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Hotel review: RIU Palace Paradise Island, Bahamas

Is it really better in the Bahamas?

The archipelago located in the Caribbean is a U.S. favorite for a quick beach getaway, but does it really stand up to the hype? The Bahamas is home to gorgeous beaches, shopping options ranging from t-shirt stands to Gucci stores, and a nightlife to rival some of America's hottest city spots, but where you stay in the Bahamas is equally important as what you do. From Nassau to Paradise Island, hotels and resorts line the white-sand beaches offering everything from paragliding to booze cruises.

RIU Hotels & Resorts, widely known for their luxurious accommodations in Jamaica and Mexico, recently renovated their Paradise Island home, but did it stack up to their other flagship properties?

The Check-in

The RIU Palace Paradise Island is an all-inclusive resort featuring five different restaurants, a spa, fitness center, jewelry store, convenience store and pool with poolside bar on the premises. The remodeling did this hotel good - upon walking into the lobby, it's hard not to notice the decadent red-and-gold decor, accented by a dark wood lobby bar and check-in area. Gold chandeliers hang from the ceiling and life-size statues sit in the corners of the lobby, welcoming guests to all points of the resort.

Checking in proved to be a bit chaotic. As is typical in the Bahamas, guests usually arrive via van or shuttle bus with other guests, which means check-in happens at once for everyone. On this particular day, however, only two check-in attendants were available for guests, which resulted in a lot of standing around and waiting. Thankfully, a bartender with a tray of rum-infused cocktails made her way through the check-in offering guests something to bide the time.

The hotel does prominently post a 3 p.m. check-in time on its website, and due to a high-occupancy the weekend of my arrival the rooms weren't ready until 3 p.m. We had to wait one hour until our 3 p.m. check in time and filled it, quite literally, with food from the restaurant's Bahamas Restaurant lunch buffet.
The Rooms

The rooms at RIU were redone when the renovations took place, giving travelers more open space and efficient design for moving around the room.

Each room features a four-poster king bed or two double beds, plasma TV, sitting area and mini-bar, which is part of the hotel's all-inclusive feature. The rooms have individual climate controls so you can set the temperature to your liking - a nice addition following a long day in the hot Bahamas sun. There aren't a lot of outlets but U.S. travelers don't need converters in the Bahamas, so charging your electronics is an easy task. Before you plug your laptop know this: the hotel does not offer Internet access in the rooms, either free or for a fee. If you want to connect, you need to log in from the lobby - a nice distraction for those who want to 'unplug', an anxiety attack for those who need to check in while traveling.

When you make your reservations, request a room with an ocean view and you won't be disappointed. The personal balconies offer views of the vast Atlantic Ocean, Paradise Island and, if you're located in a room at the end of the hall, you can see past Paradise Island into downtown Nassau.

The Bathroom

The best part of the bathroom is the size. Featuring his and her sinks and a shower/bathtub combination, the bathrooms are nothing luxurious but plenty efficient. There are robes, typical bath amenities (soap, lotion and shower caps) but instead of individual shampoos, conditioners and shower gels, the hotel stocks an all-in-one bottle in the shower that serves all three purposes. If you like using different products, bring your own.

My bathroom seemed to have a water-heater problem, which meant taking a hot shower was rather cold. I called a few times over the course of my stay to ask maintenance to look into the issue but unfortunately, the problem was never fixed.

Lesson to travelers:
If there's a problem with your room and it isn't resolved within a few hours, ask to be moved. It's the hotel's responsibility to ensure guests are satisfied, and that includes making sure guests have hot water.

The Amenities

Heaven descended upon us when we discovered the serve-yourself mini bar, complete with bottle dispensers of our favorite liquors. If the night calls for a rum and coke or vodka tonic, you don't have to look farther than the little nook in your bedroom.

Unfortunately, this work-a-holic-even-while-traveling traveler suffered a minor panic attack at the realization of one missing amenity: no Internet access in the rooms. This was a foreign concept to me -- most hotels today are wired for Internet access at all floors and even at a fee, it's a nice amenity to have. I checked the hotel's website and found a line item that says "Internet available for a fee," but I'm assuming this was only valid for business center computers. I understand the need for unplugging on vacation, and I envy those travelers who can do it, but it admittedly seemed odd that after a renovation, the hotel didn't foot the bill for WiFi or high-speed access in the rooms. Internet is available in the lobby, however, only in one section and if you're a late-night worker, this area won't serve you well. You'll have to connect at the lobby bar, which is located right outside the hotel's nightclub area.

The Restaurants

The hotel features five restaurants and two bars, all part of the all-inclusive offerings.

Breakfast: The breakfast buffet is offered daily and features tables of breads, fruits, cheeses and hot items. Early morning eaters definitely get the prize at the buffet. When first laid out, the food and display is fresh and attractive. Come later to breakfast and you might find another scene. It didn't seem that the hotel did much to replace trays of food on a regular basis. You could be left with the slim pickings of bacon hardened in its own fat at the bottom of the tray or soggy eggs sitting in a water-like substance. If you choose to wait for a new batch of food, you could be waiting a while. I choose the waiting game and after 10 minutes gave up.

There are hot food stations where chef's prepare made-to-order items, but by the time I arrived to breakfast around 9:30 a.m. one morning, the griddles were already crusted with food. I opted for toast and orange juice. The moral of the breakfast buffet: Get there early to get the good stuff.

Lunch: Served in the Bahamas restaurant area, the lunch buffet is set up similar to the breakfast buffet and the same rules apply - go early, or consider another option. By 2 p.m., the meats were sweaty and the cheese was starting to congeal. I picked the freshest vegetables I could find from the salad bar and grabbed a side plate of french fries to tide me over. Surprisingly, the french fries weren't too bad.

Dinner: There are three a la cart restaurants in RIU -- Krystal, a fusion restaurant; Tengoku, a Japanese restaurant; and Sir Alexander, the hotel's "gourmet" restaurant. You must make reservations to dine at any of these restaurants. The seatings are 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. and each restaurant offers a set menu. You'll have your choice of a few appetizers, a few entrees and a few desserts, plus a full wine/liquor and beverage list.

The only problem with this concept is that guests have to decide early on where to eat. Because the restaurants are small in size it's likely some guests won't get reservations, but it's equally likely that many guests change their mind half-way through the day and decide not to eat at the restaurant and forget to cancel their reservation. In addition, if you make a reservation and you're not on time, you don't get seated.

Since the menu's are set, there aren't many options based on your 'mood.' I had dinner one night at Sir Alexander and was pleasantly surprised at the size of the portions and made-to-order freshness of the entrees. On another night, I made a reservation at Krystal but had to cancel after realizing the set menu featured salmon dishes (the one food I'm allergic to). Since guests aren't allowed to order off the menu, I opted not to dine at the restaurant and instead dine out at another restaurant in Paradise Island. This defeats the purpose of an all-inclusive hotel, but on the flip side, you can always go to the buffet.

Word to wise for travelers: Check the menus and consider your options before making a reservation at one of these restaurants. If all else fails you can have dinner at the buffet in the Bahamas restaurant, or go nearby to another restaurant.

The Pool/Beach

The pool area features lounge chairs, a swim-up bar and a good dose of island music. Get here early - it's a small space and chairs are limited, but you can take your towels and head to the beach, just steps from the pool deck.

The thing to remember about the Bahamas is that no matter where you are, there's always someone selling something. On the beach, you'll be asked to buy everything from bracelets and sarongs to jet ski rides. If you don't want anything, just be polite and say "no," then go about your lounging.

The Staff

Despite the long wait at check-in, the front desk staff couldn't have been lovelier. Our questions were answered with patience and politeness, and the check-in clerk made sure we knew about the options available to use while we waited for our room.

Know this: The Bahamas is on 'island time', which means what normally takes 10 minutes at home can take up to an hour in the Bahamas. If you want something, you're going to have to get it yourself. At one point during my stay I opted to take in the lobby Internet service. I copped a squat in a nook off the side of the lobby bar, and asked a staff member if the light above the sofa I was sitting on could be turned on. I was told that wasn't her job and I should ask the front desk whose job it might be. When I asked for a glass in the breakfast buffet so I could pour myself some fresh squeezed orange juice, I was told I'd have to wait for fresh glasses to come out. Additionally, wait times at the bar averaged 20-30 minutes and only when we attempted to climb over the bar to pour our own drink were we asked what we wanted.

On the flip side, every time I ran into the cleaning crew on my floor I was greeted with smiles and friendliness. These ladies loved talking to hotel guests, and I was more than happy to spend a few minutes asking about their days. The day before my departure I went to check on the confirmed transfer with Majestic Tours. I admittedly feared the worst, but the Majestic Tours representative at the hotel was organized and friendly, located my reservation and confirmed my departure the next day. Everything was on time (the only variation from 'island time' I experienced during my Bahamas trip).

The Bottom Line

It's important to note that RIU has variations of brands. If you've been to the "Palace" brands, which is what this Bahamas hotel is branded under, you might be surprised at the difference. Palace is denoted as the hotel's elite brand of resorts, but unfortunately, based on prior customer reviews, it doesn't quite compare to its sister properties in Mexico, Jamaica and Aruba. The RIU Paradise Island hotel does, however, offer the traveler on a budget a great option for visiting the Bahamas with rates starting at $185 a night for the off-season.

It's placed in a perfect location on Paradise Island (right next door to the gargantuan Atlantis Resort) and is two steps from the beach (which is likely why you came to the Bahamas to begin with). Since it offers one of the island's only all-inclusive options, travelers don't have to think when they are here. You can eat at your leisure, lounge all day long or take any one of the hotel's shuttles to the downtown Nassau area for shopping and nightlife.

Filed under: Bahamas, Hotels and Accommodations, Caribbean

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