It was a cold, blistery winters day in Ontario when my husband and I booked our two week stay at CN and CSA to celebrate our five year anniversary. All I can say is the countless research we did truly paid off...and when I say say countless I mean reading hundreds of reviews on Trip Advisor and spending days on the message board. We knew we wanted to go to Jamaica but were contemplating between CTI, CN, and CSA. The more research we did, the more difficult the decision proved to be, as all the resorts were beautiful in their own way. When posting threads on the message board in hopes of helping me decide I would receive numerous responses, all of which raved about the food, the service, beach, and staff...and to just go to the one "that called to me". Well guess what...they all called to me! What I was never able to get a handle on however was the "feel" of these resorts and how they differed from one another. Once you have been, this can easily be felt, but for those who have never been....well, what does this mean? So, with that said, I hope this review will help some of you better understand how CN and CSA are different from one another. I'm not going to necessarily explain the restaurants, the room categories, which rooms have mini bars, and what items were on the breakfast buffet as that is easy to find, but rather how they differ, how they are similar, and yes, which one we preferred!
A little about us
We had never been to a couples resort prior to this trip and have no loyalty to any resort. We're a couple in our 30's who were looking for a relaxing but FUN vacation. Although we love the beach, I am not one to sit on my beach chair in the hot! hot! hot! sun all day and am not an ocean swimmer. This does not mean however that I don't love a beautiful beach, it's just not all that I look for in a property. We love to meet new people and are very social but also look to our vacations as a time to reconnect. I certainly wasn't looking for a "spring break" party atmosphere but certainly let my hair down when away on holiday, and experience the odd "how much did I drink last night?" moment. I found the perfect combination of romance, tranquility, fun people, jamaican culture, sophistication, class, and that "chill vibe" I was searching for. I love a fun, social, active pool, a beautiful beach, and a laid back atmosphere. Did I find all this...yes, was it at the same resort...NO! Here goes my attempt to explain....
The beach and pools
Let's be honest, anyone who goes to Negril is expecting a gorgeous beach...and this is exactly what you will find at either of these two resorts - if you are a "beach bum" you have found your oasis! It is truly breathtaking, stunning, beyond words beautiful at both these resorts. CSA has nicer sand (barely) and the water is a little rougher. It is a much busier beach, with more activity (people walking by, jet skis, water skiing, parasailers, etc.)...always something to keep you entertained! The beach at CN is much, much quieter. Lots of vacant beach chairs and it is more tranquil and relaxing. The water is literally like bath water and very calm. I would actually go so far as to say the water is even clearer at CN then at CSA. The majority of the guests at CSA gravitate towards the beach making the pools very quiet..until about 3:00 when the pool bar starts to see some action! The pool at CSA is not ideal for those who enjoy "pool life". And please do not say "why would you come all the way to Negril, where the most beautiful beaches are, if you want to sit by the pool" as I enjoy time by the beach but not everyday, all day. The activity around the pool at CSA was disappointing, very small (even smaller then expected) and not overly inviting. CN's pool on the other hand is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful, funnest (I know that's not a word but I like it!), livliest, most social pools I have ever stepped foot in. There were days that I was literally in the water all day (and yes I got out to pee!) It was never out of hand, rowdy, or obnoxious, just adults doing what adults do when they are away from lifes responsibilities. The pool at CN is the heart of the hotel and sitting in the water with the ocean just steps away is beautiful. Simply put, if you plan on spending any time around the pool then you may very well be disappointed in CSA and will love! CN.
CN is very compact and signficantly smaller to CSA, which is why it is so conducive to the socializing and meeting new people. You will see the same faces each day (which can be a blessing or a curse ha ha). It is very easy to make friends and build relationships with the staff. The resort has an older look to it, which is done deliberately, and although you may have prepared yourself for the non lavish feel you may have experienced in the past, it still takes a few hours to adjust. But you will, and you will settle in and appreciate CN for the little gem that it is! Laid back does not even begin to describe this resort...nothing pretentious about this place.
CSA on the other hand is beautiful in all ways that a Caribbean resort should be. The grounds and paths are stunning with lush flora and fawna, beautifully lit walk ways, and because the resort runs horizontally you are always following the beach! The beauty of CSA far surpasses that of CN. Not even close! The buildings, the tiki bars along the beach, the beautiful beach side Sea Grapes. It is gorgeous.
Please don't interpret this as CN being disappointing...it's just more rustic. CN grounds scream "chill, you are on vacation and every little 'ting is gonna be all right"...where CSA is more beautiful, romantic, lush, and tropical.
CSA wins this one WITHOUT A DOUBT! We stayed in a atrium suite and it was exactly as it looked in the pictures. Simple and sexy! And that balcony...unbelievable. We completely underestimated how much time we would spend enjoying this space! I loved the way the rooms at CSA are situated throughout the property and although there are some stunning ocean front rooms with views that are postcard perfect, we were thrilled with our Atrium Suite and wouldn't book anything else (especially for the price difference). There would be a lot of foot traffic along the beach front rooms, and this may be of concern to some. But the views would offset this in my opinion.
The rooms at CN were better then I was expecting. We had a standard, gardenview room with a small balcony. Very colourful and vibrant. The bathroom was smaller but did the trick and everthing was always clean. Nothing special but nothing to complain about either. Although I haven't seen the upgraded rooms at CN, from what I can tell there are VERY few rooms that would offer much of an ocean view. If a true ocean front/ocean view room is important to you, again, CSA is the best choice for you!
The food at both these resorts is most definitely a step above other all inclusives we have travelled. Very tender beef which is nice surprise after eating tuff beef in Mexico for the last few years. I do have to say however that although the food at CSA was nothing short of fabulous, CN was even better! The a la carte dinners were about equal but the food and atmosphere for the buffet dinners were better at CN. Sitting around the pool at CN enjoying great food with the beautiful lobby behind you was great....I always prefer to eat outside and despite the fact that the Palms at CSA is open air, nothing beats the beautiful lights, the crashing waves, and stars above to dine with.
I will admit, prior to leaving I was expecting to notice a difference between the service within these two resorts. What I was not expecting to receive however was better quality service at CN then CSA! During our time at CN we never waited for anything, were always greeted with a smile, and everyone from the front desk staff, the guest relations desk, the maid, the gardener, and the bartenders, everyone truly seemed to care about their job and how we were enjoying our stay with them. Although not an issue for me, and I use this for the purpose of example only, there were a few occasions at CSA where food and drink orders took a considerably long time, or would never arrive at all. This never happened at CN. Drinks were ready before you even ordered, they made an effort to get to know you, remembered not only your name but where you are from, and definitely seemed to be having fun! I feel I make a real effort to get to know the staff and that my efforts were always well received at CN...made lots of friends from the resort and even went out with the staff on a few occasions. CSA's staff, although friendly, just didn't seem to be enjoying there job and the guests in the same way. Of course there are exceptions to this (ex: Winston and Fraser in the Martini Bar at CSA are fabulous), but overall, the service at CN was warmer and friendlier then the service at CSA.
This is the easiest one for me...these two resorts are total opposite's during the evening. CN is quite quiet at night. In fact, many times my husband and I would say "where does everybody go?". We usually ate around 7:30-8:00 and the non-reservation restaurants would be half empty. During the evening entertainment the Terrace would maybe be 1/3 full...and that's likely stretching it. I actually felt bad for some of the entertainers who were doing there best to get the crowd involved but it's kind of hard when you are performing for maybe 50 people. So, we made our own fun in the evening. Often would grab a drink and sit out on the beach, often with other couples who we'd met during our stay. Sometimes we would just chat and have a drink at the bar, others we would hit up the hot tub for a late night soak. In my opinion, CN during our stay was somewhat of a sleepy hollow after the sun went down and the majority of people were tuckered out and bed bound by 10:00! Now CSA on the other hand...totally different story. With the exception of a few nights, I don't think we turned in much before 12:00ish. Whether it be hanging out with Winston and Fraser at the Martini Bar, having post dinner drinks with Ultimate Chocolate, playing 'name that tune' (I know, sounds corny but surprisingly fun!), enjoying the entertainment at the Palms, or dancing the night away at Aura Lounge, I found the evenings to be energetic, fun, and extremely entertaining. If night life is of importance to you then CSA is where you want to go...you will likely be disappointed at CN.
Day life - Not that many people talk about this and although I've touched upon it a little in previous categories I will attempt to summarize here. CN is non stop action around the pool during the day. The pool is FULL of people chatting, lazing by the waterfall wall, floating on rafties, playing volleyball, and of course, socializing at the swimup bar. The beach at CN on the other hand is very relaxed with many people reading, napping, or just gazing at the beautiful beach. So there is definitely something for everybody. Having said that, if you were to close your eyes and picture the perfect beach resort, and could care less about pools, then the vision you see will be that of CSA. It's a true beach resort in every sense of the word. There is no way, in my opinion, that anyone who considers themself a die hard beach lover could ever be disappointed with this resort. However, again, if you like to mix beach days with pool days then CSA will not deliver and CN would be a better choice.
Many people, as I once did, post threads on the message board asking for advice on which resort to go to....but, it's always difficult because these people whom we seek suggestions or advice from don't know the first thing about us, or what we look for in a vacation. So, because of this, my words are simply my thoughts about my ideal vacation. Having said that, if i were recommending resorts to my friends, this is what I would say:
"If great beach, fun night life, lush sprawling grounds and beautiful rooms are most important to you, then CSA is likely best for you. True beach babies will be in heaven here.
If the opportunity to be social and make new friends, a great combination of pool life and beach life, amazing food, a village type feel, and fabulous, personalized service are most important to you, then CN is your new home!"
So, where will we return..in a heartbeat to either. But, if I had to choose between the two I'd have to place my bet on CN! Despite the fact that it is not as "post card" pretty, not as lush, and doesn't have the fun night life of CSA, there was something about the people and the size of CN that worked for us....and I loved it! The combination of lazy mornings by the beach and afternoons with friends in the pool was perfect. We found CN to be the perfect combination of romance, relaxation, and fun. I will miss those Martini's at the CSA Martini Bar with Winston though...