Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Bustling, noisy, and somewhat sterile environment, but guests won't be bored.
A modern 681-room mega-resort, the Riu has six three-story, light-purple buildings spread across a sprawling property that felt like a condo village on acid. I don't know the thinking behind the color choice, but it's decidedly odd, especially since the room décor is somewhat dark and austere.
Upon entering the marble and stained-glass lobby, I was reminded of something between a casino and a train station; lights blinked at the bar down the hall, and racks of luggage zoomed by in every direction. Tour buses continuously dumped large groups off at the door, while groups who had checked out but weren't ready for the airport loitered around the lobby on its many couches and chairs. Along these lines, there was even a lobby shower area and bright marble bathrooms.
I saw lots of people cheering as they played volleyball in the rain or did shots at the Exodus bar. Guests in the massive Mahoe Bay dining room seemed pleased with the many, many food options (evidenced by their heaping platefuls of food).
Most guests are European, and every sign is labeled in English, Spanish and German, creating a sort of theme-park feel. My bellhop told me there are a lot of Ecuadoreans, and an events manager said the resort caters to mostly Spanish guests from May to October. (Riu is a Spanish hotel company.)
I encountered mainly American families, as well as some older couples and a few groups of American and foreign 20-somethings. Nearly everyone said they chose the Riu because they got a great deal on it. Notably, no one praised the service or a particular amenity.
It's as if the resort gives guests the tools to have a fun and safe vacation -- nice rooms, plenty of food and drink, a large pool and beachfront -- and then leaves them to their own devices. There's no real concierge (only a tour operator), and you can't call housekeeping for extra bedding. There are no restaurants where you actually send your personal order to the kitchen. The entertainment was meant for everyone from children to spring breakers.
Friendly but limited, with some surprising lapses.
A bellhop greeted me warmly upon arrival. He brought me up to the front desk, where two young women tag-teamed my check-in. I signed a form, one of the women disappeared for five minutes, and then someone else came back with my room key. Mildly confusing, but at least my room was ready. The bellhop later helped bring my bags to my room. He was quite charming, in a refreshingly nonaggressive way.
I didn't like our room, which was situated on the ground floor and exceptionally noisy. I called the front desk three times in an hour to ask to be moved. Finally, after I stopped by in person (walking through the rain across the grounds), they agreed to move me.
Since all the restaurants are buffet-style, there's only so much for the wait staff to do (aside from the ever-popular bartenders). However, everyone I passed in the halls greeted me with a big smile, and I never felt the service was lacking in any way.
Because the resort is so large and had just opened when I visited, I noticed some kinks in the service. For instance, I asked a man at the front desk to point me to the disco. He gave me directions and said, "There's a big red sign. You can't miss it." When I failed to spy a red sign and inquired with a bartender who was closing up (he was the only person in sight), he laughed and said the disco was closed that night.
Five minutes from the airport may be a bit too close, and not close enough to anywhere else.
The Ironshore shopping center is right outside the resort gates. It includes a Scotiabank, a Chinese food restaurant and a Burger King, but no shopping of interest to tourists. There was also a gas station nearby.
Very nice and well-appointed, but it's easy to forget you're in Jamaica with the European furnishings.
The hotel consists of six buildings, all offering non-smoking rooms only. Only Buildings 5 and 6 front the ocean, while Building 1 fronts the road. (Rooms don't face the road, though.) I was in Building 2, about a five-minute walk from the lobby and restaurants and two minutes from the pool.
Rooms are accessed by semi-open-air hallways that are kept extremely dark during the day. (The only light comes from the doorways on either end.) One doorway leads to two rooms off another small alcove (i.e., I shared with Room 2030). My room key was awkwardly large and antiquated and I fumbled with the lock every single time I tried to enter the room. I worried I'd gone to the wrong door.
I had a hard time adjusting to the light switches, sockets and toilet flush, all of which were European in style. At check-in, no one told me that a master switch turned on the room's electricity, so I spent a half-hour in my first room thinking that the electricity was out. Clearly, this is a common issue. When I called the front desk to complain, the girl sighed and told me to use the switch by the door.
Fixtures aside, the rooms were large, clean and appointed with dark wood furniture. The colors were a little dark for my taste -- somehow they didn't seem to fit with the Caribbean atmosphere. The bed was comfortable, though, and the marble bathroom featured two sinks and a nice shower (though it had no light of its own and was quite dark with the curtain closed).
The Riu all-inclusive plan includes a mini-bar that is restocked every two days. In addition to bottles of rum, brandy, vodka and gin, I was pleased to find six bottles of Red Stripe, four bottles of Coke, two bottles of a Jamaican soft drink called Bigga Orange and a large jug of water in the small fridge.
My king-size bed was comfortable, if a little firm, and the pillows were soft and hypoallergenic. I had wanted to type in bed while watching the 27-inch LG flat-screen TV, but the bedside socket was broken, so I had to charge my laptop elsewhere. Additionally, the toilet ran for a few seconds every couple of minutes.
The Renova Spa is large and serene, with a fresh lemon scent. The two ladies I met in the modern nail and hair salon were very friendly, and I envied the women who walked down the mood-lit hallway to the massage area.
There is a nice selection of water sports, and guests can take out non-motorized vessels like kayaks, Hobie sailboats and windsurfing boards for free. They must pay extra for scuba and snorkeling, and must also pay for instruction in sailing or windsurfing if they're inexperienced.
The disco was closed the night I visited, and the marble halls were a veritable ghost town when I went out at 12:30 a.m.
A few guests were hanging out in the brightly lit 24-hour sports bar, which also has Internet access ($9 for a half-hour), but that didn't satisfy my party itch.
On the bright side, all of the resort's bars feature well-above-average liquor like Appleton's Rum, Campari, Jim Beam and Cointreau, as well as both Red Stripe and Red Stripe Light.
Everything looks new and spotless.
Since the Riu only opened three months prior to our stay, I found the hotel to be in excellent condition. I saw housekeeping carts at all hours. (In fact, they knocked on my door three times before check-out the morning of my departure.) Men were constantly mopping the halls and tending to the grounds.
At lunch I made the mistake of leaving my lunch plate unattended, and by the time I returned from getting a drink, my fruit salad had already been whisked away. As I tried to enjoy my Chinese food at Kalu, I was asked three times if I was finished with my plate.
A playground is available for humans chronologically aged 4-12.
Varied to a comical degree, but it's buffet or bust. Dinner reservations require some planning.
Riu Montego Bay features four restaurants: Rose Hall (buffet for all three meals), Mahoe Bay (buffet at breakfast and lunch, steakhouse at dinner), Little Italy (Italian, dinner only) and Kalu (Asian, dinner only).
Guests are required to make reservations for dinner at the three themed restaurants. By the time I checked in to the hotel at 1:15 p.m., they were all fully booked. But after some wrangling, I was able to get into Kalu. For all the effort, I was disappointed to discover that it was also buffet-style. At least the wait staff brought me my drink immediately. The formality felt kind of silly, particularly since the cavernous space was half empty. Most of the food was fried, though I did see it all freshly cooked in an open kitchen. My favorite dish was the fried rice, which almost reminded me of the food at a typical Benihana (if I closed my eyes).
Mahoe Bay at lunch reminded me of an upscale high school cafeteria. It was noisy and crowded, and the food was only sporadically labeled. On the other hand, there was everything from guacamole to Jamaican curry patties (like empanadas) to chicken nuggets to pasta to an ice cream bar. Plus the drink fountain included Coke products, Red Stripe and Nescafe coffee drinks.
The breakfast buffet at Rose Hall was tasty, as varied as ever, and completely interchangeable with Mahoe Bay. One nice feature was a smoothie bar, where I had my choice of fresh fruits to custom blend for a refreshing morning drink. I tried Jamaican june plums from the salad bar (delicious and quite tart), and had some good cinnamon French toast. The coffee was hot and fairly strong, though there was only one kind of milk (the full-fat kind).
Unlike other resorts, you can rent out a disco, but the semiprivate ceremonies and receptions could be a little noisy.
Though conveniently situated near the airport, this mega-resort isn't ideal for a quiet or private wedding: Planes swarm above and crowds lurk around the two outdoor ceremony locations -- the only ones offered. And for a reception, plan to wine and dine near other guests at the cafeteria-style Mahoe Bay.
Opened in September 2008, the Riu all-inclusive mega-resort provides ample and eclectic food, name-brand liquor, a great beach, a 24-hour sports bar, a huge pool, a modern gym, a free liquor-stocked minibar, and an array of water sports. But guests can feel pretty anonymous in the crowded 681-room property.
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