For our first long-haul trip since 2019, we opted for Jamaica. Back to Couples Sans Souci where we got married in March 2011. It was a direct BA flight which used up cancellation credit and it was also known to us, so would be an easier trip. We booked the hotel and flights separately, so we had a generous cancellation policy from Booking.com if we needed it. We did pre-departure tests at a Collinson tent in Luton airport and we completed the Visit Jamaica form. This was all straightforward. For the first time, VeriFly was worth the effort and it speeded things up at BA check in.
Flight was fine. Mainly Jamaicans going in either direction. The staff reminded passengers about mask wearing but did not push it much.
Montego Bay felt humid after recent rains and that tropical smell of vegetation and the sea was instant.
We used the Mobay concierge service which was a help. Our concierge brought us through fast track queues which avoided long lines. Much fumbling with the self-check arrivals machines and finally through to the Couples waiting area. We waited in the Mobay room until the bus was ready to depart for the two hour trip to Ocho Rios. It was not a drive for anyone of a nervous disposition and best endured via a nap.
When we arrived, we could not hear the receptionist over the music from the bar area and we could not see the paperwork either due to steamed up reading glasses. Tired and not in the best of moods, we were glad to get an upgraded room ( beach front suite) and to get to bed.
I won’t say much about the hotel itself here but here is Una’s Trip Advisor review.
We spent our first two days recovering from jet lag with walks in the extensive grounds, swimming, aqua-aerobics and even one game of naked pool volleyball ( David). The hotel is part of a small family-owned Jamaican chain. Couples Sans Souci (CSS) is set in large grounds with a lake, plenty of wildlife and vegetation and a jungle vibe. We tried to see the elusive hotel mongoose every day by the tennis courts but he evaded us.
There is a small main beach and a larger naturist beach which also has a bar and a pool. The majority of guests are American or Canadian and many are repeat guests. It has a friendly atmosphere and people will strike up a conversation more readily than at most hotels.
We enjoyed talking to Pierre the Manager at the weekly Manager’s Cocktails and he told us about the refurbishment plans and the new building they will do when they buy the small peninsula between their beaches. It is interesting to learn that in winter months 40% of their guests come for the naturist beach and it is not a service they intend to stop. I would guess at 80% of the naturist beachgoers to be 50 plus, maybe 70% age 60 plus. Think Spring Break 1984 : the Naked Reunion.
Although we dipped in to the naturist experience, our main concern was sun exposure plus it was more noisy. We preferred to read at the quiet Mineral Pool next to the gym and the Veggie Bar. Ocean views all around and fantastic smoothies and fresh coconuts.
We took four trips off site. These were Worth Park Rum distillery in Linstead, Couples Tower Isle swop day, Rockwell Bird Sanctuary and Keith’s Bamboo Raft trip.
Keith is a local businessman and vendor of … local produce who sits out near the AN beach looking for trade. We handed over our cash deposit and returned the next morning. We were joined by Chris and Deb from New Jersey who had taken the trip many times before. Off we went on the rafts down the White River. Through a local residential area and then to a stopping area in a clearing to eat the jerk chicken, lobsters and veg as supplied by Keith. Our captain was Bird who sang his own songs for us in reggae hip hop style.
We hired Herman Duncan Carruthers from a Facebook Group recommendation. He was an affable local man with a less than reliable car and a hazy knowledge of where we were going. But we got there in time and he was a careful driver.
Worthy Park is a relatively new tourist attraction in Jamaica and we enjoyed it. The guide was excellent and it felt an authentic tour. Generous welcome rum punch and tasting samples. We bought the 12 year old rum unsampled for $50 and found it retailing for £120 in UK.
Couples Tower Isle was 10 minutes along the road from CSS but made a change for a swop day. It is known as the first Couples hotel and the most historic. Guests in the past included Eva Gabor, Errol Flynn and Walt Disney. It has an interesting history. ( https://couplesresorts.co.uk/blog/history-of-couples-resorts/ ) We liked the vibrant tropical mid-century décor, the huge beach and the quiet naturist area on the island. The lunch was distinctly better than that on offer at CSS. It was a good day out for no extra expense.
Rockwell bird sanctuary also has an interesting history. It took Herman some effort to find it in the hills above Montego Bay but it was worth it. The magical experience of feeding hummingbirds with sugar syrup and feeling the buzz of their wings. There were other birds to see too.
11 days passed quickly with leisurely breakfasts, watching the pelicans, swimming, reading, kayaking swinging in our hammock (we we had taken with us) on the cliff at sunset, watching bats in the Martini Bar at dusk. We never managed to stay up late enough to sample the music on offer on the beach or in the bars after 9 pm.
There was always something to do or see and many people who liked to chat, especially at the lawn dinners when we shared tables. We noticed more British people than on our previous trip. Also, that the British, having travelled so far from home tended to be the more “totally over covid” types. The elderly Canadians in contrast had flown for only 3 hours to be in a place they considered “safe” and were rather enthusiastic about continuing to mask indoors and out. Many avid fans of Justin Trudeau among them.
As a holiday, it was what we needed after a cold dark winter. Though it was Holiday Custard. Warm, hot, sweet, comforting and familiar but at a certain point it is enough. We are ready for more adventurous travel in 2022.