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My recent weekend in Cuba was absolutely amazing! If you haven’t done so already, check out my recent posts on Who Can Go to Cuba?, Tips For Traveling to Cuba, How to Get to Cuba (and Back): Flight and Award Options, Where and How to Book Hotels in Havana, Cuba, What to Do and See in Havana, and my hotel review on the Hotel Occidental Miramar.
Within hours of reading the White House’s recent and exciting announcement of more relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba, my close friend/TPG team member Lori Zaino and I booked flights from Miami (MIA) to Grand Cayman (GCM) and then on to Havana (HAV), with another stop at GCM on our return. As we were leaving Cuba, we found that business class tickets on Cayman Airways were actually cheaper than coach ($209 vs. $205) and thought, why not?
Our purchase paid off because business check-in at Havana’s Jose Martí international Airport (HAV) saved us and endless wait in a shockingly long check-in line, and allowed us access to one of the airport’s two lounges in Terminal 3, the super-exclusive Salon VIP Lounge. This lounge isn’t exclusive based on its amenities, to be sure, but simply because most Americans haven’t been allowed to visit Cuba, let alone hang in a VIP lounge in the Havana airport!
One of the quirkiest lounges I’ve ever experienced, I found the bright orange-and-blue Chicago Bears-esque decor in the Salon VIP intriguing, to say the least. Even if you don’t have a premium-class ticket, you can pay 25 CUC (about $27) for entrance to this lounge—but I’m not sure it’s worth that.
My favorite feature of the space was a large window overlooking the crowded departure area below, allowing you to simultaneously observe the chaos and feel grateful to be away from it.
In general, the lounge was bright and airy, but the color scheme was too intense to be relaxing. Aside from one other gentleman, we were the only people in there.
Though I didn’t enter it, I noted that the Salon VIP has a dedicated smoking room, which stank up the whole lounge—I can only imagine what the lounge would smell like if people were actually smoking!
The lounge also has its own private bathroom, which was filled with flies and lacks a toilet seat. (Lori opted to use the ladies restroom near baggage claim, where she reportedly saw a cockroach.)
The Salon VIP’s food didn’t look at all appetizing. There were some bagel-style sandwiches, unidentifiable brown items that looked rather like prunes, and some nuts that looked like they’d been sitting there for months. There was no serving implement for the nuts, and while I’m no germaphobe, I still didn’t feel like sticking my hand into a plate of nuts that a bunch of people had previously touched.
There was a small bar area with various rums and other spirits, as well as an icebox which, disappointingly, contained no ice. I’d been hoping for a final Havana Club send-off, but sans ice, it just didn’t seem worthwhile.
A small fridge provided a small selection of beer and soft drinks. As I picked up a can of Bucanero beer (which is brewed in Holgúin, Cuba), the lounge attendant rushed over to grab it out of my hands, warning me in Spanish that it’s “muy fuerte” (very strong). I humored her and grabbed two other cans— one Bavaria (a Netherlands-made brand I’d never heard of) and one Cristal (a lighter cousin of Bucanero, also brewed in Holgúin)—and had a short taste test.
As you’ll see in the video below, Cristal was the clear winner.
Based on amenities alone, the Salon VIP Lounge at HAV sorely lags behind, well, most of the developed world. Had I been flying coach instead of business class, I definitely wouldn’t pay out of pocket for access. However, I deeply appreciated the convenience of escorted pre-boarding (especially after already waiting in HAV’s exit Visa, customs and security lines) and loved its unique charm—I mean, how often can you say you’ve been cut off from drinking a beer (before you’ve even had a sip!) in an airport lounge in Havana, Cuba?
Has anyone ever been to either of HAV’s two Salon VIP lounges? Please share your thoughts and impressions about them in the comments below.
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