Newlyweds Jamie and Jon Hill recently returned after a week-long vacation at a Cuban resort where temperatures hovered around 30 C — compared to -30 C weather back home. (SUBMITTED)
When Jon and Jamie Hill stepped onto their plane in Cayo Santa Maria, the temperature was a balmy 30 C. Less than five hours later, the newlyweds were standing in the Winnipeg Airport facing -37 C conditions.
"It’s like coming back to reality," Jon Hill said about the 67-degree swing after spending a week at an all-inclusive beach resort located in the north-central part of the island country.
The couple, who were married this past summer, picked Cuba for their honeymoon.
"We prefer Cuba because it’s not commercialized," Hill said.
While they’ve travelled south for destination weddings and adventure in the past, Hill said the objective of this trip was strictly to relax and get a respite from the wicked winter weather in Westman.
"We honestly went to do nothing. That was our goal to lie on the beach the whole time," he said.
Booking prior to Christmas saved the couple some money as well. Prices typically spike during the holiday season as many careers are suited for travel at that time.
For a 4.5-star, all-inclusive resort, Hill said the couple paid less than $1,800.
The resort they stayed at is actually on an island linked to the mainland by a 48-kilometre causeway. It consists of nine hotels, more than 6,000 rooms, and is isolated from traditional communities.
Without a town or community nearby, the resort buses craftsmen into a flea market setting where guests can buy local wares.
Unlike Mexico, where you’ll often find cheap knockoffs of name-brand goods, all of the goods are traditional and handmade.
Due to a trade embargo with the United States, Cuba is one destination that tends to get a bad rap when it comes to food. But Hill said, after a little getting used to, the food was quite good.
One surprise for newcomers, however, is the fresh shrimp.
"One thing that always shocks people is that they don’t peel shrimp," he said. "So there is eyeballs, antennas and everything still on them."
Marlene Kirton, of Marlin Travel, said it’s been a busy winter for summer getaways.
"It started with the farmers having a good year, which is really important for this area economically, and then when we started getting the cold weather in December ... normally it slows down during the holiday season and it was busy right through with people wanting to go away because they were already fed up with the December weather," she said.
The market hasn’t changed with the new daily WestJet service to Calgary.
Due to the timing, Kirton said the flights don’t connect with the southern charters forcing people to overnight in both directions if they were going to fly out of Cow Town.
"I think people would be willing to overnight in one direction because often when you fly out of Winnipeg you are overnighting once, but to have to do it twice, it takes a seven day holiday and makes it into nine."
She hopes that changes in the future to give travellers more options.
As for trends, Kirton said prices were very competitive early in the season. Since then, a lot of the mid-range deals have been gobbled up forcing many of the higher-end resorts to drop their prices now.
While it represents a price reduction, Kirton said many of those top resorts are still priced higher than the mid-range resorts.
"When it gets to this time of year we find it has been picked over so the sales are on two- or three-star hotels or five-star hotels," she said. "There are great bargains on the five-star hotels, but it’s more of a steal of a deal in value."
Ultimately it’s about weather.
If you can guarantee 25 C to 30 C weather people will go.
Bahamas is a new option, but it’s further north and tends to be cooler until further into the season.
Cuba, at times, can be the same if cold weather drifts down from Florida.
Huatulco, Mexico, is a lock for good weather, Kirton said, and Cancun and Puerto Vallarta are always popular.
Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic also remains trendy with its blue water and white beaches.
With further changes expected to the trade embargo between the United States and Cuba, after the U.S. reauthorized people-to-people trips to the country in 2011, Hill said get there now.
"People should go to Cuba because it’s still not commercialized at all. Go before it becomes Americanized," he said.
But, at -30 C, everywhere looks good.
"When it’s this cold people don’t care where they go," Kirton said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 8, 2014