I just returned from a one week stay at the Riu Palace Bavaro with my husband (we’re in our 20s and 30s). To compare to previous experiences, I’ve been to Cuba five times (Cayo Coco twice, Varadero once, Holguin twice) and Mexico (Mayan Riviera) once. I’ve stayed at Iberostar, Blau, and Barcelo hotels, but not the Riu, so that was a new experience. I tend to write long reviews, so I apologize in advance for the length. I’ll group the important bits together:
We flew with “Sunwing” down to Punta Cana. I put it in brackets because it’s not really Sunwing – it’s a contracted Czech airline called Travel Service that does the actual flying. The planes are new 737s, but the seat configuration is terrible (our 6’0” and 6’2” heights didn’t help) and the flying is awful. We both work in the aviation industry (my husband is a pilot for a major US carrier) and we noted that the braking action on the arrival was non-existent. The scariest part was our take-off in Punta Cana on the way back. We began to take off, then the pilots aborted the takeoff and let the plane coast halfway down the runway. Rather than taxiing off the runway and going back to run-up again, they decided to try to take off again halfway down the runway. Our plane lifted off with less than 100 ft left on a 10,000 ft runway. One of the scariest experiences of my life. If I ever go back, it will be with Air Canada/WestJet. Hotel transfer shuttle was fine, though our guide only spoke French. I know our flight was out of Montreal, but my husband is not fluent in French so this was a bit disappointing for him. And, as much as I hate to say it, a lot of the French Canadians were extremely rude on our flights (especially when they found out we were English). Not the fault of the airline or hotel, of course, but it did take away from our experience. The airport is ridiculously fast. 4 flights, including a 747 from Russia, came in at once and we got processed within 15 min. I couldn’t believe it.
Check-in was really smooth. We mentioned we were newlyweds… not sure if that resulted in a better room or not, but we were given a lovely room in the main hotel (2134). It was a fairly decent walk from the lobby, but it was also nice and quiet with no noise from shows, restaurants, bars, etc. The walls seemed to be a bit thin as there were children next door and we could hear them screaming (why are you bringing an infant to a 5-star resort in a 3rd world country anyway?). The room was great… much better than anything I had in Cuba or Mexico. There were double sinks, a nice new shower, separate toilet, and a large comfy king size bed. Our room faced the “Calle Caribena” but there was never any noise. We had a liquor dispenser with four bottles of different alcohols. The mini bar was well stocked with big bottles of water, soda, beer, and juice. We never had a problem with re-stocking. The only thing I wish the room had was a patio light. We really wanted to sit out on the balcony and read at night, but it was too dark.
The food was really great at this hotel. You always need to keep in mind that you’re on an island in a poor country and it’s not going to be out of this world, but there were just SO many options that it was impossible to find something you didn’t like. My husband put it best when he said that every meal there was something that just stood out and you wanted to keep going up for. We mainly ate at the buffet. We made reservations at the steakhouse (Taino) for my birthday, but it turned into a disaster. When we sat down, the waiter immediately said, “Don’t order the beef”… wait, we’re at a STEAKhouse and we can’t order the steak?! We ended up both ordering the chicken. Our appetizers came… a seafood plate and chicken Caesar salad with a dressing (that of course contained anchovies). This would be nice… if only we both ate seafood. So we missed our appetizers and we couldn’t have steak. We hastily ate the chicken (which admittedly was pretty nice), and ducked out before dessert and went to the buffet. Our night wasn’t ruined, but it was a shame that our only a la carte experience was poor. A good note is that the buffet is open for lunch (this isn’t so at most hotels as they’ll have a pool/beach buffet). There is a pool buffet, but the main one is FAR superior. We only found out that it was open on our last day and wished we’d discovered it sooner. It was delicious. Drinks were great and my husband loved the mojitos. I stuck to Miami Vices at the pool (half daiquiri/half pina colada) and that was fine with me. Watch out because sometimes they don’t put rum in unless you tell them to. They also pour it on top of the slush mixture so it’s up to you to mix it in.
The beach was really nice at this hotel. I was told that the beaches in DR aren’t as nice as Cuba and I found this to be true. While the sand is beautiful and soft, the ocean gets deep very quickly. I would not recommend this hotel to people with young children or non-swimmers as within 10-15 ft of shore, the water will be chest-deep. We didn’t mind this, but it’s something to think about if you like to walk far out. We found it tough to get a lounger if you headed down there after 10 am. It is a public beach and you do get hassled for watersports, coconuts, sunglasses, cigars, etc. It was tough to really relax without people bothering you. The pools were really great though. We spent all our time by the main pool and it was easy to find a quiet spot and a lounger. You could be close to the action on one end (near the bar and animation activities), or you could be at the other end. They kept the pool area immaculate and there were always guys going around asking if we needed drinks. The poolside service was fantastic. There were two other pools: the VIP and the SensiMar. We didn’t go to either of these (we also didn’t go to any of the neighbouring hotels’ pools or beach areas).
I spent a morning at the spa getting a massage. It was nice and air conditioned and in a lovely room with music and dim lighting. The massage was pretty decent and well worth the $66 price (RMT fees are high in Ontario now and it’s tough to find a massage for less than $80). I went to the gym almost every day (except the days I ran on the beach) and enjoyed the LifeFitness equipment. The gym is pretty large and it felt empty for the space it has. The cardio equipment was ample… 3 treadmills, two ellipticals, and a bike. They definitely could add in a weight rack (there were no dumbbells or barbells). I was mainly doing cardio so I could burn off the crazy amount of food I ate, but there were a few muscular guys that were disappointed they couldn’t do as much lifting.
We didn’t go to any of the nightly shows as we always had a late dinner, but the entertainment team at the pool was really fun and they kept everyone involved.
My husband really wanted to go on a dune buggy excursion, so we did it with the 1VIP Adventures. It was pretty good and the buggies were way better than other ones we saw. I was disappointed with the excursion mainly because it’s basically one big tourist trap. You go to a little hut where they make coffee, cocoa, and a few other spices and cigars. Of course, people are pushing you to buy stuff. Children come up to you constantly trying to get money off of you. It was hard to escape. We went to Macao Beach which was just lined with people trying to sell you everything from palm hats to coconuts. It was impossible to really be left alone. I’ve gone on other excursions in Cuba and Mexico and you don’t get hassled to the same degree that you do in DR. This is of course not the fault of the hotel, it’s an outside excursion, but definitely a fair warning to those who venture off the hotel.
The staff were pretty good at this hotel. They were friendly, but I think more than anything, they were confused. There wasn’t a lot of communication between guests and staff and I think this because of the sheer volume of nationalities at the hotel. You never knew what language anyone spoke. There were people from South America, Spain, France, UK, USA, Canada, Russia, Germany, just to name a few. We were never really bothered by anyone (I’ve heard not-so-great things about Russians/French/Quebecers at other hotels, but they all seemed to be respectful and quiet at ours). This hotel is by far the nicest of the Rius, though the Riu Palace Punta Cana also looked quite nice. We went to the Riu Macao which was adults only, but the pool wasn’t as nice and there was a lot of harsh fluorescent lighting. The Riu Naiboa was situated behind our hotel and looked pretty shabby.
Overall, I would definitely go back to this hotel if I were to return to the DR. It was my husband’s first time at an AI and he loved it, so it does make a lovely first impression. If you have any questions, please send me a message. All the best!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.