Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A low-key, fun-loving crowd of 20-something partiers mixes with older couples and families.
The Riu Negril is incredibly chill, unlike the chaotic Riu in Montego Bay. Between the low buildings and the shady, palm-tree strewn beach, Negril's relaxed, fun-loving vibe is practically palpable. It consists of four three-story light-purple U-shape buildings that give it the look of a condo village.
There are many trios of 20-somethings decked out for a night at the disco, Pacha, which has lots of drunken pairs stumbling out around closing time. Pacha's was the first full dance floor that I had seen at any hotel in Jamaica. I counted at least three weddings taking place during my two-night stay at the Riu, and almost everyone I met was at the resort to attend one of them. This may have skewed the crowd younger than normal.
There are also lots of older couples, though, as well as families with teenagers and young children. There is no shortage of activities for kids during the day or evening entertainment.
After the frenzied check-in process, the staff is fast and friendly.
At 2p.m., the only word to describe the lobby scene would be "disaster." As I exited my cab (after a nice, relaxing ride and lunch at a jerk stand), I was a little dismayed as the bellhops watched me and my driver struggle to pull my bags out of the car. Piles of suitcases created an obstacle course to the front desk, and people in every state of [un]dress were milling about, either looking for drinks or waiting to check in. I managed to approach the front desk during a brief lull, but within minutes a huge line of people had formed behind me.
There are just two clerks working at the desk, but people push their way up to grab every inch of free space along the counter. Everyone shouts to get the clerks' attention. I felt like I was at a hot bar in Manhattan, instead of waiting for a room at the Riu. The young and friendly clerk, Rayon, seemed a little distracted and was easily waylaid by the shouting guests. My check-in took nearly 25 minutes. However, he took the time to explain resort policies (you need a card to get a beach towel and restaurant reservations are made in person each morning), and he circled everything on the map for me. The front desk itself is backed by colorful and interesting paintings by the Jamaican painter Ras Natango. His work is also at Half Moon, one of the finest resorts in Jamaica.
As is Riu policy, guests affix stickers with their room number to their luggage to be delivered by a bellhop. I made the long trek to my room and started to settle in. But when my bags still hadn't arrived two hours later, I called the front desk again. They arrived 10 minutes later.
When the housekeeping staff showed up to clean the room while I was working, I told them to go ahead while I packed up my things. The two ladies did a wonderful job tidying up my things before my eyes, and also made pleasant conversation. Later that night, a maintenance worker showed up to fix the outer door to my room, which housekeeping had reported was sticking. Finally, when I ordered just one extra towel the next morning, a housekeeper was at my door within 10 minutes with three fluffy towels. This was no small feat, since the building where I was staying is far from the main area.
At Riu's various bars, the efficiency and speed with which all the bartenders work is amazing. To boot, they are universally friendly and laid-back. As a bonus, they don't gratuitously flirt with females sitting at the bar alone (this is not the case virtually everywhere else in Jamaica).
It's an 90-minute $80 taxi ride from the airport to this quiet, remote destination.
The Riu is the first hotel when entering the Negril city limits from the east. This means the area is quieter than some of the other resorts in the middle of Seven Mile Beach. But it's also farther from attractions in the center of town and at the cliffs.
The room where I stayed, 3144, is fairly large with nice dark wood furnishings, though they are a bit too dark and formal for the setting (this seems to be a Riu trademark). The room is actually off of a small alcove. Like at the other Riu Montego Bay, the outside lock is difficult to open with the enormous key (they don't have key cards).
The king-size bed is actually two double beds pushed together. It is covered in an orange silk bedspread that feels soft and cool on a sunburn (though I felt guilty getting beach sand on it).
There's a nice balcony with a screen door that overlooks the courtyard to the next building, but the room where I stayed is in the rear of building three and therefore quite close to the road. It's a highway, so the traffic is never terribly noisy.
However, because the balconies are so close to one another, a rowdy neighbor's conversation is completely audible.
The bathrooms are pretty standard with two marble sinks, a shower/tub and toilet, but they are nice. During my stay, one of the overhead lights flickered and took about 15 seconds to fully turn on, and while I was taking a shower the electricity went on and off three times (a thunder storm was passing through). This also caused the water temperature to fluctuate. At other times the pressure and temperature were completely fine.
The third building is the second farthest from activities. It's about a five-minute walk from the pools and an eight-minute walk from the main building and restaurants -- though the walk felt a lot longer and more arduous in the morning and midday heat.
The activities staff here are more popular and involved than the staff at some other all-inclusives. Comprised entirely of men, the staff keeps the tunes pumping all day by the pool and draws large crowds for activities, like water aerobics and pool Olympics.
The reggae dance class is a lot of fun, though it only lasts about 10 minutes because it is so hot on the pool deck.
Water aerobics is fun and includes a refreshing mix of cardio and Pilates moves. But the main draw is probably the chiseled instructor, "Batman." I've never seen so much gratuitous stretching in a gym class, not that anyone was complaining.
The activities staff also choreographed dances in the lobby and runs the evening shows that involve mostly drunk guests dancing onstage and having lots of fun (i.e. making fools of themselves). The night I watched, a separate dance team performed choreographed dances to show tunes from musicals like "Chicago" and "Evita." The dancers were talented, but it was odd that someone lip-synched to each song.
On the second night, a live reggae band performed while guests milled about the busy Plaza bar. Negril is known for its excellent scuba diving, and accordingly the Riu offers comprehensive water-sports packages.
Like at most resorts, guests can rent nonmotorized vessels, like kayaks and windsurfing boards, for free. They can also rent snorkel masks to use on the hotel's beach for free with a $20 deposit. Anyone from scuba novices to expert divers can go on dives with the resort's crew and boats. Among the most popular options is a four-hour, two-dive excursion that also stops off at the popular Rick's Café for sunset cocktails.
As at other Rius, there is a Renova spa on the premises, though it is smaller and more cramped than the one at the brand new Riu Montego Bay. There is a nice-size room for hairdressing and manicures, as well as treatment rooms and a lovely seaside massage tent.
Also included is the house calypso band, which another reporter wanted to book for her own wedding.
The hallways are clean and airy without any discernible smell, though there are lots of cigarette butts and beer bottles in the hallway trash receptacles. (Better there than strewn across the floors.) The hallways smelled faintly of marijuana one night, but by the next day the smell had dissipated.
Across the grounds, there were a few problems when I was there. On my first night, I noticed a stack of dirty plates piled at the feet of one of the resort's replica marble statues. Two hours later the plates were still there -- it's no wonder I also spied a rat scurrying across the path that night.
There were also about four cats wandering the paths outside my building; one darted in front of me twice in the dark and nearly gave me a heart attack. Since I encountered cats at most hotels in Negril, I wasn't sure if these were strays or resort pets.
The pool is in great condition, and a staff member buffs the tiles with a small brush. However, the swim-up bar is swarming with bees and there are dead bugs floating in the water nearby. Bugs around the bar is a problem at every resort, and it seems unavoidable given the hot sticky sweetness of all those fruit juices, but it is more prevalent at Riu Negril than anywhere else.
Watch the beautiful sunset, but head to Seven Mile Beach for swimming.
Club Riu is on Bloody Bay (as opposed to Seven Mile Beach, Negril's main attraction), and therefore the beach is manmade.
The water is fairly cloudy and not particularly great for swimming. The beach is well-landscaped, though, with hundreds of lounge chairs, a jerk pit, and a beach bar tucked in among low palm trees. The sunset views were spectacular.
It's hard to accurately assess the beach because major damage had been done by a storm that hit the day I arrived. Though the resort took quick action by bringing in both a dump truck and a bulldozer to smooth things out, I noticed lots of debris in the seaweed that was piled up along the shore, and there were also bits of trash (straws, discarded coconuts, and cups) strewn among the lounge chairs on the beach.
Lounge chairs are tucked in among small palm trees running the length of the property -- but the sand isn't particularly soft, and the water in Bloody Bay is fairly murky, particularly compared to the fabulously clear waters around the bend at Seven Mile Beach. I definitely preferred swimming in the Riu's pool, though the beach was a great spot to catch a sunset.
Men on boats and jet skis offered me marijuana. It wasn't a big deal and they didn't harass me at all once I declined. Frankly, the whole thing felt like a part of the Negril experience, and I almost missed it when I stayed at the hyper-secure Beaches Sandy Bay. But guests wary of this or who are with children should know that some illicit elements exist.
The Riu has one main buffet restaurant, Green Island. Its décor and patrons are surprisingly formal, given the resort's laid-back vibe during the day. There are large wood panels on the walls, a dark carpet, and dark wooden chairs. The overall scene is like a country club.
For a buffet, the food was among the best. There were two large pans of jerk pork and chicken, and to my pleasant surprise I found it to be spicy for a resort buffet. The breakfast menu was typically large; highlights for me included ackee and saltfish, three kinds of French toast and Cocoa Puffs at the cereal bar. The service was also attentive. A girl came up to offer me coffee soon after I sat down, and ended up bringing me a carafe to keep at my table.
The Riu also has an all-night snack bar called Luigi's that serves pizza, salads, fruit, and dessert. It's not really anything special, but it's nice that it's there (late night food is hard to come by in most resorts). It's the place to be at 2a.m., after the disco lets out.
Like many all-inclusives, the resort has a maddening reservations policy for its three à la carte restaurants -- the "gourmet" Sir Andrew (closed for a wedding the night of my visit), Shadows Steakhouse and the Churrasceria, Rodizio. I was informed at check-in that the restaurants were already fully booked for that evening, but that reservations should be made at 10 the next morning. "But really you should get there by nine," the front desk clerk warned. Yikes.
Sure enough, by 9a.m. (so much for a lazy vacation) the lobby was filled with people queuing up for evening reservations. The competition further intensified by the fact that Sir Andrew was closed for a wedding. I got in line at about 9:10a.m. and struck up a conversation with the ladies around us. At 9:30a.m. sharp, two women from the restaurants arrived with reservation books. I got up to the front around 9:50a.m., and was delighted to discover I could make a 7p.m. reservation at Rodizio. Yes, the system is totally annoying. (Why not let us call over the phone?) But I got what I wanted so I can't complain too much.
Rodizio is a great spot. It shares a space with Luigi's (meaning it is low on ambiance). It has a walk-up salad and dessert bar but table service for the main course, which was four kinds of Brazilian churrascaria-style meats. Try the excellent, moist turkey, which comes wrapped in bacon. I heard patrons at other tables praising the dish. My waiter, Orlando, was friendly and attentive. He kept my wine and water glasses full and checked back after each course to see how I liked the food. The setting isn't much, but the food is good for meat-eaters.
Stock, slightly impersonal packages, but great food and a more relaxed vibe than at other mega-resorts
A friendly resort with a mellow beach, free minibars, and a surprisingly solid buffet -- the Riu Negril is a great value. Rooms aren't spectacular, and many activities require a long walk across the sprawling resort, but most guests are sold once they join revelers on the dance floor.