We were fortunate enough to have enough airline miles to cover our airfare this year, so we decided to extend our vacation from the usual 10-11 days to 14, Dec. 3 to 17th. This is our 7th visit to CN. Twice, we've split our stays between CN and CSA. So, after much discussion over many beers, we decided to give the north side of the island a small try this time, just 4 days at CSS. We didn't want to miss any time with our Brit friends that we meet at CN every year, and we were bringing a newbie couple from home with us.
We flew out of Des Moines on Friday, December 3rd, just missing Iowa's first major snowstorm (whew!) We flew through Atlanta for the first time (we've always gone through Memphis). Flight was uneventful, though Delta changed my seat assignment at the gate, so I couldn't sit with Ken. Even though we were late getting off the ground at Des Moines, the flight arrived early. We had just enough time (1 hour 15 mins) to grab a quick bite and make our MBJ flight. It was, as usual, very humid at MBJ when we got off the plane, but the transfer to Negril was quick and easy. The new road through Montego Bay cut at least 15 minutes off time. Once at CN, we were greeted with hugs and champagne. We were originally assigned a room second floor room block 7. From past experience, we learned that room block 7 is noisy late into the evening, as it is very close to the Cassava Terrace stage, where the evening entertainment performs. The front desk staff was very gracious, and we were allowed to move the next day to room 2103, which, as it turned out, was the exact room we had last year. We prefer a first floor room for convenience, and room block 2 is very quiet. We spent a couple of days showing our newbies around, and reconnecting with staff friends and guests.
The weather played a big part in our vacation this year. The surf was higher that we'd ever seen it, and it was very windy for several days, to the point of driving us off the beach. The service was for the most part, very good. Our days started with room service coffee, then a walk on the beach, then off to breakfast and the beach. There was never a problem getting loungers in the shade. We occupied our normal spots by the beach bar every day. I, again this year, got bitten up by bugs, mostly in bed at night, on my arms. Mosquitoes or no-see-ums? I came home with at least 30 bites again. I had mosquito spray with me, but didn't realize I needed to wear it to BED!
A photo shoot was underway for 3 days while we were there. Couples is updating their web shots and brochures, and brought in models and photographers for the shoot. They closed certain areas for a few hours each day (we got a letter stating which areas and when), and it was really no bother. It actually made for some very entertaining people watching and head shaking, especially when it took 2 hours to get one shot through the beach massage hut. Pam and I offered our modeling services, but they turned us down politely, as soon as soon as they stopped laughing hysterically, that is!! The shooting areas were swept, folded, ironed, new plants planted, swept again, raked.
They were just finishing up replacing the boardwalk and deck boards while we were there. The last couple of days, they closed the walk-up portion of the swim-up pool bar, and set up a temporary bar under the towel hut on the beach. It was OK for simple drinks, but no blender. The new boardwalk is beautiful, dark wood and no more splinters!
The days drifted by, as they always seem to do. The catamaran cruise was good, and we saw the prettiest sunset I've ever seen while returning from the cliffs that evening. The resort photographers were very visible, but not pushy. We received our t-shirts and Romance Rewards resort credits without delay. The biggest hiccup was the water temperature in our room. For some reason, we could only get lukewarm water, no warmer. This lasted the entire time we were there. On the same note, our friends 2 doors down, on the same floor, had hot water. Hmmm... Our repeater's massage was wonderful, especially since Millicent was available for me. Nellie from the entertainment staff took special care of us, greeting all of us, and she even took us on a frog hunt one evening (it lasted about 7 minutes till it started to rain!). But, we did find a frog!
The hair dryer in our room blew up while Ken was using it - it was kinda scary. It went BOOM, shot sparks, dimmed the lights in the main room, and sprayed black soot across the bathroom counter! The front desk staff couldn't believe it when I called ("You are JOKING me, right??"), but maintenance arrived after about 15 minutes, and installed another dryer.
As always, we felt very "at home" at CN. We met a couple who were very unhappy, and felt misled by the glowing reviews. So... here is my disclaimer: Couples Negril is NOT a new, glitzy, marble, fancy or fussy resort. It is more like a friends' vacation home, where we can put our feet up and relax if we feel like, and not have to worry about the carpet.
The food in all of the restaurants were very good, as usual. We were a bit disappointed by Otaheite this time, though. The staff couldn't seem to get our coffee and dessert there at the same time (we ate there twice), and the meals took almost 2 1/2 hours to complete. We were especially pleased with Lychee - both the food and service. Vaden took very good care of us.
A few things I noted on my card:
1) CN needs ice buckets in every room. Why provide a mini bar, and a large container of ice at the end of each building, and not provide something to carry it in?
2) CN needs to eliminate the "maximum 2 beers" in the mini bar. We don't drink anything besides beer, and it's a pain to keep running to the bar for canned beer. We're gonna drink the same amount, whether it's in the room or at the bar.
3) The beach soda machine no longer dispenses plain water. So, we're wasting hundreds of plastic water bottles each week on a resort noted for its environmental policy. Huh??
4) The beach grill cooking staff still needs work on speed and coordinating the main dish with the fries or onion rings so they're both still hot when finally served.
5) The beds at CN are way too firm for us. We had the head of housekeeping at our Repeater's Dinner table, and she said they had a few foam pads, but they must have been out of stock, as we didn't get one when we asked. I am very pleased they finally have sheets long enough, so they don't pull out at the bottom any more.
6) They need to get rid of those awful, heavy duvets on the beds. Why would they have something that heavy and unwashable in the tropics?
The day soon came to transfer to CSS. We were excited to try something new, and made arrangements with the front desk for a 7:30 am transfer. There were 4 of us (2 couples), and we didn't stop at the airport, but went straight through, using just a small van. We did make a stop about 3/4 way to stretch our legs. The transfer took exactly 3 hours, door to door. So, here's my take on CSS:
CSS is beautiful, drop dead gorgeous. The mature trees, vines and plants, and the beauty of the intimate resort layout is hard to describe. Since it is a smaller beach resort, we expected it to seem crowded, but we couldn't believe how quiet it was. We reserved a beachfront Jacuzzi suite, and were assigned A-3 and our friends got A-5. Very handy for visiting, and just a few steps to the beach, bars and 2 restaurants. The rooms were absolutely beautiful; marble bathroom with 2 sinks, large Jacuzzi tub, and separate shower. The main room was divided between bedroom and sitting room, with sliding door to the patio. I can see where people are fond of the large balconies of the suites on the hillside, but we thought this was perfect for us. The weather, however, continued to be awful through most of the 4 days; windy, cloudy, and it rained almost non-stop our last day. So, we didn't get any water sports or glass bottom boat rides, like we had hoped. We attended the repeater's dinner here as well, and while the food was excellent, the room was VERY noisy with guests visiting. There were 42 repeaters at the dinner, but they had tables set for twice that many.
The stairs were a daily challenge, and we regularly got a bit lost trying to get up to the internet cafe or Casanova restaurant. We ate in each restaurant at least once, and didn't have anything we didn't like. The service and cuisine at Casanova was outstanding, but the piano playing was too loud for the small room. We didn't especially like the idea of having to make reservations for 2 of the 3 restaurants (Bella Vista, the beach grill, was the only one not requiring reservations). Evening dinner through room service also requires calling in your order before 2:00 pm. We did order nachos a couple of times through room service, and they were very good, served with melted cheese, sour cream and guacamole. Service was prompt, and room service is the only way to get ice. A hot breakfast is not available through room service, we were surprised to note. No meat or potatoes, just pastries and fruit.
The CSS entertainment staff was.. well.. entertaining! We joined them in a musical trivia game that was fun, and they were always visible. Although, when we tried to go to the pool bar on a rainy afternoon, we found them tying up most of the stools playing dominoes with each other. I also felt the Palazzina wait staff was a bit more stand-offish, and involved with themselves rather than the guests. There seemed to be knots of employees visiting with each other. Several mornings, we were awakened before 7 am by staff shouting very loudly to each other outside our door, and while walking along the path towards Watersports.
The swimming portion at CSS is very small, shallow, and the sea bottom was very muddy. There are not enough pads at CSS for all the lounge chairs, so finding one was a challenge, even when the beach was only half full. We did not visit Sunset Beach, even after 5:00, as the weather was so cloudy.
Breakdown - in our opinion:
Rooms: CSS by a mile - though the resort is older, it's a much classier room style
Beach: CN by 7 miles (as in the beach!)
Staff: CN for friendliness and the way they conduct themselves
Food: Really equal, though CN's pastry chef is much better, with moister and flakier pastries.
Spa: CN for quality. CSS cliff massage huts are very cool, but my massage wasn't very good. It just felt like getting lotion applied.
Bars: CSS by a hair, just because they weren't as busy, so we got better service.
Restaurants: Casanova vs. Otaheite: Casanova by a hair, for the amazing beef tenderloin and impeccable service.
Cassava Terrace vs. Palazzina: Very much the same food, but the fried chicken at CSS was great. There's not as many black birds at CSS, but I like the open air feel to Cassava Terrace.
Heliconia grill vs. Bella Vista: Bella Vista service was faster, and we liked the personal pizza option. Love the nachos at CN, though!
Lychee vs... ?? No Thai or Asian option at CSS
Bottom Line: All in all, even though CSS is beautiful, we missed CN. We missed the long beach for walking, and we missed the musicians and vendors for watching. We missed the large swimming area at CN. Although CSS is very nice, and we can fully understand the draw, our hearts belong to CN and Negril's beaches. We'll be waiting for CN to welcome us home once again next year.
PS - I took lots of pictures, and will be making another slideshow after the holidays. Have patience, Tony from NY, soon come!