The beach in Mexico should have a warning sign: Abandon Cares All Ye Who Enter. Long flight to get here. Who cares? Lots of work back home. Who cares? Getting a little red there, buddy. Who cares? Margarita is empty. Oh look, here comes a waiter. Alright, maybe not every beach in Mexico is that way, but our long, lazy beach days at the Hotel Riu Palace Peninsula in Cancun were remarkably similar: Sun, swim, snack, sip. Rinse and repeat.
Plop us on that beach!
Did you know Cancun has 13 miles of Caribbean beach? That’s one reason we chose to take a total beach break here. We wanted to be right on the sand. No problemo, amigos! There are more than 150 beachfront hotels in the major resort areas: Playa Mujeres, Isla de Mujeres, and the Zona Hotelera. We chose the latter because it is the shortest distance from airplane to beach. (In a future post, we’ll discuss the Hotel Zone and other resort areas in more detail.)
We were looking forward to long days of swimming, sunning, and snorkeling, so we chose the northern region along Boulevard Kukulcan. (Honestly, who doesn’t have fun saying Kukulcan?) If you’ve been there, you know things get a little rowdy around the clubs on the north end. No me interesa. Not our scene. Not this time. But it’s a great family area because the waves aren’t so strong. Besides, this is where the shopping centers, the archeological museum, and Burger King are, plus the only Starbucks in the area. Something for everyone, is what we’re saying.
All In or Adults Only?
There really isn’t a bad area to stay in the Hotel Zone. One of two decisions that will greatly influence your choice in hotels, though, is whether to stay at an Adults Only resort (or one with an Adults Only section). As we were traveling with teens in tow, this was not an option for us, but might be for you. Some of the resorts with Adults Only sections do allow adults in your group to enjoy the amenities exclusive to that section, though. As an example, we were able to reserve a table in the Adults Only restaurant at our resort for a night when the teens would be on their own.
The second, and perhaps bigger, question is whether you’ll go All Inclusive. Yes, this drives prices up, but it also drives effort down. Since our trip was meant for relaxation and recharging, we decided to literally go All In. This might have reduced our options, but there were still plenty to choose from! A quick scan of our favorite hotel picking tools (Google Maps for location, Trip Advisor for ratings, and Oyster for candid photos), and we narrowed things down to the Riu family of resorts. They have the locations we wanted, and were the highest rated in that area. The Riu Palace las Americas has a prime location at the tip of the Zona Hotelera, and is the highest rated of the Riu hotels but, alas, it’s adults only. The Hotel Riu Palace Peninsula is the brand’s second-highest rated Cancun location. It’s all inclusive, family-friendly, and just down the beach.
A Boutique-y All-Inclusive Big Brand Resort?
Approaching the Riu Palace Peninsula, we were mildly disappointed at the generic, though nice, look. Once through the doors, though, we were thrilled. The modern décor appealed to our sense of style. Above a small stand of palm trees was a soaring skylight, making the lobby bright and spacious. Tall tiled columns with blue accents framed the view, with a wall of windows beyond the café that looked over the grounds and out to the sea. Large white globes and planters punctuated the lobby, and at night glowed with soft light. While we knew we landed in Cancun, it seemed we could have easily been in a Palm Springs boutique hotel.
During our stay, the staff really made the big resort seem friendly and more like a boutique hotel. By the second day, we were recognizing some staff members, who obviously remembered us. They asked about our stay and our plans, remembered our preferences, and offered excellent service with big, friendly smiles. On-site restaurants (nine in all) were mostly small and intimate, so you had that boutique feeling while dining, too.
That feeling dissipates once you venture upstairs, though, where floor over floor of long hallways lead to hundreds of rooms (562 to be exact). Outside walkways lead from the lobby to several shops and restaurants, a theatre, the spa, and fitness facilities. The expansive grounds feature several pools, seven bars, and even some Mayan ruins, highlighting the resorts size. However, the smaller and isolated Adults Only section takes you right back to that feeling of a smaller hotel.
The Lobby Experience
We really enjoy a good hotel lobby. It’s a space to work and relax, a gathering area for guests, and the place to meet with locals. It’s the hotel’s first and last chance to make a good impression.
The great looking lobby at the Riu Palace Peninsula featured plenty of seating areas, though it often got very busy. The front desk, concierge, and baggage hold areas are congregated in one corner of the lobby near the front entrance. Across the room, the bar and café also got quite crowded in the evenings, but were relaxing spots to spend time out of the sun. One of the signature restaurants, Kabuki, is just off the lobby as well.
Because this trip was more about relaxation than nightclubbing, we spent most of our evenings, and some time every day in the lobby areas. The hotel is popular for weddings, and we found ourselves in the middle of several celebrations in the lobby bar. One particularly large family reunion adopted us for an evening in the café. (Complete with a violin recital by one of the teenage daughters!) We met fellow travelers, practiced Spanish with the staff, and enjoyed each other’s company. We also enjoyed nightcaps, pastries, and unlimited café lattes!
Saved by the View
When you’re taking a beach break, you probably won’t see your room very much. While our deluxe rooms were spacious and comfortable, that certainly proved to be true for us. It’s just as well we had other places to spend our time, as the rooms were not as appealing as the rest of the hotel.
Nearly every piece of furniture in the room was built-in and covered in thick, glossy white paint or laminate. There was very little décor, making the room feel a little sterile. It seemed like the room was meant to be hosed down after the banished Spring Break crowds departed. The room could have used a good scrubbing, too. The white walls showed off scuff marks, wearing paint, dirty hand prints and smudges, and there were plenty of them.
We loved the walk-in shower, with its grey and dark pink glass and tiles. However, we just don’t get the spa tub stuck in the middle of the room. We understand that’s supposed to be romantic or luxurious, but it seemed more appropriate for the Adults Only section. There was ample closet room, with a laptop-sized safe. Along with a (cheap) booze dispenser, the mini-fridge was stocked with sodas and water. And the towels and bedding were soft, thick, and comfy. With a little sprucing up and a few softening touches, the rooms could be quite nice.
We thoroughly enjoyed the views, though. The long hallways offers views of the lagoon on the other side of the isthmus. Inside, every room faces the beach, so there’s a great view from your sliding glass door! Most of our time in the room was spent on the balcony admiring that view. The room was not bad, just not great save for that view.
Drinking, Dining & Diving (and bad behavior)
One hesitation most people have about All Inclusive resorts is that they draw the kind of crowd that’s just there for the booze, and lots of it. Thankfully, that’s not something we encountered at the Riu. Apart from the No Spring Breakers rule, the resort does not tolerate behavior normally associated with the All You Can Drink crowd. Not once did we encounter over-served patrons, loud parties, or brash behavior. Of the nine restaurants, all have some level of dress code. Even the large main dining room where shorts were allowed, men in tank tops were refused entry. We witnessed one particularly large “gentleman” attempt to bully his way in without changing from board shorts and a tank top, only to be removed by a group of managers. Standing firm on their rules kept the atmosphere family friendly and non-offensive.
Another common complaint about All Inclusives is that the food and drinks are sub-standard, which we did not find to be true. There are seven bars around the resort and, while we are not big drinkers, we enjoyed a few umbrella drinks at several of them. They were consistently flavorful and mildly potent, and served by a staff that was quick and professional. It’s a shame there is only one coffee bar, because the staff was fun and coffee drinks were great! They also served awesome milkshakes, the pastries were always fresh and delicious. (We sampled much more of the desserts than the umbrella drinks!)
We are admittedly partial to breakfast. So much so that we envy Hobbits for their Second Breakfast. We’ll take breakfast for lunch and dinner, too. But at the Riu, breakfast is strictly for, well, breakfast.
While there were themes for lunch and dinner (Mexican, Italian, Asian), breakfast was generally the same. The variety was still amazing with fresh fruits, an entire bar filled with breads and pastries, a section of meats and cheeses, and a selection of yogurts and parfaits. Hot breakfasts included pancakes and waffles, omelets and eggs, and a variety of meats. In addition to milks (cow, soy, coconut) and fresh juices, you could order a fruit smoothie of your own design at the juice bar. Two favorites at our table were horchata (a rice milk drink) and Plantano con Leche, a banana and milk concoction; flavors that brought back memories from my youth along the border.
We found lunch much less exciting, but still good. We took advantage of poolside burgers and hot dogs when they were available (not every day). Otherwise, we headed indoors for tacos (because…Mexico!) and generally ignored the sandwiches, burgers, pasta and other offerings.
Another complaint we hear about All Inclusive resorts that you’re stuck with the buffet or whatever the restaurant serves. The Riu Palace Peninsula addresses this concern by having more restaurants (9) than there are days in the week! The buffet is always available, and has themed days (three days a week), or you can make reservations for the specialty restaurants, which are included in the All Inclusive rate. Each one features a specific cuisine: Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Steakhouse and Fusion. We managed to make it to all but the fusion restaurant “Krystal,” and found them all to be very good. Service was attentive and professional, portions were ample, and the flavors were great. Because they were available by reservation only, we didn’t feel rushed and were able to relax and enjoy our time together.
Poolside & Beachside
There are four pools at the Riu, including an Adults Only pool, a kids’ pool, and a Scuba pool. Despite there being only one swim-up bar, drink service is available at all pools and on the beach. (Note: Only the grownups get the alcoholic drinks at the kids’ pool!) There is a towel station on the pool deck; you’ll get a card for each member of your family when you check in, which gets you a towel. One per guest, but you can exchange them all day long.
The resort has a large beach section, part of which is sandy with beach chairs and umbrellas. Another section has a grove of palm trees and hammocks – good luck getting out once you’ve settled in. They seem to suck away any desire to do anything other than take a nap! There is also a rocky shoreline outcropping that both kids and adults (oh, and iguanas!) love to explore. Small fish like the protection of the rocks, too, so it’s the best spot to snorkel along the beach.
A brown seaweed (Sargassum) grows along the Yucatan coast and frequently washes ashore. There was a bumper crop in 2015, but even in normal years, there can be a lot of it, which the hotels work hard to rake away. Still, mother nature has a way of dealing with mankind, meaning that you will occasionally have to wade through the grass floating in the surf.
Good to Know
A few more things that are good to know about the Hotel Riu Palace Peninsula, some of which we did not take advantage of:
- There is a kids club with activities geared towards the under 12s.
- If you fancy an introduction to Scuba diving, you can get a free lesson in the Scuba Pool.
- Other water sports available include kayaks, body boards, snorkeling gear, and a catamaran. There is a charge for some equipment.
- During the day, guests can use the tennis courts at the neighboring Hotel Riu Caribe.
- There is a schedule of events and activities every day at the front desk. This includes cooking and cultural exhibits demonstrations, pool activities, exercise classes, and beach parties.
- The hotel has two live entertainment stages with live shows nightly; check the schedule at the front desk.
- In addition to a Turkish spa, the hotel has a beauty salon onsite.
- Take your athletic shoes; they’re required in the gym. Except, obviously, in the sauna and whirlpool.
- When you do want to get away, tour representatives are available near the lobby almost every day. If you pre-booked excursions, you will likely need to check in with them to finalize your plans.
- There are several options to get from the airport to the hotel, and back. Taxis, arranged vans, and airport shuttles are all availabe at costs ranging from less than $10US to more than $25US each way. We booked a shared shuttle from the airport for $25US per person round trip. If you don’t book ahead, there are options at the airport.
The biggest question in reviewing any hotel is, “Would we go back?” In any other situation, we would say yes, especially if the rooms get updated. The staff and service would definitely bring us back, and the hotel in general was really nice. But this is Cancun, with more than 100 other beachfront resorts worth exploring! It’s through no fault of the Riu Hotel Palace Peninsula if we stay somewhere else on our next visit to Cancun. But 100% to their credit if we don’t.
We would love to hear about your hotel experiences in Cancun, and also about other Riu properties. Feel free to share them in the comments!
Disclaimer: This review was neither solicited nor compensated by Riu Hotels & Resorts. Our stay was booked anonymously, and all opinions are our own.