Couples San Souci in Ocho Rios gets fresh look for its latest role

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Couples San Souci enjoyed movie star status in the early '60s as the backdrop for the James Bond thriller "Dr. No."

Now, nearly 50 years later, the Ocho Rios property is ready for its close-up once again.

The five-star, all-suite property recently received a $4.5 million refurbishment that combined Jamaican decor with contemporary upgrades.

"We want to provide our guests with clean, elegant surroundings with a contemporary feel," said Randy Russell, Couples' chief romance officer and senior vice president of sales and marketing.

A mainstay of the Ocho Rios hotel scene for more than half a century, Sans Souci is the latest property to join the Jamaican-owned Couples family of all-inclusive resorts, which also includes Couples Swept Away and Couples Negril, both in Negril, and Couples Ocho Rios.

Set atop Jamaica's emerald hills, Sans Souci ("without a care" in French) is carved into the cliffs, with winding walkways, grottoes and Caribbean vistas.

Details include bronze lobby sculptures by local artist Basil Watson, the resort's signature colors of blue and white throughout the property and large, open balconies in many guest rooms. 

Suites are arranged in blocks on various levels on the cliffs. The Evergreen building is closest to the lobby. Guests book these rooms for unobstructed sea views and proximity to the Balloon bar, which features live music several nights a week.

Wi-Fi currently is available at the beach and in some of the rooms; Couples hopes to have Wi-Fi throughout the property by the spring.

"Last year was the year for our major renovations," said Pierre Battaglia, the property's general manager. "This year means a refreshed product with decor upgrades in all our suites and public areas."

The veranda suites have a spacious master bedroom with large balconies, and the ocean suites feature a sitting area with a kitchenette. The one-bedroom, beachfront suites offer an in-room Jacuzzi, and the penthouse suites include elegant living rooms and bedrooms.

Couples' all-inclusive concept, which does not permit tips, includes unlimited food and drink.

Activities include fashion shows, beach cricket, tarot card readings, wood carving, performances by local musicians and a weekly beach party that includes reggae, rum and spicy food.

Greens fees and transfers to the Upton golf course are included in the rate. Two tennis courts are lighted, water sports are available and the fitness center boasts modern aerobics equipment. 

Free shuttles depart daily for the Crafts Market and Island Village Mall in Ocho Rios as well as Dunn's River Falls and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville bar and restaurant. 

The resort has four pools, including one with a swim-up bar at the Au Natural beach, hidden by design.

"We market not to the luxury seekers but to those desiring privacy and romance," Battaglia said.

Although repeat guests make up 20% of bookings, the resort is aggressively marketed to first-time Jamaica vacationers.

As with many all-inclusives, a stay here is not for the faint-of-appetite.

Several restaurants keep hunger at bay, including Ristorante Casanova for Italian dishes and Palazzina's, with menu selections that include made-to-order pasta and desserts such as baba au rum, a concoction of Appleton rum, pistachio wafers and homemade rosemary ice cream.

Bella Vista dishes up local favorites like spicy jerk chicken and red pea soup. Service can be slow, but with the Mento band performing on the beach and the moon illuminating the tables, the lag is barely noticeable. 

The "Made-in-Jamaica" burger is the winner at the Beach Grill, where bare feet and swimsuits are welcome, and bartenders such as Orlando Campbell keep guests happy with original creations.

There's no shortage of alcohol at the other four bars, although Charlie's Spa Bar pours carrot juice, not Red Stripe. 

Although spa sessions are not part of the all-inclusive plan, most guests opt for a treatment or two at Charlie's Spa, which takes its name from the century-old turtle that lives in the mineral springs under the resort.

Popular with guests are massages with names that sound like dessert, such as the Pineapple and Papaya wrap ($90 for 50 minutes) and the Choco-Latte Scrub ($84 for 25 minutes).

More than 90% of Couples' guests are from the Northeast, according to Michelle Gordon, U.S. sales team leader, citing ease of airlift and travel agent support.

Getting to and from the property can take awhile: The Montego Bay airport is a two-hour bus ride away, along the island's north coast highway. If clients are averse to the long ride, helicopter transfers can be booked at www.jamaicahelicoptertours.com.

For additional information on Couples San Souci or to book, visit www.couples.com.

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