One of five RIU resorts in Jamaica, this adults-only all-inclusive (opened in December 2013) is less than 10 minutes from the airport in Montego Bay, so you’ll be on the sand with a rum punch in hand long before visitors heading to Negril or Ocho Rios. The Spanish chain is known for offering budget-priced all-inclusive vacays, and if you’re looking for sun, sea, and all the food and drink you can scarf down, this could be your happy place.
Riu Palace Jamaica Rooms and Accommodations
If the designers behind IKEA, a kitschy Vegas hotel and Miami Vice collaborated on a hotel room it’d look a lot like those at the Palace. With liberal use of black and grey stone, stark white furniture and walls, brushed metal light fixtures, and purple accents in the form of over-sofa art and glass block tile (really?!), the overall effect is either Euro-chic or '80s throwback depending on your point of view. (Personally, I felt as if Crockett and Tubbs were going to appear at any moment.)
That said, the rooms (which are clustered in three, four-story blocks around a central reflecting pool and two palm-bordered swimming pools) are spacious and light, with a separate living area with a sofa and desk big enough for two (not that you’re likely to need it) and balconies overlooking the pool and/or the beach. A whirlpool tub separates the sleeping and bathing areas, thought it’s not for the timid, since it’s completely open to both spaces. The bathroom itself is sleek, with double vessel sinks atop granite countertops; a large walk-in shower (with soap and shampoo dispensers), and thoughtfully placed hooks and a makeup mirror.
Standard amenities across the resort’s three room categories include a mini-fridge stocked with water, soft drinks and beer, replenished daily; and a mini-bar dispenser with full-size bottles of rum, vodka, whiskey and (curiously) brandy. Instagram addicts will appreciate the resort-wide, fast and free wi-fi that makes uploading envy-inducing selfies a cinch – and takes the sting out of having to wear the dreaded all-inclusive resort wristband.
Riu Palace Jamaica Dining and Restaurants
The all-inclusive resort buffet is much maligned, but I was pleasantly surprised by the Riu Palace’s morning smorgasbord. Apart from the usual offerings (eggs cooked to order, pancakes, cereal, etc.) there were daily local selections (ackee and saltfish with dumplings – yum!); fresh squeezed juices (including otaheite apple and tamarind); and a variety of imported cheeses. Lunch and dinner featured at least six entrée choices, well as sushi and vegetarian options.
Less impressive, however, was the laborious process of getting a table in any of the resort’s specialty restaurants (Japanese, Italian, and a steakhouse) for dinner. Reservations aren’t taken in advance. Instead, guests are obliged to visit the respective maître d stations at 6:30 p.m. for a table at that time, or to request second seating at 8:30 p.m. So even if you plan to dine at the later time you have to show up two hours earlier. And on all but one night of my stay the later seating was fully booked by diners unable to get the early seating time.
It’s an inconvenient, irritating and clumsy “system” that will hopefully soon be discarded. On the upside: there’s 24-hour room service, and Riu Palace guests may also dine at the three restaurants at neighboring Riu Montego Bay.
Riu Palace Jamaica Activities and Amenities
As you’d expect at a Caribbean resort, the action revolves around the beach and pools. The beach is decent, though small, so you’ll have to rise with the sun to reserve your lounge chair if you plan to be sunnyside-up all day. The scene at both beachfront pools is more lively, with water games and music over the PA system. Take advantage of the usual watersports (kayaking, windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling) or an in-pool scuba primer, or head next door for tennis on two courts (deposit required for racquets and balls).
Golfers can arrange play at three golf courses (all within a 10-minute drive).
At night, the coupled-up crowd makes a beeline for the glitzy lobby bar where liberal pours of premium liquor get the party started. Post-dinner, the party moves to the Aqua Bar, a restaurant-turned-nightclub on the beach.
THE TAKEAWAY: The Riu Palace brand is promoted as more upmarket and couples-oriented than the family-focused neighboring Riu Montego Bay, with more dining options and exchange privileges at the less expensive resort. And for the price, it’s a good deal for an all-you-can-everything beach getaway. But more discerning or high-maintenance travelers may want to look at other hotel brands for a more conventionally luxurious experience.
Riu Palace Information
Address Ironshore P.O., Montego Bay
Rooms 238 rooms (including junior suites and whirlpool suites)
Rates From $160 per person per night, all-inclusive