We just returned from 7 days at CSS and absolutely loved it. Background: we are 36 & 34, I’m happy to sit on a beach or by the pool and read a book all day, my boyfriend needs things to do…CSS was a great compromise for us. We don’t have a lot of experience w/all-inclusive vacations – I went to Aventura Spa Palace in Playa del Carmen years ago and then we went to Excellence Punta Cana a year ago together. Excellence and Couples are quite similar (we thought) so I thought it might be beneficial to compare the two resorts in case other folks out there were familiar w/Excellence properties and how they compare.
Arrival: off the plane, luggage in-hand and through customs in a matter of minutes. Once we navigated through the throngs of folks trying to get into the Sandals lounge, our bags were quickly collected by the Couples folks. We were offered Red Stripes for the road and put in a private mini-van w/in 5 minutes of entering the lounge…must have been the only folks going to CSS at that time of day. The drive was about 75 minutes, pleasant-enough. We arrived at CSS around 1315 and were offered a cold towel and champagne while we completed the paperwork. We booked through COSTCO and were happy to see our spa credit was included in our welcome packet. Because we were early, we made our dinner reservations for the first two nights, made our reservation for Dunns River and tried to book our Chukka Dune Buggy tour w/the Chukka representative on-site. For travelers using the COSTCO $100 credit w/Chukka, be aware you have to make the reservation over the phone…the representative at CSS cannot do it. Once were done w/that, we went to the beach for the lunch buffet at Pallazini.
Room: we booked the 1-bedroom ocean view suite and when we were shown to our room, I quickly realized they were trying to put us in a Verandah suite in D block vs the category we paid for. Martin (the bell hop) confirmed this and called the front desk and we were moved to the correct category in the G block. We were very happy w/the room we ended up in (G13), amazing views, huge shower, comfortable bed, balcony w/a double lounger, chair and tables but I was left with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and wondering how many people are put in rooms of a category less than what they paid for. The quality of furnishings inside the suite was on par w/what we experienced at Excellence Punta Cana – the balcony furnishings were definitely a lot nicer at CSS.
Restaurants: there are only three which restaurants and room service and admittedly, I wasn’t a huge fan. Pallazini and room service are the only options for breakfast and both are perfectly acceptable. Pallazini and the beach grill are your options for lunch, with Pallazini being a buffet. I far preferred the beach grill…the Jamaica Patties, burgers, sausage and jerk chicken was outstanding. Pallazini, Casanova and the beach grill (which has a different name at night) are your options for dinner. Neither of us liked Pallazini, the beach grill had great appetizers and salads but the entrees lacked something. We both enjoyed Casanova – but they only change their menu once per week (Wednesdays). Also, my boyfriend thought the portions were very and all 3 restaurants had very similar items on the menus for dinner which makes for a pretty boring week. The quality of food at Excellence Punta Cana was the same, but they had much more variety which we enjoyed more.
Water sports: we went sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing, snorkeling and used the paddle boats….they have a great aquatic program here. I do have my PADI dive certification but chose not to dive on this trip, although two dives a day were offered for free. The beach is small, but it’s a nice beach and there were always loungers available. The pools were fine, but we were disappointed in the hot tubs. The one by the mail pool was about the same temp as the pool and the one by the mineral pool was closed for maintenance the entire time we were there. We only went to SSB for sunset one night and honestly didn’t even look at the facilities available there. CSS definitely has the edge on Excellence Punta Cana in this department.
Entertainment: the entertainment staff was great – they were there when you wanted to do something but didn’t hound you like we felt they did at Excellence. We played a few of the games at the pool bar during the day and were entertained enough to keep going back. The nightly entertainment was mostly bands and all were of good quality, we also attended casino night which was fun. All in all, we felt this much more our style of entertainment compared to the hokey shows at Excellence.
Excursions: we did 2 excursions….Dunns River through CSS and Dune Buggies through Chukka. Dunns River was fantastic and as everyone else stated, do your homework and go on a day when no cruise ships are in port. Either take a waterproof camera or get a waterproof bag for your camera, the guides will take photos for you all the way up the falls. Take enough cash to tip more than 1 person – we had 2 guides and a videographer (we did not have any interest in the video but he was allowed on the CSS bus both before and after the tour and clearly expected a tip from everyone on the bus). We also did the Dune Buggy tour through Chukka which was fantastic. They let you really go to town on them, up through the mountains and back down to the beach. We had a $100 credit through COSTCO which is what led us down that path…but my boyfriend says it was the best part of the trip.
Spa: we had a $100 credit for the spa through COSTCO and used it for the Couples massage – DO IT! We went late afternoon and enjoyed the sea breeze and sound of waves crashing so much we’d probably have done it again if we had more time.
Overall, we had a fantastic time at CSS and really enjoyed the Couples experience. Facilities wise, I think CSS and Excellence Punta Cana are on par, it’s the staff and extra inclusions that put Couples ahead. We’ll definitely consider Couples in the future, just wish they had facilities outside of Jamaica!