CTI Review, Jan 2013 (warning: long)
This is on the lengthy side, but the summary is that CTI was amazing—it really exceeded both of our expectations and felt like “home” almost immediately. It was a rejuvenating vacation in many ways: seeing the culture’s widespread attitude of “no problem” and taking things as they come was good for each of us individually, and it also absolutely helped to strengthen our already-strong marriage. This was such a special time for us that we’re actively planning on a return trip next winter. It’s looking like we may even be bringing at least one other couple!
Flights: We flew from Milwaukee to Atlanta and then to Montego Bay. All traveling went smoothly, but next time we hope to book a nonstop flight. This will allow us to get to the resort earlier in the day and will just be a lot less hassle overall, as we both really hate the boarding, deplaning, and running to the connecting gate.
Airport: I surprised my husband with Club MoBay VIP tickets. It didn't really save us much time on arrival, but it was nice to be greeted and whisked through the unfamiliar airport. This was also our first experience with the outstanding Jamaican service we received throughout the vacation. The departure service was fantastic. It was so nice to be able to sit in a quiet lounge with food and drinks readily available, rather than being out in the hustle and bustle of the general airport. It didn't seem like my husband was too impressed with this package while we were using it, but he's been enthusiastic about it when we've told friends about the trip. He wants to do it again on our next trip down there, and I definitely agree that the departure alone is well worth the cost.
Transportation to/from resort: This was hassle-free and enjoyable. On arrival the baggage got tagged at the Couples lounge, wheeled out to the shuttle, and loaded by couriers (tip these guys ~$1/bag). The driver to the airport, a lovely man named Lyndon, gave a little tour of the landscape and some basic trivia about Jamaica as we traveled. We stopped at a roadside convenience store about 2/3 of the way there, where people bought drinks and used the restrooms. The driver on the way back was much less conversational--but then, the passengers were too--but he got us there competently and safely. We had to have our bags outside the room at 10:15 am, boarded the shuttle at 11:15, and flew out at about 2 pm.
-Arrival: this is a bit of a blur, honestly! We filled out some paperwork with our names and flight info, were given drinks (rum punch and something else), and were escorted to our room by a great man named Kirk. Kirk made us immediately feel right at home and was a friendly face that we saw throughout our stay.
-Room: We had a superior ocean room, which was in Building 5 on the 4th floor. Some people may feel this is too far away from the main buildings, but we really appreciated the privacy. Our balcony had a wonderful view of the ocean, and we could also see the main road that runs in front of the resort. Let's just say that because we were so high up and not facing the beach areas, we were able to enjoy a good bit of AN time on our balcony. It was also much quieter than the other buildings, which we noticed when we walked through buildings 3 and 4 to get to the beach and restaurants. We will probably continue to book these “cheaper” rooms just for the privacy alone; that is worth far more to us than an unobstructed ocean view.
I had read in the message boards and reviews that the rooms were musty. Several people even recommended bringing dryer sheets from home to put in the drawers. I did follow this advice but didn't end up using them. I faintly noticed a little mustiness when we initially entered our room but then never again while we were there; my husband didn't notice it at all.
-General: A common complaint of CTI is that it feels too much like a hotel. It's obvious why people would think that--the multi-floor buildings and doors that open to a hallway instead of a private entrance kind of give it away--but it really didn't feel like even a slightly bad thing. Because of the open-air construction, even walking in the hallways is technically walking outside, and you can hear the ocean throughout the buildings. We did not think it felt like a hotel much at all.
My husband did feel that the grounds could use some updating, but I really appreciated the vintage architecture and simple décor.
-Tour: We went for a tour of grounds on our first morning there. Alvin was the tour guide, and he did a great job. It was well worth our time to do this and helped us feel more comfortable with our surroundings. It's also how we found out that they have cappuccinos at the Logo gift shop, and the one that we each got was pretty darn good.
Restaurants: All of the food that we had was excellent. The Pool Grill was awesome for lunch and late-night snack options. The Veggie Bar had good smoothies and sweet potato chips (the heart of palm dip and chipotle dips were amazing!); I wish I'd eaten here more, but the service was often pretty slow here—even for Jamaican standards. The Patio was great for the meal buffets. We had breakfast here every morning and loved the variety offered. I took advantage of the section with more traditional Jamaican foods and also the fresh fruits. Sometimes the coffee service was a little slower than I'd like, but then I'm a big coffee drinker and wish they had larger coffee mugs too. It was kind of mind-blowing that we were still served so formally while wearing swimming suits and cover-ups!
We only went to Verandah once, on our first night at CTI. I don't remember what we ate, but by the end of the trip we were ready to try it again. It was here that I saw the first staff member decline to take a tip from someone.
We ate at 8 Rivers twice and Bayside once. Bayside is more our style of dining--a little more causal and of the Asian variety--but we chose to take advantage of the more formal dining at 8 Rivers for the sake of maximizing value. Our Bayside night was perfect: the reservations were for 6:15 (the earliest option), and we were the first ones in line and therefore got our choice of table. We chose one on a corner that juts out furthest over the water. We could really only see each other and the ocean, and it was phenomenal and very romantic. Tavio was our waiter that night, and he really helped to make it a night to remember.
The Piano Bar was a fun place to stop after dinner. The drinks here are strong and get quickly refilled, and there is top-shelf liquor available. It apparently closes when the last person leaves. We never stayed nearly that long, but it was definitely a fun place.
Gift shop: Don't buy anything here if you can help it! We bought coffee and aged Appleton rum there, and both were far more expensive than at the airport (coffee) and our local liquor store. The staff there told us that the airport would be more expensive ("last-minute shopping" was the reasoning), but that was so not the case. That being said, they do have some nice things there…just be prepared to pay $$$. This IS included in the cashless system there, so you will see gift shop charges on your final invoice when you leave.
Beach: People will complain that CTI’s beach is too small and that it doesn't have the nice calm waters or pure white sand of Negril. It's true that Ocho Rios is more prone to windy weather (we had 3 days of watersports closed due to wind), and while the beach isn't large (you can walk from one end to the other in less than 5 minutes) it never felt crowded. The beach was kept raked, chairs were reorganized every night, and there was always a good variety of sun and shade. It wasn't usually difficult to find lounge chairs, but findings ones with the cushions still remaining sometimes was. We did notice some issues with people "saving" seats but not being present to use them, but it wasn't overly prevalent as far as we could tell.
Activities: The only time we left the resort was for Dunn’s River Falls. This was a really fun experience; I would absolutely do it again sometime in the future, but the things I’d read about intense pressure from vendors at the end was NOT an exaggeration. As soon as you get to the top of the falls, the employees start pressuring you to buy the DVD that they filmed of your group climbing the falls, and it doesn’t stop until you’re back at the bus, safely ignoring them from the bus interior. The walk from the top of the falls to the bus was the one time that I felt even slightly crabby while in Jamaica, so just really be prepared mentally to deal with this if it’s something that will bother you. It didn’t help that my husband kept getting lured into conversations with the vendors when they’d comment on his beard! Overall, though, I thought it was worth dealing with the vendors to experience climbing the falls; it was really fun.
At CTI itself, we did go on a catamaran cruise, and this was awesome. We were amazed at the size of the waves, and it was so fun to stop and swim around in the beautiful water. Do take medication if you get motion sickness. My husband felt like he was still on the boat while we were having dinner that night, and this was a little upsetting for him.
Next time we will likely take more advantage of the other watersports that are offered at CTI, because they looked really fun. With this trip having 3 red-flag days, doing more of this wasn't really an option for this trip, unfortunately.
Staff: As I’d read in several places, the staff at CTI is nothing short of amazing. We had such wonderful service across the board. They were welcoming in every way and do everything they can to make sure you’re taken care of. We had especially great experiences with Kirk, Rohan, Kenard, Tavio, and Terry, but the countless people whose names I’ve forgotten all contributed to a perfect vacation. It was clearly a team effort and something that they all do consistently well.
Packing must-haves: Absolutely be sure to bring sufficient sunscreen, because the sun down there is powerful! I’d read that 1 bottle per day was ideal; we used almost 2 large bottles of body lotion and 1 for faces in the 4 full days that we had at CTI—and we applied very liberally. A hat for the beach is a must for me, and if you wear glasses be sure to bring some cleaning solution. The salt water does NOT want to come off without it, and I used this at least once daily. I’d also recommend bringing some hangers if you need more than the approximately 6 that are in the room and a watch for your beach bag (don’t want to miss dinner reservations or other activities!). If you have long and/or thicker hair, definitely bring your own hair dryer! The one in the room was acceptable for my fine, short pixie cut but would be a nightmare for most people.
The Island: Of course I need to discuss this! I’d been excited to try this from the moment I learned of its existence; my husband was less certain. Our first 2 full days at CTI were “red flag” days, so the island wasn’t even an option; these days we spent time later in the afternoon out on the pier, where I got to experience being topless in public for the first time. This actually proved to be a nice way for us to transition to fully AN, because after those two days my husband couldn’t wait to see what the island was all about! We spent time there on both of the next two days and just really loved it. Like so many other newbies, we started out on the right side of the island, lounging under a shelter and just enjoying the up-front ocean view. Before too long, though, we got brave enough to venture over to the pool area and never looked back. It really is true that it’s a welcoming, non-judgmental environment and that you should try it as early in the trip as possible. This was a really special experience for us and is one that we will definitely repeat next time we’re at Couples.