A LONG CSS Review (9/16-9/23)
This was our 4th trip to Couples and our first trip to Sans Souci.Our previous trips have been to Couples Swept Away. First of all, comparing the two resorts is like comparing apples to oranges. Both have their individual strengths and weaknesses. I have enjoyed both resorts and could (and Will!)easily return to either.
We flew into Montego Bay at noon and the Airport Lounge folks quickly and effeciently gathered up our luggage and in less than an hour after arriving, we were on our way to Ocho Rios. The road going east to Ocho Rios is much more modern than the road going west to Negril and even though its a bit further away, it took just as much time to get to CSS. You do not pass through so many small towns going east so the trip is not slowed down. I enjoy seeing every day life and people so its never been an issue for me. The east side is more developed and modern than the west side and much more commercial and touristy.
We arrived at the lobby around 3 or so expecting a glass of champagne and a cool towel, but instead, we stood around for 5 or 10 minutes with a few other couples, until someone at the reception desk told us, very briskly, to sit down. The few people working there were already helping someone else and I felt like we were bothering them. Well we sat in the lobby for several more minutes until FINALLY some one came up and asked us our names and gave us our anticipated cool towel and champagne. We received our requested Beachfront room, but since we had 24 days of previous visits, we requested an upgrade and the staff told us that we did not have enough points and they had no way of verifying our previous visits. I was a bit put off, but I knew I would enjoy our Beachfront Suite. We were given a brief talk about where everything was, givena map and sent on our way with our carry on bags. We had no idea where we were going and took the long way down, but eventually found our suite.
We had the ground floor, walk-out-to-the beach suite and it was lovely. Our room was not quite finished when we got there so our mini-bar was not stocked. But early in the evening, that was remedied. The beachfront suite has a separate living room area with a couch, chairs and tables and a glass door leading to the small but adequate patio. The patio had a white rod iron table and two wicker chairs. The only thing we were planning to use the patio for was eating breakfast, so it was perfect. The bedroom was separated by glass doors and was very roomy. There was plenty of room in the closet and dressers to unpack our clothing, but no where to tuck our suit cases out of the way. The flat screen TV was in the living area, but pivoted to be used in the bedroom as well, but truthfully, we did not use it much. The bathroom was large and the jacuzzi tub perfect. At CSA we have stayed in the Veranda Suites, and this room was larger and the jacuzzi tub is a nice addition.
A nice surprise was that the suite had WiFi and we were able to keep in touch with home from the comfort of the patio. We even contacted the Couples corporate office and were able to straighten out our previous visits. On our 4th day of our vacation, we talked to the front staff and Rena was able to confirm that yes, we were eligible for an upgrade and she did have a few available the following morning. If we wanted to change our room, she instructed us to come back the next morning and we would be able to actually "preview" the suite and see if we wanted it or not. Because we now were at the correct "Passionate" level, we were given new gift certificates for 75 bucks instead of 50, so now more money to spend!
The following day, we were shown the Prime Minister Penthouse Suite and it took maybe 5 seconds to say yes to a room change. This room was incredible and the highlight of the stay! If we go again, we will book a Penthouse suite. My words cannot do it justice, but my pictures can: http://www.flickr.com/photos/reneerwest/
For pictures of the PM Penthuse suite, see page 7
The PM suite is in the D block (Dahlia) complex closest to the beach and the views are over the beach and the distant Blue Mountains. This suite is on the beach side and I think the only better suite I would think is the one on the other end over looking the ocean. As you enter the room, there are several steps to the large living area with a separate roomy bedroom. The Veranda is the entire length of the room and complete with two chaise lounges, table with two chairs and a couch, all with pink cushions. There were two restrooms, one off the living area and one in the bedroom. The jacuzzi tub was my favorite and I used it every day. Another high light was the ability to open all the windows along the Veranda and sleep with them open. Soooo lovely! I felt like a queen in this room and I know I will return here one day.
The beach is much smaller than CSA and not a white sandy beach but more than adequate. The water is an inlet/bay and is much calmer. Over closer to the cliffs, you can feel the cold spring water entering the ocean. There were several Cabanas and even in the middle of the day it was never a problem finding one to use. Maybe everyone was at the Au Naturale Beach or out site seeing because the beach was never very crowded and often felt like we had it to ourselves. This beach is private and a very big plus is that there are no vendors walking the beach.
The moderately sized main pool, complete with a swim-up bar, is on the west end of the property in front of the two Beachfront Suite complexes. We occasionally used it and the adjacent hot tub, especially after scuba diving. We never ventured to the Sunset Beach pool as we like to keep our clothing on, but we did wander over there to check out the sunset after 5 pm. Unfortunately it was cloudy that day and there was not much of a sunset. In fact, the only thing we really saw was a moon over the pool! The upper level pool next to the lobby and Casanova/Balloon Bar is the deepest and coldest of all four CSS pools. We never ventured up the stairs to use it and rarely saw anyone in it at all. The lower level mineral pool was an absolute delight, especially after spending a day in salty water. The water that fills it is from a mineral spring and you can feel the difference. The view from the pool was incredible and again, never very crowded. Tucked into the cliffs and among the lush vegetation was a secluded hot tub, not to be missed. The absolute coolest pool though had to be the mineral grotto and most folks at CSS don't even know its there! Discovered centuries ago, it has quite a history for its healing powers and a dip in its water is so refreshing! As I dangled my feet in it, I could watch several fish swimming around and two little crawfish/shrimp creatures decided to "clean" my toes. I squealed as it really tickled!
The food at CSS was so good and I don't even know where to start! Yes there are not as many restaurants, but what they lack in choices is made up by quality. Our first night we ate at Cassanova. Even after arriving the same day, we were able to arrange a reservation. We ate there twice, once for lobster and once for steaks, both excellent. I loved the pumpkin soup and smashed green bananas as a side. We had a desert platter for two...so so decadent and so delicous. We ate at Palazzina several times for breakfast and lunch, typical buffett food and the menu varied daily. I loved the spicy potatos. I liked that I could make myself a fresh salad at lunch. Of course, we ordered in breakfast in several times as it is always a pleasure to eat breakfast on th privacy of your patio. The selections and quality of the in-room breakfast at CSS is better than CSA. The beach grill was nice too especially for the convenience of only walking a few steps away from our Cabana. Jim loved the Jamaican Beef Patties. The pleasant surprise was Bella Vista, the beach grill at night. We did not need a reservation, we ate by moonlight on the beach and did not have to dress up. The Walker Wood Jerk Beef Tenderloin is one yummy spicy number!
The Beach Gala was on Friday night and the food was delicious and plentiful. At CSA, it seems the food runs out before everyone has a chance to sample it. The entertainment was top notch and made more wonderful when the singer dedicated Unchained Melody to my husband and I as we were celebrating our 29th anniversary that night.
The Repeaters dinner was not to be missed. There were only 5 couples attending and the food was excellent. We shared our table with Pierre the general manager and he was very cordial and genuinely interested in what we thought of CSS. He remarked that the chefs tried to out do themselves at this dinner to impress Pierre and they certainly impressed me. We had a lamb and fish combination (Scottish turf and surf Jim remarked) that was wonderful, but again it was the pumpkin soup that wowed me.
The were all good, not any of them outstanding though. A lot of the time they would be out of something. One of my favorite drinks is a Bloody Mary, especially after a scuba dive, so imagine my disappointment when they were out of tomato juice! Some alcohol selections were limited as well. The staff at the bars were all fun though, especially the Beach Bar. Our last full day at CSS it rained for hours and we spent it at the Beach Bar playing a Charades game, totally entertained by the staff. Unfortunately our losing team had to do too many extra shots! The Balloon Bar was nice, but we really missed the Martini Bar...there is nothing like a chocolate Martini for an appetizer!
We are certified scuba divers and look forward to diving at Couples. We actually finished our last certification with the CSA dive team a couple of years ago and when we returned they remembered us and our diving idiosyncracies. At CSS we felt as it was strictly business and there was no time to interact with visitors. We tried to explain that our wet suits took several minutes to saturate as we descended, but that information seemed to fall on deaf ears as they loaded me down with more weight and pushed me down. There was usually one but sometimes two dives per day and there was not much variety as we dove in basically the same site four different times. There was much less divers though, and this made for much safer dives. At CSA, dive groups can get very large.
We kayaked...fun exercise! Tried to take out a Hobiecat, but Jim was a bit too rusty in his sailing skills and did not make it too far. We did not take the Glass Bottom Boat or Snorkel. Unfortunately there is no Catamaran cruise.
All in all we had a fabulous time at CSS. We definitely will return one day and will book the Penthouse Suite again. Our next trip though we are booked to go to CSA because it is my 50th Birthday and I want to upgrade my scuba diving skills to Advance Open Water and I know and trust the staff there. The next time though, I just might book Negril.
If anyone has any questions, please just let me know!