Jamaica for Two
Couples Sans Souci guarantees a carefree, romantic
By Jennifer Davoren
(Scroll down to see a slide show.)We were boarding a shuttle bus and leaving Couples Sans Souci -- an all-inclusive, couples-only vacation resort outside Ocho Rios, Jamaica -- when the argument began.
The particulars aren't important. For brevity's sake, let's just say that I was right and my fiance, Aaron, was very, very wrong. He, of course, didn't agree with my assessment, and so the fight was on.
It gained momentum during the drive from Couples Sans Souci to the Montego Bay airport, about two hours west. It was still going strong on our short flight back to the United States. By the time we'd collected our luggage and cleared customs in Miami, we were no longer on speaking terms.
Much later, after we'd grabbed dinner and traded apologies, I wondered what had come over us. Had we succumbed to the stress of international travel? Was the onset of jet lag to blame?
"I miss the beach already," I whined to Aaron, ticking off a list of chores that waited at home. Flipping through photos on our digital camera, he simply sighed and nodded.
It was the first thing we'd agreed on in nearly eight hours.
It's no wonder, though, considering the beach we'd left behind at Couples Sans Souci. Wrapped around a private cove on Jamaica's famed northern coast, it's a quiet retreat of warm sand bathed in Caribbean sun. Aaron and I spent five days on that beach in early May, enjoying sweeping views of a calm, turquoise sea while rooted to palapa-shaded lounge chairs. It's a spot that earns the resort its name, sans souci -- a French phrase loosely translated as "without worries."
The surrounding property promotes this carefree attitude, too. Couples Sans Souci offers 148 ocean-view suites on 35 lush, tropical acres. Guests pay one price up front, which covers accommodations, meals and snacks, alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, use of sports facilities and various activities. Five bars, four restaurants, three pools, two tennis courts and a seaside spa ensure fine dining, fruity cocktails, facials and other fun. Vacationers feeling truly sans souci even have an au naturel beach and a clothing-optional swimming pool at their disposal.
Couples Resorts operates four all-inclusive, couples-only properties on the island, but the company often refers to Couples Sans Souci as the "Jewel of Jamaica." Aaron and I shared that opinion during our all-too-brief stay there.
Our first glimpse of the resort came from the airport shuttle that had ferried us from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, a popular coastal resort town. (The all-inclusive package covers transfers between the airport, where Couples has its own reception lounge, and the resort.) Though the drive had introduced us to tangled jungles and mist-covered mountains, the property and its attentive staff -- from the bellhop who grabbed my bags before I could exit the shuttle, to the hostess who handed me my first glass of champagne as I entered the lobby -- might have been the most awe-inspiring sight of the day. A streamlined check-in process had us registered and in our first-floor, beachfront suite within 10 minutes.
After surveying our cozy room, complete with king-size bed, Jacuzzi tub, a bar setup and a minifridge stocked with soda, water and beer, Aaron and I were ready for a quick dip in the sea and a cocktail. A soft, steady reggae beat drew us to the beachside bar, where I was quickly overwhelmed by my choices. Couples' all-inclusive program includes local Red Stripe beer, rum-laced daiquiris and an impressive collection of top-shelf liquor at its resorts. Sensing my indecision, the bartender, Kimoni, handed me something fruity, frothy and as warming as the Caribbean sun. "Just call me Doc," Kimoni laughed when I complimented his mixing skills. "I'm here to take care of people."
Chatting with our fellow guests at the bar and on the beach, Aaron and I found that Couples Sans Souci attracts a diverse and friendly clientele. Our first day at the resort introduced us to Jason and Amelie, a young couple from Oklahoma; Ed and Val, a retired Floridian and his wife; Dan and Donna, stressed Iowans putting three kids through college; and four pairs of newlyweds, nearly all from Texas, seeking cool Jamaican breezes on their honeymoons. We found it easy to mix and mingle, often sharing a dinner table or beach umbrella with newfound friends.
Our first meal at Couples Sans Souci came courtesy of the weekly Starlight Gala. This Friday night party often begins with music -- during our stay, we were treated to an exceptional house band led by local legend A.J. Brown -- and a formidable buffet dinner served under a clear, moonlit sky. While I stuck to the seafood spread and its mix of grilled fish and fresh sushi, Aaron polished off four entrees ("Ham, lamb chops, sirloin and turkey," he announced proudly as he showed me his heaping plate) and a slice of cheesecake before throwing in the towel.
The band's impressive set list, from soft ballads to requisite Bob Marley hits, kept the crowd dancing into the wee hours. To shelter sleeping guests from the noisy revelry, the party progressed to the west end of the resort and the au naturel area -- which turns into a fully clothed playground known as Sunset Beach after 6 p.m.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, drawing me to my private beachfront patio and the room-service menu by the phone. After digging into a basket of fresh pastries delivered just minutes after placing my order, I tossed my leftovers to a passing duck, inadvertently ensuring his presence on the patio for the remainder of our stay.
Aaron, meanwhile, pored over the list of daily activities offered by the resort, from reggae dance lessons and scuba outings to volleyball tournaments and trivia contests. We opted for a more relaxed endeavor: Watching Charlie, Couples Sans Souci's resident sea turtle, take her morning meal.
More than 100 years old, Charlie has become the resort's unofficial mascot. Though she's free to come and go as she pleases, she chooses to make her home in a small grotto at the center of the property, rarely acknowledging the steady stream of guests who visit her each day. Watching her swim languidly while gobbling conch meat offered by a resort employee, I felt inspired by her sans souci attitude. Anticipating a full day of sun ahead, Aaron and I made a beeline for the beach.
With less than 300 guests at the sprawling Couples Sans Souci, everyone is able to enjoy some elbow room and their own unhurried pace. Still, I was surprised at how uncrowded the beach seemed. That day, I counted just 10 people on the sand beside me, and barely a dozen more in the water. We never had any trouble finding a lounge chair each day, always spotting a shady seat no matter when we were in need. We were even able to order lunch without leaving our loungers, raising a flag provided by the beach bar to catch the attention of passing servers. A jerk burger by the sea, coupled with one of Doc's specialty drinks, always brought on a wave of relaxation.
While room service and waterfront snacks held us between meals, our favorite dining experiences involved restaurant-hopping around the resort. Ristorante Casanova, Couples Sans Souci's semiformal Italian eatery, tempted us with pasta, risotto and a pork chop Aaron ate with gusto. Palazzina, an open-air bistro overlooking the beach, offered breakfast buffets (including a lively plantain porridge), light lunches and delectable seafood dinners.
When we were ready to dine on the sand, we headed to Bella Vista, a casual, candlelit spot where jerk dishes and conch fritters gave us a taste of traditional Caribbean fare. The Beach Grill, meanwhile, might have been the busiest restaurant on the property. Open until 4 a.m., this no-frills grill served up burgers, sandwiches and made-to-order pizzas (I recommend one with shrimp, pineapple and cave-grown mushrooms) to famished guests after a night at the Balloon Bar.
This piano bar is a central hot spot that promises to stay open as long as its guests can stay awake. It hosted dance parties and sing-alongs throughout our stay and was the scene of nightly activities hosted by the resort's social director. Aaron and I took part in a "Newlywed Game"-style trivia contest on our last evening at the resort and came in last place, unfortunately, missing out on prizes from the resort's duty-free gift shop. Four other bars stationed throughout the property kept guests in good spirits. One outpost, not far from Charlie's hideaway, served natural fruit juices, smoothies and other healthy, nonalcoholic fare.
While our nights at Couples Sans Souci were filled with island cuisine and generous cocktails, our days were most often spent on the water. A sports shack on the main beach offered small catamarans, kayaks and snorkeling gear, and an included scuba program was available to properly licensed divers.
Meanwhile, glass-bottom boat rides were scheduled throughout the day, ferrying guests to an extensive coral reef system within easy reach of the resort. Aaron and I hopped on two of these tours, surveying the coral from above and, with the help of flippers and masks below, counting the colorful fish that swam close enough to touch.
Our all-inclusive resort package included a few land excursions, too. Guests were offered free trips to Margaritaville, one of many raucous restaurants owned by Jimmy Buffett; Island Village, a souvenir shopping center in nearby Ocho Rios; and Dunn's River Falls, a breathtaking series of waterfalls and Jamaica's top tourist attraction.
However, we preferred to spend our time on the property, where the underpinning to every amenity -- the candlelit restaurants, side-by-side beach chairs and hot tubs built for two -- is romance. Couples Resorts builds its properties to encourage private interaction, and Couples Sans Souci is no exception. Perched atop a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean, the eastern side of the resort is riddled with small, secluded grottoes, and some are supplied with bubbling mineral water from a nearby spring.
On our daily walks around the property, Aaron and I passed hidden spots (often occupied) where staff members had stashed a swinging hammock or a small bench, perfect for sneaking kisses by the sea. Shielded by hanging foliage and curving privacy walls, canoodling guests can easily ignore others passing by on their way across the resort. Strategically placed musicians -- a local band accompanying our evening meal, a wandering saxophonist treating us to a solo on our patio -- only enhanced the effect.
This romantic spell held us and our fellow guests in its thrall throughout the week. But it was not until the day of our departure, when we were forced to leave the magic of Jamaica and Couples Sans Souci behind -- and face the hectic pace, responsibilities and, alas, arguments of the Real World -- that we were fully able to appreciate it.
Information: Couples Resorts operates four all-inclusive, couples-only properties in Jamaica, including Couples Sans Souci near Ocho Rios. Nightly prices vary according to season. For rates and availability, visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in September/October 2008. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.