Walk-in showers, spacious double-vanity sinks, conditioner, and separate spa tubs
Kids' club (with pool) plus an adult-only area of the hotel
Nine restaurants and seven bars, plus 24-hour room service (and bar)
Two live entertainment stages, spa with Turkish bath, and beauty salon
Various sports areas and state-of-the art fitness room with group classes
Free Wi-Fi and parking
Nighttime can be noisy due to live entertainment
Opened in 2012, the Spanish-owned, 562-room Riu Palace Peninsula (not to be confused with the Hotel Riu Palace Las Americas) is the youngest of the Riu's Cancun properties. With a distinctive beachfront position, guests at the Peninsula are privy to both soft powder sands and wild rocky shores lining crystal clear Caribbean waters. Decor is contemporary with a slightly sexy, upscale European vibe -- especially when lit at night. Even the lower category rooms are large and feel like suites, and have nice ocean views, walk-in showers, and separate spa tubs. The hotel has a social and fun (but not crazy party) vibe and can get noisy at night.
A large all-inclusive resort with a positive, fun vibe
With a large, open, and retro-modern lobby outfitted with marble floors, soft purple seating, and decorative purple columns, the Hotel Riu Palace Peninsula feels pretty grand from the start. The lobby is divided into two sections, the first half containing the front desk, hospitality desk, the majority of the sitting area, and Venecia restaurant. The second half is mostly a raised circular centerpiece full of palm trees. Just beyond this, guests will find the lobby bar (Cabanga) and cafe (Capuchino) side by side, with full windows looking out over the pool area. The main building rooms are off to the left, serviced by two elevators (there are no guest stairs), while the adult-only villas, pool, and restaurant are located far in the opposite direction.
The pools are definitely the centerpiece of the hotel. Separate, but close together, the hotel's three main public pools -- infinity, sports, and swimming -- are all located just before the beachfront and surrounded by neatly landscaped grounds. There's even a legit (if small) archeological site just hanging out by Trinidad, the swim-up pool bar.
Most of the restaurants can be found in restaurant row, along a covered outdoor hallway, making it easy to browse menus or decide where to eat. The property is big, but doesn't feel overwhelming, and even though there is almost always people milling about wherever you are, it's not chaotic. We also noticed how happy and pleased all the guests seemed -- there was easy mingling in the bar areas, and more than enough loungers at the pool and beach areas. The only time things felt a bit cramped was during a brief downpour when most people flocked to the lobby, particularly to the bar and cafe. And while there is plenty alcohol flowing (at least there was during our stay) there didn't seem to be any rowdiness or belligerence, just joviality.
Dual beachfront location toward the end of the Hotel Zone loop
Hotel Riu Palace Peninsula is deep into the Hotel Zone -- in fact, almost as far as you can go without starting to loop back around. The 30-minute drive from Cancun Airport to Riu Palace Peninsula may feel a little longer thanks to Boulevard Kukulkan traffic. But, the extra driving time is rewarded; Riu Palace Peninsula has a rare beachfront location, and there are few other hotels in Cancun that can claim ownership of both soft sands and rocky shores. Because of the hotel's location around KM 5.5, getting to the bumping nightlife hotspot of central Cancun only takes a 10-minute car ride. Mostly hotels line the beachfront side of the strip, so you'll have easier access (read: no out-of-the-way U-turns to make) to the shopping plazas, tour providers, and restaurants, since you'll be driving on the same side of the loop. Luckily the end-of-the-line Hotel Zone location doesn't add time to any self-driven day trips heading toward Tulum (just under two hours), Coba (two-and-a-half hours), or Chichten Itza (two-and-a-half hours).
Large rooms with ocean views, spa tubs, and booze-dispensing cabinets
The Riu's 562 simple, but chic and contemporary rooms are large and upscale. Thanks to stark white walls, glossy white furniture, and contemporary artwork one might expect to see in a spa, decor is slightly reminiscent of the '80s. However, in the bathrooms, the black marble tubs, walk-in showers, and vanity area with double bowl sinks help give a modern luxurious feel. All rooms have ocean views, so guests can expect to see turquoise sea waters glittering through the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors.
Minibars are untraditional (but typical for the Riu brand), trading airplane-sized bottles of booze for a full-on (and locked) cabinet of top-shelf liquors equipped with convenient spouts. Mixers are in the mini-fridges. In addition, all rooms have flat-screen TVs with international channels, a wide range of toiletries (including conditioner!), and private ocean-facing outdoor spaces. Upgrades in the main building will get guests more room, as well as a whirlpool spa out on the terrace. The adult-only villas have bathrobes and slippers, bidets, lounge space, and outdoor whirlpool tubs.
A plethora of features give guests plenty to do -- unless it rains
Since Cancun is a tropical destination overflowing with miles of gorgeous Caribbean sea and beachfront, there's no questioning why most of Riu Peninsula's features are set outdoors. The beach is split into two sections: a sugar-sand beach punctuated with palm trees, loungers, and cabanas; and a rocky shoreline complete with crashing waves and natural vibe. There is a wide selection of pools including an infinity pool, sport activity pool with volleyball and basketball nets, swimming pool (which often has kids in it), and both an adult-only pool (located in the Villas area) and kids' pool (at RiuLand). In addition to live shows in the lounge-y outdoor, but covered, theater space, there's a fully outdoor stage that hosts live music performances to kick off the night.
Unfortunately, when its rains, most of these spaces are unusable, forcing hordes of people indoors. Most flock to the Lobby Bar or adjoining Capuchino cafe, at which point things can get cozy. In addition, most of the restaurants use outdoor hallways and have a portion of outdoor seating, so sudden downpours can be a bummer. But there are always the state-of-the-art gym, beauty salon, shops, or spa with huge whirlpool and Turkish bath to take your mind off the weather. Kids will have fewer choices since RiuLand's main headquarters are out by the pool, but at least there's an indoor section full of games, activities, movies, and crafts.
There's no lack of bars at the Riu. From the classy ocean-view lobby bar with nightly piano player, to the 24-hour Sports Bar, to the swim-up pool bar, Riu keeps your whistle wet. While Sports Bar, filled with live sports games on screens, pool tables, and video games, may be the only joint open 24-hours, most other bars on the property open at 10 a.m. and close around midnight. Outdoor watering holes include Trinidad, the swim-up pool bar that also has a covered landlocked section with seating, and Tobago, the beach bar. At night Tobago transforms into a romantic beachside lounge spot with soft lighting, cabanas, and lounge areas -- although it's usually fairly empty as people tend to stick around La Plaza or La Latino, the two bars flanking the theater, or inside the snazzy lobby bar, Cabanga.
All in all there are nine restaurants: two buffets; an adult-only restaurant (only for those staying in the Villas); and five speciality restaurants with fantastic decor and impressive menus (Mexican, Japanese, gourmet fusion, a steakhouse, and Italian). The buffet restaurants (Las Olas, and Isla Mujeres, which turns into the steakhouse at night) have a wide variety of food and can cater to special diets. Venecia is also open for lunch and features a small Italian-themed lunch buffet. Grab-and-go snacks like hot dogs and packaged sandwiches are available at the 24-hour Sports Bar, and coffee shop bites (including ice cream!) can be found in Capuchino just off the lobby. But, if you can't manage to get out of your in-room spa bathtub, room service is available around the clock.
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