Travel Tips & Features

Ocho Rios March 2003 Trip Report

Written by Lynn Suth

Day 1
We landed in Montego Bay a bit later than scheduled due to a flight delay in leaving Atlanta. As soon as we stepped off the plane, we knew we were out of the snow and cold. The 80 degree Farenheit weather and the sound of Jamaican music and songs greeted us as we entered the terminal.

We headed straight towards immigration and used the line to the far left. We found in the past that this line seems to move quicker than the others. Once done here, we went downstairs to claim our luggage and clear customs. Then we were off to the Couples Resorts booth, which was currently located all the way down on the right (near the bathrooms).

We handed over our paper work to the staff and were told it would be a few minutes before we’d go to the van for our ride to the resort. They were waiting for two other couples going to Ocho Rios. While waiting, a gentleman asked if we’d like a drink. We said yes and gave him money for a Red Strip (beer) and a bottle of Ting (a Jamaican lemon lime soda). Soon, the other couples arrived. After their paper work was done, we started to the van. The gentleman showed up at the van with the drinks.

The ride to Ocho Rios would take about two hours. We chatted with one of the other couples who were from Knoxville, TN. About half-way to the resort, the van stopped for a bathroom drink break. You could also buy your first souvenirs if you wished. The road to Ocho Rios was now under construction. Some places were nothing but dirt and gravel, so it was a bit bouncier & took a bit longer to get there than in past years. The views along the way were breathtaking.

We arrived at the resort about 4 pm. We received the usual greeting of a cool damp towel and champagne. We turned in our paper work and waited for our room assignment. Suddenly, several of the resort staff members, whom we had met in previous years, came over and greeted us like long lost family. There were hugs, kisses and handshakes all around.

I finally got to meet Maxine face to face. She and I had corresponded over the Internet for quite some time. She and Mcgyver said that they had a surprise for us. They grabbed a room key and took us upstairs. This was our third visit to Couples and we were given our first upgrade in a room – one of the new penthouse suites. We were in shock! What a great way to start our eight nights in paradise. Maxine told us that even though we had just arrived they would like us to attend the returning guests’ dinner that night and cocktails started at 6 pm.

We checked out the room and could hardly believe the view from the balcony. It looked directly over to Tower Island. The penthouse suites were in the main building on the fourth floor. They were larger than the normal ocean view deluxe rooms that we had in the past. Besides all the usual things in the room there was a mini-bar & a refrigerator & the bathroom had a Jacuzzi. The walk-in closet in the room was also larger.

Our luggage was delivered to the room a few minutes later because the returning guests’ dinner was being held at Le Gourmet. This meant we had to get dressed up. We rummaged through the suitcase and found our dress clothes and got ready.

We headed down to the main bar and had our first tropical drinks. Then, it was off to the returning guests cocktail party at the piano bar. There we saw several of our friends on the staff. It was great seeing everyone again. One of the other couples at the party was B&A who I had been emailing back and forth before our trip.

After cocktails, everyone went into Le Gourmet for dinner. The food was wonderful as always. There was a preset menu for the returning guest dinner. Sitting at our table were B&A, two couples from Great Britain as well as Nadine of the sales staff.

After dinner, we stood on the outdoor walkway and watched the entertainment at the beach party. It had been a long day so we decided to go back to the room early. Before going up, we stopped at the bar and grabbed drinks to take with us. We filled out the breakfast room service form and hung it outside our door. We enjoyed the view from our balcony for awhile and then went off to sleep.

Day 2
This year we decided to make it a relaxing vacation. I wanted to spend a lot of time just hanging around and laying on the beach. Our continental breakfast arrived the next morning on time. We ate it on the balcony while watching the waves. After breakfast, we headed right for the beach. I was surprised to learn they now have drink service on the beach. Philroy came around and offered to fill our insulated mugs. I think he was surprised I only wanted ice water in the morning.

We headed back to the room around noon, and discovered we had no water. I called the front desk and let them know. A short while later it was working again. We washed up and then went down to the Patio restaurant for lunch.

The Patio at lunchtime had put out a large buffet. There were always lots of choices: hot dishes, soup, salads, fruit, cold cuts, cheeses, breads and desserts. There was always some sort of hot meat that they would slice. It could be ham, roast beef, lamb, turkey, etc. The other hot dish could range from tacos to sweet and sour pork, from fettuccini Alfredo to Jamaican jerk chicken, fried snapper and more. The salads could include the standard lettuce and vegetable to crab salad, from potato salad and coleslaw to tomato and onions. The fruits ranged from watermelon to papaya and from oranges to mangos. The cold cuts could cover anything from ham to tuna and from corned beef to sliced turkey. If you couldn’t find something you liked, you could always go to the Beach Grill. By the way, I haven’t mentioned the dessert choices which went on and on as well. They even had soft ice cream in banana flavor.

After lunch, it was back to the beach. Joe decided he wanted to take out one of the kayaks. It was very windy that day, and everyone seemed to be getting blown around in the water. This was the windiest we had ever seen it in Ocho Rios. He paddled around for a while and had a great time.

Then, we headed over to the dive shop. We brought pictures with us to give to the dive instructors that we had taken the previous year. We also brought along a framed photo I had gotten from another guest to deliver to them. It was great to see that most of the guys we had met in prior years were still there. They really seemed to get a tickle out of the photos.

Later, we went over to guest services to sign up for horseback riding on Saturday. We also found out that they were now taking reservations for dining not only at Le Gourmet but also for the Bayside starting that Monday. So, we arranged to have dinner at the Bayside on Tuesday night. We then went over to the internet computer and checked email before heading back to the room to relax and get ready for dinner.

Thursday night is lobster night during this season (lobster is out of season from April 1st to June 30th. FYI Conch is out of season July 1st to Oct. 30th). We decided to head to the Bayside. We really loved the view and sitting over the water. The Bayside was the pasta/steak restaurant. They always had several choices of pasta and different sauce to go with your main course. Joe had lobster, of course, and I had steak. The meal was delicious, but I was still jetlagged, so right after dinner we went back to the room — I crashed early that night.

Day 3
We got up early Friday morning and went down to the Patio for breakfast. Breakfast was buffet style. On the buffet, there were always scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, potatoes, usually French toast and pancakes, some sort of Jamaican specialties, lots of fruit, breads, muffins, pastries and more. You could also have omelettes made to order, fruit smoothies, several different juice choices, mimosas, bloody Mary’s, and of course milk, teas and Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.

Joe was taking the resort dive class that morning. He left for the pool at 9 AM. I headed for the beach and grabbed two lounge chairs and a small table under one of the trees. I read for awhile. Later, I went over to the sales office, which is now located past the gift shop. I brought a picture of Nadine that I had taken the year before. She seemed happy with it. We chatted for awhile and I also had a chance to talk with Maxine.

I then headed back to the beach and there I saw Delroy, a.k.a. Water Rat. He had been so friendly the year before I thought I should take a few pictures of him. I also took some shots of Tower Island. Joe had my digital camera, so this time I was using my old film camera. Digital cameras are great for most things, however I wanted to make a poster size print of Tower island and film was much better for that.

I went back to the beach lounges and waited for Joe to finish his diving class. While there, Tanecia of the entertainment staff came by and asked if I could sing. Friday night was the staff and guest talent show. I told her no one should be subjected to my singing but we would come and watch the show. We talked for awhile before we left to find some more talented guests.

Joe came over after his class and we grabbed a light lunch at the Patio. We took some more photos and then we went over to the spa to arrange our half-hour massages. This was one of the perks that returning guests usually would get — two free half-hour massages per couple. After that, we went to check email from home. While there, another couple came over and asked if I was Lynn. It turned out to be C&D who I had been emailing before the trip. We talked for awhile and decided we’d meet at the bar later for drinks and have dinner together at the Calabash.

It was fun actually getting to know people I had chatted with online. Now I had faces to go with the names. After dinner, we wandered the grounds and ran into some people we had gotten to know the year before. They introduced us to Terrence Beach, who was the operations manager of the resort. It was getting near show time, so we went back over to the Patio.

The talent show that night had guests and staff doing different numbers. Some of the guests danced and sang songs. The staff sang, danced and did a short skit. It was fun.

Day 4
We woke up to a cloudy Saturday morning. This was our day for horseback riding. We went down to the breakfast buffet and then on to the lobby at 8 AM to catch the bus.

Horseback riding was now done at Prospect Plantation. When we had gone riding two years ago there was a stable across the street from the resort. The ride to the plantation only took about 15 minutes. There were two other couples besides us. We signed the usual waivers and each found helmets for the ride. We waited a few minutes and then went over to the spot where they got you up and onto the horses. The horses had either English or western. You didn’t get a choice.

I had a horse named Flash Dance and Joe rode Simon. There were three guides that went with us. It was a slow and mostly gentle ride. We did get a chance to go up into the mountains. The guides told us about the plants along the way. We got some nice views of a river, Ocho Rios and even the old mansion. They stopped at one place and took pictures that we could buy later if we choose. The cost of the photos was $10US each. At another spot, they stopped and had us get off the horses. We were given a demonstration of how to climb a coconut tree and also a lot of information on the local fruits and nuts. We were given tastes of coconut milk, fresh coconut and some other fruits for your information the guy giving the demonstration accepted tips and so did the guides. They weren’t Couples’ employees, so keep this in mind.

We were back at the resort a bit after 10 AM. Joe signed up for a dive for the next day. He went back to the room to relax, and I went to find a spot on the beach in the shade. I chatted with several of the staff members who went by. Everyone was so friendly that they really made us feel like family.

Later, Joe came down for lunch. I was in the mood for a burger and fries but Joe wanted something more substantial. We went and were seated at the Patio. Joe went to the buffet and I went down to the snack bar. I brought my food up to our table at the patio just as it started to rain. It rained quite hard for a short time. It lasted just over an hour and then the sun came out.

After lunch, we headed over to the game room and shot a few games of billiards. We were both a bit tired. Hey, this was our vacation and we could take naps whenever we wanted. So, we did. We woke up to the sound of music. The Cool Jazz (the catamaran) had pulled up on the beach for the sunset cruise. We watched people get on board. As the boat headed out, I was surprised that no one on Tower Island did the typical mooning as it went by. I guess things had changed.

We decided to walk the grounds before dinner. We went to the Aviary, took some pictures, then stopped at the gift shop to look around. To be honest, I found some things at the gift shop to be reasonably priced and others seemed high priced. You just had to pick and choose. The same held true in the duty free shop — you could haggle a bit here, but not very much.

We then went over to the bar to wait for the “Grand Pool Buffet” to start. While having a drink, C&D came by and we decided to have dinner together. This was their last night at the resort. We picked a table in front of the game room. It gave us a nice view of the entertainment, which that night were a cello player and a violinist. They were very good. They had set up a stage over the shallow end of the pool.

There were so many food choices at the buffet that we couldn’t try them all. There were choices of fish, seafood, beef, veal, and lamb, pork, chicken, salads, fruit, pasta, rice, vegetables and more. There were also so many dessert choices — it was hard to choose. We all ended up stuffed.

After dinner, we said goodbye to C&D as they headed back to their room. We ran into some old friends & we chatted for awhile. They introduced us to several other couples.

The show that night had a featured entertainer. His name was A.J. Brown. He had preformed in Las Vegas. He did a great show. He really knew how to play with the audience. Our favorite song that he performed was called "The Big Bamboo". It was very funny!

Day 5 (Sunday)
Today was the day Joe was going scuba diving. I had arranged to meet the two ladies that are part owners of the resort. The ladies and I had e-mailed during the year and I was very happy to know they would be there during our stay.

We had breakfast in the room and then headed for the beach. Joe’s dive wasn’t until 10:45 AM, so we had time to relax and just hang out. We ran into P&T on the beach. T was going on the same dive as Joe. He was working on becoming a certified diver, & he achieved that during his stay.

At the appointed time, Joe left for the dive shop and I went to check my email. I had an e-mail from my son saying that he had called the night before and left us a voicemail. It turned out that our sump pump at home had died and our basement was flooded. He said that he would do his best to take care of things. He put in an old pump he had and would see what happened. Oh well, nothing we could do about it now. Hey, we were in Jamaica Mon! No problem. We would deal with it when we get home. I knew my son would keep us posted, so no worries. At least not too many! This would not ruin our vacation!

On my way back through the lobby, I happened to pass the general manager. I asked if I could go out to Tower Island to take some pictures. Officially, no cameras were allowed on the island to protect everyone’s privacy. I got his permission to go out to the island at 5 PM when it closed to take some pictures. I thanked him and then headed back to the beach to meet my friends.

I had a lovely time with the ladies on the beach talking and playing in the surf. They introduced me to the chairman of the board for the resorts (their brother). Since they knew Jamaica so well, they made some suggestions for a few places we should visit on our tour the next day. Unfortunately, as it turned out, we didn’t have time to get to those places this year. Well, anyway, we had to leave something new for next time.

Joe came back from his dive, and said that he really enjoyed it. During this dive, they went along a trench. We headed for the Patio to grab some lunch, and back to our room to check the voicemail. The phone had what looked like a message indicator, but it wasn’t lit. I followed the instructions on retrieving voicemail. It turned out there were many messages in the voicemail, the last of which was my son’s message. I guess they didn’t always clear the messages when guests leave, so I suggested to the management that they should check the phone to get the message indicator fixed.

Later that day, we went out across the street to take some pictures. Somehow, for the past two years, I hadn’t taken photos of the tennis courts and other things that were there. Then it was back across the road and over to the Bayside. I wanted to get some pictures of it during the day. I’d only taken photos of the restaurant from a distance or at night. When we finished at the Bayside, we went over to the main bar to relax and wait for the sun to go down. While there, one of our friends on the staff said they wanted us to meet their family. We did, and had a great time.

Afterwards, we decided to grab a quick dinner at the snack bar and bring it back to the room. Tomorrow was our day to go on an off site tour with a guide we had hired. Before this trip I had done a lot of research on the Internet. I had checked out several different guides and tour companies. One of the repeat guests at the resort recommended Chef, and he was who we chose. His wife, Libby, had even called Sunday night and left us a message to confirm that we’d be picked up at 9 the next morning.

Day 6
The next morning, Chef arrived in his van on time. He looked just like the pictures I had seen of him on his web site. We talked about the places and things we wanted to see and started out. Our first stop was at a pottery studio just up the road from Couples. There we met Fitzroy, the potter. He had a few interesting pieces, but most of the items seemed to be for the tourist trade. We made a small purchase and then headed on.

Next stop was the roadside stand of Brother Albert Jones. He was a wood carver and had won prizes for his craft. He used mahogany and ironwood. He was also quite a character. We spent some time talking with him about his art and how he enjoyed creating things. He had many beautiful pieces. It was hard to choose only one small carving to bring home. Maybe next year, we could buy another piece. For those who want to know, Brother Albert’s stand is just up the road from Couples but on the opposite side of the road from the resort.

Our next stop was Firefly near Port Maria. Along the way, Chef pointed out different places of interest. Firefly is the former home of British playwright, Noel Coward. It was called Look Out when the pirate Henry Morgan lived there. The estate is up on the top of a hill overlooking a bay. In the middle of the bay is Cabra Island, a.k.a. Goat Island.

The main house at Firefly was well designed for the area. Most of he rooms were open air. There were beautiful gardens surrounding it. The view from the bedroom took our breath away. Noel Coward’s grave was also on the grounds. They said he had a permanent view of the harbor. Just to make sure that was true, there was also a statue under a tree of Noel sitting while looking at the view. The second building we saw on the grounds was the original building used by Captain Morgan. The walls were very thick and there were gun ports in the walls. He could look out the windows and know when to send his men to raid the ships nearing the port.

When we left Firefly, we headed down the hill to the Zabai Tabai Museum. It was located all but beneath Firefly. It was closed at that time. Chef said we’d go over to his place and he’d have his wife call the man that runs the museum to see if we could get in.

Once at Chef’s place, we got to meet his wife, Libby. She was originally from England. Both she and Chef had British accents. Chef spent many years there. We sat on their veranda and Libby offered us a drink. She gave us strawberry juice, a new sensation and it was wonderful. They had a great view from the veranda. It was so peaceful and relaxing we decided to scratch our plan to go snorkeling there.

Libby gave us a tour outside the house and talked about their plans. She showed us her gardens that included a Noni tree and even a mini-pineapple she had growing. Joe went down to the beach and took some pictures. Libby was able to convince the man at the museum to open just for us. So we said goodbye to Libby and off we went.

The Zabai Tabai Museum was basically one room crammed with many artifacts, photos and literature. Errol Henry, who ran it, discovered Indian ruins on his property. There had been several excavations done over the years. It was devoted to the Taino & Ciboney Indians who were the first Aborigines of Jamaica. I had thought that it was the Arawak Indians, but the items discovered here indicated differently. Arawak, as it turned out, could mean several different things. One was the name of a group of Indians, but it could also be the language they spoke. That was the case with the Taino Indians. Errol Henry really seemed to enjoy talking with us. It was definitely worth stopping there.

We left the museum in Port Maria and headed back towards Ocho Rios. We were stopping in town at the supermarket to buy rum cream and Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee to bring home. I found out after the fact that the rum cream was cheaper at the airport, but the coffee was the best price I’d seen. After that stop it was back to the resort. We had people to meet later. We arrived a little after 4.

If anyone is interested in doing a tour with Chef, here is a link to his web site.
http://sealawncoralbeach.20megsfree.com/photo3.html
If you do book a tour, be sure and say hello to him and Libby from Lynn & Joe.

We got back to our room and wanted to shower before heading down to the Manager’s Welcome Party. We discovered the water wasn’t working again, but about ten minutes it was back on.

The Manager’s Party was held on Mondays at 5 PM on the walkway outside the lobby. They served hors d’oeuvres and drinks. A 3-man band played Caribbean music. After awhile, Terrence Beach, the operations manager, gave a short speech and introduced many members of the staff. We got to meet J&R of Wisconsin, who we had exchanged, messages with before coming to Jamaica. We also met several other guests who had read my posts on the message boards and looked at my web site.

We made a stop after the party at the main bar. There we found D&B who were also from Wisconsin and with whom we had exchanged several messages before the trip. They had to be someplace shortly, so they left. Joe and I decided to dine that night at the Veranda.

The Veranda was located across from Le Gourmet off the main lobby. It served continental and Caribbean food. It was more upscale than the Calabash, but not quite as fancy as Le Gourmet. Some of the tables had views of the ocean. The food was great and beautifully presented. One of our favorite bar staffers, Charmaine, was taking drink orders that night. It was great to see familiar faces. Joe and I both had steak and really enjoyed it.

We made a quick stop at the bar after dinner and grabbed rum cream to take back to the room to put in our morning coffee. Then we did one of our favorite things at Couple Ocho Rios, we sat on our balcony staring at the sea and stars. This night, we got to see a ship passing in the distance. You do get to see many ships heading in and out of the harbor at Ocho Rios. The port seems to get busier every year.

Day 7
After our busy day sight seeing, today was a day to hang out. We had breakfast at the buffet. Joe enjoyed a fruit smoothie with his meal. There are so many selections, it was hard to choose. This morning we each had omelets made to order, as well as several side dishes.

We had scheduled half-hour massages for 10 AM. We were shown to the couples massage room. Two masseuses came in and we each got a wonderful massage. Afterwards, I felt like jelly. Then it was back to the room to shower off all the oils.

Joe decided to hang out in the room for awhile to see some of the other suites that weren’t occupied so I could take pictures for my web site. I got to see an ocean view one bedroom suite and one of the villa suites with its own private outdoor Jacuzzi.

Today, we were going to go out to Tower Island. I had told Joe if he went on the off site tour with me, I’d go to the island with him. I wasn’t comfortable being nude in front of others, but a promise was a promise.

So, late that afternoon, we took the boat over to the island. We headed for the quieter side and found 2 lounge chairs in the shade. Once settled in our spot, we coated ourselves from head to toe in suntan lotion and I settled in to read my book. A short time later Joe got thirsty and went to get us some drinks at the bar. He was very much at home on the island. He even went back over to the other side later on and spent some time in the pool.

About 4:45 PM, everyone started getting dressed and headed back to the mainland. Joe and I got dressed and waited for everyone else to leave. Then, I took out my camera and took photos of the island. Since we were only on the island for a short time, I owed Joe another trip out there on our next visit.

Once back on the mainland, we got ready for dinner. We had reservations at the Bayside for 7:30 PM. Before dinner, we had arranged to meet Mcgyver, one of the staff members. I had talked to him about how I store my photos during our trip and he said he would like to see my digital wallet (which was basically a handheld hard drive where I downloaded my pictures to.) I showed it to him and we talked for awhile.

The Bayside was our favorite restaurant at the resort. It was so romantic sitting over the water listening to the waves. On this night, we got to fix your own salad at the salad bar. As always, there were several choices of main dishes and styles of pasta. The food and service were great.

After dinner, we stopped briefly at the Patio. It was casino night. They had a few card games and also some sort of roulette game. No real money was used. We watched for awhile and then headed down to the beach for a romantic stroll. Both the hammocks on the beach were already occupied, so we found a lounger and relaxed for a time watching the ocean and sky.

Day 8
The next day was our last day in paradise. Joe woke up not feeling quite right. We decided that a light breakfast was in order. After breakfast, we went out to the front lawn and relaxed in one of the basket swings for a time. It was so peaceful there.

Joe headed back to the room and I wandered the resort. Eventually, I headed down to the beach and found an empty hammock. . I climbed in and enjoyed reading while listening to the sound of the waves. I think I could have stayed there forever, just relaxing and swaying in the breeze.
Joe came down from the room and wanted lunch. Back to the Patio buffet we went. The rest of the afternoon was spent just hanging out. It was Wednesday again, which meant that it was beach party night as well as the returning guests’ dinner.

I let the staff know we would come for cocktails but wanted to go to the beach party to eat. This was our third visit after all, and we had yet to eat the food at the beach buffet.
The cocktail party was nice as always. It was interesting to hear where the other returning guests came from and why they enjoyed the resort as much as we did. One couple was second generation returning guests. Their parents had been coming to the resort and now they come there as well. We learned about 70% of the guests were American, 10 – 20% from the UK, 5% Canadian, and the rest from other parts of the world. The majority of the resort’s business was returning guests.

After cocktails, we headed down to the beach party. We found an unoccupied table near the front and sat down. The buffet lines were long so we decided to wait. A couple from the UK came, M&N, and asked if the could join us. We said, "Of course!" A short time later, T&P walked by looking for a place to sit. There were still two seats available and we asked them to join us as well.

We each took our turns going through the buffet line. There was so much food that it was hard to decide what to choose. There was no way you could try everything. They had several beautiful ice sculptures on some of the serving tables. One entire table was devoted to nothing but desserts. During dinner they had a steel drum band playing. It was great entertainment and really put everyone in a festive mood.

When most people where done eating, it was time for the beach party show to start. This year the show included a variety of different dances from around the world. Of course, this included the limbo. They also had two fire-eaters to entertain us.

When the main part of the show ended, Joe and I decided we had better go back to the room and pack. Alas, the real world was starting to creep back in. Time to think about flights and being ready in the morning to catch our shuttle to the airport.

Day 9
Our flight back to the US was around 2 PM. We finished packing and put our bags outside our door. We grabbed the beach towels to be returned to water sports (we would get a certificate from them showing that we had returned them, which we turned in at the main desk when you checked out). Then, we had our one last look around the room and we were off.

We dropped off the towels then went around to say our good-byes to the staff. We had to be in the lobby at 10:30 AM to catch the shuttle to the Oracabessa (Ocho Rios) airport for a short flight to Montego Bay. The ride to the airport would take about 15 minutes.

We checked our luggage and each of us was asked what we weighed. This year, the complimentary returning guests’ flight was on the new Air Link. We flew on a small 6-person prop plane. Our pilot was Harold and he did a great job. We got to see some great views, including Couples from the air. What I liked about Air Link over Burl Air (we flew them last year) was they used their own vans to not only pick you up at the resort, but also to take you from the domestic terminal at Montego Bay to the International one.

Well, that is our tale of this year’s trip. Suffice it to say, we are back to reality. We cleaned up the flood at home and are back to the daily grind. Our minds frequently drift back to the warm soothing breezes of Jamaica. We can hardly wait to return to our “Couples Family”.

Yes, the resort may not be perfect, but it is after all the oldest, all-inclusive in Jamaica. If you truly get into the spirit of the place and relax, everything works out. Remember in Jamaica, it’s “No Problem Mon”. So go, relax and enjoy. Who knows, some of you may fall in love with the place just as Joe and I have.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me [email protected]
http://www.garion.tzo.com/lynn/couple1.htm

About the author

Lynn Suth