Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A budget resort located much closer to bars, clubs, and restaurants than most all-inclusives. Guests here like to have a good time.
The laid-back vibe of the Royal Decameron, which is located at the very top of Montego Bay's Hip Strip, is belied by the imposing iron gates that set it off from a busy intersection. The resort's true tone is evident the moment you enter the lobby and spot the enormous dreadlocked sculpture smoking a pipe. (This proved to be a common motif here.) The vibe from staff feels authentically Jamaican in that everyone is mellow, even jovial, and no one gasps when someone stumbles drunkenly along the pool deck or starts singing off-key rock ballads. The pace is fairly languid, but most guests seem just fine with that. The resort is well reviewed on Trip Advisor, ranking No. 11 of all the hotels in Montego Bay, but it's definitely for the budget-minded.
The crowd is a mix of families, older couples, and groups of 20-somethings, but almost everyone has a drink in hand and acts accordingly boisterous. Canadians make up the hotel's biggest market, followed by Americans and Brits. The resort is owned by the Decameron chain of hotels, a Colombian company, so it also gets a fair number of South American and Spanish visitors, particularly in the summertime.
When I visited in November, a calypso band played in the open-air lobby during the day, while out on the beach enormous speakers provided the soundtrack to volleyball, dance lessons, and lots of raucous drinking. The resort is fairly small for an all-inclusive, so activity seemed to center around the beach, where little kids squealed from the enormous water trampoline and grown-ups smoked like chimneys on huge red daybeds that front the water.
Much of the resort, including the lobby and the buffet restaurant, Passa Passa, is located in a modern five-story building that also houses most of the guest rooms. Other rooms are located on the northern edge of the property (closer to the airport) in an old two-story structure reminiscent of a '60s motel (which is what the Decameron started out as).
Front desk staff and porters are both efficient and friendly, but service overall can be more than a little scattered.
Both check-in and checkout were painless. A bellhop met me at my taxi upon arrival and exclaimed, "We are a family here!" as he rolled my bag across the property. Later, he escorted me to my room and recognized that I was a little bothered by the smell of cigarette smoke. "You don't smoke, do you?" he asked me. "I'll call housekeeping to see if we can fumigate." Five minutes later, he returned apologetically with a can of Lysol. The Lysol didn't do much to improve the smell, but I appreciated his effort.
But the staff isn't always well informed. The welcome packet for the hotel instructs guests to call guest services in order to make a dinner reservation at the a la carte restaurant, Souk. I called, and the guy from guest services told me I had to go to Souk in person. When I went to Souk, they said I had to make the reservation at the buffet restaurant, Passa Passa. When I went there, the girl simply wrote my name on her hand. All told, it's still better than waking up at 8 a.m. to make a reservation -- as is the case at Riu resorts and most other all-inclusives -- but the runaround was still pretty annoying.
Getting maintenance to fix the faulty lock on the back door of my room was also a hassle. I called the front desk in the afternoon, and they said they would send someone right away. By 8:15 p.m., no one had come to fix the lock. After a second request, someone was at my door to fix the lock within minutes.
Overall, the staff appeared far younger than at most resorts -- if I had to guess, I'd say they were mostly teenagers -- and not especially professional. There was a lot of flirting between coworkers, and many seemed to be ignoring the guests. At dinner, for example, no one was there to greet me at the hostess stand, and it took over 30 minutes to order my dinner. What could have been a simple half-hour pasta meal turned into a 90-minute ordeal, and the restaurant was half empty!
The resort is only five minutes from the airport (I could actually spy the runway from my beachfront terrace), and the sky vibrated every hour or so with a plane coming in for landing. The views, though, are astounding--lush hills jut out dramatically into the blue-green water.
When I walked across the street to the tennis court, I had a hard time getting back. There is no crosswalk or lights outside the hotel, and in general, Jamaicans drive fast and aggressively. In addition, I was hustled by two men from the shops down the street, and then propositioned by another man. For good reason, female tourists generally don't walk around the streets alone.
The resort is separated by a short wall from the public Cornwall Beach, which in turn borders Doctor's Cave Beach, Montego Bay's original tourist destination. Accordingly, the calm, shallow water is all sorts of sparkling turqoise on a sunny day, and the sand is soft and white.
The beach at the Royal Decameron isn't huge, but it is tidy. It's lined with a boardwalk and divided by piers that separate the main activities beach from the watersports area. There are a simple lunchtime beach grill and a bar near the activities area, which is is on the southern edge of the property, closer to the Hip Strip and the other hotels that line it. The northern edge of the property actually looks out on airport runways. (Yes, it's that close to the airport.) Planes come in for noisy landings just about every hour during the day, if not more.
Big, bright, and basic, rooms only come in one size--standard. Opt for the more modern, five-story main building.
Most rooms are located in a newer, five-story building with an elevator and fantastic views of the water. Unfortunately, I was placed in the original hotel building, a dumpy two-story structure on the northern side of the property, near the airport.
Upon entering my ground-floor room, I was immediately hit with a strong stench of cigarette smoke. There are no nonsmoking rooms in the hotel, as is the case at many Latin American or European resort chains. (Montego Beach is owned by a Colombian hotel group.) The stained chaise lounge in my room, in particular, reeked of smoke.
The queen-size bed had a springy but fairly soft mattress and firmer pillows. The floors are tiled, and mine had a large empty space where it felt like there should have been a table. On the 20-inch Sharp TV, some channels had a bizarre, warped sound. There were limited U.S. cable channels--just ESPN, CNN, and TNT, but no movie channels. The room also had a little hallway leading to a back door and patio area, which had interesting views of the hills above the city. The lock on my back door seemed faulty. (A staff member came to fix it after only two requests at the front desk.) There was a sparse open closet area off to the right that featured a tiny, ancient-looking safe. (Given its condition and a required $2 deposit, I didn't bother to use it.)
The bathroom had a marble sink, hair dryer, and basic shower/bath, but it felt almost comically stark: The door only opened partway, so I had to maneuver to get to the toilet, and the fluorescent light was incredibly depressing. Something about the clear shower curtain reminded me of "Psycho," though I made it out of the hotel unscathed. The water pressure and temperature oscillated between strong and hot to weak and lukewarm a couple times during my shower. The pull-knob to change the faucet from bath to shower must have been a little rusty, as I really had to put my back into yanking it out. Best (or worst?) of all were the amenities: two bars of soap, shampoo, and a small, half-filled bottle with a taped-on label that read LOTION. Despite its grim appearance, it actually had a pleasant coconut smell.
At the end of my stay, I had the chance to inspect a room in the newer building. Though similar in layout and décor, it definitely felt a lot brighter, and since it was on a higher floor, it had a far superior view of the water. Guests on TripAdvisor warn that second-floor rooms can get extremely noisy given their proximity to the lobby, pool, and restaurants, so the best rooms to ask for at check-in are definitely those on the fourth and fifth floors.
The resort has two swimming pools, just above the activities beach, to the left of the main building. A large, quiet pool is set higher up and further back from the water, bordered on one side by nicely landscaped trees and flowers. No one was swimming in that pool during my stay due to inclement weather, so there were plenty of empty lounge chairs at the time. At the very least, few guests seem to complain about trouble getting lounge chairs on TripAdvisor.
The second pool features the ever-popular swim-up bar and also offers easier access to the beach. The Jacuzzi is located in the middle of the property, just past the stage and a la carte restaurant. Separate men's and women's saunas are adjacent to it. The hot tub seemed to be filled at all hours of the day, mainly with raucous 20-somethings who seemed to have no issue with drinking and smoking in the water.
Four tennis courts are located about two blocks down the road and across the street from the resort, and two on-site pros give free lessons. Even on the short walk to the court, several local men harassed me, though this may have been less of a problem with a tennis partner.
There is a small gym with fairly modern equipment in a separate air-conditioned building at the front of the property. It's open from 7 a.m. to noon and again from 2 to 7 p.m. There are four treadmills (two new and two old) and two new stationary bikes. There is one television with sound.
There isn't a full-scale spa on-site, but there is a nice little massage tent near the water.
The fourth floor of the main building has a very cool terrace with lounge chairs that face east toward the hills and the big Red Stripe sign that is like Montego Bay's version of the Hollywood sign. I also had a good view of Montegonians going about their daily business: A group of men had set up a game of dominoes in the parking lot across the street, cars screeched around the corners at terrifying speeds, and a Rasta was loafing just outside the hotel gates, preaching to no one in particular about Jah and Selassie I. It was all very pleasant, if only because it was the only place in the hotel that didn't reek of cigarette smoke.
Wi-Fi is availabe in all public spaces for an hourly fee.
During the day, the resort offers all sorts of activities, most of which center around the beach bar area, where loudspeakers blast reggae music from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But the activities aren't especially popular. While the entertainment staffers played soccer and beach volleyball, most guests seemed to prefer lying on the beach or jumping on the giant water trampoline.
Each night at about 8:30 p.m., the entertainment staff change into somewhat garish black, red, green, and yellow costumes and halfheartedly ask guests to come dance with them. During my stay, as the night progressed, the female staff members would go up to grind with male guests in the audience, and some parents brought their small children up to dance in front of the speakers. But the house band was fantastic. The sound system was good, the band members seemed to really enjoy themselves, and both the male and female singer were quite talented.
Late nights belong to the disco, Glitter. During my stay, it wasn't exactly packed, though the 20 or so guests and staff members seemed to be having a good time dancing. Perhaps one of the resort's best features, though, is its proximity to the bars, clubs, and casinos of the Hip Strip. Most are just a five-minute walk away, though the hotel also provides a free shuttle to Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, which is popular with tourists and locals alike. In short, this is a good resort for those who love the nightlife.
The large, functional rooms are great for families, but the seedy location and party crowd aren't exactly kid-friendly.
The resort was filled with children: kids screaming with delight on the water trampoline, toddlers in strollers, kids playing shuffleboard, kids dancing in front of the stage while a reggae band played. All seemed to be having a great time. Personally, as a parent I would be concerned by the secondhand smoke and hard-partying singles scene, but that's clearly a matter of personal judgment and what parents feel comfortable with. The rooms are undeniably family-friendly: large (plenty of room for a couple cots or a crib), clean, and not so nice that you'd be worried about breaking anything. The resort's food is mediocre overall, but the buffet always had kid-friendly staples like cereal, pizza, pasta, and french fries.
The kids' camp is located in a satellite building next to the gym. It was dark both times I walked by, but I peeked in and saw a room lined with gym mats. The activities staff was young and enthusiastic, and daytime activities like soccer, volleyball, and "learn to talk Jamaican" are all kid-appropriate.
The resort is old and a bit worn, but very clean. Be warned, though: The thick smell of cigarettes is inescapable.
I was generally pleased with the level of cleanliness, both in my room and at the resort overall. Yes, my room showed some minor wear and tear (particularly with the cigarette smell and stains on the chairs), and there were a few bits of paper and a discarded Red Stripe cap on the patio, but the floors, bathroom, and linens were spotless. As one astute Trip Advisor reviewer points out, "I liked the fact that the sheets and bedspread were *white* because I'm one of those folks that think most hotels use patterned colorful bedspreads to hide dirt and yucky stains." I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.
I constantly saw staff members cleaning tables in the restaurant, mopping hallway floors, and tending to the grounds. Other than the pervasive smell of cigarettes everywhere, cleanliness at the Royal Decameron is top-notch.
The main buffet restaurant, Passa Passa, is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There's a wide array of options -- sandwiches, hot entrees, a salad bar, and Jamaican stations with items like tomato rice, mashed pumpkin, banana fritters, and cornmeal porridge (like grits, with a nice cinnamon aftertaste). The food is generally fresh, but everything I tried at the breakfast buffet--including the rum toast and watery scrambled eggs -- was lukewarm at best. At lunch I tried the salad bar and had a big slice of bread from the baked goods area. By the end of lunch, the dessert area was pretty picked over -- cookies advertised as chocolate chip didn't seem to actually contain any chocolate, but they did appear to be homemade and freshly baked.
The service was less attentive here than at most all-inclusive buffets. It typically took five minutes after sitting down before someone came over to offer me water. During breakfast, most guests went up to the server stations to pour their own coffee.
Dinner is also available at the Jamaican-themed à la carte restaurant, Souk. (See the service section for more on the annoying reservation procedure or the less than attentive service.) It's a pretty room by the water, with wooden ceiling fans and soft reggae music, but it was so dark that I could barely read the menu or see that my seafood pasta with a "Jamaican twist" (according to the menu) had tomato sauce. The fine dining experience is also somewhat tainted by drinks served in little plastic juice cups (rather than glasses).
Though guests who stay at all-inclusives understandably want to get their money's worth and stay on-site for food, the Royal Decameron is conveniently nearby to MoBay's highest concentration of restaurants, along the Hip Strip. Just across the street was a pizza stand, and other cheap options are readily available from Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, and street vendors. There are also a number of more upscale options.
Red Stripe is the only recognizable brand, as all liquor (even rum!) is generic.
Though small and compact, the resort manages to squeeze in three bars (Babba Roots in the lobby, Zion Bar between the beach and entertainment, and the swim-up bar at the pool) plus a disco that stays open till 2 a.m. Liquor brands are as generic as they come -- Ivanoff vodka, anyone? At one point I tried to order a planter's punch off the intriguing cocktail menu at Zion Bar and was told, "Sorry, we have no rum and no orange juice." Instead, the bartender poured a quick frozen daiquiri that was so sweet we couldn't take more than two sips without needing water. And this is Jamaica. Who runs out of rum?!
Cheap weddings for small groups (up to 50 people), but an outdoor ceremony could be noisy
Located on the edge of Montego Bay's party center, the touristy and slightly sketchy Hip Strip, the 131-room Royal Decameron Montego Beach Resort isn't the greatest all-inclusive: generic-brand booze, mediocre food, bare-bones rooms, and less than attentive service. It's generally clean, but rooms are outdated with beat-up furniture.
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