Accommodation, Eat, Drink, Sleep

Hotel giant Starwood opens in Havana

SheratonHavanaThe Americans are back in the hotel market in Cuba after 60 years, as hospitality giant Starwood assumed management of the 6-year-old Quinta Avenida. Rebranded “Four Points by Sheraton,” the 186-room hotel in Havana’s quiet, leafy, and upscale Miramar neighborhood is an interesting hybrid right now—part state-owned hostelry (as they all are) and part Sheraton.

A few early reviews on TripAdvisor are critical, but honestly we like the feel of the place. Occupancy is already sky-high for the upcoming high season. The friendly office and desk staff cheerfully say “the transition is moving ahead” and clearly aren’t looking back. The public spaces have an airy, upscale tropical feel, and the bedrooms are big, well over 400 square feet, most with nice views anddecent baths. The executive level, as expected, has a crisper feel.

Best of all, you can reserve and pay for the hotel directly online on Starwood’s website—something harder to do with a lot of other hotels in Cuba. Terms specify that while the hotel can be prepaid from the U.S., incidentals have to be settled on the ground in cash or non-U.S.-issued credit cards. Guests from the U.S. will have to sign an affidavit upon check-in certifying that their travel is consistent with U.S. regulations. The site has a handy link to the U.S. Treasury Department’s FAQs that specify rules for travel from the U.S.

Internet is only available at slow speeds, by the hour, via vouchers you can purchase from the desk. On the up side, this is a chance to unplug a little and savor a travel experience that will be different from anything you’ve had.

This is a good pick in Havana if you want to be a little removed from the hustle and bustle of downtown. All signs indicate the property will continue to improve, as Starwood prepares to expand its footprint further via agreements with state-owned hospitality companies to renovate and manage several more smaller boutique properties in Havana.

There will be an art to that. The regulatory and operating environment in Havana is complicated. And there is so much culture, history, and architecture in Havana’s hotels, as dilapidated as some of them may have become. Preserving and burnishing that legacy, while providing the skyrocketing number of visitors with more high-quality and updated lodging experiences, will be a challenge to Starwood and its Cuban partners. But Starwood’s entry to the market is a promising sign of future partnerships that will only improve the hotel scene in Havana. This new Four Points is a project to cheer.