Category Archives: Caribbean

Couples Sans Souci, Ocho Rios Jamaica

Looking for a romantic getaway or a second honeymoon?  Couples Sans Souci Resort in Ocho Rios Jamaica might be the answer for you.  This adults only, couples only all-inclusive luxury resort has been under Couples Resort management for the last few years, and continues to excel as a leading spa resort in the Caribbean.

I love this place. There’s enough of a mix of serenity and entertainment that a stay here is both relaxing and invigorating (not to mention the stairs to burn off those extra calories). The main lobby building houses a small Italian restaurant, a scenic patio area, a night-time bar, and an open air sitting area. Down the cliff and toward the sea are clusters of buildings that make up the spa facility. There are also some of the accommodation buildings here which feel almost like a small Italian village. Part of the resort sits on a cliff, and there’s plenty of stairs, so this is not the place for anyone who has physical limitations.

Take the main stairs down, and you’re at sea level. There are two or three more buildings housing ocean view accommodations. This part of the resort has more of a Georgian flair. There’s a main lawn, the main pool, a beachside bar, whirlpool, and the watersports facility. Walk a bit more, beyond the last set of buildings, and you’ve come to the clothing optional beach (tucked away from the resort enough so that you’ll only get there if you meant to).

Most, but not all, of the units here have balconies or patios. Some are set up as suites, and some have elongated Jacuzzis in the bathrooms (built for two, but only if they are average in size).

The service here is friendly, professional, and punctual. The entertainment is outstanding, and you’ll stay up later than you intended because the musicians are just so darned good! On Friday nights they set up a Starlight Extravaganza on the main lawn. The food is elegant buffet complete with sushi, a pasta station, and a carving station (among others). With twinkle lights and incredible bands, you’ll think you’re a guest at a top notch wedding reception. The Italian restaurant is also wonderful, and rumor has it the alternate dinner venue (French-Continental) is equally delicious.

This place is adults only. There is a mix of young and old, and there were several folks traveling together. Couples socialized with each other easily, and it was overall very convivial and welcoming from all angles. I saw three brides while here, and the setup on the beach seemed the most romantic. Weddings here are free.

The spa is rated highly by Conde Nast. I was treated to a short, 30-minute massage, and found the massage talents in line with other resorts (so, nothing outstanding). However, the setting was what was unique. Massages take place in palapas overhanging the cliffs, and you’ll experience the sounds of the waves as you’re receiving treatments. The spa menu is extensive. A nice bonus is that a free massage (or pedicure/manicure) is given to all guests staying in an all-inclusive package.

There are several pools scattered around, including a mineral pool (fed by their mineral springs, which is their original claim to fame). There’s no fancy slides, and no blaring reggae music. Instead, you’ll enjoy understated talent by day (such as the flutist playing softly during breakfast) and great bands by night. Oh, and the grounds here are gorgeous, with blooming tropical flowers all around.

~Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant, 972-625-6200

Puerto Rico/South: Resort picks

Puerto Rico lends itself to a multi-destination itinerary with a rental car.  Start your stay in San Juan or the beachy Northeastern area, then drive southwest towards Ponce for a few days’ stay there.

There are two resorts I recommend in South Puerto Rico, both of which are four star upscale and beachfront.

Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort (253 rooms)

Here’s a four star upscale resort situated on Puerto Rico’s south side perfect for golf enthusiasts and families. The lobby is quite large and is open air. There’s a restaurant in the lobby facing the pool that’s open air, and offers breakfast and an exciting assortment of themed buffets throughout the week. Overall, there’s a sense that you get plenty of elbowroom.

Just built is a new Executive Tower. Here you’ll find Deluxe Rooms with full ocean views, as well as Executive Rooms with access to the exclusive Executive Lounge. All rooms have balconies. Deluxe Rooms offer pull out beds, perfect for families. In this tower, the rooms have a more contemporary feel, while the rooms in the older towers are more Caribbean in style.

The main pool is situated under lots of palm trees. The beach is nice, but the sand is dark. In the evenings, the hotel restricts the guests’ access to the beach. The view is lovely, and you can see “Coffin Island” offshore.

There’s 27 holes of golf here, and the club house is quite nice. For those seeking a bit more privacy than the main pool offers, the club house pool is available for hotel guests.

This resort is perfect for golf enthusiasts and destination weddings. This is also suited for honeymooners and families who prefer a Hilton atmosphere over something more “regionally authentic.”

Copamarina Resort
About 2 hours’ drive south of San Juan airport and over the mountains sits the Copamaria Resort, on the southern Caribbean coast of Puerto Rico in Guanica. This charming, moderate quality resort is a nature lover’s dream, and offers quite a bit for those wanting to relax or perhaps dive and snorkel as well. Surrounding the Copamarina Resort is the Dry Forest National Park.

Rooms here are spacious and quite charming. The floors are tiled, and the furnishings are in simple woods. All rooms feature patios or balconies, with wood shutters and a ceiling fan on the patio/balcony. Bathrooms are nice, with oversized walk-in showers (no tubs).

The property stretches over a generous chunk of beachfront. There are a couple of pools laid between the rooms and the beach. The grounds are pretty and there are plenty of tropical plants in bloom.

The open-air lobby area, outdoor café, and indoor dinner restaurant sit on one side of the resort. While the food here is quite good, the service during dinner can be slow. Breakfast is buffet style, and lunch is quick and efficient.

The diving center here is PADI Gold and is excellent. There are several diving and snorkeling options, and Irving in the dive center organizes activities for families and adventure seekers. The beach is a little mucky.

This resort is excellent for families and couples looking to get away from it all. There are some meal plan options, as well as dive packages available. With a car rental, nearby Ponce can easily be explored during the day. Without a car, you’ll be limiting your experience of the region.

~Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant, 972-625-6200

San Juan PR: Resort picks

Here are four great oceanfront hotels in the San Juan area for your next trip to Puerto Rico.

Ritz Carlton San Juan (416 rooms and suites)
The top shelf resort in San Juan is the 5 star luxury Ritz Carlton San Juan.  It is located close to the airport on beautiful Isla Verde beach, and is convenient to Old San Juan by taxi.  Rooms are tastefully decorated in creams, greens, and oranges, and include Bulgari toiletries.  Room service is available 24 hours a day.  The resort has four restaurant venues plus an informal grill, and there’s some great restaurants nearbty.

The spa here is wonderful, so be sure to get in at least one treatment during your stay.  There’s a casino onsite as well as a beachfront pool.

Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza (570 rooms)
This active 4 star resort offers a great swimming pool, excellent location, and airy casino for a great choice for folks wanting to stay on the beach in the San Juan area. The main pool is open 24 hours, and there’s a salt-water pool and Jacuzzi. The Lagoon Tower offers a quiet lap pool for those seeking a bit more solace. The beach is just off the main pool area, and offers a protected swimming area (otherwise, the waves are rough). For the area, this is an exceptional beach. The lobby is large and welcoming, with the casino located on the second floor. By Puerto Rico standards, this is a large casino, and the place feels pretty energetic.

Room décor is a “tropical contemporary” in orange and black. All rooms have balconies, except some suites on the tenth floor.

This resort is located very close to the convention center. I would recommend this hotel for folks looking for an overall resort feel, with nightlife nearby. This is suitable for families, groups, singles, and honeymooners – in general a good mix of folks. For something a bit more upscale, you can try nearby Ritz Carlton. Or, for even more of a resort feel, try the Wyndham El Conquistador. The Caribe Hilton is comparable to this resort, but with a more laid back & tranquil feel to it.

Caribe Hilton (812 rooms)
Here’s a four star upscale resort that’s got a nice beach, a great pool, a great location, and the right ambiance for folks looking to experience both San Juan and a beachfront resort. There’s a healthy mix of families, couples, and singles, as well as a few business travelers. The lobby is open air and has a Starbucks, a trendy little bar, and lots of fun little shops. The pool is actually a series of pools, curving around the grounds.

The beach here is great for the area, but still not as nice as some Caribbean destinations you might have visited before. The water is Atlantic (the case in all San Juan area resorts), but there’s a breaker wall that forms a very protected cove that’s virtually waveless and safe for swimmers of all ages. Within the cove you’ll even find a slide to climb on. Sand is golden brown.

San Juan is an easy taxi ride away, and the airport is just a few minutes in the other direction. There’s not much to walk to in the immediate vicinity (the Normandie Hotel is next door), but a short taxi ride or a long walk will get you to several restaurants and shops.

There’s a casino on the upper level, which is not as spacious or airy as the one at nearby Wyndham Condado.

The Normandie Hotel (170 Rooms)
This art deco boutique hotel was built in the ‘30s and was designed to be reminiscent of a famous transatlantic ocean liner. Just recently renovated, this cute moderate hotel is a fun alternative for folks looking to stay near San Juan or the airport, and don’t mind forgoing a good beach or pool.

The new color scheme is in baby blue, gray, and pale green, and furnishings and touches are in a clever art deco style. Most of the rooms are situated like suites, with a separate desk area, a bedroom, a sitting area, and a standard quality bathroom. New in-room amenities include CD players, flat panel televisions, and mini fridges. Mattresses are ultra comfy, and are topped with duvets.

There’s only one restaurant, but the food is great. There’s a small trendy bar on the second floor, and offers tropical jazz music and a welcoming ambiance. There’s also a small spa onsite. The architecture is very unique, and the staff efficient.

The beach is nothing to brag about, though there’s a public beach within walking distance with a lifeguard on duty and is clean (rated as a blue flag beach). There’s a small pool onsite.

The hotel has a few misses. The renovation seemed to miss some touchups, and the hotel never exceeds a 3 star rating overall. The clientele here is mainly conference attendees, business travelers, and quiet folks. While the setting is relaxing, it doesn’t feel like a vacation resort.

Puerto Rico: Passport-free Caribbean

Looking for a getaway that doesn’t require a passport?  Consider Puerto Rico, a tropical island in the Caribbean that offers beaches, fine dining, rainforests, and good old-fashioned relaxing!

The road system is as advanced as those you’ll find in the States (nope, the cobblestone roads in Old San Juan are not typical across the island!). Roads are clearly marked, and the main roads that cross the mountains were safe and well maintained. Spanish is the main language, but everyone has English classes in school. Resort employees speak perfect English, and if you wander outside the resorts, the person you are talking to understands you, even if they are too shy to admit it.

This island is pretty big so don’t underestimate how long it takes to get around. There’s a main mountain chain that runs the length of the island, and the drive thru the mountains can add a bit to your drive time.

Standard of living is high compared to most other Caribbean islands, and pretty close to what you’ll find in many US States. Water filtration meets the same US standards. Puerto Ricans are US citizens. Everywhere I went folks were chatty and delightful, and many were well traveled in the States or lived there for a period of time.

You can find some excellent dining venues in Puerto Rico, ranging from regional specialties to international dishes. Everything I tasted was fresh and delicious, and the resorts are all justly proud of their restaurants. At dinner, the pace is slower and more typical of Europe.

If nightlife is important, stick with San Juan. Here you’ll find the trendier clubs, and some of the best chefs. Fusion cuisine is popular (such as Puerto Rican and Asian). Many of the San Juan resorts offer casinos, and most have a trendy club or two onsite.

Renting a car is easy, and is recommended if you’re visiting the southern or western areas of the island, if you’re planning a multi-destination itinerary, or if you’d like to explore the island on your own. The resorts in the San Juan area generally charge for parking. Away from the San Juan area, some resorts can be pretty far from shops, other restaurants, and the sights.

There’s a lot to see and explore on this island. There are numerous golf courses, and diving is well established. There’s the rain forest in the east, and the dry forest in the west, as well as caves and hikes for the more adventurous. In general, it is a fun island to explore and get to know the history, culture, and people.

Beaches in Puerto Rico are pretty, but don’t quite measure up to Negril or Cancun. The north side of the island is the Atlantic, while the south side is the Caribbean. Sand quality ranges from golden to brown to gray. The better beaches are to be found along the east coast, which is actually Atlantic & the Caribbean, and the best beaches are on Puerto Rico’s islands off the east coast (such as Vieques).

The all-inclusive concept hasn’t caught on in Puerto Rico, but you’ll want the flexibility to explore things on your own here.  Some resorts offer free breakfast promotions; check with us for current specials.

American Airlines offers daily nonstop service between DFW and San Juan.  Most major carriers also offer service from DFW to San Juan with one or more connections

~Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant, 972-625-6200