We checked into the Paradiso Resort, Varadero, 2 days early due to our less-than-relaxing time in Havana. No Cubans except for resort employees are even allowed onto the peninsula so you are tucked away in a little trouble-free bubble.
The resort was abouty 2 hours drive from Havana, on a peninsula and it was pure luxury. The entrance alone was breathtaking with wooden walkways over massive fish ponds, palm trees, marble floors, statues ... very zen. It was 5 star, all inclusive - more than we could ever usually afford but because we were with the wedding party of Katie & Wayne we got a good deal.
It had 5 different restaurants plus a buffet restaurant - one was Teppanyaki! The Cuban chefs dressed up in blue silk outfits and did the cook-in-front-of-you thing. Very entertaining. There was also an Italian, a Caribbean, a steak house and a 'romantic' restaurant. All drinks, including cocktails and champers were included too, amazing. I am now a pina colada addict.
The music at the resort was wonderful, different bands played at meal times and in the lobby bar in the evening. They put on a different cabaret show (singing/dancing) every evening at 10pm then we'd adjourn to the nightclub. There were salsa lessons on the beach and by the pool every day, also percussion lessons, spanish lessons, yoga, beach volleyball, soccer, kayaking, pedallos, sailing.... not all just lazing around!
Usually after the buffet breakfast we went down to the beach, to sunbake (in the shade in my case - you can take the girl out of Australia but you can't take Australia out of the girl...) and swim. After a relaxing lunch at one of the restaurantss - either the beach grill or the caribbean restaurant by the pool (my personal fave) we'd adjourn to the pool bar for a swim and a drink. By that time the pool bar was in the shade so I could sit there without fear of sunburn.
The first couple of days we were very quiet as it was just us and Wayne & Katie (the couple who got married), then, suddenly about 20 Canadians arrived.. all Katie's family from Vancouver! They were great and we really enjoyed getting to know them. Such nice people with all the quirky characters that come with big families. The wedding was a few days after that and by then we all knew each other so it was quite a party. (Next summer - Vancouver here we come!)
The wedding itself was spectacular - in a white gazebo overlooking the ocean. It was windy but it was clear and the ceremony was short and sweet. There was a string quartet playing (Pacobel's Cannon; Ave Maria which gets me every time) and champagne and nibblies after while the sun went down.
The gorgeous bride and handsome groom then went for photos and the guests hit the lobby bar (open 24 hours - always a good fall back) .
The evening reception was in a private function room with a long table laid out and a delicious 4 course meal with wine and of course more champange (moet for the toasts)! One of the resort's bands were playingand it was, basically, perfect. For the wedding favours the men got cigars and the girls a Cuba keyring, plus bags of personalised M&Ms!!!! Tied in little chiffon bags finished with a strawberry and a moon charm. (Wayne & Katie met in a club called Strawberry Moons in London.)
Oh and yes, there were some tears during the speeches, especially Waynes... it was so heartfelt and loving.
We hit the dancefloor later - they'd even brought some CDs they made themselves so the music was excellent and everyone got up to shake their stuff.
They were so organised and put so much thought into everything, it was truly a wonderful and memorable day and when I remember Cuba, that is what I will remember.