Hotel CASA CAPSA – From BAD to WORST

•September 14, 2017 • 3 Comments

This was my second time at Hotel Casa CAPSA; the first one wasn’t the best experience (see my previous review) but at check-in the Receptionist was trying to persuade me to come back and to see that the first unpleasant stay was an “unhappy experience”. Despite the fact I’m not “buying” amazing deals from Shopping TV programs or glossy magazine I decided to come back to Casa CAPSA in September.

Big mistake because everything moved from BAD to WORTS consolidating in my eyes (after staying in 4 and 5 star hotels around the world at least 3or 4 times a month) the idea that Hotel Casa Capsa is a SCAM with capital letters.

I booked on-line (using booking.com) a Junior Suite and I was very excited because the photos on both websites (booking.com and the hotel’s one) looked amazing. Unfortunately, only location of the hotel and the historical building are real 5 stars. The rest…

At check-in a very talkative receptionist explained me how lucky I am that I manage to secure in a last minute booking a Jr. Suite when the hotel is fully booked. Last minute? Is what they called in Romania a booking done 5 weeks in advance? Maybe is just … “lost in translation”. Later the same receptionist confessed that after booking me in a real Jr. Suite, couple days before my arrival the management decided to move me in another room because some “important guys staying in the hotel” and of course “can’t tell you more, you know what I am talking about…” was present in the conversation too. Very professional.

I got room 317, placed at the end of a creepy corridor at the 3 floor. The room was obviously not a Jr. Suite (complete different them the descriptions of both website-booking.com and capsa.ro). When I discussed the issue with the reception they spend a good 20 minutes to explain me that I am wrong and “317 is a Jr. Suite” …. really??!! However, later some of the staff explained me that the room is not a Jr. Suite and maybe if I talk with the manager I will pay a different price.

The room was very dark with no natural light or fresh air due to the fact that the window was opening in an interior closed courtyard. Nice to wake up in the morning and switch on all the lights in the room to find my way to bathroom.

Talking about bathroom was an … experience. I don’t remember when I saw last time in a 2-star hotel a shower with a plastic curtain … maybe in 1970? But a 5 star hotel will never accept this solution just because a plastic shower curtain needs a lot of effort (at least a good wash once a day) to assure the correct level of hygiene.  The bathroom had an original “rainforest shower”: the shower head was so old and damaged that projected water everywhere, especially on the roof and after that when you were trying to have a decent shower you had and very special “naturistic” add-on: water dripping from the roof with paint and calcar… That’s a 5-star touch.

After the first 20 minutes in room 317 I had the feeling that the room was more appropriate for a rent by hour (oops!) than by night. Later that day looking under the bed I found the confirmation that the management had the idea “rent by night” before me … that’s what I call style: pretty woman earring and used “spread the love” as a trademark of a 5 star Junior Suite.

The first morning, after not a very good night sleep and remembering the last experience at Hotel Casa Capsa I skipped the breakfast and decided for a French wake-up call: Nicotine Macchiato.  But the second day I took the risk…and I paid for it! The breakfast was the same lame dull experience, far for an expected offer in a 5 star hotel and a service offered in a communist hotel in Berlin 1975. I will not go in to details but this time Hotel Capsa beat it’s own record: this time a 30 minutes wait for a simple omelette.

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Nobody else to blame than me. Was my decision to comeback…the last time.

Hotel Casa Capsa has a prime location and a beautiful building but that’s all; the rest is a TOURISTIC SCAM with capital letters.

One “LEVEL” above expectations

•September 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

To be honest I don’t remember when I fall in love with Costa del Sol and Torremolinos. You can call me “old fashioned” but I still love the little Mediterranean resort town on southern Spain where I feel like home when stepping on the smooth sand of El Bajondillo. And being honest once again, I lost the count of my days spent there in long weekends, well planned holidays or even couple of hours on the beach between 2 easyJet flights.

I was trying always to find the perfect spot, a hotel where the comfort will match the accessibility to the incredible day and night life of Torremolinos. Sometimes I succeeded sometimes I failed in real touristic nightmares.

And one day, going back to one of my favourite spots – Melia Costa del Sol I discovered a little miracle called “The LEVEL”. Of course, the hotel is itself in an excellent spot in Toremollinos: situated right in the heart of the Costa del Sol, perfectly located next to the Bajondillo Beach, 6 kilometres from Málaga International Airport and just 5 minutes from the centre of the city.

But the new concept takes the guest’s experience to a complete different “LEVEL”. The Level conveys the idea of a private club, a “hotel within a hotel”, where exclusivity and personalised service come together in a unique and modern setting. But the marketing description is far below the real experience I had at Melia Costa del Sol with an amazing consistency from the moment of checking-in up to the genuine farewell in the last day.

The check-in was fast and efficient with a genuine mixture of technical questions and relax chit-chat and smiles. By the time when the Reception team finished all the formalities and one of the bell-boys took care of my luggage, the LEVEL Concierge was already there extending the welcome of the team and offered to escort me in the room.

The LEVEL Junior Suite was indeed an extremely present surprise with spectacular front views over the Mediterranean Sea and located on the hotel´s 7th floor. The amazing 25 m² terrace, the separate lounge area, amenities from luxury brands such as Loewe or Nespresso, a welcome gift in the room, pillow menu, the Level bathrobe and slippers, personalised minibar content everything are only couple of the elements of this unique and personalised experience in which every detail has been created especially for guests.

During my stay at Melia Costa del Sol, both charming girls acting as Concierge, were active parts of an over-spoiled daily routine. From suggestion related to free time activities to restaurant or Spa bookings everything was possible and done with a genuine smile. And despite the fact that the LEVEL was fully booked the staff always find time for a pleasant conversation. Nothing was too much trouble and their friendly, helpful and humorous demeanour ensured I had a wonderful experience.

The Level includes access to private The Level Lounge, with an excellent location including a lounge and a garden with a permanent coffee station, daily snack and cocktail service and a private reception for personalised arrivals, departures, reservations and tourist information and excursions. Was the perfect place to run from the heat of the crowded beach, enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail or charge your batteries in the evening before discovering the night life of Toremollinos. The amazing Level Lounge is a real oasis away from the main hotel where I could have continental breakfast, small snacks and drinks throughout the day.

The staff looking after the lounge made each day a pleasure with their smiles and friendly service. Late afternoon tapas and drinks in the private garden was a treat and set us up for the evening ahead. Jasmin and Maria, the LEVEL Concierge, went the extra mile to assist and look after us and are a credit to the hotel with their professionalism and service. The drinks served in the THE LEVEL lounge are premium spirit brands but the Spanish ones are available too. Was a great idea to change the drinks menu according to the time of the day with aperitifs before lunch and dinners and digestives until late. The snacks served were exquisite, following the modern trends but bringing an authentic Andalusian touch.

Melia Costa del Sol offers different packages:  accommodation only, B&B, half or full board and this time I opted for a half board choice…great idea! The size of the restaurant and the number of the guests having their meals at the same time could create the risk of “mass produced” service. But is not the case at Melia Costa del Sol. At the end of my stay I was still wondering how the entire staff manage such a smooth, almost perfect service flow with no waiting time, always clean tables, staff everywhere ready to serve and a general shocking efficiency. But the most striking memory is the entire staff of the restaurant, from the Maître D, who will guide you to your table to the waiter who will take the drinks order; despite the fact that they were always busy they never forgot to have a polite, genuine and cheerful presence, making every meal a high customer service experience.

The breakfast was served until 11am and whenever you turned up, at 8am or 10.45, the same amount of food was still available, no shortage and no queues. All staff appeared to know exactly who you were and were always in good spirits. The choice was amazing and doesn’t matter how picky you are with your food, at Melia Costa del Sol is something for everybody – Mediterranean, international and regional specialities – each culinary taste being satisfied with a wide range of international and Spanish dishes, both for breakfast and dinner. For every meal I had, Melia delivered with style. Where else can you find honey served directly from a local producer or a “salt collection” for seasoning your dinner?

The entire hotel was spotless and the staff takes pride in keeping the premises shining day and night.  A single cloud on the shiny sky of Melia Costa del Sol: our housekeeper who needed a more polished attention to details: never replaced the amenities without being asked, forget to change the towels or the paper tissues in the bathroom, forget to push the vacuum cleaner in some corners or under the bead. Small details which for sure are just single happenings in a perfect high standards environment.

Melia Costa del Sol extend the excellence pre- and post-stay; genuine and kind messages received in my inbox before my arrival and after returning home and the most impressive a hand written note place in my room before my departure showed, once again, that at Melia’s philosophy is built around guest satisfaction.

In summary, The Level conveys the idea of a private club and of a “hotel within a hotel”, which serves guests staying in The Level rooms and executive suites, which offers special services and other upgraded amenities to make the hotel stay a truly sublime experience, where exclusivity and personalised service come together in a unique and modern setting. An excellent choice and a great value for money.

I am not easily impressed but I can without hesitation recommend Melia as a must go to destination when visiting the Costa del Sol. You will not be disappointed!! I will definitely come back without a doubt! Many, many thanks for all you did for my short break at Melia Costa del Sol; Melia Group could not ask for better ambassadors

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A falling star … or maybe two!

•July 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Is not a secret for any of my readers: I was wearing (with so much pride) British Airways uniform for couple of years.

Is a fact that I was working for the airline both in the air and in the office gaining enough insider type of information

Is a privilege to have a lot of friends, both crew and managers so I am not completely cut from what’s the current vibe in Heathrow or Waterside.

I’m flying as a passenger, for business and pleasure at least 5 times a month in Club Europe and Club World and I still keep somewhere same (at least for a sentimental value) my Silver card with British Airways.

Therefore, I do care about British Airways, a little bit more than expected, and far more than Alex Cruz, for sure. Maybe only for the simple reason that I love this airline and I look at BA as former “World’s favourite airline”, not like a cash cow. But since Mr. Cruz started to be the henchman of Willie Walsh and proud accepted to get his hands dirty with the crime of assassinating an amazing brand I started to feel more than disappointment…I AM ANGRY NOW! Actually Cruz&Co don’t kill British Airways; is more like an assisted suicide, with the couple “Slasher Walsh” and “Percy Alex” indulged in self-prise and pulling the plug of the airline.

Flying in the last month 4 times Club with British Airways (once long haul and 3 times European routes) and just getting off from a plane in Gatwick, I wasn’t surprise to find that according to Daily Mail interviewing the CEO of Marketing Research firm Skytrax, British Airways is about to lose their 4 Star rating and now even compares unfavourably to airlines like Aeroflot. Aeroflot, once synonym for horrible service and half day delays is now apparently the benchmark for the national carrier of the UK that is lead by former Vueling low cost CEO Alex Cruz. The Daily Mail calls it yet another humiliation! (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4572010/BA-set-lose-four-star-quality-rating.html).

The boss of research firm Skytrax said Britain’s flagship carrier now compares unfavourably with the state-backed Russian airline, once known for having an appalling safety record, inedible food and rude staff. Skytrax said it is likely to cut BA’s rating to three stars out of five, bringing it in line with budget airline Ryanair, Uzbekistan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and Myanmar Airways. Skytrax  rate airlines in an independent manner. The reality  can’t be denied: BA has suffered under the helm of Mr. Cruz who has cut corners every left and right to the point of where it indeed feels like you’re travelling on a budget airline and not Britain’s proud national carrier.

Skytrax said Aeroflot – which is 51 per cent owned by the Russian government – has better in-flight catering and better service. He described Aeroflot as a ‘shining example of an airline that’s transformed themselves’ – compared with BA, which ‘has not invested in the same way’. BA has had four stars since the ratings began 18 years ago. … Keep in mind that the Four Star rating isn’t even the top of the food chain. Airlines such as Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines are holding a Five Star rating, so an even larger distance to BA.

But leaving the rating behind is the BA experience which drive loyal customers nuts.

Mr Cruz has been quoted as saying cutting costs is “now injected into the DNA” of British Airways. Senor Cruz asked about cost cutting programs for BA said: “If one particular day we don’t come up with an idea to reduce our costs, then we’re not doing our job.” What about the passengers, who actually keep you in your office Mr. Cruz? Travellers are already furious at the airline’s decision to scrap free food and drink on short-haul flights in favour of paid-for offerings from Marks & Spencer.

Everybody who use to love BA agree that under its latest CEO BA has deteriorated so much it is as unappealing as it was when it was a state-owned company nicknamed Bloody Awful. This year “has been a tipping point”, says Rita Clifton, a former Saatchi & Saatchi director of strategy who helped create BA’s iconic World’s Favourite Airline campaign. “Most staff and passengers used to love the brand. For too many, that has turned to hate.”

As a Silver Card holder and frequent flyer in Club (Europe or World) I was tempted to believe that an increase in quality of services will happen this year in BA’s aircraft. After my last flight in Club Europe I realised that the statement of Mr. Cruz that short haul business class separates BA from budget carriers is a pile of … words. It’s hard to call a seat which is identical in size, shape and legroom to the offering found in economy, “business class”. Yes, I get that the efficiencies in the airport are good, but budget carriers have those “fast track” privileges now too. With the hit and miss quality of the  lounges it’s hard to discern the finer points, despite the fact that the price it’s consistently inflated in this cabin. No one is looking for a re invented wheel here, just something with considerable legroom, extra padding and food worth tucking into.

I still remember the time when I was dreaming to have a BA ticket and step in one of their planes, when BA was generally considered a top league airline with innovating seats that turn into beds in both first and business class and laying on services such as arrivals lounges serving hot breakfast, providing weary travellers showers while having their suits pressed. BA should be careful; reputations are more difficult to win back than to lose.

Under Cruz BA has introduced “Hand Baggage-Only” fares* (launched pre-Cruz) where even top level members of its loyalty program have to pay for checked baggage and seat assignments. It comes alongside a number of small cuts, such as eliminating the traditional second meal on westbound transatlantic flights to a package of chips, taking away cheese and crackers from the main meal and even bringing the scalpel to its First Class cabin, removing flowers that used to be in the restrooms, slashing extended “Bistro” menu options, cutting out a tasting menu it offered aboard its Airbus A380s and removing an amuse bouche from meal service.

I have a lot of friends still flying for British Airways and their stories, away for the on-line eye of Big Brother Cruz are confirmed by my recent in-flight experience. Flight attendants from business class sometimes have to help sell food in the back, impacting service to its premium passengers. On my flight the bred arrived 30 minutes after the food was served and the drinks after another 20 minutes. What to expect from on flight attendant in a cabin with 8 rows and 15 passengers. Teething pains maybe? Reportedly, cabin crew can’t give out food or drinks during delays for service recovery. In Amsterdam waiting 45 minutes on the tarmac we got a glass with orange juice. But we were lucky in Club Europe; one of my former colleague in charge of an Airbus 320 told me that “Cabin crew has been instructed to give potable water in cups for those that request it only after the paid service has been completed.”

Having to grovel for H2O doesn’t help BA’s image. And there were also reported incidents where passengers were not initially given water, even to take medicine. Why would someone choose to fly on BA when they get nothing on the feeder sector when they could take full-service airline such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar with superior product especially if flying east. Cruz told journalists that he still considers BA a “full-service airline.” No comments!

BA staff and some managers to whom I have spoken say the airline has cut costs too aggressively, eroding what was once its greatest strength: its status as a premium brand. One ex-colleagues of mine from Waterside said: “We just don’t know when to stop cutting costs. There’s no calibration.”

The effects of BA’s decline are obvious, just looking out of the window at Terminal 5. The airline is too reliant on ageing Boeing 747 double-deckers and 777 single-deckers, even if it does have a few shiny new Dreamliners like the one Cruz wanted to show off. Breakdowns and glitches on its aircraft have left many CSDs (cabin service directors) joking darkly that they are “cabin ‘sorry’ directors” because they spend so much time apologising for blank TV screens, dilapidated lavatories and wonky seats.”

I am very subjective. I was flight attendant for BA and I love and respect the cabin crew community. They are amazing people who actually created the name of the airline. Was a time when they were the centre piece of the airline success.

Richard Branson once said: “If You Look After Your Staff, They’ll Look After Your Customers. It’s That Simple. Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” Mr. Cruz didn’t have this translated in Spanish!

The cabin crew almost forget the pride and the glamour of working for British Airways. Despite the fact that they are working for a “full-service airline”, my colleagues from Eurofleet and Mixed Fleet are serving Marks & Spencer food and drink. An easy research will show you that Marks & Spencer staff in stores earn more than British Airways Mixed Fleet cabin crew selling the same stuff at 30,000 feet.

In 2010 Willie Walsh said that the airline faced ferocious competition in Europe and beyond, and could no longer afford the generous pay and conditions that cabin crew enjoyed. In that moment the “brilliant solution”was the establishment of a new cabin crew unit, Mixed Fleet. Every new Heathrow cabin crew member since 2010 has been recruited into Mixed Fleet, with inferior terms to longer-serving staff. In time, Mixed Fleet will eventually replace the “legacy” teams of Eurofleet and Worldwide. Until that happens, two or three decades from now, old and new never work together on the same flight. Which, given the discrepancy in pay and conditions, is probably wise.

“We’re not second-class cabin crew,” a friend of mine told me. “We do our job as well as Eurofleet and Worldwide. Why shouldn’t I get what the others get? “When I go and ask for a mortgage, they laugh at me.” She is not a drama queen and her P60 indicated she had earned less than £20,000 last year. “I’ve been at British Airways for six years, and I’ve never entered the sickness process,” she said. A male colleague said that he earned more on a zero-hours contract with Ryanair. His P60 showed income for the year at under £18,000. No surprise that some of my friends already moved to Norwegian and others consider very seriously the new massive recruitment process for easyJet in Gatwick. Funny how this opinions are ignored by the team in Waterside. And similar opinions are not hard to find: “There’s no individuality and no respect for their employees. They have no loyalty towards employees and change the rules as they go along. On paper it seems a nice place to work with career advancement but the reality is quite different” ( from https://www.indeed.co.uk/cmp/British-Airways/reviews?fjobtitle=Flight+Attendant&fcountry=ALL)

And the future doesn’t look good for both crew and passengers: British Airways is trialling something new at London Gatwick on short haul flights, crew give planes a light clean during the time between flights instead of paying contracted cleaners. Crew will be paid an additional £10 per flight segment, and the new standards mean that “a jet’s sewage tank is not always emptied. Instead they fly if it is up to a third full. In addition BA planes can now depart with just 50 per cent levels of drinkable water used for making tea and coffee.”British Airways considers this a test to “see whether passengers notice the planes are not as clean as normal.”

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Crew give planes a “light clean” during the time between flights

Cruz has pledged not to “Ryanair-ise” short-haul economy, but his words ring hollow for many regular travellers. Especially the new rumour that Ryanair, the budget carrier famous for $9.99 flights, will soon surpass British Airways on short-haul seat pitch in economy class. By adding two rows onto its short-haul intra-Europe Airbus A320s and A321s next year in order to lower seat prices, the carrier will reduce the gap between seats from 30″ to 29″ of pitch, equaling the lowest numbers offered by any European discount carrier. (Comparably, legacy carrier Air France offers 32″ of pitch in their short-haul economy cabin.) British Airways flies to nearly 80 short-haul destinations within Europe, defined by the airline as flights five hours or less. And the next in line are the long-haul flights. Despite existing cramped conditions on BA flights, the current nine-seat row on its long-haul aircraft is set to get even tighter – with toilets being stripped out to make way for more seats. The 10-seat rows in economy will feature in economy cabins on long-haul Boeing 777s flying out of Heathrow and Gatwick.22

On social media, a Gold Card holder said: “BA is to become even more uncomfortable, with narrower seats and inevitably less leg room”. But is nobody there to hear that! Somebody else suggested Cruz a new policy, in line with his recent decisions: “Perhaps a new idea for a fee is to require that all passengers clean the area around their seats themselves, or they can pay £5 to have a flight attendant clean for them. A £5 fee per passenger would be a revenue stream rather than incurring £10 per flight attendant per flight!”

Rather than compete on price while offering a more refined experience, offering add-ons for purchase to increase revenue for the airline, British Airways is in a distinctive game of copycat—one that may prove treacherous, experts say, as many discount carriers look to bolster their more premium offerings as British Airways slashes away.

If Alex Cruz will receive an award for his latest achievements for sure the list will be quite long. Let’s have a quick run through the greatest hits (or rather, misses…):

  • No more free food and drink included on short-haul flights. Everyone loves Percy Pigs of course, but I’d rather have the option of a complimentary Gin & Tonic!
  • The introduction of Hand Baggage Only fares led to confusion for Elite Executive Club members and for passengers booking through online travel agencies.
  • Removing proper cleaning between flights.
  • A range of Avios devaluations that make long-haul Premium Cabin redemptions extremely expensive and uncompetitive compared to other loyalty programmes.
  • The apparent bad attitude from the top, including the infamous ‘show me the ******* money‘ investment slide (https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2201771/greedy-british-airways-bosses-joke-about-crude-slogan-show-me-the-fing-money-as-passengers-face-less-leg-room-and-cramped-seats/)
  • Last but not least, the plan to offer less legroom than Ryanair!

Ryanair and Ba are a business-school case study in managing expectations. If your hallmark is comfort and courtesy, lower fares will never compensate customers for cuts and slip-ups. If your selling proposition is ruthless low-cost efficiency, play that on-time fanfare and you’ll be forgiven for everything else.

Talking about the disruptions caused by BA’s computer system outage RBS Capital Markets analyst Damian Brewer has said BA’s apparent failure to have learnt lessons from rivals problems “suggests fundamental management and planning weakness”. And I strongly believe that the idea can be applied to other areas in BA too.

So many things to say … maybe too many…

With no intention to ignore my unconditional love for British Airways and my huge respect for BA cabin crew community I can’t stop thinking that is time for somebody to start packing.

There is a VLG flight to Madrid tonight at 8.30PM…

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MAI BINE UN YODLER DECAT UN BRAULET DE TELEORMAN

•March 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Selectia Nationala EUROVISION 2017 – pas cu pas, grimasa cu grimasa

In mai toate tarile cu “scaun la cap” Eurovision-ul a incetat de mult sa fie o miza … este un eveniment, un program TV sauchiar istorie (care intre noi fie vorba, s-a oprit undeva pe la inceputul anilor ’90). Tocmai de aceea unii membrii EBU plaseaza competitia cantecului european in lista cu “rele necesare”: nu cheltuim mult, facem audienta bunicica si oricum nimeni nu isi aduce aminte de melodia sau castigatorul de anul trecut.

Exista insa tari pentru care Eurovision-ul e o drama nationala cu repetitie in care se investesc bani, energii, orgolii, pasiuni, incrancenari. E clar ca Rusia vrea sa dea peste bot Ucrainei, este evident ca tarile din partea asiatica a fostei URSS vor sa arate ca pot si mai ales ca au cu ce, iar San Marino se bucura ca se mai arata si harta tarii la televizor pe plan European.

Romania se incadreaza in ultima categorie. Sa fim sinceri un mare procentaj de telespectatori tricolori nu prea stiu mare lucru despre Festivalul Cantecului European, dar cu totii am cerut doliu national cand, pe buna dreptate, am fost suspendati din competitie anul trecut.  Nu e un secret pentru nimeni ca organizatorul, Televiziunea Romana, sta tare prost, borderline dezastruos, cu banii; dar in loc sa facem ca BBC-ul, o singura transmisie TV, de vreo 60-70 de minute cu 5 melodii, in Dorbanilor 191 se organizeaza selectii peste preselectii, emisiuni dupa emisiuni, de parca scopul actual al institutiei este sa-si umple spatiu de emisie. Nu conteaza cu ce, sigla de Eurovision sa aiba!

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Si uite asa duminica seara am vazut editia 2017 a travaliului lumii muzicala autohtone pentru a urca pe scena de la Kiev si a sta acolo macar pana la finala.

Juriul de anul acesta a avut mult de munca; nu neaparat din cazua numarului mare de piese inscrise ci multumita alambicatul algoritm al alegerii melodiei care ne reprezinta la Kiev. Mult zgomot pentru nimic asa cum va demonstra rezultatul. Juratii: Paula Seling, Luminiţa Anghel, Ovi Jacobsen, Adrian Romcescu şi Andrei Tudor sunt oamenii cu greutate in tot ceea ce inseamna  fenomenul Festivalului  Cantecului European. Paula si Luminita, lasand la o parte vocile uriase si scorurile din anii precedenti,  puteau gasi concurentii cu “fata” de scena de la Kiev care pot sustine o partitura live sub enorma presiune a emotiilor. Adrian Romcescu şi Andrei Tudor fac parte din doua generatii de compozitori diferite si impreuna puteau identifica melodia care sa ne duca macar in finala. Iar Ovi era perfect ca al 5-lea membru al juriului in cazul in care exista un balotaj.

Deci atuurile pentru o alegere buna existau…rezultatul insa…o fi vorba de o alta ordonanta in si bemol data in buza noptii? Dar sa nu anticipam…

M-am bucurat grozav de locatia aleasa pentru finala de duminica. Atunci cand nu ai un buget generos si decat sa risti sa ai pe scena un partid politic, chiar daca il ai in culise (va aduceti aminte de scena de anul trecut cu primarul de la Baia Mare care in timpul ceremoniei de anuntare a castigatorului isi salute prietenul cu restaurant din Spania?) studioul TVR creaza perimetru unui show perfect.

Si asa a si fost. Fara artificii de décor dar cu o lumina si un sunet de zile mari, cu miscari de camera si taieturi moderne si interesante si cu o dinamica ce te tintuie pe scaun Selectia Nationala Eurovision 2017 a fost fara indoiala cea mai buna din ultimii ani. Poate cineva, acolo sus…sau jos…va realiza saptamana asta ce profesionisti adevarati sunt in Dorbantilor 191 si ca daca tot trebuie sa reduce personalul ar fi bine sa incepi de prin birouri si nu de prin studiouri. Aurel Badea a demonstrate a fi la inlatime, chiar mai sus decat realizarile sale tv precedente si daca m-ar intreba cineva, pentru selectia de la anul as vedea un mega show, cu buget restrans, bazat pe lumini de exceptie, sunet de tinuta si creierele lui Aurel Badea si Dan Manoliu. Dar cum nu ma intreaba nimeni, mai bine tac!

Momentul de deschidere cu cei de la SuperChill a fost interesant si o idee buna pentru un inceput de emisie.Cred ca singurul lucru care ma deranja era scena cam mica si impresia ca trupa pregatise si repetase momentul pentru un spatiu mult mai generos.

Sa-i pui pe finalisti sa cante…ok,  mimeze, melodii eurovizionistice din anii trecuti, a fost un risc asumat si un esec anuntat. Ideea lansata prin anii 90’ la o selectie nationala a beficiat atunci de voci adevarate: Monica Anghel, Dan Bitman, Luminita Anghel, Loredana Groza. Anul acesta, minutele dureroase cand am fost fortat sa ascult cantece care-mi plac masacrate cu gratie si A-muzicalitate de majoritatea finalistilor, mi-a dat numai sansa sa realizez din prima, cine are si cine nu are voce. MAXIM, Ana Maria, Mihai voi faceti parte din lista exceptiilor. Si asa, ca cireasa pe tort sau ca sarea pe rana deschisa, cei trei prezentatori au disecat fara anestezia melodia cantata de Toto Cutugno in 1990, Insieme. Dar ma rog, de la ei nu poti avea nici o pretentie, nu sunt cantareti…in adevaratul sens al cuvantului.

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Prezentatorii…da…formula obisnuita: 3 pentru a acoperi spatiul scenei si eventual al camerei verzi. Datorita sau din cauza, depinde cum vreti, orgoliului pe scena a incaput numai un prezentator si inghesiuala s-a marcat backstage.

Iuliana Tudor este o prezenta nelipsita de pe ecranele TVR. Si nu stiu neaparat daca este un lucru bun. Mi-au trebuit minute bune sa realizez ca al treilea prezentator este Iuliana Tudor. A fost si greu cu look-ul jumatate Anca Turcasiu la Mamaia 80’, jumatate Ramona Badescu la OTV langa Pepe. Pana la urma am realizat ca este “TVR sweetheart” care , pentru urmatoarele minute va demonstrate, INCA O DATA, ce inventie genial este ingineria genetica pentru TVR, combinand Andreea Marin cu Iuliana Marciuc. dar lasand la o parte lucrurile bune din cele doua vedete-stem TV. Iuliana este un prezentator bun, constant bun, constant indiferent daca prezinta “O data-n viata”, spectacolul aniversar Craiul Muntilor, Eurovision sau un bal popular al primariei,  indoor sau outdoor. Poate o singura, minuscula critica: data viitoare poate rogi pe cineva Iuliana, sa iti scrie pe promter si dialogurile “libere” cu publicul. Modelul tau, “Zana Surprizelor”, era excelenta de la un cap la altul, inclusive la discutiile “out of script”. In alta ordine de idei, ideea cu dialoguri in si cu publicul suna asa ca venita pe filiera Marina Almasan, program de vacanta 1990+. Revenind la Iuliana,  cineva m-a intrebat de ce naiba a acceptat sa prezinte selectia nationala 2017. Explicatia e simpla: Andreea Marin se reintoarce in forta pe micile ecrane la ProTV si Iuliana trebuie sa traga tare pe ultima suta de metri. Cand ai de ales intre copie si original, optiunea va fi evidenta, nu?

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Dan Helciug a fost o alta surpriza. Initial, vizionand celalate emisiuni dedicate Eurovision 2017 ma gandeam ca producatorii se vor trezi si vor gasi un om potrivit la locul potrivit. Dan este , sau mai bine spus, a fost excelent prezentand emisiuni pe plaja sau pentru animalute. In 2017 numai un DAN este tolerat maltratand mai mult isteric decat rock un microfon: si Acela are un alt nume de familie.Iar epigonia se numeste Liviu Varciu, deci posturile sunt ocupate! Lucrurile s-au lamurit cand am vazut pe ecran reclama de la farmacia sponsor: cum Adrian Enache era ocupat cu un botez, Dan Helciug putea fi confundat cu respectivul daca era filmat cu drona. Din pacate unele cadre erau destul de apropiate si devenea necesara reclama cu farmacia si inima pentru cei mai slabi de inger. Cat despre intrebari si dialogurile cu finalistii din Camera Verde, parca imi aduc aminte de dialogurile exceptionale si intrebarile profunde ale lui Dan pe vremea cand prezenta emisiunea “Arca lui Noe”

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Cu Ioana Voicu nu am prea fost amabil la editia din 2016. Dar am avut motive serioase. Anul acesta insa, si iau in calcul si prestatia de la Beraria H cu cateva saptamani in urma, Ioana a crescut foarte mult. Era de acolo, uneori, chiar daca nu foarte des, stia ce si cand sa intrebe. Parea ca stie de ce tine microfonul in mana si, spre deosebire de anul trecut era mai putin preocupata de propria prezenta si mai mult de rolul ei in programul respectiv. Si vocea parea lucrata…contrastand cu vocia care zgarie membrana difuzorului de pe scena iar prezenta ei eleganta dar cu picioarele pe pamant m-a cucerit. Stau si ma gandesc cat de greu i-a fost Ioanei sa accepte locul de vioara a doua. Cat de greu i-a fost sa se imbrace, sa se macheze si sa-si aranjeze parul potrivit potrivit cu pozitia ei de diva secunda. Stai linistita Ioana, nu a reusit. S-a vazut clar prezenta in spectacol a doua generatii diferite iar tu ai fost proaspata si, uimitor de buna.

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Laura si mai nu stiu cum transmite live din Piata Universitatii. Evident ca centrul atentiei era in Piata Victoriei in acea seara dar TVRPSD s-a gandit ca muzical poate devia atentia de la o piata la alta…ca la piata nu? La prima interventie 6 spectatori… si unul in drum spre Piata Victoriei. La urmatoarea interventie … s-a decis sa nu mai existe o a doua legatura directa. Cine a platit pentru idee?

Filmuletele de prezentare ale concurentilor pareau facute de alta echipa. Ori poate explicatia este ca au fost facute pe reteta “budget free. Nu tu idee, nu tu imagine, nu tu concept doar concurentii adresandu-se unei categorii de telespectatori care au probleme cu intelesul mesajului melodiei respective.

Sa trecem insa la concurenti:

  1. ANA MARIA MIRICA – Spune-mi tu

A inceput seara in forta. O voce puternica, o melodie bine definita care insa e clar, ca dupa ghinionul de anul trecut, asa, din superstitie, nu va atrage prea multi votanti din partea publicului. Dar melodia este mult peste nivelul general al selectiei nationale 2017 iar Ana Maria sustine cu brio si cu ajutorul excelent al luminilor si miscarilor de camera o melodie puternica. Chiar daca imi aduce aminte de prestatia “Crno i belo” din  2012 a reprezenantei Macedoniei, Kalipoi.

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2.  ILINCA si ALEX FLOREA – Yodel it

Linia dintre original si ridicol este extrem de fina. Un amestec de hip-hop, rock, disco si … yodel,  chiar daca este greu de digerat,  poate trece ca o curiozitate, cu conditia ca vocile sa fie exceptionale. Si aici a scrantit-o melodia cu numarul 2 in concurs. Poate ca, asa ciudata si inedita cum e, ar avea o sansa sa isi gaseasca un loc in clasamentul final de la Kiev. Cu o singura conditie: eliminarea franzelelor vocale! Cred ca in seara finalei de la Bucuresti cei doi au batul recordul la falseuri si scapari de voce si sa fiu sincer nu stiu cum microfoanele ucrainiene ar rezista la asemenea zgarieturi vocale, mai ales in partitura masculina. Dar, cum ceea ce e ciudat place, nu m-ar mira sa ii vad sus si in clasamentul final

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3. EDUARD SANTHA – Wild child

A fost momentul in care m-a luat prima durere de cap. Melodia parea a fi o “pretiozitate sonora” compusa de irlandezi cand nu mai vroiau sa castige Eurovizionul pentru a patra oara consecutiv. Chiar daca refrenul m-a prins de cateva ori, strofa, prezenta scenic si coregrafia din background m-au facut sa intind mana dupa flaconul cu antinevralgice sau paharul cu vodca…in proportie 1:1. Mediocru spre cacofonie. Sper ca traditionalul “fish and chips” ii iese mai bine lui Eduard decat Eurovizionul.

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4. Xandra – Walk on by

O melodie surprinzator de buna. Nu stiu cum suna vocea Xandrei in realitate la un microfon non-TVR-ist. In seara finalei am senzatia ca mai lipseste ceva, un zvac, putina forta, asa pe masura partiturei muzicale. Rezultatul a fost o prestatie bunicica, dar,  care a sters rapid initiala speranta ca ceea ce urmeaza poate fi o varianta mioritica a maltezei Chiara. Asta nu ma opreste sa ma intreb, gandindu-ma la intrebarea lui Helciug, daca el a ascultat-o vreodata pe Adele?

5. MIHAI TRAISTARIU – I won’t surrender

Inainte de a asculta melodia mi-au dat lacrimile la bucuria Iulianei Tudor cand a descoperit  ca oamenii mai si citesc. Da, intr-adevar unii mai fac si altceva decat bluzite, buzite si codite, fata mamii!. Back to business o stim cu totii: Mihai are o vocea mare. O stim cu totii: melodiile lui sunt bune si foarte bune. Dar mai stim cu totii ca Mihai nu este o persoana cu care se lucreaza usor…dupa ce i-a calcat pe bataturi pe organizatori la Baia Mare anul trecut a avut …curaj sa se intoarca pe scena in 2017. Rezultatul: cred ca o noua pozitie 2 pentru o melodie care are stofa si voce pentru Festivalul Cantecului European.

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6. MAXIM – Adu-ti aminte

O sansa se mergem fara emotii in finala de la Kiev din preselectie. O melodie frumos construita, voci inspirat armonizate, plus ideea de a aduce filonul folcloric in competitie mi-au placut. Chiar daca Luna lui Taxi nu a spart clasamentul in vremea ei, cei de la Maxim ar avea sanse, melodia lui Sana alunecand frumos spre modern. Si cu siguranta pana la finala ucrainiana imperfectiunile vocale se vor netezi.

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7. Tavi Cholen & Emma – We own the night

O melodie care suna familiar…bine si familiar. Atat de familiar incat nu imi pot aduce aminte numele original. Interpretarea este un fel de “Frumoasa si Vocea”. Emma este frumoasa foc iar Tavi, nu mai era un secret pentru nimeni, aduce vocea in cuplu. O excelenta melodie pentru partea superioara a clasamentului. A, si apropos, mi-am adus aminte de unde venea infuzia de sunete din refren care imi placea: Journey-Dont Stop Believing

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8. INSTINCT – Petale

Puteti da cu pietre, dar melodia este una dintre preferatele mele.Ba chiar asta e cantecul pe care il vad sub steagul Romaniei la Kiev si chiar in primele 5 poate. Imi place cum creste melodia si cum vocile se impletesc extrem de delicat si cu efect maxim. Daca elimini miscarea scenic ciudata, tatuajele false de prost gust…ale lui….asta poate fi o melodie care la Kiev sa ne dea batai de cap ca putem aduce finala 2018 la Bucuresti, sau Craiova daca asa vrea PSD-ul.

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9. RAMONA NERA – Save me

O melodie destul de moderna, cantata binisor si cu o monotonie si previzibilitate tolerabila. Din pacate nici, inca o data in show-ul de duminica, luminile extraordinare si bustul impresionant al Ramonei nu au putut salva produsul final.

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10. CRISTINA VASIU – Set the skies on fire

Ultima finalista ar fi fost cu siguranta o potentiala reprezentanta a Islandei la Kiev. Constructia melodiei seaman cu produsele venite din tara gheizerelor in ultimii ani. Evident islandezi ar renunta la rochie, la coafura de botez, la machiajul din alt film si evident si la voce. Ar pastra melodia si cred ca ar fura de la TVR decupajul si backing-ul vocal.

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Si uite asa s-a terminat concursul. Cu o strambatura punctata de o prezentare, sau invers,  Dan Helciug a anuntat o surpriza in 2017 la Kiev: reprezentantanta Elvetiei este romanca: Timebelle – Apollo. Se vede…iar ca Elvetia ramane sa viseze la anul in care Celin Dion castiga trofeul pentru tara cantoanelor. Evident ca a urmat startul votului telefonic dupa o alta cascada de perle marca Helciug: “degete in aer”, “Romania butoneaza” si zambetul jenat/angelic al Ioanei din Camera Verde.

Iuliana Tudor face o baie de multime si prezinta invitatul special: The Arrival – un tribute ABBA.Trupa este, fara doar si poate, cel mai de success copycat al celebrilor suedezi. Cantand in toata lumea din 1995, de la sali arhipline la vase de croaziera si petreceri private au re-creat iluzia momentului asteptat de toti fanii muzicii pop: reintoarcerea pe scena a celor 4 magnifici care castigau Eurovisionul in 1974 la Brighton. Un show frumos cu costume, coregrafie,  armonii care cu siguranta i-au facut pe fanii ABBA, si nu numai, sa danseze oriunde s-ar afla. Pana si Traian Basescu s-a lasat pacalit si intr-un stil inspirat de Donald Trump s-a apucat sa bombardeze siturile de socializare cu emotiile post-Waterloo.  Poate era mai potrivita prezenta pentru o editie “O data-n viata” sau “Te cunosc de undeva” decat o finala a Selectiei Nationale Eurovision. Sau poate inca ne place sa bem Cico in loc de Fanta? Oricum cei 4 au fost cel mai aproape de performanta Eurovision-ul dintre toti cei care au urcat duminica pe scena. Pacat ca nu participa pentru Romania!

Au urmat in scena reprezentantii Moldovei la Kiev 2017. Poate, daca nu sunt foarte ocupati la anul, ii rugam sa vina prin lumea muzicala mioritica sa dea ceva lectii. Excelenta piesa si punere in scena. Spaniolul venit la Bucuresti reia linia curata cu baieti dulcici descoperiti de o strabunica a celebrului “X Factor” – “Operacion Triunfo”. Ascultand piesa fara sa ma uit la Manuel, am senzatia ca nici macar Romania nu va vota pentru Espana anul acesta.

Ultimele “2 minute de metri” (vorba lui Helciug) aduc isteria maxima a prezentatorului! Greu de suportat, nu din cauza emotiilor ci datorita incoerentei si decibelilor mai potriviti la Spitalul de Urgenta….”atmosfera ca de revelion” cum spune Helciug!

Excelenta ideea cu cresterea emotiilor si dezvaluirea primilor trei clasati. Pacat ca Iuliana nu a inteles ca nu era momentul ei de glorie ci al primilor 3 clasati.

Iar distrugerea sistematica a momentului culminant continua cu anuntarea marelui castigator. Oare nu s-a facut o sedinta de redactie inainte de emisiune sa i se explice Iulianei ca nu a castiga ea Miss Univers 1985, ci ca era doar un voice-over pentru un castigator al unei selectii nationale.

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Din spatele divei fata lui Helciug spune totul. Daca mai gasiti inregistrarea de duminica uitati-va la schimbul de priviri dintre Ioana si Dan cand Anca-Iuliana-Ramona Tudor mentioneaza pentru a 100 oara titlul emisiunii din dotare “O data-n viata” (de parca am putea uita cum se numeste!). Merita sa faceti un GIF cu fetele celor doi.

Inainte de anuntul final inca o gluma proasta a lui Dan si o reactive pe masura a Iulianei. Noroc cu picioarele Ioanei care erau colosale!

Restul show-ului nu a mai contat. A fost un fel de “O data-n viata” (oops am luat si eu ticul verbal) masacrat de Iuliana care nici moarta sau transpirata nu lasa microfomul partenerilor de prezentare.

Noroc ca Ioana avea picoare COLOSALE!

Genericele au curs si uite asa am scapat de Eurovision obsesie nationala pentru inca un an!

Tragem linie si adunam:

  • Ca show de televiziune productia TVR de duminica a demonstrate inca o data, desi nu cred ca mai era nevoie, ca are cu ce si are si cu cine. Important este sa le dai oamenilor ADEVARATI de televiziune incredere si mana libera. Excelent show! Bravo fostilor colegi din Dorobantilor 191.
  • La capitolul prezentatori au trecut clasa Ioana (proaspata, fireasca si uneori cu o stangacie eleganta si fermecatoare) si Anca-Ramona-Andreea-Iuliana Tudor (care a fost omul potrivit, la locul potrivit, daca locul avea eticheta de “O data-n viata”). Dan, cu toata admiratia pe care o am pentru el ca om si artist, la capitolul prezentare de eveniment (de calibrul Eurovision, nu o petrecere pe plaja organizata de berea nu stiu care) mai are nevoie de ceva meditatii gen “la microfon se vorbeste nu se tipa”, “nu mai da din mana”, “ai slit frumos dar nu e nevoie sa-l faci public” si asa mai departe. Dar astea sunt rautati de “dinozaur”
  • Ma gandesc la suferintele juriului care a trebuit sa asculte piese mult mai proaste (se poate asa ceva?) decat cele din finala. Nu stiu altii, dar eu dupa terminarea finalei am simtit nevoia se umplu casa cu vocea Paulei si Luminitei…asa ca spalare a pacatelor de telespectator.
  • “Heidi & Peter” de Romania se vor plasa confortabil printe cantecele despre care se va VORBI la Kiev. Nu neaparat se va vota! Poate doar in conditiile in care echipa din spatele participarii noastre la Eurovision 2017 va aborda melodia exact asa cum este: ca pe o gluma. Poate doar asa sa ne auzim de doua ori pe scena din Ukraina.

Un amic strengar de pe Facebook spunea ca aici a fost mana lui Johannis, si de accea s-a votat pentru influente germanice din zona luetei. Sa fiu sincer musical, si nu numai prefer, sa ascult un yodler decat un braulet de Teleorman.

Mult success Ilinca si Alex la Kiev!

MSC SEAVIEW – A HANDFUL OF COINS FOR A €9bn INVESTMENT

•February 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Seaview will be the highlight of next year for MSC Cruises, as she will begin sailing in June 2018 in the western Mediterranean for her first summer season.  Then, the 5,179-guest capacity ship will continue to Brazil in November.  She will be the second of two sister ships in the Seaside generation to be built by Fincantieri.  Sister ship MSC Seaside is set to enter service later this year, and will be christened in her homeport of Miami.

The “Coin Ceremony” held on February 2nd marked a milestone in the construction of MSC SEAVIEW giving a clear sign of MSC Cruises’ serious intention to triple its fleet by 2023. The “coin ceremony”, at the FINCANTIERI shipyards in Monfalcone, is an age-old tradition carried out in the early stages of the building of a ship to bring luck to the vessel during its future voyages.

The coin ceremony for a vessel takes place when its keel is laid, in the early stages of the construction process.  Tradition says that two long-standing employees representing the shipyard and the shipowner act as godmothers for the ceremony, placing two coins under the new ship’s keel block as a sign of good fortune and blessing.  Michela Bullo from Fincantieri and Loredana Giammusso from MSC had the honour of performing the task at the beginning of February.

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MSC Seaview will come into service in June 2018, sailing the Western Mediterranean in her inaugural summer season visiting the ports of Genoa, Naples, Messina, Valletta, Barcelona and Marseille. In November the ship will then sail on to Brazil with as transatlantic cruise that will give some lucky voyagers the chance to have a two week cruise across the ocean. Like its sister ship MSC Seaside, this vessel has taken ship design to a whole new level. With its 323 metre length and impressive 160,000 tonnes, MSC Seaview will accommodate over 5,000 guests.

Such a massive undertaking will ensure MSC Cruises will continue to be the world’s largest privately-owned cruise line as well as market leader in Europe, South America and South Africa. But one cannot count exclusively on heavy investments, long term marketing plans, technological advancements and ever more modern and safer ship designs to get by, we also need a little luck!

Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises’ executive chairman commented: ‘MSC Seaview is a reflection of our unique and ongoing commitment to each time bring to market the most innovatively conceived cruise ships, as the Seaside generation of MSC Cruises ships introduces yet another game-changing prototype.’

Giuseppe Bono, CEO of Fincantieri, said: ‘We always celebrate every stage of progress of this project with satisfaction. The MSC Seaview order, as a sister ship to MSC Seaside, which was floated out in November 2016, is one of those which has allowed the crucial relaunch of the cruise market. Our group has shown to fully match this important opportunity, which has helped to make Fincantieri the acknowledged leader in this industry, both in terms of volume and product diversification.’

Gianni Onorato, MSC Cruises CEO added: ‘MSC Seaview will bring guests and the sea closer to each other, with a pioneering beach condo concept and other unique design and product elements that allow to make the most of the warmer weather. With one of the highest ratios of outdoor spaces at sea, guests will also enjoy an increased number of balcony cabins, sea views and outdoor public areas, with every element carefully planned to allow to make the most of the sea and the sunshine.’

Antonio Paradiso, country manager of MSC Cruises UK & Ireland commented: ‘MSC Seaside has seen a 46% increase in UK sales for the same itinerary compared to last year, with an overall increase of 69% year-on-year increase in the Caribbean – helped by our Fly&Cruise package to the region, with charter flights with Virgin Atlantic.’ In the Mediterranean, Paradiso said, ‘MSC Meraviglia (debuting thsi summer) is currently our most booked ship in this region and represents 20% of our volumes for 2017, with the Med seeing a 30% YoY increase in guests. We expect to see this trend continue with MSC Seaview (in 2018) and MSC Bellissima (arriving in 2019).’

With a breathtaking 360° ocean level promenade it will allow guests to experience the sea and not just float above it, while enjoying mesmerising views even while dining, shopping or just walking around. Technology-wise, MSC Cruises is creating the Seaside class of ships as “next-generation smart ships” and they will employ the latest and snazziest technology afloat. The line has formed a partnership with Samsung, and the tech will include everything from the latest displays and mobile solutions, to virtual reality. Specifically, this will include:

  • Near Field Communication (NFC), using a cruise card, bracelet or smartphone for a range of different options including geo-location of children, cabin access and onboard payment.
  • Interactive screens to make it simple to select excursions as well as booking shows and restaurants.
  • iBeacon technology that is customized to each passengers’ specific preferences so that they will never miss their favourite experiences, can communicate with mobile devices and send push notifications about relevant information and offers

For those who can’t wait to experience the best in cruising or who wish to be among the first to sail on such a marvel, these ships have been bookable since 4th July 2016!

VOYAGE JULES VERNE – THE BITTER TASTE OF TRUST

•February 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

A review of a Voyage Jules Verne trip to Cuba

 

The first time when the Worldwide Journeys brochure arrived at my doorstep I was extremely excited. I read every page, looking at the photos and itineraries and, closing my eyes, I could imagine myself travelling in incredible places under the prestigious label of “Voyage Jules Verne” – named in 2016 the Best Specialist Tour Operator at “The Travel Awards”.worldwide-journeys-banner

The prices were a little bit over the average price of the market for my favourite destinations but the promises in their brochure of “inspiring tours”, “packed with special touches and little extras” and “expert guides to show you the true character of each destination and take you beyond the norm” won over all my worries created by the less-than-positive reviews on tripadvisor.co.uk, dooyoo.co.uk and beyond. It was then I started to plan a VJV journey. Choosing between a Nile Cruise, a trip to Peru or Cuba, the idea of Fidel and Che’s island was my ultimate choice: “Cuba 5-Star”. The “5 Star” associated with the name of the tour was an important element in my decision.

So here I was, middle of October, with the phone in my hand, ready to book a nice Christmas present for my partner. From that point, Voyage Jules Verne failed in all and every aspects possible. So, make yourself a coffee, sit down and get ready to read the story of a “glossy brochure” travel agent ruining 7 days spent in one of the most beautiful and interesting destinations in the Caribbean.

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PRE-TOUR

VJV mention in their brochure and website that their, “expert staff organise every detail so you can book in complete confidence”. Sounds great but it is far from reality.  The gentleman that I spoke with was more interested in reading a long script explaining that VJV doesn’t have any responsibility if Cuba will disappoint me as a destination, than in answering my questions. When I enquired regarding an upgrade to Business Class flights he tried hard to convince me that Premium Economy was better…really?!  I tried to book a post-tour extension in Varadero, but the same gentleman informed me that extensions were not offered for the dates that I wanted to book. Disappointed initially, I was later frustrated when, during the tour, when I discover that 2 other couples booked with VJV a 4 day extension in the beach resort. I can’t stop wondering: is the agent working on commission and employed to bring revenues to the company or was there just to cover for a maternity leave?

The moment the money disappeared from my bank account was the last moment I heard anything about or from Voyage Jules Verne. An email with the confirmation of the booking was sent and after that total silence.  No, I am lying: 2 weeks before the tour I received a second email copy-and-pasted from the first one, with the addition of the date when the tour supposed to start and some vague instructions related to our arrival. He was trying to be “transparent” and advise me to pay only the deposit and after the completion of the transaction he added that “maybe the tour will be cancelled if the minimum number of customers is not reached” but they will let me know. Is just me or was a little bit too late?

While other travel agencies (such as Gate1, Viking, Destinology, ITC) send you a wide range of useful information, timings and details of every day of the tour, VJV was as silent as the remote beaches of Cuba. I contacted them trying to get some information related the daily schedule as I was interested to book and organise some extra tours and evenings in our free time. The agent, a lovely female voice this time, assured me that I didn’t need anything, as I “will be too busy” and “the tour manager” will give me anything I wanted in Havana. Reassuringly, she ended with “no worries, the tour is very good”.

VJV fooled me again. On the positive side, they sent me home a new brochure for 2017 and 2 imitation leather luggage tags. Great deal!

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TRANSFER OUTBOUND

As I decided to book my own flights (by the way Air France/KLM have an excellent hard and soft product for both short and long haul), VJV discount £700 from the price of the holiday per guest for the cost of the economy Virgin Atlantic flight and transfers to/from José Martí airport in Havana.  I therefore paid VJV for outbound and inbound private transfers in Havana for £30 return. I knew from my previous trips to Havana that a taxi will be cheaper (around £20 return) but I wanted to save the hassle of running with my luggage in the terminal to find a driver. It’s common to hear about the long waiting time at the luggage carousel at the airport, and even Air France crew mention that in the landing PA. However, we were lucky and the luggage arrived in 20 minutes and all the formalities were smooth and quick. 50 minutes after landing we were landside, in the arrivals area looking for our transfer, as instructed by VJV: “you will be met by our representative (…) holding a Jules Verne sign”. Surprise, Surprise: nobody was waiting for us and I spent 15 minutes reading all funny names from all 5 continents on all boards waved in arrivals. On a positive note, I had 30 minutes’ time for a quick-ish smoke outside while my partner was chasing an agent inside the terminal. Finally, the local representative arrived and with a charming smile informed us that “we arrived earlier and the driver is not here”. After another 15 minutes, a taxi driver appeared we were told that the transfer was ready.  From my experience when other companies offer a paid private transfer the driver assists you with the luggage; being just a taxi driver, ours was having a smoke when we were trying to fit the luggage in the car and ended with one suitcase placed in the front seat.

Before leaving us with the driver, the airport rep gave us the “welcome pack”: an envelope, with some hand-written information about the first meeting containing a welcome letter from Kuoni; a booking form for optional tours with very interesting options but not applicable to our tour; and extensive explanations about how we must score the tour with 9 and 10 which “means we have achieved our goal in making your holiday unique”.

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Interesting, I thought, and I blamed the long flight for having some reserves related to the holiday that was about to start. The next day in the morning we and our fellow travellers spent some time trying to locate the meeting point for the Welcome briefing as the handwritten envelope mentioned “main lobby” and guess what? The hotel we had been booked into for the first three nights, Parque Central, has 2 main lobbies in two different buildings. Walking around the hotel I was wondering if Voyage Jules Verne went bust during our 10 hour flight between Paris and Havana and that was the explanation of the total lack of company presence in Havana. Later I understood that in fact Voyage Jules Verne had sold us a Kuoni tour, operated by the national tour operator Cubanacan. So, the motto of the trip according the advice of the Kuoni representative was: “Don’t blame VJV, blame Cuba!”.

THE TOUR

Voyage Jules Verne promises, both in the brochure and website, an “authentic travel with a twist for people who love to see the world” in an “expertly planned and organised” way (https://www.vjv.com/about-us/#difference).  Really? So, how do they explain the glaring differences between the glossy brochure promises and the reality in the field during our “Cuba 5-Star”?  Do we need to “blame Cuba” again?

First of all, nothing was “expertly planned and organised” and the entire tour took place under a cloak secrecy, with our guide revealing the stops, sights, meal times etc., as we were travelling across the country.  This gave me the feeling that the poor driver and guide were creating a tour for VJV on the go, who had forgotten what we paid for.  Although the main points of day by day schedule were respected, there were too many things were missing:

In Havana, after the city tour, nobody remembered that visit to a rum factory and a “Special Event” to sample a cocktail at ‘Hemingway’s Haunt’ had been promised by VJV (https://www.vjv.com/the-americas-tours/cuba/cuba-5star-1/#itinerary). Despite the fact that the company prides itself with VJV Special Events which “enhance the experience of Jules Verne travellers”, arranging “exclusive and memorable special events, illuminating the country and peoples you are visiting”, the scheduled stop to the bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway, “El Floridita”, was replaced with an explanation where to find the place on the map.   Later on in the tour,  in Cienfuegos, the highlighted visit to a cigar factory was also cut without explanations.  Their website does indicate that the visits to both the rum and cigar factories “may be replaced with an alternative visit” but none were offered.

VJV prides itself with a product which “encompasses (…) the conventional and the unexpected, a variety of themes and special interests – all underpinned by quality and value for money” (https://www.vjv.com/about-us/#history) using “knowledgeable local guides”. Let’s put the things straight: our “Cuba 5-Star” didn’t have a tour manager or local guides. For 7 days, a charming young lady tried skilfully to mix up a cocktail of tour manager, escort and guide.  However, although she was local and knowledgeable, her expertise was limited to covering the driving time between A and B with interesting stories, local history and general information about the country. The long list of museums listed by VJV for this tour got just a very quick presentation at the entrance followed by free time.  For instance it was quite frustrating in the Cuban Art Museum in Havana or Trinidad’s City Museum to see how other groups benefitted from a guide’s explanation while we were walking around trying to ready the bilingual inscriptions. If I wanted to do a “guided tour” with a guide book in my hand I would not need Voyage Jules Verne for this A good guide book is infinitely less expensive.

VJV describes itself as a creator of tours which “offer authentic travel with a twist for people who love to see the world”. To be honest in 8 days we spent more time in shops or meal provider’s places (I will not call them restaurants and you will see later why) than in cities we visited: one afternoon free in Havana, 50 minutes in Santa Clara, 10 minutes in Remedios, 30 minutes in Cienfuegos, and a late afternoon in Trinidad. You must be Speedy Gonzalez to have time for a single museum visit in these conditions. On the positive side after this tour – which was more a teaser than a real tour – I decided to go back…this time without Voyage Jules Verne.

Of course, the company will put the blame on the guide. But that charming girl was doing the  job she is paid to do, a classic tour oversold by VJV; even the KUONI rep didn’t know the name of the tour we were in.

ACCOMMODATION

VJV mentions the struggle to organise a trip “allowing for a tour of the island whilst staying in some of Cuba’s best accommodation”. When I enquired, I was told by one of the agents that the “5-star” element of “Cuba 5-star” refers mainly to the accommodation.  This was something I was happy to pay premium price for.

The reality was a little bit different. Imagine that somebody invites you for a ride in a Rolls Royce. Very exciting! But all dreams are brought down to Earth when you realise that for the promised Rolls ride, your reserved seat is in the car boot. That was exactly the situation with our “Cuba 5-Star”

All the hotels during our tour were categorised as five star. But, as you know, each 5 star hotel has its own cheap rooms, borderline 4/5 stars, at reduced prices.  This is exactly where VJV booked us:

  • Iberostar Parque Central Havana has two buildings: the 5 star one (with better rooms, more luxurious facilities, free WIFI, better trained staff) called the Colonial wing, and is the place where all the respectable agencies operating 5 star tours accommodate their clients. Even Kuoni have groups there. The other building “Moderno” is more modest in all aspects, a 4 star hotel used by many airlines for their night stops (Virgin Atlantic, Air France, etc.). Speaking Spanish, was easy to communicate with the staff and realise that the two wings are part of two different worlds. Accordingly, the prices are different too. So not a really five star in Havana, VJV.
  • Iberostar Ensenachos in Cayo Santa Maria has 5 stars at the entrance, too. But here the differences were more visible. The 5 star part (The Grand Village) is quite far away from the central part and has its own restaurants, beach and facilities. The place where we spent 2 nights was more an all-inclusive trashy, cheap resort like the ones which can be found in the cheaper Spanish costas. It offered a continuous fight for food in the huge, canteen-like buffet area, towels left on sunbeds to reserve the places for families, cheap drinks imitating real cocktails and lame entertainment. On top of that, the rooms for our group were placed in an area used only when the hotel is overbooked and was still under renovation. As we arrived quite late, the room were only partial ready and some facilities associated with a 5 star hotels arrived the following day. The description of the hotel in VJV brochure and website with “a wide choice of restaurants” (https://www.vjv.com/the-americas-tours/cuba/cuba-5star-1/#accommodation) was not at all accurate due to the fact that only the buffet was included. If you wanted to book an “a la carte” restaurant they were not available for a 2-night stay and “The Colonial” restaurant, which was close to the idea of a 5 star, was available for a 25CUC fee.  Having being made to eat the buffet in our first night, we paid for eat there for the second and it was worth it for decent food and service.
  • Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad was the only hotel in this trip close to the idea of a 5 star. Friendly and efficient service, high standard facilities and a perfect location. Of course, that’s my opinion, but some of my fellow traveller weren’t so happy with the hotel. We were lucky enough to get a room with a beautiful terrace looking over the square and beautiful views of a magnificent sunset and sunrise. Others got a room just with a window and some of the rooms were looking over the street behind the hotel. I don’t think that is fair to pay the same amount of money and get different rooms, especially when at the reception the displayed price indicated the different grades – and prices – of the accommodations available.

FOOD

If you are not adventurous enough to find your own alternatives, VJV’s “Cuba 5-Star” will leave you with the feeling that Cuban’s cuisine is a total disaster with poor quality ingredients and boring recipes. This is not at all the truth. Cuban’s cuisine is based on fresh ingredients, following the main trend of the Caribbean cooking style but with a very interesting infusion of Spanish, African and Continental touches. However, to discover the real Cuban cooking you need to walk away from the included lunches and dinner that VJV offers in the tour.

According to the VJV website, the tour has all breakfast included, 3 lunches and 3 dinners. If I ignore the morning in Cayo Santa Maria where the breakfast reminds me of a buffet in a cheap Spanish summer resort, in Havana and Trinidad the hotels provided an excellent breakfast with the expected fusion between a traditional breakfast (omelettes, sausages, cheese, cereals) and local cuisine (churros, friend bananas and amazing fresh tropical fruits.

Why do you need to include poor quality and cheap meals when is better to stay safe and just recommend a range of available restaurants? Thankfully we had internet access and we found via TripAdvisor excellent restaurants which provided a very different image of Cuban cuisine.: Habana 61 and Al Carbon in Havana , Santa Clara Libre in Santa Clara, La Redaccion in Trinidad.

SAFETY & COMFORT

This are two capital components of the “duty of care” regardless if you travel by air, on water or on land. In my more than 25 years’ experience travelling around the world, I realised that every company, no matter how strong or weak is their product, places the safety and comfort of their guests on a priority list.  However, on my “Cuba 5-Star” trip, Voyage Jules Verne, being so divorced from the end product, lost somehow the control of these two elements.

When you target a market of 50+ customers and you design a tour with long drives across Cuba (4-5 hours) maybe will be a good idea to provide a coach with facilities which will cover the need for “technical stops”. This is especially important in a country where the toilet breaks are made only in places approved by the tour operator. During our trips in Cuba, some of them with 4-5 hours’ drive, we had only one stop/sector in places owned by Cubanacan. These were absolutely fine places, efficient service and adequate facilities but sometimes your bladder doesn’t agree with the beauty of landscape or the rules of the contract.  Since our minibus, despite being very comfortable, didn’t have a toilet, you can imagine the rush and the queue on every stop every day. We saw on our travels smaller groups in bigger coaches with the mentioned facilities. I can understand the idea of cutting costs but when the comfort and the idea of duty of care are ignored I can’t associate this with a 5-star tour.

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The scariest experience was for far in Cayo Santa Maria. To cut the story short I was verbally abused by a “merry guest”, a habitué of the establishment for an entire evening.  Despite the front desk, the night shift manager and security guards being informed and observing this happening, they did very little to assist.  . The next morning, the verbal and physical assault continued, again in front of the staff who found the situation “funny” making comments in Spanish without knowing that, unfortunately, I also speak the language.  More frightening was finding out that the “gentleman” knew exactly the time when we supposed to be leaving the hotel and he “woke up so early” to meet us again as “planned”. The verbal and physical abuse continued on the same racist and homophobic lines, under the amused faces of the front desk and security personnel. I am a big adult and I can cope with any type of behaviour but, what really worried me was how a sensitive information, like our departure time, leaked from the Front Desk to a private guest,  in particular given his violent behaviour the night before. Has anybody heard about data protection in that hotel? What else did the kind receptionists say about us? I cannot blame the aggressive guest – it was probably the poor-quality free drinks or the low standards of this “5 star all-inclusive resort”. I cannot blame the reception or security for not doing their jobs  -that’s a management issue. But I cannot stop asking myself where was the “duty of care” of VJV when they decided to place guests in that hotel.  Is again “cost efficiency” against “quality customer service”?

POST-TOUR

On our arrival, I received a quaint quality questionnaire from Voyage Jules Verne. Very basic questions proving again that is no interest in finding what guests find the company excels and what is clearly not working with their products.  I have filled in so many questionnaires in my lifetime for airlines, hotels, cruise ships, tour operators, yet never have I seen something so basic until now.  More than a genuine interest in guests’ experiences, it’s more a box-ticking exercise and pretending that they have some “post-tour” contact with their guests.  Nevertheless, after my messages on social media I got a phone call from the VJV office to learn more about what had gone wrong on my holiday.  The official answer from the office was the ultimate sock. To my attempts of offering a constructive feedback related to the tour, the answer was blunt if not quite rude: “…there are a number of aspects on which I feel I could challenge you…”

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BOTTOM LINE

Voyage Jules Verne is so divorced from the end product that is very difficult for me to match the online/printed promises with the reality of my “Cuba 5-Star”.  It was incredibly frustrating to realise after 8 days and more than a few thousand pounds later,  that one of the reviews on VJV services was right: “just another brochure tour operator”.

One of the main rules of any hotelier, which can be applied here, is that  it is more expensive and far more difficult to get new customer through your door than keeping the existing ones in.  In our group, from 16 travellers, one was a repeater with 15 first timers. It’s hardly surprising that more than 80% of the first timers will not come back to VJV. It sounds to me like a dreadful waste of money and energy in putting together, printing and sending an excellent brochure and after that losing almost everything due to the poor service quality and disjunction between promises and reality.

I know that is nobody to blame but me. I was the one excited about the trip, I was the one booking and spending the money. But maybe somebody in the VJV office will realise how much you can lose if you overpromise and underdeliver. Maybe I am not their target market but before the trip to Cuba I was lining up another 3 trips with them, first one in May on the Nile, one in South America and the “palace on wheels” in India. That’s a lot of future bookings for any travel agent, coming from a market sector who invest more in holiday than the rest.

Going back to the VJV questionnaire when I was asked if I would recommend them the answer was clearly no. I don’t want anybody to experience the frustration of realising the difference between the printed/online materials and the real tour. It’s sad that after a week, in an amazing country like Cuba, the only memories that deserved to be shared with friends and family are the excellent flights both ways and the meals, drinks and excursions that we planned and did independently.  In the official answer VJV replayed to my comments with an incredible sentence: “As I said, I do not agree with some of your sentiments…” Really? A serious customer service provider knows that the feed-back is a gift and you always say “thank you”.

When I was asked if I would book with VJV in the future, the answer was easy: NO. The resolution of VJV was the perfect reason to don’t book again: we would like to offer you a 5% discount from any of our tours and this offer would have a two-year validity”. Really? Did VJV ever heard about the fact that in customer recovery never ever assume customer needs. That’s a very poor customer retention strategy. Was easier and cheaper if they were ready to accept the feedback, stop blaming the locals and change something in the future to make the trip a real 5-Star Cuba.

I still keep the brochure on my desk which is a bad sign. However, on a positive side, other offers, magazines and brochures arrive daily at home and Voyage Jules Verne is going lower and lower in my “to do in 2017” pile.

IBEROSTAR CUBA – 3 HOTELS, 3 STORIES

•January 30, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This year in January I spent one week in Cuba travelling across the island and discovering again a beautiful destination where I always love to go back. The tour organised by Voyage Jules Verne used for all our stays hotels from the Spanish chain IBEROSTAR, all rated 5 star. To be clear from the beginning: if I will take care of my own bookings I would never chose Iberostar for my accommodation,  in Cuba nor anywhere in Europe. Just because “budget hotels”, even the high end ones are not my cup of tea.  The chain has the reputation of mass produced tourism style services and my previous experience in hotels and resorts proved the point the most of the time the stars associated with different establishments were given after a very “generous” assessment. And in Cuba the story was not very different than in Europe.

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HAVANA – Iberostar Parque Central

On my previous trips to Havana I used Parque Central because it’s excellent location. You are minutes from the vibrant Havana Vieja and in no time, you discover yourself absorbed by the vibes of Obispo street. The hotel is still no. 1 according to the ratings and the service style didn’t change to much in the last 5 years.

 

Before I used the colonial part of the hotel, facing the Central Park, but, this time I had my accommodation in the new wing The Tower (El Torre). Is linked to the old building with an interesting underground passage reminding you with photos and artefacts about the history of Cuba.

Even if the entire complex is rated 5 star be aware that between the colonial part and the tower are couple of differences which made the new building more a 4 star hotel. At the end of the day airline crew stay there and, taking in the account the cost awareness in airline industry I don’t know any airline placing their staff in a 5 star hotel.

The tower has its own reception and concierge so, if you are staying here don’t attempt to use the colonial services…you will be send back to your 4-star world. But in the tower, both the Reception and Concierge are very polite and helpful. And if you add a tip in your first day you can assure for yourself a nice smooth stay with guaranteed taxi and restaurant bookings.

During my stay, I have a room at the 8th floor which had a little inconvenience. The hotel has 3 elevators and most all the time only one was working so be aware of waiting time and be open to start friendly conversation with others using the one and only elevator in the building. Can be quite useful for tips about the city.

The room and the bathroom are quite big with generous space but again the size, the amenities and the furniture are more 4 stars than 5. Maybe the only 5-star touch was the spot-on cleanness of the room.

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On top of the Tower I found a nice, decent size pool with a bar and a restaurant, not so glam like in the colonial part but still a pleasant place for a Mojito in the afternoon. Time to time the restaurant was offering dinner and special events and one night I enjoyed the Cuban National Cameral Orchestra during a special dinner.

Of course, you can spend a lot of time in the colonial part of Parque Central where the lobby is buzzing with action and live music, the food and the cocktails are pretty good, the service is great and the prices reasonable. Such a pity that The Tower didn’t offer the same atmosphere; the only thing that you could do in the lobby was people watching: tourist waiting on top of their suitcase for the transfer or flight attendants checking in or out.

The breakfast was outstanding with great choice (a mixture between European, English and local dishes), lots of fresh fruits and juices (the Cucumber juice was amazing) and a service in line with any high-class traveller. Of course, you can chose to have breakfast in the colonial building, but here in the tower was a little bit more cosy and intimate with quicker and better service. Perfect experience to start your day.

Both Front Desk and Concierge were very helpful and well trained. You can exchange money at the reception if you need more CUC any time of the day (the office located in the colonial part of the hotel have opening times not very accommodating for the tourists) and the Concierge can book for you any tours taxis or restaurant. One evening trying to find a last-minute table in a restaurant, Eddy the Concierge, recommended us an excellent place. Was very honest both about the prices and menu and actually he advises us to walk instead of taking a taxi as the restaurant was very close. That’s what I call an excellent Concierge.

Bottom line the Torre Parque Central is in reality a 4 star hotel but with good accommodation and services. Of course if they will try to bring some live in the premises for sure will be as popular as the Main Lobby in the colonial wing of the hotel.

TRINIDAD -Iberostar Grand Hotel

IBEROSTAR Grand Hotel Trinidad is indeed the door to a world of maximum comfort in the centre of Trinidad. Is actually an adults-only hotel (guests cannot be under 15 years old), hosted in one of the most impressive properties on the island.

Located in Plaza Carillo the hotel is just a walking distance from extraordinary restaurants, vibrant places full of live music and famous Plaza Major with its impressive cathedral and an open-air Casa de la Musica.

The IBEROSTAR Grand Hotel Trinidad include 4 junior suites, 18 double rooms and 18 doubles with a balcony being closer to a boutique hotel them the mass-produced tourism promoted in Cuba by the Iberostar chain. The perfect choice for a fantastic, relaxing stay.

I had a double room with balcony on the first floor and I regretted that I spent only one night here. Drawing inspiration from traditional colonial architecture, the entire hotel brings guests back to sixteenth-century Cuba. The room (#108) was divided into four distinct areas: hall and walk-in closet, private bathroom, large bedroom, and terrace. Add to this an iPod dock and radio alarm clock, pillows à-la-carte, free Wi-Fi (30 minutes) to get the image of the perfect stay.

The terrace was quite large offering lovely views of Parque Céspedes a place always buzzing with music and Cuban spirit. Despite of the fact that the square and the park were always busy the isolation of the room give you the chance of a perfect sleep.

The breakfast served in a very elegant and understated restaurant was a real gastronomic celebration mixing in a smooth way Continental, Spanish, English, American dishes with a twist of Cuban cuisine. Impeccable service and you risk to spend more than accepted time here…it was amazing.

The best asset of the hotel is without doubt the staff. The reception was very efficient and very polite at check in, being helpful and friendly for our entire stay. When we asked the reception about a restaurant where we wanted to have dinner the lovely lady on duty provide us with a map, marking the shortest way and even she offered to call the restaurant to check availability. When we left the hotel for dinner the doorman offered to come with us to be sure that we will take the right turn behind the hotel and we will not get lost.

One little warning: when at the bar or in the lobby watch out for the magician – he is very good but knows new guests and targets them to buy his special box or send you to a not very good restaurant where he will get something in exchange.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this hotel-it is one of the best in Cuba and the staff couldn’t be friendlier and nothing was too much trouble.

CAYO SANTA MARIA – Iberostar Ensenachos

The hotel has, indeed, a 5 stars’ plaque at the entrance but the reality is a little bit different. The resort is divided in 3 different sections and only The Village can be clearly associated with a 5 star hotel.

The frustrating thing about our stay there is the huge difference between the hard and the soft product of Iberostar Ensenachos.

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The original building was planned to be a real 5-star resort. The gardens are amazing, the access to the beach is spectacular and the beach itself is what you expect from an idyllic Caribbean white sand beach. The room are big, with a lot of space and a nice terrace. Even the public areas rich a kind of opulence and luxury expected for a high-class hotel. But the similarities with other 5 star hotels stop here.

My accommodation was in the Spa section in a building still under renovation so from the big terrace I have lovely view of scaffolds and construction sites. The room amenities associated with 5 stars were missing in the first night and the next they when you got your slippers and bathrobes you realised how many groups of “all-inclusive fans” used them.

The room was clean at a superficial level with a lot of dirt in the corners, under the beds. In the second day, we realised how the cleaning was going on: buckets of water on the floor and after that the door was left wide open, with nobody around, to dry. Safety and security rules, no way! Anybody can enter the room and pick up whatever they fancy because was nobody around!

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The food was typical for a 3-star all-inclusive resort anywhere in Spain, Turkey or Greece. Mass produced, with meals looking more like a bunfight in a cheap summer camp than an enjoyable moment. Even the cocktails were the victims of “all-inclusive” cocktails: powder from a can, something coloured made in a plastic bucket and a lot of cheap white rum.

Another “included” surprise: HOUSEFLIES! There were everywhere there was food, in the buffets, at the beach, any food places. They were also in the lobby anywhere sweet drinks were served! Dead flies in food so as the week went on my appetite got less and less. Flies come from maggots which comes from garbage! It is a major health issue to have flies walking all over the food.

Striking was the level of customer service. At Iberostar Ensenachos as higher you are in the hotel’s hierarchy as rude you must be. The lower grade staff in bars and restaurant smile all the time, work hard offering a decent service. The reception and the management is appalling with no customer skills and no wish to do something in line with a 5 start hotel requirements.

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The most concerning aspect of this hotel is safety and security. We witnessed in two different days quite violent conflicts between guests and both the reception staff and the security guards were watching the scenes having a lot of fun and without interfering. Quite terrifying!

The general excuse “what you expect, is Cuba!” doesn’t work here. We meet a couple staying in the posh part “The Village” and cleaning and service was completely different. Something like borderline 4/5 star. Another night we paid and book a table in The Colonial restaurant and the quality of the meal and the service was very good. So, it is possible!

Iberostar Ensenachos is far from a 5 star resort. Cuba have 5 star establishments, both hotels and resorts, but Iberostar Ensenachos is nothing more than a cheap all-inclusive holiday resort over-marketed as an exclusive place to be. If you like a resort in Benidorm, Bodrum or Paphos  Iberostar Ensenachos is your place. At the end of the day nothing is exotic apart of the location and don’t forget that for budget holidaymakers from Canada, Cuba is the same like Cyprus for British or Bali for Australians.

Iberostar Ensenachos is not at all an exclusive 5 star holiday is an all-inclusive mediocre resort tailored for budget holiday maker.

I will not recommend it to those who look for a real 5 star experience in Cuba. And for sure I will not come back…at the end of the day everybody has his/her own standards and expectations.