The Pros and Cons of a Jamaican ‘All-Inclusive Beach Resort Vacation’ – Without Fishing!

At Club-Hotel Riu Negril

Well, for decades I’ve listened to other people talk about their ‘all-inclusive-beach vacations’ without ever having experienced one myself but that all changed when we had an excuse to go to Jamaica for a wedding at Club Riu Negril in Jamaica. We (my wife Loretta, and oldest son Tyler- Izaak couldn’t make it.) flew out on my birthday (Nov 22) and returned 8 days later with some great memories under our belts.  Below is my review of the experience highlighting both the pros and cons of our vacation.

CON: THE ENTIRE BAY IN NEGRIL (KNOWN AS BLOODY BAY) IS A FISH SANCTUARY … NO FISHING!

Despite repeated efforts before our trip to find out more about local fishing opportunities, no one cared to let this fish-crazed fool know about this minor detail before we left. I sweated over how much tackle to bring – so of course decided more was better. I packed less clothes to make more room for the important stuff.  I spent an hour carefully fixing a broken pack rod and got it back to new condition … and dug up a couple smaller rods to pack as well. Half my suitcase comprised of tackle so figured I was covered.  I learned shortly after arrival that the “NO” Fish Sanctuary signs were not put there as a rude early April Fool’s joke just for me … but actually meant that Wil Wegman and all other fish heads better not wet a line … or they can be in some hot Jamaican Jerk Do-do! 

Yah- so this no fishing deal came as a VERY unpleasant surprise during our first day briefing with our Nexus representative who made things worse by saying it like it was not a big deal – I could still hire a charter boat captain at $350 a day and go out with him! 

PRO: THE ENTIRE BAY IS A FISH SANCTUARY  …. BECAUSE IT IS PRIME NURSERY HABITAT FOR ALL SORTS OF FISH AND MARINE LIFE!

Just like freshwater fish, many saltwater species find little value in plain boring waters void of structure.  When fish are young the presence of rich aquatic plant life provides life giving substance. The entire bay is relatively shallow and well protected from the huge crashing waves of the ocean and subsequently harbors prime nursery habitat for young tropical fish and marine life. This in turn also brings in much larger fish and with the bay off limits to anglers (and more importantly the commercial fishing industry) all these fish are swimming free for snorkelers to see in one of the few protected zones within the coastal regions surrounding Jamaica.  I learned afterwards that Jamaica trades some of their prime off shore commercial fishing rights to Asian countries in exchange for other benefits, but has established these sanctuaries to ensure some sort of sustainable fishery for future generations… Good thing! 

So despite being crestfallen that I couldn’t catch fish … stalking and observing them incessantly within their natural habitat was the next best thing! When snorkelling on the beach out from the resort you’ll see lots of bottom hugging eel grass or just plain sand and then come upon a section with varied substrate/rocks/plants and therefore lots of fish and marine life. You'll love it! For more specific details read on.

CON: THE BEACH IS PUBLIC!
Although local Jamaicans selling everything from pot to beach toys did not access the beach thru the resort by land, they were dropped off early every morning by boat and were continually walking the edge of the beach trying to sell their wares to any of the guests who would listen. Pot is technically illegal in Jamaica, but enforcement appeared non-existent and although we really didn’t see patrons smoking cigarettes on the beach – plenty were smoking joints bought from locals without a care in the world.

PRO:  GOOD MUSICAL PERFORMERS:
Although most of those local beach sellers were a real nuisance, I must admit the occasional one who performed Reggae … Bob Marley type music was exceptionally talented and great to listen to!

PRO: WEATHER!
Around 80-85F every day with a mix of sun and cloud, a little bit of rain the odd day, and a fairly regular wind (20-35 KMPH) to keep things comfortable along the beach.

CON: WEATHER! The wind was one of the key factors that kept us from experiencing an offshore deep sea fishing excursion. I hate fishing in strong winds back home in Ontario and can only imagine what a drag it would be on the open seas.

The rich underwater world fascinated Wil and swimming with the fishes was the highlight of his trip

PRO: GREAT SNORKELLING ALONG THE BEACH
Although not a lot of visitors found where the hotspot was along the beach … A little bit of searching on my first full day there revealed the best area fairly easily.  For those who love swimming with the fishes like me, just swim out towards the middle of the marker buoys and begin searching 50 metres one way and if you don’t find gorgeous tropical fish, coral, plants, rocks, and lots more to your left then  go and swim 50 metres the other way and you’ll come along it for sure. This whole area is not too deep so you become close and personal with the fish you’re watching!  This 20 metre wide stretch of excellent fish habitat starts about 5 metres before the markers and goes way out (towards the boats so be careful) another 100 metres or so. The aquatic wonderland below the surface here is spectacular visiting it several times every day and was the single greatest highlight of my trip! I was very thankful for the new snorkel set my son Izaak gave me for my birthday just before the trip- so didn’t have to borrow a set of lesser quality every time I wanted to snorkel while there.

The underwater world just out from Club Hotel RiuNegril was spectacular

CON: ZEEKA VIRUS?
No mention on the Club Hotel Riu Negril site or by any of our tour guides that the Zeeka virus carried by mosquitoes … is prevalent in Jamaica.  I learned of this only a week later while listening to the Outdoor Journal Radio Show on the Fan 590 in Toronto back home.  We didn’t see a lot of mosquitoes but there were some and it would have been nice to know to bring bug spray – my bad!
            
PRO: GREAT SWIMMING FOR LANE OR DISTANCE SWIMMERS!  I’m an avid lane swimmer in my local pool back home and I soon figured the marker buoys were an excellent site line that allowed me to swim alongside them straight and away from beach frolickers who don’t really swim. The beach was a great distance and gave me about 175 metres each way to swim back and forth. An added bonus for us fresh water swimmers was that the salt water makes you very buoyant so swimming was almost effortless! I was amazed at how long I could swim without becoming tired! Additionally the added bonus of seeing a variety of fish along the way … and stopping to smell the roses … er hover and see all the tropical/aquarium fish mid-way; made for a memory I will cherish forever. SWIMMERS … MAKE SURE TO BRING YOUR GOGGLES! I am so glad I did and half the time I was in the water without snorkelling gear; I was still able to rely on my Speedo goggles to see where I was going and all the wonderful fish without having that salt water burn my eyes. Also ... because ClubHotel Riu Negril is in a large protected bay and not on the main coast ... swimming distances is a breeze without a major breeze!
For coastal resorts on the main ocean with onshore winds, real swimming would not be possible. In those cases all guests can really do is stand around and jump into waves - and that gets old in a hurry.

Be sure to bring a good set of swim goggles to fully capture the joy of swimming with the fishes along the beach. Here Wil’s oldest son Tyler, went out without them and the salt water irritation factor was just too intense.

Half the time, Wil had no clue what he was looking at beneath the water’s surface –but he was fascinated with it all none-the-less.

CON:  SEAWEED?
Some guests complained that in some places they had trouble walking out of our beach because of all the ‘seaweed’.  Seriously though, all I saw was a bit of bottom hugging eel grass (looked like thick bladed grass you’d see up on shore) however this plant really isn't gross to walk over at all and helps make up that prime nursery habitat for fish. Many beach goers were afraid to walk anywhere in the water so missed out big time. Why walk when the salt water buoyancy factor can easily make it possible to swim everywhere in mere inches of water… it doesn't get any easier or better!

This photo demonstrates the rich aquatic life that the short eel-grass type plants provide. These are present even near shore of the sandy beach and some sterile beach lovers complained of yucky-seaweed’ beneath their feat – certainly nothing to be afraid or grossed out about but admired perhaps instead.

PRO: GREAT SERVICE
The service by all the servers in restaurants and other HotelRiu Negril staff was exceptional

CON: TIPPING
They said gratuities were included with the all-inclusive package price but this was definitely not the reality once you arrived. The staff absolutely deserved it and like everywhere, industry staff rely on tips for a large portion of their income – but it was doubtful that a significant portion of the all-inclusive fare was passed on in the form of tips to the regular service staff. So, we were continually reaching into our pockets for a minimum of $1.00 US tips for everything. It just gets to be a real pain in my books and would much rather a bit more is charged up-front that goes directly to staff.

CON: TAP WATER IN HOTEL ROOMS
No notice was given for to us NOT to drink the water in the hotel rooms! Although they supply bottled water at no cost, it wasn’t until the 2nd day that we learned about this … so for the first day we drank straight from the tap. No issues afterwards but a reminder at check-in would have been nice.

PRO: WARM MILK!
This is the way it is always served with your Tea and Coffee. Although I take both of mine black … many others commented how nice this made both tea and coffee taste.  Apparently they don’t pasteurize all of their milk in Jamaica and one of the people travelling with us who is lactose intolerant said he was able to drink that warm milk without any nasty side effects – so he was especially thrilled.

CON: THERE WAS NO COFFEE OR COFFEE POTS IN ANY OF THE ROOMS!
This was a huge Con! Again, I tried contacting the hotel beforehand to find out if they had coffee in the rooms – but no response back. How can a five star resort charging big bucks not have coffee in the rooms?  What is more relaxing than to wake up, grab a coffee and sit on your balcony in the morning enjoying the sunrise or beautiful ocean-front view?  SO CLUB RIU NEGRIL … please consider placing coffee pots in the rooms or at the very least supply each building (there are ~4) with a centralized location in the morning where guests can come down and grab a pot of hot coffee to bring back to their rooms. As it was, my routine would be to wake up and walk the 7-8 minutes to the restaurant and try to carry a bunch of coffees (without lids) back to the room.
            
PRO: BBQ ON THE BEACH
The Jamaican Jerk Chicken served daily on the beach was exceptional. The Jerk pork however was even better!

CON: JERK PORK SHORTAGE
The delicious jerk pork was only served the first two days we were there … and then that entire station was removed! This service could have easily been picked up by the hut cooking the jerk chicken ... yah man; lotsa room on that BBQ don’t ya know man for some of that delicious pork!

PRO: SALMON
The smoked salmon at the breakfast buffet was outstanding!

CON: SALMON SHORTAGE
Again, served only twice … it would have been so nice if it was a staple each day.

PRO: FOOD
The food overall was very good. Good selection at the Buffets and great meals at several local a la carte restaurants all available under our package plan.

CON: AMBIGUOUS DRESS CODE
We were told at the start, that all restaurants were fine with shorts near knee length and collared shirts at some ... but at their fanciest restaurant I was turned away because of my  knee high length dressy-enough shorts. Meanwhile, my wife had her shorts on and they said it was fine for ladies to wear them- but not us fellas! Hmm!

PRO: SPECIAL DISHES:
Some of my favorite dishes included: Grilled Salmon, Curried Goat, Duck Confee, Ribs, Oxtail, their own chopped green veggies served at every meal

CON: STEAK
Nothing beats a really good steak and although they weren’t awful by any means, the steaks at the steak restaurant were salty, slightly overcooked for medium rare and not the most tender in the world ... but ok

CON: MUSIC
I’m a music snob and don’t like most of what I hear on the radio these days and simply can’t listen to it without getting irritable and a pain to be with.   The music at the stand-up bar pool was loud and horrendous! Geared perhaps to those who can tolerate beat, rap or just senseless-screaming ... I couldn't hang there with more tolerable friends and family without major discomfort; so really didn't. While in Jamaica I was expecting to hear way more Bob Marley and from other traditional musicians that the majority of visitors would enjoy- not a select few... but sadly- not so much!

PRO: GETTING AWAY FROM THE MUSIC WASN’T HARD
At the beach or another far-off pool it was music free so that was good. At one point near the beach volleyball court they had an announcer talking all about interesting tidbits about Jamaica from history-to culture to sports. The beach volleyball court was a great and the resort even had certain times when one of their staff would play more organized games with guests.

PRO: EXCURSIONS

We were at the resort for a week and although some members of our party stayed put the entire time, it was good to get out and explore some of what Jamaica has to offer thru Nexus Tours. My son and I enjoyed a day of zip lining, ATV'ing, and a safari tour and another day swimming with the dolphins and holding a big nurse shark on another.

CON: PRICE OF EXCUSRIONS:
Way over priced and all in US dollars. During  our Sunwing Chartered flight from Toronto to Montego Bay Nexus had the on board flight personal trying to sell us some of their Jamaican tours– at a large savings and in Canadian dollars. However few of those tours were in Negril and those that were just simply didn’t interest us.  Once at the resort- Nexus reps were eager to show us the complete list of tours that were really available … but at a much higher price and no longer in Canadian funds.

PRO: OUTDOOR ADVENTURE:
The zip lining, safari and ATV Tour was at a great all in one location at the relatively new Jam West Adventure Park about an hour or so from the resort. Along route we were able to see large crops of sugar cane, pot plants growing in public places and how many Jamaicans really lived.

The zip lining was a blast- very safety oriented by well trained staff and included several runs on large high platforms. The safari tour guide was a very interesting gentleman who fit the part of the Hollywood-style safari host to a tee. It was kind of quizzically comical however (after he learned we were from Canada) when he referenced the Canada goose as an Invader to his homeland and then pointed to one of the enclosures where he said the accused lived - “there are those Canada Geese now!” I politely informed him that the domestic-looking goose were definitely not Canada Geese; to which he replied “Oh, they must be the ones at our last stop.”  Once we got there he pointed out another goose … proudly proclaiming that was our Canadian invader. “Nope … sorry, that isn’t one either, I said sheepishly.  The following day, when some other members of our large party went on the same tour … no mention whatsoever was made of any resident Canada GeeseJ.
The ATV’s were in great shape and the trail systems were well maintained. And the tour finished with a relaxing dip into the all-natural cool water salt springs.

CON: MISSING LONG TOURING TYPE-ZIP RUN
Seeing as how we were supposedly in the jungle, a slower zip-line ride bringing us thru the forested area would have been a better way to showcase their tremendous property. Instead … it was all about the intensifying the adrenaline rush as each tower was higher than the last. Unfortunately these were pretty much in an open field well-away from ‘the jungle.’ They definitely delivered in the adrenaline rush department though – highlighted by the free-for-all jump to the ground from the last platform.

PRO: SAFARI TOUR ANIMALS WERE VERY COOL
Alligators, waterfowl, birds of all sorts and giant tortoises were part of the exhibits and these were all within ‘the jungle’ and part of the tour within the open van. To reach some of the exhibits, we all got out and walked- which was better than just viewing within the vehicle.

Our tour guide sure looked the part

CON: SMALL ENCLOSURES:

The permanent enclosures really didn’t offer much room or natural habitat for the critters inside … which was likely the cause for some rather peculiar behavior… especially among the two male tortoises.

These large male tortoises were busy going at it when we arrived and according to our tour guide who supplied ample details. Letting us know this activity can last over 8 hours and when they’re finally done – or at least one of them is, that it takes a large push broom and mop to clean up all the mess!  This behavior were told is common even in the wild as males outnumber females on a large scale. Somehow we thought the cause was more related to the small enclosures which likely caused incessant boredom among the two occupants.

PRO: LUNCH INCLUDED WITH PACKAGE PRICE:
Goes without saying that without any restaurants etc nearby, it was handy to have lunch taken care of.

CON: LUNCH NOT VERY GOOD:
The lunch at Jam West was a real disappointment- boring hamburgers and fries that were barely ok. It would be such a great selling point to just have Jamaican Jerk Pork and chicken or more of a community atmosphere with staff around the BBQ instead of separate from the guests.

PRO: RIDING DOLPHINS IS A BLAST!
Swimming with the dolphins at Dolphin Cove was a thrill we won’t soon forget. We opted for the ultimate excursion which included holding stingrays and cradling a large nurse shark.

Wil’s son Tyler before we swam with the dolphins

Wil holding the nurse shark

CON: NOT ENOUGH TIME TO ENJOY ALL THE ACTIVITIES:
Unfortunately, they didn’t leave us enough time near the end for everyone to have a chance to hold the nurse shark.     

PRO: CATAMARAN TOUR TO RICK’S CAFE
Most of our party (including a 91 year old grandmother) enjoyed a catamaran tour together out from the resort and along the coast. A real highlight was seeing a beach front home way up on the cliffs that proudly displayed the Canadian flag.   When we all cheered as we went by, the resident there eagerly came out to wave at his fellow Canucks. The tour provided us a nice get together with a decent snorkelling opportunity midway. We went as far as the famous cliffs at "Ricks Café" were most of us got out for either a bite or to jump the cliffs.   Diving from those cliffs was great fun and although I only had enough gumption to jump a few times from the mid-range ones, the groom’s brother – Joe was fearless and entertained the large crowd gathered along the edges as he hurled his big bad self-off the highest cliff with seemingly reckless abandon.  His intentional belly flops were sure a sight to behold!  Watching the professional diver climb to the significantly higher man-made tower and jump from there, was also a real thrill!

CON: CLIFF DIVING STRONGLY DISCOURAGED BY CLUB HOTEL RIU NEGRIL
Although there was definitely an element of risk that for insurance purposes I’m sure forced the hotel to discourage guests from jumping … they sure did go a little overboard in their warnings.  Staff (possibly hired by Rick’s café) were on shore supervising and it was all very orderly.  The cliffs were straight down (so you didn’t have to jump straight out as far as you could to clear rocks) and the water was plenty deep.

 

PRO: THE PEDDLE BOATS AT THE RESORT WERE FINE
My son Tyler and I peddled our way out to the mouth of the bay around a small island and enjoyed a leisurely ride.

CON: KAYAKS WERE A JOKE
The ‘kayaks’ the resort offered were … well a joke! No rudder is one thing, but absolutely no position for any real human BEING to sit comfortably and paddle at the same time.  We turned back less than 100 yards out and opted for the 2-person paddle boat instead – which was A-1

PRO: FAMILY AND FRIENDS:
Being there with friends and family for a common purpose made the whole trip worthwhile and one we will always remember.  Thanks for inviting us to your destination wedding Kelsie and Russell!

I hope this unbiased report helps a few of you as you plan your trip to Jamaica. The people and countryside are wonderful and I'm glad I had the privilege to stay there.