My husband and I recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in style at Couples Tower Isle (CTI) in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, the same resort where we’d honeymooned in 1988 and revisited in 1993. I’m happy to report that Couples still has many of the same charms that we remembered (great beach, staff, food, drinks), plus some nice new touches (like an additional pool and some new/different activities to choose from when so inclined). The weather was perfect for a beach vacation -- sunny, hot, and breezy every day. We didn’t see a single drop of rain during our entire 1-week stay.
Below is a detailed review based on our recent visit.
MONTEGO BAY AIRPORT / COUPLES LOUNGE:
One thing that has improved dramatically in the past 20 years in the Montego Bay airport. The airport itself is now bigger and better staffed, and there are sufficient shops and restaurants on the premises. On previous visits the airport porters were aggressive and cunning (they’d carry bags a few feet, put their hand out for a tip, and then other porters would grab your bags and repeat the process, and if you balked they’d argue with you). In contrast, this trip we only dealt with one friendly porter, and he managed our bags from the Couples lounge to the transfer bus in a professional and courteous manner. We were happy to tip him.
That said, do not expect to grab your bags and go once you land in Montego Bay. First you need to claim your bags, and then proceed to the Customs and Immigration area where you may need to wait in some very long lines. Think Disney World lines for a hot attraction… Rooms full of vacationers with their luggage shuffling in a serpentine maze kind of thing… To their credit, the airport was well staffed, which was a big help. It took us about 30 minutes to make our way to the first set of officials, then proceed to the second set of screenings, and that was probably another 20 minutes there. All told it took approximately 1 hour from the time we landed until the time we reached the Couples Lounge in the airport terminal.
The Couples Lounge is a pleasant waiting area where you can relax for a few minutes, use their restrooms to freshen up, and grab a complimentary cold drink. You’ll check in and meet with the porter to identify which Couples resort you’re heading to, and then relax until the shuttle is ready. In our case we were on our way within about 10-15 minutes.
The bus transfers to and from Ocho Rios were fine. We had a nearly full bus, and the driver was fairly informative and entertaining. FYI, you’ll probably stop about mid-way to the resort and be offered a chance to buy some food/drinks/souvenirs. My husband and I just stretched our legs, since we recalled from previous trips that vendors would be hawking unwanted souvenirs, plus we didn’t see much point in spending $$ for drinks/food at the little roadside shack when within an hour we’d be at a top flight resort where we could have as much food and beverage as we’d liked and that we’d already paid for. :)
The bus ride to CTI took just over 2 hours (including 1 stop); it only took 1 hour and 40 minutes for the return trip to the airport (with no stops).
TIP: The bus drivers are NOT employees of Couples; you should plan to tip them for their services.
Check-in at Couples was efficient. Several clerks were on duty, and everything was in order. We were given cold washcloths and a rum punch drink for refreshment during the brief wait. Depending on your arrival time, you may also be serenaded by a few musicians. It’s clear immediately that your vacation is about to begin!
We stayed in room 3112 (building 3, 1st floor, oceanfront view). We splurged on a 2-room suite since this was a special occasion. The price difference wasn’t huge, but in retrospect we would have done fine with the Junior Suite. In any case, the accommodations were spacious and the room very conveniently located to everything we wanted to do. The hall door opens on to the living room, which was large but very plainly decorated (white walls, cheap looking rattan sofa and love seat, mid-size flat screen TV, unattractive art). Along 1 wall there’s a counter/cabinet area with a mini-frig for the mini bar, coffee pot, etc.). On the far wall glass French doors open out to our balcony, which had a spectacular view of Tower Isle. The balcony was furnished with a small table and 2 chairs, and there’s a drying rack on the wall where you can hang damp clothes to dry.
The master bedroom is roomy and comfortable, and it was decorated more pleasantly (other than the art, which really didn’t do a thing for me). We had a King Size bed, dresser, night stand, desk, another TV, and a soaking tub in the bedroom area, with windows above the tub. It was a little awkward to get to the window blinds, since you pretty much had to stand in the tub to reach them. Just off the bedroom was a very large walk-in closet, and a small safe conveniently mounted at eye-level height (that was a nice touch).
The adjacent bathroom has a separate shower, toilet, and sink area with ample counter space. As other reviewers have noted the shower is poorly designed, as there is no door/curtain/lip in the shower stall and water gets all over the floor after each shower. Putting towels down beforehand helps to an extent, but I generally kept a pair of flip flops in there for “après shower” so that I wouldn’t slip. Hopefully the next time the resort is renovated they’ll do something to correct this flaw.
Unfortunately the air conditioning in our room was not working properly, and the room always felt warm and humid during our stay (which REALLY bothered my husband). He eventually complained to the front desk and they sent engineers to look at it, but that didn’t yield any improvement. I think CTI would have moved us to another room if we’d asked, but after “settling in” I really didn’t want to repack and move and unpack again, so we tried to put up with it. We reported this problem on the Comment card and at checkout, so hopefully the unit will be repaired/replaced before other guests experience the same problem.
In terms of a “Report Card” for our 2-room suite:
Overall Space: A+
Convenient Location: A+
Climate Control: D-
We visited during late July, and the weather was perfect all week: Sunny, hot, and breezy. It was absolutely delightful!
FOOD & DRINK:
WOW!!! Couples knows how to put out a spread… Trust me, you will not go hungry at a Couples resort. Excellence abounds in terms of the quality, variety, and presentation of food. In my mind this is one of the “key differentiators” that puts Couples so far ahead of many other All Inclusive alternatives.
We ate most of our meals at The Patio which is a buffet-style restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Dress is casual, and no reservations are needed. Service here varies but is generally quite good; our “star” of the week was Javan who went above and beyond one night in helping us out. I noticed and appreciated that the staff here were very good about keeping water glasses filled, which is helpful for ensuring guests stay hydrated in the hot climate.
TIP: Push aside any preconceived negative notions you may have about buffets – The Patio buffet features fresh and interesting food, and it is really nice! I’m not generally a fan of buffets, but this place is an exception!
Breakfast fare includes an omelet station and a pancake/waffles station (cooked to order while you wait), and there pre-made eggs/meats/potatoes, a small selection of cereals, fresh fruits and cheeses, etc. You can also help yourself to coffee and juices; champagne is even provided if you want to treat yourself to a Good Morning Mimosa!
Lunch and dinner at The Patio includes delicious salads, a selection of hot items, soup du jour, pizza du jour, pasta station, fresh fruits and cheeses, and fabulous desserts. The selections varied on a daily basis. Full bar service is available.
The Patio is open air, with gorgeous views of the Caribbean on one side, and the main pool on the other. There’s usually a nice breeze, but it can get hot at times.
The Pool Grill and Veggie Bar:
The pool grill is located near The Patio and the main pool, and offers basics like cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and grilled cheese sandwiches. There’s also a soft drink station as well as a popcorn machine, nachos, and soft-serve ice cream machine if you’re in the mood for munchies. You can eat in their dining area, or take your meal/snacks to The Patio or back to the beach, whatever you please.
The veggie bar is on the lower level below The Patio, just off the beach. They offer some tasty vegetarian dining options and fresh-made smoothies.
Eight Rivers is one of the upscale full-service restaurants on the property. Their menu features continental fare. There is no extra fee for dining here (or any of the other sit-down restaurants), but reservations are required and a dress code is enforced (men must wear slacks). It’s a “dress up” kind of place. The food, ambience, and services are first rate at this restaurant. The only downside is that - unlike all of the other resort restaurants - there is no “view” to enjoy (other than the view of your beloved, of course :)
Bay Side is a Thai restaurant located at the far end of the beach (reservations required). The views are breathtaking. On previous visits we thoroughly enjoyed dining there (back then it featured Italian food), but neither of us care for Thai food so we did not visit there this time around (other than when strolling the beach during off hours). It’s unfortunate that they don’t offer at least one “mainstream” entrée that would have broader appeal… We missed being able to dine here.
Similar story with the Verandah... This is an indoor air conditioned restaurant with a lovely ocean view (they do not take reservations, and at times there is a wait). We’ve dined here on previous visits and wanted to again, but it now features strictly Jamaican cuisine which does not appeal to every palate. Again, offering at least one “mainstream” entrée would have been appreciated by this couple anyway…
Special Dining Events…
Monday night is the Beach Party dinner, which by all accounts was a great deal of fun. The restaurants are closed, so (nearly) everyone heads to a massive buffet on the beach, and a variety of local entertainers perform and the staff organizes some games with the guests. At the same time, returning guests are invited to a special dinner at Eight Rivers. We accepted the invitation and enjoyed gourmet cuisine and dined with fellow repeaters along with a staff member at each table. This was very enjoyable too (the food was delicious!), but I’m sort of sorry that we missed out on the Beach Buffet fun. If we return again, we’d probably head for the beach.
Friday night is “Lobster night” during lobster season (July-Nov). Each restaurant features lobster that night, and it is DELICIOUS.
Saturday night is the “Gala” night, when again the restaurants are closed and all the guests gather for a sumptuous feast. Generally the gala is held on the front lawn, but for some reason they held ours in the pool area. I loved the various ice sculptures and the special lighting/decorations, really made things look extra nice. A band played during dinner, and there was an extra-large selection of items to choose from that night. The desserts were AMAZING!!!!
Couples Tower Isle truly is a resort where you can do as much or as little as you’d like. On this trip our goal was primarily to relax, and we never felt pressure to do otherwise. It was delightful.
The number of activities that are included at no extra charge is impressive. You truly could enjoy an entire week here and not spend a penny over and above the cost of your All Inclusive package. It’s a tremendous value…
During the week we enjoyed several SCUBA dives (Collin and Chris in the SCUBA Center are excellent and run a very good dive operation). I think the official policy is that 1 dive per day is included at no extra charge (including equipment), but if space allows they’ll let you do more than 1 trip per day. If you’re interested, they can also arrange for a night dive (there is a fee for that, and I think they need a minimum of 4 people to arrange it). Likewise, snorkeling trips and glass bottom boat tours run daily. If you’re new to diving or snorkeling, they happily teach you the basics in the pool beforehand.
Another activity which we really enjoyed was the Catamaran sunset cruise (though we didn’t actually see the sun set at this time of year). This is offered several times a week (not daily), so sign up at the Activities desk, sooner rather than later, if you’re interested. This is basically a party boat – everyone takes their spot on the boat and enjoys a cruise to a nearby lagoon, while drinking rum punch and listening to reggae and other music. They eventually drop anchor, and everyone can jump in the ocean for about 20 minutes of playtime. It was great fun to watch the dives, flips, and belly flops into the water! The lagoon is gorgeous, and the water was delightful. On the return trip the crew offers more rum punch and before you know it everyone is up, singing and dancing. Truly a good time had by all!
We barely scratched the surface with activities, but that was by our choice. If you want an action-packed vacation at Couples you can certainly have that. And if you just want to chill, “Irie, No Problem!”
TIP: If you’re a certified diver, bring your C Card and go to the SCUBA station to sign up for dives. The diving in this area of Jamaica is decent. The topography we saw was interesting, but fish life was limited. The nice thing is that the dive sites are close to the resort, so you’re not away for extended lengths of time. The dive guides were EXCELLENT. My only issue with the Couples dive operation is they have the guests haul the tanks/BCs to and from the boat… including trekking through shoulder-high water to reach the boat (they can’t use the dock due to potential damage to the dive boat). Fortunately they do carry tanks for the ladies on the trip, but in my opinion they should do this for ALL guests. We are, after all, on vacation!
CTI offers several complimentary excursions, and you can easily arrange for other excursions at an extra cost from local tour operators. On this trip we did neither, but I can tell you based on our previous visits that the free trip to Dunn’s River Falls is worthwhile and picturesque. Bring pool shoes (or you can rent them there). Just beware of the vendors at the end… They want your tourist dollars!
The beach at CTI is relatively small but massively beautiful. It takes no more than a few minutes to walk from one end of the beach to the other… The beach (and the resort itself for that matter) never felt crowded. There were sufficient chairs/floats for everyone, and a limited amount of shade. If you want bar service from the beach, just put the red flag in the sand – a friendly server will stop over to assist you. No need for pool shoes here… the ocean floor in the swimming area was rock-free.
One nice upgrade since our earlier visits is the additional pool/swim-up bar. It is nearly the size of the “main pool”, but located over near Buildings 3 and 4. The atmosphere here varied depending on the crowds… some days it was peaceful and relaxing, other days it was boisterous… The bar is open from 10 to 6; you can use the pool earlier and later… The main pool is located over near The Patio area, and tended to be pretty quiet all day long the week we were at CTI. They’ve converted the former diving board into an interesting waterfall sculpture, and reconfigured the pool so there is no longer a “deep end”. The nude island also has its own pool, as does the spa.
SERVICE / STAFF:
The staff is another “key differentiator” at Couples: They are (with very few exceptions) a remarkably friendly and hardworking crew. Couples advertises that tips are included in the AI package price, and I can vouch that not 1 single worker implied they expected a tip on the sly… Very impressive!
Service does vary, but generally is very good. We had a few issues with Housekeeping… On our first day they still had not made up our room by 4:00 p.m. (even though we had the “Please make up our room” sign on the door all day). It took 2 calls to the front desk and 1 call directly to Housekeeping to get them to come over. Another day, they missed us for “turn down” service so we had to call Housekeeping to deliver some fresh towels. Another day we put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door for about 20 minutes while my husband showered, and we got a note slipped under our door saying that since the Do Not Disturb sign was displayed they would not be making up our room unless we called to request it. Really? I can see them doing that if the sign was up for hours, but for a 20-minute break? That said, we had no issues with the Housekeeping staff themselves… they did a good thorough job of cleaning the rooms each time and bringing fresh towels at night etc. for the majority of the time.
I cannot begin to count the number of friendly smiles and greetings that we got from nearly every staff member we encountered. Most employees seems to genuinely enjoy their jobs and they aim to please their guests. CTI is a warm and welcoming place, mainly thanks to quality, attitude, and demeanor of the legion of employees who work there.
TIP: If you need your room serviced, call Housekeeping directly before 5:00 p.m.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT:
I thought the room décor left a lot to be desired (however that was more than offset by the fantastic ocean views). Adding some color and better artwork to walls would go a long way, in my opinion. Also, the quality of the furniture in the living room of the 2-room suites should be upgraded. Cheap rattan furniture with vinyl cushions may make sense in a tropical climate, but it sure did not connote luxury.
The air conditioning unit in Room 3112 needs servicing or replacement. I don’t think this was a typical problem at the resort (walking past other rooms we could feel their cool a/c), but having such a warm and humid suite was a detriment to our vacation experience.
The shower areas should be enclosed with curtains or doors to contain the water. Having the water pool on the bathroom floor was a definite slipping hazard.
Adding at least 1 “mainstream” entrée (such as a basic steak dish) to each restaurant’s menu would broaden their appeal and allow more guests to sample each venue over the course of their stay.
The piano player in the Piano Bar banged out the tunes like there was no tomorrow… not in a good way. He could play an amazing number of songs, but never seemed to play “with feeling”… Everything was POUNDED OUT the nights we were there… A lighter touch would have improved the ambience greatly.
AREAS OF ACHIEVEMENT:
Location, location, location. Couples Tower Isle is situated on a lovely stretch of beach, and the property is beautifully landscaped and maintained.
The CTI staff are phenomenal.
Food is amazing!
Bar drinks are plentiful (some reviewers claim the drinks seem to be watered down; I don’t think this was the case, but may be due to the ice melting so quickly in the warm weather)
Couples sets the bar pretty high for what to expect at an All Inclusive resort. We have not yet been to Sandals (their closest competitor), but have stayed at independent AI resorts in Freeport and Punta Cana, and neither came close to the quality and value and pure enjoyment that we’ve found at Couples Tower Isle. There’s a reason they’ve been in business for as long as they have!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Playground to Hollywood celebrities in the 1950s, glamorous Couples Tower Isle exudes a chic sophistication perfectly balanced by a relaxed Caribbean sensuality. Perched on the lush terrain of Ocho Rios, Jamaica—the resort seduces with breathtaking sea views, a wide sandy beach and century-old palm trees. Discover the joys of snorkeling among the reefs, windsurfing on the waves, or sailing into the sunset on a catamaran, rum punch in hand. Intricate blue tile work and jade chaise lounges offset the striking white retro architecture. Luxurious rooms boast private ocean-breeze balconies. Whether being pampered in the Zen-inspired spa—recognized as "Best in the Caribbean" by Travel+Leisure—sipping cocktails at the piano bar or indulging in an exquisite meal alfresco, Couples Tower Isle creates countless intimate moments that inspire you to return again and again. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Couples Tower Isle Hotel Ocho Rios
- Couples Hotel Ocho Rios
- Couples Ocho Rios
- Couples Hotel Isle
- Couples Ochos Rios
- Ochos Rios
- Couples Tower Isle Jamaica/Ocho Rios