CSA Review from a first-timer, for first-timers (LONG!!!)
We just got back from CSA a couple of days ago after a week of fun and sun (3-31/4-7). Like any first-timer, I admit I was a bit unsure of what to expect. I guess CSA met my expectations on pretty much every front and even exceeded them.
I'll try to hit as many areas as possible...
The transportation: Lines at MoBay Airport are VERY long and the day we arrived there was clearly no air conditioning going on. Took a good 90 minutes to get through immigration and customs. Once we did, we easily found the Couples Lounge, where they took care of our bags and got us a couple of Red Stripes. We were soon on the shuttle, which leaves every 15-20 minutes. We even stopped for a beverage on the way. Unlike other people, we did not have the shuttle ride from hell. Roads are notoriously narrow in Jamaica and drivers are certifiably insane. Maybe it was the Red Stripes, but I never felt my life was in danger. I'll say the shuttle ride back to the airport was equally smooth. Like our Jeep Safari driver told us, drivers in Jamaica live by the rule "drive like you stole it." But the shuttle drivers were calm, careful and courteous.
Check-in/accomodations: Once we arrived, we got the cool towel and glass of champagne, checked in and were on our way. We had originally booked a Great House room, but apparently it was overbooked and we were put in a Garden Verandah. Now, I had read various places to steer clear of the Garden Verandah rooms -- they are near the highway, so there is some potential for noise. But in all honesty, we heard more tree frogs at night than passing traffic, and I don't think it would have mattered a bit what room we were in for that -- as soon as the sun goes down, it's like a wave of tree frog sound begins. Our room was a short walk from the beach, but was also a short walk from bars and restaurants, so that was actually pretty ideal. The room was nice. The mini bar was well stocked and the staff did a great job keeping things neat and stocked. The only complaints I had were late in our stay we had a little bit of trouble with our shower dripping quite a bit. We also noticed quite a few ants, which I'd guess you'd see pretty much anywhere on the grounds this time of year. Pretty minor.
Rec/Spa area: One of my big regrets was that I didn't personally use the recreation area or the spa. But others in my group were impressed. I should note that apparently CSA also has a top-notch medical staff -- fortunately, I didn't need them myself. But I guess I could have made it to the rec side if I'd really wanted to. They do have a lot of good stuff over there, including the beautiful Oasis Spa, numerous tennis courts, a lap swimming pool, fitness center and yoga.
Food and drink: I'm not a big "foodie" and I'm also not the healthiest eater, so I was a bit concerned going in. But I went in with an open mind and an open stomach and found that the food options at CSA were quite impressive. We did much of our eating at Palms and the Cabana, but we had meals at Patois, Feathers and Lemongrass that were all terrific. Best two meals as far as the numerous options we had there were the Wednesday International Buffet at the Palms and the Friday Shipwreck Beach Party (if you've never been to CSA, make sure you are there for a Friday night ... you can thank me later). I personally did not eat at Seagrapes, but others in my group were impressed.
As for drinks, what can I say? The bars all had terrific options for frozen and non-frozen drinks and had a lot of options for plain mixed drinks as well. They all had Red Stripe and Red Stripe Light on tap. For canned beer, they had Miller Lite and Carib, which honestly tastes very much like Miller Lite. They even had a do-it-yourself Bloody Mary setup in the morning. They also have the green flag service during the day. When you are on the beach, you'll get a green flag. When you are feeling a little dry, stick the flag in the sand and someone will come by in a little bit to take your order.
But we found ourselves at the martini bar near Lemongrass a couple of times. If you do and you're feeling daring, share a Couples Martini with your loved one. But take this advice -- eat well before you have the Couples Martini. Drinks at the beach bars get diluted by ice cubs. A Couples Martini is almost 1/2 of a liter of straight-up alcohol deliciousness.
Entertainment: There were a lot of good options, and I'm sure I missed out on some. But the absolute musts are the glass-bottom boat ride and the evening catamaran. We wisely booked our catamaran tour shortly after checking in -- it fills up fast.
There are always activities during the day by the main beach. My wife and I both did the basket weaving and she did the beaded jewelry making.
The entertainment staff did a very nice job keeping activities fun.
Perhaps the only disappointment (and this is a small disappointment) would be the nightlife. I enjoyed Ultimate Chocolate's Blazing Piano. But while we were there, they were working on finishing construction on the Aura Lounge Nightclub, so any dancing was basically in a banquet hall. There wasn't a lot of atmosphere and not a lot of people stuck around at night. Of course, the fact the sun sets at 6:30 p.m. made me feel a lot more tired by 10:00 than I normally am. They do have a movie on the beach on Saturdays. They would have music at Palms every night at 9. But nothing really screamed at me to stay out all night.
The Beach/Pools: We did take in the pool with the swim-up bar while we were there, which was nice. But I didn't come to Jamaica to sit in a pool. I came for blue water and white sand. CSA absolutely does not disappoint there. The beach was clearly the favorite part of my trip. The water was smooth most of the day, then got a little choppy at night. Yes, there are roving vendors who will offer anything from hats to beads to jet ski rides to "special brownies" but if you say no, they will leave you alone to enjoy the sun and the sand.
My only true regret about the trip (and not through any fault of CSA) is that we were there a week and never saw a famed Jamaica sunset. Every night, it started to cloud up around 4:30 and took a big toll on the sunset festivities around 6. We did get one decent sunset, but not one with a cloudless sky that was 60 different shades of orange and pink.
Off-site stuff: Margaritaville is a short walk down the beach from CSA -- it's not bad, but you DO get to drink for free at CSA, rather than spending money for drinks at Margaritaville. I'd been told Rick's Cafe is a must. We went and I agree. It was very cool to see the cliff jumpers. It is a bit spendy, so bring your appetite and your cash or credit card (or both). I also went golfing, which was at beautiful Negril Hills -- very hilly, so you'll need a cart, and a caddy is also required, whether you walk or not. My caddy was a lot of fun and even golfed much of the round with me. For some excursions like ziplining, there is a 250-pound weight limit, so be aware of that. We also did the Jeep Safari Tour, which was pretty informative but maybe wasn't quite what I expected.
EDITED: Apparently my first post made it seem like Margaritaville drinks were free -- they are not!!! In fact, they're pretty spendy! Like I say in my edited post above, you're better off drinking at CSA for free. I didn't think Margaritaville was anything special.
The bottom line: My wife and I had a great time at CSA and would recommend it to anyone wanting to go to Jamaica. But for you first-timers out there, a couple of things to keep in mind:
1. Have patience. If you are looking for instant gratification, then CSA and Jamaica in general may not be for you. It is very laid back and people work methodically. But the staffers take their time to ensure a good job. If you put your flag in the sand for a drink, don't expect someone to be there immediately. It doesn't work that way. But someone will come. If you're at a bar, the bartender may have a couple of other people there first. And, by all means, have patience when it comes to the MoBay Airport. Lines are long. There's a lot of standing and waiting. When we flew home, we got to the airport 2-1/2 hours before our flight and finally made it through customs, immigration and security about 35 minutes before the plane started to board. If you have patience and let yourself live on Jamaica time, you'll have a much more enjoyable trip.
2. Be daring. Try something new. Whether it is Thai food and using chopsticks at Lemongrass to a Couples Martini or a Bob Marley shot, to going off the waterslide during the catamaran ride. You may only get there once. You don't want to come home with regrets that you didn't do everything you wanted to do.
3. Get used to the time. It gets dark early in Jamaica. The sun comes up early. Adjust accordingly.
4. Be smart. We went through a full bottle of SPF-85 sunscreen (for me) and almost a full bottle of SPF 30 (for her). I may not have gotten the tan I'd hoped for, but I also didn't get burned to a crisp. Believe me, nothing takes the fun and romance out of a vacation quite like a sunburn.
5. Have fun. After all, you're in a tropical paradise with the one you love. How good is that?
Thanks to everyone at CSA for making it a memorable week's vacation for my wife and I!!!