My wife and I stayed at the RIU Emerald Bay at the end of April 2016. Overall we had a good experience, there are definitely a number of pros and cons to this resort. We stayed 8 nights, 9 days.
The hotel itself is very clean and nice, you will be hard pressed to find any garbage around. The grounds are well landscaped and the pools are clean. The staff is pleasant, but I wouldn't say overly friendly. Front-line staff speak good english, support staff (housekeepers, etc) may or may not speak any english. The front desk and lobby can get busy at peak times, but generally not too bad. The grounds of the hotel are actually very small, everything is closely.
There is a bank of 3 elevators on each side of the hotel, the elevators are very small and hold around 7-8 people before the over-weight alarm will go off (this will happen almost daily). People on the lower-middle floors seem to have the biggest problem getting an elevator in a timely manner as the elevator will start at the top floor and work its way done. Stairs are a good choice for those on lower floors. Catching an elevator going up from the lobbies i usually not too bad, and overall we did not have much problem with the elevators. The hotel is currently constructing additional elevators, so depending on where you room is you may hear construction noise from 8AM to 8PM, judging by the progress they have made I would guess that these elevators will not be ready for atleast 3-4 months.
I would say 40% of the guest at the hotel are Canadian, 40% Mexican, and 10% from everywhere else in the world. In particular, the resort will get very busy on the weekend with Mexicans from the surrounding areas that come for a weekend stay with their facilities. I would recommend scheduling off-resort activities on the weekends to avoid the crowds at the resort.
There is free wifi in the lobby (slower) or you can pay to add wifi to your room for about $60USD for the week which is a faster connection. We had no problems accessing our paid wifi.
We had the jacuzzi suite on the top floor (room 2232), definitely worth the extra money and you may be able to get a deal if you call the RIU reservation centre like we did (instead of doing a package such as Sunwing). Our room was very spacious with a living room, walk in closet (with safe), king bed with panoramic window looking out on the ocean with an adjoining jacuzzi tub. Bathroom was large featuring 2 sinks, standup shower, toilet and bidet. Our balcony was large and had a jacuzzi tub that could fit at least 4 people. We had a sweeping view of the beach, town, and the resort. Our balcony had two lounger chairs and a small table, all cheap plastic furniture but it was ok.
All the rooms have a mini-bar fridge that is stocked with bottled water, pepsi, diet-pepsi, 7-Up, club soda, and Tecate (a Mexican beer). Each room also has bottles of vodka, gin, whisky in a cabinet for mixed drinks. The mini-bar is stocked every two days, but they will stock water daily if you call and ask for more.
Rooms are cleaned daily by housekeeping, but it could be anywhere from 10AM to 4PM when they arrive and it is never the same time. The housekeepers do a great job and usually leave something special each day like a towel folded in the shape of an animal.
The bed in our room was terrible. Very hard and uncomfortable, pillows were very soft and not too my taste (I went to Walmart and bought a firm pillow for the remainder of my stay), and worst of all the bottom sheet is not fitted so as soon as you move on the bed it pulls out and you will be on the bare mattress.
Airconditioner in the room works very well and we were comfortable throughout our stay. Bathrobes, hairdryer, and basic shampoo/conditioner are provided.
TV is a bit small, most channels are in spanish but there are a few movie channels in english. The controls on the TVs are locked out so you cannot turn on subtitles, or switch the the HDMI input if you were to bring a DVD player.
All rooms are on the beach side of the building and have a view, lower floors will not have as good of a view because they will be obstructed by the pool facilities and trees. The standard rooms are much smaller (about half the size of our room but all have small balconies).
POOLS AND BARS
The resort has 3 pools, including the swim-up bar pool (adults only). The are cleaned daily, and are a good temperature. The swim-up pool can get very busy, and by the afternoon gets loud with some very intoxicated patrons. The other 2 pools are generally filled with families, and not as good for quiet lounging. There is also "RIU Land" which is a kids area that features a small waterslide-pool.
The loungers by the pools get filled up quickly and the goods spots will be gone by about 10AM. Most people head down and reserve spots with towels in the morning before breakfast, this is officially not allowed but the resort does not enforce the rule. Shaded spots and sunny spots are both available. The lounger chairs are cheaper plastic chairs, but not too bad. The resort does not mind if you pull a chair from the beach into the pool area, which we did one morning and there are lots of empty spaces available to do this.
At check in you will receive towel cards, if you loose your towel or don't return the card at check out you will be charged $200 pesos. Be careful of leaving towels unattended on the chairs as there is a chance that someone will take it and you will be stuck paying for it. We left ours out and had no problems, but have heard stories from others.
There are 3 outdoor bars in the pool areas, a self-serve pop and beer station, and a mobile cart that goes around serving drinks. Drinks are very strong, we generally asked each time for light alcohol. You will find some bees around the bars, but it isn't too bad. A lot of people bring their own insulated drink containers which is a good idea to reduce the number of trips to the bar and to keep your drink cool. Beer served at the bars is Dos Equis (the Mexican beer with the XX on the label), and a number of frozen drinks and mixed drinks are available.
The beach at the resort is great, soft sand (very hot, bring sandals or water shoes). Loungers are available (shaded and in the sun) on the beach. Vendors are kept behind a rope that separates the beach from the resort and will not hastle you if you say 'no thanks'. The water is warm, too murky for snorkelling. Waves are a bit big but fun to play in. There is lifeguard posted during the day directly in-front of the resort that keeps and eye on everyone, and another that patrols further down the beach on an ATV. Directly in front of the life guard station is a small ripe-tide, the lifeguard will blow his whistle and wave you away from it if you venture too near. The water on both sides of that are fine to swim in. There is no coral or rocks in the water, so it is good on your feet. I read that there is a storm water pipe on the left side of the beach to watch for, but never saw it. Body-boards are available at the SPA building by the beach for free. If you want to collect shells there are tons down the beach on the right side of the resort about a 3-4 minute walk away.
The red-flag (danger-large surf) and the white-flag (jelly fish warning) were up throughout our stay and I have a feeling that they are always up for liability reasons. I never saw or heard of anyone seeing a jelly fish (including while I was SCUBA diving) and the waves are shoulder height but not too strong for an adult. Children should stay closer to shore if they are not strong swimmers.
There are 4 restaurants at the resort: Mexican a-la-cart, asian a-la-cart, international buffet (breakfast and dinner), and the Italian buffet (lunch and dinner). We didn't go to either of the a-la-carts and hear mixed reviews, reservations must be made that day and only at the front desk (no phone reservations).
The buffet food is very similar at both the international and Italian, but there are a few differences. The Italian will have a pasta station everyday and at dinner there is a chef cutting chicken and roast-beef. The international buffet will have a different theme each night where some of the stations will change (i.e. a sushi station one day will be a crepe station the next). Regular staples will remain the same each night at both buffets: pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, salad, fries, fish, chicken, etc. There is a good variety of food at each buffet, the food is average... not great, but edible. Some food items are very cheap quality, such as the burgers which are cheap fatty meat and cooked on a greasy flat-top grill, not very edible.. Food is cooked in large quantities and is often luke-warm when you get it.
The wait staff at the buffets are friendly and will come by and serve drinks and clear plates relatively quickly, there is also self-serve pop and beer. The cooks are always busy trying to keep up with demand but you will find that most items are restocked quickly. The international buffet gets very busy and loud, but you will always get a table. The Italian is on the end of the hotel and has great views of the beach and an upper seating area which is usually very quiet.
Aside from the restaurants, food stations are set up daily in the lower lobby for breakfast and lunch. At lunch it is usually either hotdogs and hamburgers or fajitas. A fresh juice station is also set up daily in the AM. Some afternoons BBQ hamburgers, hotdogs and chicken will be set up on the beach.
Room service is not offered in the hotel, but you are allowed to take plates of food back to your room or to the pool area. Take out containers are not offered so you will have to carry a plate which is not super convenient. Dinner is not served at the buffets until 7PM for some reason, and ends at 10:30PM. After 10:30PM, the only food available is in the sports bar off the lobby where you will find pizza, nachos (tortilla chips and hot liquid cheese, no salsa), and a fridge with cold hotdogs and hamburgers (left over from the buffet, a microwave is provided in the sports bar), ham sandwiches, and salads. The sports bar is also the only bar open 24/7.
Note: I read that the ketchup at the resort was terrible so I brought a bottle of Heinz with me.. The ketchup at the buffets is a more watery Mexican brand ketchup but not horrible. Heinz ketchup packets are available at the sports bar, so if you are picky you can grab some there to take with you to the buffet.
There is a small gift shop in the lobby that offers basic toiletries, medications, swims suits, a few snacks and souvenirs. It is fairly expensive, so stock up on sunscreen and snacks before you come or buy it at stores off the resort. There is an OXXO (Mexican convenience store chain) that is a 5 minutes walk from the front gate of the resort.
The resort has a small spa, I got my haircut which was ok but cost $30 USD. My wife go the "gel nail special" which turned out to be gel nail polish, which was again ok. Massage is offered but is triple the price of local providers. There are massage tents on the beach adjacent to the resort where you can get a good massage for $20-30 USD for an hour.
An ATM is available in the lobby. Due to new laws in Mexico you cannot pay for your hotel stay is USD, and the CANNOT exchange USD at the front desk. Canadian money is accepted and exchanged. We kept pesos and used that for everything on and off resort, which I think is much easier. The tour operators off resort and taxis will accept USD (and often quote prices in USD). Another benefit to pesos is that everything $100 and under is waterproof and can be kept in your pocket while swimming.
Taxis are available at the lobby and are easy to find in all tourist areas. Prices are standardized in pesos and a sign in the lobby tells you all the prices (I'll try and attach a photo of that with this review). Here are a few price examples in pesos: airport $400, Walmart $100, Golden Zone $120. Some of the drivers will tell you it costs more when you arrive (especially if you pay in USD), so be aware of the prescribed prices if you don't want to over pay. You have 3 choices of taxis from the resort: safari taxi (a VW bug that is converted into an open air golf-cart looking vehicle), pickup truck taxi which has bench seating along the bed of the truck (holds 8 people), and eco-taxis which are cars. The eco-taxis are old and in rough shape, the other two are a lot of fun and are feel safe. Some taxi drivers don't speak very good english, others will speak great english. We had one taxi driver give us an hour long tour of Mazatlan and take us to Walmart for about $400 peso.
From the airport you can get an airport taxi which are nice newer vehicles, and I think you can reserve them to take you back to the airport. The hotel is about a 30-40 minute drive from the airport, the hotel offers a shuttle service for $15USD if you book direct.
Public bus service in nice air conditioned buses is available for $10 peso that a lot of people have recommended. We didn't try it, but I wouldn't hesitate to do it.
Mazatlan is very nice, much cleaner than the Mayan Rivera where we stayed last year, and feels very safe. I ventured off the resort several times by myself and felt safe throughout, but I wouldn't do that at night. There is a strong police presence in the tourist areas, and you will constantly see the tourist and municipal police patrolling with their lights flashing.
Everyone is very friendly in Mazatlan, but you will find a lot of shops don't speak much english. Vendors don't usually hassle you, even on the beach if you say 'no thanks' they will usually move on (which again is difference from my experience in the Mayan Riviera). Haggling is very big, generally you can get a much better price than what is initially asked if you are willing to stay firm.
The restaurants off resort are great, and very cheap. Many of them are very well decorated and clean, we felt safe eating there and had no problems. I would recommend in particular La Casa Country in the Golden zone for great steak and Mexican food. There are a few restaurants that are a 5 minute walk down the beach, everyone at the resort seems to go there at least once during there visit and they are all good and cheap.
There is a large indoor market in old Mazalan which is pretty cool and has a good variety of souvenirs, clothes, and knock-off brandname merchandise.
I did the discovery SCUBA lesson and ocean dive at the aqua sports centre which was great. We also did the rhino ATV tour with Pacific Moto which was a ton of fun. I did reviews of both of those if you are curious, so check on TripAdvisor. Parasailing and banana boat rides are available on the beach at the resort for $50 USD.
We would definitely visit Mazatlan again, and the RIU was great for cleanliness and scenic views. The rooms were good, but the beds are terrible. Bring or buy a firm pillow if you are like me, and stock up on the sunscreen and snacks before hand. Food is ok and I would recommend eating off resort at the many amazing restaurants as often as you can. Activities and shopping in the area are really good, and Mazatlan is very safe. The resort is crowed on weekends, so try and do your off-resort actives on the weekend.
The rooms face the ocean and waking up to the sights and sounds are just incredible. The rooms are clean and stocked with all amenities including liquor dispensers and a stocked mini bar.
The pools are well maintained and the swim up bar is quite a hit.
The food is average but there are many options.
The location is perfect with restaurants nearby as well as light shopping.
This was an excellent resort. The room was clean and the employees worked SO hard to deliver an unforgettable experience. They were constantly cleaning and it was a rare occasion to pass an employee without a hello or a smiling face. The food was excellent and the service was great. The Bamboo was very good and the portions were big! Juan did an excellent job on our city tour. He explained the history and had lots of helpful hints on where to go and what to do. The bus drivers were unbelievably skilled. The city tour is highly recommended and worth the money, don't forget to tip!
The beach was awesome, and the ocean was really fun to swim in. There was a bit of a rip tide in one spot, but if you read the ample warning signs and pay attention you'll be fine. There were also excellent lifeguards on site everyday patrolling and keeping everyone safe.
Overall it was a ten out of ten. The Riu was excellent and the places and sites around it were close and accessible. We swam and walked the beach everyday, and also used all of the pool facilities. We wouldn't hesitate to come back for another visit. Thanks to all the staff!
We just came back from one week at this resort and have nothing else but positive comments on everything - room amenity, service, food, great friendly staff, beach, pools, everything was just worth of a 5 star resort.
The only minor issue is with the elevators, which during busy times (check-in or out) can't keep up with the demand and you have to wait a long time,
What a great place, the only thing missing was a coffee machine in the room, heated swimming pools and new chairs on the beach.
This is not a place to swim in the ocean.
This hotel is so nice and clean. The employees smile all the time and service is great.