06 FEB 2013: “Fly me to the moon,” crooned Colin Hunter via a CD playing inside this Sunwing aircraft. The founding president, CEO and owner of Sunwing Airlines and Sunwing Vacations helps you take off in style as the cabin crew offers glasses of bubbly and makes everyone feel like a star.


It was a great way to begin my trip to Punta Cana for a peek at the luxury all-inclusive RIU Hotels & Resorts latest incarnation.

20 Years of Riu


RIU has completed a major facelift along the sand studded Playa Arena Gorda at its five properties: Riu Palace Macao; Riu Palace Punta Cana; Hotel Riu Naiboa; ClubHotel Riu Bambu; and the Riu Palace Bavaro.

Clients might have poked you on the Taino which is alas no more. “It was too tired, and needed something new, edgy,” said one insider.

Cue to the Riu Palace Bavaro.

A couple of years ago as the Taino stood on the edge of the exclusive sprawling resort enclave, executives decided rather than make a total refurb of the 20-year-old sun spot, why not just tear it down and start from scratch.

The flagship property which started RIU’s foray into the Caribbean all-inclusive scene in 1991 was demolished over a quick few months by the hands of 3,000 laborers who toiled away to complete the massive $80million + development in time for a soft summer launch in 2011.

Since December 2011 the Riu Palace Bavaro has officially opened – just in time for the company to celebrate its 20th anniversary of its international presence.

A style for every taste

“The fact that we have 48 percent repeat clients shows people who leave, they are happy. This might be the biggest selling point for a travel agent,” boasted Armin Kaestner, Riu’s vice-president of sales for the Caribbean and Mexico when we recently met over drinks at the funky Sports Bar.

Ironically the setting reminded me of home with fun photos of Canada’s all too familiar winter scenes and snowboarders flying over powdered snow.

Now back to the magnificent Palace Bavaro - okay you’re scratching your head and rightly ask, “Wait a minute don’t they already have a Palace Punta Cana and a Palace Macao?”

Yup.

As Armin outlines it, the five properties are versatile offering something distinct to fit every budget.

“Initially we thought the Palace Bavaro would take clients away from the Palace Punta Cana but that hasn’t happened,” he says.

Au contraire - if clients like classic Spanish Colonial style, the Palace Punta Cana delivers big. Walking through the property I felt like the beautiful Spanish opulence was next going to offer up a sultry Penelope Cruz. Plenty of big rafters, sweeping stone staircases, wall-sized reproductions of classic paintings give it an Old World charm worthy of a fantasy movie set.

Clients who craved the palatial offerings by RIU Palace Punta Cana still receive that all-inclusive star treatment. It’s the same concept, nothing’s changed but what has, is the new RIU Palace Bavaro. “We have these two properties but the RIU Palace Bavaro is for clients who are looking for modern cosmopolitan,” explains Armin.

Adults-Only Time

The other big news is RIU is catering to the growing adults-only crowd by transforming the former family property of RIU Palace Macao into a smart, breezy setting – ideal as a couple’s getaway.

The evening I visited, a pair of cute siblings were hanging by the bar looking quite adult-like, but as of November 1st, that image is a bygone. With the current 2012-2013 winter season in full swing, the hotel is now RIU’s first ‘Adults Only’ in the Americas. This property continues to hold titles. When the Palace Macao first opened in 1994, it was the first ever of Riu’s famous palaces.

The $14-million refurbishment shows lots of cosmo city chic elements fitting for a Miami crowd. Cool white spacious interiors, ceiling fans, and bold fuchsia and purple accents are consistent with the new Riu interior design concept.

“(This past August) with the re-opening of the RIU Palace Macao at the same time it’s meeting a customer demand for cosmopolitan chic,” Armin says.

Clients craving romance need to head to the third floor superior rooms. A Kodak moment for sure – these select rooms have an edgy mirror ceiling.

Culinary concept

Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see a feeding frenzy by the food stations. Riu’s rolling out a new culinary concept called micro-cuisine. It’s better for the waistline and the amuse-bouche-sized portions look very attractive especially the dainty desserts.

I stayed at the elegant Palace Bavaro. The food was magnificent in quality and presentation. There are four a la carte restaurants from which to choose – a steakhouse, Japanese, Italian, and a resto exploring new cuisine styles called Krystal.

Mornings started at the main restaurant, the Montecristo with fresh fruit of every description and a frothy cappuccino.

By late afternoon I was dying for a jolt of espresso at the stylish Cappuccino Bar which has an inventive dessert assortment.

It’s funny how Pavlovian life could get away from your usual routine.

Still with our cold snap now underway, give me sun, sand, and poolside cocktails any day.

The Up Side:

⋅ You can walk from resort to resort or take a shuttle.

⋅ Free Wi-Fi is now available.

⋅ That liquid dispenser of popular libations (rum, rum and more rum) is refreshed regularly.

⋅ Help yourself to the free refills at the mini bar.

⋅ Have your wedding ring and don’t want to lose it? Use the free safe inside the rooms.

⋅ All Palaces have the same concept – can’t get to sleep? Remember there’s a 24 hours food and drink at the Sports Bar.

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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