Most Canadians come to Varadero on package tours and it is not difficult see why. Cuba is not cheap nor easy to get around. This is especially true for families. There is an appeal to having all meals provided with excursions limited to prearranged daytrips into Varadero town or Havana. We of course had to make it hard for ourselves and our children.
Going the 'staying in casas' route and travelling on public transportation gets you into the real Cuba but makes you wonder how so much self suffering could be considered a holiday. In the course of our 2 week trip we had one casa not expect us and turn us away after one night, two more turn us out after a couple nights because they had reservations, and another kick us out after a day because they weren't licenced and the next day there was going to be a government inspection. Then there is transportation. If you are lucky to get a seat on a nice A/C bus, you have to reserve a day or two early and pay the overpriced fee of, for example, $25 USD per seat for a 2 hour trip (for a family that adds up). Staying in dingy casas at $30-40 USD a night and eating at restaurants for double that per day, seems ok at first until you compare it to pretty much any other developing country offering the same.
Enough of that and on to the bright side. Varadero has probably the nicest, cleanest, longest beaches I've ever seen. At lower tides, the waves came in knee deep which was great for child safety and white sand beaches stretching 20km offers a comfortable and private experience for everyone. Aya's favourite beach day was when a fisherman gave her some small fish to put in her sand castle pool. After playing with them for most of the day, she tossed them up in the air to the circling gulls. Other highlights included playing mini-golf with drivers and irons (not a putter to be found) and staying in the small town of Boca de Camarioca outside Varadero.