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"Shhh, don't write too much about this place, we like it to be our secret," laughs repeat guest Jeff Steele, after we told him we were at Memories Cayo Largo on behalf of TravelPulse Canada.
The retired milkman from Ormstown, QC estimates he and his wife Ginette have visited Memories Cayo Largo about twenty times over the years, long before it was purchased by Sunwing and Blue Diamond Resorts in 2022. He keeps returning because he says the service, location and quietness are unlike any other destination he's visited.
He's not alone. Approximately 60-65% of travellers to Cayo Largo are repeat guests. It's also popular with retirees who book longer stays of 3-4 months as it's more cost effective than other sun destinations.
Another guest, Warren Webster and his late wife celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in 2016 with the whole family at Memories. After her death May 31, 2022, Warren felt he needed to return to the resort by himself to commemorate the one year of her passing.
We met Warren at the beginning of his trip, he had planned to do some quiet introspecting, but instead found himself joining our group for lunch and site checks. Staff, who had become the couple's friends years ago, recognized and supported him throughout the trip; there's even a plaque for him and his wife by their favourite palm tree by the pool.
When a few tears were shed during the lunch, Memories' Manager Carlos de la Cruz reminded him warmly, "Warren, you are not alone."
That level of service and compassion isn't something you see every day.
"Our staff are highly trained and are one big family," explains Carlos de la Cruz during a site check at Villa Marina, where he also showed us the little neighbourhood where staff live.
The small resort island of Cayo Largo is dedicated to tourism; there are no residents and staff spend 21 days working at the 11 hotels, before returning to their homes in Havana and the Island of Youth, for their 10 days off. It could be argued the staff are among the cream of the crop in the industry; each one is put through rigorous multi-leveled training that includes not only the hotel training, but government and police checks as well.
"Cayo Largo has long been loved by Canadians and by Quebecois residents in particular, who return to this beautiful destination time and time again," says Samantha Taylor, CMO Sunwing Vacations.
"This destination is perfect for those who are looking for an idyllic destination that is not overrun by tourists, it has some of the most beautiful beaches you've ever seen - there is 25km of coastline with white sands and crystal-clear waters. Simply put, those looking for a vacation experience that is intimate, secluded and not overly touristy will appreciate visiting Cuba's sunshine coast of Cayo Largo."
Memories Cayo Largo and the other 10 resorts are in need of a bit of a refresh, but that's currently underway. While the resorts likely won't ever join the list of uber-luxury resorts when completed, that's part of their charm. Buildings are low-rise and in some cases bungalow or villas, clean, spacious and have already upgraded AC, water and beds. We've already talked about the food in Cayo Largo, which is definitely not what travellers are probably expecting from Cuba and the wine and liquor options are also very good at the Cayo Largo resorts - premiums like Grey Goose are included.
Free Wifi is included though we had difficulty connecting regularly with it. But maybe that's part of the point.
"Wi-fi has significantly improved across all of Cuba," says Taylor. "Personally, I prefer to disconnect from wi-fi when I'm on vacation but there are certainly options for those who want to or need to be plugged in whether to connect with friends or families or with their work."
Wifi or not, the resort is definitely all about connecting.
"I was nervous about how my first trip without my wife was going to be, and this was just beyond my expectations," said Warren. "I'm comfortable coming back again and can't wait to do so.
We'll have to all have a reunion."
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