Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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I just returned from my trip to Dunn's River that was from May 2nd to May 8th, 2000. The resort was fantastic, with the exception of the Scuba diving, which I'll get into a bit later. The trip from the airport to the resort wouldn't have been bad except for an extremely drunk gentleman who was screaming the entire time, that "A.C. is in the house!" He didn't shut up the entire 2 hour trip and was yelling in my ear. Numerous times, I was tempted to punch him in the nose, but restrained myself, since I didn't want to get into a fight 10 minutes into my vacation. I was in a bad mood for the first night of my vacation, but shrugged it off the next morning. We were greeted with champagne (no towel), and had to wait about 15 minutes for our room to be ready. It was no big deal, since this was our first Sandals trip and we just checked out the place. Our room was small, but nice and clean, in the two story Rialto wing, which I would highly recommend, since it is definitely the quieter area of the resort (with the exception of the piano bar which got loud for a night or two from 11 to 1 am with people trying to sing along to "Piano Man") All four of the restaurants were excellent, and I can't say enough about the service. My water cup was NEVER empty the entire time I was there, and that's pretty much all I drank. All of the waiters were pleasant and accommodating. Once in a while something took a little longer to get, but hey, I didn't have anywhere to go! The breakfast buffet was nicer than I expected, although I got a bit tired of it after 7 days. The lunch buffet was also good, but I found myself wandering out to the beach grill for chicken sandwiches and fries every day. The grill was open almost 24 hours and was pretty quick about getting the food out, except when it was mobbed, in which case I came back in a few minutes. Like I said, I had nowhere to go! The snorkeling guys were nice, as were the sailboat guys. My problem was with the Scuba guys. One word of advice: IF YOU ARE A SCUBA ENTHUSIAST, DO NOT COME TO SANDALS DUNNS RIVER. The water is very choppy and more than half of the dives were canceled. There are actually a few good reefs and walls, but if you want to get more than 3 dives in the week you are there, go to Sandals Negril. The guys were extremely quick to cancel dives (there were three a day, at 9, 10, and 11:30), and NOT make them up. One of the days, they took us over to Sandals Ocho Rios to dive since it is less choppy over there. They however, did not offer to do this any other day when they canceled the dives, which made me unhappy. The Scuba guys just didn't smile (except for Fitzroy, whom was actually nice) and acted as though we were annoying them for trying to dive. On Sunday they dive only once. When this dive was canceled, since it was our last day, we asked if there was anything they could do. They said, "Sorry, Mon!" Then later, we found out that they told a few couples to take the shuttle to Sandals Ocho Rios to dive over there and didn't tell us! That pissed me off to say the least. In conclusion, if you want to stay in a beautiful beach resort and want to relax and eat good food, this is the place. HOWEVER, if you like Scuba diving, this is NOT the place for you. I will not return to this Sandals based soley on the diving, because there is no way I am going to make a trip all the way to the Caribbean and not dive. But like I said, if Scuba is not important to you, this is a wonderful place to spend time. Next time, I will either try Sandals Negril, or a different island altogether.
Alycia and I spent the second half of our honeymoon at the all- inclusive Grand Lido Sans Souci after spending 3 nights in St. Lucia at Stonefield Estate (which we have written about separately). We arrived in Montego Bay in the afternoon of June 10th, 2000 and took a cab (included with our package) for a harrowing 2-hour ride to Ocho Rios. Even after experiencing the treacherous roads and drivers of St. Lucia, we kept our hands clenched to the seatbelts with eyes bulging as our driver passed every car on the road doing less than 55 miles per hour. Although it is expensive, the airplane shuttle service from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios would have been a nice alternative. After arriving at Sans Souci, the social director for the day, Kevin, gave us a warm welcome and most of the information that we would need for our 5-night stay. There was also an orientation session for new guests the next morning that was helpful in familiarizing ourselves with the grounds. All reservations for formal dining and spa treatments need to be made at arrival or soon after to insure availability. It seems that the reservation system, and availability rate, is one way the resort keeps down the number of visits you make to the really nice restaurants there. A policy of formal jacket only admittance also works well in a hot tropical climate. We were given a room with a Jacuzzi bathtub, as requested, in room block D which was centrally located and a short walk to all areas. The room was a little small with no patio and an obscured view of the ocean which could only be seen from the right angle. Those who aren't as interested in the Jacuzzi tub (it only has room for 1 person) would probably be happier in an equivalent Beachfront Suite with a patio or balcony. We, however, did enjoy and use the tub very often, and it seemed an even trade for a nicer room. Another disappointment about our room was its poor mechanical condition. It started with the screen on the bathroom sink exploding off the fixture as soon as we turned on the water. Every morning housekeeping would screw it back on and every evening it would pop back off again. At one point one of the plastic directional jets in the Jacuzzi popped off while we were bathing, but it managed to stay together after screwing it back in only once. The mattress was comfortable but had a large soft spot or divot in the middle of it from years of use. The wall mounted air conditioning system had an odd smell to it that subsided slightly after I cleaned its dirty air filters myself. A small refrigerator was housed inside a wooden cabinet, which had a door that would not close properly because of its age and condition. Maybe I'm starting to nit pick about details so small, but it seemed these conditions were odd for such an expensive up-scale resort. Again though, overall we were satisfied with the other aspects of the room. Housekeeping would clean the room well in the late morning, and then return in the afternoon for new towels and turndown service. The refrigerator was always stocked well with beer, pop, and bottled water (the beer was by request). The air conditioning system had a remote control and kept the room very cool. There was a small TV with satellite service from the U.S., and a small boombox type radio/CD player next to the bed (it was however permanently wired into the wall outlet and could not be moved into other rooms). The food we had at the informal dining restaurants (beach grille, Italian restaurant for breakfast and lunch, and room service) were all excellent. The service was prompt, professional, and courteous, and the quality of food was very good. The buffets were always fresh and stocked well, with the selection of dishes varying somewhat each day. They would stage wonderful special events outside with dinner featuring carving stations, ice sculptures, and lavish food presentations. For an afternoon snack we especially enjoyed the spicy jerk burgers available at the beach grille. The formal dinner we had at the Italian restaurant (reservations required) was very nice but nothing too out of the ordinary. Our "jacket required" meal at the French restaurant was the best at the resort, with the food and service a step above all others. Again though, for males it does seem a bit odd to be wearing long pants and a jacket in 80į to 90į weather. As for the water sports available (water skiing, wind surfing, scuba, snorkeling, kayaks and small sailboats), most were canceled during half our stay due to weather conditions. The rough Caribbean Sea was stirring up sand and reducing visibility for snorkeling and scuba diving. By the last day it was calm enough to get in some good water skiing, but we suggest taking advantage of good weather when you have the chance. The resort offered many different excursions outside the grounds to different attractions nearby, but we did not take advantage of any of them. We did hear from other guests who said that they especially liked the Dunns River Falls area. All of the resort staff we met were helpful and courteous although some were much friendlier and more honestly enthusiastic than others. We both enjoyed the complimentary spa treatments although the treatment staff visibly did not seem to enjoy their jobs too much. Overall, we had a wonderful time at Sans Souci. It certainly is a vacation that is hard to come home from after being treated so well. Alycia noted that she wished that she had brought more formal wear as every evening the majority of women were dressed at least a step above casual. We both agreed we would come back again if traveling to Jamaica although it would be a tough choice between the luxury of Sans Souci and the natural beauty of southern St. Lucia.
This is our third trip to Jamaica, we have been to COUPLES Ocho Rios and COUPLES Negril...So this time we decided to try GRAND LIDO BRACO. There June 9-16, 2000. GLB is approximately an hour drive from Montego Bay. Other trip reports give excellent descriptions of the lay out of Braco, I will give you a brief overview of the resort. Grand Lido Braco is actually two resorts in one, textile side and a au natural side (not clothing optional). Entering the main gate you will drive pass a golf course and tennis courts, arriving at the Town Hall Reception center. Separating the textile from the au natural side is the Village. The Village consist of several small shops, the La Pasta Restaurant, Piacere (French) Restaurant, Disco, Main Bar and Piano Bar, Victoria Market Restaurant (serves breakfast buffets, lunch buffets and a la carte at night, along with nightly entertainment), Nanny's Jerk Pit Restaurant and Japanese Restaurant. There is also a gym and spa. Vendors set up on the streets to sell crafts each day. Off to the side of Victoria Market is the main textile pool and swim up bar/ with a small hot tub. The textile room side, located to the right of the Village, consists of 12 Blocks of rooms plus a Clubhouse and hot tub. Blocks 1-6 are Beach front rooms and Blocks 7-12 are Garden view or Ocean view rooms, all with coffee pots, no refrigerators. The textile side has its' own beach along with a wedding gazebo. The Au Natural side is located to the left of the Village, consist of two Blocks of rooms. There are three types of rooms for this side: Jr. Beach front Suites consisting of one room one bath, A One Bedroom Beach front Suite consisting of two rooms and 1 1/2 baths, and A Luxury One Bedroom Suite consisting of two rooms and 2 baths, all with refrigerators and coffee pots The au natural side has the hugest winding pool in Jamaica with a swim up bar, plus a land bar next to the pool. The pool is so large that you can either be by yourself (for first timers doing the au natural experience) or be around others. There are plenty of lounge chairs and floats around the pool, also on the beach. There are two hot tubs on this side, one is small (hidden in foliage) and the other is huge (could hold 40 people) located near the pool. This side also has its' own clubhouse for ordering snacks and drinks, (anytime of the day or night), plus an au natural tennis court on this side, too. This side also has its own au natural beach, completely separate from the textile beach. The foliage and outer appearance of the room blocks on au natural side are much nicer than the textile side. Braco offers several water sports, such as diving, snorkeling, wind surfing, kayaking, water skiing and glass bottom boat rides. Most of these activities were canceled during our stay due to windy conditions. This was no problem for us, cause we loved to vegetate around the au natural pool, talk to others and stay cool with the warm breezes blowing from the ocean. There is always a constant breeze at Braco. Braco offers numerous off site excursions such as Ocho Rios Shopping trips, Dunns River Falls trip, Martha Brae Rafting, Horse Back Riding (textile or au natural), these will cost extra ranging from $30 to $65 US. On Friday night, there is a Street Buffet and Dance; on Monday night there is a Toga Party at the Disco; on Wednesday night there is a Beach Buffet/Party and Entertainment; and on Thursday night there is a PJ "Dare to Bare" Party at the Disco, along with nightly entertainment at Victoria Market around 9:30 pm. Activity staff post daily schedule of events for both sides, but don't hold your breath, not all activities happen; remember your in Jamaica and NO PROBLEM MON. I am not going to bore you with our airplane trip from New Orleans. After we landed, late Friday afternoon, we went to the Super clubs desk and within minutes we were on a shuttle headed to Braco. It was a very nice ride, within one hour we were pulling into the front gates at Grand Lido Braco. When we got off the bus, we were given a moist towel and a glass of champagne. Check in was a breeze, since our agent, Dan Hill, had advanced us a lot of the paperwork to fill out prior to our arrival. We received our room keys and safe key, within minutes, a porter was taking us and our luggage to our room, we headed from the lobby, to the left going towards the au natural side. We passed Block A, then proceeded past the au natural pool ( this was the largest pool we have ever seen). We booked Jr. Beach Front Suite, but surprisingly , we were upgraded to a two room Beach front Suite second floor, located in Block B, across from the club house. When the porter opened the door, there was a bottle of Champagne on ice, and a cheese tray on the table. The porter showed us how to operate the a/c, showed us where the iron was and so on. The first room of our suite had a couch, two chairs, a coffee table, a TV, a small desk, a phone, a radio/cass/cd player, a half bath, a refrigerator (that was stocked with beer, red stripe and miller lite, water, soft drinks) and coffee pot. The second part of the suite, had a full bath with hair dryer (if you need a strong hair dryer, bring one from home), a king size bed, a TV, a dresser and two night stands, a phone and a radio/cass/cd unit. The floors were tile, on each side of the bed was carpeted mats. On the bed was a towel fanned out with several flowers placed on it, along with several flowers in the bathroom. The French doors opened up to a large balcony with two wooden chairs and table. A beautiful view of the beach and ocean. I could not have asked for any better maid service, ours was impeccable, always a very clean room, plenty of towels and refrigerator was always stocked with beer, sodas and water.. We hurriedly unpacked and headed for the Street Buffet and Dance. We meet several other couples from the yahoo and dennyp board. The buffet was spread out around in the center of the village. There was plenty of food for everyone's taste. I had no problem with the service from the drink waiters or anyone else. After the meal, there was a big street dance. Later we went back to our room, placed the room service breakfast menu on the door knob and requested delivery at 7:45 to 8:00am . Delivery was very prompt, there was more food on the tray than two people could have eaten, after that we tailored down the menu. Each day we were there, delivery was prompt, never late. Each morning, I would have a couple cups of coffee on the balcony and leave Deborah, my wife, in the room (she is not a big breakfast eater) and I would head down to Victorias Market for breakfast. There was all types of food for breakfast, from fruits, eggs benedict, made to order omelets, pancakes, bacon, sausage, some Jamaican dishes, and plenty of pastries. Service at Victorias for breakfast was fantastic. If your water glass, juice glass or coffee was half empty, a person was there refilling it, you never had to look for a waiter. Saturday we checked out the rest of the resort, found out where all the restaurants were, made reservations for the French and Japanese, found Nanny's Jerk Pit, the main bar, the disco and them proceeded to check out the textile pool and walked around looking at the textile side. There were several shops located in the town square. Finally looked at the crafts the vendors had to offer. Saturday and Sunday we laid around the pool. The resort furnished plenty of beach towels at the pool bar. We talked to other guest, met Chester and Carlon, the bar tenders for the au natural side. Everyone was extremely friendly and talkative on this side compared to the textile side. In fact the only times that we wandered to the textile side was for the restaurants at night, cause our side had everything we could want from food at the clubhouse to the grill at the pool bar which fixed lamb chops and jerk chicken for lunch. We had a chance to meet Cynthia, the fruit lady. She was wonderful to talk to. There was a resident artist, Tyronne, who painted beautiful pictures of scenery on the au natural side. In fact he impressed us, to the point, we purchased one of his paintings. We knew that he actually painted it, compared to those the vendors sold. From other trip reports, I have read where people burned/made a cd and left it with the resort. I decided to make one, with older reggae songs, current Latino songs and mambo songs; called it "Jammin at Braco 2000". The guest, along with the staff loved it, they played it over the pool speakers numerous times during the day. It is now part of Braco's music collection. Sunday we had reservations at Piacere (French) Restaurant. Dress code was more formal, required jacket and long pants for men and women, nice dress. The service was impeccable, the food was excellent, and wine was perfect, a Chilean variety. This is quite an experience. Our waiter Ellerton was extremely nice. Monday night another couple we met on the yahoo board join us with reservations at the Japanese Restaurant. Again the food was great, and service was impeccable. We liked it so much, we made another reservation there before leaving on Friday. Monday, just another day of laying around the pool, talking with everyone and walking on the beach. I would strongly suggest bringing water shoes if you are planning on walking in the ocean, very rocky bottom. We picked Joseph to be Mayor for our side. He was a fantastic guy. I had brought with us a bunch of temporary tattoos. Everyone wanted one, so Joseph pinned me with the name " Tattoo Man". We all had a blast with them. Monday afternoon, Drink Mixology was held at the swim up bar, it was hilarious. Tuesday night was Toga Night at the Disco, everyone got their toga sheets after the nightly entertainment at Victoria Market, went back to their rooms to get dressed. At the Toga Party, I would say that 97% of the people were from the au natural side and 3% from the textile side. After the dance, a lot of guest ended up in the hot tub on au natural side, partying till 4 in the morning. Next several days just ran together, having fun around the pool and the beach. On Wednesday, Tamika, activity staff member held body painting class. Several guys painted bikini's on their wives, from a distance they looked real. Wednesday night they moved the Beach Buffet/Party to Victoria Market due to chance of rain. The entertainment was good and the food was fair, nothing unusual. On Thursday, Braco had a buffet for the people on the au natural side, they set it up around the bar at the pool. It was great, in fact, better food than at Victoria Market. There was salads, baked fish in a sauce, chicken, grilled lamb chops, jerk seasoned steaks, and deserts. We didn't make the PJ Party that night, but understood it was fairly tame. Friday, well it was time to pack and check out, but we had a few hours, that we laid around the pool and had a last minute chance to talk to people that we had met. Friday, we also had a chance to eat at the La Pasta Restaurant before our shuttle left. Both of us had the seafood pizza, that was fantastic, highly recommend this one. Over all the service on the au natural side was excellent, from maid service, room service, bar tenders, and club house. A person could not have asked for any better treatment or service. The service and food, we found at the other restaurants, was excellent. Especially the French, the Japanese, and Nanny's Jerk Pit. Victoria Market, the breakfast buffet was good along with service, at night when it was a la carte, the food was displayed very nice, but no taste, but service was good. In my opinion, the entertainment at Victoria Market could have been better, since this is a superclub; COUPLES resorts had more professional type of entertainment. This was our first time at Braco, will not be our last. It was well worth the extra we paid to stay on the au natural side ($1500 per person, land rate for 7 nights), it was nice to just walk out of your room without clothes on and be at the pool, instead of paying less for the textile side, getting dressed and walking over to this side. The au natural side was the best of any resort that we have been to.
Trip 5/00 I do extensive research on the Internet prior to each one of our trips and so I like to write a trip report for those who enjoy reading about otherís experiences to help make their plans. We are in our late 40ís and this was our 5th trip to the Caribbean, our 3rd to Jamaica. We had been to Couples in Ocho Rios twice, once in 1993 and once in 1998. We talked about going to the Couples in Negril so I did some research and I found a special $1000 off for bookings in the year 2000 if you booked your trip before September 23, 1999. We booked our trip through Go Classy Tours in September and then waited for May. We like to travel in May as we find itís before summer vacation and hurricane season and after spring break. The rates are usually lower after April 15th and our Anniversary in is May. We receive the Couples brochure "Connections" which is sent out about twice a year. I noticed that they offered a complimentary one-way flight from Montego Bay to Negril. The travel agent said I would have to make my own arrangements for that. I called the Couples number and they said to fax down our flight information, which I did about 6 weeks before we left. We flew Air Jamaica from Chicago at 6:30 AM on May 13th. The flight was on time and we landed in Montego Bay at 10:35 AM. Customs and Immigration were a breeze. There was someone to help us find the Couples desk and they gave me a few forms to complete. They found our names on the Air Link list and we were brought to another terminal to catch the short flight to Negril. We waited about Ĺ hour and then we were taken out to a small plane. It was a 6-seater plane, room for 5 passengers and the pilot. The flight was very smooth and interesting as we followed the coast down to Negril. We arrived in Negril about 15 minutes later and someone from the hotel was waiting for us. We walked into the lobby of Couples a few minutes after 12, our room was ready and we went to unpack. It was nice to get there so early in the day. The room was very much the way others have described. No one really showed us anything and it took a day or 2 before we figured out the temperature controls. The room had a large ceiling fan and sometimes it was nice to use it and turn the air conditioning off. The TV had about 6-8 channels, actually we didnít even watch it except for the daily activities, which were shown on Channel 13. The hair dryer was not heavy duty and I was glad that I brought mine from home. They had the usual lotion, shampoo, soap and conditioner. The maid filled our ice water pitcher and replaced towels twice a day. It was nice to have the CD/tape player in the room as we brought some favorite CDís and tapes from home. Our room was in block 9 on the first floor. We had a view of the ocean from our patio if we stood up, but our patio looked out over a garden area and natural pool. The landscaping was beautiful, with many natural pool areas, flowering shrubs, and palm trees. I liked being on the ground floor; it was a little more convenient. Orientation was held a couple times a day, they explained when the different restaurants and bars were open, and about the other activities available during the week. THE FOOD There were usually 3 choices for dinner. The formal restaurant, Otheheite, was open every night except Monday. It was the only restaurant that required reservations. We were able to make reservations up to 3 days before we wanted to eat there. The food was excellent, although a big eater might find the portions small. There were 5 courses; appetizer, soup, salad, entrťe, and dessert. They also offered truffles, after the meal and coffee or tea. The beach grill turned into the Mediterranean restaurant in the evening. They had an antipasto bar, salad bar, dessert bar, and several choices of entrťes. The main restaurant was open air and buffets were set out for breakfast and lunch. Some nights they had specialty buffets and other nights they offered menus. On Monday evening the specialty restaurants were closed and they had a Caribbean buffet. They had a huge variety of foods including many Caribbean specialties. I noticed that they would set up different specialty buffets at different times. For example, one night there was a sushi bar, one night there was a Middle Eastern buffet, one lunch was Tex- Mex. They also set out snacks and desserts after 10 PM. We never even looked to see what they had. A couple mornings we had continental breakfast delivered to our room and we ate on our patio. There was so much food that we started skipping meals, we couldnít possibly eat every meal. THE DRINKS The bartenders were great; they had special drink of the day and were happy to make any drink using top shelf liquor. Sometimes they were busy and it took a little longer. They also had "red flag" service on the beach. You could get a flag at the water sports hut. When you wanted a drink, you just put up the flag and a waitress would come and take youíre order. Though they didnít have a wine list, they always offered wine at dinner, usually offering a red and a white. It was not a problem when we ordered champagne for our anniversary in the fancy restaurant. THE BEACH The beach and pool were extremely beautiful. The beach had soft, white sand and the water was very clear. Some people took out breadcrumbs and small fish would come for the food. We noticed that a school of small fish would swim around us when we were in the water. There were plenty of floats and lounge chairs, with lots of sunny or shady areas. It was possible to walk along the beach in front of Grand Lido to the south and to the north where they were building a large new hotel called the Riu. The first day locals came up to us and hustled us, but after that they left us alone. At the south end of the beach towards Grand Lido there was a small fenced off nude beach with a small self-serve bar. It wasnít used much, but the manager told us that they planned on building a hot tub in the area and improving the bar. THE SPA I used the spa once for a massage. I thought the prices were reasonable and the service very professional. There were many services offered including hair styling, manicures, pedicures, braiding, aromatherapy, reflexology, etc. The spa/beauty complex is in a beautiful area by some natural pools. THE WATER SPORTS Water sports equipment included kayaks, hobie cat sailboats, a sunfish sailboat, and wind surfers. The water sports guys were happy to give instructions and then send you on your way. They would watch to see if you had trouble, and occasionally they needed to help someone. We used the hobie cats quite a bit and if the wind was blowing, they were a lot of fun. They had snorkeling trips twice a day and glass bottom boat rides. We went on a snorkeling trip. We snorkeled for about 30 minutes and saw lots of fish and coral. I didnít think the coral was as pretty as I had seen in St. Lucia, but there was plenty to see. The water was very calm, which made the snorkeling a little easier. They also provided instruction for anyone who needed it. My husband is a certified diver and he went diving a few times. You need to sign up the day before at the scuba hut. If you want to dive the day after you arrive, remember to sign up that day. Parasailing was not included, but we decided to try it. There are guys who come by on the beach and bring you out to the parasailing boats, or the resort will call someone for you. It cost $70 a couple, the operators picked us up and brought us down to 7- mile beach. It was neat to see all the other resorts and the surrounding countryside. THE TOURS There are not as many tours provided as at Couples in Ocho Rios, but they offered a few different tours. We did not make it to the sunset party at Rickís Cafť and actually heard mixed reviews about it. Apparently there can be lots of people from other hotels and locals, and it can get noisy and very crowded. We heard the beer was $3.50 and other drinks were more expensive. We did go on the Sunset cruise and that was a lot of fun. We went on a catamaran and they had live entertainment, rum punch and red stripe. They brought us to a place called the "Pickled Parrot". You could jump off the boat and climb up a ladder and jump off the cliffs if you wanted to, or you could just stay on the boat. This was a trip not to be missed, unfortunately it was cloudy, so we didnít have much of a sunset. We also went on a shopping trip to Negril. The brought us to the "Times Square" mall, downtown stores, and a craft market. Lots of the stores were the same, but it was a good time to get souvenirs, crafts, etc. THE ENTERTAINMENT Usually the house band would play during dinner, and then they would have different types of entertainment at night. It would last for about 1 hour, after that the disco/piano bar was open. We only made it to the disco 1 night; usually we were too tired to stay up after 11 PM. On Monday night they had Caribbean Night and they had a steel drum band, Wednesday night was a beach party with fire eaters and limbo dance. Thursday night they had a bon fire on the beach, Friday night they had a guest and staff talent show, and a few nights they had singers. All the entertainment was pretty low key. One night they had a wine and cheese party in the piano bar at 6:30 PM. The piano player was great and we had a good time singing and listening to him. MISCELLANEOUS Some final thoughts: They had candleholders in all the rooms, but they didnít have candles. We bought one at the gift shop, but you may want to bring a small candle from home. When we first arrived at the airport in Negril, the guy at the Couples desk gave us some check-in forms. I completed them while we waited for our Air Link flight. When we got to the resort it made our check-in a little quicker. If you want a lounge chair in the disco, as soon as the band quits, head up there as they were quickly occupied. I got this idea off the Internet and I will definitely do it again. Bring some gifts for your maid. I brought childrenís books, hair ribbons and clips, colored markers, pens, and pencils. They are not supposed to except tips, but it was fun to bring something for her and her children. There is a huge new resort being built on the north side of Couples. Our room was on the other side, but we noticed no construction noise and didnít hear anyone else complain either. Sign up early for the fancy restaurant, you might have to wait a couple days to get a table for 2. Comparison of Couples Ocho Rios and Couples Negril: The beach and pool are much nicer at Negril. The buildings are much newer. The bay is calmer, and the resort faces the west so the sunset is nicer. At Couples Ocho Rios the wedding gazebo is nicer, but if you want to get married on the beach, Iíd pick Negril. The 2-person hot tubs at Ocho Rios are great and the resort is more "elegant". If you are into "au natural" the nude island at Ocho Rios is better than Negrilís nude beach. There are more tours included in Ocho Rios. All in all I think itís probably a toss up and Iíd go back to either one. This was the first time we didnít use a local travel agent. We heard about Go Classy from satisfied customers on the Internet. We were very pleased, our documentation was all in order, they sent all the necessary forms, and our airline seats were great. THE TRIP BACK Of course we had heard about the "bus ride from hell". We decided to take the bus back to see a little of the countryside. It happened to be Saturday, and maybe there wasnít as much traffic, so it only took us 1Ĺ hours to get to Montego Bay. I didnít think the ride was so bad. We would definitely do it the same way next time. It was nice to get to the hotel so early and we only left about 1 hour before those who were flying back. The worst part of the trip was probably the airport on the way back. Air Jamaicaís computers were down so we stood in line forever and then they started taking 1 flight at a time and managed to get out only a little late. We had no time to buy anything at the airport and so we came home without rum. But, not to worry. On the way back we thought about returning yet this year. Go Classy did such a great job, we checked into another trip. They gave us such a great deal; we couldnít turn it down. Weíre going back to Coupleís in Negril the end of November!
Trip: Early Summer 2000 Arrived on Sunday, bus ride was fine -- time flew cause driver told of history, sightseeing and jokes along the way; we were in Ocho Rios before we knew it. Stayed in South Tower (9th fl.), rooms were adequate, nothing spectacular, although the Bath and Body Works toiletries is a nice touch. Watched the Knicks beat Miami Heat while waiting for our luggage; around 4:30pm, threw on swimwear and jumped in the pool. Nothing to do on Sunday night so we explored the resort. When checking in, make sure you give either a cash deposit or credit card or you can't make any long distance (or collect) phone calls, had to go down and wait on line again to do this. I called mom collect and when she heard my name she didn't accept (costing her nothing, me $3.50) but boyfriend insisted on talking to his mom, which caused problems cause the phone system (on the entire island supposedly) was down for almost 2 days and a lot of guests were having problems calling the U.S. Also, ask them for a room safe lock at check in because we had to go back to lobby (3rd time) for that too. Maybe we went at a bad time of year as far as the disco is concerned, but Jamaica Me Crazy really sucked (we check it every night). People spent more time there drinking and watching big screen TV, it never got going during our entire stay so we partied off the resort at the Little Pub and Cocktail Lounge, both of which were great and inexpensive. Little Pub cost $2.50/pp to get in and Cocktail Lounge was free! Both were in walking distance from RJR and I must say that I didn't feel threatened in any way while there. When we decided to hit the Little Pub, we asked bell captain to call us a cab and he said just walk down the hill and around the corner. This was at 1:00 a.m. and we walked down, lived to tell and wound up at a great Jamaican party! :-) The 1 club we didn't get to but constantly heard good things about from the Jamaicans we met was Amnesia. Did Dunns River -- good experience although I'll never go again cause I was paranoid most of the way up that I would fall or someone else would fall and take me down with them, but glad I did it; boyfriend loved it and would have gone up again if I weren't there. Took the Red Stripe cruise to go snorkeling and Dunn's river -- I usually enjoy snorkeling but the water was rough and choppy, so just jumped in and swam around for awhile. Also did the Red Stripe Sunset cruise which was great! We used all the film we took and videotaped it, but of course the camcorder conked out at the worst time, so we don't have anything to show for it. Just 1 more reason to go back! The highlight of our trip happened off the resort. We went to Evitas for the MOST ROMANTIC DINNER I've ever had in my life! The weather was perfect, ate at sunset and the food and service was excellent!!! We just sat there awestruck by the view and agreed that life can't get any better than this! Food at RJG was good as well, but not great (we didn't starve!) The breakfast Buffet at Mallards court has something for everyone. Dragons was excellent, although the appetizer portions were smaller than my boyfriend desired. L'Allegro was good, we may have liked it better had we not gone to Evita's first. Definitely go to the "Taste of Jamaica Grande" night and test out the different restaurants. Cafe Jamaique is great for late night snacks, we were regulars there between 1:00-2:00am every night. My only complaint about the Grande's food/bars is that at least 1 place should be open 24 hrs (Cafe Jamique is the latest, closing at 2am). Also, snack bar located near the pool is not part of the all inclusive -- you must pay for what you get there. We ate at all RJR restaurants and they were all good. The Fantasy pool is so cool. We spent a lot of time around there, so much that boyfriend got sunburned by the 2nd day. I've never gotten sunburn so didn't know what to do, but luckily we went to the nurse and she gave him some solarcaine to cool him off. Spent a lot of time in the lobby bar area, where they have the most soft, comfortable chairs, coolest breeze and drinks! Also went to the casino, not expecting to win big but just enjoying each other and the resort. Didn't lose too much but had fun playing! :-) Didn't have to attend the tour orientation thanks to the wealth of info on the internet. The tour agent at RJG didn't even suggest the Red Stripe tours, I asked her about them and she took some flyers out of a drawer and booked it for us. She also booked Evita's for us, along with a cab ride there and back. The town: went to craft market -- the constant prodding to buy, buy, buy can be annoying, but understandable since this is how they make their living. We saw on the news and talked to a few vendors who told us that cruise ship passengers are discouraged to go to the craft market cause they say its not safe, which is a shame and not our experience at all. Cruise ship passengers spend all their time and $$$ in the mall across the street. The bottom line is at least 98% of the vendors (market and mall) all have the same merchandise, you just have to find a price you want to pay. We didn't haggle too much because we know they need the $$$ and the prices we paid weren't exorbitant. The mall across the street basically has the same stuff at double the prices, NO haggling -- and air conditioning! But it consisted mostly of jewelry stores. We also found if we had bought our liquor at the airport, we would have saved at least $4.00/bottle (more in some cases) than we did in Ocho Rios AND the liquor was cheaper at RJG stores than in town. We walked from 1 end of town to the other with no problems, no hassles, no threats, etc. We left on Saturday morning (just before Memorial Day) longing to stay 1 more day (even went downstairs and priced it), but people were checking in droves and it was at least twice as crowded as when we 1st arrived (and getting even more crowded by the minute), so we were kinda glad to go because the lines were getting longer, restaurants more crowded and the elevators were packed, whereas earlier in the week we had free reign on the resort. Plus I was afraid of rescheduling a flight on a holiday weekend. All in all, we had a great trip and were discussing when we will return by our 2nd day there! Weather was good for us, it was very hot and although it was partly cloudy during each day, it rarely rained and the overcast weather helped my boyfriend survive w/his sunburn. It only rained twice -- once while we waited to check out, so can't ask for more than that! Although we really enjoyed the Grande, we may stay somewhere else next time (have to fight w/my boyfriend on this) just to get a different experience, but not because we didn't like RJG. At least we know we can always count on old faithful RJG!
Trip 2/00 - Getting There You can fly from Montego Bay to Negril for about $200 per couple, round-trip. This is worth every penny. - General Impression This is an excellent resort. I particularly appreciated the orientation toward couples. There are plenty of resorts in this world catering to families and let's-party-'til-we-puke singles. I wish there were more resorts like this one catering exclusively to couples who wish to get away for a romantic holiday. This is a fairly good size resort (234 rooms) and the week we were there it was full. There wasn't an empty room and the staff and facilities were strained a bit. What few negative comments I have are related to this. While I would definitely go back to Couples, I would try to avoid peak periods. - Food I thought the food was very good, particularly in the fancy restaurant, but I'm not a fussy eater. I did think the wine was so- so, but then I'm very, very fussy about my wine. Fortunately, we coped by drinking lots of fruity rum drinks! - Service Despite the packed house, the service was very good with two exceptions: The Beach Grill was a disaster. It didn't matter what you were trying to order, both food and drink orders took forever even with repeated requests. This team needs a serious review by Couples' management. The other problem was that getting a drink anywhere, anytime did require patience. This was due to the number of guests, not lack of effort on the part of the bartenders. They were working hard! There were just too many people requesting too many drinks. Couples needs another bar to handle the load when the resort is at full capacity. Other than those two things, I was impressed with the quality of service. NOTE: I have been told by others who have been there recently that the bar service has been greatly improved. - Rooms We had a Garden View room. It was nice but by no means fancy. Since we didn't spend much time in it, the room was more than adequate for our needs. Some rooms are noisier than others. We were in Building 1 next to the Beach Grill and it was surprisingly quiet. On the other hand, rooms near the main restaurant receive a lot of noise up until 11 PM. (At that time the resort becomes very quiet.) Be aware there is major construction happening on the North side of Couples. It appears someone is building a new resort. I didn't meet anyone from the buildings near the construction area, so I don't know if the construction noise is a problem or not. Just be aware of it in the event you are a light sleeper. - The Beach Once in a great while something exceeds the hype which preceded it! I LOVE this beach. Nice, clean sand, clear, smooth water and, best of all, a line of trees along the water. You may move in and out of the sun all day, yet remain near the water. This is a treat for those of us prone to sunburn! Couples' beach is actually nicer than Grand Lido's beach next door. For those who are interested, the section of the beach near the Grand Lido is an au natural area. (The map on the web site was and may still be out of date.) It is visually as well as physically fenced off, but one does see nude people on the beach and in the water in front of this area. Although the resort actively promotes its au natural beach, the usage was light, perhaps a dozen or so couples each day. Also, the web site doesn't mention it, but topless sunbathing is allowed on the entire beach. Some days few women were topless, other days close to half were. The mixture of beach attire was interesting. At any given time one could see everything from a one piece bathing suit to nothing more than a minuscule thong. No one seemed particularly upset or excited by either the nude or topless sunbathers. People simply did what they were comfortable with and allowed everyone else to do the same. Unfortunately, the beach did get crowded at times (especially the shady portions). If you weren't on the beach by 9 AM, you would not get a chaise. Also, the beach towels were small, old and worn. If you have the luggage space bring your own beach towel. Beach management is another area Couples needs to work on. For what they are charging, they can afford more chaises and decent beach towels! - Activities Rick's Cafe: This is a bar/restaurant perched on a set of cliffs. The cliffs range in height from a few feet above the water to about 35 feet above the water. Patrons cheer as people jump off these cliffs. Lots o' fun! Wear a bathing suit and bring a towel so that you, too, can challenge death by stepping off a cliff! Note: to buy drinks at Rick's you must use tokens purchased near the entrance. When we were there, four tokens cost $13.20 US which would get you four Red Stripes. Since the bus leaves a few minutes after the sun sets, two beers apiece is about all you have time to drink. Pickled Parrot: Even more fun than Rick's. There is a rope swing and a small cliff to jump off. There is also a water slide, but you have to pay $5 US dollars to use it. Things they don't tell you: the catamaran can't dock at the Pickled Parrot. It anchors just off-shore and you have to swim to get to the fun. Think about this before taking your wallet or expensive camera. Some- times this is an afternoon trip, sometimes it is a sunset cruise. If you go during the day, be careful about the sun exposure and the alcohol consumption. You can get really fried two different ways!!! If you do the sunset cruise, be aware the temperature drops quickly once the sun goes down. NOTE: you could always take a taxi over to the Parrot. It isn't that far and would allow you more time to have fun. Snorkeling: OK, but in comparison to some of the other islands I've been to, nothing to get excited about. If you have your own mask, bring it. We had difficulty using the equipment Couples provided. Nightlife: I was surprised at how early most of the guests retired to their rooms. It is a pretty quiet resort. They have a good house band that plays until 11 PM. After that the only entertainment is in the piano bar. - Smoking There were a lot of smokers (cigars and well as cigarettes) when we were there. The staff seems oblivious to it. If you don't smoke, ask for a non-smoking room (ours reeked of stale smoke the first couple of days we were there). Be aware the staff won't always ask you if you wish to have dinner in a non-smoking area. I forgot to ask for non-smoking seating once and had dinner that night near a cigar smoker. And, yes, there was some ganja trade going on that week. Not much, though. - Security The security at Couples Negril is very tight. You will never feel unsafe while there. Security staff are a constant presence. - Misc. Advice Bring LOTS of sun block and use it liberally! In the winter the breeze can be strong and deceptively cool. There were some painfully bad sunburns that week. For those who have never been to the Caribbean before, be aware that it takes a couple of days for things to "dry" in this humidity. Yes, we use the word "dry" loosely here. Bring at least three swimsuits, perhaps four for a week long stay. (Unless, of course, you are going to go au natural!) The above applies to T-shirts as well. Between sun block and sweat, you only get a couple of days wear from a T-shirt. Try not to be shy. We met lots of nice people in just one week.
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