Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A lushly landscaped property filled with waterfalls, grottos, beaches, and lakes -- but the rooms and many of the public areas could use updates
Couples Sans Souci originated as an upscale time-share apartment complex in the 1960s, and changed hands several times over the past half century before finally landing under the umbrella of the couples-only Couples Resorts. Since then, the property, which retains its apartment complex-like design, with multi-unit buildings sprinkled throughout the 35-acre grounds, has added a great number of amenities (several pools, restaurants, and bars; a spa; and a water sports center) as well as new rooms, which are located on the far end of the resort near the beach and behind the main pool and Palazzina restaurant.
What differentiates this Couples property from the three other Couples resorts -- and perhaps most other large-scale resorts on the island -- is its lush, unspoiled setting. Narrow paths and stairs wind through thickets of jungle, and hidden enclaves are seemingly around every corner -- serene gazebos located in the middle of heavy palms, a natural grotto hidden away behind a quiet stretch of sand, a natural lake that’s home to a population of birds and reptiles, and a maze of walkways and footbridges traversing jagged chasms filled with the rising and falling tide. The resort even features its own majestic waterfall, which flows directly from a steep slope into the sea, where guests can glimpse the resident mascot, a sea turtle named Charlie.
Despite the gorgeous natural setting, Couples Sans Souci is still a full-service resort with three restaurants, four bars, four pools, two beaches, and plenty of additional features and activities. Still, when compared with other resorts in the Couples chain, it does seem a bit lacking. The bathrooms are dated and the rooms are showing wear (such as the occasional stain and dirty tile grout). Rooms did get upgraded technology in 2009, including flat-screen TVs and MP3-enabled alarm clocks -- but the quality of the furnishings and maintenance falls short of the competition.
Located close to Ocho Rios’ city center on the main resort drag
Nothing worthwhile is within walking distance from Couples Sans Souci, which is typical for resorts in Ocho Rios. Still, plenty of attractions are a short drive away, and the resort provides a free shuttle to virtually all of them.
Rooms have colonial-inspired nautical style, but are showing wear, and direct ocean views are hard to come by.
Rooms have quaint, British colonial style with nautical flair that might look at home in a Cape Cod bed-and-breakfast: blue and white striped comforters and furniture, white wicker chairs, poster beds, and woven natural fiber rugs.
But while the rooms are spacious and feature private furnished balconies, they are pretty basic, and showing wear. Of all the Couples resorts, Sans Souci’s 148 rooms are the least impressive. Grout in the tile floors is looking dirty, stains can be spotted on the walls, and the sections of wall around the air conditioning units is often warped and cracking. In many of the suites, small living rooms feel crammed with furniture.
Another disappointment is the dearth of ocean-view units. Most of the rooms are set quite a distance back from the beach, and have either garden views or partial ocean views. Even those high-end suites, such as the Angela Bassette Suite, feature ocean views that are obstructed by distance and quite a few trees.
Along a quiet cove near Ocho Rios’ city center
The resorts along Ocho Rios’ main strip all sit on lovely beaches, but one isn’t particularly better than the other. That said, Couples Sans Souci does have the benefit of a secluded cove location on its side. Still, the main beach here doesn't stand out -- in fact, the sand here is a bit coarse and the strip of sand feels a bit narrow.
The resort’s second beach, which is a nude beach from morning until evening, is quite a bit bigger, and even has a pool that goes right up to the sand -- something that would have been a lovely addition to the main beach. Still, guests are warned that this “au naturel” beach is not simply “clothing optional” but rather prohibits clothing altogether. Those who prefer not to disrobe will have to wait until the evening to check the scene out.
Several small pools, including one at the nude beach
None of the four pools at Couples Sans Souci are stunners. Rather, each is small to medium-sized with a bar nearby and a decent view. The main pool, which is located near the main beach and close to the Palazzina Restaurant, overlooks the resort’s oceanfront and features a small swim-up bar. At the cliff-top mineral pool, a small bar serving snacks is just a few steps away, as is a mineral grotto and a waterfall that leads to a steam room. Still higher up on the grounds is the Balloon Bar pool, which is fairly small and unremarkable, and was empty every time I walked by it. Lastly, a small pool with a swim-up bar is located at the nude beach, where the scene is not “clothing-optional” but actually “clothing-prohibited.” This might be a bit of a bummer for those not willing to bare all, because this pool is easily the one with the best ambiance.
A small spa with treatment rooms that are immersed in nature
Though the main reception and salon portion of Charlie’s Spa (named for the resort’s famous resident turtle) are a bit underwhelming when compared with other Couples properties’ spas, Sans Souci’s tree house treatment rooms are a highlight. Perched among native jungle along cliffs that overlook the beach below and an unending horizon of ocean, these hideaways are far removed from the rest of the resort and offer a truly serene experience. The spa’s coolest treatment room, called Swept Away, is located at the bottom of a natural waterfall just at the sea’s edge. Guests can enjoy treatments to the hypnotic sounds of falling water, and even take a secluded dip in the sea via a private beach entrance.
The treatment menu is a bit more tailored than at other Couples resorts, though it still includes a wide range of therapies from Swedish and deep tissue to aromatherapy and hot stone. Other options include a variety of body scrubs, facials, and, of course, couples treatments.
No kids -- or singles for that matter --allowed
Couples Sans Souci is an adults-only resort by design. Children, and even singles, are not welcome.
Three restaurants, all with similar cuisine
Couples Sans Souci features three restaurants, but the variety of cuisine is not quite as diverse as many other all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica, such as the neighboring Sandals Royal Plantation or the Secrets Resorts in Montego Bay. All three of the dining venues seem to serve similar Caribbean-Jamaican style cuisine. Palazzina has both buffet and table service for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while Ristorante Casanova is a bit more upscale and serves dinner only. Both, despite their Italian-sounding names, serve plates with Jamaican influences. Bella Vista is the resort’s beachfront grill, which is open for lunch, dinner, and overnight to ensure that guests can grab a meal 24/7. Here again, the fare is generic with Caribbean flavors.
Four bars with all drinks covered in the all-inclusive price
Of the four bars located at Couples Sans Souci, The Balloon Bar is the resort’s most inventive; its unique decor references a famous island painting depicting a hot air balloon that hangs in the lobby. The sophisticated space has a grand piano and seating enclaves clustered around an octagonal-shaped bar. Intricate puppets hang from the ceiling in little hot-air balloons, and historic news clippings and drawings are framed on the wall.
The rest of the bar options are either swim-up bars or beach bars. The Couples Sans Souci policy to include all alcohol in the rates -- including champagne and top-shelf liquor as well as the usual beer, wine, and rum punch -- puts it in a higher league than most all-inclusive resorts.
A robust all-inclusive offering
Couples Sans Souci's rates include more than food and drink. Extras include excursions, water sports, top-shelf liquor, classes and clinics, off-site tours, airport and activities transfers, and even golf green fees at nearby Upton Golf Course.
Additionally, the resort has a no tipping policy, though there are a few instances where it is suggested: Caddy fees at the golf course are mandatory, and tipping the airport shuttle driver $1 per bag is customary.
Free Wi-Fi, shuttles to downtown Ocho Rios, and a gift shop
A fitness center, plenty of water sports, and a handful of free excursions
The fitness center is fairly basic, and even a bit small considering the resort’s size, however, there are plenty of additional ways to get active. At the beach, the resort offers free scuba diving and classes, snorkeling, kayaking, windsurfing, catamaran cruises, waterskiing, Hobie Cats, and glass bottom boat rides -- all of which is included in the rates.
Other on-site fitness options include tennis courts with free clinics, aerobics and dance classes, yoga, basketball, and beach volleyball. Additional off-site activities are also covered, including unlimited golf green fees (guests must pay additional for mandatory caddies), shopping excursions, horseback riding tours, and trips to the local Margaritaville.
Clearly romance is a big factor at Couples.
The resort caters exclusively to couples, so romance is obviously a major focus. Unlike some other adults-only options, the vibe here is mellow rather than party-hearty. A number of packages are offered to up the romance factor further, including the free honeymoon package, which features a couple’s massage and a bottle of sparkling wine. Other packages that cost extra include several private dining experiences and couples spa treatments. The resort also offers packages for guests who wish to renew their vows.
Free basic wedding packages are an exceptional value.
Taking the notion of an all-inclusive resort to yet another level, Couples Sans Souci offers free wedding ceremony packages, which include a non-denominational ceremony, champagne, a single-tier cake, a bouquet and boutonnière, and matching T-shirts. Photographers are available on-site for an additional cost. For weddings both large and small, on-site wedding planners are available.
The resort has hosted a number of big names over the years.
Tons of celebs have stayed at the Couples Sans Souci, both in its current state as a Couples-branded resort, as well as during the property's previous incarnations. Those suites that have hosted the same celebrities over the years have been renamed in their honor. Famous and infamous past visitors include Oprah, Steve McQueen, Angela Bassett, O.J. Simpson, and Luciano Pavaratti.
Built in 1960s as an upscale apartment-resort complex
The property was built in 1966 as an upscale 16-apartment resort complex, and still retains much of the original design, which accounts for the variety in the room layout and size, as well as the multi-unit buildings spread across the grounds. Following Couples Resorts’ acquisition of the grounds, the property underwent several renovations, the last of which took place in 2008.
Rooms and many of the public areas need updates, especially when compared with other Couples resorts on the island.
The most recent renovation of Couples Sans Souci took place in 2008, and rooms received 32-inch flat-screen TVs and iPod docking stations. But the bathrooms are still very dated, and the rooms show wear: Grout in the tile floors is looking dirty, stains can be spotted on the walls, and the sections of wall around the air conditioning units is often warped and cracking. When compared with other Couples resorts, including neighboring Couples Tower Isle, which underwent a 13-month renovation in 2008 and 2009, Sans Souci falls short.
Stairs and winding pathways are not suited to guests with mobility issues.
The expansive grounds and winding pathways through thickets of jungle are attractive, but they aren’t suited to those who have mobility impairments. The hotel does feature rooms that are ADA compliant, but virtually every public space is accessed via steps, making the resort a poor choice for guests in wheelchairs.
This 35-acre, 148-room all-inclusive resort has a lush natural setting filled with waterfalls, grottos, beaches, lakes, and jungles. It still has the features of a megaresort -- three restaurants, four pools, two beaches, four bars, a spa, and tons of free activities -- but it's one of the few large-scale resorts that manages to feel crowd-free and even intimate. The rooms and public areas could use some cosmetic updates, however.