During my trip to Jamaica, I was fortunate enough to be hosted by the Riu Hotels & Resorts in both Montego Bay and Negril. I have to admit, I'd never heard of Riu Hotels prior to the trip, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I'd also never stayed at an "all-inclusive" resort, so I didn't know what to expect with that, either. I was in for some delightful surprises on both counts.
Riu Hotels are a family-owned chain of resort hotels based in Spain. With over a hundred properties in Europe, the Caribbean, and Mexico, and one in the US, Riu Hotels offer luxury and affodable accomodations at some of the world's best beach destinations. I will definitely look into Riu for future vacations, now that I am familiar with their accomodations, friendly staff, and their version of what it means to be "all-inclusive."
I arrived at the hotel later than expected, due to a delay in my layover in Miami. Jamaica is pretty hot and sticky this time of year, but the airy entrance hall with large breezy fans made it seem much more comfortable. The front desk clerk let me know what restaurants were open and that a pizza place would be opening shortly, in case I missed dinner.
It was a bit of a walk across the sprawling compound to my room, but everything was clearly marked. The quaint Victorian-style buildings are painted a pale lavendar and white, which gives the compound a story-book feel to it. When I got to my room, I immediately noticed immediately a towel on the bed that was configured as a swan with tropical flowers adorning it, a cute, welcoming touch.
I also noticed that there was no minibar with tiny bottles of alcohol inside with exhorbitant prices attached to them. Instead there was a FULL BAR of full-sized bottles of gin, rum and vodka, hung upside down in a row like IV bottles. Aside from the gin, rum, vodka, and scotch, there was also a fully stocked mini-fridge with bottles of soft drinks, water, mixers, and the ubiquitous Red Stripe beer.
I kept looking for a price list and wondering how they kept track of the large bottles. Later, I learned that this was also included in the "all-inclusive" price of the room. I could have had quite a party and didn't even know it (although it would have been a pretty pathetic party since I didn't know anyone at the resort at this point). My only complaint about this set-up was that I was never able to locate an ice machine, despite several attempts on several floors. I still don't know where they are hidden.
The room was fairly large, with a private balcony with two deck chairs and a drying rack for swimsuits and towels attached to the wall. My room faced the ocean, and though it was dark outside, I could hear the calming sounds of the waves rushing to the shore. After a stressful day of travel, it was nice to just relax at last.
The next day, I got to see what I was missing in the dark--a stunning white sand beach outside my balcony, a grand swimming pool complex complete with swim-up bar and lounge chairs embedded in the pool, and a huge buffet. The other bloggers and I were given a tour by the property manager and got to hear a little bit about Riu Hotels from their sales and marketing manager. Both properties feature live nightly entertainment. The Montego Bay hotel had a Michael Jackson tribute show that elicited thunderous cheering from the crowd the night I arrived. Food is in abundance, with numerous restaurants on the property, including a huge buffet, an Italian restaurant, an Asian restaurant, a steakhouse and a casual cafe. All of these restaurants are included in the price of the room, but the specialty restaurants may require a reservation for a particular seating.
The Riu in Montego Bay is considered a "classic" hotel, with mid-range prices, suitable for families, honeymooners, and anyone just wanting a relaxing vacation at an affordable price. When I checked online for price quotes, I found some pretty incredible deals in September-October. High season runs from November through April, but off-season prices can be a steal. Prices quoted on their website include room, meals, and all taxes, so you are not hit with surprise charges at the end that could increase your hotel bill by 20%. I don't know what their tipping polcy is, so it would be wise to check what is customary.
The Riu Palace Tropical Bay in Negril is considered one of their more upscale luxury properties. The main difference that I noticed was in the lobby and grounds decor, which had a bit more sumptuous feeling to them than the property at Montego Bay. We had a terrific dinner at the posh Krystal restaurant, a fusion restaurant featuring fresh ingredients with gorgeous presentations and delicate preparations. Reservations and proper dinner attire are required for the themed restaurants.
Both the Riu Hotels we visited primarily cater to adults, as evidenced by the numerous bars on each property, but there are some activities and childcare available for kids. All Riu properties are family-friendly, but I didn't notice many children at either property. Most of the family groups I observed seemed to have older teens. I think that most of the clientele were honeymooners and second-honeymooners (or people pretending to be honeymooners). There is childcare at the Riu Palace Tropical Bay with some organized kids activities, including a children's dance party and movie nights. If you are concerned about the kids getting into the liquor in your room, the staff will remove it upon request.
My stay at both Riu Hotels reminded me of being on a cruise, with great food available at any time of day, impeccable service, and a host of on-site activities to keep you busy day or night, but without the annoying seasickness to contend with. If you want to get away from the property for a while, there are numerous day trips and adventure packages available for an additional charge.
If you're a more adventurous traveler who wants to experience the local cuisine, shops, and nightlife, it might not be worthwhile to go "all-inclusive." If you're like me, you don't want to pay for food when you have already paid for it. If you want to just relax and be pampered, without worrying about transportation and safety, all-inclusive is the way to go.
Overall, I enjoyed my stay at both Riu Hotels, and wish I'd had more time to just hang out in one of those embedded pool lounge chairs with a rum drink in my hand. My philosophy on travel is to always leave something to look forward to next time, so until next time, I'll just have to imagine it.
Disclosure: My trip, including airfare, hotel accommodations, admission prices, and meals were sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board. I did not receive any additional compensation or incentive to write this post. The opinions expressed in this post are original and my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jamaica Tourist Board or Riu Hotels.
All photos were taken by Glennia Campbell using a Nikon D90 DSLR. Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.