My husband and I visited Couples Swept Away from September 7-18, 2012, to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. we were so happy we chose to renew our vows and commitment to one another at CSA! We usually go to Excellence resorts if we are doing the AI thing, but thought we should do something different for a milestone.
Sorry for the long review, but wanted to be thorough and ensure that i addressed everything...
Let me preface by saying that at any resort or hotel, it is the people who make or break your vacation, and this resort had some of the best staff we have encountered ... right up there with a hotel in Playa Mujeres. The difference between the two is A. the language barrier, and B. other hotel is much more formal, while CSA is informal, friendly, fun. We loved the staff At CSA. More on that later.
Couples Lounge: We were taking a private transfer ( BIG SHIP TOURS), so stopped in to the lounge to let them know we would not be taking the shuttle. They told us to sit and have a beer, then one of the young gentlemen went outside to find our driver, which i thought was a nice touch. The lounge was nice, and everyone working there very friendly.
Check In: good, efficient check in. The usual cold towel and Champagne. Wish it had been in a flute rather than a saucer as the Champagne sloshed all over the place when you walked with it... thought saucers went out of style 25 years ago/ no worries it”s all good ( flutes at the restaurants by the way). We room was ready, but we asked to upgrade so we had to wait for our new room to be made up. No biggie... simply changed , stored our luggage and headed out to enjoy the resort. We had hoped for a beachfront or beachfront verandah room, but none were available. they offered us an atrium at n/c, or a ocean verandah suite for $70 more per night , and we chose that, asking for a ground floor room.
Room: Room was as expected.... rustic, yes, somewhat dated, but spotlessly clean, and had a great view of the beach and the koi pond. Literally out the patio door and less than 30 second walk to beach. We loved the location of 4115... steps to beach, Bamboo bar, pool bar, Feathers, Aura Lounge and Patois and beach Grill awesome. Upon retiring our first night, we noticed that the patio doors were broken and that you could just push them open even when locked. there were also gaps underneath the patio and front doors, so I was nervous about creepie crawlies getting in. Next morning we called front desk and told them about our doors... they offered to give us a new room, but we had already unpacked and we liked the room location, so we said if the doors could be fixed we would prefer to stay. they sent someone over immediately, along with a security guard so that we could leave the room while it was fixed. We did not experience one single insect of any type in our room.... no ants, nothing. it was a good room. Bed and pillow super comfy, ceiling fan and AC worked great... could do with a bathroom update and some more storage in the bathroom and room, but that was our only complaint.... no it is not ultra chic and luxe but we knew that going in. Next time I would look at booking the Premiere beachfront Suite for the wrap around terrace, but i really did love the location of our room. Maid service, Mini bar service and turn down service were great. we did get maid service miss us one day, and when we came back to the room at the end of the day, we called, and she said she would send someone over while we were at dinner.... sure enough, when we came back, the room was made up and turned down with some lovely flowers and towel art.
Beach: Most awesome beach ever, and I have seen a lot. miles of powder white sand, crystal clear bathtub warm water, ( loved watching the very large spotted rays swim so gracefully by every day)lots of shade should you want it... yes there was some towel saving going on for the palapas... it was only 60% occupied when we got there and even going out at 7 am was impossible to get one. We parked ourselves most mornings under the huge almond tree next to the bamboo bar... great shade and close to the room and the bar... nice because the bar played reggae throughout the day so you could hear it sitting here. i was up by 6 am most mornings and would go out and read until my hubby woke up at 8.... the last several mornings, i thought i may as well just go down to the beach and read... so peaceful at that hour of day, and the beach is just starting to come to life with walkers, joggers, dog walkers.. even a few people in the water. ON those mornings I was able to get a palapa by the bamboo bar.... i was on my lounger under it by 6:05, and most were gone by then, and i NEVER saw anyone else in their palapas until well after noon..... quite rude, really. we saw someone coming home from the bonfire on wednesday night set up their palapa around midnight for the next day.
The vendors are not aggressive at all. We quite enjoyed meeting and talking with them. We thought Elvis was lovely, I bought some Jewelry from Andrea and Faye, rented a couple of jetskiis for an hour each from 007 and Jimmy, listened to all the wonderful musicians, and talked with the lovely blind man with the two dogs every morning. No one harassed you and to those who complained about them..... they work very very hard to make an honest living. lighten up. A smile and a no thank you goes a long way, and you will be treated with much respect indeed. If you say I will come by and see later, they will ask you when, and will be offended if you do not come by.... they remember everyone, so if you actually mean no, say so.
Every morning at 8, i headed over to ski.... water is still nice and calm then, so it is the best time to go. I guess because of the low occupancy, i never had a problem getting to do anything i wanted to do... ski every morning, glass bottom boat as often as we wanted, snorkeled and dived every day, took the cat cruise three times during our stay, the second and third time we booked the same day. the reefs were great with lots of cool things to see. Water sports staff were very friendly and helpful, and getting fresh towels was no problem. many days i had 6 towels... remember on check out day you need to turn 2 in to the water sports hut and get a receipt for check out or you will be charged. No one tells you this upon check in and no where on your resort literature is it noted. I only knew from reading on trip advisor. You can also get towels by the swim up pool bar.
WE LOVED the entertainment at CSA. No, there are not hours of endless let”s make the guests look like goofs kind of games, but there was always something going on. We never took part in any of the day time activities, but the entertainment staff always stopped by for extended chats everyday, and we became friends with all of them. very hardworking kids. they live on site and work from 7am-2 am some nights. they are at the disco nightly to ensure everyone has a dance partner. there were some fun games some nights at Aura... like the newlywed game, etc. SO... the evenings... wow... best entertainment of any place we have been to... more low key than the cheesy Vegas style shows Mexico is renowned for. It was so hot when we were there that all the entertainment 9 for the most part) was held in the Aura Lounge. we loved the house band... they played a different style of music each night... Kick A** reggae, easy listening, Rock and Roll, some very funky 70’s stuff that had everyone up dancing; to amazing jazz.... they were awesome. The Steel Drum band was incredible, as were the fire dancers at the Shipwreck party. They had some great guest Dj’s that had the club rocking until the wee hours of the morning. Shayam Moses, the acoustic guitarist/singer at the bonfire was imply amazing, and the whole experience was perfect. BUT my favorite Favorite FAVORITE thing to do in the evenings was to head to Aura for Blazing Piano with Ultimate Chocolate and his sidekick Teno. Oh my God we had SOOO much fun with these two, and you really got to know the other guests as it is so interactive and fun. Ultimate really knows how to draw you in and get you involved in the party. he is consummate gentleman and an amazing musician/entertainer. Teno. who used to be on the entertainment team has joined him, and has a beautiful, smooth, soulful voice, and is a very personable young man. My husband and I became close with both of them over the course of our vacation. Ultimate and hubby have a bit of a BROMANCE going on, and have kept in touch since out returning home. We would go again just to hang out with ultimate again. Such a warm wonderful person.
loved the shipwreck party on friday nights... got to take in two of them. great food, especially the curried conch... OMG YUM!!! Great entertainment, great vibe... some silliness before the show starts, but the entertainment kids know who to pick on and who to leave alone!
International night was ok, not that great, but A for effort.
Bonfire party was excellent... all the loungers set up around a huge bonfire, bar set up on the beach, and Shyam Moses crooning love songs. super smooth dude... we bought a couple of CDs to take home and everyone here has been asking who it is. Good Stuff.
meh.... what the put out was good to excellent, but not much variety for breakfast or lunch. breakfast offered the usual suspects of eggs, breakfast meats, pastries, waffles, plus one or two local dishes each day. Lunch was themed usually... a taco day, Chinese day ( seriously? I felt like I was back in my university dining hall) not my cup of tea, but the food was of a very good quality. I loved all of their jamaican dishes, especially the jamaican Conch Soup OMG SO GOOD!!! several days i made an entire meal out of this this!! The home made beads, pastries and desserts were excellent. I found most days The palms to be uncomfortably hot.
Lemon Grass; Did not enjoy the food real. Service was excellent, ambience was stunning... again... uncomfortably hot... so much so that we left as soon as we were done eating. Probably the prettiest restaurant on resort.
Sea grapes. only ate here once too... our first day as soon as we got in. Snapper sandwich was good, self serve pop, water beer and ice cream was a nice touch. we did avail ourselves to that occasionally.
patois. Only open for dinner until our second last day there... food very good, temperature was comfortable, service very prompt and friendly, Bar was fantastic... loved it. Ate here often in the evening. Did have breakfast and lunch on our second last day... menu was limited, but everything tasted delicious and of very high quality.
Beach Grill: cant comment as we are not fast food people. Most seemed to enjoy it.
Feathers: Because of low occupancy we were able to eat here as often as we chose... we went four times. it is the only air conditioned restaurant on property. EXCELLENT. Food SO good.... we especially loved the lion fish. in fact, we ate primarily fish for every meal while at CSA... but Feathers is the only place you can get the Lion Fish. Awesome. Filet very good too, as was the lobster on saturday night. Yum Yum. Service always very good and friendly!
It would be nice if there were more air conditioned restaurants at CSA... not fun to get all dressed up and the perspire buckets while eating.
Nice, but again, hot... had a lovely chat with Damien on our first night... we really enjoyed his company ( we were the only people up there so we just hung out with him and had some fun.) sadly, no Grey Goose available during our stay...no premium stuff anywhere except Tanqueray, but once that was out, that was it for the day. Minimal seating around the bar.
Sunset bar... never really frequented this bar as it is at the opposite side of the beach from where we hung out, but they have a sno cone machine there with various syrups and i saw a lot of people enjoying these.
This is the bar near where we set up camp everyday. Green Flag service was offered and appeared to running well... we were offered service several times our first full day, but we were literally steps to the bar so we told them not to worry that we could get our own. Drinks were good, the first few days the staff were very surly, but then the lightened up and were very nice except for one guy working there. ignored us every day and spoke not one word to us nor served us one drink.... and i brought chocolates out everyday and made a point to be friendly... seriously we are so low maintenance and chatty we found it weird... anyway, he was the one exception. One day we were here and asked for tanq and tonic and the girl just said there is none. A bar manager happened to be there and immediately got on the phone and asked for a bottle to be brought down. but if no managers were around, and they were out... they stayed out.
Pool bar... Cramped, tiny, loud, pool dirty and gross at times, but staff here amongst the best on the property. Very lovely young men.... seemed to really enjoy their jobs, and always remembered what you drank and your names. knew how to mix a good drink too. We usually headed here for the last part of the day after the beach. met lots of very nice people here.
loved it. sophisticated, greta drinks 9 got my nightly Grand marnier fix here) fantastic staff. Great conversation.
Aura Lounge: made our evening entertainment here every night. Decent booze, fantastic staff.... dancing, laughing, and Ultimate Chocolate. Very cool vibe going on in here, and COLD COLD AC... perfect for dancing.
Fitness Centre: One Word: Impressive! from the open air gym, to the olympic pool, the running trail, tennis courts, putting greens, basketball court, soccer pitch, AC aerobics room with so many classes to choose from, it was amazing. Add to that a fantastic sports bar with Big flat screen tv’s a pool table, etc , a spa, salon, steam rooms and saunas and it puts most health clubs here in Toronto to shame. Apparently it is the biggest sports facility in the entire Caribbean.
Salon/Spa/ Misc: Because we were renewing our vows, we got a free couples massage included but never got around to using them.. we were either too busy or too lazy, depending who you asked! i did get my hair and makeup done for our ceremony an and she did an amazing job. Our photographer, keithon, took the most amazing pictures of our ceremony, which was beautiful! The minister was so sincere and warm, we are so glad we decided to do that.
never hung out at the main pool, but it was pretty, although small... it was serviced by the palms bar.
Swim up pool... again small.and sometimes it would get so crowded and the water could start looking a little gross. Pretty pool though and a nice spot to end the day and meet some people.
The hot tubs all around were lovely, and HOT. They were filled with natural mineral water so were therapeutic with no chemicals. All pools and hot tubs were open 24 hours.
STAFF SHOUT OUTS:
There were so many, and if I forget anyone I am so sorry.... you all made our vacation great! Hear are a few standouts!
Big Kudos to Entertainment Team Members Rushaine, Shelley Anne, Doyley ( watch out for him... he is destined to be the next Prime Minister, and Jerome, a brand new Hire who was one of the crowd from day one. Well done, gang... loved the orientation tour with Doyley and dancing with rushaine, as well as long chats with Jerome.
Brooks and Antoinette at the palms.... “sisters from another mother” These girls are a barrel of fun and laughter and go out of their way to make you feel special and like family. Also Trainee Elsie Ann... what a sweet girl! All the best to Antoinnette who is going to be a new mom in December!
Lincoln, the beach waiter at the bamboo Bar. What a gem! lovely young man!
Damien, at the martini bar... he should be an actor. So funny and entertaining... also attentive and personable and mixes a mean lychee martini. or were those goat balls...LOL!!!
Romaine and Lucien at the pool bar... Lucien also worked the bar at palms for lunch. these guys are great fun and very obviously enjoy their jobs. No matter where we were on resort, they would yell over hey and come to chat.
ALL THE STAFF at AURA... sorry we can”t remember all the names... because they served us to well!!! YOU know who you are. we truly enjoyed each and every one of the bartenders and waitresses here.... such a awesome bunch of young people. And of course, we cannot forget our good friends Ultimate and Teno... two of the nicest, most genuine and most talented people you will have the pleasure of meeting.
Photographer Keithon Brett is amazing.... such creativity and technique. I will cherish these photos for years to come!
All in all, a lovely holiday, and we will likely be back at some point, if the price were right. it is still cheaper to go to Mexico, and easier for us to get to. While not an over the top luxurious resort, this hit a lot of things spot on.