By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
There’s champagne on the breakfast buffet. My appetizer at dinner was a scrumptious morsel of foie gras. My room is a tasteful study in sun-washed colors and classic West Indian furnishings.
As I chill on a chaise by the pool no one’s on the mic screaming “Voollleeyballll!” to get people interested in a game. The only sounds are the gentle rush of the waves to the sands of Anse Marcel steps away, and the occasional shrieks of delight from children playing at the water’s edge.
This is a piece of Paradise ripped from the classic Caribbean playbook. This is an island vacation fantasy realized. This is RIU?
If it wasn’t for the gold plastic shackle around my wrist (ugh!), I’d swear I was at an independent resort. But I’m at Riu Palace St. Martin, the 25th of the Spanish chain’s 26 Caribbean all inclusive resorts.
Originally a Le Meridien and formerly a Radisson Blu, the 258-room hotel the company opened last December differs from their typical new-builds in ways I appreciate (and which just might sway all-inclusive skeptics).
It’s much smaller (RIU’s resorts typically have between 500 and 900 rooms), and feels intimate, its manicured acreage punctuated with clusters of Adirondack chairs that encourage guests to just sit and soak up the moment.
Here on St Martin’s French side, the pace is slower and more relaxed than on the Dutch, and that’s reflected in the resort’s ambience, which emphasizes the art of complete relaxation over forced participation. The French influence is also apparent in the food (coq au vin, madame?), and the multinational staff and clientele make me feel as if I’d traveled much further than the easy 2.5 hours’ flying time from Miami.
As I take another sip of my rosé I come to the realization:
This is the kind of hotel that, with four restaurants; a huge beachfront infinity pool; free WI-FI; and rates starting at $240 per person per night offers both value and variety.
This is an all-inclusive resort for people who want the convenience of an all-inclusive minus the feeling that they’re at an all-inclusive. This is RIU.