One of the island’s first resorts and a former playground for 1950s Hollywood A-listers, this 226-room, 19-acre Ocho Rios all-inclusive is still a sophisticated option. Public areas are chic and modern, but the rooms fall a bit short by comparison. The pools are also unexceptional, though they do have ocean views, and one has a swim-up bar. The gorgeous spa, robust all-inclusive offering (excursions and top-shelf booze are covered), beachfront location, and mellow vibe are the highlights here.
Nineteen acres of amenities and tons of freebies, yet the vibe is still relaxed and mellow
Even travelers who are turned off by the mass appeal of all-inclusive resorts might consider a property like Couples Tower Isle. It's decidedly more sophisticated than competing resorts on the island, such as Sandals and Breezes, and amenities are refined: There is a zen spa, a yoga and spinning studio, and diverse dining options including an all-vegetarian cafe, an upscale Caribbean venue, and an Asian-fusion restaurant that hovers over the water in a thatched-roof palapa. The property is reserved exclusively for couples, so the resort's focus is on romance and relaxation rather than boozing and hard partying.
Perhaps most compelling, though, are the resort's all-inclusive rates, which cover an impressive range of services. At some all-inclusives, rates cover meals and watered-down drinks, but Couples' rates include airport transfers, golf green fees, catamaran cruises, glass-bottom boat rides, snorkeling, scuba diving, tennis, horseback riding, and even honeymoon packages with a couples massage and bottle of sparkling wine -- all for free. Of particular note is Couples’ all-inclusive booze policy, which includes the top-shelf liquors in addition to the usual beer, wine, and rum punch.
Most of the Jamaican Couples resorts have a dedicated nude section; at Couples Tower Isle, it’s the resort’s namesake island, a small rocky refuge about a one-minute boat ride away from the mainland. It's a cool little spot, with a small pool, a little bit of beach, and a swim-up bar -- but guests must be willing to bare it all to experience it. The island's policy is not “clothing optional” but rather “clothing prohibited,” which might be disappointing for guests who prefer to keep things covered.
The guest rooms are the most disappointing aspect of the property. They're pleasant enough, with casual island style (pale yellow bedding, light blue accent walls, tile floors), but they're noticeably less luxurious than the rest of the resort. In addition, many units have garden views rather than ocean views. Though the hotel, which dates back to 1947, closed in 2008 for a massive 13-month renovation, certain details in the rooms still show the property's age (the tile floors and tile bathrooms in particular could use updating). In addition, the hallways are so outdated that they feel like they belong in a different hotel altogether.
Couples may be one of Ocho Rios’ more expensive properties, but the numerous extras included help explain the high rates.
Secluded at the end of Ocho Rios’ strip of resorts, with free shuttles to all the area’s attraction
Couples Tower Isle is one of the last properties in the long strip of resorts in Ocho Rios, and is situated along a secluded beach that faces a tiny picturesque island called Tower Isle. Nothing outside the 19-acre resort grounds is within walking distance; however, the resort provides a free shuttle to virtually every worthwhile attraction in the area, as well as to the Montego Bay International Airport.
2-hour drive to Montego Bay International Airport (resort provides a free shuttle)
8-minute drive to Ocho Rios’ city center for local shopping
Clean rooms with casual island style, but they're less luxurious than the rest of the resort
Compared to the Couples Tower Isle’s chic common spaces, the rooms are a bit of a letdown. Both the rooms and the hallways appear to have received less attention during the 2008-2009 renovation than the rest of the resort. The technology is up-to-date and includes 32-inch flat-screen TVs, iPod-enabled alarm clocks, and free Wi-Fi, but the decor isn't as stylish as one may expect, with bamboo furnishings, tile floors that are looking a bit worse for wear, pale yellow bedding, and light blue accent walls. The tile in the bathrooms could use regrouting, and most bathrooms have walk-in showers but no bathtubs. I also spotted a bathroom door that had splintered along the bottom.
Each unit has its own private balcony.
Private furnished balconies with either ocean or garden views
32-inch flat-screen TVs with satellite cable
Free fully stocked minibars that are replenished daily
Given Couples Tower Isle’s location as the last resort along the strip of resorts in Ocho Rios, the property enjoys a relatively isolated strip of sand that is both deep and uncrowded. Vendors are rarely a problem here either, although the resort does on occasion allow them in the evenings for guests who wish to purchase local crafts and wares.
Two unexceptional pools that don’t seem big enough for such a large resort
The main pool at Couples Tower Isle has ocean views, but the design isn't exceptional. It's a plain rectangle bordered on three sides by walls that house the Beach Grill, the Patio restaurant, and the fitness center -- as a result, it feels a bit cramped. Detracting further are lounge chairs that don’t have any padding, and a former pool slide that has been converted into a pretty pathetic makeshift fountain.
Things improve at the second pool on the other end of the property. Though smaller, this one includes a swim-up bar and a closer proximity to the beach for better views. The design, though, is also standard -- no dramatic infinity edge here.
Unlike at other all-inclusive resorts, activities are not the attraction here; the focus is on relaxation, and most guests can be found lounging or floating on pool rafts.
A high-design spa with salon, juice bar, and soaking pool
The award-winning spa at Couple Tower Isle is easily one of the best spas on the island, and has an art-deco-meets-zen style. It is housed in a stark white U-shaped structure supported by oversize columns, and there is a serene plunge pool crowned by a Buddha statue in its center. While it’s unclear if anyone ever actually goes into this little pool, it adds to the relaxing vibe. There are also few lounge chairs with brightly colored umbrellas, a small juice bar, and a relaxation lounge. The spa includes a salon, which features hair, make-up, and nail services.
Of the four Couples resorts in Jamaica, Tower Isle's dining stands out; its six restaurants include Jamaican, Asian-Fusion, and beach grill options
Variety is often difficult to come across at a Caribbean all-inclusive resort. Buffets tend to be the usual go-to, followed by a Jamaican cuisine restaurant, a beach grill, and maybe an Asian-Fusion restaurant. Couples Tower Isle has all of those options, but also a couple of extras, including a lunch buffet that rotates ethnic cuisines on a daily basis (for instance, Monday lunches are Thai-themed, serving up perfectly executed Pad Thai and Green Curry from the resort’s sous chef who hails from Thailand).
Couples looking for a little something extra romantic might opt for the Private Tower Isle dinner, which is one of the few things that costs extra (and it’s not exactly cheap). With this dinner, guests are carried via boat to the resort’s private island for a romantic candlelit dinner. Of course, couples are not guaranteed to be the only diners on the island and, depending on the night, they might even find themselves gazing at another dining couple in the distance, making the whole costly experience not all that different from eating in one of the restaurants.
Patio Restaurant serves omelets, fruits, and pastries for breakfast, and Mediterranean fare for lunch and dinner.
The Verandah serves Jamaican cuisine (such as curry coconut shrimp and grilled fresh fish) for dinner in an open-air space with ocean views.
Bayside serves Asian-fusion cuisine such as Pad Thai and snapper for dinner.
8 Rivers serves gourmet Caribbean cuisine for dinner in a fine dining atmosphere (jeans and sneakers not allowed).
The Pool Grill is open 24/7 and offers casual fare such as sandwiches and salads.
Unlike most all-inclusive resorts, Couples Tower Isle provides top-shelf liquor at no extra charge. This includes the good stuff like Grey Goose and Glenlivet, as well as all wines and champagne. Some guests complain that the mixed cocktails are on the weak side; however, the drinks are free flowing so ordering a double certainly isn’t off the menu.
Lots of extras included, from airport transfers to catamaran cruises
Couples' all-inclusive rates cover much 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.
All meals and drinks, including top-shelf liquor
Excursions such as catamaran cruises and glass-bottom boat rides
Water sports, including scuba diving, windsurfing, snorkeling, kayaking, and Hobie Cats
Activity classes include hat weaving, tie dye, reggae dance classes, and educational nature walks
Scuba diving courses
Horseback riding tour
Fitness classes including yoga, dance and aerobics classes, and tennis clinics
Dunn’s River Falls tours (transportation included)
Unlimited golf at nearby Upton Golf Course (caddies must be purchased at additional cost)
Shuttle to Ocho Rios city center for shopping and Margaritaville
A fair amount of nightly entertainment, though nothing is overly rowdy
The nightlife at Couples Tower Isle lies somewhere between hard-partying Breezes and asleep-at-the-wheel Couples Swept Away. Something is definitely happening every night, whether it’s karaoke, a patio disco, tarot card readings, a piano bar sing-along, live music from a local band, movies on the beach, or “boogie buses” that usher guests to Margaritaville. Clearly, the events vary in cheesiness, and couples who are on the island for romance may opt out of many activities.
A fitness center, plenty of water sports, and a handful of free excursions
Activities -- and free ones at that -- abound at Couples Tower Isle. The fitness center is fairly basic, and even a bit small considering the resort’s size, but 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. 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.
Romance is clearly a big factor at this adults-only resort
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 includes a couple’s massage and a bottle of sparkling wine. Other packages that cost extra include several private dining experiences such as the (pricey) candlelit dinner on Tower Isle.
It’s no surprise that a resort with a name like Couples is a hot spot for destination weddings. Plus, all-inclusive weddings take a lot of hassle out of the process for the bride and groom (they don't have to worry about coordinating food and drink for their guests during the trip). A number of packages are offered, and include a personal wedding planner, designer wedding cake, floral arrangements, and photographer, as well as practical elements such as a marriage certificate and officiant. The resort even provides U.S.-based planners.
While Couples Tower Isle might not be attracting A-listers today, back in the 1950s it was one of the island’s only resorts, and drew big-name celebs such as Errol Flynn, Joan Crawford, and Walt Disney.
Multiple certifications for eco-conscious endeavors
Couples Tower Isle is both Green Globe and EarthCheck Gold certified, and employs a great number of eco-conscious practices that save energy, water resources, and operational costs, and also contribute to Jamaica’s local communities. A favorite among guests, however, are the Nalgene water bottles that serve not only as souvenirs, but also provide a sustainable alternative to bottled water. Filtration stations are located throughout the resort for guests to fill up as needed. The resort also uses refillable toiletries in the bathrooms rather than throwaway plastic bottles.
The second hotel opened in Jamaica, with a Hollywood history
Couples Tower Isle was the second hotel ever built in Jamaica, opened in 1947 by Aba Issa, known as “the father of Jamaican tourism.” Back then, the island was emerging as a favorite getaway for Hollywood celebs, and notables such as Joan Crawford and Walt Disney were known to drop by the resort to escape the limelight. In 1978, Issa introduced the all-inclusive concept to Jamaica, and in the years that followed, he opened three other Couples resorts on the island (Couples Swept Away and Couples Negril in Negril, and Couples Sans Souci, which is also in Ocho Rios). Today, the company is still operated by members of the original Issa family, with Abe’s son Lee remaining part of the management team.
The property closed for a full 13 months between 2008 and 2009 for a complete renovation, and the upgrades are most noticeable in public areas such as the lobby, the restaurants, and the spa -- all of which have a colorful and breezy Caribbean style. While the rooms are clean, they don’t appear quite as modern as the rest of the property, featuring uninspired bamboo furnishings and mediocre bathrooms. Still, up-to-date technology includes 32-inch flat-screen TVs, MP3-enabled clock radios, and free Wi-Fi.
Couples Tower Isle does have an elevator (at least in one of the buildings), and some rooms have roll-in showers. But there are stairs throughout the property and down to the beach, so guests in wheelchairs should probably stay elsewhere.
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