Arrival: Arrival via Sunwing from Toronto was no problem. Flights were on time. 737 aircraft had no movie screens on the back of the seats like mos other planes so we had to watch kid-frindly movies both ways. No worries, we all had books. Travelled with my wife, 9 and 14 yr old daughters. Transfers to and from the airport were simple so long as you walk past and make no eye contact with the numerous people trying to sell you timeshare. Arrival at the hotel was wonderful….we were greeted the moment we got off the bus (full of Canadians all going to this Riu) with orange juice and champaigne and countless plates of Hors derves (sorry for the spelling). Lots of staff there to smile and greet. A truly warm welcome. Very hot and humid (August 2011) however we knew that going there. No air conditioning in the lobby but I have yet to be to a Caribbean resort with an air conditioned lobby…..so, so what…..
Rooms: Our room wasn’t ready yet so went to lunch leaving our bags with the front desk. When we returned the room was ready and at no charge our bags had been delivered. Disappointing room though because of the small beds that were two doubles squished together. Gorgeous view of the pools and ocean from our 19th floor balcony. All rooms in this Riu face the ocean. We ordered a cot which arrived the second evening. That was OKAY but my 9 yr old said it was hard. Oh well….she should be happy I brought here…..!! In fairness, we only spent time to sleep in the room anyway so the size was not a big issue. Bathrooms are huge with large granite double sinks. Air conditioning was great with a ceiling fan. Note, if you leave the sliding glass door open to the balcony, the air conditioning shuts off. So, we left it closed.
Restaurants and Bars: All the outside bars were great with quick and friendly service. We never went into the sports bar (which was the only one air conditioned). The buffet was terrific. So much to choose from that unless you are a glutten, you can’t sample everything in a few sittings. Breakfast and lunch were great too. Here’s the not so good. None of the a la cartes were that good. Perhaps 3 star at best. Asian and Mexican were okay but the Steak House ought to be avoided. All three are in an enlarged part of the main buffet area. Staff try hard by using linen table cloths and dressing in suits etc. but that is just window dressing. We were rushed in all three restaurants. The staff buzz around you and the moment you put a fork down, your plate is whisked away with the next course coming in front of you. My steak (Steak house) was very overcooked but tasted great. Service was very attentive, just too rushed. Best advice to the hotel would be too adopt a WAY more relaxed atmosphere for a la carte service.
While you need reservations for the three a la cartes, we were told many were full yet when we ate at them, we observed they were 3/4 empty. Not sure if that was a staffing, food or time of the year we visited issue. To go again, I would not bother with the three specialty a la cartes. Oh, and while they advertise a dress code, we saw lots of people nicely dressed up but lots in shorts and ‘t’ shirts. That kinda takes away from the 5 star feeling.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: The beach is in front of the three main pools which are in front of the hotel. The beach is absolutely gorgeous but take sandals since the sand gets quite hot midday. The ocean was awesome with HUGE waves to jump or dive under. My two girls loved it. Boogie boards to sorta surf on (on your belly) are free. The undertow is incredibly strong so don’t venture out too far. The two lifeguards will blow their whistles pretty quickly if they feel you are getting out too far. There are NO rocks etc. and a HUGE sandbar so it is gorgeous to go into the ocean about 3 to 5 waves. The not so good part is the beach vendors. They are on you like flys on you know what. When I read previous reviews, I saw that they were kept away from tourists by a rope. I mistakenly thought that rope extended from the hotel to the water preventing them from getting at you. WRONG. The rope exists but is horizontal to the water and you have to pass by or through it (and all of the vendors) to get to the beach. In fairness, a simple "no thank you" was all that was required. But every time you went by them you had to say no thank you. Kinda’ tiring. One positive though, if you want to buy from them, you can easily bargain down to about 25% of their starting price. For example, we all bought these really cool straw cowboy hats (as did many people) and the first asking price was $25. We bought them for $6 each…..!! My two girls got bracelets with their names on them for $3 (starting price was $10). The water this time of year was warm. The pools were great too. Very very clean. A little crowded on the weekend but otherwise great.
Swim up bar was in the adult pool and was steady. I saw a lot of people drinking but seldom getting out to pee in that pool so draw your own conclusions.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: We wanted to go "zip-lining" but it came with a tequilla factory tour for $75 which the kids woulda’ hated. We could not bargain a better price so did not go. We all went parasailing on the beach in front of the hotel and bargained the starting price of $45 each to $10 each…..WE took 25 of our new closest friends too…..!! The "animation staff" were ever present but did not bother you whatsoever. If you wanted to play volleyball etc. they were great…..Although we all had the laugh when the same staff person kept asking different Canadian girls to marry him and take him back home…..There’s a new concept eh? lol!!
For the most part, we met so many people with and without kids similar ages to ours, that we ended up hanging around together and formed a dinner group of about 12 to 15. We hope to stay in touch.
Other Comments: Mexicans on weekends…. Well, this would be a large negative. Apparently, the local population can stay in the resort on weekends for $50/room/night and they come with every family member they have and then some. We had no issues other than the sheer number and that everything got busy and loud. Most of the locals were very friendly and even though my 9 yr old doesn’t speak their language, she cummed around most of a day playing in the pool with another little girl who didn’t speak English. Again, just to be fair, no issues here except the sheer number of Mexicans taking up space we payed a lot more money for. I have travelled before and have not seen that.
One final comment, at least a quarter of the Canadians we met got some kind of bug that gave them a lot of "toilet time" for a couple of days. Myself included. Although my wife and girls were fine……..so there is the 1/4.