Like so many Americans we decided to do what is being coined a revenge vacation after being fully vaccinated and waiting 2 weeks. I actually booked our vacation once I got my first vaccine scheduled. My husband was dragging his feet on scheduling but did want to go on vacation, so we worked quickly to get him scheduled as well (this was back in late March).
I had talked to several people who had gone to Mexico and it seemed like the easiest place to go. Sure, it wasn’t going to be the same as Spain, which we had booked and planned to go to in the fall of 2020. But it did have a beach and it was hot and sunny. After a long winter in Colorado, that’s all I needed.
Although we have stayed once in an all-inclusive (AI) in Puerta Vallarta, our preference is usually smaller boutique or condos in Mexico. However, given the situation of the pandemic, our plan this time was to find an AI in or around Playa del Carmen (south of Cancun). I had heard the big chain hotels were offering free on-site Covid testing as it is (currently) required to get back into the US. Once booking some dirt cheap flights on Frontier (with upgraded seating!) I started looking for hotels. They were cheap in May (and even cheaper now). My two finalists were the Rui Palace Mexico and the Riu Palace Maya Riviera. They’re both in the Playacar area of Playa del Carmen. Ultimately, I liked the look of Rui Palace Mexico a bit better and it was cheaper by $60 a night when we went.
(one little nice thing about the Riu chain – there are a bunch in Playa del Carmen. If you have a wristband from any one of them, you can eat or use the pools, etc. at any of them. One time we were walking down the beach and actually stopped by the RP Maya Riviera and saw that it was virtually the same layout as RP Mexico. We picked up a free drink and continued on down the beach to our hotel.)
Speaking of the rooms, I’m posting two pics here to show you that the rooms at both the hotels have virtually the same layout.
I booked directly online on the Riu site as I was able to get a free shuttle for us. That’s very worthwhile as it’s an hour away from the Cancun airport and would be quite a taxi ride. When you get to the Cancun airport just walk past all the people inside trying to get you on a shuttle or taxi and make your way outside to where Riu has a little podium where you can check in. It may take a while for a shuttle to come but no worries! There’s an outside bar where you can go eat or pick up a drink. I got a Tecate. After a long plane ride with no drink service, this was very welcome in hot, humid Mexico. One con about the RP Mexico is that is one of the later stops on the shuttle route. Fortunately, only one other couple on our way there. On the flip side, we were one of the first pickups on the return to the airport. This was good! We got a seat near the front of the van and were not packed in the back like a sardine.
Although we did do the online check-in procedure which was supposed to streamline the check-in process during Covid, it didn’t seem to be any different than the normal check-in. Copy of passport, etc. However, this wasn’t a big deal as there weren’t any others checking in at the time. By the way, they take Covid precautions very seriously in Mexico, such as wearing a mask in all indoor public areas in the hotel, hand sanitizer, and also these little shoe cleaning mats that you’re supposed to walk through. Also they did do temp checks when you enter the hotel. They’re supposed to do it every time but sometimes no one was there. The most important part of the check-in was getting info on the Covid testing. Kudos to the Riu for offering this service and making it so easy.
We were also scheduled to meet with a hotel representative who, of course, wanted to sign us up for activities. We passed on any activities, as the main attraction we wanted to do, Tulum, was closed by the government because of Covid.
I would give our restaurant and dining experience a B here. The breakfast and lunch buffets were always good and they did have a variety of hot dishes every day so you weren’t eating the same thing every day. At breakfast all I cared was that they had plantanos maduros (fried plantains) and papaya. As for the restaurants, no reservations were required (during the pandemic) and no dress code either, although most people did tend to dress up.
Each night 3 of the 5 restaurants were open. I think normally all five would be open during a non-pandemic year, but I think they were limiting dining choices due to low number of guests.
- “Krystal” Fusion restaurant
- “Miyagi” Japanese restaurant
- Italian restaurant
- “La Bodega” Mexican restaurant (buffet starters and dessert)
Of course, I think the Mexican restaurant was the best, followed by the Italian, and the Steakhouse. Sometimes Mexican properties do a good job on sushi but the Riu Japanese offerings were not up to par.
As I mentioned, some of the activities were limited due to the pandemic. Live music seem to be limited and the resort seemed to be relatively quiet compared to what it probably was prior to pandemic. We saw that every afternoon they had some games going on by the pools, but overall it wasn’t the party atmosphere that we expected. But I was fine with that. The pools themselves are the smaller side, but with the relatively small amount of guests it wasn’t crowded. The swim-up bar was operating, but I never used it. The pool-side waiters kept the drinks coming. What I enjoyed most, though, was the beach area. Sure, 2021 is a bad year for sargassum seaweed. But there were tons of palm trees and lounge chairs which afforded beautiful views. Yes, there were some annoying venders but not as bad as some Mexican resorts.
We loved doing beach walks every morning before it rained (we seemed to get a quick shower most days around noon) and before it got super hot. There are some ruins just up the road from the hotel that were not much to see, but we did get to see some iguanas running around. I personally enjoyed the shopping in Playacar. We did go one day into Playa del Carmen but the shopping area was too touristy. That’s where you can catch the boat shuttle over to Cozumel.
In and around Playacar
Playa del Carmen
Now for the cons of this hotel. Overall, the housecleaning is great. However, they’re too stingy with towels (I swiped them off the housecleaning carts as it was easier than calling). I know, they’re doing what they’re told but two towels at a beach resort is not enough. (yes, you do get a card for pool/beach towels). And the housecleaners were a bit too thorough. While I do get partial blame for this, my new bikini top disappeared on day 2. I think I had accidentally put a towel over it after drying off after a shower but it I couldn’t find it later. Lesson learned. We were very careful with keeping things tidy after that.
But the biggest gripe is the noise. The neighboring hotel had live music going on one night until after midnight. Of course, the RP Mexico has no control over this, but I think offering ear plugs wouldn’t be a bad idea. Their policy is no music at the outside stage or theater after 11. But other hotels didn’t abide by this time frame. Furthermore, the hallways are super loud as noise echoes off the concrete walls. On the last night our upstairs neighbor was watching TV until midnight (and very active with other activities on other nights) and it became obvious that there was no soundproofing between floors and rooms.
Overall, we had a great time here. Good food, great location, very good service. Just a little noisy. I was impressed with Riu on my first stay there. I’ll certainly consider their other properties in the future.