Discovering Club Med in Punta Cana
By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
If you’ve vacationed in the Caribbean in the last few decades – particularly if you visited Jamaica or the Dominican Republic – it’s likely that you stayed in an all-inclusive resort. The all-you-can-everything concept has been popular in the Caribbean since the ‘70s. But it didn’t start here.
The French hotel company Club Méditerranée (Club Med) invented the concept in 1950, and now has 70 resorts all over the world, including five in our part of the world (in Cancun, Mexico; the Turks and Caicos Islands; the Bahamas; Martinique; and the Dominican Republic).
I’ve stayed at dozens of all-inclusives over the years but have never checked into a Club Med. So when I had the opportunity to spend a few days at Club Med Punta Cana earlier this month I was intrigued to see how the French version of the concept translates in the Caribbean. Is there a Club Med Difference? Here’s what I found:
THE CLEAVAGE It feels adolescent to cite this differential first but truly, it was the most obvious departure from the usual island all-inc experience to see topless women lounging nonchalantly by the pool and beach, as is the norm in France. I’m no prude so it wasn’t an issue for me – nor for any of the other guests, as far as I could tell – but if public nudity makes you uncomfortable, you may have to adjust your attitude (or find another resort).
THE CUISINE All-inclusive aficionados know that the food at most resorts has come a long way from their all-buffet-all-the-time beginnings, and its rare that hotels don’t offer at least one a la carte restaurant. (At many Sandals’ resorts, for example, dining options number in the teens.) So I shouldn’t have been surprised that the standard of the food at Club Med Punta Cana was exceptional. But I was. Who could have anticipated that on the dinner buffet at the casual eatery Samana (one of three restaurants on property), a chef would be searing fois gras (and I’m talking lobes of duck liver here, not a paté or terrine) to order and serving them with tropical fruit coulis? At Samana and on the buffet line in Hispaniola, there was no serving yourself from a giant dish of chicken casserole or grilled fish; each entrée was individually plated in front of you and embellished with a garnish. It’s an elegant presentation I’ve never experienced at any other hotel buffet. And at beachfront Indigo, the sole a la carte restaurant, the service and food were as fine as any I’ve enjoyed elsewhere – with the immediate presentation of fresh croissants, pastries and preserves at breakfast offering a welcome and classically French flourish.
THE SMOKING Are you a smoker? Do you feel marginalized in public places, forced to light up in unattractive, out-of-the-way rooms? You won’t here, where there’s a variety of appealing outdoor lounges for the heavily European clientele to socialize at over a smoke. Best of all: they’re cleverly placed so that non-smokers like me aren’t forced to share the habit. Magnifique!
THE DRESS CODE Club Med guests are a fiercely loyal tribe, with a set of norms all their own. Not only do they covet and proudly wear those 45 T-shirts (see my story here), the die-hards also happily follow a daily dress code. So just as the staff wear different colors every evening, so too, do the guests. At CMPC, that meant red and white on Saturday night and blue and white on Monday. And sure enough, at least half the guests I saw conformed to code. Cute or cult-y? You be the judge.
THE ROOMS I can remember hearing many years ago that Club Med rooms were pretty Spartan; just no-frills spaces in which to lay your head after a long day of outdoor activities. I don’t know if that was ever true but I can say that my quarters were anything but basic. Part of the Zen Oasis, the adults-only section of the resort that opened last December, my digs were spacious, light-filled and stylish, decorated in a vaguely European contemporary style. I loved the glass bathroom enclosure with its egg-shaped tub and giant rain shower. But the feature that impressed me the most was the Bluetooth speakers over the bed and in the bathroom, which transformed my suite into a club with one swipe across my iPhone. But even the resort’s entry-level accommodations were comfortable and clean, if not quite as plush as those in the Zen enclave. So if you’re worried that your room won’t be up to snuff, don’t be.
THE BOTTOM LINE A Club Med Caribbean vacation offers the features and amenities you’d expect from any other mid to high-end all-inclusive chain, with a few unexpected touches. Most are perks, some you may consider quirks. But, as the French say: Vive la difference!