We took our first family-of-five vacation out of Canada from April 2 to 9, 2013 - our boys are 8, 12 and 16. After searching through countless deals and reviews of hotels, I landed on the Riu Emerald Bay, with a deal of $700 CDN per person, which included all meals (buffet style), taxes, flight and accomodation in two rooms.
Highlights - Sunsets, ocean views, seeing whales and dolphins, long beach to walk down past the hotel, cleanliness.
Lowlights - Spotty service, smoking in rooms.
Absolutely beautiful, but the ocean was not for swimming (red flag), at least when we were there. The property is on a bit of a penninsula. On the east side is a bay and mountains, where you can watch the sun rise through the mist. On the west of the hotel is the full ocean, breathtaking sunsets, and a small "mountain" at the end of the penninsula. We even saw a whale from our room and dolphins combing the waves for fish. If you're a sufer, this is paradise, or if you like to watch surfers, which we do. I also love swimming, though, and was disappointed that there was a red flag (the highest alert) at the beach everyday. Despite a sign that warned people they could be ejected from the hotel for swimming in these conditions, many folks, including us, did go in the water each day, but stayed very close to shore (there is a lifeguard and beach police who seemed cautious about where people were swimming and when the rip tide wasn't suitable for anyone to be in the water). The waves, rip tide and undertow were quite severe, but fun for bodyboarding, if careful. My eight-year-old was not impressed and kept to shore. For the most part, we enjoyed swimming in the many pools on the property that looked out over the ocean and were dotted with swaying palms. Although I didn't get my snorkeling in, I was surprisingly just as happy to swim in the pools and look out onto the ocean.
Lots of chairs, many unused at the south end of the property if in need. As usual, beyond the ropes of the property there were many people selling hats, sunglasses, fake silver (be warned), cigars and what-not on the beach, but they were easy-enough to bypass with a "no thanks". The sand was lovely, and you could walk for miles past the hotel along with other tourists. This isn't a busy or "party" area, more isolated, which we liked. As previously mentioned, we had a red flag warning for the water every day, and the waves were massive, as was the undertow and rip tide. The lifeguard and beach police were good about getting people out of the water if things got dangerous, including watching where people swam in proximity to the rip tide. I felt the pull in the water a couple of times while bodyboarding (you can get them from the hotel), and was careful about moving myself and family out of any areas in the water like this. The hotel has a sign that specifies you shouldn't swim on a red or black flag, and you may be ejected from the hotel for doing so. Lots of people were going in the water, though, but you couldn't really "swim," only play at the shore, really. For people who like to snorkel and see fish in the water, this is a big negative, but we did see dolphins in the waves close to shore on a couple of occassions and a whale in the water from our balcony.
Every restaurant is buffet style, which was fine with us-- don't go here expecting gourmet. We could always find something good to eat, and nobody had stomach issues over the entirety of the trip -- even though my family is VERY sensitive to food, so this was a big plus. The breakfasts were always delicious and plentiful, and the mexican dishes were always good, as was the seafood. I'll echo what a few people have said on Trip Advisor, that you do sort of tire of the same dishes after a few days. One night, there was also a lot of salt in the food, which I'm not into.
Restaurants - We made reservations at two of the three "restaurants" onsite, which are also buffet style -- the Bamboo, and Asian-style restaurant and the "Italian" restaurant. Avoid the Italian - I didn't know Italian food could be that bad - they just didn't prepare it properly. The Bamboo was "meh" - the kids liked it, but if you've ever had good sushi and Asian food, this was far from it. It was best just to stay at the main buffet, which had a lot of variety. For instance, we enjoyed the mahi mahi, turkey dinner and seafood skewers. Admittedly, I didn't find much to eat at lunch that I liked and would have either fish and chips (great) or tortilla chips with guacamole and fresh salsa - delish! The ketchup is awful, so I do suggest bringing your own if the kids are picky.
Desserts - The desserts were also disappointing - not to Canadian and US standards, and made with lots of gelatin.I stuck to the cheesecake and ice cream - there was a great coconut gelato. On the plus side, there was always an array of fresh fruit, but sometimes the pineapple wasn't quite ripe enough.
Drinks - Again, not to my expectations. If you're there to get drunk, they'll work. If you're like me and you want to enjoy a couple of tasty drinks a day, it was really hit and miss. I asked for a Mai Tai from three different bar tenders and got three completely different drinks (the first one was good). Also, the service at the bars was spotty. Some of the bartenders were nice, others quite crusty. The wine wasn't great, and many of the sweet alcoholic drinks tasted like they were made with aspertame. The juices were really bad, though - watered down, not pure. The kids enjoyed the "apple pop" best.
The service was, as described in the "Drinks" section, spotty. It seemed as though Spanish-speaking patrons were treated as the more important guests, and on numerous occassions they appeared to be served before us and with more care than we were - admittedly, this may have been due to a language barrier, as we don't know Spanish. In the main buffet restaurant, we had some occassions where nobody even looked at us, and other times where servers were very friendly and attentive. To be honest, I'm fine to be left alone at a buffet and with my family to enjoy a meal, but I know some folks may expect more attention while on vacation.
It's about a 40 minute bus ride from the airport to the hotel, but the communication regarding what's expected of you is very good. The hotel was at full capacity when we arrived, so we were given our wrist bands, which you have to wear throughout your stay, on the bus. I was a bit disappointed that our rooms weren't ready until later that afternoon, having arrived at 9am, but we seemed to be one of the last visitors to receive our rooms, and many got in on arrival. The staff was friendly and efficient, and there was a large change/shower room on the main floor so we could get out of our "Canada clothes" and into our bathing suits to enjoy the tropics. Once our room was ready, the bags were already brought up by the hotel staff.
The rooms are adequate, cleaned daily, and fairly modern. They aren't luxury, but they're nice. All rooms overlook the ocean, whether you pay for "oceanview" or not. We did pay a few dollars extra for oceanview, having not realized this until after booking, and were on the 12th floor (1204 and 1205). I was concerned that our rooms wouldn't connect or be together based on other comments, but they were side-by-side. Although not connecting, you walked down a small hallway that led to the doors of our two rooms only, so it felt more private. Sadly, there aren't any "non-smoking" rooms, and when we first arrived this was fine, but then a smoker moved in down the hall and polluted our air space. Since we were outside most of the time, this didn't bother us too much, but if you're allergic to smoking this could be problematic. Also, we really liked the temperature of the hotel - the air conditioning was great in our rooms and adjustable. The bar fridge was stocked every two days (included), with Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, 7-Up, water and club soda, and there were four bottles of booze in the room to make mixed drinks (vodka, tequila and two others - we didn't partake). Note that each room also has a balcony, and the jacuzzi rooms looked lovely but were out of our price range.
Lovely. All are about four feet deep and surrounded by palm trees. You can face the ocean or the hotel in the chairs aligning each pool in double rows, some with a terrace overtop. We didn't venture to the kids area because our boys are all old enough not to be there, but it looked like the kids were having a great time in there, too, and there are two small water slides. As per usual, people monopolized the chairs by coming out early in the morning to drape a towel and claim them, even though this is against hotel policy. I refused to do this, and we always found enough chairs together around the pool, but perhaps not in the prime spots.
We're not into this, so I can't comment. We just retired to our rooms to see what movies were on television at night, and there were always English movies for us to watch on channels 40 to 50.
We thought the excursions were too pricey, but we did take a taxi into the "Golden Zone" of Mazatlan and to the aquarium. There were plenty of fish and other animals, but I'm not a big fan of zoos in general, as I always feel bad for the animals incarcerated there. If you like zoos and aquariums, though, I would recommend visiting. The taxi cost $15 each way, and I think the admission was about $75 for the family. There were shows throughout the day, and we saw the seal show. The kids liked it, but not knowing Spanish, of course we couldn't understand a word that the announcer was saying!
We also went to the waterpark across the street from the hotel. It was a bit dodgy! We had fun, but some of the slides were really fast, and there was little room at the bottom of some of the slides to shoot out. It also cost $15 a person. Note that if you go, we thought you had to rent the tubes (the blue ones) for the day on top of the admission cost, but there are tubes available for use (the yellow ones) if you wait for them at the bottom of the slides. Overall, the kids did have a lot of fun here, but my husband, an engineer, noted that the concrete and rebar on one of the slides wasn't stable (rusting) and warned us that in the event of an earthquake it would likely crumble!
We really liked Mazatlan, the location of the hotel, the ocean, the pools - it was a wonderful vacation. I don't know if I would have wanted to pay over $1000 a person, but for $700 each this was amazing. I'm not certain we would return to Mazatlan--not because there was anything negative about it, but because we'd like to explore other beaches and areas of the world. I should also mention that we were concerned about safety here and in Mexico in general, particularly because of a previous incident with a Canadian that occured at the hotel, but we found the people and places here relatively safe. Note that while we were in town, we didn't realize there was a biker convention taking place, with 5000 bikers converging on Mazatlan over the weekend! Even still, walking around the Golden Zone of the city during the day was just fine, and luckily, perhaps, we had no incidents (I've felt far less safe walking around San Francisco and Buffalo).
All rooms face the ocean, so don't pay extra for an "oceanview" unless you want to be...
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.