It doesn’t look like a Riu, at least not one of the larger ones in the Caribbean. But in recent years Riu has branched out, opening smaller resorts and city hotels (Miami in February, and soon, Times Square), and the 258-suite Riu Palace St. Martin makes the family tree even more interesting. Before it relaunched as a Riu in 2014 it was a Radisson Blu, and before that, a Meridien, so the main building is Meridien’s white, 1990s neocolonial with classical columns, an open-air reception with more fields of white, and just a few touches of turquoise to evoke the sea.
The sea matters, because the Riu hugs Anse Marcel, a peaceful crescent beach on the north shore of the French side. This rare all-inclusive on the French side shares the bay with Hotel Le Domaine, but even so, it feels far from the hullabaloo of Marigot and Philipsburg. Being fond of this spot—I stayed there with my wife when it was a Meridien—I visited at the beginning of April to meet the new regime. This time I brought, not my wife, but bronchitis. I mention this because when a server at the breakfast buffet heard me coughing, she came over to ask if I was okay.
“My mother used to give me tea with lemon and honey,” she said, “so I’m going to go back to the kitchen and see if I can find some for you.”
That’s how the entire staff is. When I couldn’t find the universal outlets in my suite, the electrician who came to my room not only refrained from calling me a lunkhead (there were five outlets right on the desk!), but apologized for my having missed the obvious.
wicker and wifi
On each side of the reception area a low-rise wing of guest suites extends toward the beach; each room has a balcony or patio. A third, freestanding wing fronts a small marina tucked off to the right. The hallways within these wings could use new carpeting and fresh paint, but the rooms are cheerful, with pastel stucco walls, wicker furniture, an adjustable bed, a flat-screen TV, radio, WiFi, a fully stocked minibar, four bottles of spirits, and a sleek bathroom with tawny tiles and plenty of glass. Considering that room service is also included, why ever leave my room?
Dumb question; this is St. Martin! At the very least I had to do some shopping, watch the planes land near my head at Maho Beach, and revisit Orient Beach. The clothed-bathing section, anyway. Besides, back at the Riu, Anse Marcel beckoned with its gentle waters and, from my chaise longue on the right side of the beach, a strong WiFi signal. Some guests hung out at the immense, free-form infinity pool, which has an expansive shallow area for tykes and another area for volleyball. Too bad there’s no swim-up bar, but guests who wanted a drink bravely walked the eight feet to a freestanding bar.
Ambitious guests joined staffers in reggae dances, games, and contests, such as The Great St. Martin Kayaking Race. Kayaks, snorkeling gear, and one free diving lesson (there’s a dive shop on premises) are included, but other watersports cost extra, and there are no sailboats. That’s likely to change after August, when the watersports facility’s old contract expires. Meanwhile, back on land, there’s petanque (remember, this is French St. Martin), a kids’ club, a fitness center, and a Renova Spa where Your Correspondent served His Loyal Readers by submitting to a delicious massage.
“The Radisson had two restaurants, but an all-inclusive needs more than that, so Riu added another two,” explained Virginia Casado, press manager, America at RIU Hotels & Resorts. The restaurants are Le Marche (buffet), L’Île (a grill and steakhouse), La Mer (French), and Krystal (fusion). All but Krystal offer outdoor seating. There are three bars/lounges, one of which has entertainment at night.
Several guests told me they loved the food, but I felt it could have been a bit better. I enjoyed some Spanish touches at the buffets (e.g. chorizos and tapas-style tortillas), but some of the American foods (e.g. American cheese rather than chevre or bleu cheese) were disappointing. The mahi-mahi kebabs, not to mention the mahi-mahi in a Champagne emulsion at La Mer, were sublime, yet the tuna was overcooked. While breakfast croissants and desserts in all the restaurants—from La Mer’s to-die-for creme brulee trio to Krystal’s banoffee pie with bittersweet chocolate sauce—were quite good, I would like to have seen more whole grain artisanal breads.
A medium-rare filet at L’Île was unusually flavorful, while La Mer’s bouillabaisse could have used some saffron. By the way, La Mer is the only French restaurant in Riu’s empire, and Chef Bruno Brazier’s escargot in cream sauce (taste the Sambuca in it?) is the real deal.
riu partner club for agents
Of the three categories of rooms—Junior Suite, Superior Suite (facing the marina), and Gran Suite—the latter two make sense for families, but most couples will find a Junior Suite spacious enough. It costs from about $365 to $680 a night per couple, plus a $22 per night resort fee. When agents book clients through the Riu Agents platform, they’ll often find some bonuses available. Agents who join the Riu Partner Club get points for each booking, and some hotels may offer double or triple points, which can be redeemed for vacations.
Archived related articles (available on recommend.com/magazine/issue-archive): Riu Palace Mexico (March 2014)
Riu Palace St. Martin: (888) 748-4990 in the U.S.; (866) 845-3765 in Canada; riu.com/en/Paises/saint-martin/saint-martin-island/hotel-riu-palace-st-martin