Patience in Cuba is most definitely a virtue
Our first day time visit wasn't such a pleasant experience. Coppelia in Havana is a fairly open plan affair and it's easy to walk to the outside seating areas, oblivious of the huge queues. We mistook people that had been waiting patiently for a hour or more on the periphery, as a particularly long bus queue. They were after all outside of the park on the roadside!
On wandering into the park, we were quickly directed to a less attractive tourist area where we were told we could buy our ice cream in CUC dollars - at vastly inflated prices. We took a quick look and decided we'd prefer to be in the "locals area" where Fresa y Chocolate was filmed. However, as we entered this area of the park, we were quickly accosted by security guards and rather aggressively ushered away, being told persistently "you cannot go there now".
Unable to get an explanation we abandoned our visit, a little distressed by the unfriendly treatment we'd been exposed to. On reflection, we think it may have been because we had bypassed the long queue of locals. So when you arrive, if you want to eat ice cream with the Cubans at peso prices, look carefully to see if there are one of four separate queues leading in from each corner of the park.
Making friends over dessert at Coppelia, Havana
We found evening visits much easier, and did not have to stand in line ever after 8.00pm. We were quickly seated, but often had to wait 10-15 minutes to be served. By this time our favourite choice may have disappeared. There's no formula to the order taking and someone who arrives after you may get served first. This was a further lesson in patience, something we had to learn to accommodate quickly in Cuba.
On our first night-time visit we were invited to the table of a single Cuban guy, who was also about to order. He explained the system and sat chatting with us while we all ate ice cream together.
He explained how difficult it is to survive on the state salary of $35 per month, and told us some of the creative ways that Cubans make more money. We had to wonder if his two plates of "tres gracias" were his very cheap dinner. But the Cubans are proud and although we offered to pay for his, along with ours, he graciously refused.
Don't be a tourist - brave the queues
Paying $1 CUC per scoop along with the other tourists to get instant gratification and more flavours, is to miss the point.
This is an institution, a place where Cubans of all ages, colours, and status gather together to chat and enjoy the simple pleasure of eating ice cream. There's no WIFI and so conversation and laughter fill the air.
Standing in line, getting to know the people next to you, and remaining hopeful that chocolate will still be available, is all part of the fun. Enjoy your Cuban ice cream experience!
Where will I find Coppelia in Cuba?
You won't find Coppelia in every city. Our ice cream buddy told us there was, however, one at least in each province. He also told us that outside Havana you get a more rounded scoop - better value for money!
We attempted to visit Coppelia by the bus station in Matanzas. Sadly it had more flies than people, so we gave it a miss. During busy times, at state-run establishments, the staff are not quite so hard working as you might expect. Tables had been left uncleaned, inviting unwanted visitors!
On the other hand, if you were earning only $35 a month, how dedicated to your work would you be?