By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
The French pioneers of the all-inclusive vacation, Club Méditerranée (Club Med) has 70 resorts all over the world, including half a dozen in the Caribbean (in Cancun, Mexico; the Turks and Caicos Islands; the Bahamas; Guadeloupe, Martinique; and the Dominican Republic). We recently visited the company’s Bahamian hotel, Club Med Columbus Isle on the sleepy outpost of San Salvador, to sample their version of what has since become a ubiquitous way of vacationing in the Caribbean. It’s a bit of a secret resort, one that’s not often on the map for all inclusive travelers. Here’s what we loved about it.
THE LOCATION On the west coast of this tiny out island (63 square-miles, pop: 1,200) Club Med is just steps from the airport. The entrance is literally across the road from the airstrip and guests have been known to walk straight out of the terminal to their rooms. Staff stationed at a desk at the airport hand you your room key and tie on your ribbon bracelet the moment you exit Baggage Claim, so who can blame them?
THE BEACH The islands of the Bahamas are known for their beaches, each setting the standard for that classic Caribbean combo of powdery white sand and warm blue water. And Club Med’s sweep on Bonefish Bay is no exception. Guests here enjoy more than a mile of coastline, a sandy scallop embellished with crushed pink shells and washed by a sea striated with every hue of blue. What better way to pass the day than under a bimini-shaded chaise, watching seagulls swoop in a sunny sky?
THE BUNGALOWS All 236 suites at the resort are comfortable and spacious, housed in two-story Crayola-colored buildings with fretwork trim, each facing the sea or manicured gardens. While, as you’d expect, second-floor oceanview rooms are priced at a premium, we’re fans of the 20 entry-level bungalows on the ground floor at the property’s rear. That’s because they were renovated last year, and now boast colorful and contemporary décor with walk-in showers and closets; a daybed and desk; a private patio; and a striking headboard with integrated lighting, electrical outlets and USB ports for all-important bedside iPhone charging. In time all the remaining rooms will be upgraded to the new standard, but for now we’ll forgo the sea view (the Caribbean’s only three minutes’ walk away, after all!) for the comfort and privacy of these charming garden cloisters.
THE SPA Back in 2012 Club Med opened the first L’Occitane-branded spa in the Caribbean at its Punta Cana resort. It was followed by the one here on San Salvador, which, although much smaller (just six treatment rooms), delivers the same muscle-melting massages and rejuvenating facial treatments as its Dom Rep sister, all using the French company’s natural products. It’s been a few days since we sampled the Columbus Isle signature massage (masterfully administered by therapist Lethera) yet we’re still feeling the muscle-melting effects. Spa treatments aren’t included in the resort’s rates, but reasonable prices (our 60-minute massage was $130) make them add-ons well worth considering.
LA PINTA LOUNGE There are plenty of places on property to sit and survey the scene (the beach and Azul beach bar being popular spots, of course). But our favorite perch for leisurely contemplation of the sand (with a cocktail in hand) is La Pinta. On the upper floor of the newly renovated Sea Centre (the dive shop and gym is below), La Pinta’s veranda is the perfect place to settle into an easy chair and watch the SCUBA boat come and go as clouds float silently above the horizon. Savor the ocean breeze, order a purple La Pinta cocktail (coconut liqueur, blue Curaçao, and cranberry juice with a twist of lime), and watch the sunset from this west-facing oasis. Before you know it it’ll be time for dinner – and the tapas-style spread at adjoining La Pinta restaurant is just steps away.
THE CUISINE If you’re one of those people who still thinks dining at an all-inclusive means mediocre food, think again. While breakfast lunch and dinner at Christopher’s (one of two restaurants) was mainly buffet-style, the choices were top-quality and varied with something for even the pickiest eaters. We enjoyed imported cheeses; fresh-baked bread and pastries (that white chocolate brioche … mon dieu!); and made-to-order sweet and savory crepes on the line at breakfast. And dinner revealed a smorgasbord of worthwhile dietary splurges, from crab claws and lobster risotto to foie gras and beef Bourguignon. We loved the family-style tapas dinners at La Pinta, as well as the daily brunch (a mix of buffet and à la minute cooking stations), which starts at 10 a.m. and is a boon for late risers.
THE CULTURE In a sea of “samey” all-inclusives there are still some things that are specific to the Club Med culture. From what they call their staff (“G.O.s,” an abbreviations of gentil organisateurs, which means gracious host in French) and guests (G.Ms, or gentil membres, gracious members) to the themed nights when the entire “village” dresses in the same color, these quirks are what differentiate their hotels from the competition. And while some may find them more cult-ish than cute, we think the repertoire of daily Crazy Signs (line dances to popular songs) and the infectiously enthusiastic attitude of its staff (they line up along the driveway and wave goodbye when you leave) to be refreshing and charming.
THE BOTTOM LINE Club Med Columbus Isle is a solid choice for travelers in search of a value-packed all-inclusive holiday on one of the Caribbean’s best beaches.