CSA Review (Long) April 2010
Here is a (rather long) review of our trip to Couple Swept Away from 4/3/10 to 4/9/10
Direct flight from Charlotte took off on time and landed about 15 minutes early. Several planes must have landed at the same time as immigration was packed. Although I don’t have a clue what might be “normal” it took us about 35-40 mins. to get through immigration. Customs was a breeze then onto the Couples Lounge and were standing in line for the bathroom when they called us for our shuttle. It was almost too quick as things got a little chaotic with 2 buses leaving at once. One bus was entirely for CSA. Ours was all Couples Negril except for my wife and I. Almost exactly 1.5 hours to the hotel. Other than the long line at immigration, everything went smoothly and as planned.
Bags were unpacked from the bus, a cold towel, a glass of champagne and to the check-in desk. We must have beaten the other bus because we were 1st in line and checked in quickly. I was happy to see that I got one of the three room numbers I had requested. On to the concierge to reserve dinner and the cat cruise. You could only reserve 4 days in advance so I reserved Feathers for Tuesday night and simply waited one day to reserve Lemongrass for Wednesday. Overall, we landed at about 1:30 and were standing in our room at 4:00. Considering immigration, customs, baggage claim, a bus ride, check-in and concierge desk, I thought that was pretty darn good. I was very pleased.
Got our bags unpacked and went right back to the lobby for orientation. I would HIGHLY suggest this for first timers. Although I felt like a seasoned vet based on all the message boards and trip reviews I had read, it was very helpful knowing exactly where everything was located and it only took about an hour. Neisha was our orientation person and she was wonderful. We saw her almost every day afterwards and she even ate breakfast with us one morning. She had a great personality and was one of the people I mentioned on the comment card at the end of the trip (see more on that below).
We had a Great House Verandah Suite (GHVS) room 5205. When we booked, that’s just what the travel agent gave us based on the budget I gave him and I didn’t know the difference in all the room classes at the time. There was some “chatter” about some people not liking these rooms because they were “hotel-like”. That didn’t bother me a bit. Never really even crossed my mind. Our view and balcony were fantastic (pic hopefully attached), the location was convenient to Feathers, Patois, Cabana Grill, the Aura Lounge (Ultimate Chocolate) and the internet café. While I might try a different room class on the next trip (and there will definitely be a next trip), I would also happily stay in the GHVS again. There was also some chatter about people hearing doors slamming a lot. The only time I heard doors slamming was the one day where I took a nap and people were checking into the room right next door. Other than that, no problems at all. I mentioned that I got one of the 3 room numbers that we requested. I requested the room numbers at the same time I was booking the private beach dinner (more on that below). Not sure if that had anything to do with it or not (spending the extra money that is) but I was really pleased to have gotten my request as the message boards seemed to indicate that was the exception and not the rule. The room was basic but the bed was comfortable, the AC worked great and the bathroom was clean (and I am very picky about the bathroom having zero mold at hotels). We weren’t in the room all that much, so having a great view was the most important factor for me. It wasn’t the Ritz-Carlton, but I’ve got no real complaints (although the lighting in the bathroom could have been better).
Not really much to say that hasn’t already been said. It’s one of the top beaches in the world according to the Travel Channel. Soft white sand, no shells or seaweed to speak of, crystal clear blue water. You can walk out in the water chest deep and look down and see your toes. The resort was booked when we were there but no one ever had a difficult time getting a chair. Shade was hard to come by if you arrived later than about 9:30 but there was always multiple chairs to be had. I’ve got one bone to pick and not with the resort. My wife is an early riser and she was up and on the beach reading, watching the sunrise or running between 5:30 and 6:00. Other than 1 day, all of the thatched roofed huts were all taken which tells me that people were either reserving them late at night or setting the alarm for 3:00 or so, going out and reserving them and then going back to bed. In my own opinion, that’s just low class. Others might disagree but I’m not changing my mind. I’m sure there is nothing that can be done about this (and I’m not suggesting they do). Of course it’s like that at our local pool as well. I didn’t let it bother me. We liked to sit near the weddings. We saw 10 or 12 in the week we were there. The green flag service sounded great but was over-rated. The farthest bar was about 40-50 feet away so we just got up and walked over when we wanted a drink. I enjoyed talking to the bartenders anyway.
Breakfast – We alternated between Patois (ala carte) and The Palms (buffet). Both were great. The French Toast on the buffet at Palms was fabulous. Oh, you won’t find any bananas left on the island. My wife ate them all. She had probably 2 banana smoothies made with real banana’s each day. In the US, buffets usually have a slightly negative connotation but I thought Palms was top notch. Food was always hot, bacon was crispy and the choices from healthy to non-so-healthy were plentiful.
Lunch – We hit Cabana Grill and Sea Grapes for lunch. As a “meat and potatoes” guy, I thought I would be turned off by Sea Grapes but the fish tacos, snapper sandwich and sweet potato chips were all fantastic. At Cabana Grill, between my wife and I, we had cheeseburgers, pulled pork sandwich, the jerk chicken and a snapper sandwich. Everything there was good. Never had a bad meal. The jerk chicken was great but a little too hot for my taste. I can see, however, why people rave about it.
Dinner – hit all 4 dinner spots as well as the int’l buffet outside the Palms while we were there. Feathers was fantastic. Make sure you make your reservation for that one. I’m not a Thai fan and probably picked the wrong menu item, but my wife enjoyed her meal at Lemongrass very much. Avoid what they refer to as “ribs” on the menu. They were quite fatty and really not good. However, others we talked to loved it. I think I just ordered the wrong thing and won’t hold that against them. Patois and Palms were good but not great. There was always an item on the menu I found that I enjoyed. One thing I loved about Palms was that you could do the buffet, ala carte or a combination. I ordered the seafood kabob off the menu, went and got a salad from the buffet while it was being cooked, grabbed a couple of other items from the buffet to eat with my kabobs and then ordered a great chocolate mud pie dessert off the menu.
The only suggestion or very small complaint that I have it that there is not really any good real quick snack options. No where you can grab a bag of chips or a Snickers bar just to stamp out that temporary hunger.
Bottom line on dining at CSA is that if you go hungry, something is wrong. The choices are plentiful from fancy to casual and there is truly something for everyone.
We tried to take full advantage of the water sports. Went snorkeling twice. Based on the advice from a message board post, I remembered to take out a banana once. Worked like a charm. While they would not eat out of my hand, the fish swarmed when I dropped a small piece of banana. The second trip, I think they dropped us off in the middle of a jellyfish convention as 4 people got stung including my wife. One attached itself to the chest of a young girl we had met the night before at Feathers (who ironically lived just an hour away from us) and she had to see the nurse upon return. We did the cat cruise, which is a must. I went off the slide quite a few times and swam in the caves. Rasta Ralphie and gang made it a great trip. I/we also did the Hobie cats, the kayaks, the paddle boats and I knee boarded behind the ski boat a couple of times. I think taking advantage of the many water sports that are offered can make CSA a great value. I think the cost of everything we did would have been quite a bit at a non-AI resort.
I did rent the jet skis once. It was $40 for 30 minutes. My only regret is that I waited until the afternoon when the water got choppy. I should have done it first thing as the water is like a sheet of ice early in the morning. If you are doing any of the above watersports, I suggest doing these in the morning (except the Hobies where you need some wind).
PRIVATE DINNER ON THE BEACH
Since it was our anniversary, I decided to do this. Opinions on the boards varied from “why pay the extra” to “it was worth every penny”. I fall into the “it was worth every penny…..ONCE” crowd. I was extremely satisfied and happy that I did it but now that the experience is over, I would not do it a second time. The weather and setting were fantastic and it was far and away the most romantic meal that we’ve ever had. We got unlimited champagne throughout the entire meal as well as a bottle of wine and champagne to take back with us. Our meal (you get the choice of 2 different menus) consisted of a great fish cake appetizer, a salad, chicken cordon blue and lobster tail (the very last of the season according to our waitress) as well a dessert. A photographer came by and took pictures and we bought three the next day at the photo shop. I was surprised that he didn’t even hesitate to take some shots with our camera for us, which could have rendered his services useless. Just another example at the level of service you get at CSA.
BARS & DRINKS (and a note about the mini-bars)
All it took was one trip to the Martini Bar and we were hooked. We ended up there for a while every night. For those like myself who may not know, you don’t have to get only martini’s. They serve everything including Red Stripe and other mixed drinks. But it was the workers that kept us coming back (see staff shout outs section below). The bartenders, Fraser and Winston, were fantastic. Funny, personable, great at their jobs….everything you’d want in a bartender. I talked with Fraser about a variety of subjects. In fact, I found out it was his birthday so I snuck downstairs, got a piece of cake from The Palms buffet as well as a candle, lit it and walked back upstairs. The whole bar sang “Happy Birthday”. You could tell he appreciated the gesture. We also met Tashell and Rashell (nicknamed “The Shells” by Winston, who they jokingly called the devil) who were great as well and worked at Lemongrass and the bar area. The interaction between those 4 was fun to watch. One night I got a Blackberry martini because I love blackberries. When I was done, Fraser asked me how it was. I told it was too strong and too sweet. He then made me another one and said “Here try this one” and it was perfect. That’s what sets a good bartender apart from a great one. A good bartender says “well maybe you’d like this instead” while a great one simply fixes the drink to your liking. It was so good that on the last night we had one of the gigantic martinis (pic hopefully attached)
Since he was just down the steps from our room, and conveniently located from the evening walks back from the Martini bar, we saw Ultimate Chocolate in the piano bar 3 separate times. He was great. Played a game of men vs women where he would play the first few notes of a song and the first team to name it got points. On the last night we won a consolation bottle of Appleton Rum to bring home. A nice momento. The man is definitely talented. I can still hear him saying “This is going to be Hot, Hot Hot” and “the big boys had the power but the ladies had the speed”.
Finally, there was a TON of chatter on the message boards about Red Stripe in the mini bars. Well I got it figured out. All you have to do is ask…..or at least in my case. The guy who re-stocked the mini bars happened to be around during that time everyday where we were done with the beach and came into to clean up for dinner and get ready for the evening. I saw him several times and one day he said “can I get anything for your mini-bar” and I replied “yeah I’d love some Red Stripe Light”. The next day, I was graced with 5 bottles of Red Stripe Light. Once again, that little bit of extra service that makes the difference.
We did the Managers Cocktail Party on Monday, which was well worth the 45 minutes or so we spent there. The appetizers they had were really good and they had a fountain of flowing white chocolate where you could dip in a watermelon or cantelope fruit ball.
It rained for a total of 3 hours the entire trip. Not a drop from Saturday to Wednesday but a really hard rain on Thursday from 4:00 to 6:00 and then a lighter rain for another hour. We had planned to go to Rick’s Café that afternoon but we had to cancel. It all turned out for the best. We used that time to pack up for the next mornings departure, print our boarding passes, pay the baggage check fee on-line and do a few last minute administrative things. We did have two nice, full-size umbrellas in the room for us to use, which was nice when we walked to dinner at the Palms that evening.
Walked down to Margaritaville. As a huge Jimmy Buffett fan, I had to pick up a T-shirt. Shopped a little on the way. Was approached many times by locals selling stuff but a polite “No Thanks” was really all it took. No one was pushy.
$300 in cash was about perfect for us between the few tips that you need, jet ski rental, food at the airport and some shopping. They did like the 2 dollar bills as someone had mentioned. We tried our best to buy a few items, even some items we may not have really needed knowing that 20 bucks here and there may not be a lot to us, but might be very meaningful to them. Couples lets some local vendors sell their wares on sight several days a week. There was a guy selling leather handmade flip flops that some guests raved about so my wife bought a pair.
The beer tap on the beach with the ice cream machine could have been the highlight of the trip (pic hopefully attached). The person who thought of this is a genius. HA!!!!
We did the Martini mixology class. Didn’t really learn much about making martinis but met some really nice people who we talked to several more times on the trip which leads me to...
The people you meet at Couples. While we aren’t the type to meet someone on vacation that we will stay in touch with afterwards, we did meet some great people during the trip. There were many couples that we talked at length with and met some people who live close to us. Its easy to strike up a conversation and, since the resort is not huge, you see many of the same people sometimes 5 or 6 different times during the trip. Some were younger and many were older (we’re in the low-40s), but everyone was pleasant and we stuck up some great conversations with people in the restaurants and especially at the martini bar. You can really pick up some good tips from people who pass on “you should try this” or “you should avoid that”.
STAFF SHOUT OUTS
I’ve already mentioned Fraser, Winston and Neisha. Orrin, our waiter at Patois on Night 1 was fantastic, funny and personable. We asked him if he would take a picture and he happily obliged….with one of himself. Armond in housekeeping, yes housekeeping, was one of the most friendly workers. He reminded of the first verse from Jimmy Buffett’s “It’s my Job”. Kimberly, the waitress for our private beach dinner was fabulous. Nevina at one of the outside bars on the beach was fantastic as was Terrello, who I nicknamed TO (obviously after Terrell Owens). Reveren (sp??) who I nicknamed The Reverend, from the watersports hut was great as well. Dayne, who nicknamed himself Dayne the Lamb, was our waiter at Palms and he was a joy. Other than one particular bartender at one of the beach bars who was really just terrible, every single person was just great and we went out of our way to get to know and carry on conversations with as many workers as possible. And they very clearly go out of their way to remember your name and ask if you are enjoying yourself. You really can’t ask for much more.
One last note about the employees. While waiting my turn for the ski boat (the line was about 4 deep) as well as soon after at lunch, I got to meet the girlfriend of the General Manager. We probably talked for about an hour in total. She made a point to tell me that the employees compensation, promotion, etc is directly tied to those comment cards. We made sure, each evening, to jot down the names of all of the employees that had gone above and beyond. We also made 100% sure to detail each of these on the comment card we turned in at checkout. I would hope that those reading this and those that find this review helpful would do the same.
Overall it was a fantastic trip and, although I don’t know exactly when, I am quite sure we will be back to CSA and at some point, maybe in my retirement days, I’d love for it to be a regular annual stop for my wife and I.
Thank you for your wonderful review
I spent many hours trying to decide which resort to book for our 20th anniversary Dec 2011 and your review helped make my decision. Thank you so much.