Couples Swept Away Review (insanely long and detailed)
Posted 31 July 2008 - 09:01 PM
I’ve FINALLY gotten around to posting my super long review of Couples Swept Away in Negril, Jamaica! So sorry, I’ve been a little busy. There is so much to say, I’m having trouble sorting through all of the information!
Our wedding was amazing and exceeded all of my expectations. I cannot imagine a “traditional” wedding! I am trying to convert everyone I know to DWs! Not only was it a perfect fit for us, but we accomplished what we wanted in getting to spend time with our families.
We had a total of 30 guests – 10 were there for the full week with us 8/7 and the other 20 joined for the long weekend 5/4. Our guests thoroughly enjoyed themselves and many are planning a return trip, some as soon as December! A lot of us are torn between going back to CSA because we had such a fabulous time, or trying a different resort. We are afraid we will be disappointed in anything else!
The Travel Authority – B
At the time we booked I had not yet found the forum. I think most of my issues with anything could have been resolved if I had had BDW. Our travel agent was extremely nice and really did try her best for us. However, this was her first group vacation with multiple gates and departure dates and first wedding group. It was a learning experience for both of us. Everything worked out for us and she did come through on the things I needed her to. I did feel like I did quite a bit of work myself, but whose to say I wouldn’t have done that anyway. I’m what some might call an over planner. I also would have loved to have given my business to one of the wonderful ladies here!
We did book as a group. Looking back, unless you have a major (i.e. financial) commitment from you guests, I would advise only booking the group for family/guarantees and allowing others to book however they choose. We ended up losing our deposit on 4 seats that people bailed on, to the tune of about $2000. That was based on 30 flying from Detroit, Louisville, and Kansas City.
The advantage to the group booking was that
#1 we got prime flight times. We were at our hotel by 2 pm and didn’t have to leave until 11am. Our longest layov3er was just over an hour, and there was only 1. One of our other guests had to leave the resort at 3am for the morning flight and on the way down had 2 stops, one of which was 5 hours. They essentially lost 2 days of their trip!
#2 Our flights were very inexpensive. We got them between $450 and $550pp. Others who were trying to go last minute with us would have had to pay $900 pp for the same flights.
#3 We were all together! Everyone from the 3 cities flew into Memphis and flew to Jamaica together. On the way home we all left together so it was kind of like having a chartered flight!
#4 We got a credit for 3 people, about $2000 because we booked so many. It balanced out with what we had to pay for the cancellations.
We were originally going with a different resort, but had nothing but problems in communicating with them and the recent reviews had all been terrible. It was Elaine who suggested Couples. We also looked at Sandals, but I really felt they “nickel and dime” you and they wouldn’t let us bring our own photographer even though she was a guest and they frown upon same sex couples. **All of this was my personal experience and in no way is meant to offend any Sandals bride**
When the new baggage regulations went into effect, I had to push, but Elaine did get a letter from the airline for each passenger stating our group was exempt and the contact info for 3 people, with TTA and NW, should there be any problems.
Flight (Northwest) – A
We flew coach all the way there. There were 6 of us flying from Louisville and we had 2 pieces of luggage each, including Mike’s golf clubs. They didn’t even question or baggage, so I am wondering if our exemption was noted on our reservation and in the system. This was really helpful since we brought all of our decorations, OOT bag items, etc. We each also had a carry-on bag with wedding attire, etc.
I carried my dress on the plane. There were no other brides on the plane with us so my dress was laid flat in the overhead compartment by itself and shut. The flight attendant said this would be better than trying to stuff it into the closet. She said if anyone opened the bin, o let her know and she would take care of it. The flight was totally full, and it was a Monday. They also let us board early as I required a little more time to finagle my dress into the bin. They even announced that we were getting married and the whole plane cheered! I thought it was cute but DH turned bright red!
On the way back, we were able to upgrade to first class from MB for only $70 per person. This was the best decision we ever made! I don’t know why I didn’t think to ask on the way down. I would have paid twice that! Mike is so big (6’5” 375#) that he was pretty uncomfortable on the way there. We were treated very well and it was nice to have snacks, a meal, and free alcohol!
On our last leg from Memphis to Louisville, we didn’t upgrade. It’s only an hour and the flight wasn’t full. The flight attendant did move some people up to first class, I guess to balance out the weight. I jokingly said, “but we just got married!” She was extremely apologetic, announced to the plane we were newlyweds, and brought us the first-class snacks and free champagne. Since our baggage had been checked thru, it still had the priority tags and was first off the plane!
Arrival (Sangster Airport) – B+
Our experience at the airport was a little chaotic, but we got through customs smoothly with no issues. It honestly felt like we were cattle being corralled! They strictly enforce the no cell phones/no cameras policy when you are in the customs line. Unfortunately we had a friend whose mother died suddenly and my MOH was on the phone. It didn’t go over too well, but it was easily resolved.
There is great shopping at very reasonable prices, especially for duty free items. Be sure to save room in your suitcases for Souvenirs that you can pick up there. If you forget cigarettes or want to buy them or cigars, do it at the airport before you head to the resort. They will be much cheaper. The same thing is true if you want a particular bottle of wine or spirits/
Transfers (Jamaica Tours ) - A
The transfers are included free by Couples. The Couples Lounge was great. I was still holding onto my dress because I didn’t want it to go to the wrong place. One of the porters took it and hung it up for me and guided me to a table so I could sit and watch it. Each bag was given a color coded tag and you double checked it before getting on the bus. They offered us free beer and sodas and water. They even let us get two for the road and take it on the bus. Our group pretty much filled up the bus. There was only one other couple and we invited them to our wedding.
We had nice plush buses with good AC, better than what I expected. The ride was smooth though I did feel like my life was flashing before my eyes on a few occasions. I later learned that all Jamaicans drive this way, so it’s no problem. The ride took about 90 minutes, including the time we were stuck in traffic. The driver pointed out scenes of interest along the way and offered to stop but we were all anxious to get to the hotel.
Resort Over all – A+
The resort feels like it is nestled in a rain forest. It is so lush and impeccably landscaped. And CLEAN! There were always people working around the grounds, but it was still quiet. There are private paths, hidden hammocks, streams, waterfalls, and koi ponds. It was very romantic with lots of little details, like inlaid sidewalks and logo path lamps. I love that while Couples is a branded resort, you don’t see it everywhere. Their logo of intertwined palm trees was apparent, but not overpowering. “Couples” wasn’t printed on every available surface.
There were tons of included activities and excursions,(glass bottom boat tour, paddle boats, kayaks, wind surfing, snorkeling, scuba lessons, catamaran cruise, etc.) I think that all of the activity available helped diffuse how “couples oriented” the resort was. It was great that everyone could do their own thing!
The staff were also very nice and were always looking to serve, share a smile, and accommodate your needs wherever we were. They really went above and beyond. Many learned your name on the first day so you could converse. We heard from return guests, that they were referred to by name each visit! The entertainment staff in particular was outstanding, Jeanine the Dancing Queen, O’Neil, and Dexter truly work from sun up to sun down and seem to love their jobs.
Check-in (Front Desk) – A+++
Arriving at the resort, it is impressive. While not opulent or massive, it feels luxurious and comfortable from the first time you step onto the property. We passed several resorts on the way to ours and were all very glad to end up at CSA. and beautiful. We were greeted with cold hand towels and champagne. The women were escorted in to begin the check-in process while the men stayed outside to confirm all of the baggage was in the right place. We were given our room keys and given a brief overview of the resort; a full tour and orientation is offered twice a day. I wish we had done this as we kept discovering new little details every day!
Over the course of the trip, we had several room changes. We were on the 3rd floor which had a spectacular view, but DH couldn’t do the stairs due to his bad knees. Some of our other guests also asked to change rooms for various reasons, though all do to location, not to issues with the room. The resort was at capacity so I know this was difficult for them, but they managed to get everyone situated. My MOH had booked one category of room that sold out and she was upgraded for free.
There was a mix-up we think. I think my mom got our suite because we have the same last name. She had champagne and fresh flowers in her room, on the ground level in front of the wedding alter on the beach. Oh well, it was no big deal. We had moved rooms anyway and were given a gift bag of Jamaican bath products in our new room, so who knows. The next day we got our fresh flowers and towel animals.
I meant to give them our OOT Bags to pass out but forgot. We just walked them to everyone’s room. We left some on the porches and nothing was disturbed.
Rooms - A
We all stayed in the Garden Verandah Suites. The rooms were very comfortable. Again, they weren’t opulent with marble and gilded fixtures, but it was comfortable. The entire property has a very “plantation” feel to it with dark wood, weathered tropical paint, and white. I think almost all of the rooms are in blocks of 4 (on the older side) or 12 on the newer. The older side rooms are actually bigger and each has it’s own hammock on the balcony or porch. Every room has a HUGE patio or balcony with a built in sofa, table & Chair, fan, and towel racks for drying. One of my guests slept outside on more than one occasion! Her room was next to the waterfall and she said it was extremely relaxing.
The bathrooms were really large. The tub was long and had a built in shelf/bench thingy. There was also a clothesline! The little touches were really nice and what made the difference. The towels were large and fluffy which was a bonus! No one in our entire group had a plumbing problem or hot water issues. That’s pretty good for 15 rooms!
The mini bar was actually full sized bottles with all kinds of juices, mixers, and appropriate glassware. They would also bring you a bottle of your choice if it wasn’t in the room. DH had them bring him a bottle of Jack Daniels. This was re-stocked daily. Our room had full cable and "regular", but nice TV. They are in the process of converting them all to wall-mounted flat screens.
The room was immaculately clean. Housekeeping was there twice a day to clean, re-stock, and turndown the beads. You can tell the staff was trained very well. They even unpacked for us and if we left anything out, they put it back where they had it before!
We weren’t offered an upgrade, but I wasn’t expecting one. The resort was full and we were comfortable. My dad offered to pay for us to move up to a beachfront room on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but we were settled and didn’t want to move.
Food - A
I am a caterer, so I am super picky about food and I tend to notice things that other people do not There were a few things I did not care for, but it was more of a personal taste thing than poor menu planning or execution. The Palms displays the day's offerings at each restaurant in the lobby area. Be sure to check it out! I figured this out about half-way through the week.
I was able to arrange group reservations for the 10 of us that were there at the beginning of the week through Debbie, the stateside coordinator, before we left. I don’t think any of our weekend only guests were able to get a reservation at either of the specialty restaurants due to schedule conflicts. Try and make reservations as early as possible, before you arrive is best. *Note you cannot reserve a table for more than 10 guests at Feathers or Lemongrass*
•Feathers – Gourmet Cuisine was excellent and the service was perfect. Dessert was the best! They brought out a sampler for each 2 guests that had about 12 different desserts!
•Lemongrass – Thai Fusion, they had lost our reservation and actually had us down for the next Tuesday when we would have been gone. I spoke with the manager very calmly and when he figured out I wasn’t going to back down, we ahead and seated us. It was about a 20 minute delay and that was the worst of our dining experiences. The food was great but some was super hot! If you can eat on the outdoor patio, do.
•The Palms – Buffet. It is in a beautiful open-air setting. Each evening’s dinner buffet has a different theme. The Alfredo was probably the best I’ve ever had. You can also order from the menu and get the whole buffet as well. There is no limit on what you can eat!
•SeaGrape – Vegetarian and Health food. I was super impressed to have an entirely vegetarian food option! The mezze platter was delicious and I think I had one daily.
•Patois Patio – another open air restaurant above the main pool with a Latin influence. Though it is an all inclusive, this place featured menu service.
•Cabana Grill – this was like a jerk hut with burgers, dogs, fries, empanada things, etc. Not my top choice for food, but you really can’t argue with Nachos by the pool!
The weather was beautiful until 20 minutes before the wedding and it rained like hell! I spent the night before in my MOH and BMs room. I fell asleep with the TV on and had been watching a movie on Cinemax. I awoke to soft core porn and was pretty embarrassed. Everyone else went to breakfast and I headed to the spa for my massage. I stayed in the room or at the pool most of the morning. Mike was insistent that he not see me on the wedding day!
My MOH did my hair and eye make-up for me. I didn’t see they point in spending the money at the salon, though I did see quite a few other brides who all looked lovely.
The rain essentially turned the island into a sauna! We were sweating like I don’t know what! The rain delay caused us to get a little behind, but I was really calm. Everyone else was really nervous, but not me. We were scheduled to start at 4 but it was probably 4:15-4:30. At that point I had no concept of time!
The officiant was a tiny little JOP. He had a heavy, heavy island accent that made it hard to understand sometimes! He had the e-mail print out of our ceremony and read straight from it. He did get lost a few times and mixed words up. “The bride of the mother will read a poem”. I also had the blessing of the hands in there. I thought it was super sweet on paper and cried every time I read it. I swear he was making stuff up or re-reading the lines, I don’t know. But the hands are now the joke of my wedding! 30 drunk people screaming about hands will start to get on your nerves...I swear he sounded like the priest from the Princess Bride! Oh well, we are married and can laugh about it now! At least I think we are married; he didn’t have us read our vows…But he was very sweet and funny.
The heat was a little crazy. We almost lost a BM, but luckily she sat down before she passed out. I didn’t know until after the ceremony this happened. The minister stopped the wedding twice so we could wipe ourselves down, we were so sweaty! I think they were worried one of us would pass out too! I’m so glad I had tissues and fans for the guests!
We did get several on-lookers from the beach, some of whom we had invited. Couples does put up wedding in progress signs and stations a guard on each end to keep people from walking through the ceremony site and getting in pictures.
Reception: Garden Gazebo and Patois – B+
The garden reception was lovely! It looked amazing to have the bright turquoise table cloths in contrast with the green, lush garden. The centerpieces weren’t set out as I had planned, but still looked very good. I also discovered that the memory candle hadn’t been set out anywhere at the ceremony or the reception so I had to go get it and set it up. In my dress.
We had champagne and cold hors d’oeuvres. I requested some delicious rice paper wraps we had at the Thai restaurant earlier in the week and they got them for me! They also brought around cool cloths to wipe ourselves down. We were in the garden for about an hour and a half, taking pictures and socializing. I would have like to have had pictures on the beach, but we had to clear out because there was another wedding after ours. I didn’t think about going to a different spot…
We cut our cake, which was beautiful and really tasty, and offered toasts. (I only had the e-mailed inspiration picture of my cake and I think it turned out well! It was made in house, not from an actual cake baker.) We then opened the floor up to anyone else who wanted to say something. It was very nice and I cried. We hired a Mento band for $150 to play during our cocktail hour. Unfortunately their van broke down and they couldn’t make it. The resort even tried to find a replacement band and couldn’t. They immediately went and got a stereo system and put in a CD so we had music.
The best part…ALL OF THIS WAS FREE! I was under the impression that we would have to pay for the HD’s but we weren’t charged. I don’t know if it was because they felt bad about not having the band. Since the band didn’t show, we didn’t have to pay either! I had been told at one point there was an additional charge for cake over 10 guests, but we weren't billed for that either.
In total I spent $280 for florals and decorations for the ceremony and both receptions. Everything that we brought down was done at no cost. We went with the Free Package only
We had dinner at Patois. We were seated at 2 long tables down each side of the room by the pool. This is the best place because of the view! They also printed menu cards for each guest! They were plain, but still a nice, unexpected touch. I just had the chef use whichever menu he wanted.
During dinner I slipped out and changed into my TTD. I was way too hot in the other. After eating, I simply hopped over the edge of the restaurant into the pool! (It started with a dare). Everyone went and got their suits and joined us in the pool. They even kept the swim up bar open for us at no charge! I had envisioned us all going up to the Aura Lounge afterwards and dancing, but the pool was just as fun. We did end up going there later, but I didn’t stay long. I was totally pooped!
Oasis Spa – A-
The place was stunningly beautiful! Everything was done in blue glass tile and there is a huge hot tub you get to relax in while you are waiting for your treatment. It is located across the street at the Sport Complex. I didn’t go over there until the morning of the wedding and we were missing out! It is super nice and they have a juice and smoothie bar. And Red Bull! I paid $9 for one in town and they were free at the hotel!
I had a hot stone massage ($95) the morning of the wedding and then the next day we had a couples massage. You get a free half hour as part of the free wedding package, but we chose to upgrade ours to the full hour ($90). I felt the prices were more than reasonable!
The locker rooms were large and comfortable. The only criticism I had was that they used towels instead of sheets to cover you. I like to be covered in sheets. Mike’s towels were a little small on his big body so they had to use 2.
Beach – A-
The beach was pretty shallow but long. They kept in very clean, raked several times a day, and kept the area patrolled well. We were approached by a few vendors but no one was harassing and if they linger too long or looked like they were bothering someone security came and sent them on the way. They have flag service where the waiters will bring you drinks from the bar, all you have to so is put your flag up. All of the chairs had cushions that doubled as floaties and they rocked!
Wedding Coordinators – B –
Debbie (Florida)/ Tamika (onsite)
There were a lot of things that can be explained with Debbie. She was brand new and apparently the coordinator before (that I had originally been dealing with) quit and left a big mess and missing files. On top of this, Couples Ochos Rios had just closed for renovations and there were a lot of displaced brides! The only real issue I had was that my wedding time slot had been given away because the first coordinator hadn’t filed it properly. I had one rather unproductive conversation with Debbie and then went right over her head. We were able to get the other couple moved, since it was only the two of them, and everything was fine. I’m sure Debbie could handle things now, but at that time she had only been in the position for about 2 weeks. She also wasn’t really aware of what the resort owned in the way of table covers, centerpieces, or the availability of renting them so I just decided to bring my own.
I met with Tamika on site later in the week. She had me arriving on Thursday and my appointment on Friday. I arrived on Monday. We were able to reschedule to Thursday but that did make me feel better that we had 2 full days to confirm everything. She was really surprised that I had carried all of my stuff with me and told me it was unnecessary. We met for over an hour to go through all of the wedding details. She was quite organized! We went through the ceremony and she details, arrangements for my spa appointments, etc. She arranged for the sound system for the ceremony. As long as I had all of my d©cor to her by 9am Saturday morning she said she would be able to take care of all of the decorating at each site. I appreciate that she didn’t try to up sell me on any additional packages or services. A simple no thanks was all it took.
On the day of the wedding, things were a tad chaotic. The resort had 8 weddings that day, which is why I think some things got over looked (including our bill?). It was my understanding that someone would go get the boys from our room or at the very least call! It wasn’t until I sent someone down to the alter that she said everyone was waiting on us, they had been ready. The wrong music was played as I was walking down the aisle, even though we had discussed it and the CD was clearly labeled as was the case and the program! My cake topper didn’t make it to the baker and I wasn’t asked for it until it was time to cut the cake. I wasn’t about to go get it!
Everything that went “wrong” really was a minor detail and my guests had no clue. Some things my mother didn’t even notice. All in all, the week went so well I can only look back on the experience with true happiness and satisfaction.
Posted 31 July 2008 - 10:54 PM
I am sooo happy everything went well for you and I have prob checked out your photos a million times over by now.
Thanks soooo much for an awesome review and putting some worries at ease!!
Posted 11 August 2008 - 09:26 PM
Posted 12 August 2008 - 01:21 AM
Sept. 23, 2008
Posted 25 September 2008 - 12:38 PM
Posted 25 September 2008 - 07:41 PM
| Originally Posted by NJ_bride |
Hi Erin! I have found your review very helpful. One question I have is were you quoted prices before hand through Debbie or the on site coordinators and were they what you actually paid? The reason I ask is Debbie just replied to one of my emails saying all price quotes are subject to change without notice. I have everything in writing but I don't want to be thrown a curve ball when I get there. Also did you have any off property guests?
Debbie did her best to get me prices before hand. The price for a private dinner increased twice between the time I started planning and when we arrived. She told me both times that I would have to book by XX date to lock in the rate. When I first started working with the resort last year, it was $35 pp, it then went up to $65 and is now $95 I believe. I didn't see the point in spending an extra $3000 for the private reception. That equals new dining room furniture, KWIM?
I paid what was quoted. $40 for the aisle runner, and $25 each for floral arrangements. I was quoted $11 per bag for rose petals and only paid $9.
I REALLY wanted a bamboo chuppa, but was never really got a price from Debbie. I e-mailed Floral Fantasies myself about different arrangements. The price they quoted me was higher than what I paid, volume discount perhaps?, but still would have been about $600 for what I wanted.
With Debbie, anything that you make arrangements for an is noted in your file should not change in price. My guess would be that things like the flowers, band, etc that the hotel does not control could be iffy.
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