Renovated in December 2008, this is one of the Caribbean's best Rius. At 416 rooms, it's still a crowded mega-resort, but modern rooms with marble bathrooms, a calm beach, and a top-notch activities staff make this a great choice for couples and families (especially with pull-out sofas in every room). Partiers, however, should look elsewhere.
Riu Palaces are typically geared toward older, calmer crowds -- which might explain why the restaurant reservation line begins at 8 a.m. sharp.
Riu Palace Tropical Bay is on a fairly isolated stretch of Norman Manley Boulevard in Negril. Guests leave the premises here far less often than places on Seven Mile Beach or the Cliffs, where restaurants and bars line the road right outside hotels. This lone Riu stands like a purple fortress with a grandiose lobby overlooking the ocean, but nothing else for miles.
The resort isn’t dramatically different from the Riu Palaces in Aruba or Punta Cana, though the warm hospitality and Jamaican-themed entertainment and music help this Riu stand out as among the best. The hotel's primary clientele is older couples, followed by families. There certainly isn’t a predominant party atmosphere, but the Sun bar still buzzes with gray-haired, thermos-toting guests determined to get their drink on. Evenings mellow out a bit, though, and often culminate with lots of couples dancing romantically to the live band. The lobby bar, Cubano, stays open all night, but when I strolled through around midnight, there was just one person sitting at the bar.
I met three men from New York down for a guys' trip, and they were fairly disappointed with the setting. "This place gets an A for families. For dudes? D!" one of them told me. He was annoyed that they had to spring for a cab to hit the clubs and bars at night, and that there just wasn't much of a singles scene at the hotel (even during spring break!).
Better service than at any other Riu resort: turndown service, personal greetings from front desk clerks, nachos at 1 a.m., and much more.
The desk staff is especially attentive. According to my charming clerk, Cloyd: “Dial 0 for room service; dial 9 the front desk for Cloyd service if there's anything you need!" The front desk routinely calls guests after they’ve settled into their rooms to make sure everything is to their satisfaction. This kind of treatment is par for the course at any high-end hotel, but it’s virtually unheard of at an all-inclusive.
Food service was great at every meal. Each morning at the breakfast buffet, a server brought me a hot pot of coffee within a minute of my arrival, and our water glasses were always kept full.
Riu Palaces also offers 24-hour room service, and although I found my 1 a.m. snack of "nachos" didn't really live up to the menu description, it arrived within 15 minutes, which was impressive at that time of night.
Unlike most resorts, the Riu Palace offers drinks service on the beaches. I only spotted two servers during my considerable time out there, and I suspect they were commanding pretty big tips. Of course, it was just as easy to visit the nearby Sun Bar, where an army of friendly female bartenders were on a first-name basis with virtually every guest. Service was extremely efficient but also friendly; I've never seen so many people hug their bartender goodbye.
For housekeeping, a small tip ($200 Jamaican, about $2.50 USD) goes a long way. I received fresh flowers on my bed in the afternoons, and the turndown service at night included two pieces of Riu hard candy on my pillow.
Located on the northern outskirts of Negril on Bloody Bay, a 90-minute, $80 taxi from Montego Bay International Airport.
One of the first mega-resorts along Norman Manley Boulevard as visitors come into town from the airport, the lilac-colored Riu is hard to miss. It’s beach is bordered by the Sunset at the Palms resort on one side and Couples Negril on the other. Large all-inclusives dominate Bloody Bay, which has been built up very recently as compared with the older, smaller, independent hotels along Seven Mile Beach and the Cliffs.
A taxi to one of the clubs or downtown Negril will cost $10 to $20 each way, depending on your bargaining skills.
Not quite as picture-perfect as adjacent Seven Mile Beach, but still plenty gorgeous and with equally calm waters.
The water at Tropical Bay is far less murky than the beach across the bay at Club Riu Negril. The sand is also cleaner, and it stretches much further back. Still, finding a beach chair can be difficult, even one located next to the jerk hut and lunch buffet.
Drinks service is theoretically available on the beach, but I only spied two servers during my stay and found it far more expedient to pick up my own drinks at the Sun bar.
The resort offers non-motorized watersports like windsurfing, catamaran sailing, and paddleboats free of charge. Snorkel equipment is available with a $25 deposit, and a dive shop is also on-site (at extra cost). Jet Skis (available to rent through outside vendors) are a constant presence for much of the day, zooming back and forth in front of the large property.
Although the beach is lined with resorts (Couples Negril is immediately next door on the left, followed by Grand Lido Negril and Hedonism II), Bloody Bay is a lot quieter than Seven Mile Beach. I rarely saw any vendors walking down the beach, even though the Riu didn't have security guards posted as far as I could tell.
The hotel makes good use of the beachfront. There's a party every Tuesday night and water aerobics classes in the calm, shallow water each morning, not to mention courts for horseshoes, soccer, and bocce.
As at many Rius, the king bed is actually two doubles pushed together with a single headboard. It's a practice peculiar to the chain, and I'll never understand it -- there’s a giant uncomfortable wedge between the two mattresses! Aside from this, the beds are comfortable and the linens are clean. With the 2008 redo, the rooms now come with LG flat-screen TVs and cable channels including HBO, Cinemax, and ESPN as well as all the major U.S. networks.
An alcove between the bedroom and bathroom has two huge closets, an ironing board, an easy-to-use electronic safe, and the Riu's famous free mini-bar, which includes bottles of Appleton rum, Jim Beam, Jamaica brandy and Kirov vodka (which is basically a small step up from rubbing alcohol). The mini-fridge comes stocked with two large bottles of water, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, tonic water, and Red Stripe.
The large marble bathroom has his-and-her sinks, a fantastic Grohe showerhead, and a full complement of toiletries including shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. There’s still a cheesy shower gel dispenser in the shower -- another unfortunate feature of all Riu properties.
All rooms come with a terrace and have Wi-Fi access.
Typical mega-resort accoutrements like a gym, spa, and hair salon, as well as a large casino.
The resort's smallish pool is essentially split into two rectangles: One side is attached to the swim-up bar, the Sun, and the other is a bit quieter, with fountains feeding in from the adjacent Bloody Bay restaurant. Both have in-pool loungers, and both fill up pretty easily, making snagging a free lounge chair a bit of a hassle. There's also a round kiddie pool next to the Sun and a Jacuzzi built into each pool.
Free Wi-Fi is available in the main lobby and in all rooms. Tucked into a corner of the floor below the lobby is a casino "game room" with a surprisingly high number of slot machines and various illuminated money suckers. As a bonus, the casino has an ATM that dispenses U.S. dollars. There's a $6 surcharge, but that's still probably cheaper than taking a cab to the ScotiaBank ATM down the street.
The recently renovated Renova Spa is clean, bright, and airy. Manicures start at $24, and massages range from $67 to $147 (for an 80-minute combo extravaganza). A full range of other treatments, including facials, waxing, braids, and other body and salon treatments, are also available.
The open-air gym was pretty disappointing during our visit. Yes, it had two Cybex treadmills, five exercise bikes, and a few weight machines, but there were no ellipticals, free weights, or exercise mats. (We received a guest report that they have since added a few more machines, however.) Furthermore, there was no A.C. and no ceiling fan to cool things down. Though this is fairly common in Jamaica, it makes the gym pretty useless.
Hardly spring break central, but the energetic activities staff and a pair of live bands keep both kids and parents smiling.
The Riu’s entertainment team runs standard daytime activities like dance classes, crazy games, soccer on the beach, and water aerobics (in the calm, shallow sea instead of the typical pool location). The young and energetic staff is extremely enthusiastic, and the activities, like the reggae dance class I attended, are popular.
A live band performs from 8 to 9:30 p.m., followed by the main show and then another band for dancing that goes till about 11:30 p.m. The early band plays pretty generic, wedding-music tunes, while the later band features some enthusiastic reggae hits. For both performances, the entertainment staff does a great job getting guests up and dancing, from little kids to middle-aged women.
Nightly entertainment ranges from lip-synching to "Grease" to a fantastic local steel drum band to an ice-breaker dance-off with a bunch of dads from the audience. Palace guests also receive a complimentary shuttle ride and access to the disco at Club Riu, which is about five minutes down the road (and hardly worth the hassle).
No dedicated kids' club, but the hotel does have a kiddie pool, a playground, and family-oriented activities and entertainment.
The hotel is made up entirely of spacious junior suites; each comes with two beds and a pull-out couch, sleeping three or four people comfortably. Throw in the fact that it's on a quieter beach almost entirely devoid of pot dealers and aggressive vendors, and I'd say this is probably one of the best family spots in the notoriously un-kid-friendly Negril.
There's no disco on the property (i.e., not much of a party scene), but I spotted many kids dancing with staff members to live music before the stage show. Kids also enjoy playing soccer and horseshoes on the beach during the day. But the main pool isn’t nearly as large and impressive as most mega-resorts in Jamaica.
The buffet also offers a wide variety of kid-friendly foods, but there’s less for kids to eat at the a la carte restaurants.
Riu Palace Tropical Bay is absolutely spotless and has been well-maintained since its 2008 renovation.
For the most part, the rooms are gleaming, although I did spy a few tiny ants crawling around in the bathroom (but never in the bedroom). Each time I walked across the property, I seemed to encounter about five groundskeepers planting shrubs or trimming grass with their machetes.
At meals our empty plates were always cleared within minutes, and the bars were kept equally tidy. There were some cigarette butts and empty plates on the beach, a product of guests vastly outnumbering the staff, but the common spaces were generally very tidy.
Five restaurants, one of which closes each night on a rotating basis. The buffet fare is a bit better than average.
The buffet always includes a tasty Jamaican section at both breakfast and dinner. Other noteworthy features include sparkling wine ("champagne") at both breakfast (for a mimosa section) and dinner, and caviar in the evening -- don’t expect anything too fancy. For kids, there’s an enormous cereal selection at breakfast, like Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs.
The a la carte restaurants include Rimini (Italian), Hakuchi (Japanese), Krystal ("gourmet"), and Bloody Bay (steakhouse). Krystal and Bloody Bay are considered the two best, but getting a reservation for either can be a hassle. Rimini is a bit more inventive and tasty than most all-inclusives, and the service is top-notch.
Like at all Rius, the restaurant reservation policy is especially annoying. It requires guests to show up in the morning to reserve a la carte restaurants for that night. Whereas the Riu Palace Punta Cana and Riu Negril Club both had 9 a.m. call times, this one started at 8 a.m.! Who goes on vacation and wants to line up at 8 a.m. to make restaurant reservations? What's even more maddening is that I showed up to the front desk at 9:30 -- still not that late in the grand scheme of things -- only to be told that every restaurant slot for the night had been filled.
Like many Jamaican resorts, this Riu has a jerk pit on the beach that's open from 1 to 3 p.m.
All Riu Palaces offer 24-hour room service with slightly varying menus, but the food is pretty meager. For the Jamaican iteration, the menu provides tantalizing descriptions of a "plump roast turkey sandwich" and nachos "topped with guacamole and cheese." The "roast turkey" actually looked and tasted more like baloney, and the nachos were nothing but prepackaged tortilla chips with tiny containers of melted processed cheese and yellowing guacamole on the side. In short: It's a nice feature, but I'd advise sticking with standards like the fruit plate or toast.
One of the best all-inclusive bars in Jamaica -- the vodka selection alone includes Finlandia, Smirnoff, and multiple flavors of Absolut.
Other liquors on offer include Southern Comfort, Jim Beam, Tanqueray, Johnnie Walker Red, and Chivas Regal. A wide selection of rums, including multiple varieties of Appleton and Bacardi, are also on offer, but the only beer is (of course) Red Stripe.
Quality food and alcohol makes this one of the more attractive all-inclusive wedding destinations in Jamaica.
Wedding Size: Up to 120 people; maximum of three weddings performed daily
Extra Fees and Restrictions: Guests not staying at the hotel must purchase day pass and 80-percent of wedding guests must stay at the Riu.
Wedding Packages: If you book five or more rooms, the basic wedding package is free and includes ceremony decorations, a bridal bouquet, a boutonniere, ceremony music, a semiprivate reception dinner, a wedding cake, sparkling wine during the main toast, and a 10-percent discount on all spa services for the couple. Alternative packages vary..
Photographers: The hotel provides photograpers, which are included in some packages. If you don't opt for a package, it costs $550 for three hours of photography at one location; $700 for five hours of photography at two or three locations. Outside photographers are permitted, but there is an extra $100 fee.
Music Options: Reggae band, steel band, mento band, and DJ charge by the hour; outside bands permitted, for an extra fee.
Reception Options: Unless you pay an extra rate for two or four hours for private access to the Hakuchi or Rimini restaurants, your reception will remain open to all the other resort guests. The food is covered for all guests, but an open bar costs another rate per person and sparkling wine is priced by the bottle (even though all the guests are paying for the all-inclusive perks). If you'd like to host a cocktail hour prior to the reception, it'll cost another rate per person for hors d'oeuvres and another fee per person for an open bar.
Spa Treatments: Packages range from the most basic "Pretty Bride," which includes a mani/pedi and makeup, to the most luxurious "Wedding Ritual," which includes a mani/pedi, hairstyle (and initial tryout), facial, and makeup (the bride and groom get a 10-percent discount on all spa treatments).
Airport Transportation: No airport shuttle; taxis to the resort average $80.
Honeymoon Suite: No special honeymoon suite; all rooms are essentially the same.
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