REVIEW: CTI September 20-29, 2012 -- LONG
CTI September 20-29, 2012
(This is longer than I intended, but I know I appreciate detailed reviews, so hopefully it will be worth your while!)
Background: This was our first Couples vacation and CTI totally met & exceeded our expectations! We started our countdown at 452 days, so after all that time looking at photos and living on the message boards, when we finally arrived it was almost surreal because we totally knew our way around and felt as if we had been there before. We are in our mid 40s and this was our 2nd Jamaican all-inclusive vacation (1st was to Breezes Runaway Bay). Nine prior Caribbean vacations had all been cruises, with 2 port stops in Jamaica. Vacations for us mainly mean beach/pool time and enjoying great food. We are not heavy into activities and we are not people who need everything to be exactly perfect. (It would take a lot for us to make a stink about something while on vacation!) This trip was to celebrate our 20th anniversary :o
Arrival: We flew from Milwaukee thru Charlotte without incident for an on-time landing at 11:40am, breezed through customs, were in the Couples lounge around 12:15, left for the resort around 12:50, and were receiving a warm welcome and checking in around 2:30 (no stops between the airport & the resort). This process all went very smoothly (see side note at the end), and that first look out the back of the lobby to the beautiful view of the island is worth any amount of travel time!
Accommodations: We booked a Premier Ocean room and after soliciting opinions on the message boards about the pros & cons of Building 2 vs Building 3, I requested a room on the 3rd floor of Building 3 and we were assigned to 3304. The room looked just like pictures we had seen and the view—straight on of the island—was SPECTACULAR! We were perfectly happy with the room, and our housekeeper kept it clean & comfortable. It was a great location because we were centrally located and even though we were just around the corner from the stairs&elevator, it was very quiet. In the mornings we would open the balcony door and enjoy the sound of the waves meeting the shore. One thing I had seen mentioned a number of times on the message boards about the bathrooms was how there was only a shallow raised divider to separate the shower from the rest of the bathroom and that the whole floor would end up getting wet. This was not a problem in our room...the shower curtain was extra long, so as long as you had it smoothly folded into the shower across the entire length, the water did not overflow the divider. I had signed up for Romance Rewards and filled out the pre-registration form with our mini-bar choices, but this really didn’t seem to translate into having the mini-bar stocked any sooner than if you fill out a form when you get there. Maybe we were missing something in the process, but we ended up filling out the form in our room (twice) and we didn’t actually receive our selections until our 3rd day when my husband physically took it down to the concierge desk (no biggie, just puzzling). For us, the only negative about our room was that because of the layout with the bathroom at the back, the balcony was probably the smallest in our category. It accommodated the table & two chairs, but was just a bit crowded. We spent a good amount of time there, and if we are lucky enough to return & afford and ocean view room, we would request one with a larger balcony. Oh, and we did have very small ants, sometimes a few in our room but mainly on the balcony—they seemed to scout out & pounce if there were any crumbs left behind.
Our days all fell into a pretty predictable routine of awake by 7-7:30, maybe a workout, breakfast at Patios or from room service, out to the island, lunch (veggie bar for me and the pool grill or an island lunch for my husband), drinks on our balcony while getting ready for dinner, dinner, showtime/entertainment (if we could stop yawning!), and in bed by 10 most nights. Before we arrived we had totally intended to take part in at least some daily activities & watersports, but once we were settled into our lounge chairs, that just didn’t happen! Here are some details & highlights:
Room Service: While we totally enjoyed Patios for breakfast for the first five mornings, on the morning of our anniversary we decided to order room service and break open the complimentary bottle of champaign we had received so we could enjoy some mimosas on our balcony. This was the way to go, and had we known, we would have arranged for room service breakfast every morning! Room service starts at 7:30 (same for sitting down at Patios) so if you want something earlier, you need to fill out the continental breakfast menu the night before (I think that starts at 6:00).
Nature Walk/Power Walk: These are the organized activities in which we did participate. For the nature walk, a grounds keeper takes you around the property and gives the low-down on some of the more interesting vegetation. We found it very worthwhile and informative. He will also introduce you to the resort parrots, Romeo, Abe & Lorraine, who we tried to visit every day.
For the power walk (8:30am), the resort trainer takes you out through neighborhoods across from the resort. The route was quite challenging and moved at a fairly quick pace (quick for me anyway!). It was a great way to start the morning, and we would have done it a few more times but unfortunately, even though I had my sneakers, I did not bring the right sox and ended up with some major sores where my shoes rubbed on my heels :( It was not always listed on the Activities board, but we were told the walk took place everyday but Saturday.
The Island: The very first time I found out about Couples resorts and was browsing all 4 properties on the website, we were definitely intrigued about the au naturel areas; and once we both said we wanted to try it, the privacy of The Island definitely influenced our decision that CTI was the resort for us! Having 452 days to get encouragement from the Au Naturel board and get used to the idea, I only had a few moments of hesitation while thinking about it on our way to the resort. We followed our plan to go out there right away on our first full day, and really, once we got there it was as if we had been doing it forever, no hesitation at all. Except for our trading places day at Sans Souci, we spent most of every day on the island and met so many wonderful people. I just can’t say enough about what a great experience this was. You could be as private or as social as you wanted to be. (Good conversation could always be found in the swim-up pool bar!) Lunch was brought out each day, usually around 12-12:30, which was a buffet of chicken, fish, salad, veggies & fruit.
Trading Places to Sans Souci: One day it was especially crowded on The Island, and we eventually came to find out it was because there was a group from Sans Souci. This turned out to be a bonus for us because the next day was our trading places day, so when we arrived we took a brief walk around the property and then headed out to Sunset Beach where we were warmly welcomed by our new friends! Sunset Beach is really nice (especially the pool area) and just as private as The Island. The beach itself was not quite as nice as I was expecting—where the water met the sand it was a bit washed out and rocky—but it was great to be able to take a floatie out into the water, something you can’t easily do from The Island. I will agree with all that is said here about Sans Souci being very different from CTI (resort- vs hotel-like; and, yes, there are A LOT of stairs!).
Veggie Bar: OMG! The Veggie Bar rocks! I would have been happy to eat every meal there. This was another feature that when it came to deciding among the 4 properties, reading about the Veggie Bar helped make the decision easier! Everything was so light and fresh; and as mentioned many times on these boards, the sweet potato chips & dips are to die for. There are two rotating menus that change on Mondays & Thursdays. There is a juice of the day and while some of the combinations of fruit/veggies sound weird, they were all delicious. Not on the menu but totally cool is the coconut water served right in the coconut!
Island Dinner: Everyone always asks if dinner on the island is worth it...in my opinion, YES!! While the food was very good (desert was especially delicious!), it was the atmosphere that really made it worthwhile. I won’t give a lot of details because part of what made it so wonderful & romantic was the unexpected special touches. Upon making the reservation before our trip we were provided with a menu for which the main course is steak & lobster. I requested to have a fish or veggie entree instead. Upon arrival I double checked with the concierge desk and they did have it noted. After being seated at our table, I was asked if salmon would be OK. Salmon was fine with me but I got the impression that had I said no, they would have been prepared to make a veggie entree as well. I just cannot describe how romantic it was out on the island at night with the waves crashing up on the rocks right below us. There was another couple dining at the same time, but it was still a very private, intimate experience—I highly recommend it whether you have a special occasion to celebrate or not!
Food & Drink: We ate dinner at all the restaurants and they were all wonderful. Food-wise, I would say Eight Rivers was our favorite, but the atmosphere at Bayside was unbelievable (beat only by that of the private island). Even if for some reason you don’t want to eat there, I would highly recommend at least going out there & having a drink—there is a nice little bar and a couple of booths that seem to almost be cut into the rock wall. With all the choices, I can’t imagine anyone not finding something to suit their palate. Patios especially had a wide variety of selections, and although we never ate there for lunch and only had dinner there on the night of the International Buffet, I was told that in addition to the buffet, you could also sit down and order off of a menu. Bar-wise, we were able to enjoy all of our normal favorites (sometimes we had to have a substitution, such as Appleton for Captain Morgan, but that was no big deal), and of course we also tried some new concoctions—my favorite was anything made with rum cream! We never did try a Bob Marley.
The Silverbirds: I LOVE steel drum music and had seen a video clip of The Silverbirds prior to our trip, so I knew this was the one show we had to attend. They currently perform on Wednesday evenings and they are phenomenal!! Part way into the show they become more of the background music for a dance troupe. While the dancers were also really entertaining, I actually wish the whole show would have stayed focused on The Silverbirds and their inventive arrangements of popular songs.
Spa: Another plus with booking our trip so far in advance was that I had plenty of time to save so I could splurge on spa treatments. Together we did the Couples Manicure/Pedicure. My husband was not looking forward to this and really only did it because I asked him to, but in the end, of course, he loved it! I also did a massage, the reflexology foot treatment, a facial, and a body wrap, all of which I enjoyed immensely. The Spa atmosphere was extremely relaxing and the attendants were all very professional.
Club MoBay: We bought our tickets for this ahead of time at the resort and in the end, we’re very glad we did; however, when we first arrived at the airport, we found our plane delayed and a long, LONG line to get our baggage checked. We thought for sure that even with the delay, by the time we got through the line we probably would have to go straight to our gate. There was not a lot of signage, so we got in the long line. About 10 minutes in, I saw a US Airways rep walking around and I heard her say something about being checked in online. We had done this, so I caught up to her and when I told her we had checked in online, she took us to a separate line where we only had to wait for a couple already at the counter. (I still wonder about everyone in that long line, there had to be plenty of people who had checked in online and probably waited and waited...) It still took us a while because they were trying to re-route everyone who was going to be missing their connecting flights, but once we made our alternate plans & got through security, we had about an hour to spend in Club MoBay. Did we eat & drink $60 worth of food & beverages, no; but for us, the comfort of the lounge compared to the gate area made it worthwhile. In addition to the main lounge (which has a bar, TVs, and a closed off kids area), there is also a separate “quiet” lounge, a business center, and a “spa” where I saw someone getting a chair massage. They also make announcements when it’s time to board the outgoing flights, so you don’t have to be constantly watching the time—with our delayed flight, I found this especially nice. Club MoBay is by Gate 9.
Staff: I am going to post in the “Staff Shout Outs” to give some specific credit by name, but to sum up generally, the staff was FABULOUS! Everyone with whom we came into contact was warm and friendly. We did not make a lot of special requests, but anything we did ask for was taken care of with a “no problem, mon”. Certainly, this is a huge part of what makes CTI so special and makes repeaters out of people like us!
Check-In/Room Charging side note: This I am mentioning as a learning experience to benefit others...
Although I do remember reading something here about how they place a $300 hold on your credit card, nothing was mentioned about it at check-in and no information was provided about how they handle making charges to your room. When we were asked for our credit card at check-in, we just assumed that like our experiences at other hotels/resorts/cruises, you could charge resort expenditures to your room and when you check-out they total it up & charge it to the card. In reality, that $300 hold acts as a credit balance and needs to be increased (if you know ahead of time you will exceed it) or re-established (if you use it up and need additional credit). I also didn’t think too much about the whole room charge thing because we had a $300 resort credit, for which we did have a written acknowledgement in our arrival folder.
We went to the spa on our arrival day and after our treatment were asked for a credit card. We said we wanted to charge it to our room, but they would not because our account did not show a credit balance. We assumed that it had to do with the fact that we had just arrived a few hours earlier, and since we weren’t presented with options or a full explanation on how their room charge system works, my husband went back to the room to get the card out of the safe. Obviously, in hindsight, we should have went immediately to the front desk. Because I had four other spa treatments planned, I stopped by the front desk the next morning and at this time our account was set with the $300 resort credit, but still no overall explanation of the room charging process. Over the next four days we made purchases in the logo shop & at the spa without incident, but then at my 3rd spa treatment, they again asked for my credit card because the balance of our room account was not enough to cover the cost of the treatment. This time I did go directly to the front desk. A very helpful clerk explained about the $300 hold & needing to up the balance if charges were going to go over that amount. When I said that I would be having another spa treatment and we had an island dinner coming up the next day, he determined that since we had the resort credit, not only was the normal $300 hold not placed at check-in, but that our credit card wasn’t even run through to get our info on file. This meant that for him to re-establish a credit balance on our account, we had to again go back to our room to get the credit card. This probably sounds more dramatic than it was...it was just a bit frustrating because nothing was explained at check-in...obviously we would have handled things differently had we known what we know now!
Whew!! Told you it was long! I’d be happy to attempt to answer any other specific questions...