Range of water sports including free scuba introduction
Live entertainment and nightly shows
Free Wi-Fi throughout the resort
Property showing wear; overdue for a renovation
No rooms have full ocean views
Some tiles missing around the pool
Rooms get noise from hallways
25-minute walk from downtown Playa del Carmen
Seaweed sometimes found at the beach (typical for the area)
Set in the Playacar district of Playa del Carmen, the Riu Palace Riviera Maya is an upscale, 400-room all-inclusive resort set on a pristine section of beach. It’s got all the glitz and glamor of a Las Vegas casino hotel, combined with a hacienda-style architecture and massive gardens. There are numerous restaurants on-site, a massive main pool, kid’s pool and kids’ club, and plenty of daily entertainment -- not to mention a spa, gym, and loungers everywhere. Traditionally styled rooms aren’t perfect and could use updating; some of them only have views of the walls from the balconies. This is one of two Palace-level Riu resorts in the complex; the Riu Palace Mexico has a more modern look in its rooms. Couples may prefer the adult-only Royal Hideaway Playacar.
An upscale but aging all-inclusive upscale resort with grand hacienda style, on a gorgeous beach
This all-inclusive resort is set in the gated Playacar community, with a nearly private beach and massive interior gardens adorned with fountain pools, manicured palms trees, and huge open areas of grass. But it’s not the grounds alone that are impressive. The lobby is a work of art, with polished granite tile flooring, wood paneling, and high ceilings featuring domed recesses, decorative chandeliers, and even a large section of stained glass. The structural pillars with carved reliefs, antique-style furniture, decorative busts, and oil paintings on the walls evoke the feel of a Greek or Roman museum.
There haven’t been any major renovations in recent years, but almost everything was impeccable during our visit. Floors gleamed, exteriors and interiors were well-maintained, the rooms didn’t have the musty smell that can often accompany places in tropical destinations with high humidity levels, and the staff were bustling about and helping everyone in sight. However, the property's need for renovation did reveal itself in details such as missing tiles by the pool. And the traditional style of the hotel may strike some as dated.
The Riu Palace Riviera Maya is one of the two Palace-level Riu resorts in the Playacar complex, the other being the Riu Palace Mexico; the Palace properties have access to the amenities at the four Classic-level Riu resorts in the vicinity: the Riu Yucatan, Riu Playacar (which benefitted from a 2015 renovation), Riu Tequila, and Riu Lupita. Though the Riu Palace Mexico is older than the Riu Palace Riviera Maya (it opened in 1999, and this property opened in 2006), its rooms were updated to the more modern Riu look in 2012. It has less bathroom privacy, as the jetted tubs are next to the beds, but around half of the rooms have privacy curtains. Here, bathrooms are more private, but entry-level Junior Suites have shower/tub combos rather than the separate showers and tubs found in all rooms at the RPM. This resort has a more sprawling property footprint and a massive main pool, while the RPM is more compact and has four smaller pools rather than one big one. The RPM is also closer to the other Riu resorts, so it's a little more convenient for those looking to spend time at sister properties.
In the Playacar residential district, a 25-minute walk from downtown Playa del Carmen
Riu Palace Riviera Maya is located in the Playacar resort area in a complex shared with five other hotels from the Riu chain. The hotel is about a five-minute drive from downtown Playa del Carmen (or 25 minutes on foot, either along the road or beach), where there’s plenty in the way of restaurants, bars, and retail outlets, as well as a regular ferry service to Cozumel island. Guests can also take day trips to Xel-Ha and Xcaret parks, and the Mayan ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza. Cancun is around an hour and a half north, depending on traffic.
Hacienda-style rooms with traditional decor and balconies, but no full ocean views
Though the 400 rooms at the Riu Palace haven't been renovated in some time, they've held up well. The traditional style, though, is starting to look more dated than deliberately Old World. Most rooms have tile floors and basic antique-style dark wooden furniture (including two-poster beds); the color scheme is usually either cream and gold or cream and red, and wall art is generic. All rooms have balconies furnished with white plastic chairs; most views are either of the gardens (and neighboring hotels) or the courtyard (the main stretch at the center of the resort, including the fountains and pools; some of these get a glimpse of the ocean). Some rooms at the end of the building nearest the pools and sea do have nice ocean views, but these are in short supply.
There are three categories to choose from: Junior Suites, Suites, and Whirlpool Bath Suites. The entry-level Junior Suites are 357 square feet, and have separate sitting areas as well as a king-size or two double beds. Suites are 645 square feet and have much larger living rooms. The Whirlpool Bath Suites add a spiral staircase leading to an upstairs terrace with whirlpool tub; these units have the best available views of the ocean. There are some connecting rooms available (unlike at the Riu Palace Mexico).
Amenities include turn-down service, coffeemakers, minibars, liquor dispensers, and 24-hour room service (all included). On the tech front, there are flat-screen TVs with basic satellite channels, in-room safes, and free Wi-Fi. Housekeepers leave impressive towel art on the beds daily. Bathrobes and slippers are not standard, but can be requested.
Bathrooms have jetted whirlpool tub/shower combos, though Suites have separate tubs (adjacent to the beds). Bathrooms have granite and marble tile, and look pretty dated. Countertops are granite slabs, with large mirrors and his and hers sinks. Bidets are included in the toilet rooms.
The beach here is a definite high point. It is massive, with powdery white sand, and plenty of palm trees providing shade. There are plenty of loungers (though they're not cushioned) as well as some hammocks strung up between trees. There's a sandy entry to the ocean (no sharp rocks), and though there is sometimes seaweed, it is regularly raked up (we hardly spotted any during our 2016 visit). Sometimes vendors will approach but they'll usually leave when you say no. Waiter service to the loungers is provided (unlike at the Classic-level Riu properties).
Huge pool, kids' club, entertainment staff, fitness center, and spa
The ocean-view pool is arguably the focal point of the resort, and has over 13,500 square feet (1,257 square meters) of space. It has a swim-up bar and even little built-in seats and tables, and waiter service is also available to the lounge chairs (made of white plastic and mesh). A shallow upper tier is suited to children. Umbrellas and towels are freely available upon request from the staff.
There’s a dizzying array of activities throughout the day, including pool games, sports at the beach (such as football or volleyball), and evening entertainment (usually a live band and then a show with dancing). There are also water sports (including free scuba diving lessons in the pool, and free catamarans), ping-pong tables, and tennis courts. There is a kids' club but it's not a highlight.
The fitness center is spacious, in an elegant, naturally lit room with wood floors, and has ample machines -- though they're not of the most modern variety. The signature Renova Spa has a sauna, whirlpool tubs, massage chambers, and its own beauty salon; there are even fish pedicures available.
Six restaurants, four bars, and 24-hour room service
Aside from the main buffet, there are five a la carte restaurants (where a dress code is enforced). Reservations are not accepted, so seating is first come, first served for dinners, and things can get packed during high season; expect lines during those months. Krystal serves fusion cuisine, Yashima, Japanese, Chili's serves fine cuts of meat. Agave is the Mexican restaurant, with a la carte main dishes and buffet starters and deserts. Botafogo is a Brazilian restaurant focusing on buffets and with a primary dish per evening. Don Manolo is the main buffet, with live cooking stations; it’s has special themed nights three times a week. Guests can also dine at the restaurants at any Riu resort in the complex.
Daiquiri is the bar at the main pool, and there’s also Lirico on the terrace, La Habana in the lobby, and the 24-hour sports bar. Top-shelf liquor is included in the rate, and room service is offered 24/7.
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