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  1. #1

    Default The most frustrating, exasperating, and in some ways, best trip yet to CSA

    First. Who we are. My wife and I went to CSA for our honeymoon in 2006, came back in 2007. We then went to Europe to visit with another pair of honeymooners we met at CSA back in 2006 for our 2008 vacation. Last year we took some good friends B (boy) and K (girl) with us to check out the newly renovated CTI. They loved it. We did too, but we decided that CSA and Negril was our place for 2010, and 2011 for that matter. Dates this trip... the week after Thanksgiving.

    I won't get into the flights at all. Except for B & K having to sprint in Philadelphia, the whole thing was uneventful. Due to Jet Blue having a complete spasm however, we had to all rebook for our trip to Jamaica kind of late in the game. To make a long story short, we ended up on separate flights from B&K on the way down, and they arrived at the Couples lounge a half hour before we did. They decided to hang out till we arrived. No problem mon. Except the Keg is blown with no relief in sight. B has become a recent believer in Karma (more on this later), so he buys drinks at a stand in the airport. I think it was Margerettaville. Later I argue with him that buying beers at Marguerettiville does nothing for your Karma.

    In that half hour, with bought beers in hand, B&K were worked by the TimAir folks. They did strike a good deal. I argue that Tim Air is better for the return trip, but it falls on deaf ears. All they hear is fifteen minutes till CSA by plane. I know its at least a half an hour before we get in the plane. They don't care and neither do I...... I've always wanted to go Tim Air, but..., shall we say ... the wives have always been a bit reticent. K actually has a prescription for Xanax when she flys.. Anyhow, the deal is good, and the women say an enthusiastic yes. So off on TimAir we go.

    The flight is wonderful. I am doubtful that we saved much time maybe 20 minutes, AND there is NO drinking on TimAir. It will be the first time I spent my first hour in Jamaica without a Redstripe. The pilot is great. The flight is actually very smooth, and not the least bit frightening. The views are wonderful. We are like all Americans in their first few hours in Jamaica.. Which is to say we are over tipping in record proportions. Everyone is happy. The Tim Air flight could be kind of like Ricks... Overpriced, but well worth doing once, maybe twice... more if you like. We land, get a cab, and its off to CSA.


    I had visions of us arriving and we would be alone at check in. I was wrong. So very, very wrong. We arrived at the end of what must have been a very big bus un-loading. That big bus had already gotten the cold towel and champagne treatment. We were indistinguishable from that crowd, and thus I knew... No welcome for us. One of the general rules for Jamaica in general and Couples specifically I've noticed is "Stay in the box of what they expect" You get out of that box and, well... you end up marooned way out in the land of "Soon Come". One of the porters noticed that we were separate and eventually brought us the champagne, which was really nice of him to do...

    I also made the mistake of trying to be helpful. Everyone from the bus had clip boards with the necessary forms they were filling out. I noticed a stack of clipboards on the desk, and told B that we should get ours and fill them out. What I didn't notice is that they had names on them already. B noticed this but I did not. I filled out the top of the form before I realized there was someone else's name on it. When I figured this out, I was still quite sober, and a bit shocked. So much so that I exclaimed "Oh No!, there is someone else,s name on this form". That was the point, at least from my point of view, that everyone in check in area began to laugh uncontrollably at me. Fortunately, I have a thick skin, so I responded by dispatching the wives to go get strong drinks. It was really all I could think of to do at that moment. I am an idiot.

    Turns out.. There was NO clipboard with my name on it. Despite pre-registering, and paying up early, and being "passionate level repeaters".. My wife and my arrival was a bit of a surprise. After a bit of hunting and pecking on the computer we were sorted out. But I will say this.. Randymon and Seandymon, the back office integration has issues. I mean ISSUES! I'm 0-2 on pre-checkin. Three days in we get two repeaters gift packages. I return one out of decency. We also go to the concierge desk on day two and let them know we will be going to the repeaters dinner... with or without invitation, because it's the next day and we don't have an invitation to RSVP with. I don't enjoy this. At all.

    B&K .. On their second trip, however, recieve all their repeaters perks flawlessly. I, for one, yearn for the days when it was all "unofficial". I think we got more, with less effort on everyone's part. The "official" program makes the whole thing feel a lot less special, and is still just as wildly un-predictable. Almost like getting a toaster for opening a bank account, (maybe). I would ditch it and go back to the old way.. That way ... anything people got they would consider special. The current way, not so much, even when Couples delivers on what was promised. I do not see the "win-win" in the current program at all. Especially given its well documented haphazard execution. On this very board.

    For all those who were wondering about " Who gets offered the upgrade?" It was us. BUT we didn't think that GVS was an upgrade from Atrium, so we refused. This did not make them happy, but we were accommodated. Apparently there was a run on the Atriums happening. B&K had booked a GVS. Had I known I would have warned them.

    Now is the time for a little back story. One week before our trip, Billy experienced some dizziness, and numbness in his left arm. His wife took him to the hospital immediately, where it was determined that he was not having a heart attack. What was determined however, was that he had a benign brain tumor, and though it was benign, its still has to go. They scheduled the surgery for two days after our return. B is a cancer survivor already and took it all in stride,. His major concern was " Can I still go to Jamaica?" The answer was yes.. but don't act like a rock star.

    Anyhow, needless to say, wife and I were very interested in making this a great trip for them. Road noise, apparently was NOT what the doctor ordered.

    They were originally in the new section. They asked to go to an Atrium. Given the pressure put on wife and I to "upgrade"... It was no surprise that an Atrium was not available. In fact.. they were told NO other room was available. Another long time repeater intervened and got them moved to an old section GVS. The road noise was better.

    For those of you wondering, and sweating out whether you will get a "new" vs. "old" GVS.... Let me tell you my opionion having seen both. You want the old section GVS. They are nicer... EXCEPT when:

    The air conditioning is broke.. (low on charge IMHO)
    The ceiling fan is so bent it can only run on low speed.

    Both of those together are deal breakers in my book. One or the other needs to work. K went and told the concierge once. I was there. Nobody even came and looked, to our knowledge. B said something about Karma, and forbade any of us to complain again to Couples. Karma re-payed him the favor when their smoke detector battery died in the middle of the night, and started chirping in response. That is something Couples did fix the next day. As far as I know, the air conditioning and fan are still broke. If you are in 1102, I feel for you. Sorry.

    Okay.. Enough of the bad crap. On to the good stuff... except for some more things to come later... all but one outside of the resorts control, and that one is a taboo subject... so wait for it!


    Despite all my kvetching in this review we had a great time. We met some other repeaters who were wonderful people. Befriended some newbies, who were also wonderful people. Got to talk to Randymon and Lee Issa, both of which are always a thrill. There was a big photo shoot going on for the website and new brochures. I was glad to see that.

    A stated goal for B and me was to get off resort some. Our first trip down the beach was to change some money. For no other reason than because we could. We walked down the beach to Bourbon Beach and crossed over to the road because I *knew* there was a cambio there. It was closed. But a guy across the street said he knew the owners and would call them. Despite alarm bells going off in my head, we said okay.

    A little more about B. When he beat cancer he was still in his 20's. He decided right then and there that life was too short, and basically backpacked around the world. He has been to rural Mexico, South America and made his own way across Thailand. All by himself. A real worldly road warrior. Everyone that knows anything about Jamaica has told me under no circumstances, change money on the street. Well there we are, and sure enough we are involved in changing money on the street. Because the Cambio is closed, and I'm too lazy to go to Valuemaster down at the traffic circle. I figure "I've got Billy with me...It'll be okay." We get told the rate is 82, which is okay. The counting begins. We are changing $100.00 each. We are due $8200 Jamaican each. Billy counts $8000. I count $7000. Money is passed around and re-counted by the street guys. The difference is, and I had NO idea I was being smarter, is that B watched his guy count the money, while I look away while mine is counting his, and then recount it myself. I get $8000 and start bitching about the $200 he owes me. I don't get it. Nothing smaller he says. Billy also complains, but he gets his $200. The deal is done and we walk away while shooing off every higgler who just saw us change money. We stop and get a beer and head back to CSA. Long story short. B got $7200 Jamaican, cause the guy shorted him with slieght of hand. Because I counted my stack independently, I got $8000. Here is a pro tip that I now know and now will always follow. CSA will give you up to $100 USD in Jamaican everyday on a credit card at their exchange booth upstairs. There is a 4% fee but for $104 US you get $8500 Jamaican which is a great deal. Yay CSA.

    It is, however, an awesome feeling to have $8000 in your pocket, even if it is worth less than $100 US. Sooo.... we recruited another repeater husband "S" to go to the 3 Dives jerk festival with us. We were all sure we would miss it if we waited too long so we left right after noon. being the Jamaica Neophyte that I am... we caught a route taxi and chartered it up to the cliffs for $1500J. (which is too much) Our driver was very nice.. and we got his card for the return trip.

    Well, we got to 3 Dives, and they were still setting up for the festival. We were way early. We got one beer, told we would be back, and headed to one of the neighboring cliff resorts. What a great time time! We hung out, explored some caves and drank a fair amount of Redstripe. The cliffs are truly beautiful. They are well worth visiting.

    We could tell the jerk festival was picking up at 3 Dives so we all headed back. They were now charging admission for the festival, but one of the bouncers recognized us from before, and let us in for free. I thought that was very cool. We then set upon all the offerings of the jerk fest, and ate our fill. There was jerk pork, jerk chicken, jerk conch, fish stew, and all kinds of sides. We ate and ate and ate, and drank some more Redstripes. Then we realized we had spent $15,000 Jamaican plus some USD so it was time to go home. We got our money's worth.

    The next day sand gravity set in. Enough said. Went to the repeaters dinner and ate with Sean Rose, who I think is the head guy for food and beverage. Great dinner and Mr. Rose is a great host. Really enjoyed talking with him.

    The next day, we borrowed S again and went to the Pelican Bar. If you do not know what the Pelican Bar is... stop reading and google it now. I booked the trip myself with an outside tour service and they were fantastic. Great, new van with leather seats, and the driver was awesome. Email me at mandolin-dot-jeff-at-gmail if you want their info. That Pelican Bar trip is probably the best day I've ever spent in Jamaica. And I've spent a lot of great days in Jamaica. I'm not going to review it any further here, because this review is getting long. All I will say is that if you are considering going, I whole heartedly recommend it. Resist the urge to combine it with another excursion. Just go to the Pelican Bar for the day and eat lunch there. Well worth it.

    The next day, the weather was beautiful again.. Morning was spent lazing on the beach until B's knee went out walking in the sand. Poor guy. He cannot catch a break. We had to get a wheel chair to get him off the beach and to the nurses office. The resort was very nice and lent B some crutches and a wheel chair for him to use. B & K also report that both the doctor and the nurse were really good to them and they are very thankful to them, and CSA for the caring way they treated them. He used the wheel chair for the rest of that day then switched to crutches full time. All the resort staff did a wonderful, and very graceful job of accommodating B and his injury without making it a big deal. Truly a class act by CSA.

    We spent the rest of the trip being truly lazy. Had our anniversary dinner at Feathers which was awesome. Other than that we just hung around the main pool as it was easier on B's knees.

    One other bad thing to note: I was hit up by one of the staff to make a "charitable donation". I was not asked for a tip. I was asked to give money to help with a problem. The amount asked for was not trivial. Since I did not know whether the situation was real or not, I did not give the money. I had to say no. The reaction after I said "no" makes me suspect I was being worked. Still... Bummed me out more than I thought it would. That decision still weighs on me a bit now, though I'm glad I made it.

    On the day we were scheduled to leave, we had to leave a bit early, as we had to tak a longer route to get to MBJ due to the Reggae marathon. I will say there were mixed reviews on the bus ride back to the airport, but I LOVED it. We went down towards Savalamar and then over the hills to just east of Lucea. Awesome views and sightseeing in the hills.. Lots of sugar cane fields too. I wish we could go that way more often. Those that frighten easily do not.

    Other good tips I learned this time around. Things are WAY cheaper in the airport if you're paying in Jamaican dollars. Don't know about the big ticket items, but I could tell a real difference with the lunch, soda, and snacks we bought. WAYYY CHEAPER.


    Already booked for next year, and really can't wait!! I'll try answer any questions the best I can.



    Click HERE for pictures of our trip to the Pelican Bar!

  2. #2

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    Ya know, when I opened this thread and saw how long the post was I thought "no way I'm reading all this". Well I did read all of it. Nicely done. Informative and entertaining, plus nice photos. You hit the trifecta dude. Thanks!

  3. #3

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    Hmm, Ok

  4. #4

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    Enjoyed your honest review. Sometimes, I'm almost scared to say anything other than 100% positive things here -- so I always appreciate an honest appraisal of trips. Nothing and no one is perfect, and you did a nice job of saying what a great time you had while kindly pointing out things that could be improved upon. Thanks!

  5. #5

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    Great review. April can't come soon enough for our return trip "home".

  6. #6

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    Great story. We sometimes wonder if we made the right choice booking a return trip to Couples. You just never know!
    Mike & Martha

    CSS 2010, 2013, 2014
    CTI 2011
    CN 2012

  7. #7

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    Thanks for taking the time to post your review. We had to postpone (I refuse to say cancel)our December trip this year because of family medical issues and I'm REALLY missing Negril and CSA.CSA is my heaven on earth but I get what your saying about some of the things that could be improved on. I was especially interested in your experience regarding being "upgraded" from your Atrium. Thats what I"ve been concerned about, especially since the Atriums are popular and are now the lowest priced rooms. We got upgraded once a few years ago from an Atrium to a Beachfront Verandah and the front desk staff seemed genuinely surprised that we didn't want it(there,of course, were no Atriums available at the time)
    Thanks for the heads up on it not being a bad deal to get your J$ upstairs. We normally get it at the Cambio near Bourbon Beach ,but like you found out, their hours aren't always on our vacation "schedule".
    Glad you had a great trip and hope all has gone well for your friend.It sounds like he has a great attitude, and hope karmas been good to him.

  8. #8

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    Spiff542, I recognize "S" Scott he and his wife Suzanne are from my home state. We've talked several times while at CSA. Ask him about my CSA trip last spring. Eventful as well. Lets just say I can relate to your friend "B" with having to use a wheel chair.
    We are going to CTI this spring to have a little change in venue.
    Thanks for the review!

  9. #9

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    Great review. I am an Atrium addict and I know many are so I have been wondering if they might try to "upgrade" us to a GVS next time. No way in my opinion is that an upgrade. I'll take my lovely hammock away from the road over a TV any day.

  10. #10

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    Jeff-- Very entertaining review. I had a great time with you guys!! Now if we could just get my wife to go "off campus" with us. Scot

  11. #11

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    This review was too long for my taste but, I did read it. I have to say that it was honest, even more negative then positive. I am okay with the honesty but, it don't seem that u really had a nice time. Not like in the past. I am glad that u have decided to go back, maybe a different time of year.

  12. #12

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    Wow, I loved this review. Mostly because it was very well written.

    We've been to CSA four times, and I have to agree that check-in can be hit or miss, more miss if there are numerous couples checking in at the same time. I usually try to take a deep breath and remind myself that I'm on vacation, but I'm a New Yorker, and it's hard to toss that out the window just because I'm on vacation. Since I really do appreciate the honesty of the review, AND that the moderators have let the post stand, I humbly ask that management PLEASE review the check-in process and try to upgrade the experience.

  13. #13

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    @yazmon... We had a great time with you! I think your wife may have even regretted not going to the Pelican Bar with us... We really hope to cross paths with both of you again.

    @iscubanow47 ... Did you post on your experience.. I thought remembered reading about someone else hurting their knee very seriously on this board. I think they had to go home early though.. Was that you?

    @mshell. You are right.. My friend does have a great attitude. His brain surgery went about as well as any of us could hope for, and he is at home recovering quite nicely. Thank God.

    @spice505. I do agree it was a bit long, but we still had a very good vacation. I wrote about the negative mostly because that's where the humor lies. . The only real bummers that were under resort control unresolved AC and fan issues with our friends room and the request for "charity". I really don't care much either way on the RR program stuff.. Just find it curious that the same issues have persisted for years. We REALLY did have a GREAT time.

  14. #14

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    Spiff - Thanks for the great review Jeff. Tara and I have not made it back to CSA for several years now and really wanted to return. Thought I'd jump back on the MB and see what had changed for better or worse.

    Hope we can get back soon and cross paths with some of the other names I still recognize as well. Plus do lots of diving!

    Jon (and Tara)

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    Jeff, Alwyas wanted to get the straight poop on Pelican Bar. Sounds like it was a great time. Maybe we will try it next time we go to CN in August 2011. Or possibly wait until August 2012 for our 20th anniversery. Sure wish we had been there with you guys this trip...maybe some other time in the future we will all get back home together..... Miss you guys.

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    Hey Spiff, how long a ride was it to Pelican Bar? We will be staying at CN towards the end of Jan. and will definitely look into this excursion, just don't want to be in a vehicle all day.

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    @JC.. It takes about 1.5 to two hours to get to the launching point to the Pelican Bar. Amazing site seeing along the way though. We stopped at a bar in Whitehouse on the way back, which was really kind of cool. I certainly did not feel stuck in the car at any point. I really enjoyed the trip.

  18. #18

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    I really liked the review. It is nice to get a more balanced account...I've been guilty of omitting the negative on here myself. We found the same thing you did about "outside of the box", as long as we followed what was expected everything rolled very smoothly, when it was a bit different it had its bumps. Thanks again for the honest review...for a really cool feeling go to the bank machine and get your balance in Jamaican dollars, it made us feel absolutely wealthy.

  19. #19

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    It was great to meet you Jeff... Hopefully we see you guys again.

  20. #20

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    Spiff542... @iscubanow47 ... Did you post on your experience.. I thought remembered reading about someone else hurting their knee very seriously on this board. I think they had to go home early though.. Was that you?
    I didnt post my experience nor was it me that hurt my knee. I'll give you the Readers Digest version: I broke 2 toes on same foot on a friday morning. Self medicated the rest of the day (4 ibuprofens and 8 shots of tequila over 5 hrs). Saturday right after lunch experienced vertigo and it lasted 36 hrs. IT SUCKED. If you really want to hear the entire story Ill email it to you just contact me through iscubanow47@yahoo.com .

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