We just returned from a 7-day stay at the Riu Palace, Punta Cana and had a great time. Even though most of the reviews we read were good, there were enough repeat comments around cleanliness, food quality, service and overall amenities to scare us a bit. I am happy to report we ran in to NONE of the bad--but we are also pleasant to the hospitality staff and have realistic expectations (i.e. you are going to smell some musty in a tropical climate as humid as the Domincan Republic!).
We went for a 25th anniversary trip and took our 2 adult kids (19 and 23) with us. Initially our rooms were farther away than we wanted, but the front desk was quickly accommodating and moved us closer together. Rooms are a little small and had no chairs--just the king bed and then in a sunken living room area a pull-out couch. But, we didn't spend a ton of time in the room, anyway. The balcony was adequate and while I would never call our view "ocean front" or even "ocean view," the fact is you COULD see the ocean from our balcony.
We stayed in room 1140 which is ground level with the main lobby--very convenient for luggage. From the room we walked down about 15 steps to a ramp to the courtyard area--left for the pool and beach; right for most of the eating and the evening shows. The buffet (Don Manuel) was good--good variety and food was mostly fresh. Wait staff is extremely pleasant, hard-working and accommodating (in fact, my wife commented when she saw a member of the wait staff move condiments, wipe under them and then replace them that 'you would never see that in the States--they would just wipe around it). For the themed restaurants, all were good, and they will generally let you book for the next 3 evenings at a time. We ate at the Italian, Brazilian, Japanese and Steakhouse (twice). The menu on their signature fusion restaurant Krystal did not appeal to us, but the food at the others was above average to very above average. The closest we got to "excellent" was the Brazilian restaurant but, my God!, there was so much food we got stuffed and left without dessert!
We had no trouble with power (despite me buying a couple adapters in advance). However, in typical hotel style, only 1 was remotely convenient for you to plug in to charge a phone or bluetooth speaker or iPad, etc. I'm not sure what brand of alcohol they use, but clearly the "Stolichnaya" label on the vodka in our room was just that--a label. It was really pretty bad vodka, and I've drunk some cheap vodka in my day. When the bottle was empty, I left a note asking the housekeeper for more. I got the same Stoli bottle with about 3 inches of what was obviously some other vodka inside. A full menu of "signature" drinks available at the swim-up pool bar and everywhere else. Again, these folks just went way out of their way to make sure you got what you wanted.
You CANNOT drink the water out of the tap here (signs in each room clearly say "not potable"). They are very free with agua pura (pure, or bottled, water. Humorously, the brand is Alaska, and it is bottled right here in.....Santo Domingo!). We brushed our teeth using bottled water and when I got a shower I would take a big mouthful of bottled water and keep it in my mouth to prevent me from ingesting any water in the shower. We left between $2 and $4 in the mini fridge each day with a note asking for more water, or vodka, or 7-Up or whatever--always got it.
We left the property three times--once for an unplanned ambulance ride to an emergency room about 45 minutes away (daughter with migraine--aside from the harrowing ride to the ER all was quickly well), once for a trip to the mercado (market) and for a sailing/snorkeling excursion. Everyone we encountered was pleasant and helpful. We do not speak Spanish, but learned a bunch and if I were to do it again, I would learn some better Spanish. Not that most of the employees didn't speak enough English to get by, but with our going off property twice, it would have been helpful to know a bit more than we did. The sailing/snorkeling tour was great (aside from the hour ride to pick up passengers from other resorts that didn't necessarily respect everyone else's time). We snorkeled over a coral reef and the attendants fed the fish to bring them around and get good photos, and we stopped in a natural 'pool' a couple hundred yards offshore to play a little men vs. women's water basketball. That was a blast. Great weather made the day. The organized trip to the mercado was essentially a resort-sponsored trip to what amounted to two different offsite hotel gift shops. I think we were expecting more like a bazaar-type set up with local vendors and we were disappointed with this (though wife and daughter did get good deals on larimar jewelry there). Also, one of the markets featured an interesting tobacco museum where we saw a guy hand make a cigar right in front of us that you could sample if you like. The other was an amber/larimar museum (larimar is a little bluer than turquoise and apparently is indigenous to just the island--you can google yourself and find out whether or not that's true).
Speaking of smoking, it's a little bit of a throwback in that you can smoke just about everywhere here and with plenty of Europeans, there was plenty of smoking but most of it outdoors--I think most people get that non smokers (and reformed ex-smokers like me) don't appreciate the smoke and did a pretty good job keeping it outside and relatively inoffensive.
The shows were OK--we watched 3. Well, we got up and left the circus show but that was in part due to us sitting out in the open, and it was uncomfortably hot and muggy (I seriously have never been to a place this humid--everything we brought home was damp!). A dance show was really quite good, with one dancer doing a really good impersonation of Michael Jackson moonwalking to Billie Jean and the magic show was also very good. The shows were billed to start at 9:30, but never started before 10. Many times, though, they had a singer or band in the courtyard to provide pre-show entertainment, and the kids got involved in pre-show dances on the stage--watching some of those kids was a show in and of itself!
You can walk the beach as far as you want in either direction, and we went about a mile and a half each way. The Riu properties have by far the best, broadest beach area. Lots of palm trees but plenty of sun, and deep enough so that you felt you weren't crowded. When we walked down past Iberostar, their beach was relatively short and crowded with thatched cabanas and just felt really crowded. You will, of course, pass local vendors trying to sell you snorkeling trips or hats and baskets made out of palm fronds, etc. Simply ignore them or politely tell them "No" and you have no problem. Riu did a nice job keeping the random vendors off their beach, but did have cigar, figurine and a dress vendor show up in a controlled fashion on the beach. We bought a couple tops from the dress vendor and haggled a bit on price.
Another note: none of us burns very easily, but we went through 6 spray-on bottles of SPF 30. If you think you're bringing enough, you may not be! And at about $25 US for a bottle there, it's an expensive item to forget! (And, yes, we all got plenty tan despite using 30!).
In short, we would go back in a minute. The little things that I could complain about are just that--little things. If you have reasonable expectations, remember that you're there to be on vacation and relax, and you're pleasant to the people you encounter, there is nothing about this trip that would disappoint.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- * Located on Arena Gorda Beach in Punta Cana * Inside the Riu Resort, along with the Riu Palace Macao, Riu Taino, Riu Naiboa hotels and the ClubHotel Riu Bambu * 4-story building * Surrounded by 63,000 m2 / 75,000 sq. yards of lush gardens * Complimentary sun loungers on the beach * 50 km / 31 miles from Hig??ey * 30 km / 19 miles from Punta Cana Int???l. Airport ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Riu Palace Punta Cana Hotel Punta Cana
- Punta Cana Riu Palace
- Riu Palace Hotel Punta Cana