Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A lively (and somewhat alcohol-fueled) atmosphere for families, couples, and spring breakers
Upon arrival, porters assist guests with luggage and lead them to the front desk for check-in -- which may have a line of people waiting (at least a welcome drink is served here). The lobby has marble floors, wood pillars, and crystal chandeliers, and this rich (if slightly outdated) opulence is in stark contrast to the bland exterior of the building. It stays calm and quiet indoors during the day; there may be a few people sipping Bahama Mamas at the lobby bar, but most people are outside crowded around a rectangular pool, or lounging at the beach, just beyond. Guests tend to get up early to snag a lounge chair and stay through the day. Kids splash around the pool, and guests of varied drinking ages, young and old, do their best to take advantage of the free swim-up pool bar. Given the party atmosphere, it is not uncommon to see someone who has had too many drinks in the sun, and needs to be taken upstairs by a friend or partner.
The beach has less of a party scene (only because it is farther away from the bar), but this is a busy area for vendors since the public access to Cabbage Beach is right next door. They sell everything from jet ski rentals to hair braiding, and a simple "no, thanks" typically keeps them at bay. Cabbage Beach is one of the best beaches in the world, so it may be worth bringing the headphones and tuning out the noise from jet skis and vendors yelling back and forth (and guests who have had too much to drink). During peak months, The resort institutes a spring break policy that requires a 21-and-older guest in each room.
The pool closes around 6 p.m., which is when guests head upstairs to change into evening attire. The lobby bar gets a pre-dinner crowd of drinkers, but the lights do not dim. It's a shame that those crystal chandeliers do not create a romantic vibe as they could. Quiet romance can be found at a few of the a la carte restaurants (men, no shorts allowed in some). There are two reservation times for dinner, so those who have an earlier time may feel rushed so that the restaurant can accommodate the next seating two hours later. Service flows well, though. A couple celebrating an anniversary might get a special surprise at dinner followed by applause from fellow diners.
After dinner, guests can head back to the lobby bar for more drinks before the theater opens for evening music and entertainment. Drinks are served until 12:30 a.m. (a collective last call for the theater and lobby bars) and then partiers can head to the 24-hour sports bar, which is thankfully out of ear shot from the rooms above.
A beautiful setting along Cabbage Beach, but not very peaceful
Riu is situated in an older tower (the former Sheraton) and sits next to Atlantis' Beach Tower in the Bahamas. The property can be accessed from the airport by shuttle or taxi service, and it takes about 30 to 40 minutes depending on time of day (traffic can get bad through downtown Nassau). It's located on Paradise Island, which has earned its name for a reason; guests will understand the name change from Hog Island back in 1961 as soon as they get their first glimpse of the turquoise water and white-sand beach.
Some taxi drivers will make passengers pay the $1 cash-only fee to get across the bridge to get the Paradise Island, so it helps to have a little cash on arrival. Once checked in, guests do not tend to stray too far from the property -- as is typical with all-inclusives. Essentials and additional alcohol can be purchased from the convenience store. Taxis can be taken to get to other areas of the island.
Atlantis itself is sometimes referred to as "Vegas by the Sea", and many guests choose Riu because it is typically more affordable but still within walking distance of Atlantis' the large casino, nightclubs, and shops. Guests can also pay for day passes to Aquaventure for access to the water park and marine exhibits.
Because Riu guests have already pre-paid for most of their vacation, they might be more likely to pull out the cash for a jet ski (especially if they’ve been drinking). For these reasons -- and the close proximity to the public access walkway -- local vendors spend more time selling to Riu guests, including jet skis, banana boats, parasailing, cigars, hair braiding and kids toys, which is a nuisance on the beach, and contributes to the noisy atmosphere.
Contemporary rooms with free minibars and 24-hour room service
This 15-floor tower is older, but the Riu renovated the 379 rooms and suites after taking the property over from Sheraton. The furniture, carpeting, drapes, and linens (no more patterned bedspreads) were all replaced, and rooms are now decorated in purples, whites, and dark woods. There are still some indications of the building's age, such as minor maintenance issues with the air-conditioning and hot water, and a lack of outlets and sufficient lighting in the bathrooms (ladies may also want to bring their own hairdryers).
All rooms have safes (no charge to use), 24-hour room service, tub/shower combos, coffeemakers, and stocked (and free) mini-fridges with Miller Lite, Coke, Diet Coke, and bottled water. Liquor dispensers for vodka, rum, gin and brandy (basic brands) are also free for guests. Alcohol is refreshed every other day. All rooms have furnished balconies and most come with partial or full sea view.
Family Suites are quite large, and have two adjoining rooms with two bedrooms, three small balconies, three flat-screen TVs, two mini-bar stations, and two full bathrooms and a small seating area (though the couches do not pull out). Kids pay half the price of adults, and babies stay for free.
The Oceanfront Suites (one per floor) are the nicest, and these have tub/shower combos, as well as a separate shower stall. The large room has a king-size bed, and rotating flat-screen TV that flips around to a seating/dining area. The balconies in these units are longer and look out over gorgeous ocean views.
Many guests choose the Riu partially for its proximity to Atlantis. Guests are able to purchase day passes to use Atlantis’s Aquaventure and marine exhibits, and there is no additional fee to use the shops, casino, or nightclubs in any of the Atlantis towers.
The entire length of Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island is public. Lounge chairs are provided to guests, but there will be a charge for umbrellas. For water toys, there are plenty of vendors selling jet ski rentals, parasailing excursions, as well as banana boats and paddleboards. Women offer hair braiding services to young girls.
There is only one outdoor pool for the hotel and it can get crowded early with young kids (especially when the ocean waves are too choppy for swimming) and drinkers of all ages. The pool opens in the morning (many reserve a spot before breakfast) and closes in the early evening.
The Renova Spa is the brand of spa found at all Riu resorts, and has couples treatment rooms and an outdoor plunge pool.
A convenience store on the main floor is well-stocked with essentials like toiletries, snacks, liquor, wine and beer, and non-alcoholic beverages.
The fitness center is an older but functioning room with the usual mix of cardio and weight machines, but could use some updated machines.
Activities like excursions can be booked for additional fees. Free Wi-Fi is available in the rooms and the lobby, and the signal occasionally works by the pool.
A good food and beverage program, especially considering the location and price
Neighboring Atlantis has a notoriously expensive food and drink program, and many choose the Riu for its more affordable all-inclusive plan. The dining program's Executive Chef Don Ingraham has been on location for 10 years and is well-known on the island -- he was even asked to run the Miss Universe pageant dinner menu in 2009.
The main buffet area is called the Atlantic, and this is a large, bright room that serves breakfast and dinner with indoor and outdoor seating areas. Breakfast has a casual atmosphere, as well as live stations and sparkling wine. Dinner changes nightly with creative specialty items like a full mashed potato bar served out of martini glasses, and the setting becomes more formal, with tablecloths. Guests can expect unique carving stations as well as local specialties like conch fritters and braised oxtail.
The lunch buffet with both hot and cold items is served out of the a la carte steakhouse, making it easier for people to come in from the pool and beach in their swim attire.
For those who get up early in the morning to make reservations, there are four la carte restaurants included in the all-inclusive price. Krystal Fusion restaurant serves contemporary cuisine (this is a Riu resort staple), and other options include Tengoku Japanese restaurant, Sir Alexander French gourmet restaurant, and Bahamas -- a grill and steakhouse. There are only two seatings for dinner, one at 6:30 p.m. and one at 8:30 p.m. There is a minor dress code (no shorts for men and trousers can be provided if necessary). Included wines by the glass served with dinner include chardonnay, merlot, cabernet, white zinfandel, and sparkling wine.
For bars, the swim-up pool bar called Soca is open during daylight hours. The lobby bar called Colony is open for pre- and post-dinner drinks, and the Calypso lounge bar serves drinks through the evening entertainment until last call (at 12:30 a.m.). There's also a 24-hour sports bar with free snacks like hot dogs and hamburgers for those who get hungry after dinner.
The Riu Palace Paradise Island, located next door to mega-resort Atlantis, is one of the few all-inclusive resorts in the Bahamas. Those familiar with Spain-based Riu's palatial Caribbean resorts -- like the one in Aruba -- might be disappointed by this aging property, with crowded pool and beach areas (saturated with vendors) and rowdy groups that come for free booze. Riu is slowly making progress, though, and the 379 rooms and suites have been renovated with contemporary decor, and include Riu trademarks such as stocked minibars with liquor dispensers and 24-hour room service (both free). The buffet spreads change often, thanks to the talented, long-standing executive chef, and four a la carte options help stave off all-inclusive monotony. After dinner, there's typical all-inclusive nightly entertainment as well as an all-night sports bar. The Riu brand spa, Renova, offers couples massages and treatments. The convenience store sells a nice selection of wine for those who want to enjoy drinks on their balconies (many rooms face the ocean).