Having travelled throughout the Caribbean and having seen many different all-inclusives, maybe I am now more choosy. The hotel looks pretty but upon closer observation, has many design flaws and, in my opinion, is poorly managed. The employees bend over backwards to be helpful, generally-speaking, but they can’t produce things which haven’t been provided by management, and they can’t change the basic layout of the hotel. We wrote a list of our concerns and presented them to the assistant manager on the 3rd day of our 7-day stay. His response was to shrug and say nothing. We asked him to find a way to compensate our displeasure but he really had nothing to offer us.
Your Arrival: We had stayed at another hotel for a week in Negril and so we accepted their transfer to the MBJ airport and then we were on our own for finding a way to the Riu. Someone had given us the name of a reasonably priced, reliable taxi service, so we used that. We arrived at the RIU around 7 p.m. on a Saturday evening. We were greeted with a sweet cocktail dispensed from a large machine and rum was added into it. We arrived to find that the hotel only had one key available and no safe locks available. They assured us that we could get these the following morning. It surprised us to learn that the room safe was locked in the old fashioned way (key and removable lock) as most hotels now have the programmable combination types. We also discovered that we had the old-fashioned lock and key for our room, while our friends in Bldg. 1 had digitized cardlocks. The entire hotel was built at the same time (not in phases) so we are not sure why one area had better locks. We had paid for an ocean view room and were informed we were in Bldg. 3 (of 3 possible buildings)
The bellman loaded our bags and lead us on a long trip to the elevator. The trip took us through an area where there was open-air seating for the large buffet restaurant. Because we arrived during the supper hour, the bellman dodged hungry guests running back and forth from their tables to the buffet, and he also dodged busy waiters with full carts of dirty dishes. I was surprised that this was the only way to get to the bank of elevators in Bldg. 3. After that evening, we called a trip through this passageway "running the gauntlet". There is a lot of marble in this beautiful-at-first-glance hotel. Unfortunately, the marble can be slippery and is made worse by the open-air aspect (rain gets in, drinks spilled, etc.) This was "taken care of" by a mass distribution of bright orange hazard cones. It really spoiled the appearance of the place. To add to that, one must navigate a 15° ramp to get to the elevator, and although parts of the marble/granite had been surfaced with grit, it was still an accident waiting to happen.
Rooms: We took the elevator to our top floor room. We looked forward to a magnificent view as we had been worried that we might be assigned a 2nd floor room and the ocean view would be nothing but treetops. However, after stepping onto the balcony, we were greeting by a solid wall. Instead of a railing so that the view was in fact viewable, we had to stand up to enjoy seeing anything. I have to admit that standing there in the morning did give us a magnificent view. But as mentioned, this was not achieved by sitting in a deck chair with a cocktail in hand. Additionally, there was only one chair on the balcony, and despite 2 calls to the front desk, we never had more than one. There were never enough towels. Somedays we had one bath towel and 2 hand towels and other days 3 bath towels and no hand towels. We did put in requests for more, but never got any. We did tip our maid daily, but short of knitting her own towels, I am certain that she had no access to any. Our clock lost 15 seconds per minute so was useless. Channels on the TV were mostly American and Spanish (RIU is a Spanish chain) and we were hard pressed to find a local station or one that provided us with a weather forecast. Many large hotels include a channel with daily events. This was not the case here. The mattresses are poor quality and uncomfortable. The pillows are attrocious.
The furnishing and artwork are very attractive, however.
Restaurants and Bars: I have mentioned the problem with traffic in the main (St. Ann) buffet. The same can be said for the main hallway between 2 bars leading from the reception area to Bldg. 1. The food was quite good, generally. However, we had friends staying in Bldg.1 and we were in Bldg. 3. Our friends had jr. suites and likely paid a bit more for their rooms. Therefore, they had access to certain restaurants that we did not have access to. It seemed a bit elitist to me, but we found ways to get around it.
Sadly there wasn’t a single bar/lounge where one could go to have a drink and talk with friends. Every public area was loud and noisy. The sound system was poor in the entertainment area made worse by the sound bouncing off hard materials like wood and marble.
The pools are lovely. The grounds are breath-taking. There were plenty of lounge chairs available on the beach (not so much at the pools) but we prefer the beach. It is man-made but very well groomed – not like the beaches of Negril, but just fine. No real snorkeling to be done from shore, but great for cooling off.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: We had a couple massage on our first day at the resort. It was wonderful – it took place right on the beach and our attendants were delightful. We attended a wedding at the gazebo on the beach – it was beautifully done.
As with all the all-inclusives that have tour companies attached, the tours are expensive and dependent on who happens to be the tour guide that day. We did 2 tours -one was a Catamaran ride to Dunn’s River Falls with a snorkeling stop on the way back and the other was rafting down the Martha Brae. This was our second trip to the falls and I think it is well worth it. I wouldn’t ever go on the Martha Brae trip again. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and friendly, but the bus trip was an hour each way and unfortunately, our raft guide wasn’t overly friendly or talkative. Other guides were singing and chatting about local flora/fauna. Ours just wanted to sell his carved calabashes to us for $50-60. (as if we brought that kind of money with us on a tour!)
Other Comments: The earthquake in Haiti was a recent occurence and the weather in Jamaica was the poorest I had experienced. However, we did have more sun than rain and Jamaica is a most beautiful country.
The people of Jamaica are the highlight. They are the happiest, friendliest people and they keep us coming back. We just won’t stay at a RIU next time!