My husband, teenage daughter and I had the pleasure of staying at the RIU Palace Tropical Bay for 16 nights from October 19 to November 4, 2013. This was our second visit to Negril – our first was in 1997- this was our daughter’s first trip.
We arranged for a private pick up from the Montego Bay Airport and after a grueling hour wait in the immigration lineup (at least 4 flights came in at the same time – should have booked Club Mobay!) our luggage was waiting for us and so was our private driver from SNL Jamaican Tours - Lindsay MacFarlane.
We enjoyed the ride from Montego Bay to Negril with Lindsay pointing out various things as we drove past. Things have changed since 15 years ago – a new road which was impressive. An hour later, we arrived at the resort. WOW – what an amazing first impression.
We were the only people checking in so we were attended to right away, check in took all of 3 minutes, received our room cards, resort maps, information on restaurants and the free Wi-Fi connection information (good on your RIU for providing this service free!)
David loaded up our bags and we were off to our rooms. We were lucky to be put into Building 1 – by the Dive Shack. We had rooms 1220 and 1221. We really liked the way the room entrances are set up, a door, long hallway and then the room doors themselves. This worked out great for us – we’d close the hallway door and open our room doors so we could come and go between rooms. Our rooms were great – lots of drawer space for clothes as well as 2 closets for more clothes, the mini fridge which was kept stocked with Red Stripe, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and Club Soda as well as large and small bottles of water. The a/c worked very well, when you open your balcony door the a/c turns off. There was the alcohol dispenser as well which we used only once, there was enough alcohol at the bars, and we didn’t feel we needed any in the room. The safe is located in the largest closet on the floor, which we found very strange. The beds are pushed together but comfortable enough, the pillows need to be upgraded, as they were flat as pancakes. Water pressure in the shower was weak, a very big step up into the tub and we sure don’t miss the shower curtain sticking to us while showering! When we stepped out to the balcony we discovered we had the most amazing beach view – we loved sitting out there in the evenings, listening to the waves crashing upon the shore, listening to the symphony of tree frogs and crickets. It was heaven. That’s what we miss the most. The rooms were always clean, sometimes we got hand towels and a bath mat but we always had lots of towels. The floor is very slippery in the bathroom so watch out. There’s no window or exhaust fan in the bathrooms so they’re always steamed up. We never had an issue with hot water.
We were home. We all said that being in Negril and at this resort was the most comfortable feeling we’ve ever had on any of our vacations.
We dined most of the time at the buffet where there was always ample food and different dishes to experience. Breakfast was our favorite with all the different smoothies, which we all loved; there was always lots of bacon, sausage, and different egg dishes, pancakes, french toast and lots of other things. Our favorite server by far was Nadine, a beautiful lady who often sang while she worked, always had a smile on her face and was genuinely interested in the people she interacted with - we now have another friend to visit in Negril! The chocolate fondue at dinnertime was amazing as well as the chocolate chip cookies, they were to die for. They always had ice cream and usually had four different flavors. We only saw cones once though. We loved the little warm, cream filled donuts they had some nights for dessert. We also enjoyed the server named “Trouble”; he gave our daughter a hard time every encounter!
Dinner at the buffet was excellent; there were always lots to choose from with different themes every night. In our 16 nights there we didn’t get to experience “Chef’s Choice Seafood Night” which we were told to watch out for which was a disappointment. When asked, one lady at the buffet very rudely told us it was his choice and that was the end of the conversation.
A self serve cappuccino machine and self serve soft drinks would be nice – for those of us who don’t mind getting up to get our own.
Lunch was either a trip to the Jerk Shack (watch out for the hot jerk sauce!) or to the outdoor buffet, again, always lots to choose from. The food at Jerk Shack was excellent, the chicken was done to perfection and if you don’t like really hot jerk sauce, take the sauce from the first bowl or your mouth will be on fire for hours!
For those of you who need a snack after dinner there’s a “food closet” next to the Cubano Cigar Bar where you can help yourself to make nachos, there’s pizza, fixings for hamburgers and sometimes hot dogs.
Making reservations for the a la cartes is very old fashioned where you have to line up to get your hand written reservation notice. Often the restaurants are booked by 9:30 am, which is not exactly true – our two visits to the restaurants had many empty tables. Why the RIU hasn’t implemented computerized reservations is beyond me. In all our travels the RIU (which we recognize is a huge hotel chain) is the only one with this archaic system. Anyway, we tried the Japanese and quite frankly it was terrible. We’re not huge sushi fans to begin with but the main dishes were terribly unappetizing. The servers in the Japanese restaurant were like zombies, totally unconversational, they served the food and that was it. The Italian restaurant food was much better; we cancelled our reservations at Krystal after seeing what they were serving – almost like the Japanese. Our favorite by far was the Steakhouse – and it was like pulling teeth to get a reservation in that restaurant, even though the hotel was only 60% occupied. The food at the Steakhouse was excellent, the service was amazing and our server O’Brien was the highlight of that experience. Note to the a la carte restaurants: if you removed the domes off the dinner plates before you served them, it would make it look a lot classier.
We did enjoy lunch at three restaurants downtown (during our shopping days), we enjoyed Sweet Spice, Colette’s and The Sweet Spot (see separate reviews for those)
WOW – by far this was the best beach we have ever been to. The water was amazingly clear, warm and calm. There were always lots loungers, lots of shade; the beach was clean and lovely to walk from one end to the other. Saw some starfish one day, saw one huge jellyfish one day but he didn’t seem to bother anyone, that’s the only time we ever saw one. Didn’t get stung this trip! There are tiny little fish and we did see some needle nose one day but other than that, no fish at all. And the sunsets? Another huge WOW. Some of the most amazing sunsets I’ve seen in my lifetime that’s for sure.
There are two small pools one with the pool bar and we only visited the pool once - we’re beach people to the core. The water was cool, clean and refreshing. Too bad it was spitting rain but it was so refreshing. We don’t understand why people travel thousands of miles to sit at the pool all day when there’s the most amazing beach right there.
What a disappointment. They should have called it amateur dancing night. That’s basically all that the shows were – amateur dancing and it went on and on and on…. The Steel Drums were quite good, even though they played a strange selection of music. Needless to say we didn’t stay for Showtime the second week we were there, a total repetition of the 1st week, including all the trivia questions and “name that tune”. If they brought in some decent Reggae bands it would improve things a bit, the one they had was terrible. As well the metal chairs with the pancake thin cushions were very uncomfortable.
We had no issues with getting drinks anywhere at all. Great service, great Strawberry Daiquiris and Pina Coladas, except they pour very heavy so we had to tell them only a little rum. We tried all the specialty drinks on the menu and we really liked the Orange Caribbean, Margaritas and Mojitos. There was always great service around the entertainment area and the Cubano Bar. We always parked ourselves down by the Scuba Shack on the beach so we never saw a server there but that wasn’t a problem for us.
Located just outside the building we stayed in so it was very convenient. Hubby is the diver and coincidentally one of the dive instructors is the son of our very good friend from Negril, which was a plus. Hubby only went out once but enjoyed the dive even though there’s not much to see at the spots he was diving (compared to his dives in Cozumel, Cuba and Curacao). Watch out because the ladies badger you to book your water excursions and hardly take no for an answer. The worst was them telling hubby to upgrade his dive ticket for a price 3x what he would have paid for it at home.
We booked our private excursions with SNL Jamaican Tours but there are several excursion desks in the lobby where you can book your tours. We booked Mayfield Falls, Rocklands Bird Sanctuary and Nine Mile, which we thoroughly enjoyed (see separate reviews for those).
There are two great gift shops on site, the smaller one right on the beach and the main shop in the lobby. We liked poking around in the shops, they had plenty of really nice things to look at and buy! They had sundries like suntan lotion, snacks cigarettes, rum clothing and lots of souvenirs.
FRONT DESK STAFF:
The front desk staff were excellent, we received 3 calls in our room inquiring about our stay and if we had any issues which was a first for us. We did have trouble making local telephone calls but a quick call to the front desk had us connected right away.
Free. Really. We’ve been to quite a few all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean where you pay an arm and a leg for a terrible Wi-Fi connection. The Wi-Fi always worked, was always quick and never had an issue. With a teenager you’ve got to have Wi-Fi (according to her anyway!)
My daughter and I had a Spa Day, we both had manicures and she had a pedicure. The spa was very professionally run, the prices were decent and the service was excellent.
General Observations about the resort:
Mosquitos. Unfortunately we did have some rain during our visit and once the rain stops and the humidity hits 200% the little biters come out which is uncontrollable. Granted they did fog for them every night but they’re still out there. I learned not to stay on the beach at dusk and I didn’t get one sand flea bite (which is a record for me) but I did get a couple of scratchy bites. OFF and Deep Woods OFF didn’t help one bit but a product I bought from AVON seemed to deter them.
Garbage Cans: Some people are just pigs but there weren’t enough garbage cans around the property.
Washrooms: It’s true, the only washrooms available to the beach folks were located around the restaurants – they were always clean but not always in working order. For the women there were 8 toilets (if they were working). I guess it would be more of a problem during high season but an additional washroom or even 2 would be useful at each end of the beach.
Coffee: Don’t think you’ll get the world famous Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. It’s Nabob. Imagine – you’re in the land where they grow the world’s finest coffee and they serve Nabob. Shame on you! We were always served a pot a breakfast but hubby liked to have coffee with or after dinner. Sometimes he’d get one, sometimes not. But the key is “one”. He was never was asked if he’d like a second cup, they just came and took the cup away.
Fruit: We never once saw a slice of pineapple, or any passion fruit even though both fruits were in season at the time. The watermelon was terrible, no flavor, sliced as thin as paper. We did enjoy the sour sop, guava, cantaloupe, honeydew melon and star fruit.
Slippery tile walkways: Beware; the tile walkways are slippery when wet. And the ramp from the lobby down to the Spa is treacherous after a rain.
Taxis: You can get a taxi at the taxi desk in the lobby – make sure you negotiate the price before you get into the taxi. There’s a fellow named Sean who parks his taxi across the street from the hotel who was a scammer so beware.
Gardeners: Work so hard in the relentless heat cutting the grass, trimming the trees and bushes, We brought multi-tool knives for them which were appreciated and we also brought them pop from our mini fridge which was also appreciated.
High Season vs. Low Season: We all pay the same amount of money, but the low season guests don’t get as many of the perks that are offered during high season. What’s with that? We were also very disappointed that they decided to paint the rooms above us during our stay which resulted in the painters pushing the furniture around at 7:00 in the morning which was very annoying – “we’re getting ready for high season”, so make sure you wake up everyone up dragging furniture. The Ping-Pong table came out the day before we left; there was no Banana Boat as advertised.
The resort really should consider a free (or minimal charge) for their guests to go shopping downtown, Time Square or the Vendor’s Market. They should also consider free airport pick up and return. You pay big $$ to stay there and then you get ripped off over $100 (each way) from and back to the airport.
The vendors walking the beach were quite entertaining if not annoying. After a couple of days the Jet Ski guys were annoying. The Office of Nature lobster hawker also got annoying. We enjoyed the fellow who walked the beach from one end to the other – Cigars, Cigarettes, It’s gonna be hot, hot hot! Visits to the vendor shacks down by the Scuba shack were always entertaining, they always had a deal for everyone and “touching was free”. Remember to visit all the vendors if you’re going, if you don’t they are offended.
You may need to get your room cards reprogrammed, we had to on 2 occasions but it wasn’t a big deal.
Saw some great critters here as well which included dozens of bats flying around one of the trees by our room on two separate occasions, huge moths, lots of birds including a flock of parrots who squawked and flew from one tree to another. A huge land crab wandered around one night and lots of crabs on the beach (one visitor told us there were no crabs on the beach – while we avoided them on our night walks!)
We walked the beach almost every night, we always bring our small flashlights - but it was most annoying when security on each end of the beach shone their lights into our eyes during our walks. We totally understand they’re watching out for us but they sure didn’t watch out for the ganga sellers on the beach at night, they come up right behind you in the dark and scare the crap outa you!
We really felt sorry for the young men who pushed the water/soft drink/alcohol carts around to refill the mini fridges. Those carts weighed so much and pushing them around in that heat must have been so difficult. We told one young man if we won the lottery we’d buy him a golf cart with a trailer to help him out a bit!
We were stunned one day when one of the lifeguards was tasked with cleaning the bird poop off the loungers – um, there are birds, and you’ve got your chair parked under the trees that they live in – get over it. Some people live to complain.
What we missed was seeing local vendors at the resort – why not promote selling local and have them sell on site once a week – they’re got lots of space to provide tables for these folks.
Would we stay here again? Absolutely - but there are other all-inclusive resorts that we would try on future visits. Did we find anything to complain about? Not at all but I know there are others who did which is absolutely ridiculous. Did we like the food? Absolutely – we all gained weight on this vacation.
Gail, Alex and Kira - Calgary