Rooms have stuffy, dated decor and some guests complain of cleanliness issues
Food is mediocre at best
Wi-Fi can be spotty
Many of the restaurants smell musty
Part of a sprawling five-hotel complex, the upper-middle-range 612-room Riu Palace Punta Cana has excellent pools, a beautiful beach, and lots of on-site amenities. The resort draws guests of all ages, and the clientele is predominantly European — not surprising, considering the Riu is a Spanish chain. The Riu opened in 2006, but rooms feel dated, and some guests complain of cleanliness issues. Food at both of the buffets and the a la carte restaurants is mediocre, but the Riu earns high marks for the name-brand liquor served throughout. For nicer rooms and better food, check out the Paradisus Punta Cana — though its grounds aren’t as impressive and rates tend to be slightly higher.
The cream and white, ornately spired Riu Palace Punta Cana has grand design inspired by British and Spanish colonial-era Caribbean architecture. Inside, the feeling of colonialism continues in the lobby — an enormous room so ornate that it takes a few minutes to appreciate its grandeur. Guests are greeted by imposing gray and gold columns that form a portico around a central chandelier. Patterned stained glass leads the eye upward, where dozens of black and gold ceiling fans churn in synchronized motions. Gilded frames showcasing neoclassical landscapes line the walls of the corridor-like room, where traditional furniture with tufted navy cushions is arranged linearly to fill the space. The room feels as though it is filled with historic importance, which fades a little when you learn the hotel was built in 2006. Impressive as it is, the ornate lobby may seem stuffy to guests who are looking for a laid-back Caribbean feel.
Riu guests run the gamut in terms of age, but the clientele is almost entirely European. Families with kids fit in just as well as teenage friend groups and honeymooners. The property feels large enough that everyone can carve out their own spot. This isn’t the place for young partiers, which is reflected in hotel’s nightly room rates, but it isn’t completely void of fun. The pool’s swim-up bar sees plenty of daytime action, and there’s always some kind of lively activity occurring on the beach.
In Macao, an area of Punta Cana known for great beaches
Riu Palace Punta Cana is located in Macao, a Punta Cana neighborhood known for great beaches. About 30 minutes from the airport, the hotel is situated at the end of a five-hotel complex — make sure to stress Riu Palace Punta Cana to cab drivers or tour operators, as Palace Macao, Naiboa, Bambu, and Taino are other Riu options.
Guests have access to all amenities and restaurants in the huge Riu complex, and the beach that fronts the properties is one of the nicest in the area — think calm, clear blue water with minimal seaweed.
Decor is traditional but dated, and lacks of the grandness of the lobby
All of Riu Palace Punta Cana’s 612 rooms are suites, each with a small separate seating area. What isn’t so sweet about these rooms, however, is the dated decor. Room decor is traditional, but it lacks the impressive colonial feel of the lobby. Though the hotel opened in 2006, room decor feels even older, thanks to thick '80s-era drapery and ugly matching furniture. Beds are covered in a mustard hue, and beds are made up of two twins pushed together. Some guests complain of cleanliness issues in the rooms, but we didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary during our visit. Bathrooms are spacious, but also showing age, with dark ugly tile (we spotted some dirty grout) and shower/tub combos. On the bright side, rooms are equipped with flat-screen TVs, fully stocked minibars, and a premium liquor cabinet that’s free for guest use.
Though even the Standard Rooms are technically suites, guests can upgrade to larger Suites if they’d like a little more space. Besides the extra elbow room, Suites are equipped with indoor and outdoor jetted tubs and two-story balconies. The decor itself is similar to what is found in lower-category rooms.
Lively pool and beach areas and lots of daytime activities
The Riu’s massive pool is a highlight of the property. Covered in tiny mosaic tiles in shades of blue and green, the pool echoes the ornateness of the lobby. The massive aquatic playground has built-in sunbeds, several hot tubs, and a swim-up bar, but there’s still plenty of room for activities like water aerobics and Zumba in the center of the pool. The pool is surrounded by a large patio with tons of lounge chairs and white umbrellas.
Like the pool, Riu’s beach is impressive. With calm, warm water and little seaweed, it’s one of the nicest in Punta Cana. The only problem is that it’s always crowded. Hundreds of beach chairs, and their occupants, sprawl in every direction, making it difficult to find an empty space on the sand. Activities like bachata lessons, karaoke competitions, and relay races are popular on the beach — announcements for which are made in dozens of languages to ensure no one misses out on the fun.
The hotel has a small spa and a dated fitness center, both of which are operated by an outside company. The gym is housed in a room that looks like it would be better suited for hosting banquets. At least the room’s colonial decor — ornate ceiling, parquet floors, dark moldings — matches its equipment. The gym’s machines look like they predate the hotel by a good 20 years.
As far as entertainment is concerned, the Riu is better suited for daytime activity seekers. There’s a kids' club with with a mile-long list of daily games and arts and crafts, beach volleyball tournaments for adults, poolside Zumba instruction for families, and endless bachata lessons for just about anyone. After the sun sets, however, there’s little to do on the property. Besides a smoke-filled theater that puts on nightly performances and a 24-hour sports bar, there’s not much nighttime fun to be had here.
The Riu offers free parking and Wi-Fi, but many guests complain that the Wi-Fi is spotty around different parts of the property.
Mediocre dining at both the buffet and a la carte restaurants
Though restaurant decor throughout the Riu is impressive, dining is not the hotel’s strong suit. Food is mediocre at best, and menu offerings at all restaurants tend to be repetitive. Don Manuel, the Riu’s main buffet, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant’s tall ceilings, brass chandeliers, and etched mirror columns have a Belle Époque air to them, but unfortunately the food isn’t reminiscent of any “beautiful era.” Large buffet-style portions are bland and boring, and we noticed that there aren’t too many options for vegetarians. The beach buffet, an open-air restaurant on the beach, serves a nearly identical buffet for breakfast and lunch. There are four a la carte options at the Riu, including Japanese, Brazilian, Italian, and “Fusion” options. But guests will have to line up early to score a mandatory dinner reservation at one of these spots, thanks to the Riu’s reservation-only policy. Reservation-less guests can head to the buffet, or visit one of the other twentysomething restaurants spread across the giant Riu complex. During our visit, we noticed that most of the a la carte restaurants smelled strongly of mildew, and some had a few sticky surfaces.
A hopping swim-up bar, a lobby bar, and a sports bar
The Riu Palace Punta Cana has three bars on its property, and countless others across the complex. The perennial favorite is the swim-up bar, a wildly popular spot for pool-bound adults. The lobby bar is an ornate extension of the reception area, with a wood and wrought-iron bar, and chunky wicker furniture. It’s a popular spot in the evening, when it transforms into a piano lounge. Just off the lobby is the hotel’s sports bar and game room, complete with arcade games, a pool table, and tons of flat-screen TVs broadcasting popular sporting events. The spots bar is open 24/7, but rarely sees much action past midnight.
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