CTI Review - November 11-18 2009
It was my first trip to Jamaica and my first trip to any Couples resorts (I'm 32) but my girlfriend (33) had honeymooned at Couples Ocho Rios with her late husband about four years ago. We contemplated a lot of vacations but were relatively set on a
"relax" type of mode, so a tropical getaway was an easy choice for us. We didn't want to deal with not knowing the cost up front, so a true all-inclusive was our choice. She loved Couples Ocho Rios and was interested in going back, some people on the boards thought that maybe we should try another Couples resort since she had memories from her late husband in Ocho Rios. After a lot of research and talking, we decided together that we wanted to go to CTI. She loved the food and atmosphere but had never got up the nerve to try the island the last time she was there. I really wanted to try AN and for both of us, the island seemed like the best way to be introduced to Au Naturel sun bathing over dealing with gawkers on the beaches at the other resorts.
I failed at trying to use my debit card to book the trip with couples.com... I was unaware of the limits they put on transactions with those, I guess you can call ahead to have it raised, but it was too late.. it failed and locked my money for a day or two. I ended up booking with an online company using a standard credit card. My money was cleared so I could pay off the cc right away to avoid interest. I did buy insurance just in case.
We flew Milwaukee to Memphis, to Montego Bay. I've heard there are direct flights from MKE but I haven't found any with my searching on online, so I'm not really sure they exist. You can get direct from O'hare in Chicago though... Not sure the 3 hour drive is worth it but I'll definitely consider it for next time to avoid layovers and having to do immigrations plus a re-check of baggage en route.
Once in Jamaica, customs was pretty quick and the Couples lounge hooked us up with a couple red stripes, we sat there maybe 5 minutes before the bus was ready. We had one snag on the way, the bus got a flat tire and it took about 25 minutes to get that fixed. They had to move luggage out of the way to get to the tools and the driver wasn't all that experienced with tire changes, I helped along with another guy on the bus to get things moving along. ;) We could have used a bathroom stop though... before the flat we had stopped for another red stripe. We were all cross legged by the time we dropped off people at CSS.
First impressions are important! Obviously Couples can't control things like a flat tire, and we all really were on Jamaican time, so it was not a big deal at all. Once at the resort and bladders emptied, we were greeted with rum punch and a friendly and eager staff. Check-in was quick and the first views of the resort were wonderful! The lobby is great and so is the initial view from out back. The only downside was that we intended to be at the resort by 4 or 4:30, so we wanted to attend the 5pm orientation, the flat set us back a bit and we missed that. Our bellhop took us to our room and gave us a real quick verbal tour (bar is that way and food is this way, etc.)
We were a little lost at first, we ended up at the grill as it was closing but they made us food anyways, then shortly
thereafter, the other restaurants opened.. we hadn't eaten since 5am, so we were starved, we ate twice that night. ;)
The food was great! We made reservations for the Bayside and for Eight Rivers after our first night, then were invited to the mgr's dinner at eight rivers for another night. We ate at the Verandah a couple times and the Patio the rest. For lunch we usually ate at the buffet but sometimes hit the grill up for a snack or for a full meal if we were eating a late lunch or just felt like jerk burgers or Jamaican patties (so good!). The one thing I would recommend for the Verandah... would be to publish the menu earlier in the day so people can decide if they want to eat there... and actually, if they know the menus for a few days in advance at all restaurants, they should post them so that people can look ahead and make reservations accordingly.
The selection is really good.. there were always locale flavors along with some traditional types of food. Pizza's to order or a couple selections each day. The fish choices were always amazing! Jerk anything and everything was a hit with me but it was always nice to know that I could get custom pasta if I wanted it.. or a steak. The chicken and lobster skewers at Eight Rivers was amazing!
The desserts... oh man, what can I say. I ate a lot, far too many. I think my favorite was a bread pudding at the Verandah. The flaming banana foster type thing was great too and I think I ate some tiramisu daily!
Okay...in general, I have to say that the service was AMAZING! Hands down the best resort experience I've ever had. Our first night, we walked into the grill and they were about to close but they asked us what we wanted and were happy to make it for us. If we walked near watersports, they would always ask if they could help or interest us in any activities. If we walked through the lobby we were always greeted and asked if there was anything they could do for us. It was great! Cleaning staff was also just as friendly and willing to help out. There were, however, several occasions where I felt ignored either at a bar or at dinner. Sometimes a server would ask if I wanted a drink, I would order and never see it. Another time at dinner in the Verandah we ordered and didn't get our food for quite awhile.. I think another server stole our entrees and gave them to the table next to us because there were several groups that came in after us and they were long gone by the time we got to entrees or dessert. Really, it wasn't a big deal, I know mix-ups happen in restaurants and I totally understand that. We are on vacation and our timetable for dinner and whatever after, is totally open, so if it takes a bit longer for dinner, that isn't an issue really.
If you are in a hurry, the patio is always ready for you and you serve yourself and the food there is great!
Without a doubt the amenities are top notch! We had a deluxe ocean view room and it was nice. The view was great, the shower was nice and big. I wish there was a fan in the bathroom and a mini-bar would be awesome but really it was perfect for us. The ipod dock is a very nice feature! I liked that it had an input jack on it too, so I could use my non-Apple mp3 player along with my ipod. The LCD tv's looked nice, we never once turned it on. The balcony is nice and I really liked the safe. My full-size laptop fit in it nicely along with wallets, jewelry, etc. I really liked the custom code feature for it.
All the inclusions at Couples make it what it is... the catamaran cruise was a hoot, Dunn's River falls was a good time except for the vendors after, run away from them! We went snorkeling and scuba diving, both were a blast! I think we spent the majority of our time on the island and as I posted in the Au Naturel forums, it really lives up to the stories of how peaceful, relaxing, and fun it can be out there. The constant breeze makes it so much more comfortable than the beach and the people you meet make the experience even more enjoyable.
I do wish the bars opened up a bit earlier.. sometimes I would have liked to have a fruity rum drink with breakfast over just having juice or a mimosa. I wonder if they shouldn't make the beer a "serve" yourself situation to free up the space and bartenders to be making mixed drinks. It seemed crowded behind the bars at dinner time and after.
Watersports was also a big plus! The Hobie catamarans were one of the reasons that I chose a resort over a cruise... and despite the wind not cooperating for many of the days of my trip, I was still able to get the catamaran out in the surf and was able to really enjoy myself. As I mentioned, we went snorkeling and I went diving as well. Robert was great with the snorkeling class, my girl had never done it and she was comfortable with it in no-time! AJ did a great job with scuba, I had a blast and next time will for sure get my padi card!
There really was a good feel to the resort, it never felt too big to me.. and I liked that people got to know our names, guests and staff alike. The nighttime activities were great! We like to dance, so having that opportunity nearly every night was a lot of fun. The steel band and break dancers were also very entertaining as was the beach party entertainment! There was a pretty wide range of ages for the couples and we made friends with both older and younger couples.. it made no difference to us.
As I mentioned before, I think the menus should/could be posted with more advanced notice so people don't have to wait till they come down to dinner to decide where to eat. Also, maybe some signs as to when the places open and close.. I know that I didn't wear a watch during the day at the resort but every staff member did from what I could tell, so you could always get the time. People would be setting up for lunch and you'd want to snoop to see what is on the buffet that day or want to know when it will be open. This happened at the veggie/juice bar too.. I never knew when it opened.. if somebody was behind there prepping, I wasn't sure if they were open or not.
We had a wonderful time at Tower Isle and we will definitely be back, on the plane home we discussed if we could make it an annual trip. We might do a trading places with CSS next time for a day but we loved the Grand Lady and will definitely be back. The island seals the deal for us.. it only took one time and we went back every single day! Bring a book and lose your inhibitions! I'm somewhat glad that a lot of the guests don't go there because it would be too busy if they all knew how wonderful it is out there! Great job and see you next year!