Myself and my family just came back from a wonderful stay at the Riu Guanacaste....everything was excellent. This was the biggest resort we stayed at of my travels, but it never seemed crowded. While there was much talk about being herded into restaurants, I saw nothing of the such. The only place where we did not eat was the Tucan, which seemed to be a popular choice....if you are hell bent on that one, make reservations early. TBO, the main buffet was excellent, and the best place we ate at: always plenty of choices, different theme nights, breakfast had an omelette station, more fruit than you could imagine, a juice station with all different types of juice. I thought that the steakhouse was average as was the Italian...my family ate at the Asian, but I got too drunk and called it a night.
As for bar service, never had to wait long for a drink. The sports bar is open 24-7, and serves espresso, and has snacks, sandwiches. The Filadelphia bar seems to be open most of the day, and the bar at the back of the stage area is open at night. So all and all, for you lushes, the bar is always open! ....that incudes a drink dispenser, and beers stocked in the mini-fridge in your room, which seems to be restocked every other day.
Regarding tips, we did so at every meal and every so often when being served at the bar, for the maid. I saw many others doing the same.
As for tours, there are several options in the lobby, as are many on the beach. I think in all cases, booking multiple tours with the same outfit will yield a discount. We used LAR Transports on one occassion, which gives you the most flexibility, and a smaller group. I personally don't enjoy being part of a tour bus. As for the tours on the beach, the prices can be more flexible.
There was an open market on the beach where tee-shirts, pottery, cigars, etc... were sold. I found the prices decent, and similar to what was being sold in Coco beach.
As for daily activites, there were many: from Bingo, to Spanish lessons, pool volleyball, beach volleyball, water arobics, the daily goofy game that involved drinking, and general silliness.....but if you just want to relax, no problem....the pool is HUGE, and the beach uncrowded.
We stayed in a Family Suite, the reason why this place popped up on my radar. Travelling with two kids, everyone needs a bed. The room consisted of our bedroom, with a king size bed, TV, and balcony, and one bathroom, and the other bedroom with two twin beds, and a pull out sofa, and their own bathroom. Soap is supplied, as is there is a shampoo dispenser in the bathtub, but no conditioner. All in all, plenty of room....FYI, we were in room 3082, which is on the stage side (evening entertainment) of the resort....I found the noise on some nights to be a bit much. So if you are a light sleeper and go to bed early this might not be the place to stay, and stay on the other end, although I don't know how much the sound travels over there, so I can't speak from experience. As for the evening entertainment....ehhh. Lets just say I give then an "A" for effort, and they are rehearsing through out the day.
Last but not least: the resort is isolated. If you want to take a public bus, it either requires a taxi three miles up, or walk. It is nothing like Coco beach where you can bar hop, shop, etc...there is always renting a car, or taking tours from the hotel as we did.....may I add about the tours; we booked everything when we got there. Nothing was pre-booked, and we had no problem with availablity.
As for the "atrocities" that has been discussed ad nauseam about the Riu resort; I talked to many in my travels, and didn't get the sense of it being what it is portryed as. Obviously, I am only getting a "swatch" of perspective, but as I said earlier in another post, with polarizing views the truth using lies somewhere in the middle. I think there are many who do not like what the Riu represents: the Bermuda shorts, complaining about how hot it is, and the food isn't like what we eat at home crowd. With that said, I saw very few that fell into "that" bucket. There is also the flip side: a big resort, employing many in the area, filling up tours with an influx of $$$ going to other parts of the country. With that said, it is not the only game in town, just the biggest...but being the biggest, it drops on many people's radar, as I have know others who have stayed here, and others looking to stay here.....not to mention, a better value than most of the other AI options in the area for the room type we received, as most did not offer a two bedroom suite, and if they did, costing thousands more.
So there you go...a beautiful Costa Rican vacation. I would go back....maybe during the rainy season for a change of pace, for more lush surroundings....maybe stay at the Riu again if the price is right, or rent a beach home somewhere.