by Stephen Jermanok
Do you dream of a Caribbean getaway with blinding white sands and aquamarine waters? What about a destination that has year-round temps in the mid to upper 80s, less than 15 inches of rain a year, a steady breeze and absolutely no threat of a hurricane? Then it’s hard to top the Dutch island of Aruba. Only 16 miles long and 7 miles wide, this speck of land, just off the South American coast, remains a popular escape year after year, simply because you’re guaranteed a week or two of warm, therapeutic climate. It doesn’t matter that the interior is mostly arid desert, not nearly as lush as Jamaica or St. Lucia, because families come here for that glorious strip of sand.
The Hotel Riu Palace Aruba occupies one of the finest stretches of Palm Beach. Walk outside, past the large rectangular pool and swim-up bar, and choose from one of the numerous palapas and chaise lounge chairs to place your towels for the remainder of the day. Your only decision is whether you prefer sun or shade. And be forewarned that the sun is hot here, so lather up or you’ll be returning home with the skin of a prune.
Aruba is known for its fine dining, but it’s hard to resist the all-inclusive option when traveling with the family, especially when the main buffet is as exceptional as it is at this property. There’s always fresh fruit like papaya, mangos and small sweet bananas in the morning, salads with roasted chicken or grilled tilapia at lunch, and delicious fare at dinner, whether it’s a Mexican- or seafood-themed night. Then there are the four specialty restaurants, including the innovative offerings at Riu’s fusion restaurant, Krystal. It’s no wonder families book their reservation for the following year before they leave the resort. Hotel Riu Palace Aruba is truly the vacation you deserve.
In 2014, Riu purchased the neighboring Westin Resort & Casino and plans to incorporate the property into its resort for an expanded resort by 2015. To learn more about Riu Hotels and Resorts, please visit Riu Hotels & Resorts.
Our Editor Loves
- Long stretch of beach at your doorstep
- Tasty food and fresh fruit at the main buffet
- Easy drive to the international airport
- All Inclusive Rates
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Game Room
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Meal Plan
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
All of the rooms are housed in three tall buildings around the pool. Since our kids are older (14 and 16), we stayed in two connecting junior suites with our own private entry to both rooms.
Each of the hotel's rooms has one king or two double beds, a balcony with chairs and a requisite water view, cable television, a bathroom with two sinks, a shower and tub, hairdryer, safe, and mini-fridge filled with beer, soft drinks and water. There's also a small sitting area with a couch and table between the bed and balcony. Wi-Fi is available in the rooms, and is complimentary. The maid service was excellent, with our rooms done by 11 a.m. and turndown every night, with little mints on our pillows.
Some of the larger suites have Jacuzzis on the terrace. There's also rooms down on the beach in Building C, but realize that it's a longer walk to most of the restaurants. More affordable double rooms do not have a balcony, so be sure to ask.
by Maria O
We stayed at the Riu Palace last Jan and really loved the resort however, my son got the HFM virus where he suffered a lot for a whole week. It was absolutely terrible, we would love to return to the resort but I'm extremely terrified he might catch it again as there was a recent review in October of another HFM disease. Sounds like they never cleaned up the virus from this resort
We stayed at the RIU Palace Nov 4-11. Great time of year to go. Although it is considered rainy season, it means 5 mins max/day. During our 7 days it rained once for 2 minutes.
The RIU is a RIU so you know what to expect. The rooms were nice (we stayed on the renovated side) The only complaint with our room is the Europeen style balcony. Too small for chairs.
The buffet offers a lot of variety including themed nights (Asian, mexican, Italian, etc). The ala carts are not worth it. Avoid the steak house. The specialty restaurants are empty for a reason. No reservations needed, but just go to the buffet.
The beach is great. Lots of chairs available. You will want shade, even if you are a sun worshiper. The huts go quick. Make sure you are out there before 6:45 am to get hut.
Bars are good. My only request would be to keep the pool bar open until 6:30 to coincide with dinner time.
Book a 3 hour snorkling excursion with the operator on the beach. It's $50 US per person and worth it. You also get a free I love Aruba T-shirt. Also recommend that you rent a jeep for the day at the hotel. It's $160 - $195 US depending on the year. We rented a 2016 soft top Jeep Wrangler for $160ish all in. You have the jeep for 24 hours. Enough time to tour the full island and eat out.
Everyone will tell you to visit Baby Beach. You're better off staying at the RIU and doing the $50 snorkling excursion instead. We didn't find Baby Beach too special. That said if we didn't have such a nice beach, then maybe...
Each morning, while the kids slept in, my wife and I would take a long stroll on the boardwalk that borders the beach in front of all the hotels. Much like the paved walkway in Miami Beach, you can walk as long you like in either direction, past the immense Marriott or towards crescent-shaped Eagle Beach. Unlike other Caribbean locales, we never felt unsafe on the island, nor were we hassled. Vacationers that we met were a mix of Americans, Europeans and South Americans.
Before our walk, we would reserve a hut down by the beach by dropping our towels on the chairs. With the sun so hot, anything offering shade on the island fills up quickly, so try to get down to the beach on the early side to reserve your palapa. Over by the pool, the entertainment team usually shows up around 11 a.m., with an enthusiastic water aerobics class at noon and an equally popular Zumba class in the water around 3 p.m. Near the pool is the Riu Kids Club called RiuLand. Available for all kids ages 4 to 12, RiuLand and its counselors lead the children to the beach to build sandcastles, make tie-dyed T-shirts and other crafts, or learn some basic Dutch phrases.
All along the beach, you can find outfitters to take you scuba diving, snorkeling, parasailing, on banana boat rides or offering Jet Ski rentals. Jet skiing is not allowed at Palm Beach, so you don't have to worry about the noise while you're peacefully reading your thick novel on the beach. Outfitters take people jet skiing at neighboring Eagle Beach. By all means, go snorkeling. The visibility of the clear water is excellent and the reef is vibrant with live brain coral, teeming with parrotfish and colorful queen angelfish. You can go on a morning sail with one of the boats or rent your own car and head to Boca Catalina at the northwestern tip of Aruba.
The sun set every evening around 6:45 p.m. and it was hard to resist watching the red orb melt into the sea while digging your feet into the sand. At 10 p.m. each night, the Hotel Riu Palace Aruba does offer entertainment, but I found it to be a disappointment. The small stage, just off the lobby, did feature one great cabaret showcasing the music of Bob Fosse. But unfortunately, the rest of the week's offerings included a tired sing-along Karaoke show or a mediocre magician. The vibrant casino, sports bar and outside bar off the lobby were all better options.
The buffet at Don Nicolas restaurant is located in the main building, one floor below the lobby. In the morning, grab your plate of fresh fruit, yogurt, croissants, made-to-order eggs and omelets, bacon, sausage, other breads and pastries. Visit the small bar to make your own Bloody Mary or Mimosa, too. Then sit outdoors and servers will come over with a pot of coffee and water. Be careful about leaving your food unattended, because the yellow Bananaquit birds will swoop in and happily devour anything you leave behind.
At the buffet for lunch, people line up at the salad bar. There are also chicken, fish, hamburger, French fries, and pasta choices. If you don't want to walk too far from the pool or beach, the Nautilus Snack Bar features lunch daily, including pizza, pasta, burgers, fries, nachos and a salad bar.
At dinner, the buffet at Don Nicolas is so good that many families dine here all week, never signing up for the four other specialty restaurants. Mexican night features steak and chicken fajitas, quesadillas, and live mariachi music, with the wonderful singers and guitarists roaming from table to table. At the weekly seafood gala, expect to find Alaskan King Crabs, shrimp, calamari, mussels, grilled fish and salmon sushi. Most nights, there was a server making personalized Caesar salads for each guest, with their choice of chicken, fish, avocado and other goodies. End each dinner with a bowl of pistachio or coconut ice cream.
Our favorite specialty dinner was at the elegant Krystal, where large colorful vases and other vibrant glassware line the walls. Start with tuna tataki, doused in a smoked eggplant cream, or the tasty cream of leek soup, before moving on to entrees of roasted lamb with couscous or a sautÃ©ed shrimp and veggie tagliatelle. The warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream was a nice way to top off a great meal.
Nautilus turns into a steakhouse at night, featuring juicy cuts of sirloin. Other noteworthy entrees were the grilled grouper with sundried tomatoes at the Italian restaurant, Milano, and the chicken with teriyaki sauce at the Japanese restaurant, Sayuri.
Room service is available 24 hours a day for families with young children who might not have the energy to hit the buffet after a full day of fun in the sun. The sports bar, off the lobby, also offers popcorn, nachos and sandwiches that you can grab at anytime. The swim-up bar at the pool is always jam-packed. Also try the outdoor bar, just off the stage in the main building. The bartenders here make a mean mojito, dirty banana and margarita.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Glen, an energetic instructor, not shy about showing off his six-pack abs, had the crowd going wild during the daily water aerobics and Zumba classes in the pool. Don't miss the daily sunset from the beach each evening. On a clear night, the coloring is exquisite. If you want to go snorkeling and don't want to spend the $60 per person-price to go out on one of the boats, rent a car in the lobby from Top Drive Car Rental and drive to the same locale the boats venture to, Boca Catalina Beach. You'll save a considerable amount of money and then have the option to tour the island the rest of the day and see other intriguing sites like the caves of Arikok National Park, the charming Alta Vista Chapel, perched on a bluff over the sea, and the kitesurfers zipping across the tumultuous waves of Boca Grandi Beach. You can find snorkeling equipment at a small scuba shop on the beach, just to the right of the resort.
The Art of Smart Timing
The last major hurricane to hit the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao was way back in 1877. Thus, you can visit the isle in summer, when resort prices are often half the cost of winter, and have the same exact temperature. January, February, and March are the most expensive months and also the time of year when you'll have to get to the beach early to claim your thatched hut. Head to Aruba during the shoulder season months of April and May, and the prices are reduced and foot traffic on the boardwalk is less.
Mom and Dad
The resort is within walking distance to a slew of very good restaurants. Get a babysitter for the night and head to Papillon to enjoy its French-inspired menu. Entrees include pan-fried shrimp, grouper dishes, roasted lamb and filet mignon.