We have been to CN 3 times and decided this year to have a split vacation at 2 resorts we had not visited before – CSS and CSA. We were at CSS 12/17-12/21 then transferred to CSA 12/21-12/26. I’ll start my review with CSS. Since we’ve been to CN a few times, I think it’s only natural we compare our previous experience and resort to this trip. I know all the resorts are different, but we really did like CN so I can’t help but make comparisons.

From all of the information I’ve gathered from the message board, I was already aware of some major differences between CN and CSS… the beach being a main one as well as there being a lot of steps at the resort. We were in room B35, a one bedroom beachfront suite, on the 3rd floor. The view was of the lawn, beach, and ocean. It was a nice view. The room itself looked exactly like the pictures on the website, except in person I did think they looked a little worn and needed some updating. The sliding door from the bedroom to the patio was difficult to open/close so we ended up using the one in the “living” area. No big deal. The bathroom was fine but strange that the light switch was behind the door, outside of the bathroom, and the way the closet is set up, if the closet door was open you couldn’t open/close the bathroom door. Also, our door to our bathroom wouldn’t close all the way. Again, not a big deal. The room was clean and served its purpose but I can’t say we were overly impressed with it. The bed was very hard, and almost nightly I woke up with my arm asleep from either the hard bed or flat pillows – not sure which.

The resort itself is very spread out, and if you’ve been to CN, you know that CN is very centralized. We didn’t realize how much we enjoyed that until we didn’t have it. Like I said, I knew about the stairs, but had no idea what a PITA they would quickly become. The lobby is at the very top of the hill, along with the balloon bar, gift shop, and Cassanova restaurant, so if you were like us and have a room at the bottom of the resort, you had to climb up and down up and down to go to these places. I would think having a room more centrally located in the cliffs might be a little bit easier. There are times you need to run to the lobby to ask a question or to the gift shop to get something you need, and what a drag to have to walk at least 50 stairs one way to get there.

There are 2 main bars – the beach bar and the balloon bar. Strange enough, they both had a very sour odor at both bars. It smelled like they both needed a good cleaning, and was a little off putting when you’re sitting there trying to enjoy a drink.
We had dinner at both Pallazina and Cassanova and both were very good. We also enjoyed room service one night. All of the meals we had at the resort were good.

Service at all places was good. Leighton at the beach bar was very friendly and likable. We enjoyed chatting with him.
We enjoyed an hour long couples massage overlooking the ocean. It was a very rough day in the water the day we had our massage, which made the waves crashing into the cliffs even louder, and made it even more romantic and just a neat experience. At CN, we’ve only had our massages on the beach and I did think the location at CSS was a better one overall.

We didn’t visit SSB during the day due to it raining a lot of the time we were there. We arrived on a Thursday and that was the nicest day during the visit. The rest of the time it rained off and on or was very overcast. We were able to spend very little time on the beach or out by the pool. If we had a room in the cliffs, I could see us enjoying one of the other pools around the resort, particularly the one by the gym, but that was a haul for us to get to from ground level. We also did use the gym facilities several times during our visit and the equipment was nice. You can’t beat a workout with a view of the ocean!!

We also visited Dunn’s River Falls, which I was very nervous about but after the first big climb, felt confident about. We did leave with a few scratches and bruises but no one took a major spill, and for that I was thankful! We bought the DVD they film of you while you are climbing. I misunderstood and thought the DVD was $15, which seemed reasonable, only to find out it was $40. OUCH! The DVD is about 20 minutes long, with 10 minutes being information about Jamaica and the remaining 10 minutes being footage of your group climbing. I am glad we bought it, even though I did find the price to be outrageous! Our videographer was a lot of fun and really got the crowd into chanting and cheering as we climbed, which took the edge off of being nervous (at least for me).

We were able to enjoy the Starlight Gala the Friday evening we were there, which was really interesting since it was set up right outside of our room. (We didn’t find this to be bothersome at all). The food was buffet style and was ok. Entertainment was pretty good.

After reading so much on the message board, I was really hoping we would enjoy CSS much more than we did. I am just jealous we didn’t have as great of an experience as so many other people have had. CSS just isn’t for us, and I think that is ok – if we were all alike, life would be dull.

Overall, we thought CSS was “ok” – nothing terrible, nothing spectacular. I’m glad we tried it but I doubt we will return. We really do prefer the beaches in Negril and how CN is more centrally located. CN brings people together and we enjoy socializing. We felt pretty isolated at CSS and although we did meet some fun people, we didn’t find it to be as easy as it was at CN.

As for our departure, it was mentioned to us that we would get the departure snack for being repeaters but it was never given to us. I really didn’t want to hound them about it – seemed like a pretty trivial thing, but worth noting that we didn’t get it. It was never mentioned to us anything about a departure check (since we are at the level of RR that we are supposed to get it). I wasn’t sure what to do and figured that is something we could deal with once we got home, since I’ve read on the MB that people sometimes are having them mailed to them.

The transition from CSS to CSA was a 3 hour straight trip. We weren’t sure if we would have to stop at the airport and luckily we didn’t. There was a lot of rain the day we transferred, and quite a bit of traffic, so I would imagine without the rain and traffic it could be as quick as just over 2 hours.

Immediately upon arrival, we knew we liked CSA much more than CSS. It’s just one of those things you feel as soon as you step off the bus. We were assigned room 1213, which is in building 1 on the resort map. We were prepared to be in either building 1 or 2 (referring to CSA map) and knew we’d be far away from the action. The room itself was fine. I must say, the bathroom wall not going to the ceiling is kind of weird (I knew it would be that way). Your privacy is pretty much non-existent if you get my drift. Bring your ipod – the docking station will provide adequate background noise.

On our first day, it was rainy until about 3pm, and at that point we ran out to the beach. The sun wasn’t fully out, just barely peeking through, but we were thrilled, as it had literally been days since we had seen the sun at that point! We stayed out there an hour or so, willing the sun to shine more. There’s a reason I am telling this detail……

The next morning, I woke up COVERED in bites. 99% were on my legs. Prior to this, the front desk had already offered to move us to a different room (upgrade for being repeaters), an atrium suite, so we went up front to turn in our safe key and I showed them the bites. I remembered someone saying before that they thought they had gotten bitten in their room. I was by no means complaining, but wanted to show them, in case it did have to do with some sort of bugs in the room. They asked that I go to the nurse’s station to have it checked out.

We moved rooms around 3pm and then headed to see the nurse. She informed me it was sand fleas, and I was bitten when we were out on the beach the previous afternoon. The bites take a while to appear and often you don’t even realize you are being bitten. She did offer me some type of shot if I wanted it – not that it would help the bites that were already there, but could help prevent more. I declined since I had hydrocortisone cream with me and just used that instead. To give you an idea of how covered in bites I am, I stopped counting when I got to 100 bites, and that was on my left leg only – and I hadn’t even finished counting on that leg. I say this not because it is the resorts fault, but just as a warning. I have been to Negril several times and never had a problem with them. They come out not only at sunrise and sunset, but also after a heavy rain, so just be mindful of that if it has rained earlier in the day. Not everyone is affected by them – my husband had no bites (he is not as sweet as me I guess ).

Another note about rooms in building 1: I had read this before and it is true – there is a LOT of road noise. It wasn’t bad enough to wake me up in the night, but when I did wake up, it was very apparent. Also, Jamaicans blow their horns often, to signify lots of things: “get out of my way!” and “hey how are you!” are just a couple of examples. Since the crossing guard is located close to that block of rooms, I think often people are driving by blowing their horns to say “hello” to the crossing guards, and you definitely can hear the horns blowing.

Our new room, 2225, was located in number 26 on the CSA map and is directly in the center of the resort. We LOVED this location. It’s steps from the beach (but not beachfront) and just feels like it is in the middle of it all, while also being secluded.
We were unable to have dinner at either Lemongrass or Feathers during the time we were there due to there being no room left. No problem. We knew that the resort was at near capacity, if not 100%. We had dinner once at The Palms and didn’t really care for the set up. I’m still confused by the buffet having items that were on the a la carte menu, and I swear we saw our server walk up there and bring something off of the buffet that my husband had ordered a la carte. That’s fine, but we kind of felt bad – we aren’t so lazy that we can’t go up to a buffet and get our own food. We had breakfast at The Palms one morning and the food was fine but some of the people were very misbehaved… jumping in front of us in line, cutting us off, standing directly in front of the toaster as the bread toasted (not letting anyone else put anything into the toaster). Not that this is any reflection on the resort, I’m just saying. Some people seem to leave their manners at home along with all their stresses when on vacation.

Our favorite places to eat were Sea Grape and Patois Patio. I love breakfast, and was so excited to find out they have a la carte breakfast daily at Patois Patio. Dinners at Patois Patio were very good as well. The fish tacos and sweet potato chips at Sea Grape were deeeeelish! We were sad to see the fish tacos aren’t offered every day at Sea Grape. Maybe this could become a standard item? If the food hadn’t been excellent at Sea Grape, I doubt we would have gone back because the service was so terrible. Not once, ever, out of the several times we had lunch there, did we ever receive a refill on our waters. It was just strange. I’m not sure why, but we seemed to be flat out ignored at times. We are very easy to please so it must have just been bad timing.

Service at the resort overall was excellent. Housekeeping did a great job (the unsung heroes of the resort!!). On Christmas day, we returned to our room to have MERRY CHRISTMAS spelled out in the fuzzy red string like plants you see around Jamaica. How nice is that!!

For Christmas Eve, there was a celebration right outside of our room, which was so neat to get a birds eye view of. Again, some people left their manners at home while they were vacationing, so we didn’t stay there very long and headed on over to Patois Patio for dinner. They do have a special menu for all the restaurants for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (and also for New Years Eve) that they notified guests of the day before Christmas eve. I had asked the concierge if the menu was a “set menu” in advance (meaning that you could only order what was on that menu) and he said yes. I think he misunderstood my question, because they still had a regular menu available.
If you go to Jamaica during the Christmas season (and I would think even into January or February) make SURE you ask for some sorrel. This is a drink made from a flower that only blooms around Christmas time. It’s non-alcoholic and wonderful!!! All bars had this but you have to ask. We would have never known about it had we not started talking to Oral at the pool bar about Christmas traditions in Jamaica.

After my little incident with sand fleas, I pretty much stayed away from the beach aside from going into the water and coming out. We spent most of our time by the pool and pool bar. We opted not to go on the catamaran cruise this time since we had done it several times before at CN.

Just a few quick compare and contrast view points about CSA vs CN – CN is more compact, with the pool being the central focus of the resort and all the restaurants are surrounding the pool area. This tends to bring people together at CN. CSA is more spread out, and is HUGE compared to CN. There are restaurants on either end of the property, which is not a very long walk. I felt like there are more food options at CSA, and overall enjoyed the food better at CSA (and we liked the food at CN). We loved the martini bar option as well as the Aura Lounge (which is comparable to the piano bar at CN but much larger). The pool at CN is better, hands down. While the pool areas are ok at CSA, CN is the mack daddy of all pools we’ve seen at different resorts (even ones outside of Couples). The beaches are comparable, but one note I’ll make about that is that there seemed to be more area with trees at CN than at CSA. There is still plenty of area with trees and shade at CSA.

The sports center (located across the street – which isn’t a big deal to get to) is amazing! Bring your workout clothes if you think you will be inclined to exercise in even the smallest way. Huge Olympic sized pool, numerous tennis courts (and lots of people playing tennis), awesome gym (much better than at CSS, even though it doesn’t have an ocean view), neat bar where you can get vitamin water, smoothies, etc. We had to kind of laugh that there are ashtrays on every table in the sports complex. It didn’t bother us, just made us chuckle. There are LOTS of classes offered and I had good intentions of going to a 10am yoga class (which the visiting instructor assured me it was fine for all levels), but unfortunately I couldn’t rise and shine after an evening at Aura.

The spa is also located across the street where the sports complex is and I enjoyed a half hour massage on Christmas day. It was AMAZING – probably the best massage I have ever had. I did enjoy a few minutes in the budda pool/Jacuzzi before my massage which was so nice. I don’t believe having a massage outside of the spa is an option at CSA (I didn’t ask), but that didn’t bother me in the least. You may feel like you are at a spa at home, just to give you an idea. Please don’t forget to tip the spa folks – it is allowed to tip them (I think some people may not know this).

We really did love CSA and we will definitely return there again. Now the problem for us is CSA or CN, but I guess that is a good problem to have. We weren’t able to enjoy everything CSA has to offer (such as Lemongrass and Feathers) so we definitely have a good reason to pick CSA for our next trip. We were curious though if the resort isn’t at capacity, if CSA feels like a ghost town? We were there during such a busy time, there were always people around to socialize with, but with the resort being so spread out, we wondered if we would feel isolated if it weren’t so busy.

Oh and one more thing I did want to make sure I mentioned was the ever present security at CSA. It was impressive how many security people we saw at the resort, at all hours, and all places (almost). I liked seeing security everywhere, and enjoyed chatting with Leroy. They did check us in/out when we walked off resort property, which I appreciated.

We did walk down the beach a little ways to make a quick visit to Margaritaville, as Christmas Day is also Jimmy Buffett’s Birthday! To our surprise, they were doing nothing special to celebrate his birthday! We thought that was just weird. The Margaritaville is kind of a disappointment – nothing special really. We didn’t eat there, just ran around and took some quick pictures. It’s not far from the resort at all. We were propositioned many times on the walk asking for us to buy drugs, etc, but just said no thanks and kept walking. You will be asked, there is no doubt about that, but what everyone else says is true: just say no thanks and keep moving. We look forward to visiting CSA again so we can walk even further along the beach (me covered in bug spray of course!).

I know there is more I’d love to write about, but I do believe this is quite long enough. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I’d be happy to answer any questions!