Relaxed and sober, especially for an all-inclusive, this couples-only resort has tame activities like tennis lessons, massages, and piano bar shows. And with 312 rooms, it’s hardly intimate.
This isn't the type of all-inclusive with booming music on the beach and people getting boozy at noon. Couples sip Red Stripes and daiquiris on the beach, book-worming through light reads.
Couples wade near the swim-up bar, pecking each other on the cheek and giggling with white wine in hand. Couples stroll down the beach at sunset, taking photos of each other.
Despite the intense focus on couples, the resort isn't overly sexed-up romantic like the Grand Lido Negril. Rooms are pretty and the décor is simple, comfortable, and tasteful. Simple, modern but warm rooms are void of flowers strewn over the bed, towel art, and peek-a-boo bathrooms. Though the resort is quiet, and the grounds are lush and well-manicured, it is still a large all-inclusive with two lobbies and 312 rooms, so it hardly offers seclusion or an intimate environment. For this, Sunset at the Palms or The Caves are much better choices.
Being a single reporter here was tricky, given the couples only (and 18+) rule. Thankfully, my friend and colleague was on hand to be my "better half" for a couple of days. The official policy at Couples is to accept same-sex couples. But, in a country where homosexuality is illegal (between men, at least), our stay was made a bit uncomfortable. "Are you sisters?" we heard from nearly every male employee in the resort. "We're just friends," we'd reassure as they awkwardly backed away.
More doting service than at most all-inclusives, with a large, professional staff available at all hours.
Almost over-attentive, my water glass was refilled almost as often as I took sips from it. Plates, cups, and napkins were cleared briskly from tables. Like at most Jamaican resorts, I didn't encounter a single unfriendly staff member. Housekeeping, grounds-keepers, bartenders, waiters, and front desk staff are all friendly and helpful. The proportion of people available to help guests is also impressive: There was always at least one person attending to me at every restaurant and bar.
A 90-minute ride from Montego Bay airport (now known as Sangster International Airport), it's far from Negril's public beaches, restaurants, and shops (guests rely on cabs and hotel shuttles to get around).
Couples Swept Away is on Negril's Seven Mile Beach (it's really seven miles). The majority of the resort is on the beachside of Normal Manley Boulevard, but the fitness center and spa are across the street. Security guards are posted on either side of the street and act as crossing guards when guests go between sides of the resort, making the resort feel more exposed than others in the area. The hotel is at the northernmost end of Negril, so taxis are required to go out to its restaurants, bars, and clubs, usually at least a 10-minute ride away (prices vary wildly depending on your driver). Resort shuttles take guests on organized excursions according to a changing schedule; check with the information desk for a current schedule.
Many guests get to the hotel from Sangster International Airport (MBJ) airport using the hotel's free shuttle. Otherwise, a taxi costs about $80 each way.
Negril's white-sand beach looks straight out of a Photoshopped magazine spread. Occasional sea grape trees and palapa umbrellas offer partial shade to guests. There's also a plentiful supply of plastic beach loungers with thick, white foam pads (that could double as floatation devices).
The hotel's guest-rooms, restaurants, and bars line the beach. Vendors, posted along a paved pathway that runs up and down the beach, languidly offer necklaces and key chains. Musicians stroll down the beach with guitars and bamboo scrapers, playing reggae requests for small tips. Lots of couples lay in lounge chairs, and topless women cuddle with their husbands (topless sunbathing is allowed here, like anywhere in Negril, though the adults-only environment makes it somewhat more prevalent).
The queen-size beds have simple frames, extra pillows, an especially thick and comfortable mattress, and soft, synthetic-suede coverlets to give an especially luxurious feel.
Free, fast Wi-Fi, a flat-screen TV, and an iPod dock are provided in each room, making them feel especially modern compared with the majority of Negril resorts where an old tube set and a CD player are the norm.
In the free minibar, there's a good supply of beverages that are restocked according to request (forms are left in the rooms). Juices, sodas, water, beer, and liquor are all included (unlike some resorts, where liquor isn't part of the deal). Liquor is only replaced if empty bottles are left for staff
For a couples resort, the bathrooms are relatively unromantic. Somewhat outdated fixtures, a single sink, and a small counter mean that couples have to take turns getting washed up in the morning. The short bathtub seems particularly unromantic. The tiled shower walls have some dingy-looking grout -- probably the only real sign of wear in the room.
All rooms have balconies, but they vary widely. Some are right next to resort pathways and don't enjoy much of a view, while others are giant with views of the beach. They're well-furnished with wicker furniture and daybeds. My "colleague" and I stayed in a Garden Veranda suite toward the back of the property, facing the resort's well-landscaped grounds. Heavily trafficked Normal Manley Boulevard was just behind the room, with the soundtrack of fast traffic carrying straight through the hotel's short chain-link fence.
Two pools are at either end of the property. Both are small and surrounded by a few lounge chairs. A stray couple might splash around the pool together, but in general most guests abandon them for the far more impressive beach just feet away.
Couples has one of Jamaica's best resort fitness facilities, complete with 10 tennis courts, two squash courts, an outdoor track, a well-equipped gym, aerobic studio, and private lap pool. Water-sports facilities are similarly well-equipped, and the spa offers several couples treatments. Unfortunately, the gym is open air--ceiling fans are hardly enough to combat Jamaica's heat and humidity. Thankfully, the aerobic studio is indoor and air-conditioned.
Tennis lessons are free and must be booked in advance, but if there are openings it's usually easy to get a lesson on short notice. Jamaican instructors give mellow lessons for all levels: "Easy, let the racquet do the work for you, re-lax mon, re-lax."
The resort's Oasis Spa offers a full menu of spa and beauty services in clean, dimly lit, and often romantic facilities designed for pairs. Expect to pay around $90 for a 60-minute massage; other services range from $25 to $200 (consistent with most resorts).
The resort's Great House houses the bulk of other amenities. These include a small and almost always empty casino, an e-mail room with several desktop PCs and a printer, shops, and the piano bar. Nightly shows at the Piano Bar are popular: Guests sit at the bar and around the piano playing "Name that Tune" and singing along with the songbooks provided. This bar area attempts to take on more of a nightclub vibe after the sing-alongs are finished.
The resort provides free shuttles and excursions to Negril's main attractions, like sunset at Rick's Café or shopping downtown. Reservations are required in the main lobby, but be punctual. Even though I was on the list, I showed up a couple of minutes late and the shuttle left without me.
Spotless and well-manicured (save some dirty bathroom tiles), staff members are always working to keep the property in tip-top shape.
In my room, the white linens and towels were crisp and free of stains. Tables at the restaurants -- indoors and out -- are cleared and cleaned promptly as guests finished their meals. Beach chairs are stacked and replaced every night, and the lobby is spotless. The slightly dirty tiles that were in my bathroom are the only noticeable offense, but otherwise the resort is impressively well-groomed.
From super-casual buffet meals and burgers at 4 a.m. to elegant dining, the food is great. Reservation requirements are minimal, but there's no room service for lunch or dinner.
The Palms Restaurant buffet offers a decent, international spread throughout the day. Traditional Jamaican choices accompany a variety of other options, and drinks service is prompt and friendly.
The Patois Patio, a full-service, Latin/Caribbean fusion a la carte, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The pleasant dining room overlooks the main pool and beach, but the fusion dishes are the main attraction. Guests especially love the seafood pizza.
The Feathers restaurant serves gourmet Jamaican dinners by reservation only. It also enforces a dress code -- no shorts, jeans, tank tops, or flip-flops. The menu is somewhat confusing -- courses are served as medleys of dishes that are listed separately. Titles like "Our Chef's Perception" are amusingly vague -- but the food is great.
The reservation-only Lemongrass Restaurant serves Thai food. Like most resorts, Couples just can't get Asian food right. This is the only restaurant guests seem to ignore.
Two grills serve lunch and snacks with sit-down service. Cabana Grill serves typical grill food like burgers and sandwiches from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sea Grapes Café served an excellent selection of snacks and lunches from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. -- choices are all vegetarian but include fish.