By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
Riu Hotels is now the largest foreign operator of resorts in Jamaica, growing from a single 400+room resort in Negril in 2001 to an inventory of around 3,000 rooms in Negril, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. We recently spent a few days at the company’s newest playground, Riu Reggae in Montego Bay. And here are six reasons why we think you should, too.
LOCATION Since the beachfront resort is less than three miles and only an easy seven minutes’ drive from Sangster International Airport (five, if you catch the green lights), you can go from standing at baggage claim to lying on the beach in less time than it takes to fill in your Immigration form.
SENSE OF PLACE Foreign-owned resort companies in Jamaica and wider the Caribbean are often criticized for creating generic vacation factories that in no way reflect the destinations in which they do business. And sadly, some of those criticisms are fair. Which is why we were particularly pleased to note the genuine efforts RIU has made to incorporate local culture into the hotel, at which 98 percent of employees are Jamaican. From the local fare such as Tastee cocktail patties, callaloo and curry goat, which showed up on the main restaurant’s buffet line (every day, and at every meal), to the beachfront jerk stand and even the choice of names (Ackee restaurant, Pure Vibes spa treatment suite), it was nice to see the resort making an effort to celebrate and respect the island that has welcomed them.
SERVICE As a hotel guest, you rightly expect to be welcomed warmly and served promptly and professionally. But we found the levels of service at Riu Reggae to be exceptional. Staff (everyone from groundsmen to the general manager) looked us in the eye and said hello whenever they passed us by. When a sudden torrential rainstorm stranded us at the beach a lifeguard spontaneously rushed over with a towel, which he spread then out over our heads as he walked us all the way back to shelter. And at dinner at neighboring RIU Palace, Shava, our attentive waitress, was quick to replace our now-room temperature bread roll with a warm oven-fresh one without us having to ask. Riu Reggae’s staff was consistently both cheerful and helpful, seeming genuinely interested in making sure every guest is happy. We’d be impressed with this kind of service even if we were staying at a five-star hotel, so to receive it here, at what is promoted as middle-market resort, was a very pleasant surprise.
ADULTS-ONLY We love children as much as the next guy, but even doting parents can appreciate the sublime pleasures of uninterrupted grown-up time. And Riu Reggae’s guests get that in spades, because it only accepts the over-18 crowd (families can choose Riu Montego Bay, next door).
EXCHANGE PRIVILEGES What’s better than staying at a great hotel? Getting to use the facilities of another for free. Riu Reggae guests enjoy exchange privileges at Riu Montego Bay, which shares its white-sand beach. That means that after you’ve eaten at Reggae’s five restaurants you can stroll down and dine at Mo’Bay’s four. Guests can also party at Mo’Bay’s Pacha disco and use the (much larger) Renova spa and pair of tennis courts.
VALUE With rates from around $130 per person per night all-inclusive, Riu Reggae is an affordable option for a Caribbean beach vacation. When you consider that for less than price of dinner for two in most metropolitan cities you’re getting all your meals and drinks (including liquor from full-size bottles in the in-room mini-bar); watersports and activities that include a free intro to scuba course; free and fast resort-wide WI-FI; plus access to the facilities of sister resort Riu Montego Bay, you leave with the feeling that you got more than you paid for. And in an all-inclusive category riddled with hyperbole and hollow promises, that’s a feeling we welcome.