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  • Ocho Rios, Jamaica: the other side of the island

    Our trips to Jamaica are always magical. I just cannot get enough of the island, the people who live there, the culture, the sunshine, and the food. Last March, we branched out from our usual visit to Couples Negril (CN) resort, risking an experience we know we would love for the possibility of a new adventure. I, of course, researched our new destination, Couples Sans Souci (CSS), thoroughly and arrived with a list of things we had to try (see Ocho Rios, Jamaica: 100 Memories.)

    (photo: just past the spa, there are some wonderful hidden seats overlooking the ocean)

    (photos, clockwise from top left: gorgeous tropical flowers at the entrance to the resort; one of the many palm trees; my standard rum and Ting at the beach grill for lunch; breadfruit!; view of one of the resort sailboats from the spa elevator; stairs into the mineral pool; so, so many stairs!; detail of the coral tile by the entrance to the resort)

    Overall we loved the understated elegance, the special hidden places we discovered all over the resort, the slightly more sophisticated demographic of our fellow travelers, the tropical foliage, waterfalls, and beautiful surroundings here. The staff here is remarkable and made us feel right at home, many of them joking with us that we would never return to Couples Negril after our week there. The food is also outstanding and, although I usually have a million photos of what we ate, I was clearly too busy stuffing it all in my mouth to bother with pictures.

    (photo: view of the mineral pool, spa, and hidden beach as well as G block where we stayed in suite G16)

    (photos, clockwise from top left: celebration decorations; the gorgeous light green water; Crackers, the parrot; the entryway to the hidden beach by the spa; Palazzina, where we ate breakfast and several dinners; us at the Starlight Gala; one of many banana banshees I drank by the main pool)

    This resort was built in the 60s and has that old-school Hollywood-on-vacation glam vibe. The mineral pool used to be the main pool and I could just envision how stylish the place must have been then. If they served alcohol there, we wouldn't have moved from that spot. They do however serve delicious cassava chips with pumpkin jalapeño and roasted artichoke dips at the veggie bar. SO good!

    (photo: view from Casanova restaurant)

    (photo: view of the main beach)

    Our room was enormous and had the most amazing view! In the morning, since I'm an early riser, I would watch the white egrets fly towards wherever their feeding grounds were for the day and then again at night, watch them fly back. (Quick note: The Chikungunya virus, spread by mosquitos, was pretty prevalent when we were there. Just make sure you use heavy duty insect repellent before you throw open those slider doors on the balcony. I forgot on day one and promptly got bit.)

    (photos, clockwise from top: the are-you-kidding-me view from our suite G16; view of the main beach; the Mr. in the mineral pool; a fabulous lamp in the main lobby; the floor tiles in the spa)

    On my birthday, I got a hot stone massage in one of the many massage huts on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. I could hear the waves crashing below and felt such gratitude for my life and the opportunity to be in Jamaica again to celebrate.

    (photos, clockwise from top: there are SO MANY steps at this resort and we found walking down to the spa and taking the elevator up to our building was easiest path (or the laziest); us at dinner at Casanova, we had a table outside and could listen to the nighttime entertainment below; the gorgeous blue steps at Palazzina -- no longer blue after their recent renovations; couples can paint rocks to leave at the resort -- many repeaters just add their latest dates to their rock; the view from my massage hut)

    When we are in Jamaica, we try to get off the resort to experience some of the real Jamaica. We hired a driver, Orville, to escort us to Scotchie's, rumored to have the best jerk on the island. The place is filled with tourists and clearly isn't "real Jamaica" but it serves up some really good food! I love breadfruit and ordered a side with my jerk chicken and a Red Stripe (of course!). We bought lunch for Orville and enjoyed sitting with him and talking over our delicious meal.

    (photos, clockwise from top: Scotchie's; jerk chicken, roasted breadfruit, and Red Stripe; birthday jerk photo at Scotchie's)

    One of the best things we experienced was on our last night. Couples rewards people who visit their resorts multiple times (we're called "repeaters"), and we learned that we had quite a bit of resort credit left to spend so we booked a private sunset tour on their speedboat, Dolce Vita. Somehow we managed to not spill a drop of champagne even though we were bumping all over the place at high speeds. The Mr. got to drive and we had a nice tour of Dunn's River Falls, Lobster Dave's and the cruise port, and some of the nearby resorts, like the iconic Jamaica Inn.

    (photos, clockwise from top left: one of my favorite photos of the Mr. -- totally relaxed and loving life; Lobster Dave's; us as the sun went down and the Mr. took the wheel; Dunn's River Falls; sunset; us in front of the Jamaica Inn; and the end of the champagne.)

    So, I'm guessing many of you may be wondering which resort or which side of the island we liked best. As far as the resorts themselves go, if they could move the older part of CSS with it's old school glamour, tropical foliage, and gorgeous views next to Couples Negril; add a floating dock to the CN beach, and get someone to carry my up the stairs, it would be the perfect resort. Both are amazing places to visit, have wonderful people, and fantastic food.

    (photo: view from G block looking over the hidden seats past the spa)

    (photos, clockwise from top left: the Mr. at the main pool where we spent most of our time; gorgeous foliage we saw on our nature walk with a member of the staff; awesome tile; a local boat on the beach; us at the Beach Party our first night there (BIG smiles); and some of the straw items for sale by local vendors.)

    But this is where my heart is clear: Ocho Rios made me feel a little like I was playing dress up. Negril -- with its long sandy beach, cliffs, super casual vibe, and easy mingling of tourists and locals -- makes me feel like I'm 20 years old, wearing cut off jean shorts and flip flops. It's more me than I am.

    While we don't have a trip booked for Jamaica just yet (GASP!), I'm certain we will return soon. I'm curious about other parts of the island like Port Antonio, but I won't be able to resist the pull of Negril for too much longer. 

    For more details, feel free to read my review on Trip Advisor.

  • Ocho Rios, Jamaica: 100 Memories

    We vacationed in Jamaica again this past March. After four years in our beloved Negril, we decided we wanted to explore a different part of the country. Because we've loved our time with the Couples Resorts, we chose Couples Sans Souci in Ocho Rios as our home for a week.

    "The details are not the details. They make the design."   - Charles Eames

    Last year I started keeping a list of the tiny things I wanted to remember from our annual trip to this special island. It's those moments that make the experience so wonderful. Here's the 2015 list:

    1. getting a red "TSA expedited" stamp on my boarding pass and not having to take off my shoes
    2. seeing a gorgeous sunrise outside the windows at Logan as we waited for our flight
    3. having a direct flight this year (yay! no stress!)
    4. watching and enjoying Big Hero 6 on the way there
    5. only spilling a tiny bit of Red Stripe on my shirt this time on the bus to the resort (baby steps!)
    6. getting to see a whole new part of Jamaica on our bus ride, especially the beautiful coastal vistas
    7. the Mr. and I letting out a simultaneous sigh after we stepped out of the bus and saw the orchids and lush greenery at the entrance to the resort
    8. seeing our room and the amazing balcony view for the first time 
    9. drinking my first dirty banana of the trip and enjoying a grilled red snapper sandwich while seated at a table right on the beach
    10. discovering I didn't have to jump up to get on the perfect-height-for-me swim up bar seats
    11. feeling sad yet intrigued by a tiny dead tree frog floating in pool
    12. getting a special delivery of Ting to our room
    13. enjoying cheese and crackers on our balcony before dinner
    14. seeing my first little lizard
    15. watching the white egrets fly past our balcony at the end of the day
    16. enjoying the beach party with some of my favorite Jamaican foods: escovitch fish, fried bammy, and rice and peas plus a very yummy sweet potato tart for dessert
    17. getting a seat just inches from the ocean
    18. listening to our favorite steel drum band, The Silverbirds
    19. sipping a rum cream at the Balloon Bar before turning in for the night
    20. watching the egrets fly back the other direction in the morning
    21. witnessing a giant piece of fruit falling off a tree, just missing our heads
    22. diving in to our first breakfast at Palazzina -- fresh papaya, sour sop, guava, salt fish and ackee, pineapple French toast, and fried dumplings
    23. walking on the beach and finding tiny pink shells and a huge crab
    24. finding an awesome seat at the pool with a view of the ocean
    25. trying a few new-to-me drinks -- Banana Banshee, Peach on the Beach, and a Jamaica Delight
    26. winning second place in trivia and getting a bottle of rum cream for my morning coffee (and discovering that it was Miss Jamaica Universe who beat us)
    27. enjoying a jerk burger and a rum and Ting for lunch by the beach
    28. discovering how much better a piña colada tastes with a rum cream float
    29. spending the last few hours of the day on the beach
    30. finding a giant crab and a giant spider in its giant web on the way back to the room
    31. having a lychee martini at the Martini Bar
    32. The Mr. saving that martini (and me) after a rat almost jumped on my shoulder 
    33. savoring an incredible dinner at Palazzina: Caesar salad with crunchy proscuitto bits, charred tomato soup, lobster, and passion meringue pie
    34. feeding lobster bits to the kitties
    35. plotting to empty the bowl of anchovies into my purse so we could lure the kitties back to protect us from those rats
    36. starting the day on the balcony with a little rum cream in my coffee and a chocolate croissant with some banana bread
    37. wandering around the spa paths and checking out each massage hut
    38. finding the hidden beach
    39. walking on the main beach with my honey
    40. eating a beef patty with extra jerk sauce and a chocolate ice cream cone for dessert
    41. walking around the pond and seeing pelicans divebomb the fish in the pond, and seeing egrets, herons, and turtles
    42. meeting the green parrot, Crackers, and having her whistle at me
    43. taking our first dip in the mineral pool 
    44. soaking in the hidden jacuzzi and then relaxing by the mineral pool
    45. enjoying dinner -- beef tenderloin with jerk sauce and ackee rice -- at a beachside table for two at Bella Vista 
    46. eating fried bammy and fresh papaya for breakfast
    47. getting a hot stone massage in a hut overlooking the ocean, waves crashing below, on my birthday 
    48. having some quiet time on the balcony afterwards
    49. discovering the cookies in the lobby!
    50. taking a trip to Scotchie's to enjoy jerk chicken, roasted breadfruit, and a Red Stripe with our gracious driver, Orville
    51. finding Anita, the blue macaw
    52. being addressed as "m'lady" for a week
    53. being completely overwhelmed by the wonderful Starlight Gala -- and especially enjoying the red snapper with lime buerre sauce, tomato soup, and banana dessert
    54. watching Milton and Co. dance and listening to the fantastic singer, Tammy T (and little bro Clive with his awesome dreadlocks)
    55. enjoying my morning coffee with rum cream and croissants on the balcony
    56. experiencing a quiet early morning by the pool
    57. listening to the birds squabble in the trees
    58. discovering the popcorn machine at the beach grill
    59. dozing underneath the pool umbrella as the rain poured all around us for about 20 minutes
    60. loving the cassava chips with pumpkin jalapeño and roasted artichoke dips at the mineral pool
    61. following it with a chaser afterwards -- a snapper sandwich
    62. finally feeling like we knew our way around the paths of the resort
    63. savoring dinner at Casanova: shrimp and salmon kebab with the awesomest risotto, tomato and crab soup (with vodka), and beef tenderloin
    64. listening to the reggae show, playing on the terrace below, during our dinner 
    65. sipping Blue Mountain coffee after dinner
    66. being awake for that early morning moment when the tree frogs are still chirping and the birds begin to sing 
    67. despite inertia, getting up and going on the morning nature walk
    68. seeing a doctor bird 
    69. seeing my childhood hero, Rikki Tikki Tavi, aka a mongoose darting across the lawn
    70. eating almonds fresh off the tree
    71. appreciating the magnificent rubber tree
    72. eating fresh papaya and muesli for breakfast
    73. sitting in the jacuzzi during a rain shower
    74. seeing a little black lizard inflate his throat 
    75. watching the talented Brian at the Balloon Bar do his cocktail tricks
    76. enjoying Blue Mountain coffee after dinner (again!)
    77. listening to the jazz entertainment back in the room while falling asleep
    78. waking up to sunshine after a cloudy, rainy day
    79. getting our favorite poolside seat for the last day
    80. realizing we still have a ton of resort credit left and booking a private sunset boat tour for our last evening
    81. walking along the beach and finding a cool shell and the remnants of a palm leaf arch used for a wedding next door the night before
    82. swimming out to the floating dock and dangling my toes in the Caribbean while watching the boats go by (and laughing when the Mr.'s shorts almost fell off when he climbed the ladder)
    83. enjoying my morning Banana Banshee
    84. eating my last beef patty with extra spicy sauce and a rum and Ting
    85. buying a few photos of ourselves that we actually liked
    86. taking time to explore the hidden beach
    87. finding the hidden mineral grotto
    88. taking a photo walk on my own
    89. sadly taking our last dip in the pool
    90. enjoying everything about our private sunset cruise on the Dolce Vita
    91. going really, really fast and managing to barely spill our champagne
    92. discovering there was a cheese plate to enjoy on the boat
    93. seeing Dunn's River Falls and Lobster Dave's from the water
    94. finding Mick Jagger's house on the top of the mountain
    95. sipping champagne while watching the sunset
    96. ordering room service on our last night and enjoying my favorite, grilled snapper with lime butter sauce 
    97. one last room service breakfast of Blue Mountain coffee and buttery croissants, and dumping the rest of the rum cream in my cup
    98. sitting outside on the balcony in my underwear until the very last minute when I had to put my pants on to get on the sad bus home
    99. taking in everything on the final ride home and seeing slices of Jamaican life (and Usain Bolt's school and track)
    100. eating our traditional cheeseburger before our direct(!) flight home