By John and Sandra Nowlan
Montego Bay, Jamaica, is a popular cruise ship stop and we’ve visited this tropical island as cruise passengers for a day trip. But this time we were going farther afield for a full week of sun, sand and fine Jamaican food. The music was a bonus.
After a non-stop Sunwing flight from Canada we joined a 90-minute bus transfer from MoBay to our resort, the Riu Palace Tropical Bay in Negril, Jamaica. The seaside route, filled with colorful houses and bustling villages, was fascinating.
The white sand beach in front of the low rise, three story buildings of the Riu Resort was surprisingly wide. It had lots of palm trees for shade and more than 900 loungers, enough for every guest.
In Negril, On a Wonderful Beach
Unlike many resorts, the beach was never overcrowded. Non-intrusive peddlers roamed the beach – all are public – but the roving musical entertainers were especially good. Most carried guitars and drums but one energetic soul wheeled a large double bass through the sand.
There’s no seaweed in the warm, crystal clear Caribbean water and it was totally free of rocks or coral. The water remains shallow out to the buoy barrier, no more than chest or neck high. Some like that but we had wished the water was a bit deeper for better swimming.
Riu has six resorts in Jamaica and, as first timers to the brand, we were impressed with the overall quality of our Negril property.
Riu Palace Tropical Bay
The hotel had an extensive $35 million renovation in 2018. Thanks to that most of the public rooms and all of the 452 suites looked and felt brand new. Our large, comfortable room was decorated in tasteful colours of cream and beige with turquoise accents. The super king size bed had great reading lights and the television had a wide variety of international channels.
Closet and drawer space was generous and the large bathroom included a shower with both a traditional and rain shower head. The mini-fridge was stocked daily with complimentary pop and beer (Jamaica’s excellent Red Stripe, of course) and there was a bar-style liquor dispenser for rum, gin, vodka and low-end Scotch.
Excellent cuisine is vital for a top quality all-inclusive resort and The Riu Palace Tropical Bay in Negril was outstanding. Buffets can often be boring but we were impressed with the wide variety in the main dining room. This was especially true for the Caribbean and traditional Jamaican fare available at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many guests stuck with North American dishes but we relished the chance to try ackee & salt fish, Jamaican patties, curried goat, braised oxtail, plantain and rice with red beans.
Wonderful jerk chicken is available at the buffet but there’s also a jerk shack on the beach. Its superb chef, Jolly, prides himself on his spicy and tasty product.
Employing 74 chefs and cooks, the Riu also has four specialty restaurants with no extra charge, which do not require reservations.
We enjoyed the Japanese, Italian and Steak House restaurants but especially loved Krystal, the fusion restaurant with an extra level of presentation and service. We enjoyed braised sea bass with miso, lamb with yellow curry and cannelloni with braised ossobuco. The steak house is the most informal specialty restaurant (no dress code). Our first New York strip loin was tough but it was happily replaced by an excellent fillet. The Caribbean lobster was especially good.
In addition to the beach musicians, the Riu in Negril has nightly on-stage entertainment. Most shows have a Caribbean focus. The Jamaican theme was especially interesting but touring specialty acts, like the Michael Jackson show, are very popular.
River Rafting and A Negril Nude Resort
We did take one excellent excursion from Negril offered by Nexus Tours, rafting on the Great River surrounded by lush flora. We also spent another day at the unconventional Hedonism II resort in Negril, just a few hundred yards from the Riu. At the extreme west end of the famous Seven Mile Beach, this 280 room, clothing-optional resort has as its motto, “Be Wicked for a Week”. We were “Daring for a Day”. There’s a quiet, Prude Side (even here most quests were naked) and a Nude Side where the lively action took place.
The Nude Side scene was definitely not filled with Playboy models. All body shapes and sizes were on display without embarrassment. No one was even shocked by the gentleman with a Prince Albert piercing. The resort prides itself as being non-judgmental and as one guest posted, “Nearly everyone here is decidedly imperfect…and nobody cares.”
We stayed mostly on the Prude side and greatly enjoyed the freedom and relaxation of naked swimming. But we also heard guests talking about the erotic pool games at the opposite end. One was called “Car Wash” which involved plenty of soap bubbles. We can only imagine!
Clothing is required in the dining areas and we enjoyed a splendid Friday night buffet featuring tasty Jamaican food as well as “all you can eat” lobster tails cooked over coals.
After our week in the sun we asked a few winter-weary guests about their Negril, Jamaica experience. All seemed to be delighted. The popular response? “We’ll be coming back for sure.”
Editor’s Note: you may also enjoy A Guide to Caribbean Islands, A Caribbean Cruise…Thoughtful Service, Inspired Luxury, and A Very Short Tour in The Bahamas