My wife and I just returned from a week at CN. We’ve been to CSA three times previously and I wanted to submit a review of CN in this context because I’ve seen a lot of people ask which Negril resort they should go to. In fact, until the last week I eagerly read every one of these reviews because I’d been to one and not the other. A bit of background first. We are in our mid-50s and first went CSA in 2001 before the expansion (in fact, it wasn’t even Couples branded back then). We did some of the activities at both resorts, but we were mostly there to relax and unwind. We both have very stressful jobs and find it difficult to shift into “neutral” unless we get completely away.
Ok, this is a bit difficult. The last two times we have been to Negril we haven’t actually been to the Couples arrival lounge because we’ve taken a plane from MoBay to Negril. Last year we took TimAir and this year we tried the new International Air Link. Both were great. Last year we paid TimAir about $210, and this year we paid about $165 (for two, one way). It is possible that TimAir has reduced their prices due to the competition, but we wanted to try the new service because it sounded more like a “scheduled” airline. It is not…. They are both good, but you should figure on tipping the pilot about $20/couple in either case. Either way, it is well worth it. The flight is in a small 5 seat aircraft that flies at a maximum of 2000 feet at 130 mph, but the view is spectacular and it only takes about 15 minutes to get to Negril. Have you ever been in a plane where the windows open? You’ll love every minute. But as a result, we’ve never set foot in Couples new MoBay lounge. You could walk across the street to CN from the airport, but a cab was advertised to be $5. Agree on a price before you get in. We didn’t and the guy said $10. I figured, ok, I was planning to give you a $5 tip, but since you said $10, I’ll give you the $10 and no tip.
Upon arrival (at about 2) we found our room was immediately available (Yeah!!). We couldn’t get into our room at CSA last year until after 4. I think this is just a matter of luck, not related to which resort we were at. We were upgraded from the lowest room category to ocean view…. I think the comments of most people are right…. Unless you want a suite, it really doesn’t matter what room category you get at CN… go for the cheapest. I do think it’s interesting that despite the fact that my wife and I have always gone at peak season, three out of our four trips we’ve received room upgrades. I’m beginning to wonder if we should count on this.
We have now stayed at the garden rooms and atrium rooms in the old section of CSA and the beachfront rooms in the new section. We’ve never stayed in the “Great House” there… and I don’t think we would, so I can’t comment on that. But, while the room at CN was very nice, all of the rooms we stayed at in CSA were nicer. The main difference was that CN was more like a hotel and the rooms at CSA (especially in the older section) were more exotic and private. More like you had your own space in the middle of a forest. If you are looking for a romantic room, you’ll find it at CSA, not CN. Having said that, when we toured the property at CN, the rooms on the east side (near the tennis courts) did seem to be more secluded. It was nice, however, to be located so close to the coffee in the morning. Back in the old days, the rooms at CSA had no televisions. Honestly I think I preferred that, though I understand it was off-putting to some. Bottom line: On rooms, the clear winner is CSA.
We first visited CSA in 2001… before they were Couples branded and before the expansion. Honestly, I liked CSA better before the expansion than after. Now they have restaurants at both ends of the property and it’s a pretty long walk between them. It used to be it was so small that you would run into the same people over and over and that was kind of nice. However, the second time we were there they were building the new section and they upgraded us to a beach front room. It was heaven. We could sit on our porch in the evening and watch the sunset. This was one the best experiences of my entire life. But most of the new section wasn’t populated yet. We decided to try CN this year because we had heard that it was smaller and the vibe was closer to CSA in the old days. The reviewers were right. CN clearly wins on vibe… the resort is small and intimate, yet it has a wide range of restaurants and activities.
This is really, really hard. Let me start with CSA first. In my view, when CSA moved Feathers from the fitness center side of the road to the beach side of the road they ruined it. Back in the day, you could dine outside, but in a high quality restaurant, with top notch service. It was like eating in the middle of a forest. I think I’ve never had a meal as memorable as Feathers in the old days. Between our second and third visit they moved it to the new section of the resort. It’s now indoors with no ambiance to speak of. The food also seemed to have declined significantly and the service was mediocre at best. What a disappointment! However, we only ate at the “new” Feathers once, and I wouldn’t want to judge the food and the service based on one visit. I do think it’s fair, however, to judge the ambiance based on one visit and it wasn’t anything like the old Feathers.
On the other hand, we loved Lemon Grass. The food was outstanding, the service was excellent and the view was off a terrace overlooking the ocean. However, what surprised me last year was that the best ala carte meal I had at CSA was in their main dining room one evening. The food was great and the service was outstanding. And we didn’t need a reservation! Wow!
CN is a different kettle of fish altogether. The Terrace is the main restaurant and there are three restaurants other than the main one, Otaheite, Lychee, and Heliconia. Otaheite is the only one requires reservations, but Heliconia and Lychee are sufficiently fancy that you think they should require reservations as well. We ate at Otaheite and the Terrace once and Heliconia and Lychee twice. We managed to avoid eating at a buffet at any dinner (on purpose). Otheite is over-rated. The food was good and the service was good, but it seemed to all be just a bit over the top. The service show was fancier than the food. Heliconia was quite good. I had the rack of lamb one night and it was fantastic.
If you like Asian food, Lychee is the best restaurant on the property. Both nights we were there we had the “tasting platter for two”. Both were quite good but the first time it seemed a little fresher than the second time… like it had been sitting a bit too long. The first time I had the lamb… it didn’t taste like lamb at all after the sauce, but the flavor was phenomenal. However, the second time we ate there, I had the Pad Thai and asked them to kick it up a bit with some spice. This falls into the realm of Nirvana… certainly the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had and in the running for the best thing I ever ate. At the suggestion of the waiter I ordered it with both shrimp and beef. At most Asian restaurants the seafood is not great, but the shrimp in Jamaica is always perfect. In addition, the beef had spent some time soaking in some sort of marinade that was absolutely fantastic. I can’t tell you how much I loved this. I would have taken the leftovers back to the states if I could!
However, we haven’t gotten to the best meal I had last week yet…. It was the Monday night repeater dinner. I’ve been to three repeater dinners at Couples now and all I can say is that if you get an invitation, don’t even think about skipping it. The food is universally wonderful. But it’s not just the food, you’ll get to sit with other people who go to the Caribbean on a regular basis… I learn a lot from these folks. And you’ll probably run into them later in the week and have some built in friends. But the food! Oh heavens, you won’t believe it. They go all out at these dinners. One of the things I like the best about them is that several of the dishes are things I never would have ordered myself, but I find that I absolutely love anyway. For example, I never would have guessed I liked artichoke soup… but it was absolutely delightful! The entre was beef tenderloin (incredibly tender) and shrimp (did I mention that Caribbean shrimp was always good?). Be careful, there are a lot of courses, and if you eat everything, you’ll be stuffed. So pace yourself!
Well, the repeater’s dinner at both CSA and CN is wonderful, so that’s a tie, but overall, in terms of food, I’ve got to give the edge to CN, just because of Lychee. Lemongrass is also great, but you have to make a reservation, and the Lychee Pad Thai had me at Pad… I do think that the meals I’ve had at the main restaurant at CSA are better than the one I had at CN, but it is admittedly a small sample. Honestly, you’ll eat well at either location.
Let’s deal with the spa first. My wife loves going to the spa and has enjoyed both CSA and CN. This year Couples was offering a $500 resort credit if you booked early and we treated that as a spa credit. We did the couples massage and my wife did a bunch of other treatments, all of which she loved. I mean loved…. I think the theory here was for Couples to say, “Hey, there’s a recession on and we have to do something for added value. We don’t want to cut prices, so let’s give them some free spa treatments… maybe they’ll come back and pay next time”. Well, it worked. Not only did my wife go to the spa every day, but I also went one day and by then we had run through the free resort credit. I had the “relaxation special #2” and it was incredible. I’ve never been so relaxed. OK, maybe when I was in college and nearly passed out. But be careful, this stuff is addictive.
As for the spa facilities, they are better at CSA. When they bulldozed Feathers they did a great job of building a spa from scratch. Very roomy with a relaxing pool. On the other hand it was very breezy the day I was at CN and that was wonderful. I expect the beach and treehouse facilities are even nicer… I would definitely pay extra for that the next time.
On the whole, the fitness facilities are better at CSA…. Not surprising since they worked hard at doing a good job with these. The aerobic facilities are nicer, they have racquetball courts there, the tennis courts are nicer and the lap pool is much nicer. In addition, there’s a juice bar that is really nice that simply doesn’t exist at CN. The only problem at CSA is that the fitness machines are outdoors and it does get rather warm. Unfortunately, I spend most of my time in that area and really wished it was air conditioned. On the other hand CN is air conditioned, but could improve their setup significantly by just making bottles of water available. They have a drinking fountain and cups, but they won’t fit in the cup holders in any of the machines. If you are going to the gym at CN, make sure you stop at the beach bar first and ask for a bottle of water. Hands down here, CSA wins, but I wish they would air condition their machine room.
With regard to the pool, no surprise, but CN wins hands down. If I’d said anything else you would have been shocked, right?
This is the area where CSA is supposed to be the clear winner. But it was a lot closer than I thought. You can walk for miles at CSA on 7 mile beach. But both beaches are very good and particularly at night it’s fun to sit and watch the lights at the resorts that wrap out around the bay at CN. There are chairs and floats available at both beaches, but we found chairs and floats more plentiful at CN than CSA. There is no reason for you to get up early and reserve a chair either at the beach or the pool at CN. We didn’t do it at CSA either, but we had to look extensively sometimes on the beach to find a couple of chairs we could move into the shade. They don’t have palapas at CN, but since they were always taken at CSA, I kind of preferred the fact that they didn’t have them at CN…. you’re not getting one in any case. Hammocks always seemed to be available at CN. On balance, believe it or not, it’s a tie.
Ok, up until now you’ve probably thought I was head over heals in love with Couples… you may have imagined that I was a ringer for the place. But it gets a bit negative here with regard to both resorts. Remember, we have been to both places in just over a year, so this data is pretty up to date.
Frankly, the evening entertainment at both resorts has deteriorated substantially and, at this point, it is in need a lot of work. I appreciate the fact that many of the rooms are fairly close to the main stage (at both resorts) and that they can’t keep thinks going late, and I don’t think they should. At CN, the entertainment generally shut down at 10 PM. Now 11 might have been a better choice, but I don’t have a bit problem with them closing at 10. The problem is what they are doing up until 10.
The following comments are directly related to CN because we were most recently there, but they could just as easily apply to CSA. In the early 2000’s when we first went to CSA, Marky Mark led the house band and it was fantastic. At least once a week they had an all Reggae Night and the music was spectacular. My wife and I danced until they stopped playing… and so did a lot of other people. Even when it wasn’t a Reggae night, there would always be an hour or so of really fine music. Now I understand that Marky Mark was killed in a tragic car accident and he is not easily replaced. I also understand that among the younger generation in Jamaica, Reggae has been replaced by dance hall music, and frankly, I’m not a bit fan. But there surely are some decent traditional Reggae musicians in Jamaica aren’t there?
I understand Couples probably can’t afford Eek-a-Mouse, but surely there must be others? Right now it seems that all Couples offers is a parade of wedding singers. The music that is available to a Reggae beat is retreaded US pop classics that are done to Reggae rhythms. Honestly, the only time I heard “Get up Stand up”, “One Love”, “Exodus”, “Stir it Up” or any other Bob Marley tunes last week was out on the beach. Have you forgotten your roots? This is sad. Really sad. And it’s not just me. If you are in charge of entertainment, go out and look at how the crowd is reacting while this stuff is on. Almost no one is dancing, and most of the people in the resort have left. It’s not because they are tired… it’s because they are bored. Nuff said!
Special thanks this year goes to…
Here’s a shout out to:
Marsha the bartender at the Piano Bar at CN. She makes a wonderful Martini and is a joy to talk to.
Karen at the Spa. She worked with my wife every day while we were there and Jane loved it. I took a relaxation treatment from her the last day and am still under-stressed!
The man doing the smoothies every day at breakfast. Sorry, we didn’t get your name, but Jane would like to take you home!
England at the watersports area. For teaching me how to sail a Catamaran. Fantastic!
Two more comments before the verdict….
I assume that the all inclusive resort community does competition research on each other and is well aware of what the competition is doing. So two things puzzle me. Why is Couples the only resort I’ve been to that doesn’t use wrist bands? Don’t the competitors realize how impersonal it is to only recognize who you are by a wrist band? I’m amazed someone else hasn’t picked up on this.
Second, isn’t it strange that Couples is the only resort that uses those floating mats on their beach chairs? All you have to do is throw one of these in the ocean or the pool and lie on it for 5 minutes and you realize how special it is.
Both of these seem like a no-brainer to me. But no one else is doing this.
And the Verdict Is ….
I am tempted to cop out and say that both resorts are great. And this would be absolutely correct. I just spent a week at CN; if I were going back next week I’d probably pick CSA. But that’s not really the question. What everyone wants to know is which resort should I go to the first time? Well, you should go to both at least once. But if I had to pick one of these to go to the rest of my life and never see the other again… I’d probably pick Couples Negril. But it would be a really close call. And if you are only going to get to go to one, you should think about the various facets of each before you make a decision. The good news is that you can’t make a wrong decision. You’ll love it either way.