My wife and I stayed at the Punta Cana Palace from April 24 to May 1, 2010. We have visited all-inclusive resorts in the past, but this was our first visit to one of the Riu properties. Prior to arrival, we anxiously awaited a truly memorable holiday; when all was said and done, it was definitely memorable, but not for the right reasons. Do you remember being a child and really wanting the latest new toy for Christmas? You told your parents how much you wanted it; you dropped hints about how much it would enhance your quality of life. Maybe you even ripped pictures out of the catalogs and left them out where your parents had to see them. When Christmas morning rolled around, you were convinced that all of your hard work would pay off. Once your presents were opened, however, you found you got nothing but socks and underwear. Our trip to the RIU was like getting socks and underwear. Before I get bogged down by our concerns, I’d like to touch upon what we really enjoyed during our stay. Visually, the property looks amazing – very palatial. Upon arrival, we both felt a sense of satisfaction hearing the other guest on our transfer bus speak about how jealous they were that we got to stay there. The designers have definitely mastered the art of creating a great first impression. The lobby is literally breathtaking, from the replicas of paintings and sculptures to the stained glass ceiling. However, much like a Hollywood movie set, this was merely a façade – once you got past that first impression, there was nothing left to see. By the end of our trip, we were the ones jealous of those staying at the other resorts because, surely, they had a better stay than we did. As I mentioned previously, we had never stayed at one of these properties, but our travel agent raved about what a phenomenal trip she had there. We had seen their properties on other vacations and decided that we deserved to be pampered, so we booked our holiday at the Palace. We are both savvy travelers and immediately jumped online to check out some of the reviews from recent travelers. My heart sank as I read time and again how miserable people had been while staying there. People complained about the food, about how rude the employees were and about the conditions in the rooms. Surely, this could not be the same resort we had heard about. After digging further, we realized that some were confusing the two Palace resorts with each other. For the next 4 months, every time we read a bad review, we attributed it to the Palace Macao and all good reviews were about the new Palace. We were ready to be blown away.
Apparently, they were talking about the proper Palace all along…
Traveled with Apple Vacations – flight was fine, but when once we arrived at the airport and took our luggage to the parking lot, they had no idea where our van was. Our attendant had us walk through the sweltering heat for almost 30 minutes before he finally just stopped and told us to wait, so he could figure out what was going on. Ten minutes later, he came back and escorted us to a tiny minivan where we were crammed in with 5 other people. How luxurious was it? There wasn’t even enough room for the luggage; I had to keep my bag in my lap for the 30 minute ride to the hotel. How much money did we spend for this?!?
Rooms: For starters, the A/C only worked occasionally. I realize that because of the local climate, you can expect some humidity, but you should have some control over the rooms themselves. I hung some clothes up on our first day and by the time I put them on towards the end of the week, they were damp – how is that luxury? And having to huddle directly under the ceiling fan to get any relief in the room was ridiculous. The A/C did work sometimes, so we knew it was functioning, just not very well… The overall appearance of the room left much to be desired as well. For starters, the moisture was creating rust on the appliances (light fixtures, wall sconces, drawer handles, etc) which just took away from any feeling of “luxury”. The bed was hard as a rock and the bathtub leaked all over the bathroom floor. We were finally able to figure out how to control the bathtub, but it meant we had to sacrifice one of our towels to control where the water was leaking from every day. While in the “comfort” of our own room, we assumed we might be able to watch some television to relax. Yet another wrong assumption. Out of the 100+ stations the satellite service offered, only about 10 were in English. And the reception was so poor, you could only watch it for about an hour before you started to get dizzy and couldn’t watch anymore. Initially, I thought it might just be our television, but when I checked the bar, I could see that the reception was just as distorted. I understand that the resort is trying to cater to an international clientele, but the fact that they can’t provide quality reception is totally unacceptable. During those moments we decided to relax in our hot, damp rooms watching television programs we couldn’t understand, we were constantly interrupted by various employees of the hotel. Maid service is totally unreliable. Our sheets weren’t changed once during the entire week (we saw the same stain every time we pulled the blanket back). We had a couple of days that they never came by at all. And you could never count on any regular time. With most hotels, if you leave for the day, you know that by the time you come back, the room will have been handled; that was not the case here. A few times, we came back to the room around 4:30 or 5 and it hadn’t been completed yet. (And yes, we were tipping them every day, so that shouldn’t have been an issue…) I’m sure you may be saying by now “if the ‘do not disturb’ sign was out, they would have stayed away.” However, we never got a ‘Do Not Disturb” sign. We asked for one 4 times (2x with the front desk and 2x from housekeeping) and one was never brought to us. I can’t speak for all of the guests, but some of like a little privacy. Having the maids knock while they’re unlocking the door doesn’t really allow you a chance to get dressed or anything. The last night we were there, I had to put out a handwritten “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob… and they still walked in!
Restaurants and Bars: My wife and I are both huge foodies. We love trying new dishes and exploring what local cuisines have to offer. The chefs at the RIU, however, seemed so focused on pleasing everyone, that they let all of us down in the process. I understand that with such an international clientele, it must be difficult to make everyone happy, but the food was so bland and unappealing that it just turned us away time and again. At the buffet, most of the items were not labeled, so it was difficult to determine what was what. It was like a culinary Russian Roulette. Even the salad bar was beyond basic – the dressings had no flavor and what few vegetables they had were all soggy. I realize that the humidity adds to the overall sogginess, but there are dozens of other resorts in the Caribbean that can counter it – why can’t RIU? Flavors aside, the “variety” was a let-down as well. Every breakfast and lunch, the same dishes were rolled out – watery eggs, overcooked pancakes and undercooked bacon. After a while, every dish seemed to look alike. And the problems weren’t limited just to the main Dining Room. Even when we tried the ala carte restaurants, the results were underwhelming. One night we visited the Italian Restaurant – Italian food is a personal favorite – and it was horrible. I ordered a sea bass in some type of cream sauce and what I received was 2 fish sticks in a bowl of melted butter. That’s high class dining? We also visited the Japanese restaurant one night. At first we had high hopes, because it looked nice (again, appearance is the only high point) and the sashimi appetizer was pretty tasty. However, before the end of the meal, 3 tables in the dining room (mine included) had to leave because we all felt sick. I guess we shouldn’t have had the shrimp… By the way, the fact that the “24-hour room service” only provides salad, a club sandwich and nachos, doesn’t really count as an alternative dining option.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: Another issue with the common areas was the fact that so many visitors were allowed to just walk onsite. We were constantly harassed by tour operators at the pool and on the beach. People kept trying to sell us everything under the sun and if you turned them down, you risked having an unfortunate argument on your hands. My wife and I witnessed a tour operator dealing with a couple by the pool area. When they said they weren’t interested, he kept nagging them. Eventually, it got to the point where he was accusing them of taking money from his kids by not purchasing his tours. He even used this line: “You’re obviously rich, you can afford to stay here! Shouldn’t I have the chance to get rich? You have to give me money so I can take care of my kids!” Then, on the way to dinner, we had to run the gauntlet of vendors and various people trying to sell more junk to us. I heard a few guests express similar frustrations as ours. Isn’t that why the shops are located nearby? If we want something, we can go there. Don’t the guests deserve some level of respect? We are, after all, the ones paying to stay there.
Other Comments: Taken individually, these events would have been easy for us to accept. We know sometimes that “things just happen”. When they all happen at once, though, it’s no longer just a minor inconvenience. It was a 7-day nightmare and a tremendous waste of money as well as our valuable time. What was supposed to be a stress-free vacation was one of the most agonizing weeks of my life. Visit the Grand Palace at your own risk.