Couples – Swept Away, Negril, Jamaica
,My husband and I just returned from our 5-day, adult-only stay at the all-inclusive Couples – Swept Away in Negril, Jamaica. Paradise! My only regret was that didn’t have the opportunity to stay longer.
Couples Resorts is a Jamaica exclusive company with four adult-only, all-inculsive resorts located throughout Jamaica. There are two Couples Resorts in Negril and two Couples Resorts in Ocho Rios. The resorts boast of farm-to-table, gourmet dining among other inclusions, such as unlimited premium drinks, in-room dining, wi-fi, entertainment, water sports, PADI-certified diving and snorkeling excursions. All of the rsorts are EarthCheck Certified for sustainability, and Couples established Issa Trust Foundation (https://issatrustfoundation.com) as a means of giving back to the people and culture of Jamaica.
After arriving in Montego Bay, we made our way through customs via Club Mobay (more info on request), and we were welcomed into the Couples lounge at the airport where we could wait for our complimentary transfer. After a 15 minute wait, we were loaded onto a shuttle to Negril. The ride was a solid, yet somewhat pleasurable, 1 1/2 hours with an entertaining and knowledgeable driver who filled us in with tidbits of information about Jamaica's culture, history and points-of-interest along the way.
We arrived at Couples Swept Away to a warm Jamaican welcome, complete with champagne in the open air lobby. Once checked in, we were guided to our room. This began our vacation in paradise. We ate at all of the 6 restaurants, The Palms, Patois, Lemon Grass, Feathers, Cabana Grill and Seagrape Cafe, and the food proved to be top notch. We started each day with coffee and fruit to be delivered to our room which we enjoyed this on our beachfront veranda. In addition to much (but never enough) restful beach time with our books (lounge chairs were plentiful - just grab one and roll it where you want it) , we took full advantage of the included water sports and excursions - paddle boarding and kayaking. We took a snorkel excursion. We went on a catamaran excursion to a cave. We participated in yoga on the beach. All were enjoyable, and there was so much more to choose from. We were both disappointed that we didn't get the opportunity to go on the included SCUBA excursion, but there is just not enough time in the day to do it all. We did pay $15 pp to go on an excursion Rick's Cafe... because it's Rick's Cafe, and we were in Negril.
I did make a point to walk around the property and snap a few shots of the room and beachfront area of the resort which I included below:
There are far too many preconceived notions, rumors and misinformation circulating the web regarding the elusive and not terribly intuitive dining plan at Walt Disney World. I am going to try to make it a simple to understand as possible.
What is the Disney Dining Plan?
Guests staying at any onsite, Walt Disney World resort hotel can pre-purchase dining credits that can be used at over 140 restaurants throughout Walt Disney World. You are paying for an allotment of meals prior to your vacation.
Who is eligible to purchase a Walt Disney World Dining plan?
Guests, 3 years old or older, staying at an onsite Walt Disney World resort is eligible to purchase a dining plan.
What are the different dining plan options and inclusions?
There are 3 dining plan options, and depending on which dining plan option the guests choose, everyone in the party, ages 3 years and older, will receive the following for each night of their stay at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel:
How does the Walt Disney World Dining Plan work?
This is where it gets tricky. Each eligible guest under the reservation gets the number of credits PER NIGHT OF THE RESERVATION at the Walt Disney World resort for the designated dining plan.
For example, if a family has a reservation at POP Century for 4 nights (Check in: Feb. 4; Check out: Feb. 8) with the Disney Dining Plan (standard), each guest over the age of 3 years old will be able to use the following allotment of credits from check-in (Feb 4) until midnight of the day they check out (Feb 8):
4 table-service meal credits
4 quick-service meal credits
1 refillable drink mug to be used at WDW resorts
You can use these credits however you wish, all at once or spread throughout the vacation.
The Cast Member taking your order will typically ask if you will be using a dining plan. When it is time to pay, you will tap your Magic Band, and the entitlement needed for that dining experience will be subtracted from your reservation's allotment of credits. When a tip is customary, you can charge it to your reservation through your Magic Band, or you can leave cash or charge to a credit card. Your receipts keep a tally of your meal credits.
How many credits are dining experiences?
Quick service locations are all 1-credit each. Most table-service locations are also 1-credit each, but “signature restaurants” and dinner shows are 2-credits. Some of these include Cinderella’s Royal Table, Hoop-de-doo Musical Review, Tiffins among others.
Do I still need to make reservations if I have purchased a dining plan?
YES! Reservations are HIGHLY recommended for all table service restaurants, but you cannot make reservations for quick service locations, for the exception of Be Our Guest quick service breakfast and lunch.
As a dining plan holder, you do NOT get any preferential seating at table service restaurants either. The reservation window for table service dining opens 180 days (roughly 6 months) prior to your day of arrival, and on the 180 day mark, guests staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel can make reservations for dining 10 days from the arrival date. (180 days + 10)
Is alcohol included in the dining plan?
New for 2018!! I’m so happy to announce that YES, alcohol is now included!! A single serving alcohol beverage can be selected with a quick service or table service meal. This includes beer, cider, wine, mixed drinks or specialty cocktails. Note that not all establishments carry alcoholic beverages.
Do you have any further questions? Don’t hesitate to ask!!! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Click HERE to earn a $200 gift card when you spend $500 in the first 3 months of opening a Disney Rewards Visa account!
Although everything I write today could change this afternoon, this has become a no-brainer. If you hope to plan a vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando, my first recommendation to clients is to get a Disney Rewards Visa.
There are a few options.
1. If you happen to bank with Chase®, you could get a Disney Visa debit card.
2. The Disney Rewards Visa, currently has NO annual fee.
3. The Disney Premier Visa, currently has an annual fee of $49.
As of right now, ALL of the above Disney Visas gain you exclusive access to the promotions before they open to the public.
For me, promotion availability is the first selling point to having one of these cards, but there are a few other perks to having this card.
And.. then there are the rewards you earn for actually using the card and gaining points. Let me make it clear that as of now, you ONLY have to put the $200 refundable deposit on your card to become eligible for the exclusive access to promotions. BUT if you happen to have Disney points / dollars earned through a Disney Rewards Visa, you can still book through a specialized Disney Travel Agent.
So…. If you are contemplating a vacation to Walt Disney World, apply for a Disney Visa (It's mostly a matter of WHY NOT? There's nothing to lose.) and then…. CONTACT ME! Let’s make your Walt Disney World Vacation dream come true!
Click HERE to earn a $200 gift card when you spend $500 in the first 3 months of opening your account.
Immediately after returning from a short Universal Orlando jaunt, I indicated on Facebook that this is a theme park for families with children at least 48” in height, and if you find that you have a preference for Disney’s Hollywood Studios with a special place in your heart for the Harry Potter series, this is definitely a vacation for you. I will not, however, compare this experience with Disney. It just isn't comparable.
Universal Studios Orlando is comprised of two theme parks (Universal Studios as well as Islands of Adventure), Volcano Bay (newest water park to open in 2017), hotels (3 Deluxe: Lowes Royal Pacific, Lowes Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel and 1 moderate: Cabana Bay - UPDATE! new moderate and value priced resorts are continuing to be added to the Universal Orlando Resort since this was originally posted. None of which included the Unlimited Express Press, however.), CityWalk with entertainment and restaurants. All of it is linked by a “water taxi” as well as a walking path. It is all very contained. The entrances of the two parks as well as CityWalk are all in one, general vicinity making the ability to hop between parks and to CityWalk for a meal very easy. I enjoyed being able to get from our hotel, Lowes Royal Pacific, to the parks with either a leisurely 5-minute boat ride or a 5-minute stroll.
The convenience of staying on property is pretty undeniable, and they further create incentives with the early entrance into the parks as well as the complimentary Unlimited Express Pass (good for all rides, except for the Harry Potter headliners - UPDATE! The Harry Potter Attractions are now included in the Express Pass!! Volcano Bay is NOT included in the complimentary Express Pass for resort guests.) for guests who stay at any of the 3 deluxe resorts. For whatever reason, Cabana Bay guests do not get a complimentary Unlimited Express Pass. You can purchase an unlimited express pass for up $99.99 per ticket for one day (this is in addition to the price of your park ticket) . The passes are only available to be purchased while supplies last. Let me tell you, the pass was pretty awesome!
Both parks are comprised of themed areas, from cities across the globe to The Lost Continent and, of course, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The theming is beyond impressive. The level of detail is mind-boggling. There is no denying that they do what they do very well!
Many of the headliner attractions at Universal Studios and Islands of Advenure have a height requirement of 48”, and the fairly intense roller coasters have a height requirement of 54”. Other rides have shorter requirements, sprinkled with a couple of areas with the littlest guests in mind for those who have a young “tag-a-long.” Most of the dark rides combine adventure with simulator and 3D and 4D technologies. Again, they do what the do well.
Like most guests who make their pilgrimage to Universal Studios Orlando, I had my sights on this destination primarily because of my love of the Harry Potter series. They do not disappoint. It is amazing! Your brain cannot even register the details because you feel transported into the world of Harry Potter. At Islands of Adventure, you enter into the Wizarding World through Hogsmeade just after the Lost Continent, but at Universal Studios, you enter Diagon Alley through London. The headliner attraction at Islands of Adventure is The Forbidden Journey, (located in the Hogwarts castle), and the headliner at Diagon Alley is Escape from Grigotts (located in Gringotts bank). Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are connected by the third headliner attraction, the Hogwarts Express. The queues for all of these attractions are just as amazing as the rides themselves. Harry Potter fans from all over the globe rejoice in a universal giddiness!
Now it is time for honesty. There are 3 headliner Harry Potter rides as well as 2 roller coasters in Hogsmeade that were given a Harry Potter makeover. In other words, there are 5 Harry Potter rides. That’s it. There are some attractions added for entertainment. The Knight Bus, Olivanders Wand Shop among some street entertainment, but mostly, The Wizarding World is a compilation of shops and restaurants and opportunities to purchase Harry Potter merch. There is no denying that the shops and restaurants come with amazing detail from the books. From Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes to Honeydukes to the Leaky Cauldron and the Hogs Head, there are just so many opportunities to buy and eat… all kinds of Harry Potter stuff.
Here it is to see for yourself. https://www.universalorlando.com/Merchandise/Shop/Harry_Potter.html
Harry Potter fans can also join in on an “interactive wand experience” where you can recite a spell or incantation, flick-swish the wand and something special happens. It is cool, BUT… 1. in order to participate, you must purchase an interactive wand for a mere $45. 2. the locations are often crowded and there is often a line of eager fans waiting to cast their spell, so you often see the magic before you get the opportunity to do it yourself.
My recommendation to all parents of Harry Potter fans, be prepared and know what you are getting into head of time. Talk with your kids about what you are willing to purchase and set limits. For those who enjoy dressing up, purchase a Harry Potter Halloween constume robe on Amazon and bring it. No, the quality isn’t as good as the $110 robes you can purchase at Universal Studios, but it’s not $110 either! Honestly, those $110 robes are heavy, and I know I couldn’t imagine wearing them in the heat of a Florida summer anyway. Also decide ahead of time whether or not you are going to buy into the wand experience. It is cool for a Harry Potter fan. The non-interactive wands are $35, so if you plan to purchase a wand, you might as well pay that extra $10. (I did and would do it again… only once per kid. I’ll invite my son to bring his wand back when we purchase one for his sister.)
Note: All prices mentioned above are reflective of a trip in January 2015. Prices have most certainly risen since.
That is the question.
I’ve known people I couldn’t convince to stay onsite for anything, and this is certainly not a post for you. This is not posted as a debate.
If you are vacillating between the pros and cons of onsite versus offsite, let me just tell you to quit…
You will not get the same experience staying offsite. Period. It’s the difference between a “theme park vacation” and a “Disney experience.” Disney takes the prize in hospitality and theming with a touch of magic that you just don’t really get with your hotel chains or renting a condo or cottage offsite.
If you really think you are going to save a whole heck of a lot of money staying offsite, when you factor in car rental, parking, magic bands, versus the array of 25 Disney resorts at varying price points, you certainly won’t be saving enough to make it worth staying offsite, in my humble opinion. (Unless, of course, you land FREE accommodations offsite. ...can't beat FREE!)
(Understand that I don’t work for Disney, and I can book offsite just as easily as onsite.)
Why stay onsite?
1. The experience - none does it quite like Disney. It's surreal. You are putting yourself in "the Disney bubble." If you don't want it, you have to ask yourself if this vacation is a good idea. Are you doing it for that once in a lifetime trip for the kids? Stay onsite. Go big or go home. Do it for your kids (you may even be pleasantly surprised yourself). Don't half do it.
2. The dining plan - You don't have to buy into the dining plan, but that option is only available to onsite guests. It is nice not to have to worry about paying for your meals. There's something to be said for an all-inclusive, already paid for vacation. It's especially nice when that "free dining" promotion pops up.
3. Proximity to parks - Walt Disney World is huge with 4 major theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney, over 25 resorts... I know my family enjoys a midday break to get out of the crowds (at the peak time of day for crowds and heat) get off our feet, consider swim or a nap.
4. Disney Transportation - it's so nice to hop on a bus, monorail or boat and land right near the park gates.. All Disney transportation is pretty darn reliable and very regular. You don't have to worry about parking and shuttles, etc...
5. Free Parking - free parking throughout WDW should you have a car.
6. Magic Bands - they are included with the room (offsite guests can purchase them)
7. 180 day + 10 reservations - Make all table service dining and experience reservations at 180 days prior to the arrival day. You can make reservations 10 days into your stay, so you can make reservations up to 190 days in advance! This gives you leg up on some of the difficult to get reservations!
8. Disney's Magical Express - Complimentary airport shuttle to your Walt Disney World Resort.
9. Yellow luggage tags - The complimentary luggage program where you put special, yellow Disney luggage tags on your luggage when you check them at the airplort, and it will arrive directly in your room... (they get it from the plane... you don't have to pick it up... nothing.)
10. Extra opportunities - Be Our Guest Quick Service Lunch Fast Pass Option (only available to resort guest)
(Note - Be Our Guest Quick Service no longer accepts FP+, but you can now make a quick service reservation at the 180 day + 10 window.)
11. 60 day FP+ window - The Fast Pass Plus window for resort guests opens at 60 days (30 days for offsite guests)
12. The ability to charge to your room. Basically, you could get away with not carrying anything into the parks... just wear the Magic Band... charge everything to the room. Have any souvenirs sent back to the resort...
Why would someone want to stay offsite? It's true. You can get a bigger room for your buck offsite. That's it. Knowing this... Would I ever choose to stay offsite for a Disney vacation? No!!! Do it for your kids (you may even be pleasantly surprised yourself).
Are you thinking about going to Walt Disney World? What is stopping you from starting your planning now? I'm serious when I say this! You want to go? Contact me and we can start discussing the pro's and cons of when to visit... etc..
But... to best answer the question, I'd say... AT LEAST 6 to months 9 months prior to arrival!
(There is one caveat. The following year's package prices don't come out until July, and packages can't be booked until the prices have become official (though you can reserve a room). For instance, 2015 package prices came out July of 2014. BUT this shouldn't stop you from starting the planning!)
Basically, you want your accommodations fairly settled (although all is modifiable and promotions can still be granted) before you hit your 180 day window (roughly 6 months). Shortly before this window, Walt Disney World's official park hours have been released for your month of vacationing, we can begin to estimate crowd trends (have ideas about which parks to tour on which days), and at 180 days, you can make your Advanced Dining Reservations as well as reservations for experiences, such as princess makeovers at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and pirate transformations at Pirates League. Again, you can cancel all of these reservations at no charge within the cancellation guideline timeframe 24 hours to 2 weeks prior to the reservations depending on the reservation. Remember that even if you have included a dining plan in your package, reservations for your table service restaurants are still very, very, VERY strongly recommended.
Seriously, are you thinking about a Walt Disney World Vacation? As I've mentioned previously, it's only a refundable $200 down to book a package! The balance is due 45 days prior to your vacation (you can make payments however you wish, or pay the rest in total at 45 days), at which point it is still refundable, minus the $200.
What will you get from an authorized Disney travel professional who specializes in Disney?
KNOWLEDGE!!! Knowledge is power!
How can you charge no fees? Are there hidden charges somewhere? This sounds too good to be true.
Trust me on this one. IT COSTS YOU NOTHING! No hidden charges. I promise! I don't charge my clients ANY extra fees, AND the prices are not inflated in any way.
Many people don't understand how travel professionals get paid. When they book your vacation, the agent gets paid by the supplier. In this case, the supplier is Disney. Understand, that specialized Disney travel professions are not employees of Disney. When I book your vacation, Disney pays me to take care of you at no charge, or up charge, to you! So... yes, if you allow me book your vacation, I get paid by Disney, but the services cost you nothing. Think of me as your personal assistant as it relates to your Disney vacation.
Why can't I just do it myself? Why would I want to use a travel professional?
You, most certainly, can do it all yourself, but let me warn you that Walt Disney World has become quite the beast, and with over 25 Walt Disney World resorts and more than 100 restaurants on property, and most people become overwhelmed when they start making decisions on the planning of their vacation. Also, over the past couple of years, Disney has become increasingly more "techie" with the implementation of MyDisneyExperience and Magic Bands and their integration into all aspects of your vacation. There are reservation windows for dining as well as the complimentary Fast Pass Plus system, which allows you avoid lines for certain attractions. I help get my clients set up with the system that can translate into the MyDisneyExperience app on their smart device on their vacation, and I help them make the best choices for reservations (as much as they want) as it relates to grabbing those best and most sought after Disney experiences.
Also, understand that Disney is one of the most popular tourist destinations IN THE WORLD! It draws crowds. crowds = lines and waiting, There are ways of touring the parks to minimize the waiting and the crowds in general. I fill you in on all of the information and park touring strategies.
Disney offers promotions every season. Anyone can get these promotions, subject to the terms of the promotion as well as the availability of the rooms. Note: Disney blocks out a certain number of rooms for each promotion, and not all resorts or resort room categories are available for the promotion.
The promotions usually become available the season BEFORE the scheduled travel. For instance, it is fall, and Disney is currently offering a couple winter promotions. Disney Visa cardholders have recently had promotions become available to them a week before they were to go public.
Can I find a better promotion through a different vender?
NO. Disney has strict control over pricing. There are several discounts available for Florida residents, military, annual pass holders, etc... Your travel professional can help you determine if you are eligible for any of these as well.
Do I have to wait until a promotion is released to be able to book to receive that promotion?
NO!! I recommend you start booking and planning your Walt Disney World vacation AT LEAST 6 months in advance to have as many experiences and opportunities available to you as possible. When a promotion is released, I spend the day on the phone and get all promotions for every eligible client. If your booking is not included in the promotions offered, I will immediately let you know and give you your options and the details regarding the promotion. (Since the visa promotion immediately precedes the public promotion, we travel professionals have insight into the terms of the upcoming promotion.)
Do you have any other questions? Feel free to ask!! I love talking Disney!