by Steve Jermanok
The problem with most all-inclusive resorts is that you often grow tired of the routine by the third or fourth day. Running downstairs to place a towel on a beach chair to save your spot, listening to the Canadians sing songs from Saskatoon as they get more and more drunk by the swim-up bar, and, perhaps more important, eating the same uninspired food day after day. So by the time my family arrived at the Riu Ocho Rios for our weekly turn, I was more than a bit jaded. Even my love of Jamaica didn’t heighten my expectation.
Boy, was I in for a surprise. The beach was a splendid curve of white, so beautiful that wedding after wedding was performed on the sand. There were more than enough chaise lounge chairs on the sand and near the two large pools, so I never felt the need to get up early and save a special spot, rooms overlooked the vast expanse of ocean, and, to my sheer delight, the food was far better than the dozen or so all-inclusives I visited in the past. People would start lining up on the beach by 11:30 a.m. to get a taste of the spicy jerk chicken that was prepared everyday at a small hut. The spice was sublime, as good as any jerk shack I’ve been to in Negril or Montego Bay. Then there were the variety of restaurants, including one that served my son his first steak. He’s now an insatiable carnivore.
This being Ocho Rios, you’ll want to venture off-property to climb up the frothy waters of Dunn’s River Falls. There are also options to horseback ride on a secluded beach, venture down a river through the jungle-like interior, or visit the birthplace of reggae superstar, Bob Marley. Afterwards, it’s nice to know you can return to that prefect crescent of sand, grab another banana daiquiri, and listen to live reggae as you dance to the beat. That’s what I call a vacation.
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Our Editor Loves
- Ten minutes from Dunn's River Falls
- Children's program for ages 4 to 12
- Seven restaurants and six bars
- All Inclusive Rates
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Kids' Pool
Rooms & Rates
Riu Ocho Rios offers 865 guestrooms in three five- and six-story buildings. We chose a standard room with two queen-sized beds. There is an option to upgrade to a junior suite that features a large living room, but we weren't bumping into each other, so we didn't feel it was necessary. Rooms come with a large bathroom, hanging line for swimsuits, a fridge full of free soft drinks, water, rum, and champagne since this is an all-inclusive, television, and decks that offer great views of the gardens, pools, and beach at the resort. Rooms also feature air-conditioning, ceiling fans, and a safe to store your passports and money.
My wife, daughter and I enjoyed our holiday at this amazing resort and can’t wait to revisit in 2019. The staff were all very friendly and professional and the food was amazing (my 9 year old daughter is very fussy eater but loved the food from the jerk hut).
Just got back from a 11 night stay. The hotel is great. People are friendly the food is good & the steak house restaurant is amazing!!!
However, the entertainment is very poor. The shows of the evening are awful and very cringe! RIU stop the evening entertaining get in a local singer who sings Jamaican music and people would much prefer this. The singers you get in are great, but why only for 45 mins! We love them and prefer them!!!
Kids ages 4 to 12 can sign up for the daily children's program. Counselors lead the children in sand castle competitions, relay races, and arts and crafts projects, among other options. My 9- and 11-year-olds were content whisking away their hours on their own. They played Ping Pong, swam to the swim-up bar for virgin coladas, and played volleyball and other games on the beach, usually initiated by the resort's Director of Fun.
There's an active water sports desk, where you can rent Hobie cats by the hour (though I found myself tangled on the reef on several occasions) or go sea kayaking. Don't miss the chance to jump on the pontoon boat and go snorkeling on the reef. We spotted sting rays, colorful tropical fish, even squid.
The highlight to any trip to Ocho Rios is a walk up Dunn's River Falls. Standing 600 feet high, you hike up the terraced rock as the waters come barreling down. Strolling hand-in-hand and helped by a guide up the slippery steps, it's an exhilarating and memorable way to spend a morning. There's no need to take a guided tour of the falls since there are employees at the site ready to help. Simply take a taxi from the Riu and you'll be at Dunn's River in 10 minutes.
You will need to hire an outfitter to tube down a mountainous river or horseback ride on a secluded beach. We wisely chose Chukka Caribbean, one of the most reputable companies in the country. We took a minivan high above the hills of Ocho Rios and soon entered the cool and clear waters of the White River. Planting our bums in the tube, we slowly let the current lead us down the thick green interior of ferns, banana trees, and bamboo. Along the way, we sang reggae songs and stopped for (what else?) a bit of jerk chicken.
The horseback riding jaunt led us to Papillion Bay, a pristine cove with no other people. We rode at a casual pace along the coast and stopped for a cool drink of pineapple juice. The next thing we know we were following our guide into the ocean waters on horseback! Mounting our horses without a saddle or stirrups, we rode bareback holding on to a small handle. At first, the horses waded in the water, but soon were sprinting with the waves up to their neck. We never laughed so much, trying to hold on.
On our last excursion, we hired a taxi to take us to the birthplace and final resting spot of Bob Marley in the small rural village of Nine Mile. As we cruised higher and higher into the mountains, we passed school kids dressed in navy and sky blue uniforms as they walked to school. They were soon replaced by flocks of goats and cows resting on green pasture. Eventually, we were at the Bob Marley Mausoleum, lighting a candle and walking around the tomb of Jamaica's greatest spokesperson who died far too young at the age of 36. Afterwards, we watched cane juice being made from the stalks of sugar cane. The sweet concoction was refreshing after the long drive from Ocho Rios.
With seven restaurants and six bars serving around the clock, you won't go hungry at the Riu. The large breakfast buffet features a vast assortment of fresh fruit, cereals, yogurt, smoothies, eggs, omelets, bacon, and sausage. For lunch, you may choose to get in line at the jerk hut and wait patiently. Your choices of meat are chicken, lamb, and sausage. A caveat: the darker sauce is much hotter than the sweet barbecue sauce.
For dinner, you have your choice of a casual cafe at the same breakfast spot or more gourmet restaurants that specialize in continental, Italian, and Asian cuisine. We enjoyed the lamb at Sir John, the miso-glazed salmon at the Japanese restaurant, Tushima, and the juicy tenderloin at the steak house, Mammee Bay. Befriend the chef here, and he'll bring out his Jamaican-style lobster tails, for a little surf and turf.
When the kids were thirsty, it was easy to find one of the bars nearby to get them a frozen strawberry or mango daiquiri, hopefully without the rum.
Planning & Tips
All about the Extras
With four people in one room dragging their wet swimsuits and sandy towels, you can imagine how messy the place can get. So it was nice to see the room spanking clean every day after the maid service had come and gone. They do a thorough job, even stocking the refrigerator with drinks daily.
Entertainment is offered every night on the main stage. While the kids enjoyed the productions, mom and dad found the dance performances to be a little dull. However, we enjoyed the live Reggae music on the beach.
On the same beach, next door to the hotel, is a group of local merchants selling jewelry, wooden carvings, and paintings. There's also one woman, Winsome, who offers wonderful massages at a fraction of the cost at the resort. Our family took full advantage of this offer.
The Art of Smart Timing
One of the best bargains in travel happens every April 15th, when prices in the Caribbean drop dramatically until high season picks up again in mid-December. Spring is a great time to visit. Unlike Central America, where the rainy season rears its ugly head in the spring, the Caribbean gets very little rain this time of year and temperatures hover in the mid-80s. So Jamaica continues to tease us with its bright sunshine while many of us are still dealing with a cold and often damp April and May. Plus, there will be significantly fewer people on the beach or in the pool.
But what about summer and those dreaded hurricanes, you ask? Hurricane season starts in early June and runs through October in Jamaica, with August and September usually the height of the stormy season. The good news is that, unlike tornadoes, hurricanes come with advance warning. Travelers who have the flexibility to wait until the last minute will know exactly where the hurricanes are headed if they are indeed in the region. The reward for your brave undertaking is often a 50 percent or more discount at resorts from exorbitant high season rates.