- Large, sprawling property
- No non-smoking areas in the casino
- Firm beds (a pro for some)
The Arabian-style design looks out of place at this Aruban all-inclusive. Couples are the norm here, and some guests own their units.
The complex's three buildings are shaped like massive white sand castles, crowned by rounded spires and the word "Riu" in a typeface that Microsoft Word probably calls Persian Excess. I'm all for throwbacks (I still listen to Ace of Base), but the Riu has a decidedly non-historic artificiality. The architecture looks woefully out of place in Aruba.
The lobby and adjoining Bob Bini Bar gave me the same impression. Purple Mediterranean furniture, grand high ceilings, and faux-royal curtains made me feel like a patient in Aladdin's celebrity rehab. The elevators did not have air conditioning or ventilation, and the sweltering smell was made worse by the smell of rank rum punch.
Couples of all sorts make up 98 percent of the clientele. I saw only two children, and no teens or college-age travelers. There were retired couples from America, younger ones from Brazil, middle-aged ones from Holland, and every age and place of origin in between. With a mandatory all-inclusive package that includes all food and drink, a 24-hour sports bar, and a smoky, boisterous casino, the Riu is an ideal place for partying couples and vice-minded honeymooners.
About 20 to 25 minutes from the airport, depending on downtown traffic; the surrounding area is safe, and nightlife and restaurants are nearby.
The High-Rise complex, a large downtown strip that ends at the Holiday Inn SunSpree, is a 10-minute walk in the opposite direction of downtown (and about a two-minute cab ride along the bus- and palm-lined road). The High-Rise has many restaurants, including the fabulous Hostaria da Vittoria, as well as a number of nightlife haunts, like a movie theater and a samba club misleadingly named Mr. Jazz.
The location feels very safe. Between foot traffic from the High-Rise and tourists from a number of neighboring hotels -- the Holiday Inn SunSpree, Occidental, and Radisson, among others -- the area is well populated at night. For added security, hotel personnel frequent the street outside the hotel.
Spacious and bright, but with firm mattresses (guests can request a pillow top) and outdated technologies
Set against dull white walls, the red furnishings evoke a playboy's bachelor pad -- but on the whole, rooms are very clean. The "king-size beds" are really two double beds pushed together. Linens are a little worn, but clean, and mattresses are firm. Many reviewers on TripAdvisor also complain about the mattresses being too firm, though pillowtops are available on request. Some bathrooms have a joint jetted tub and shower, deep enough for a true full-body soak.
Rooms come with a sitting area, which includes a couch, coffee table, smaller circular table, and two chairs. Technologies (old tube TVs and alarm clocks) are dated, but free Wi-Fi is available in all guestrooms and in the lobby.
The balconies have two white plastic chairs and a small matching footstool.
The Riu's beach connects to the next door Westin's. If not for a couple of small signs telling me so, I would have had no idea where one property ended and the other began. Like the Westin's, the Riu's sand is no more than 30 feet wide and 100 feet long.
Available water sports include snorkeling, parasailing, tubing, and boating. The guides offered to sell me pot (the only time I got such an offer in Aruba) after I declined their standard, nature-related activities.
Blue and green beach chairs cover most of the available ground, shaded by thatched cabanas and umbrellas. Most of the shady spots were claimed by midmorning; anyone who doesn't claim a spot early should bring plenty of sunscreen.
Two pools combine to create one giant aquatic complex with a golden mosaic on the floor. The main pool comes complete with a fountain in the middle and submerged beach chairs. The Palm Beach Pool Bar has swim-up access as well as a serving area for non-swimmers and a whirlpool tucked in the corner. An iPod feeds reggae and salsa into the speaker system. The second pool is also rectangular but far smaller than the first. Few people choose it over its larger, more-beach-chair-saturated counterpart.
The casino is crowded and smoky, but small fortunes can be made here.
Smoky, loud, and crowded, the gaming room is even more packed than the Bon Bini bar at night.
All restaurants are covered under the all-inclusive package, so I sampled as much as I could. When I was done, I went back to the 24-hour sports bar -- not because alcohol is also part of the all-inclusive package (which it is), but because no matter how much dinner I ate, all I wanted was popcorn and nachos.
Though dinner at the reservation-only restaurants begins at 6:30 p.m., diners gather on the lower concourse at 6 p.m. to ensure that they get to make a booking. The choices include Sayuri, a Japanese restaurant, and Krystal, where guests are greeted with Champagne flutes. My favorite was Milano, a warm, red-bricked Italian joint with a huge buffet.
The High-Rise complex across the street has a number of restaurants, including the excellent Hostaria da Vittoria. These restaurants can get expensive, but are well worth the splurge.
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