Continued from Couples Tower Isle – What We Loved
After our recent trip to the Couples Tower Isle resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, we now have a better understanding of their all-inclusive, couples only, boutique resort concept. As part of an informational press trip, we also gained an appreciation for Tower Isle’s love for Jamaica.
Had we simply been guests, though, I’m not sure this last part would have been so clear.
If only it was in our power, we’d change a few things at Tower Isle to help guests feel even more relaxed and connected to Jamaica.
1. Active promotion of Tower Isle’s use of Jamaican foods from local farms.
As Slow Food fans, we were happy to hear that the use of local ingredients is a priority for Couples’ esteemed and newly promoted executive chef, Stefan Spath. But as diners at Tower Isle, we would have felt more culturally engaged if we’d been able to learn more about the locally sourced foods being served, and maybe even the farms from which they came.
Adding a few paragraphs about sourcing and indigenous products to the resort restaurants’ menus, and more specific labeling of local fruits, veggies and meats featured in the Patio buffets would go a long way to show that Tower Isle is serious about and supportive of Jamaican food.
We even envisioned a sponsored tour that could feature a chef-designed itinerary of visits to Tower Isle’s favorite source farms. Tours of local Jamaican farms and plantations already exist (e.g., The Source Farm, Croydon Plantation, etc.), but there’s presently no information about them at Tower Isle.
2. Jamaican cuisine at the elegant Bayside restaurant, and Asian food at the more casual Verandah. Canoodling one night at a candlelit table overlooking the sea, we looked down at our fancy red glass plates…and longed to taste the heat, spices, and sauces of Jamaican cuisine. Instead, we dined on delicately fried egg rolls and Pad Thai that would be perfectly delicious at a neighborhood Asian joint, but felt out of place in such a quintessentially Caribbean setting.
We felt that Verandah, with its indoor location, bright, airy, colorful dining room and casual, no-reservations vibe would be the more ideal spot for food that feels like a creative dining alternative, rather than the featured cuisine at a Jamaican resort.
3. Restoration and preservation of “the other” snorkeling reef.
Tower Isle is emphatic about protecting its own local beach and reef, and no snorkeling is permitted there. However, on the windy day we chose to snorkel, we were, taken to what was called “the other reef,” east of the resort and calmly buffered by the sea canyon shelf. This reef is, despite the lingering presence of some tropical fish and spiky urchins, almost entirely dead.
As part of the all-inclusive program, we and our fellow snorkelers were all given life vests and excellent equipment, but boat guides made little effort to instruct us how to protect and respect the reef itself. We feel they should have been very clear about this, at the very least because this was sure to be many guests only experience of a Jamaican reef.
Once in the water, we witnessed several irresponsible snorkelers at rest, kicking their fins at already-mangled corals rather than floating on their backs. Other snorkelers brought up shells, sand dollars, and chunks of coral they’d plucked off the shallow sea floor; even the boat guides snagged a few conch shells for themselves. The message seemed to be, “No need to care for this.” It was pretty darn depressing.
- Tower Isle does offer complimentary snorkeling instruction, for those who ask.
- We didn’t have an opportunity to see the main reef, and can only hope it’s in better shape.
4. Maps of Jamaica at the concierge desk and a little frank advice about what to see of the island.
We looked into hiring a driver for the better part of a day to show us some more of the island; normally, we’d drive ourselves, but the need for left-side driving ixnayed this option. In attempting to plan a route, we found that the concierge desk had no maps of the island, and neither did the front desk; they both felt sure the other one would be the perfect place to find one. It was eventually suggested that we go search for one online in the business center, where I found this helpful one at World Atlas.com.
The Tower Isle concierge desk largely exists to promote and arrange for group tours, not impart off-script information about Jamaica. But if, like us, you’re into staying at a nice hotel but also exploring a new place as a couple rather than a group, here you’re probably better off doing your own research and scheduling.
This said, the group tours on offer at the concierge desk seem adventurous and fun; none, as can be expected, are in the purview of the all-inclusive. The concierge can book day long excursions through Explore Jamaica, a tour of the Appleton Rum Estate, a Blue Mountain Bicyle Tour, and more. Or, you can take to rivers on and rafts, prowl a market in nearby Ocho Rios, see Negril Beach at sunset and the Luminous Lagoon at nightfall.
We only wish we’d had more time to do it all…and at least occasionally, without mid-sized buses full of others.
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