Riu Palace Punta Cana Rating: 3.5 Pearls
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Oyster Review Summary

Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators

Pros

  • High-quality, name-brand liquor for free (even in the room)
  • Excellent beach, like most of Punta Cana
  • All rooms are large suites, with balconies
  • 24-hour room service (though options are pretty weak)
  • 20+ restaurants to choose from, across five resorts
  • Friendly, though not exactly doting, service
  • Free Wi-Fi in the lobby and rooms

Cons

  • Extremely crowded pools and beach
  • Rock-hard mattresses
  • Most rooms smell like mildew
  • Poor-quality food, on-par with much cheaper resorts
  • A 45-minute taxi ride from Punta Cana International Airport

Bottom Line

The top resort in a sprawling, five-hotel complex, the 612-room Riu Palace Punta Cana has access to some excellent pools, top-notch liquor, and a gorgeous, though especially crowded, beach. For the price, the rooms and food are subpar. Opt for nearby (and cheaper) Barcelo Premium Punta Cana instead.

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Oyster Hotel Review

 Scene

A fantastic beach and some low-key quiet amidst a 612-room mega-resort complex draw mostly guests ages 50 and up.

The pool
The pool

The scene at the Riu Palace Punta Cana is definitely more mature and mellower than at other Rius, or most other all-inclusives for that matter. There are very few children, or spring breakers, but the average age is at least 50. Unlike the 24-hour booze fest found at many Riu properties, the emphasis here is on the ornate décor, upscale dining, and very casual drinking.

The grand resort, which opened in 2006 and is the newest hotel in a five-resort complex, sits at the top of a very steep hill, with towers on either side reminiscent of a Moroccan sultanate. The lobby is filled with chandeliers, and replica paintings adorn walls throughout the interior. The style: glitzy on a budget.

The resort very clearly dies down after the evening dance-type show ends around 11 p.m. (only the sports bar stays open past midnight). For late-night kicks, guests need to walk 15 minutes along dark paths to the Pacha disco on the Disney-esque Caribbean Street, in the center of the Riu complex. The disco attracts younger revelers from the sister properties, as well as a number of locals -- particularly younger staffers who work on the massive property. But don't forget your wallet: the Palace may hype it's 24-hour all-inclusiveness, but the disco's bar charges for drinks.

 Location

In the village of Macao, which is adjacent to the town of Bavaro, which is adjacent to Punta Cana. It's about a 45-minute taxi ride to the Punta Cana International Airport.

The enormous Riu complex is like a village unto itself, but the resort gates are across the street from the Punta Grande golf course, and other nearby resorts include Majestic Colonial, Gran Bahia Principe Punta Cana and the Iberostar complex.

 Beach

The sprawling white-sand beach offers every kind of water sport and an intriguing shipwreck for diving, but it's more crowded than most resorts.

The beach
The beach

The Riu complex is located along a choice stretch of Bavaro Beach, and guests can walk uninterrupted -- seemingly for miles -- past four Riu resorts (the fifth, Hotel Riu Naiboa, is set back from the water). The sand is sugary soft, and the big turquoise waves are clear and warm.

From afar, the colors evoke a David Hockney painting. But up close, it's a clotted mass of flesh. You could barely take a step without bumping into someone, and it was a struggle finding lounge chairs, which are lined in rows of 10 back from the water -- that's far more than most all-inclusives.

On the bright side, or actually, the shady side, there are nice little groves of palm trees scattered down the beach providing shelter from the beating sun. Of course these are just as crowded, if not more so, than the rest of the beach.

Another nice feature of the beach is drinks service, which is available from the nearby pool bar. Of course, there are only a couple waiters, and given how densely populated the beach is, it can get pretty tough to wrangle some attention.

There is also a nice sized water sports shack that's shared by all of the resorts in the complex. As is the norm, windsurfing, kayaking, snorkeling, sailing, and boogie boarding are all available free of charge. There is also a shipwreck visible from the beach that's now popular for scuba diving. The Russian freighter known as the Astron was scuttled in 1978, allegedly en route to Cuba.

 Rooms

With old TVs, rock-hard beds, and a mildewy smell, suites are fairly disappointing (except for the in-room bottles of high-quality liquor).

The Junior Suite
The Junior Suite

The Riu Palace opened in 2006, and every one of its 612 rooms is a suite. The only thing that makes a room "superior" is its view of the pool and gardens. The standard junior suite looks out to an adjacent lot and mountains in the background. Guest-room buildings are four stories high, and can be accessed by an elevator. As at many other Rius, instead of a slim keycard, guests receive an old-fashioned metal key on a fairly clunky keychain.

The décor is neutral, with dark wood accents and a beige color scheme, but there isn't anything stylish or unique about the rooms; they're basically a place to sleep before heading to the beach. They don't exactly match the opulence of the lobby or the many highly touted amenities.

The bathroom is a bit cramped, and not at all remarkable (in fact it was smaller than a number of other bathrooms at other Rius). The hotel touts the "hydromassage bathtub," but it looked so narrow even one person might feel cramped in it. Bathrooms have a good selection of toiletries.

As at every Riu, rooms come with a stocked minibar that includes four bottles of unlimited liquor (all the contents are free). The fridge contents are pretty standard: Pepsi, club soda, 7-Up, orange soda, and a gallon of water. There are also a couple bottles of Brahma beer, a cheap local brew. What isn't cheapy-cheapy, though, is the liquor selection, which is what sets the Palace apart from regular Riu properties. There was Stoli vodka, Gordon's gin, Brugal rum and Veterano Brandy in the rooms.

  • Large closets include a safe (with a key, not electronic) and an ironing board
  • Sunken seating area with a loveseat, coffee table, and television
  • Balcony with two chairs and a small table
  • Rooms tend to smell musty. High humidity is a natural problem in the D.R., but the rooms here seem more affected by it than most resorts.
  • Well-stocked minibars
  • Free Wi-Fi available

 Features

The Riu Punta Cana complex is big on quantity, and the pools are a cut above, but the gym and spa are pretty average.

Watersports
Watersports

The Riu Palace has two swimming pools, although guests can access any pool on the resort's sister properties. A series of decorative shallow pools stretches out from the main lobby toward the ocean, and dead ends into a small, round infinity pool that was very popular with kids. Directly adjacent to the infinity pool is the main pool, which is large and often crowded around the edges. Jacuzzis circle the main pool, which also features built-in loungers and a swim-up bar. Poolside drink service is also available, unlike at most all-inclusive resorts.

  • The Riu Palace Punta Cana has its own spa and small gym with fairly modern equipment, though both were very quiet. The spa does not seem particularly luxurious, but there is a full range of treatments available.
  • There are no tennis courts on the immediate property, so guests must venture next door to the Riu Bambu. Equipment and lessons are included, however.
  • Open 24 hours, the Sports Bar includes an Internet café, four flat-screen TVs to show sporting events, and pool and air-hockey tables.
  • Free Wi-Fi is available in the rooms and lobby.

 Entertainment

Every Riu hotel has its own activities staff that performs shows like "Michael Jackson Night" and "Dominican Night," which features staffers in colorful costumes dancing to merengue music.

There is a large amphitheater at the Palace Macao, making for a less intimate experience than at the Palace's Bar Rosario Salon. Each activities staff also runs daytime activities like pool Olympics and water aerobics near the pool.

In the evening at the Palace Punta Cana the most popular attraction seemed to be a live outdoor music performance in the Plaza, where guests packed tables and received drink service from tuxedoed waiters. The band played a selection of mellow jazz and Latin music, and though a few couples may have felt inspired to dance, the majority of the tame crowd preferred to just sit and listen.

 Family

Not geared toward children, though there's a kids' club. The resort's main appeal is its quiet atmosphere and extensive liquor selection -- not great for families.

The kids club
The kids club

The crowd at the Palace Punta Cana is definitely on the older, tamer side. The social scene centers around the lobby bar, and kids might even receive a sneer or two from the older crowd.

Regardkess, lots of kids can be seen playing in the pool, but the kids club and playground tends to be empty. Of course, the benefit of staying at the Palace is that it has access to the facilities of all the other hotels on the property, so kids may participate in activities elsewhere. Furthermore, some suites do come with pull-out sofas, meaning they can sleep up to four people.

In short, if top-shelf liquor is a priority for parents, they'll understandably prefer the Palace over the other Rius on site. Just be prepared for a less kid-friendly atmosphere.

 Cleanliness

Opened in 2006, the painstakingly landscaped property is in great condition. Though rooms look good, they smell a little funky, and buffet tables are often not bussed.

The hotel's exterior seemed to sparkle
The hotel's exterior seemed to sparkle

Most rooms smell like mildew, but this is more a function of the area than a failure on the part of housekeeping. Everything else around the hotel is spotless, and you frequently see housekeepers working in the halls.

As evidenced by pictures, the hotel's exterior was so white and clean it almost seemed to sparkle from afar. The pool area and beach, while crowded, were pretty clean, though you do see the occasional cigarette butt or abandoned glass in the sand.

The cleanliness in the enormous buffet restaurant, Don Manuel, was slightly subpar, with many tables waiting to be cleaned.

 Food

Endless options at 20+ restaurants across five resorts, but the food is sub-par for the price.

Citrus at La Altagracia
Citrus at La Altagracia

The Palace has six restaurants -- more than any other single hotel on the Riu complex -- and all are supposed to be exclusive to Palace guests. Because the Palace is the most expensive resort in the complex, guests also have the freedom to eat at any of the 15+ other restaurants at neighboring Riu resorts (it's hard to give an exact number because restaurants will sometimes close on certain nights of the week, depending on occupancy levels).

The food itself isn't impressive, and many guests come away pretty disappointed, considering the cost of the resort. The main buffet restaurant, Don Manuel, serves mediocre grub and it's often difficult to find something truly appetizing. Yes, there was a variety of food -- pasta, pizza, cooked meats, and a salad bar -- but it all looked either wilted or recycled. La Altagracia, the poolside buffet breakfast, offered almost the same exact food.

The Palace has a strict restaurant reservation policy for its à la carte restaurants: Japanese, Italian, churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse), fusion, and surf and turf. Guests typically have to line up at 8 a.m. to make reservations for food that's little better than what's at the buffet, and are only allowed to secure reservations from 8-11 a.m., though by 11 most spots are usually full.

All restaurants suffer from similar pitfalls. For example, at La Bodega, the churrascaria, dinner includes various cuts of meat that are brought to the table, including moist turkey, chicken drumsticks, and beef. The waiters are very attentive.There are also some delicious potatoes bravas that are heated over an open flame tableside -- a highlight of the meal. The salad bar is OK, so long as the salad and cucumbers aren't frozen (seriously). Desserts tend to be oversweetened.

Unlike many other all-inclusives, the Riu Palace offers 24-hour room service. The one-page menu is extremely limited, and mainly consists of a few sandwiches, salad, and a couple dessert options. In other words, there are no burgers, fries, or pizzas to satisfy a late-night salty food craving.

 Drinks

Higher quality liquor sets the Riu Palace apart from other all-inclusives. Brands include Johnnie Walker Red, Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam, Jose Cuervo, Beefeater, Gordon's, Stoli, and Smirnoff.

These are available at every one of the six bars, including the sports bar, which is open 24 hours. From the pool/beach area, to the lobby, to the nighttime entertainment area, bars aren't hard to find, and drinks are easy to come by. The in-room minibar also has Stoli vodka, Gordon's gin, Brugal rum and Veterano brandy.

 Destination Weddings

Wedding packages here are standard for the area, but the resort itself is crowded, and wedding locations are anything but private.

A beautiful ceremony location, in full view of other resort guests
A beautiful ceremony location, in full view of other resort guests
  • Wedding Size: Up to 300 people; two to three weddings held per day
  • Extra Fees: Day passes for non-hotel guests range in price, depending on time of year; fee for each outside vendor. At least 80 percent of the wedding guests must stay at the hotel.
  • Wedding Packages: The Classic Package (costs more for a civil ceremony) and includes a wedding coordinator, a bouquet and a boutonniere, decorations, recorded music during the ceremony, a wedding cake, sparkling wine, and a "semiprivate" dinner in one of the resorts a la carte restaurants. The Classic Package covers 15 guests; extra for each additional person. However, the basic package is free if your wedding party books more than five rooms.
  • Ceremony Location: Under a gazebo, on the beach, or at City Hall (for civil weddings)
  • Photographers: Packages range, lowest, basic package starting at 30 4-by-6 prints in album with a CD.
  • Music: Options range for an extra cost from a DJ for three hours to a five-person band for three hours.
  • Food: Dinner and drinks are included as part of the package, but appetizers cost an extra fee per person. No specialty menus (kosher, vegan, or gluten free).
  • Cakes: Cost varies from small size for 20 people to large size for 100 people
  • Spa Treatments: The spa offers massages, facials, and hair and nail treatments; 10 percent discount for the bride and groom.
  • Airport Transportation: No airport shuttle or free transportation service; 45-minute, $40 taxi ride to the Punta Cana International Airport.

 Bottom Line

The top resort in a sprawling, five-hotel complex, the 612-room Riu Palace Punta Cana has access to some excellent pools, top-notch liquor, and a gorgeous, though especially crowded, beach. For the price, the rooms and food are subpar. Opt for nearby (and cheaper) Barcelo Premium Punta Cana instead.

Things You Should Know About Riu Palace Punta Cana

Address

  • Playa Arena Gorda Higuey, Punta Cana, DR

Hotel Is Also Known As...

  • Punta Cana Riu Palace
  • Riu Palace Hotel Punta Cana

Room Types

  • Jacuzzi Suite
  • Junior Suite
  • Suite
  • Superior Junior Suite

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Hotel Features

Number of Rooms: 612
Pool: Yes
Fitness Center: Yes
Spa: Yes
Internet Access: Yes
Cribs: Yes
Kids Club: Yes
Jacuzzi (in room): Some
Casino: Yes
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Hotel Information

Location: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Address: Playa Arena Gorda Higuey, Punta Cana, DR
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