Observations from a CSA Repeater…….the Good, the Bad & the Ugly
First, context: She….30 years old, corporate sales mukety muck type in the hospitality industry, born and raised in Southern California, now lives in South Orange County, California, well traveled within the US, minimal travel outside the US, 2nd time visiting CSA. He……29 years old, System’s Analyst mostly in the Biotech field, born in Ohio, lived in San Diego for 7 years and now in South Orange County with her, well traveled in US, minimal travel internationally, never been on an “island” type vacation, 1st time to Jamaica & Couples. This was the first major vacation together, spent 7 nights and 8 days at CSA in late September- early October.
From time to time I would see negative reviews on other boards or even constructive criticism on this one and, based on my first trip, was baffled. Now, after revisiting the resort, I can understand some of these remarks as there are variables which can greatly shift the experience as a whole. I will start by saying this review will probably be more negative than intended and we are planning to return again, if not next year than for sure the year after…..
Addressing The Usual Stuff/ Frequently Expressed Concerns on Message Board:
Transportation to Resort: Found the trip to be quicker and much smoother than last year for some reason. There was little to no traffic, we did not stop and I think ended up getting to CSA (after one drop off at CN) around an hour and fifteen minutes. The drive is not scary and in fact, in our shuttle we had a older lady (in her late 70s) who sat up in the front seat and loved every minute of it.
Beach/Grounds: I will start by saying, as every review states, the beach is stunning and the time, energy and effort that the staff puts into its maintenance is incredible. The little beach huts are over rated as the shade from the palm trees is sufficient enough to block most of the sun, but still get a nice tan (as opposed to the complete coverage of the huts). The grounds and all the facilities are absolutely IMPECCABLE; kudos to the landscaping crew for keeping the resort so beautiful! Your work is appreciated!
Food in General: Overall, I actually found the food to be better this year than it was last year. I think that this might be swayed a little by the Repeater’s Dinner, Private Dinner on the Beach and Lobster Night at Feathers, BUT even without those, the presentation of all of the meals seemed to have been taken up a notch.
Weather: I see this come up time and time again on the message board, people “freaking out” about the fact that it is forecasted to rain every day. It was a forecasted 20-30% chance every day we were there. It rained one time of our 8 days, now it was an absolutely incredible torrential down pour that lasted about an hour, but that was it. If you go in assuming it will rain every day for about an hour, you will probably be setting your self up to be prepared if it does, and pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t.
The Somewhat Unexpected Stuff (The Bad):
Check-In: I will start by saying that I am sure that everyone has an off day and as I mentioned previously, I work in hospitality and understand that a little kindness/friendliness goes a long way so I make sure to go out of my way to be overly sweet to people in general, but especially people in the industry as I know what kind of non-sense they have to put up with on a daily basis. That said, I don’t know that the young lady who checked us in could have acted any more put off by needing to do her job of getting us squared away. I won’t go as far to say that she was rude, but I attempted several times to engage her, and at best she smiled curtly, otherwise was mostly silent with a very stand-offish attitude.
Backing up just a little, again, this was my boyfriend’s first experience with Jamaica and Couples. I had spent months telling him about this amazing place as it was beautiful, fun, but above all else the service and people who worked there were the absolutely best out of any where that I had ever been. Additionally, I was super excited about being a Repeater and belonging to that special “cool” group. For his first experience dealing directly with a Couple’s employee and the front line service representative for the resort, this was a pretty major let down.
On the Message Board there had been much ado about the perks of being a Repeater and the Pre-Check in, so I was very excited about this feature. For what ever reason, none of the information took, even though I entered it a multiple times on the website, and emailed Couples to verify they got it. It was not really a big deal to write everything out again, but the bummer of it was realizing that there was not going to be a pre-set up mini bar in the room and that we were going to end up having to wait until the next day to get those items. Recognizing that there are plenty of other places to get a drink, it was just one of those little things that had been so hyped up, that it ended up being a minor let down.
After re-entering all the information for the paperwork, the lady gave us our keys and the bell boy came over to take us to our room. As we were getting up, I had to remind her that we were repeaters and that I believed there should be T-Shirts for us. With a bit of disdain, she went over to a rack to look for them and grabbed a bag with our shirts in it. Since the shirts were there, with the right sizes, I was a little confused on how the other information (for the rest of the Pre-Check) wasn’t there. On a somewhat side note, we never received our farewell snack, not a huge deal, but just wanted to mention it as a small let down for the Repeater’s Perk.
I guess my expectations might have been a little high, but I can now understand why some people might have the impression of and comment on unfriendly staff. With it being his first interaction and had I not been so adamant that it was going to get better, I could have seen him wanting to walk right out the door and go to another resort. As a Repeater, I had assumed that there would be a little more of a “welcome home” feel as has been such a theme on the MB for the past few months.
Accommodations: We stayed in an Atrium suite. As I had stayed in one last year, I knew what to expect regarding no glass, no TV, being a more “rustic” type room, etc. This is exactly what we wanted and why we booked the room. We had requested a first floor room and were fortunate enough to get that request honored (assuming that since the resort was fairly empty it was probably a little easier than had we gone at a higher capacity time). We originally got a room in the wedding courtyard closer to the road side of the resort.
Right after check in, we grabbed some food at Seagrapes (since that and the grill were the only things available at the time…. more about that later) and headed back to the room for a nap after a long day of travel. We were both exhausted and probably should have been able to fall right to sleep after a red eye from LA, but I will say, the road noise was there….. and it was loud. Turned on the air conditioner and shut the slats, but unfortunately it really did not help. Additionally, I know that it is the tropics, but there was an inordinate amount of little ants in the room; MUCH MUCH MUCH more than there had been in my prior trip. I won’t go as far to say that I would have been “miserable” all week there, but it would have most definitely have dampened my vacation parade.
Not normally my style at all, but I did go to the front desk and ask to move rooms. Mellissa working the front could NOT have been BETTER! She was sweet, accommodating, apologetic for the inconvenience, and I think literally, got us the best Atrium Suite available on the property. We were right next to a beach front suite and had an AMAZING view of the beach/water. We were over the moon about our new room and loved every single thing about our new accommodations.
We were lucky enough to be there during a down time with regard to capacity, but I will say that had this been my first time or had gotten the original room without the ability to change, I would have been extremely dissatisfied with my accommodations. I definitely can now understand why some people make the comments that they do regarding their room because there are what I would consider MAJOR differences between rooms and even rooms within the same accommodation category.
Beach Bar & Concierge Staff: I was very taken back by the general attitude by the staff at both the beach bars. It didn’t seem to matter how polite/engaging we were, again it was almost a bother for them to make drinks. It was very disappointing as last year, the Sunset Beach Bar Staff was my favorite! They were a huge part of what made the trip so much fun and I actually cried when we left them! This year was the complete opposite. I thought that maybe it was just the crew at Sunset, so we switched up about mid week and started going to the Bamboo Bar, but it was the same thing.
Every concierge that I encountered also had this same standoffish demeanor. Again, you would assume that you would put your best and friendliest people in these high volume guest interaction areas. This was another case, where I understood the comments that I have seen in the past about staff attitude.
The Shopping Trip Excursion: This one is my fault for not really doing research, or asking questions prior to going. I had figured it would be going into more of a swap meet type scenario. It was basically 2stops at strip mall type places with a bunch of convenient stores. I was hoping for something a little more authentic with a little more Jamaican culture and it seemed like the stores were not even owned by Jamaicans. Again, this is not a fault of Couples, just a fair warning that it is probably worth skipping- you can find mostly the same stuff on the beach, for cheaper.
Dining Convenience: For some reason it just seemed like nothing was open when we wanted a heavy meal. The full breakfast option at the Palms & Patois ended at 10:30 with lunch not beginning until 12:30 and ending at 2:30. Then dinner did not start anywhere until 6:30. Understanding that both Seagrapes and the Grill were open during the down time, it just seems like there were a lot of hours that if you didn’t want a Snapper Sandwich, fried food or a small veggie dish you were kind of out of luck.
Also, along the same lines, it was unfortunate that Patois was on a reservation system while we were there. For whatever reason, it just made it feel like we were on a regimented schedule every day. I do understand that the resort was at a lower capacity but it was just a small drawback that there was a substantial amount of hours where both the Palms and Patios was closed, and that every restaurant (except the Palms) ended up being reservations required.
Breakfast Delivery: The service itself was great! It was delivered promptly at the requested time every morning with the right items and very cool that they called and checked up on it. The disappointing aspect of this was the fruit. Last year there were so many great and fun varieties every morning. This year, every morning it was the same, melon, pineapple and mango. Also the bread offerings were average at best. By the end of the week I stopped requesting the service.
Utter Surprises (The Ugly):
Groups: As of late there has seemed to be a great amount of debate on the MB about larger parties being allowed, or not being allowed to go to Couples. Prior to this trip, I was on the side of who cares if there are groups, if Couples says it’s fine, then it is fine- One love. Now, however, I have made a 180 degree swing in philosophy. I will preface that we are both still young, still like to party and have been known to frequent the bar/club scene in the OC and in San Diego. Neither of us is anything close to prudish or conservative and would probably consider ourselves more of exhibitionists than anything…
The night of the fashion/talent show at the Aura Lounge I was absolutely appalled at what went down concerning a group. It was obviously a bachelorette party; my guess is they were probably having the wedding at the resort the next day. I would guess that there were probably 10-12 girls all making quite a spectacle while taking shots and screaming, they obviously were intent on everyone noticing them and what they were doing. Each of them was wearing large pins of certain male parts (not sure what words I’m allowed to post), along with other matching paraphernalia.
First of all, I’m all for a good bachelorette party, but really? All the pins and other “attire” being worn were completely inappropriate for the Couples venue. Secondly, I was mortified how rude this group was being while both guests and employees were putting themselves out there singing and dancing in front of a crowd. It takes a great deal of moxie to put yourself out in front of people in the first place, but to do it with people being so obviously oblivious to everyone but themselves made for an unfortunate situation for the performers. All of that, however, was pretty mild to what came next…
…One of the guests was up performing as part of the fashion/talent show. This particular guest, apparently had made friends with another Couple who was holding 4 seats (the foursome of chairs that are immediately in front of the bar when you first walk into the Lounge- we were sitting on one of the chaise lounge chairs next to them). The two guys went to the far side of the bar to get a drink (as the large group was taking up the entire front of the bar nearest to the stage), leaving the one girl holding 3 seats.
One of the girls from the party (who seemed quite drunk) belligerently went up to the girl holding the seats and started demanding that she give up the seats to her party as she “obviously” wasn’t using them. The guest who was sitting, politely said that her friend was going to be in the show and that their husbands were at the bar. The girl from the party started screaming at this poor girl in the chair and actually started physically moving one of the chairs. It got to the point where one of the guys from the EC had to come over and “break it up.” The girl from the party that had the chair still in hand basically slammed the chair down in front of the other girl and went back to the party. The girl holding the seats was obviously upset at what had gone down and seemed pretty shaken up by the time the two husbands came back.
By this point, the guy part of the bachelor party had come into the lounge and joined the girls, so now there was a group of about 20 people at the bar making even more of a distraction. For whatever reason, after about 15 minutes the majority of the party left and things were able to resume back to normal. When we finally left the lounge around 12ish we walked back to our room and it seemed as though the entire bachelor/bachelorette party had moved to one of the hot tubs. All I can say is that I am very glad that I did not have a room that was in that area, because the amount of noise that was coming from the group was ridiculous.
I am not really sure what, if anything, Couples would be able to do about this situation, but frankly, if this was the environment we were looking for on vacation, we would choose to spend our money on a cruise or at another AI that is much closer to home and at a far less expensive price tag. We elect to spend our vacation at Couples because of its unique atmosphere. Had I been one of the two Couples directly involved in the confrontation, I probably would not be back. If catering to large parties and Couples starts/continues to allow these types of happenings, we will probably move our tropical vacation to a different location as well.
Finally, The Great:
Private Dinner on the Beach: Before leaving, I had read split reviews on this option. I went ahead and decided to splurge on this as a surprise for my boyfriend. He was completely shocked that we got to eat at one of the “special tables on the beach.” He thought we were just eating at the Palms for dinner and halfway through the meal was still semi-speechless. For us, it was worth it and then some! The food, atmosphere and service were absolutely incredible. I can imagine that it will continue to be a part of future trips. As an overall experience, it might actually be the highlight of the trip for both of us.
Repeater’s Dinner: I don’t know if I can express enough how great this food was. Additionally it was such a treat to sit with other Couple’s Frequenters. It was fun to talk about the other resorts and how they compare to CSA. I enjoyed being able to meet so many of the Couple’s Management Team Members and was very fun having one sit at the table with us for dinner. The entertainment for the evening was also great. If you are ever wavering on whether or not to attend this event, DO NOT HESITATE! It was absolutely fantastic.
Resort Photographers: Loved having them around and so prevalent in the resort. Our budget at the end of the trip didn’t like it so much as we ended up spending a few extra hundred dollars, but the pictures that we now have are so worth it!
Fitness Facility: My boyfriend used the gym every day and I got to learn how to play tennis. Had it not been for these great courts and the condition of the equipment, I probably wouldn’t have ventured into a new sport. It is now just one more thing that my boyfriend and I can enjoy doing together. The staff working that front desk area also could not have been better! Along these same lines, and probably not often mentioned are the crossing guards. They were really great guys and a lot of fun to joke around with.
Beach Bonfire: Very fun event. It ends up being pretty entertaining watching the team get the fire going and once it is burning away is quite romantic. Love the addition of the little wish hearts balloons. Super cute! The entertainment here, once again was fantastic and we even ended up purchasing a couple of his CDs.
Housekeeping: Cannot say enough positive about the job she (they) did! Again, it was like magic how they managed, twice a day, to do our room service while we were out. The little towel designs that they made were so good and one day she even took one of my extra pairs of sunglasses and put it on the little duck she made. It was AWESOME!
Specific Staff Members: If there is any one major reason why we will return, it is these people who became friends over the course of our 8 days:
Mellissa, Front Desk: As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, she was so incredibly accommodating, knowledgeable, helpful and did it all with a smile! Great front desk representative.
Nickolaus (the newest EC Member): What a great personality he has! He was so much fun to tease at the Black Jack Table, dance with in the club and just enjoy overall!
Pricilla, Housekeeping: I really hope this name is right as I don’t have my notes in front of me, but she was absolutely amazing and so sweet!
Franklyn the Server at Feathers: On top of being great at his job, he was also extremely entertaining! I mean who else would give you sound effects of your food!
Cecil, the Photographer: My boyfriend does a little photography as a hobby and once he saw the difference between Cecil’s pics and the others he only let Cecil do our pictures for the rest of the vacation.
*Ricardo the bartender: Great Personality, great drinks, maybe the best smile on the entire resort! Have a Big Sexy waiting for me! Xo
*Sandia the Server: If she is not the sweetest person on the resort than I don’t know who is. She was “our” server at Lemongrass and we ended up planning some of our dining around her schedule at the Palms. This is one that caused tears upon departure.
*Akeem: Like he needs any other modifier. He’s the one and only. Aside from putting up with my terrible dancing, we had so many great talks, fun moments and really breathes life into the whole Couples experience. He even got up at the crack of early to see us off on our last day there before we got into the bus. So much love for this boy!!!
As I said, I am sure that this review ended up being much more negative than intended because we did have a great vacation and in all likelihood will be back next year. I think perhaps sometimes, on this board especially, things can get a little over hyped and so new people coming to Couples for the first time might have inflated expectations of a perfect Utopia. While Couples is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING, it, like all places, is not without its flaws. I am hoping that this review in its entirety makes it to the MB and that some of the items raised might be taken a look at as the intention is constructive criticism with the hope of improvement.
I am sure that there are things/people I am forgetting, but will add them down the line when I remember…
Thank you again to all the great staff members who made this such a memorable vacation! We are looking forward to seeing you again soon!