Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
At the large, free-form pool, 6-year-olds fight over inflatable dolphins, lounging couples scratch their way through Sudoku puzzles, and occasionally, a courageous gent suns himself while wearing a red string thong. There’s Dominican merengue echoing from the bar speakers around the pool, and families and couples scour the place for the last remaining umbrella.
Grand Palladium Palace Resort & Spa is one of four resorts inside the Grand Palladium complex, which consists of 1,825 rooms and is one of the largest in the D.R. (FYI, because of its size, understaffing does tend to be a problem.) There's a train-themed shuttle bus every hour connecting each of the resorts, three of which share facilities. Many guests specifically choose the Palace because of its close proximity to the beach, only a five-minute walk away. So while kids run around the pool at one corner of the property, couples can lounge on the beach in relative quiet. Guests can also hop into a skiff, jump into a sailboat, strap on their scuba gear, or watch a mean game of beach volleyball -- there’s a lot to do here. Most guests are Canadian, German, or French (there are far fewer Americans here than elsewhere in the D.R.).
Though a little mellower here than across the street at the Punta Cana resort, this place is still a giant mega-resort with constant activity. If you're looking for total peace and quiet, check out the Sanctuary Cap Cana, which is only nominally more a night, but significantly more mellow.
The Grand Palladium Palace is one of four resorts on a single complex that consists of 1,825 rooms. The complex is a bit like its own city, with five large pools, 15 restaurants, a casino, a spa, and an enormous sports complex, but there’s not much to do elsewhere in Punta Cana -- just some cockfighting rings and dingy restaurants.
Of the hotels in the Grand Palladium Complex, the Palace is located closest to the beach (some of the buildings even have oceanfront views). The Punta Cana and the Bavaro both have some buildings with oceanfront views, but the bulk of them have a five- to 10-minute walk to the beach, and some even more than that, so upgrading to the Palace resort can be worth it.
The perpetual crowds make it very hard to secure lounge chairs. Guests often plant their towels down to reserve a chair early in the morning, then hang on to the chair all day (even while they’re not there). Many guests complain about wandering the beach in search of a chair.
Plenty of bar-type kiosks line the beach, so getting a drink is never an issue. But you may have to sneak past the occasional sales guy trying to hawk his spa services, jewelry, or glass bottom boat rides.
Catamarans, kayaks, or boats for windsurfing are available at no extra cost, like most resorts. There's an extra charge for diving or deep sea fishing excursions. However, guests can’t snorkel from the beach here, given all the boat traffic. Snorkeling opportunities are much better on the southern coast, around Bayahibe. Check out Viva Wyndham or Dreams La Romana.
Modern and functional with a shower/tub combination in all; some even offer a Jacuzzi tub
Rooms are far from luxurious, but functional with a large bed and a pull-out couch. Many of the rooms on the second floor of Palace’s property are significantly larger bi-level suites with a sleeping loft.
The furniture has seen better days and some need replacing, like the lamp shades which are starting to mildew around the rims.
Like the rooms across the street at Grand Palladium Punta Cana, rooms here have a Zenith TV, an iPod docking station, and a four-pot Sunbeam coffeemaker. The Grand Palladium has the Dish Network with TNT, TBS, Cinemax’s Action Channel, HBO, National Geographic Channel, Fox, CNN, and an impressive variety of MTV networks (VH1 Classic, MTV Hits).
There’s no Wi-Fi in the rooms, although there is free Wi-Fi in all of the Palladium’s lobbies. Otherwise, Internet is charged per hour at any of the resort’s computer stations.
The beauty of the Grand Palladium is that you're essentially getting three properties for the price of one. Grand Palladium Punta Cana, Palace, and Bavaro all share the same amenities equally (there's also the Royal Suites, but guests elsewhere cannot use their property). A train-themed shuttle runs every 20 to 30 minutes or so connecting the resorts, though it’s a pleasant 10 to 20 minute walk, depending on where you need to go. The only significant difference is proximity to the beach (Palace is the closest, Bavaro the furthest).
There are five large, clean pools on Grand Palladium's property, one of which is on Palace’s property and features a swim-up bar and kids section of the pool. However, several guests complain that there aren't enough umbrellas at Palace's pool.
There's a huge sports center on Punta Cana's property with six tennis courts, a soccer field, an archery and rifle shooting range, a badminton court, a basketball court, and a mini-golf course, all of which are open daily in the mornings and afternoons.
The spa, an outpost of the Renova Spa, is also standard at most of the Riu resorts. It's large, airy, and super-relaxing. It has a full menu ranging from manis and pedis to massages and exfoliation packages, but some of its best general features include its own private pool, steam room, and sauna, all of which are free. Massages cost less in a palapa on the beach, but this space is far less relaxing.
A medium-size casino is located on the Palace's property with slot machines, Texas hold 'em, blackjack, and roulette tables. It’s packed in the evenings, but pretty dead for most of the day.
The fitness center is bright, spacious, and air-conditioned (unlike many Caribbean resorts), and there's always a personal trainer on duty for an extra fee. Cardio equipment includes three treadmills, two stair-climbers, two bikes, and two ellipticals, plus a huge variety of multipurpose weight machines and free weights, all of which are in great shape. It is open daily, though there’s no trainer available on weekends.
Very kid-friendly, with free babysitting in the evenings, and even a separate club for tweens and teenagers with X-Box, Wii, and Playstation 3 game systems.
While this is a resort popular with everyone from young honeymooning couples to retirees in their golden years, families are particularly drawn to Grand Palladium resorts. Features are shared between the Palace, Bavaro, and Punta Cana resorts, and a train shuttle connects all three properties.
Grand Palladium Bavaro features 51 “family suites,” which are really just a junior suites connected to deluxe rooms (accommodating about six in all). Pay-Per-View kids movies are available in all rooms, and there’s parental control options for the TVs and Nintendo 64 games.
Grand Palladium features four separate kids' clubs to accommodate four different age groups: the Baby Club (ages 1-3), Mini Club (3-5), Maxi Club (6-11), and Juniors Club (12-18) -- though there aren’t many 18-year-olds that need supervision. Twelve-year-old tweens will never get stuck at an ice cream party with five-year-olds.
The baby club, open in the evenings, is a godsend for parents needing a quiet, romantic dinner alone. Four cribs in the naptime room can accommodate infants. Overnight babysitting is also available at an additional charge and can be reserved through the concierge.
Only the Mini Club and Baby Club use the Fiesta Fort, the clubhouse at Grand Palladium Punta Cana that's instantly recognizable by its stand-up cutouts of Disney princesses out front. But very few kids spend their time here. Most parents prefer to bring their kids along with them during the day for family sailing, windsurfing, and island excursions.
Though initially skeptical of the Black-and-White Junior Clubs for 15-year-olds, the video games here are a big draw. Teenagers borrow video games from the decent-size collection (mostly for Xbox 360), hit the pool or foosball tables, or gather for group outings. Eight Panasonic flat-screens, hooked up to Xbox 360s, Playstation 3s and Nintendo Wiis, sit behind 16 black-and-white vinyl armchairs. A separate computer room features seven consoles with free high-speed internet. The activities team plans a full day of events like archery and group dinners, but it's the video games that are the true magnet.
Though everyone under 12 seems to gravitate toward the soft-serve ice cream machine, there is never any shortage of kid-friendly foods. Lunch buffets include a grill with burgers and hot dogs, an abundant pan of French fries, and meat and cheese pizzas. High chairs are available at every restaurant. Also, the Benihana-style Suptuori features fun, spatula-juggling, tableside chefs.
Generally speaking, the Grand Palladium's grounds are well-manicured. However, the lobbies tend to be a different story. Tables in both the Palace and Punta Cana resorts have a few ants crawling up the legs, and the ashtrays don’t get emptied often enough. By the pool, plates and cups occasionally stack up around the lounge chairs.
In the rooma, a few ants can be seen crawling around, but this is nothing compared with other hotels in the Caribbean, like the Barcelo Capella. The floors needed mopping, all of the furniture was well-worn, and the jets in the Jacuzzi tub (there’s no shower) were yellowing.
Guests of the Palace have access to 15 restaurants, including six buffets, across the four Grand Palladium properties. The Bavaro boasts an additional, 24-hour sports bar grill. The eight à la cartes offer ample variety -- Mexican, Pan-Asian, Japanese, Spanish, Brazilian, Italian, Dominican, and surf and turf.
Features like the crepe bar and roasted-vegetable station at dinner make the Grand Paladium’s buffets a cut above most resorts, but the salad bar scored pretty low -- basically it's just iceberg lettuce and canned veggies. The fruit -- fresh pineapple, mango, and watermelon -- was pretty reliable.
Las Torres, the main buffet on Palace's property, has plenty of variety and selection, but it's closed at lunch, leaving Palace guests having to scarf down some grease and glop at El Bohio, a smaller buffet located between the pool and the beach, or having to head to El Behique, a nice buffet on Grand Palladium Punta Cana's property.
No reservations are required for the à la carte restaurants, so guests don’t have to line up at 9 a.m. to get a nice meal. Instead, they have to show up to the restaurant at 6:30 p.m., and hope a table is still available for that evening. The food at these restaurants is generally better than most all-inclusives, and some would argue better than the Iberostar resorts (the Grand Palladium’s top competition). Cantina Mariachi, the Mexican restaurant, does particularly well, serving fresh guacamole and a chicken enchilada appetizer better than at any other DR resort. Kids love the spatula-juggling chefs at Suptuori, the Asian-themed Japanese grill.
Waiters circled the areas diligently with coffee, wine, and bottled water (which they make a point of opening in front of you).
Cocktails are made from scratch, but they often don't contain much liquor.
Bartenders here have a light hand, but the tropical cocktails are some of the best. Unlike most all-inclusives, the margaritas are concocted from triple sec and fresh citrus juice, rather than sour mix. Mojitos are made with fresh mint. Piña coladas come topped with a fresh slice of pineapple, and don’t taste like super-sweet Slushees (as they do virtually everywhere else).
Grand Palladium boasts a considerable variety of bars, from beachside kiosks to poolside swim-ups to relaxed lounges with garden seating and the occasional Nespresso espresso machine. The Palace’s lobby bar is a pretty happening place at all hours, but the Punta Cana’s lobby bar has a sleeker and more pleasant atmosphere.
Rooms are a little worn, but the superb (though crowded) beach, free-form pools, high-quality food, and packed activities schedule draws families and couples alike. It's not quiet or intimate -- it's among 1,825 rooms in a four-resort complex -- but it's a great value. Better buffet service and a closer proximity to the beach make this resort pricier than its sisters.