Memphis Airport: Two places were recommended by message board members for great BBQ. Both have several locations in the airport. We were there at about 9:30 am and discovered that Corky’s BBQ doesn’t open until 10:00 am and Interstate BBQ was serving only breakfast and no BBQ. And here I had myself all psyched up for BBQ for breakfast.

Montego Bay Airport: We landed about 1:30 pm and were in the airport about 5 minutes later. We got through immigration, got our checked luggage, got through customs and into the Couples Lounge in less than 30 minutes.

Couples Lounge: We were met by Ava with a warm smile and somehow she seemed to know us, although we had never met her. Maybe the Iowa sweatshirts gave us away. It spent about 15 minutes at the Couples lounge getting our Pepsi’s, talking to Ava and taking pictures before our van was ready to leave. I didn’t even get a chance to finish my Pepsi.

Transfer to Couples Negril: Nice trip in a new van with a friendly, cautious driver. The trip took 1 hour and 25 minutes which included only 7 minutes to get through the construction just outside of Montego Bay.

Check In: We walked into the lobby and up to the front desk and were greeted with cold towels and champagne. Check in was very quick as there was only one other 2 couple checking in at the same time. We were escorted to our room and our bags arrive in a couple of minutes.

Our Room: We got a room on third floor in building 6 as we requested…room number 6308 to be exact. It was just as we had expected, having stayed in this building on two previous occasions. True island feel with the colorful twisted palm tapestry, bright yellow bed spread and orange pillows. As expected, it had the little fridge, widescreen TV, combination safe, two Couples robes, umbrella, ironing board and iron, hairdryer, combination iPod/clock radio, conditioning shampoo, body lotion and Aloe Vera after sun gel, but no blue bath gel.

Repeater’s T-Shirts: Same old “Very Important Couple” with big blue twisted palms on the back…very similar to what we got last March. They were out of some sizes.

Housekeeping: Janet remembered us from last March and did a great job of keeping our room clean and full of towels. By the way, you get three clean bath towels every day. They also have cards to put on the pillow each morning. One side states to change the sheets and the other side states to save the water and use the sheets again. Just one more way Couples gets greener.

Guest Relations: The people at the Guest Relations Desk are top notch. Like most of the rest of the staff, they will bend over backwards to please you. Any issues with Repeater’s Perks, scheduling included activities or Otaheite dinners are right up their alley. Just ask them. If they can’t help you, they will find someone who can.

The Ocean: The weather our first week was cloudy and windy, causing big waves in the water. There was a ton of seaweed washing up in the shore and in the swimming area. There were a lot of sea shells washing up on shore and many, many starfish washing up too. They can only live for a few minutes out of water, so it was a constant job for the guests and staff to throw them back out into the water. Our second week the weather turned around and the staff got all the seaweed raked off the edge beach by the ocean. They dig holes in the sand and buried it. I actually saw a sting ray in the shallow part of the swimming area one day. It was about a foot across, but wouldn’t let me get very close.

The Beach: The beach was beautiful with its soft, white, fluffy sand. After the weather improved for our second week, lying out was hot and enjoyable. There is always an abundance of lounge chairs, floaties and shade because the beach is so large. They served fresh fruit kabobs on the beach and the red flag service was fairly quick most of the time. Some days they would climb the coconut trees and bring the fresh coconuts down to the beach by building 6. They would then cut the tops off with a machete, stick a straw in it and serve it to the beachers. The coconut milk doesn’t taste very good, but it makes a cool looking drink.

Sunscreen: Yes, the Newsstand does have aerosol sunscreen. It is against TSA regulations to bring this on a plane…checked or carryon. They have Australian Gold. SPF 4 and 8 are $26 US for a standard sized can. SPF 15, 30 and 50 are $27 US for a standard sized can. I brought along the pump spray type and it was practically worthless. It sprays so erratically that you have to rub it in anyway, so you’d be better off with a standard cream. I’d recommend starting off with an SPF 30 and then in a few days switch to SPF 15.

Locals on the Beach: Lets clarify this issue once and for all. There are locals walking on the beach at CN. They have to stay next to the water and are not roaming around on the resort. There are actually very few of them and they do not push their wares in you. There is the “Ceeeeegarette” Guy who just calls out “Ceeeeegaretetes, cigars, cigars, cigars” as he walks buy. If you want to buy his cigarettes, you must approach him. Then there is another who calls out “Paaaaaaara-sailin”. Again, you must approach him if you want to go parasailing. Third, there is a guy with brightly colored (mostly green and yellow) shirts and pants. Again, you have to approach him to buy something. If you are right where they are walking by, there is the occasional one who will ask if you want some smoke. A polite “No Thanks” will send them on their way. If you do want to buy some smoke, remember it is illegal in Jamaica just as it is in the states. Actually the staff photographers are pushier than any of these guys. We enjoy all of them, especially the last kind. The last kind is the musicians who will stop and play a song or two for you. They usually ask first and they do expect a tip, but they won’t ask for one. If you just applaud and say “thank you”, they will be on their way. We always give them a couple bucks and they usually play another song, or just chat for a while. They are all very enjoyable.

Tips: Although tipping is not allowed for Couples employees, you will run into people who you can tip. You can tip the van drivers to and from the airport and on off-site excursions, guides on off-site excursions, Cat Cruise people, Spa employees and beach musicians. They love $2 bills. They don’t see many of them and they consider them good luck. Most of them tell you that they are good luck and that they are going to save it to bring them luck. We usually bring 20 or 30 of them. Couples employees love chocolate. We brought three bags of assorted minis and just passed them out to the employees as we saw them or when they helped us. We left 4 on the pillow each morning for housekeeping and a couple more for the guy who filled the mini-bar. You do need to tell them once that they are for them, or they will probably not take them. The best tip you can give a Couples employee is to write their name in the comments section of the check-out questionnaire. Raises and promotions are based on guest comments and they do remember if you wrote a nice comment on the card on your last visit. “Oh yes, I remember you. You put my name on the comment card last year. Thanks!” is nice to hear from a deserving employee.

The Spa: We got our free Couples Massage for being repeaters and that was nice. We spent the extra $20 to have it in the beach hut. Last March we had it in the Tree House. Both were nice. My wife enjoyed spending the $350 Spa credit we got for booking early. First she got a Pedicure for $45. Then we got the Couples European Seaweed Body Treatment for $180. Next, she got the Peppermint Sea Twist for $90 and finally a Toe Polish Change for $15 to finish off the $350. They did accidentally charge the $90 Peppermint Sea Twist to the room instead of the Spa credit. The Spa takes care of the Spa credit. When you get the receipt for a Spa service using a credit voucher, be sure it states “Paid Fall in Love” and not “Charge to Room xxxx”. It took close to an hour to straighten this out at the front desk when we did the pre-check-out the evening before our departure, but they did get it straightened out.

The Breakfast Buffet: The breakfast buffets at the Cassava Terrace each morning are the big. You name it and they have it. The food is almost always excellent. In eating there every morning for two weeks, we only encountered sub-par food twice. One day the scrambled eggs were runny and one day the omelet was poorly mixed and cooked. I do have a beef with the hash brown potatoes they serve here and at CSS. They remind me of McDonald’s pressed and frozen triangles. They make so many good potato dishes; they certainly could make decent bulk hash browns.

The Lunch Buffet: The lunch buffets at the Cassava Terrace are also very good most of the time. They have big selections with a huge salad bar and fantastic deserts. The have theme days and I don’t really care for the Asian or Mexican days, but the Jamaican days are very tasty. The grilled burgers and jerk sausages are very good and they have real American Ketchup now.

Heliconia Beach Grill: They have great Beef Patties (mild Jerk beef in a pastry turnover) and grilled American Hamburgers, again with real American Ketchup. They also have Chicken Patties, but we didn’t try those. The Jerk Burgers are great and they always have pizza by the slice to grab and go. The 24 hour soft serve ice cream and cookies are always welcome.

Birds at the Buffets and Grill: Watch out for the birds at the Terrace and beach grill, especially at breakfast and lunch. If you leave you food on the table and go to get something to drink, you will come back to a plate full of birds standing in and eating your food. Go back for drinks, seconds and desert one at a time so the other one can guard your food from the birds. The Black Birds will climb right up on your plate. The white Egrets will usually wait on the ground for you to drop or throw something at them. They are so spoiled that they will usually ignore bread crumbs and wait for eggs or something more substantial.

Lunch Options: We usually go through the buffet and get some stuff and then carry it over to the beach grill for some more and eat it there. Then back to the buffet for some deserts and back to the beach grill for some ice cream.

Evening Buffets: The Cassava Terrace has three evening buffets a week…Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Nice selection and usually set up around the pool. The pepper shrimp are amazing, except they are cooked in the shells and are hard and messy to get out. Some people just eat the shells, but I guess I’m not quite Jamaican enough to do that yet.

Evening Al-La-Carte: The Cassava Terrace has A-La-Carte dining on the evenings there is not buffet. Very small selection and one night in two weeks is enough for that.

Heliconia Italian Restaurant: In the evenings, the Heliconia Beach Grill turns into a fancy gourmet Italian restaurant. No reservations are needed and the food can’t be beat. I like it better than the Otaheite gourmet reservation restaurant. Chef Tyrone Jackson has a nightly special that is always worth considering. There is a different menu for different nights, probably 4 in all, and each with a very nice selection of Italian dishes. There are several choices each in the Pasta, Meat, Seafood and Vegetarian categories. Try the Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Grilled Pork Loin, Lasagna Bolognese, Snapper Livornesa and Grilled Beef Strip Loin. This is a great place to go for Lobster night…two good sized Grilled Lobster Tails with veggies and Garlic Mashed Potatoes. The service was very good except for one night it started out fine, but then our waitress forgot about us and someone else had to take over.

Otaheite Restaurant: You need a reservation to eat here and you can make only one reservation per day. Not a big selection, but very fancy and good food. We like to eat here twice. When you make your reservation, you choose the size of the table you want - 2, 4, 6 or 8 people. The first time we get a table for 8 so we can meet other couples. Then we get a romantic table for two. Most of the tables for two have a love seat that you share. There is a dress code sign outside the restaurant now that wasn’t there last March. It just says “Ladies: Semi-Formal. Gentlemen: Collar Shirt & Dress Pants. No Jeans, Denim, Shorts or T-Shirts”, with no mention of shoes (the highly debated topic). Although dress shoes are the norm, you do see an occasional dressy sandal. The service is excellent.

Lychee Asian Restaurant: I am not a fan of Asian food, but my wife is, so I sucked it up for one night for her. The appetizer sampler is quite good…I liked 4 of the 6 things. She had Pad Thai and said it was okay but not great. The service was very good.

Repeater’s Dinner: The Repeater’s Dinner was held at the Otaheite and was very nice. We got to sit with Karen (the General Manager) for the second time in a row. There is no one there I would rather have dinner with (except for my wife of course). They served Surf & Turf – Beef Tenderloin and Grilled Bassa Fillets which were both very good. At CSS last March, they also had Surf & Turf (or what they called Surf & Turf) - Chicken and Salmon!

Special Foods: If you see (Nut Crusted) Crab Cakes or Shrimp or Lobster Bisque on a menu, GET IT! Don’t expect Iowa beef. The beef is low quality, but they do know how to cook it. The chefs on the resorts don’t know where it comes from…just that it is from the states. There is a separate division of Couples that does all the food purchasing. Unfortunately, the chefs have no control over this.

Sunsets: Even though our first week was constant bad weather and it clouded up early several days the second week, we did get to see three beautiful Negril sunsets. The sun glistening in the water of Bloody Bay just before the sun sets and turns the sky bright orange and red. Very nice!

Evening Entertainment: The evening entertainment is top notch. The house band performs on the Terrace for dinner music most evenings. They have Showtime every night at 9:00 pm except Thursday and the acts are some of the best on the island. “Sweet Sensations” does a Rock set, a Reggae set and a slow dancing romantic set. Thursdays they have the Staff and Guest Fashion Show and then Fire man performs. You have to see this guy to believe it! Thursdays are also the night for the Beach Party and the steel drum band that are very good. The Thursday Bon Fire features Shyam Moses for soft romantic music while the huge fire burns. B.B. King and the Westerners (classic mento band) play a couple nights and also for some lunches. We didn’t spend any time in the Piano bar, but they have a couple things going on every night while other things go on at the Terrace or on the beach.

Unwanted Evening Entertainment: Our building, #6, is right next to the main stage on the Terrace and is so loud in the room, it would be impossible to sleep while they are playing. One thing we loved in past visits (and this one) is that they quit every night at 10:30 pm. It is nice to listen to them in the room just before bed (if we are turning in early) and hit the sack at 10:30. This year they still quit at 10:30 pm but newly acquired Breezes resort next door to Couple had a various rock bands performing that week and blast loud music across the entire bay most nights until midnight or later. I wanted to run down there and strangle someone a couple of times, which is not how you are supposed to feel at a romantic Couples resort.

Tree Frog Hunt: We love the sounds of the tree frogs. Every evening when the sun goes down, they break into their songs all over the resort. Twice a week, the staff will take you on the Frog Hunt where they give you flash lights and walk around the resort looking for them. I had never seen one until we did this. The frogs are so small (about the size of a little finger nail), it is amazing they can make that much sound.

Jamaican Cooking Class: My wife loves these 15-30 minutes demonstrations put on by Sous Chef Tyrone Jackson from the Heliconia. He passes out a recipe and then demonstrates cooking some simple Jamaican dish…always a different dish. I would suggest either accompanying your wife to these or letting her go by herself because she will learn how to make some tasty stuff for you at home. The last one we went to taught her how to make a simple Jamaican Chicken Stew that was very, very good. It is made in a skillet in just a few minutes after marinating the chicken for a while. It tasted like beef stew with carrots, potatoes and Scotch Bonnet Peppers. The Scotch Bonnet is the second hottest pepper in the world and is the main ingredient in the Jamaican Jerk Seasoning. The stew had just a hint of Jerk, not a lot of in-your-face fire sauce.

The Office of Nature: It is worth the short walk down the beach to the Office of Nature. Head toward the ocean and take a right turn. Walk down the beach past the big lavender resort and a couple of small resort beaches and you will reach the first of two Offices of Nature. The first one you reach is the newest and I have heard, on the message board, that the old one is the best for lobster. They are small beach bars with lobster grilling outside. Keep walking past several small Jamaican vendors and you will reach the original Office of Nature. We did not stop and pay the $15 to $25 for the lobster because we had excellent free food waiting for us at the resort. The vendors are a slightly smaller version of the craft market you can walk to through the Couples sponsored “Walk to Craft Market” activity. They have clothes, wooden carvings, jewelry and the typical Jamaican crafts. If you face the ocean from the Couples Negril beach, the Office of Nature area is about one quarter of the way to the point on the right end of Bloody Bay…not far at all.

High Tea: High Tea sounds like an formal British gathering, but it is really cookies, cakes and tea setup behind the main pool and next to the swim-up bar. If you happen to walk near there between about 4:00 pm and 4:30 or 5:00 pm, stop and grab a cookie. They have it every day and swim suits and bare feet are welcome.

Water Sports: The Water Sport guys are also top notch. The list of included water sports is huge. Waterskiing (with private lessons), Windsurfing, Kayaking, Paddle Boats, Hobie Cat Sailing (our personal favorite), Sunfish Sailing, Snorkeling (with special attention if needed), Glass Bottom Boat, Catamaran Cruise and Scuba Diving with lessons and some certification (I think, not my area).

Catamaran Cruise: The Catamaran Cruise at Couple Negril is top notch…10 times better than the one we took at CTI later in the trip. The one from CN is a bigger boat that you sit down inside of, not on top of like the one from CTI. It goes down the coast like with beautiful scenery all the way. The one from CTI just went out in the ocean, and played in the big waves. Although this was fun for a while, we missed the sails up cruise along the coast from Negril. They both stop for a swim, but only the one from CN has a big slide on the side. Remember, their guys (and girl) are not Couples employees and can be tipped. The have live music for a while and then play CDs of Reggae music. The bartender is a great entertainer too. I don’t remember his name, but he was there in 2006 when we first did the cat Cruise. He sings along with the CDs dances and even walks around on his hands on the boat.

Hobie Cats: If you have never heard of a Hobie Cat, here it is. A Hobie Cat is a little 1, 2, 3 or 4 person sail boat that is very easy to operate. They work best with two people. You have two controls. First you have a bar that is connected to the two rudders that you steer with. Second, you have a rope that you use to tighten or loosen the sail. The tighter the sail, the faster you go. If you have never operated one before, they will take you out and teach you how. It only takes a few minutes to learn. You need to learn about what direction to go relative to the wind. You cannot sail directly into or away from the wind direction because then the wind is not hitting the sail. You need to keep your back to the wind, so when the sail changes sides, you do too. That’s about it. They are very easy to sail. And, more fun than a barrel of whatever you think is fun.

Glass Bottom Boat: Tafoya (Captain Crunch) and Steve (Seaweed) take you out for an hour on the Glass Bottom Boat and are very entertaining. They explain a lot of sea plants and animals, Bloody Bay history, traditions, other resorts and a ton of other interesting things. They are very funny and even tell you up front that if they don’t know something, they will make it up. It gets you wondering sometimes if they are feeding you a line or telling you the truth. I would definitely recommend it.

Snorkeling: Tafoya and Steve take you out for an hour on the Glass Bottom Boat and you spend a half our snorkeling. There is a lot to see and is a very interesting activity. My wife is a little skittish about the water so Tafoya helped her into the water, held her arm while she got used to floating with the air vest and then guide her to the reef. When she had had enough, he took her camera and swam out by himself and took some great pictures for her. Talk about customer service!

Special Water Sports Request: We wanted a special picture of us sailing a Hobie Cat into the beach at CN with the resort in the background for a couple of T-Shirts we are going to make. We asked Robert, a Water Sports Team Leader and he had Desmond and Kanai take the ski boat out to take some pictures for us. The first time, we used the underwater camera but the lens was fogged over and the pictures didn’t turn out. We took a different camera back the next day and they did it again! More of that great customer service.

Private Excursion: We hired a great private driver for a day and went on the Black River Safari, stopped at the Pelican Bar and went to YS Falls. That was a nice day’s trip. We left the resort at 7:30 am and got back about 6:15 pm. You will see post about this type of trip and all I can say is don’t try to cram too much into one day’s trip. We stopped along the way a couple of times for some authentic Jamaican roadside food and would not have had time to stop anywhere else. The Pepper Shrimp was very good. You tear off the head and tail and throw them out the window. Sounds like littering, but the dogs and goats count on it for food. The dogs hang around there, just waiting for something to be thrown out.

Back River Safari: Long drive from the resort, along the south west coast. It took about an hour and a half to get there from CN. You ride in a boat and the guide looks for crocodiles for you. They are territorial, so they hang out in their same place and are easy for the guides to find. If the sun is out, you will see a lot of them. It was cloudy when we went, so we only saw a few and they were pretty much hiding under trees hanging over the water.

The Pelican Bar: The Pelican Bar is just south of the Black River Safari in the Black River or Parottee Bay. It is about 1 km away from the shore and you take a little boat to get to and from it. We rode out with Floyd, the owner, and the days supplies. It is built out of irregular sticks, boards and tree limbs and it is a wonder it stands at all. You can see though the floor between the boards that are just nailed in place wherever one fits. Very cool place. I guess it is famous the world over.

YS Falls: YS Falls is about an hour north of the Pelican Bar and should be included if going to this part of Jamaica. It consists of a series of all natural waterfalls and pools and is very picturesque. Just beautiful. There is a sturdy wooden stairway alongside that you use to get up the mountain. You don’t climb up the waterfalls and you don’t have to get wet. You can stop at each of the pools and walk out on the rocks (quite smooth), and swim in most of them. One has a long rope that you can swing out over the pool. There is a zip line that consists of three lines…a sort one at the top, a short one at the bottom and a very long one that goes all the way down the falls. Each level, or pool, has at least one guide just waiting in case you need help getting out in the rocks, swimming or just want your picture taken.

Pre-Check-Out: Stop at the Front Desk the evening before your departure and do the pre-check-out to settle up your bill and return your beach towels. Then when you leave the next day, all you need to do is drop off your keys and questionnaire.

Transfer from CN to CTI: We planned to spend 9 days at Couples Negril and then the last 8 days at Couples Tower Isle. We took the free Couples transfer to CTI. We wanted to leave at 6:00 am to miss the traffic in Montego Bay. We were ready and our van and driver were ready before 6:00 am, but our bags weren’t brought to the lobby until 6:15 am. This caused us to hit the start of traffic in Montego Bay and made the trip take 2 hours and 36 minutes, about 15 minutes longer than expected, and a half hour later than expected.

Couples Tower Isle: We did not like Tower Isle. We love the natural feel and island vibe of CN and CTI was not for us. It’s a hotel…a beautiful hotel, but it’s still a hotel. There is way too much building and almost no nature. Most of the resort is indoors…CN is outdoors. The beach is small compared to CN and the afternoon we were there, all the chairs at the main pool and on the beach were taken. We would have loved to see the island but it was closed due to inclement weather so we didn’t make it over there. Water Sports had the red flag out. On our second day there, we asked if we could go back to Negril. In true Couples fashion the answer was “of course you can”. This brought a tear to my dearest’s eye. We left the next day on a record 2 hour and 3 minute private transfer.

The Anniversary Party: The Tower Isle 32nd Anniversary party was top notch. Excellent food and service. We thought it was very interesting how the people who had been there for a while were blown away by the service…such as escorting you to the table, putting your napkin in your lap, getting your drinks for you, someone else bringing water, someone else bringing coffee and tea. This was interesting to us because they do this at Couples Negril at all meals, even the breakfast and lunch buffets.

Transfer from CN to CTI: Since this was an unscheduled transfer, we had to pay for a private transfer from Couples Tower Isle back to Couples Negril. I fully understood paying for this trip ourselves. The cost is $250, which seems like a lot, but when you consider the driver has to drive all the way back to Ocho Rios by himself, the trip could take him 8-9 hours round trip plus the cost of gas which is over $4 US per gallon there. Again we left at 6:00 am and since it was a private transfer, there was no chance of stopping at the airport. We told him we had made it in 2 hours and 11 minutes last March and he was determined to beat that record. The trip took 2 hours and 14 minutes, but we stopped twice…once for cash at an ATM for 7 minutes and once for gas for 4 minutes. If you subtract these 11 minutes, the actual driving time was 2 hours and 3 minutes.

Back at Couples Negril: Since we had done everything we wanted to do at CN the first week we were there, we had 6 days to just lay around and relax. The weather had turned perfect the day before we left for CTI, so the beaches (and of course the Hobie Cats) were our main activity for those last six days.

Transfer Back to the Airport: Nice trip in a new van with a friendly, cautious driver. We left just after 11:00 am and it took 1 hour and 8 minutes to get to the airport. Another 30 minutes and we were through security. This is not typical. Last March we stood in line for over an hour just to get to the ticket counter.

Security at Montego Bay Airport: All of the security was normal, the same as last march except that they were frisking some people and searching some carry-ons at the gate as we entered the plane. It appeared to be every third or fifth person, including a harmless looking little old lady. We were waved straight thorough.

There it is...Couples Negril in a nutshell!