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Last summer, my boyfriend, 3 kids, and I enjoyed an all-inclusive beach vacation in Cuba after a long (and grueling) school year. We really needed a trip with NO agenda, non-stop tourist attractions, or pressure to see as much as we could – just sunshine and ocean!
Because of the kids’ other summer plans, our travel dates weren’t very flexible, and I had trouble getting award flights and hotels in the Caribbean to line up with our schedule. If you’ve ever found yourself in that situation, don’t despair! There are ways to book paid travel with flexible points and no blackout dates – even vacation packages.
In this series, I’ll share how I booked the trip and our flight and hotel experiences. And give you tips about traveling to Cuba, especially with kids!
A Family Vacation to Cuba Trip Report Index
- Part 1 – Introduction and Planning
- Part 2 – Sunwing Flights to Holguin
- Part 3 – Memories Holguin Beach Resort
- Part 4 – Adventures Outside the Resort
- Part 5 – A Surprise 8th Night and Return Home
Expect the Unexpected!
Our last day in Cuba was supposed to be a Friday, and the kids were sure bummed about having to leave. They’d made some great new Canadian friends over the week and they definitely didn’t want the party to end!
We’d been told to vacate our room by lunchtime (although we could use the resort facilities until our buses left for the airport ~6:00 pm for a 10:20 pm departure.) So I spent the Friday morning frantically getting everyone’s bags packed up and sorting out a to-go bag with clean clothes, swim stuff, and toiletries to use for the afternoon while we didn’t have a room.
Then, some friends we’d met alerted us to the following notice posted at the Sunwing desk near the lobby:
Of course, the Sunwing representative (who’d been at the desk all week encouraging guests to book excursions) was nowhere to be found. And all the front desk staff could tell us was that we’d be able to keep our existing rooms for another night and to show up in the lobby at 6:00 am the next morning to pick up the bus. Nobody knew the reason for the delay.
There were a lot of grumbles from some of the other guests on the same flight, because they had commitments on Saturday they’d end up missing due to spending an extra day. But let me tell you, it was like Christmas morning when we told the kids they got to stay another night! Admittedly, my boyfriend and I were pretty happy to stay a little longer, too.
Meanwhile, other guests bought internet cards (you could access Wi-Fi in the lobby for a small fee) to check with folks back home. It was then we found out what had really happened to cause our flight delay!
The day before, an unruly passenger caused a major disruption on a Sunwing flight between Montreal and Cuba. It was so bad, US F-15 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the aircraft (which returned to Montreal). And this kerfuffle caused a domino effect in Sunwing’s schedule…leading to, well, us spending an extra night.
While I’ll admit this ignorant passenger’s actions were very annoying and inconvenienced a lot of people, this was probably the first time we were ever happy to have an overnight delay.
It’s a good lesson though. If you’re ever booking flights with a smaller airline, particularly charter airlines who schedule their planes very tightly and don’t have a lot of relationships with other airlines if things go wrong, things can go sideways quickly. When irregular operations happen, you’re much more likely to be affected – and delayed by hours or days – than if you fly with a major airline.
Sunwing Return to Toronto
The following morning we got up super early and headed to the airport. We’d gotten to know most of our fellow travelers, and the mood on the bus was somewhere between sadness and relief.
The Holguin airport was deserted – I think we were the only flight leaving that early in the morning.
Passport control was similarly quiet. Here, they took the other half of our tourist cards (which had remained with us) and added an exit stamp to our passports. Easy peasy.
The kids were excited when they saw the Sunwing plane land and taxi to the ramp. They were sad to leave Cuba, but I think they were definitely looking forward to sleeping in their own beds and seeing their pals back home.
The flight back to Toronto was uneventful and relatively quick (~3 hours) with the same polite and efficient service. The kids actually slept for most of it, because they’d been up late the night before hanging out with their resort friends, and had woken up at 5:00 am to get ready to depart.
I was impressed with how apologetic and forthcoming the captain was about the delay and what caused it. The crew didn’t sugarcoat the situation and explained exactly what had happened and why it had affected our flight (reshuffling of planes around, cascading delay, etc).
All told, despite the extra (free!) night in Cuba and a few minor hiccups, we were very pleased with the resort and Sunwing. And we’d love to return to Cuba some day.
We got an unexpected extra night in Cuba when an unruly passenger on another Sunwing flight caused major headaches and delays for the airline.
That was just fine with us, also some passengers were upset because they ended up missing important events the following day due to the delay. It’s an important reminder not to schedule yourself so tightly if you’re returning from an international trip, particularly if you’re flying a smaller airline or departing from a relatively remote location.
We really enjoyed our 7 (er, 8)-night stay at Memories Holguin Beach Resort. The Cuban folks we met were all incredibly nice and genuine and eager to chat! Learning more about their lives and stories was definitely a highlight of the trip, and the kids won’t soon forget meeting and getting to know local children their age.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Cuba, it’s definitely worth it – whether you’re after a beach vacation or looking to soak up local culture and history. We’ll go back again!
If you’re ever booking a package resort stay (anywhere), remember you can use miles from cards like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card or Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® to erase most travel purchases.