Clara, Cuba. But unless you are part of a tour group, what are you gonna do there? Stare at Che Guevara’s statue? This particular beach is off the beaten path so assume close to 100% of the visitors are with tour groups.

  • bodega3

    Vacation factory. Excellent way to call it. I hope you don’t mind, but I am going to borrow it!

  • Asiansm Dan

    I travelled many many times to Cuba but fortunately never had a bad experience, but I never been in Santa Maria. But situation of the Blanchette can easily happens in communist country where quality supply are imported, transported to Santa Maria is another challenge. A disruption of transport system (cause by weather, etc…) can easily result in shortage of supply, even electricity which run from oil. The situation had happened also in Resort Dominican Republic as well when the weather is bad for weeks. I believe the account of the Blanchette, if it’s true, they should have better compensation from Transat Vacations. Usually Transat have a representative on site 1 to 2 hours at the resort every day (It’s the same representative who work for many tours operators) who take care of all the issues. May be we should Google to see there are other complaint for the sample installation.

  • TonyA_says

    Anytime bodega. What’s weird is why she even need a “travel” agent (her sister). These things are packaged like Macaroni and Cheese.

  • TonyA_says

    Frank this is not like Hawaii. Cayo Santa Maria is an uninhabited island full of Western all-inclusive resorts. You can’t just walk out of your hotel to grab a burger. They do have what seems to look like a fake town named Pueblo La Estrella with tourist shops. You are totally dependent on your hotel resort for water and food. I think I’ll choose Hawaii anytime.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    no. Exaggerated nonscience.
    Good luck with your refund.

  • Meeksworth

    Yes, you do what you need to do. Flushing with a bucket of water is fine during a NATURAL DISASTER. It’s not what you expect when you go to a four and half star resort of vacation, especially if the weather if fine.

  • martizz

    first and the most main thing-need to choose where to go very carefully, before going need to get more possible information about country as a travel target….

    temporary residence permit

  • Wageslave

    I am curious how much more money would it have cost OP to stay in Florida? Our beaches, hotels, and food will win the Pepsi challenge against Cuba every day of the week. Anna Maria Island IMO has all the down home laid back beach house charm a person could ever want, and right next door Siesta Key offers a Caribbean vacation experience for those who prefer that kind of experience. I kinda understand the attraction of Cuba for Canadians – it’s inexpensive, cultured, and by all rights should be an exotic tropical resort paradise – if only they hadn’t been run by a stalinist communist regime and embargoed by the USA for the past 50 years.

  • John Baker

    @TonyA_says:disqus I read it this morning. Did you catch the disclaimer at the bottom about how all of the buildings and services on the island are owned by the Cuban Government?

    Guess that they’re as effect running a resort as the are a country.

  • Erica

    I think you should mediate, but that Transat Canada should take some responsibility as the traveler was relying on Transat to recommend a hotel that would fulfill its obligations. In a country where shortages are common, extra attention should be given so that travelers can be made aware of any problems. Otherwise, what’s the point of having an intermediary between the hotel property and the traveler?

  • TonyA_says

    Yup, after all they are still a Communist country, aren’t they?
    It is quite clear that the Spanish Hoteliers *manage* or *administer* the resorts, though. Not sure Cuba has the skill to do that.
    The whole place is literally an oasis. It has a diesel run power plant just for the resorts. The article says water is pumped from the “city” – so I guess poor Cubans have donated their share of water so the tourists can take showers.
    Did you see in the high resolution google maps the presence of two sewer plants near the resorts? With more than 5,000 rooms in such a small island that is a “preserve”, I wonder what they do with all the trash?

  • y_p_w

    Most of the cars on the road are actually pretty modern. Anyone traveling on a tour will probably be in a vehicle less than 10 years old that’s legally government owned. However, private ownership of cars is difficult, and thus those who have these old American cars do what they can to keep them running. The government doesn’t allow (or at least severely limits) the private purchase of cars in Cuba with the exception of cars that were registered before the Cuban Revolution.

    I remember reading a story in the magazine AutoWeek. The author got a permit to travel to Cuba on a cultural visit to check out the car scene and to meet local car enthusiasts. He brought along a gift – a set of used spark plugs. They were in reasonably good shape but would normally be tossed because it’s considered good preventative maintenance to replace plugs. The recipient accepted them like he was given gold. I’m not sure if they could have been used in the giftee’s vehicle, but it could have likely been bartered for something that he could use.

  • cahdot

    normal stuff for cuba’s a wonder they had toilet paper

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I’ve gone to Cuba a bunch of times and stayed at int’l chain hotels like Riu or Iberostar. Unbelievable value for what I paid. Sounds like the OP just picked a lousy property…

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    True. And the fact that the property was on a small island didn’t help…

  • Ann

    Her sister-in-law is the travel agent who booked it. She should be involved in negotiating with the supplier. She doesn’t deserve a full refund as she should have asked her travel agent to get her moved elsewhere but she does deserve more than she was offered since she did not receive what Transat stated she was to receive if she booked through them. Never take the first reply from a supplier – her agent should have gone back to Transat and said this was not good enough. Chris, yes, do get involved in this one.