Friday, June 08, 2007

Honeymoon Review

The wedding has come and gone and we're back from our honeymoon. I'll be posting a review of our vendors for our day but I just finished our very looong honeymoon review.

We spent our honeymoon at Couples Swept Away in Negril, Jamaica from May 28 – June 6, 2007. It was as close to a perfect honeymoon as it could get.

We arrived at Sangster International Airport (MBJ) by Air Canada on time but after a big Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet landed. This created a long wait to immigration in a long and windy corridor. We thought we were smart in completing our forms (one per person, front and back) but we forgot to complete the departure information on the bottom of the front so had to fill that in quickly before getting into the immigration queue. We got through immigration, picked up our luggage (already waiting for us off the carrousel) and breezed through customs (no line there).

After customs, we saw the Couples Lounge and checked in. We were relieved of our luggage and advised we’d be leaving within 25 minutes. Shaun went for a smoke and I went to the washroom. As I came out, they were announcing departures so I quickly grabbed two Red Stripes from the bartender, found Shaun and we got on the shuttle bus.

It started pouring after we landed and it looked like we were in the middle of a monsoon. Water levels on the streets were close to sidewalk height which made for gigantic puddles for buses and cars to navigate through. We were stuck in a traffic jam for most of the journey out of Montego Bay as cars were moving like turtles in the torrential rain. The usual ride that would take 1:20 or 1:30 took close to two hours (we were actually the lucky ones, the next day, other guests’ trips took close to four hours as it was even worst road conditions). We had one stop for a washroom break and a Red Stripe refill.

We arrived at the resort to cold towels and champagne. We checked in and were immediately taken to our room with our luggage right behind us. Oceanview Verandah Suite room #3312 was our home for the whole ten days and it was perfect. Located near the central hot tub, we had a third floor corner suite with a view of the beach and water.

The first thing we did was go on an orientation tour that took us around the property. We found out where everything was and when we should book things (e.g. dinner reservations, water sports, etc).

After the tour, we attended the Managers Cocktail reception, which happens every Monday, where we got to meet some of the managers and staff and other guests. After this, we went for dinner at The Palms as it was International Night buffet. The food selection was not extensive and just above average in taste. The dessert selection was okay. We had our first cups of Blue Mountain coffee and were hooked. Overall, the meal was nothing to write home about. We were exhausted from traveling and were in bed by 10 that night.

Day 2, we started the day with breakfast at The Palms. Breakfast was good and included standards like omelet stations, bacon, sausage, juices and fruit but also more local specialties like ackee and codfish, callaloo (Jamaican spinach), and smoked marlin. After breakfast, we went to the beach and easily found loungers and floats. We spent the better part of the morning floating around in the water. Shaun went wakeboarding and enjoyed the run. We also took part in the tie dye t-shirt class and we got to take home some souvenir tees. Its $6 if you don’t bring your own but otherwise, it’s free (I brought my own tank top to dye). A couple brought baby onesies and they tuned out really cute.

We had lunch at Sea grapes and this was our daily lunch spot. They had the best sweet potato chips and spicy pumpkin jalapeno dip. They also had great chilled gazpacho and tomato and avocado soup, depending in the day, and quiche. I wasn’t too impressed with the snapper that everyone raved about but perhaps mine was overcooked that day. Sea grapes was actually a twice a day affair as we would stop off in the afternoon for some chips and take with us to the Swim up bar.

Our afternoon was spent on the Catamaran Cruise to Pirates Cave. It was drizzling when we left and rained the entire trip. It was fun but probably not as enjoyable if the sun was out. Shaun jumped off the cliff for $2 and we swam around the cliffs for an hour or so before taken back to CSA.

We had a snack at the Cabana Grill (also a daily stop). Their chicken patties with homemade jerk sauce were to die for! Their hot dogs were pretty good too. I found everything else too deep fried (e.g. snapper sandwich and calamari).

That night, we had a late dinner at Feathers and it was very good. I wasn’t feeling so hot (first day of sun and too many drinks) but the chilled cucumber and watermelon soup make me feel better. I had the shrimp and scallop kebab and it was okay but Shaun’s rack of lamb with coconut mashed potatoes was delicious. His main course sealed the deal – we decided to make reservations again for Feathers. The dessert was good but not memorable (given I have no recollection of it).

Day 3, we decided to try the room service continental breakfast and it was good. Nothing like having coffee, fruit, juice and breads delivered to your room for breakfast on your verandah. We went on our first of two snorkeling trips that morning. There are five spots where they take you snorkeling and we ended up at “Cuba” which is a coral reef half a mile from the beach.

We went to the Honeymooners Party that afternoon where we got to meet a couple other honeymooners (I would say 80% of the couples at the resort were on their honeymoon). We played some trivia to win some prizes and my research on the resort won Shaun a Jamaican bead necklace. It was little cheesy but we did win a prize.

Dinner that night was at Lemongrass. Being from Toronto and having Thai food often, it was actually pretty good. It wasn’t spicy enough to my liking but some Sambal chili added the kick I needed. I had the lamb rack with red curry and Shaun had the beef stir fry. Dessert was banana fritter with ice cream and a trio of desserts. The trio wasn’t that great except for the coconut delight which was caramelized coconut and that was delicious.

We rarely stayed up for any night events as we were often too tired but we stayed out for a bit for the Bonfire on the beach. It was quite romantic but too hot near the bonfire.

Day 4, we went on an excursion to Black River to see the crocodiles, Appleton Estate for a rum tour, and YS Falls. It was a long day traveling but it was great to see the different towns. We had what you would either call the most efficient driver on the island or the craziest. We hiked up the falls, swung on a rope swing, jumped from the falls (a small jump) and just relaxed.

Dinner that night was at Patois Patio (no reservations needed). I had heard that service was a little slow there and that was definitely true. Appetizers came quickly but our mains took a while. Perhaps their oven isn’t equipped for so many pizzas that need to be made? It was a good dinner with delicious appetizers.

Day 5, we each had a private tennis lesson (the first of four this trip) that morning and had lunch at Sea Grapes but also grabbed some salad and stuff from The Palms.

We upgraded our free his and hers half hour honeymoon massages to a 50 minute couple massages and we had our appointment that afternoon. It was very relaxing.

Friday night was supposed to be the beach party with dinner on the beach but because of strong winds (red flag on the beach for a couple of days), they decided to have it at The Palms even though there was no rain. The Jamaican buffet and the entertainment were good.

Day 6 and Day 7 were spent mostly on the beach with another snorkeling trip to “Mexico”. We also walked to Times Square shopping mall with Rob and Gena, a couple we met on the Black River/YS Falls excursion in the afternoon. Not as many vendors approach us on the beach along the way and we got a good price on souvenirs there.

Instead of a private dinner on the beach (too many bugs to my liking – did I mention the 30 bites all over my body as a souvenir?), we opted for a dinner at The Rockhouse. We saw a beautiful sunset and it was a romantic dinner overlooking the cliffs. We got a complimentary shuttle to The Rockhouse and it was $10 on the way back.

When we got back to the resort, we took a nap then headed to Casino & Auction night in the Aura Lounge. Shaun hit it big on the roulette and we got a bottle of rum to take home with us.

The last three days went by in a flash. Monday morning was spent making a beaded bracelet with Jimmy and a palm leaves hat with Dennis. The hat making hat is highly recommended. Everyone was asking where we got Shaun’s hat and wanted their own.

Our last night’s dinner was at Lemongrass and my dish was way too spicy. Of course, I asked for extra spicy squid red curry and that’s what I got. Not advisable in the hot weather. It was a great way to end our trip, having dinner under the stars.

We left Wednesday morning and were sad to leave such a wonderful place. Our bus back to the airport was fast (1:20) and we got through security and immigration quickly. Our flight home was on time and pleasantly uneventful.

All the staff were great but we have special mentions for Edwardo (Bamboo Bar and then Swim Up), Romaine, Janel, Andre (who we’ve renamed Smooth Chubbz), Richard, and Maximo.

It was wonderful to meet all the couples vacationing at CSA and some we even recognized each other by message board screen names.

While CSA was the best place for a honeymoon that we can think of and we’ll be back one day, we’re not sure if we’ll be avid repeaters as there are so many other places to see and unfortunately limited funds. We’ll definitely be back for an anniversary trip at some point as there will always be a special place in our heart for Couples Swept Away.

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