I was eagerly awaiting my first stay at the Riu Palace Riviera Maya. Since my last visit to this part of Mexico was along Cancun’s more commercialized Hotel Zone, I was yearning for a resort with some Old World charm amidst a jungle-like setting of mangroves and coconut groves. From my initial research, I came to the conclusion that this resort was destined to tick most of the boxes for me (well, maybe not the mangroves but I knew they were nearby). I definitely was not disappointed; in fact, I couldn’t stop the Cheshire cat-like grin from spreading across my face as I stepped inside this gracious, beautiful resort. From its gilded picture frames, stained glass ceiling panel, crystal chandeliers, and gleaming wood finishes, I knew I had made the perfect choice.
After a painless check-in and refreshing guava juice welcome, the bellman whisked myself and my suitcase towards the elevator located by the Sports Bar (there are only two elevators–the other is over by the reception desk area). Since the resort is shaped like a “U” with the open ends by the beach, it can be a bit of a hallway walk, especially if you wind up close to the pool and beach as I had requested via email a week prior (I was in room 2111, four doors down from the end of the building on the 3rd floor in a Superior Jr. Suite). A towel animal surrounded by flower petals and chocolates was noticeable on my bed along with a rather strong musty odor coming from within the room itself. I was prepared (thanks to Trip Advisor reviews) and promptly took out my air freshener to start its magic.
The room layout was old school Riu with a step-down sitting room area complete with love seat, coffee table, bureau, and flat screen TV, separate bathroom area with tub/shower combo and double sink, mini-bar filled with large and small waters, sodas, beer, and club soda along with the cabinet above filled with four liquor bottles (Bacardi white rum, Smirnoff vodka, Jose Cuervo Gold tequila, and Presidente brandy). Not exactly top-shelf, but good enough to enjoy a cocktail while sitting on my balcony and enjoying the tranquil courtyard views.
Another great feature of the room is the 24-hr. room service; very tasty, but only a limited menu is available. Although I thought the room was comfortable and offered plenty of space, guest rooms are definitely ready for renovation–hopefully the weak A/C will also be addressed along with new room furnishings to get rid of the musty smell. (This resort is slated for renovations after the Riu Playacar’s renovations are complete, and the Riu Playacar is being renovated in 2015). Here are some minor points concerning the rooms guests might want to know before they go:
- The room is powered-down when the maid is finished cleaning which means the room will be even warmer than usual. There is a power switch on the wall next to the door–if the upper circle is recessed, the room is powered-down; if the line below is recessed, lights and the A/C will turn on.
- The A/C shuts off when the balcony door is opened or left open.
- To open the balcony door, look up about six feet along the door’s edge to see the latch. Pull it over to the right, then down, then to the left–now the balcony door can open. (This may seem like an easy feat, but it took me several minutes to figure it out–six feet is not eye level for me).
- Minimize the amount of TP you put into the plumbing–toilets tend to get clogged here, and maintenance can take a while to respond.
- There is a very small sign on the bathroom mirror which says the water is “non-potable”, so don’t drink from the tap and use some of the bottled water to brush your teeth (I didn’t see this sign at first and used the tap water but didn’t get sick–no sense tempting fate though.)
Despite my mild disappointment with the room, I was here in Playacar to also experience the beach and enjoy the pool. But where to start? My decision, in part, was made for me–due to a “sleep-in” because of a long travel day prior, there were few pool loungers left, so I decided to enjoy the wide and lengthy white sand beach. I easily found a lounger under the canopy of a very large coconut grove and enjoyed the varied shades of blue in the ocean in between naps.
When I did venture in the water, the waves were moderate, but not enough to knock me off my feet like the waves from the Caribbean Sea in Cancun’s Hotel Zone. Guests having more energy or motivation than myself will enjoy the variety of water sports available–boogie boards, small catamarans, kayaks, and wave runners, while parasailing can be arranged just down the beach. Later on during my stay I did muster up enough energy to take long walks down the beach and wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner. Guests can walk unimpeded in either direction–to the south are multiple resorts (one after another), while the walk north towards Playa del Carmen is more open with a handful of resorts and homes/condos/villas for rent. I made it to the Cozumel ferry (just on the outskirts of town) which took me approximately 25 min. If you stay around the resort for any length of time, there is bound to be a beach BBQ around noon several times per week. It is typically hamburgers or hot dogs, but at least you may eat by the pool–some resort chains do not allow this.
I found the pool area just as beautiful as the beach but much more “civilized” with its patterned blue tiles, built-in pool loungers, built-in tables and seating areas close to the swim-up bar, built-in Jacuzzis (not heated, though), and separate deep blue infinity pool at the back of the main pool (the infinity pool, by the way, has an ocean view). With the exception of the Barceló pools in Puerto Vallarta, this had to be one of the most beautiful and amenity-filled pools I had ever come across at an all-inclusive resort. There were plenty of loungers but not enough shade umbrellas to go around; however, there are mature palms and coconut trees everywhere on this property to protect those who don’t want to register on a thermometer as being “well done”. Loungers are available here and there throughout the day, but most poolside ones are gone between 8 and 9 a.m. Also, staff brought around fried calamari for poolside guests to snack on Sunday afternoon (I wasn’t at the pool every day around 3 p.m., so perhaps the snack was offered more than once per week).
When I wasn’t napping on the beach, taking a walk, or socializing at the swim-up bar, I did indulge in Riu’s many restaurant selections. Although many vacationers aren’t thrilled with all-inclusive buffets, I found this one to be quite extensive with many excellent, fresh food choices both at breakfast and dinner (I ate lunch at the poolside restaurant most days). Staff are busy at multiple grill stations at dinner, while individual specialty bites are available upon entering the buffet. While I personally loved the freshly made churros and crepes for dessert, I did miss more of a variety of Mexican food items so that I could actually use the guacamole which was provided. The beachfront luncheon restaurant, Chilis, offers a variety of both standard items (hamburgers, etc.) as well as various hot dishes and some Mexican food choices–although waiters will bring your drinks soon after you are seated, you can always serve yourself with the beer, soda, juice, and water dispensers located by the exit which leads directly to the beach. If you want a change from buffet food, there are several a la cartes including Mexican, Japanese (no teppanyaki table), Brazilian Rodizio (there’s so much skewered meat offered here you really need to be selective about your choices), a steakhouse, and my personal favorite, Krystal, which is more of a gourmet dining experience. A la cartes require advance reservations, so look for staff in the lobby by the piano between 12 and 3 p.m. daily.
An unexpected treat was my ability as a Riu Palace guest to visit other Riu properties within the area. There are three beachfront properties (Riu Playacar, Riu Palace Mexico, and Riu Yucatan) and two inland properties (Riu Lupita and Riu Tequila). Riu Palace guests may use the amenities at all of these resorts with the exception of having dinner there. I enjoyed the younger, more vibrant atmosphere of the recently renovated Riu Yucatan, the many pool choices of the Riu Palace Mexico, the totally laid back vibe of the Riu Playacar, and the jungle atmosphere of the Riu Tequila (there is also a disco here which is a great alternative for late night revelers). All are within walking distance of the Riu Palace Riviera Maya. Riu Tequila guests have beach access at the Riu Yucatan, while Riu Lupita guests have beach access at this resort on the south end. There is a walled and gated beach section, and behind it is a small pool, restaurant, loungers, hammocks, and water access–all for Riu Lupita guests only. The green beach loungers are for Riu Lupita guests as well, while the blue loungers are for Riu Palace Riviera Maya guests. Although I spent time at all the nearby Riu properties with the exception of Riu Lupita, I discovered that my initial choice of resort was still my favorite.
Rumor has it that Riu Palace Riviera Maya is scheduled for a renovation sometime after Riu Playacar’s renovation (Riu Playacar is being fully renovated in 2015). I loved the overall look of this resort and would hate for it to be turned into a more modern Riu renovation as has been common of late. Would I return? After the renovations are finished and it’s still the Old World charmer I know. For the time being, take a moment or two and enjoy the pictures of the resort below–just click on a thumbnail and it will bring up a larger picture.
(The comments in this review are those of the author/reviewer. This trip was paid for in its entirety by the author; at no time were any monies or services exchanged for this review).
Location: 45 min. south of the Cancun airport in Playacar, a gated community adjacent to Playa del Carmen.
Telephone: 52-984-877-2280 (Mexico), 1-888-748-4990 (USA), 1-866-845-3765 (Canada), 52-984-877-2285 (fax)