---Recommendations/things we liked---
- Take the orientation! Beyond getting a sense of the resort, youâ€™ll hopefully learn:
-- The various eateries, when they serve, dress codes, etc
-- Various entertainment, when/where
-- A thumbs-up to the on resort vendors, who are officially invited by the resort.
-- A warning about the beach vendors
---- I canâ€™t say enough good things about Kianda, who gave us our walk-around of the resort. Regarding the beach vendors, she admitted that most of them think the tourists are stupid and ripe for taking advantage of. As our week unfolded, I absolutely got the sense that some of the vendors felt this way.
- If you plan to buy from a vendor (much more on this below), decide how much you will pay for an item of interest before you ask how much it is or produce any money. If possible, have exactly that much money set aside away from the rest of your money, so the vendor isnâ€™t tempted to push you for more.
- Get a small waterproof camera. I have a fairly pricey DSLR that I considered taking along, but Iâ€™m so glad I thought-twice on that. It would have been a nightmare coddling my big camera all the time, and I bet by the 3rd day I would have just left it in the room for the rest of the trip. It was a little pricey, but the one we got can even output in RAW for post-processing (a big reason I shoot with my DSLR in the first place). So worth being able to take the camera literally everywhere and not have to worry.
- Go snorkeling
- Use the hot tubs adjacent to the swim-up bar pool during cold afternoon rain showers. Can't imagine using them during Summer any other time
- The martini bar has way more than traditional gin & vodka cocktails. Donâ€™t be afraid to check it out if you want something light or fruity.
- We were very happy with our room, which was a small concern after reading some other reviews. We opted for the Great House, which added a relatively small charge for guaranteeing your location, and as far as I can tell, an ocean view, too! The whole building was kept cool (even chilly), and the room had everything we needed. A few of the drawers didnâ€™t close perfectly, but a/c was very solid, tv worked (not that youâ€™re going to watch a lot of tv, but Olympics were wrapping up while we were there). If I had to complain I would ask why there were so many dead bugs on the floor in the balcony area. They were very small, gnat-sized, and an impressive number of them. That could have been cleaned up prior to our arrival I would think. The Great House has a bunch of other stuff in it like Patios, the main gift shop, internet cafe, aura lounge and night club. Plus it puts you right next to the swim up bar and the grill for late night eats.
- Some other reviews have bad things to say about the pools at CSA, mainly that they are either small or dirty. We havenâ€™t been to a lot of resorts, so we donâ€™t have anything to compare against, but I can understand these points. They are not huge and the swim up pool area does get pretty dirty as the day goes on, mainly, I think, because the higher area farther away from the bar â€śwaterfallsâ€ť into the lower, small area at the bar, so debris canâ€™t help but collect there. Plus people are coming and going all the time. This all said, it didnâ€™t stop us from enjoying the pool at the swim up bar just about every day in the afternoon. It may just come down to your own personal taste, or what youâ€™re looking for in a resort.
- Speaking of which, the resort in general is very â€śoutdoorsyâ€ť and a bit worn, as many others have said. Youâ€™ll see â€świldâ€ť cats running around, youâ€™ll find crabs under the bridges, little lizards inside and out. If you are looking for a grand, polished and contemporary resort, I donâ€™t think CSA is for you. For us, it was perfect!
- Look up the One Love Bus Bar Crawl. Facebook has a good page. This was probably our favorite activity from the entire trip. If you are into the idea of visiting a bunch of local bars off resort, with a group of other open-minded vacationers, getting out of your comfort zone and seeing a VERY different side of Jamaica, definitely plan on doing this! The organizer does appreciate you calling him in advance so he can get a head count, and he may not even stop at your resort if no one has reached out to him. He doesnâ€™t officially charge anything, but a good tip is encouraged. We planned on giving $20 for the 2 of us, but by the end we couldnâ€™t help giving him $40, knowing that he uses some of the money to give back to the community. A really eye-opening and fantastic experience.
---Things I wish I knew---
- Night-snorkeling requires at least 6 people to go, with a $35/person additional room charge. After day-snorkeling halfway through our trip, we really wanted to try going at night. However, it didn't work out because we couldnâ€™t find 4 others. If night-snorkeling sounds at all appealing to you start trying to find other interested people early in your trip so you can make it happen.
- Men require sleeved shirts at ALL evening restaurants (exception being the Caribbean Grill). My understanding was that only Lemongrass and Feathers had dress codes, but this is not true, I found after walking the length of the resort from the Great House to Palms in a fairly nice sleeveless shirt, then being politely turned away.
- The Caribbean water is super salty. If you have sensitive eyes, bring goggles for sure.
---Grievances/Opportunities for improvement---
- Ultimate Chocolate is the pianist at the piano bar. Heâ€™s super fun and charismatic, however we felt he relies a bit too much on audience participation. He drew attention to everyone who entered the room, had them introduce themselves, where they were from, the occasion for visiting Jamaica, etc. In similar vein, he makes the entertainment very much driven by the audience. Chocolate and his singer â€świng manâ€ť (canâ€™t remember his name, nice voice though) will sometimes start songs, but most of the time it was like forced karaoke. I made the (small) mistake of embracing this and went all-out singing a song early in the night. Not long after, Chocolate selected another song FOR ME that I wasn't very familiar with and it wasn't a great time. We think it would be a lot more fun if they did most of the singing, and the audience could participate if/when they want. If you love being in the spotlight, then this place is for you. Ultimately, the vibe was just not what we were looking for, and the main reason we didnâ€™t go more than once.
- The random beach vendors really are a huge nuisance, stalking the beach sunrise to sunset and beyond. Reading tons of reviews prior to our visit, with many others highlighting this part of their experience, I was still not prepared for just how intrusive they are. This was the main tarnish on the vacation, and a rather large one for me personally. Before I say anything more, I want to be clear: we learned tourism is the number one source of income for Jamaica while we were there. This makes many locals directly dependent on visitors to their country, and our desire to purchase from them. This is the sad truth of it, so I say the following with this in mind. If the vendors did no more than announce their wares before moving on, that would be one thing, and perhaps not even warrant a mention here. But it almost always crossed this line, straight into direct demands of your attention, not always taking a â€śno thanksâ€ť as the final answer (maybe I donâ€™t say it with enough finality?), sometimes calling out to a particular person several times, and even requesting you stop whatever you may be doing and come over to them so they can â€śtell you something.â€ť I am willing to grant some of this to cultural/social differences, but whatever the reason it still takes away from a relaxing vacation. If you want to spend several hours a day at the beach, mentally prepare yourself for incessant peddling. Wares I remember off the top of my head (gives you an idea of how often we heard them)
-- Cigars (cigars cigars cigars!?)
-- Rings (ring ring ring, Jamaican ring!)
---- A story from my experience: I approached, gave a hearty â€śhi mon, how ya doing?!â€ť and said I was interested in a ring. He started showing me all of his wares, which is all well and good. I asked how much rings were, and he said 2 for $20. I knew from talking with others that he had sold them for $5/each. Fine, this is how it works. Before I could retort, he immediately starts trying to sell me as many things as possible, saying heâ€™ll â€śgive me a good dealâ€ť as he linked together 2 bracelets and 4 rings in assorted colors, ending with â€śjust give me $45 for these.â€ť I said â€śwhoaaa there, Iâ€™m not spending that much, I donâ€™t even think I have that much (I knew I did, but hoped it would slow him down a bit).â€ť So I said â€śwhat can I get with $20, I donâ€™t want to spend more than that) to which he said â€śput something [money] out and weâ€™ll figure it.â€ť At this point, we should already know what I can get for $20, right? Should be 2 rings--heâ€™d already told us--but suddenly he was willing to let the 2 bracelets and 4 rings heâ€™d earlier linked together go for $20, when not 60 seconds earlier they were worth $45. So I reach for my money clip, instantly regretting I hadnâ€™t set aside a loose 20 in my pocket, since Iâ€™ll be revealing just how much money I have. Of course he sees that I have more than just the $20 Iâ€™d said I was willing to spend, and asks that I add $5 or $6 more, which he justifies by saying he helps out kids in the area. While it may be absolutely true that he lends local children a hand, the way he leveraged this anecdote for more money did not inspire faith in the story. I caved and gave him five $1s anyway, because Iâ€™m bad at saying no, which I regretted all the way home as I didnâ€™t have small bills for tipping.
-- Wooden carved goods
-- Hats: This guy very rarely reached out to anybody directly or proclaimed his wares, which sticks out now that I think about it.
-- Sea shells: Also a more quiet seller
---- A small story. I eavesdropped the conversation between a woman selling massages to a vacationer--letâ€™s call the latter â€śKelly.â€ť Both parties were very amicable, with Kelly indicating she wasnâ€™t interested in a massage now, but maybe would be later. The seller asked for the vacationerâ€™s name, and Kelly gave it. A short time later, a man was walking the beach, again selling massages. When he reached Kelly, he asked â€śAre you Kelly?â€ť Once Kelly confirmed, he admitted â€śthe girls told me about you.â€ť I could not help being impressed that the masseuse vendors collected names, shared them with others in their group, who then came and checked up on those potential clients.
-- Parasailing (Paaaaaaaaarrrrraaaasailing?)
-- Musicians offering to sing for you
-- Asking you to bring them food from the resort
---- I saw this occur multiple times, once asked of me personally. Of my own personal experience, a man approached and asked that I get him 2 beef patties and a soda from the grill.
-- Sidenote: we heard that Couples Negril (as opposed to Swept Away), which is situated nearby in Bloody Bay, does not have nearly the same number of beach vendors, because there are not as many different resorts there. If/when we return to Jamaica, this will be a serious consideration for us. I only wish we had visited the other resort while we had the chance (you can arrange to do this for free through the Couples Romance Rewards program).
- Perhaps worse than the vendors, the employees of the water sports area are also extremely focused on selling extra-cost activities, in our experience most notably private boat tours for $100/person (unless you have a larger group where it drops to $100/couple). We were given the spiel no less than 5 times over 7 days. Usually youâ€™ll hear about it when you are there doing another activity like kayaking or the Catamaran, but they will even stop you while you are walking past them on the beach (away from the water sports area itself) to give their pitch. The last of the times we were approached was by someone I recognized as having already given us the pitch on a previous day. I stopped him short and asked, â€śis this about private boat tours? We know about them and weâ€™re good for now.â€ť He quickly pivoted, claiming only a desire to tell us about the free lessons the water sports area offered--a lie to save face or make me feel stupid, Iâ€™m pretty sure.
- We went on a Ride Nâ€™ Swim (horseback riding) Chukka excursion at the old sugar plantation. We had a great time, our guide was really friendly and knowledgeable, but a couple things got under my skin, mainly that several elements seem designed to get you to spend more money (going back to tourism being the #1 revenue stream).
-- We were told to bring a bunch of different items like suntan lotion, bug spray, cash for lunch, etc. We bought a small backpack, but ultimately were not allowed to wear the backpack for the ride (no idea why). So everyone is forced to pay for lockers, $5/each.
-- After the tour is over, the shuttle is mysteriously absent for at least an hour, clearly an attempt to encourage getting food and drinks at the restaurant there. My feeling is that weâ€™ve spent money on an all-inclusive; I donâ€™t want to eat/drink off the resort if we donâ€™t need to.
-- Be prepared for the tour to take the better part of your day. We did the morning tour, getting picked up at 9:10am and we didnâ€™t get back until 3:30-4:00pm. Itâ€™s a bit further away than you might expect (45 minutes?), and will likely include picking up others along the way (this is fine, it just adds time).
---Small misses in food/service---
- Didn't have smoked marlin for sushi (arguably half the order, although they supplement with something else) at Sea Grapes either of the times we ordered it. First time, they made sure we knew and asked if we still wanted to order. The second time, I asked specifically if they did have smoked marlin before ordering, and received a nod. Turns out they still didnâ€™t have it, so maybe they didnâ€™t understand my question. Disappointing.
- Didn't have goat cheese for veggie pita at Sea Grapes, expressly advertised and in our case a main reason for choosing it. They told us that ingredient was missing as they were serving it, so no opportunity to reconsider.
- Didnâ€™t have blue curacao for some of the menu drinks
Much of the above missing ingredients is perhaps expected at an all-inclusive. Youâ€™ve already paid for â€śeverything,â€ť so there is no incentive for the resort to actually have everything available (they donâ€™t lose money for not having something, unless this actually causes people to not return).
- We ordered a beef kabob on one of our last nights, and the meat was extra tough. We knew through another couple that the night before was the lobster/steak dinner the resort holds for all returning Couples guests (incentive to go back!). We could not help wondering if the beef kabob was leftover from that event, or maybe it just wasn't a great cut.
I hope this has helped you in some way. We read a ton of reviews before booking our visit, and wanted to give back here. I realize there are a number of negative things in this review, but I figure these are the types of things I wanted to know about when we were in research mode.
To be clear:
- The beach is absolutely divine.
- The food was really great every day we were there. Even the buffets left us impressed, always something different from day to day.
- Service was pretty much always great. People will not be smiling 100% of the time as some other reviewers seem to expect, but realize they are at work, not on vacation like you.
- Certainly waaaaayy more positives than negatives overall. Have fun!
To start, I will say that my wife and I got married 3 years ago, at Dreams Punta Cana. I couldn't have been happier with that trip and thought it would never be eclipsed. Then we went to CSA and I was proven wrong. Just an amazing experience all around. While not as extravagant as some other resorts we have visited, it has a homey feel that I can't really explain. The employees are fantastic, particularly Mohan with the watersports and Jermaine who helped me permanently damage my liver at Aura night club. The food is very good for resort food, and the beach is just incredible. Add in all of the included things like snorkeling and the booze cruise, and it is just a perfect vacation spot. The rooms are nice, and they will stock the bar with whatever you like. Gotta recommend Rick's Cafe as well if you want to go off-resort. The only thing I could possibly say bad is the drive to the resort is long and kind of depressing, but it really puts things into perspective for me. We will hopefully be returning to both places!