CSA review 7/27-8/3 Posted on TA
This is a copy of the review I just posted on TA, if anyone wants to read. It's long! LOL
I traveled to CSA July 27-August 3, 2013, with my wife for a week of blissful adults-only vacation. We had previously visited Couples San Souci in Ocho Rios, but while we loved the service and the idea of Couples, we were not at all impressed by the beach or the (lack of) resort entertainment at night, so we decided to try the Negril side of the island. We'd heard the beach was fantastic and wanted to try it out. This will be a long review, so settle in and get some popcorn.
Let's start with the AIRPORT LOUNGE: 5/5 STARS
Customs was quick and painless. When we got to the Couples lounge (we had no trouble finding it again) we were greeted immediately and asked to take a seat. They took our names and verified we were on a list they had of arriving passengers, then sorted and tagged our luggage according to which resort we were going to. We only waited about 20 minutes, sipping sodas (you can get beer too) and using the restroom during the wait. They were friendly and efficient and it was nice to have somewhere to wait in the airport for your transportation! When we did walk out to the bus, we tipped the baggage handlers $1/bag (they actually came down the line of us with their hand held out, asking for tips- so no it is NOT optional), got in and we were on our way!
CHECK IN/OUT: 4/5 STARS
Before we left, I had heard a lot of complaints about the check in process at CSA. Based on my experience, they were not warranted. We arrived with about ten other couples, and were immediately greeted with cool washcloths as we exited the bus. We needed them- it was HOT and the humidity hit you like a ton of bricks as soon as you stepped out of the air conditioning! But hey, no biggie, itís a tropical paradise! We were ushered into the checkin/checkout area and another server came around with flutes of champagne. Nice touch- made it feel like we were truly on vacation now. A lady behind the desk immediately stood up, asked us to take a seat, and explained that she would be passing out paperwork that we would need to fill out. The paperwork already had our names on it so as she called out names, different people stood to claim their paperwork and then sat to fill it out again. Once it was filled out you simply stood up and waited for an available chair at the front desk. That was the only part that could have been more organized- there was no real "line", you simply stood there, and I think they could make it easier by calling names to the front desk and having you fill out your paperwork there, or even on the bus on the way to the resort? The paperwork really didn't take long and that way guests wouldn't be left standing there waiting. Anyways, it wasn't a huge deal- everything still went really smoothly at check-in. Although we weren't expecting it because we arrived at 2pm, our room was ready and waiting for us. Our request to have a ground floor room was accommodated and we were given a key to the verandah doors so that we could simply walk off our patio all week. We had to give a $20 deposit/charge on the credit card that gets removed when you return the key at the end of the week- we had to ask them to take it off at check out, so make sure you check your bill. There was also a standard $300 hold placed on our credit card for incidentals. We knew about this before hand but did wonder what would happen if someone showed up unaware or without a credit card. Hmm. Anyways, we were one of the lucky few that were able to make advanced reservations before Couples discontinued the policy, and our reservations for Feathers, Lemongrass, and the Cat Cruise were waiting for us in our check in packet. Very organized! We were shown where our room was on the map and bellhops asked us to show them our luggage, and then off we went with them leading the way! Quick, easy, painless. The whole check in process from bus to room probably only took twenty minutes.
ROOM: 2.5/5 STARS
We had a Garden Verandah Suite on the old side of the resort, and I'm just going to be blunt here. We werenít impressed. Couples really, really, really needs to improve its rooms. Really. And we could get into the whole you-donít-go-to-Couples-for-the-rooms, you go for the couples timeÖ but the bottom line is, this kind of room quality wouldnít fly in the US or anywhere else. They need to get it together. The verandah was the best part of the whole thing- it was large, spacious and airy, and had this fabulous rocking/lounging chair that was quite good for naps as well as a built in couch. I actually loved the verandah- and I saw some, even in the Atrium suite category, that actually had sea views. Luck of the draw. Anyways, there was no towel rack like we saw on some other porches- this would have been helpful during the week. Loved spending time here listening to the birds and frogs. As far as the interior of the room- I can tell Couples was going for an island bungalow feeling, with wooden plantation shutters, dark wood furniture, and rattan-style mats with tile floors. In theory, I like the idea, and loved the website pictures, but unfortunately, the room just came off as dark, dingy and dated. The tiles were dirty and the room was very dark, even with the shutters open. The two chairs in the corner of the room seemed outdated. When I picture Caribbean island, I picture white linens, dark woods, and breezy, airy feeling- this was not it. (As an aside, I will say here that I think CSSís rooms were better- they were more open and lighter, anyways). The bed was nice dark wood but it lacked the light and airy feeling. In addition, we saw several cockroaches in the bathroom during our stay, which are a no-no for me. I understand that there are bugs in the Caribbean and most donít bother me (we also had these teeny tiny ant things that were very persistent in the bathroom all week and did not bother us, as well as some lizards that occasionally made their way inside- again, no big deal) but cockroaches are GROSS and unacceptable in my opinion. Nasty nasty nasty. Anyways, the bathroom also needed updating though I did like the walk in shower, but I read that these are being updated this month so I won't waste time complaining about them. I went to Couples for the beach and Couples experience, not for the rooms, and they excelled in their ambiance but this is definitely an area they need to work on- rooms. It did look like the outside had been painted at least somewhat recently though- so that was a plus. Also, a note on road noiseÖ we were in 2106 and you could DEFINITELY hear it. No way around it- day and night, though at night it was mostly drowned out by the treefrogs. We didn't request to switch because repacking would have been too much of a hassle and we didn't spend that much time in our room anyways, but be aware we could hear the cars zooming by loud and clear. We made the best of it anyways and it by no means ruined our trip. Another note, on the rooms without glass in them- buyer beware, you really can hear a LOT of what goes on in those rooms, even just walking down the path outside the rooms! We didnít mind and maybe the people in the rooms didnít either but just an FYI.
BEACH: 5/5 STARS
The beach was simply, wonderfully, fabulous. Bravo to Couples for being on the best stretch of shoreline on the whole seven miles! The water was crystal clear, not only right off the beach but also further out when snorkeling and jet skiing in deeper waters. You could see right to the bottom. The sea was calm and floating on the provided chair mats/floaties was amazing. Someone suggested bringing something to tie yourself down/anchor your floatie to the rope, and I wish I had listened, because I would start off floating on one side of the swimming area and end up on the other side, and have to haul myself back! If I went again I would bring a tie rope or bungee. The bottom was smooth and soft with very very little seaweed, just a few shells, rocks, and occasional dead coral. Up on the beach itself, there were plenty of palm trees for shade, and a few palapas that were always claimed by o-dark thirty in the morning. Not a big deal to us and not worth getting up early for. There were also plenty of hammocks and some showers to shower the sand off you, along with awesome green flag service between 11am and 4pm each day. After awhile the waiters got to know us and know what we liked to drink and would bring it without us asking- Shaun was particularly great at this! In the mornings there were platters of fruit kebobs and drink-of-the-day that went around, and once some cool washcloths too. The beach bar (one of two) was only steps away if we ever felt like getting up to get our own- not likely! Every morning the beach was freshly raked and every evening they moved chairs and floaties back into position. There were beach vendors and musicians moving up and down the beach all day, but they never came much past the water line and if you were doing a transaction with them, security would always walk over and stand there unobtrusively until you were done. Felt very safe. We were never offered weed by any vendor on resort, though off resort was a different story! I grew up in San Diego and have seen quite a few nice beaches, and this one was one of the best. Very very good- my only complaint was other people's cigarette butts in the sand, which reflects poorly on the guests who chose to throw them there, not on Couples staff who kills themselves to make the beach nice for us. Pick up your trash!
FOOD: 3/5 STARS
I am a foodie so I will go into detail here. Skip if you like. The short story is, we were overall not awed by the food. We really found it to be hit or miss. Certain restaurants were certainly better than others. The one good thing all week is that no matter where we went, and even when we showed up for some of our reservations early, we never had to wait for a table. Drink service from the bar, however, was pretty consistently slow at meals across all restaurants except Feathers. So, on to the individual restaurants:
.....The PALMS 1/5 STARS- This restaurant was always a miss. Breakfast, lunch, dinner- it didn't matter. Iím really not picky and I do enjoy buffets but the only thing I liked here was the omelet one morning at the omelets station, and even this could have been better. They had the standard omelet ingredients out- cheese, diced ham, etc, but nothing special. Why not put out some yummy cheeses- feta, gorgonzola? Or some mushrooms, or other things to bring it above and beyond? Also, the buffet food was just not yummy. They had different themes each day and it was all yuck. The one exception was the alfredo-style pasta I had (again, made at a Chef's station) but I don't really give them any props for that because it's not that hard to make pasta. Also, the desserts consistently tasted over-floured and under-sugared. As I have a big sweet tooth, this was a major disappointment! We stopped eating at the Palms pretty quickly early in the week.
.....PATOIS 5/5- We loved Patois! We had breakfast here almost every morning and the banana stuffed French toast really is to die for. Yum, yum, yum. They serve you a fresh fruit plate every morning and they have delicious smoothies-of-the-day... try them all! They also make a yummy breakfast pizza and delicious wood-oven fired pizzas in general. Lunch and dinner here were so good as well, as was the service (minus drink service- it was a bit of a wait for drinks ordered from the bar). Plus, the view cannot be beat! Gorgeous pool and gorgeous ocean water beyond.
.....FEATHERS 5/5- We ate at Feathers the first night there and loved it so much we made reservations for a second time later that week. The first night we ate there was lobster night and the presentation and food were simply fabulous. Plus, I honestly expected that since it was such a fancy restaurant, the portions would be small and I would leave not-quite-fullÖ this was NOT the case. The portions are small but there are so many courses you definitely get full. Try the soups! I had a pumpkin seafood something or other that was to die for. Desserts here were delicious- one night they served a sampler platter that included a coffee cheesecake- we wolfed it down and then asked for seconds to go, which they brought to us beautifully presented and wrapped in cellophane to take back to our room. Canít speak highly enough of this restaurant.
ÖLEMONGRASS 2/5- It was only okay, but for being one of their premier restaurants it should have been more than this. The appetizer platter for two was the best part of the meal, and was thoroughly enjoyed. She ordered Pad Thai and I ordered chicken and yellow curry- neither was good and we ended up leaving before dessert. You could tell they tried but it really didnít taste like actual Thai food and it was very salty. Very disappointed in Lemongrassí food. I will say the ambiance was very nice and sitting on the patio with the tiki torches lit overlooking the pool and ocean was gorgeous.
ÖSEAGRAPES 4/5- The food here was SO GOOD. We ate here our first afternoon for lunch- had the fish tacos and they were so good, we had them again the next day! We loved the sweet potato chips and dip and the smoothies as well. The only thing we did not like here was the service. The ladies working here seemed rather unfriendly and were very slow at their service- it took them 15 minutes or so just to get us a smoothie that first afternoon and we were the only couple there! This continued throughout the week. We got there at 325 to grab a bite before we had to board for the catamaran cruise at 355 or so- we ordered the sweet potato chips, a salad, and smoothie and never got our food beyond the chips. Had to board without having eaten the rest which was disappointing. We stopped going here towards the end of the week- it was just too slow.
I really canít comment on the Cabana grill as we pretty much stayed away from this end of the beach (except once) and I donít feel like we really got the measure of the place that one time. I will also say that it was awesome to have the self-serve soda and ice cream machines- we used the ice cream one especially a lot, though beware of bees if youíre allergic! Theyíre everywhere!
One final note about the food is that we both got sick midway through the trip. The kind of sick called Montezumaís Revenge in Mexico. It only lasted 24 hours thankfully and thereís no way to know with certainty where we caught it or if it was even related to the food, but we both kind of wondered if it was the seafood, especially the fresh-caught and fresh-grilled stuff. We stopped eating seafood after that and did fine- but we also donít eat a lot of seafood at home so who knows. Traveller beware!
GROUNDS: 5/5 STARS
The grounds were amazing. Simply beautiful. There was beautiful tropical foliage everywhere and we saw hardworking groundskeepers everyday doing various tasks to keep it looking immaculate- picking up fallen leaves, coconuts, raking, caring for palm trees. They are wonderful at what they do and they truly deserve recognition for their marvelous job. I think the tropical ambiance they create is one of the best things about Couples- how it is not just a concrete landscape, but instead feels like a jungle- your own hidden paradise. It very much adds to the romance of the resort. The only thing I would add here are maybe some hammocks hidden among the foliage, like at Couples San Souci. The only hammocks we saw were on the beach.
STAFF: 3.5/5 STARS
I know that the experience you have with the staff at Couples is highly subjective and, in large part, depends on the guests themselves and how friendly they are willing to be. I will, however, say that for the most part, the staff we experienced were fabulous. Some of them- like our waitress, Shelly Ann, in Feathers- had us laughing so hard and were highly personable. You could tell they genuinely liked their jobs. Others were simply friendly and efficient, with a smile and a hello. Our maid service all week was quiet, good, and unobtrusive, and each night we received turn down service and fresh beach towels. Fantastic. Sadly, however, we did encounter a few who were less enthused and a few who were rude. The whole staff at Seagrapes all week seemed like they had places they would rather be- and service here reflected that, slow and uninspiring. And the waterfront staff, whom everyone always praises, were mostly amazing, except for one experience we had with them. I was trying to learn how to waterski and, after having watched the staff take twenty minutes or so each with the line of beginners in front of me, it was finally my turn. Waterskiing is a hard sport and having never done it before, I was having trouble even standing up! The staff gave me two tries- thatís it. Maybe five minutes total- and then they were asking for my skiis back. Baffled, I asked them if I could try again and if they had any pointers or could tell me what I was doing wrong. The one guy simply replied in a couldnít-care-less voice and attitude- ďEverything, monĒ and left it at that. I asked again if I could try again and they grudgingly agree to one more try- this, after giving everyone else twenty minutes or so! Then, when I failed at the third try, they took my skiis and left me floating in my lifejacket a ways from shore- I couldnít even touch and it took awhile to swim back in. Meanwhile, the guys parked their boat, hopped onshore, and went up to the watersports hut to laugh and chat with their buddies while I was still out there. It was so rude, uncaring, and unlike the other Couples staff I had encountered that I actually cried. Other than that one incident, and the above-named exceptions, most of the staff we encountered were incredible.
*** I have to pop back to this section to add an amazing experience I forgot: at the Repeaterís dinner, we were seated at the table with the head I.T. guy of the resort- sadly, his name slips my mind. Anyways, I learned who he was and immediately I knew I had to tell him about all the problems weíd been having connecting to wifi. Basically, we had no (usable) wifi signal in our room or patio (only one bar) and couldnít call home or Facetime as we had planned to keep up with our kids at home each night. Instead, we found ourselves having to hike to either end of the resort to do this or lug the ipad along to dinner- kind of a pain. So I mentioned this to him at the Repeaterís dinner and told him how disappointed I was that we couldnít get signal in our room or patio, and he said he would look into it. Next morning, when we came back from the beach, it was fixed! Full bars and from then on out we made Facetime calls right from our patio. Now THAT is customer service!!! We were impressed.
ENTERTAINMENT: 5/5 STARS
Entertainment at Couples Swept Away was PHENOMENAL. Every night there was something different to choose from and though we were often in bed by 830 (itís hard work being a beach bum!) the nights we did attend were phenomenal. One night, we went for a late dinner at the Palms and had a front row view to a steel drum band called Silver Wings performing there. The show lasted at least an hour and was one of the highlights of our trip! They had music, but they also had choreographed dancing and other performers. It was great! Couples also had a bonfire one night on the beach- they grouped pairs of loungers in a horseshoe and passed out warm blankets to lay on while listening to live music. It was beautiful! There were couples slow dancing to the side, others just star-gazing or cuddling. Very romantic, very nice! Word of warning- we had to move our chairs veeeeryy far back- we were on the ďUĒ of the horse shoe and we ended up only a foot or so from the ocean, because when we sat where the staff members had placed the chairs, burning embers kept landing on us! It wasnít a big deal since all we had to do was move the chairs, but it was funny to watch people leaping to the side or swatting as big embers came towards them. Also, in order to light the fire, Couples staff poured a huge tank of diesel on the wood and it smelled very strongly- gave my wife a migraine. Maybe pre-soak the wood while itís still light outside and all the guests are at dinner to avoid this? Not a criticism, just a suggestion. I love love loved the bonfire and my only regret is I didnít buy the CD from the live musician that was there. If only! Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention our night in the Aura Lounge with the piano bar. Ultimate Chocolate was on vacation the week we were there, and his stand in was not really up to snuff (able to sing well but not really fun) but it didnít really matter because there was quite a lively group there that night and we made our own music! It was great fun, singing late into the night and drinking with new friends. My only suggestion here would be to make sure there are always at least two bartenders- it got very busy up there and the one poor bartender got overwhelmed fast and had to call and wait for help to arrive, as all the guests waited on our drinks. Why not just have two people up there to begin with? Anyways, all the entertainment was a blast and I will say, was also a nice change from Couples San Souci which, we found, had NOTHING like the entertainment options offered at CSA. So that was a big plus.
WATERSPORTS AND CATAMARAN: 4/5
We tried pretty much every watersports activity there was to try while we were there. We learned to sail, tried to learn to waterski (see above), kayaked, snorkeled, and did the glass bottom boat tour. With the exception of the waterskiing experience, all were fun! We only went snorkeling once though- it was pretty but I have seen reefs in far better condition and just didnít feel the need to go again after also doing the glass bottom boat. Plus, I also did the complimentary introductory Scuba lesson and saw far more, up close then! For the Scuba, you have to swim 8 laps of the Palms pool. After reading othersí reviews I was a bit nervous, but I am a strong swimmer and honestly, if you can do it in a regular lap pool you can do it here. Pace yourself. Our entire group of 5 passed our swim test, which the instructor said was unusualÖ he also said that big guys like to show up half-drunk from mimosas and full of huge breakfasts and then are surprised when they fail the test. So thereís that. Iíve never been scuba diving before this trip and now I am kicking myself for everything I have missed! If we were to go again I would absolutely get PADI certified while there. The dive master communicated clearly and effectively and I absolutely trusted him- great, great experience. Highlight of the trip.
The catamaran, looking back, we would have skipped. This is only because we are not party people, and the entire trip was them blasting music and serving drinks, with a few brave souls dancing. The swimming in the caves and jumping off the boat was cool, but not worth two and a half hours in our opinion. The cat crew did nothing wrong, just not our taste. Your mileage may vary! One note- make sure to have your boarding pass filled out and signed by both of you with your room number before you go to board- many did not and had to go back.
One suggestion/criticism I have in this category is how Couples addresses its watersports lessons. If you have never waterskied or sailed before, and you show up and ask to take a boat out or go skiing, they will tell you no and tell you that you must show up at a specific time (usually only once a day) and take a lesson first. Fine, okay, I understand you have to take a lesson first. Makes sense. However, what I donít understand is why you must be there at a specific time to take said lesson- why canít they just give them on an as-needed basis? Who wants to have to be somewhere at a specific time when youíre on vacation? Watersports was never too busy and there were always some guys hanging about or talking- and the lessons literally took 5 minutes and we would have been good to go. Instead, many times, we were turned away and told to come back the next day- meanwhile, we had to find something else to do with ourselves when all we really wanted to do was sail. Kinda a silly system.
That was the only thing we had issues with though, plus the above-mentioned waterskiing problem. Everything else was fine and we were glad they were included- had a blast!
GIFT SHOP AND SOUVENIRS: 4/5
Iím putting this section in here only so that I can comment that we found the gift shop surprisingly reasonably priced. They pretty much had anything you might need and had forgotten on the trip, plus souvenirs. Yes, sunscreen and bathing suits were expensive- the cheapest we found was $11 on a small bottle- but gifts and knickknacks were pretty cheap! They had some cool wood carvings that I hadnít seen on the beach and we got out daughter this musical instrument thingy and got ourselves some Jamaica gear, and it did not kill out wallet. Not bad. Iíve been told alcohol prices are more expensive at the resort than duty-free at the airport, but we didnít buy any so I couldnít tell you. I will say they had a small bottle of Appleton rum for like, $10. Not bad, I thought.
Photo prices, however, were another story! We didnít go to Couples with the intention of getting pictures done, but once we saw all the cute poses and how well the pictures were turning out for others, we had to do it too. Beware, though- the cheapest package was $85 for 5 images on a CD and a 11 x 14 print- quite pricey! We bought it anyways- worth the memories- but just so you know!
ON BEING GAY IN JAMAICA
We are two women who traveled to Jamaica as a couple. Neither time have we had any problems. We were treated courteously by most staff, no different than any other guests. We were asked if we were sisters a few times, but when we told them that no, we are married, they didnít seem to have a problem. Very professional. Off resort, we walked the beach partway holding hands and partway without- it didnít seem to matter, we werenít hasseled. Last time, at CSS< we took the Dunnís River excursion privately, as ďsisters,Ē and did no PDA or anything else. We were fine then too. So would I recommend going as a gay couple? Itís up to you and what you feel comfortable with. I think we had it easier because we were two females, though we did briefly see one gay couple while we were there. If you are on resort you will absolutely be safe.
OVERALL EXPERIENCE AND WOULD WE RETURN
I would give our overall experience a 4/5. I know there are Couples fans out there who will complain that I have been fairly critical in this review, but I have done so in the hopes that Couples will read this and make some changes and also so that I do not give future guests impossibly high expectations. Plus, for the money you pay to go to this resort, I truly believe that some of things I mentioned are not up to snuff. HOWEVER, I also believe vacation is what you make it, and in spite of the small little problems, the bigger picture is that we were there for some much-needed time to reconnect in a romantic, Couples-only atmosphere, all-inclusive and with no worries- and Couples provided that and then some.
Would we go back? Maybe. After trying two Couples resorts and Jamaica twice, we feel like we want to explore other islands. This is different than the answer I expected I would give before this trip- based on other reviews and research, I expected to be completely blown away, and wasnít. But it was still a good trip. If we did go back to Jamaica, it would be a hard choice between S and Couples- the former weíve never tried while the latter, we have tried and would have no problem returning to. So weíll see. But would I recommend this resort to others? Already have! The mom of one of my babysitting kids is currently planning her honeymoon to JamaicaÖ guess where I recommended to her?
Huge thank you to all the hard work put in by all the staff- from maids, to groundskeepers, to chefs, to management- to make this resort what it was. We had an amazing experience and look back on it fondly.