First, I must disclose that we are Riu Class members. We've stayed at a number of their properties in Vallarta, Cancun and Playacar. Our favorite, Riu Yucatan is not the fanciest, but the atmosphere makes it special. We've also stayed at Iberostar resorts and were pleased. We are bilingual (English/Spanish) and had no problem communicating with the staff, whom we found to be friendly and hard-working for the most part. We also were impressed with the great diversity of guests at the resort. It seems to be very welcoming and inclusive for people of all ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientations (a positive, but as a result, in my opinion, the resort does not have a real identity; it doesn't have a specific audience to cater to well).
We chose Riu Caribe to try something different, since it is farther down on the strip and advertised a calm beach. We knew it was an older resort, and were prepared for challenges after reading the reviews. There were many positives to the resort, and people on a budget can certainly make a good vacation there, but we did have some disappointments.
First, several months before our trip, we sent a room request. We were 3 families, traveling with teens and young children. The price was very good, about $90/night per adult, children under 12 free. We paid for 5 junior suites (upgrades) and requested that they be near each other. Please note that there are no connecting junior suites, but many are across from each other in the corners of the hotel. We requested that if they could not have all five rooms together, that they please put two and two together (because of the children). Our stay was paid in full when we made this request, and we confirmed the request 2 weeks before arriving, noting our Riu Class number. Imagine our dismay when we arrived and were told the rooms were all on different floors and far-flung parts of the very long building (404 with 693, 521 with 940, and 393). We explained that we had young children and teens that we really did not feel comfortable having scattered around the resort. The very unfriendly man at the desk (the only unfriendly staff members we encountered during our trip were two men at the front desk - but not Adrian, he was very helpful) responded that it is the hotel's policy to have an adult in each room, so we'd have to separate the spouses. He then told us they were oversold, and would put us in the change request book to see if anything opened up. We eventually agreed to wait two nights to change rooms, when we could have 403 and 404 (very big corner rooms with huge balconies overlooking the pool and beach on one side and the construction and entertainment area on the other), and three standard rooms in the middle of the building on the same floor (essentially downgrading). We weren't thrilled, but at least we could keep better tabs on the kids. So the spouses separated for the first two nights.
The rooms were very basic and clean. The staff works hard, perhaps harder than at other resorts because the age of the building leads to many breakdowns. The sliders in both of our corner rooms leaked when it rained (we had sporadic rain for a few days). The beds were rock hard, but no complaints from my family. Bedding is very basic and linens thin. One AC was freezing, while the other was mild (moving the thermostat had little effect). The rooms did not smell and were well lit. The closets and chests were large and sturdy, with plenty of hangers. There were older CRT 17" TVs, but they worked fine. Elevators were slow and broke often, but the engineers were quick to repair. For some reason the hall to our rooms was also very cool compared to other passages, I'm not sure why. The halls are open and made with marble floors, so sound echoed quite a lot, which might make it tough for a light sleeper.
The balconies were huge and clean, the rooms spotless (if not sparse), plenty of storage space, an in-room safe. A cold mini-fridge, the liquor dispensers and a huge shower/bathtub. Our bath, had the hot and cold faucet mixed up, as C (cold) = Caliente (hot) in Spanish, and I guess H (hot) = Helado (icy). So we did have to play with the shower to figure it out. As with many hotels in the Cancun area, the water is not potable, so Riu provides several 1.5 liter bottles of water. The housekeeping staff provided us with plenty of towels, towel art, and even rose petals in the room the teen girls shared. I was very impressed with how patient they were keeping the kids' rooms clean.
The food was very basic, we noticed some days the selection was much better than others, but there didn't seem to be a pattern. We ate in all of the reservation restaurants, and they often had empty seats, so we don't know why people had trouble making reservations. We liked the Mexican restaurant very much (including the native Mexicans in our party). The steak house was ok, but we went after a rain and were plagued by mosquitoes. We thought the Asian food was too salty. The service in the buffet was amazing (tips help immensely here, not huge tips, a couple of dollars worked fine). One day they had a poolside cookout that was a lot of fun, the kids loved the prepared cocos. Many of the people in our party had some intestinal upset during our 10 day stay, but we could not agree if it was due to overindulgence, water-borne, viral, or spoiled food. We did not see any obviously spoiled food out for serving. The sports bar was a fun place to watch the u17 world cup games, but guests had to pay to play with the table games there or use the internet. There was free wifi in the lobby (not air-conditioned).
The Kid's Club staff and Animation crew were genuinely hard working and friendly. One staff member remembered my husband by name and nickname from when we had met him three years prior! They made a big deal over each and every child, cajoling them into participating in activities and giving us parents some time to relax. They had some great ideas, but not as many areas and equipment to work with as other Riu resorts. For example, there was only one set of soccer/water polo nets that had to be moved around, one vollyball net on the beach and one on the pool, no real patio space for dance classes, etc. They had an air conditioned room for the kids to do arts and crafts or watch movies, but it was below-grade and seemed wet all of the time from the rain.
The entertainment pavilion was also a drawback - it was set up with stadium seating, below-grade, and flooded twice during our trip. There were no fans, so it was stifling hot (I can only imagine how hot it was on the very small stage). There was only one small bar, and the sound system was VERY loud. The shows were the same as most of the Rius have - Michael Jackson impersonator, Mexican folkloric dancing, Grease, etc. The entertainers (often the Animation staff members) worked very hard, and are not professionals, but the atmosphere made it hard to enjoy their work.
The beach is a nice size and very calm. We had no trouble finding palapas and chairs, it was very clean and somewhat isolated. They had an outcropping of rocks on the west point for snorkeling. There were also some water sports for a fee available. The pool was very large with four distinct areas. This was great, since we needed to keep the younger children away from the party people most afternoons. There were many sports and activities in the pools and a very active bar with shade. The pool water got quite warm under the sun, but seemed to be clear and clean. We saw staff members checking water quality frequently. There were plenty of chairs poolside, but not enough shade palapas.
The construction next door was not disturbing at all. It is a new Riu Palace and we were told once it is opened, the Caribe will be renovated. This is good news, since the resort needs a refurbishing, and the staff can work at the Palace while it is being done (although the front desk staff will need some re-training to be effective in a Palace).
Our last complaint concerned a policy we've never encountered at a Riu. We had friends come to visit one evening who live in Cancun. One of the adults in our party asked if he could pay extra to buy the guests a drink at the bar. He was told this is not possible, and that they could only sit in the lobby. After about 20 minutes in the lobby, another staff member came with a security guard and said our guests could not sit in the lobby either, that they'd have to visit with us at the taxi stand out front. We thought this absurd, and never got a clear answer about why. Our guests were not loud, rude, or disturbing anyone.
At the end of the trip, we agreed that while we had a good time together, we would not return to this particular Riu. It needs a lot. First, an identity - who are the guests they want to attract? Families, young adults, couples, wedding parties, alternative lifestylers, etc.? They can't be everything to everyone. Then, they need to decide how to alter what they offer to best please that audience. The furnishings could use some upgrading. The Animation staff needs more props and space. Finally, they need to change some of the policies and processes - like assigning rooms before guests arrive (especially if they've pre-paid), so requests can be granted. Training the front desk staff to look like they are sympathetic. Having a policy for short-term (1 hour or so) guests., etc.
When we return, we will probably go back to Playa del Carmen or an Iberstar.
Junior suites in the corners are across from each other, in the 90s are away from the construction...
See more room tips
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.