Who remembers that Club Med commercial from the ’90s (or was it the ’80s and I’m in denial about how old I am)?
Hands up, baby, hands up!
I immediately think of it whenever that song happens to come on the radio, and if someone talks about Club Med, I inevitably start humming that tune. Good advertising works.
Whatever images you conjure in your mind when you think of Club Med, trust me: they’re all true. Having just spent three glorious nights at Club Med Punta Cana, the picture of that carefree sarong floating in the wind is every bit the reality.
There is so, so, so much good to report…so get comfortable.
I have to start with the food, because having been to about 10 all-inclusive resorts throughout the Caribbean and Mexico to date, the food is always what varies most wildly in terms of the overall experience. And while food quality and diversity isn’t the most important aspect of a vacation for some people, for others (like me) it’s absolutely my number one consideration. I’m a foodie; I love food. And if the food is mediocre or too repetitive, it’s gonna be a long week. So I can’t say enough about how truly spectacular the food is at Club Med Punta Cana. You can see some of the photos I took in the slideshow below, but some of the highlights include:
- The white chocolate bread. OMG. If you can even imagine the glorious combination of the freshest, doughiest ACE Bakery baguette you’ve ever eaten with melted white chocolate running through it, you might have the basic understanding of the deliciousness that is Club Med’s white chocolate bread
- Grilled sardines. Even if you don’t like canned sardines, I challenge you to try the grilled beauties here. They were grilled to salty perfection and I probably ate at least six in four days
- All-you-can-eat lobster during Friday night’s gala feast
- Blue marlin ceviche that melts in your mouth
- Grilled perch in an Asian-inspired orange-ginger sauce. And if you’re a fish-lover, you know how hard it can be to cook fish just enough to ensure doneness without making it too dry. Having eaten fish for at least one meal every day we were there, I only had one piece of fish that wasn’t exactly right
- The crepe station. The set-up is reminiscent of Marché‘s, with two crepes being cooked to golden-brown loveliness surrounded by fresh fruit and toppings like chocolate sauce and whipped cream
- Salad and fruit stations that aren’t just brimming with gorgeous fruits and veg, but are staffed. What does this mean? You pick your fruit and a Club Med “G.O.” (what the staffers who work here are called) will pit it, peel it and put it on your plate for you. Fancy a salad? Just pluck the various leaves from the bowls around the salad bar, choose from an array of fresh herbs and every vegetable you can fathom and hand over your plate to the G.O. behind the bar. Watch as your salad is diced and chopped and tossed with your preferred dressing
Club Med Punta Cana is only 10 minutes from the airport! Wow. I’ve never stayed at a resort so close to the airport. It was brilliant because it felt like we landed, hopped in a cab, and arrived. Because we did.
Check-in was outstanding. We pulled up in our minivan (arranged through Club Med for $9 per passenger) and handed our resort voucher to staff who have a curbside kiosk. They took and labelled our bags and invited us to head into the lobby about 50 feet away. We were greeted by Elisa, from Italy, who showed us to a seating area that had a welcome sign on it customized for us, and she also offered us non-alcoholic welcome cocktails (which were divine, made with fresh passion fruit). This kind of relaxed check-in was ideal after a long journey with two little kids who were awoken at 3 a.m. to start travelling. Our room wasn’t quite ready, so Elisa showed us to the nearest restaurant where we ate lunch. As soon as our room was ready, we were reunited with our luggage and whisked off to our building in a golf cart.
The basic Club Room Family is perfect for a family of four with kids who are still comfortable in a day bed. I loved how the kids’ room was able to be hidden away by pocket doors, leaving Big B and I some privacy or the ability to lounge in bed and read or watch TV while the kids slept. The balcony was also a really good size. If you’re the kind of family who wants a lot of living space with a separate sitting area, though, book a bigger room. We are not that family. We’re in our room to sleep and shower.
And, oh! The walk-in closet…huge. Enough room to totally unpack and stow all of your luggage. This makes having a smaller amount of “living” space in the room totally manageable because you haven’t got your bags strewn all over the place.
The room key/credit card combo was a blessing and a curse. But mostly a blessing. There’s no cash transactions on the resort, so your credit card can be linked up to your room key (which looks and functions like a credit card). This made it far too easy to shop. Convenience is KING!
Kids under four stay for free. Yes, free. And kids between the ages of four and 10 stay for 50 per cent off. This is true not only of Club Med Punta Cana but of Club Med as a whole. Across all 71 resorts around the world. This makes vacationing much more affordable for families. The catch is that the onsite kids’ club for the under-four set (either Baby Club Med or Petit Club Med) will set you back about $500 (per week) if you want to take advantage of child care.
I know some people don’t like it when properties exclude the locals from the beach zone, but if you prefer not to be bothered by peddlars hawking cheap sunglasses, beads and other wares while you’re trying to relax on the beach, you can rest easy here. But because there are no locals walking the beach, you’re going to pay top dollar for something like braids. Even though we paid about $30 for Miss Q’s half-head of braids (a must to tame ocean-and-sand-tangled little-girl hair), we felt in good, safe hands with a local woman from Higuey who Club Med has hired to weave braids in the lobby. And we still met plenty of other (wonderful) locals, too, working throughout the resort.
Club Med Punta Cana has a really intimate feeling. With only 500 or so rooms to be had, it makes sense. It was easy to find seats at every meal; it was easy to get drinks at every bar; it was easy to find sun loungers (even those with full shade) well into the morning every day (if you find a tiki hut you love, you’re still best to get out there and reserve it by about 9 a.m. Just don’t try to take over the big one on the beach or you’ll return after breakfast to find it occupied by the Petit Club Med members!). Nothing ever felt crowded, and we often saw the same couples and families day after day, breeding a lovely familiarity throughout our stay.
Everything, everywhere was clean. And someone was always cleaning or manicuring something.
We love, love, LOVED the international feel at Club Med. We met G.O.s from Italy, France, Haiti, the States and Canada. It was awesome to hear about the journey that led each of them to Punta Cana, and talk to our kids about different parts of the world. Big B and I are pretty well-travelled and instilling a spirit of cultural curiosity in our children is really important. Clearly, it’s important to Club Med, too.
We kept seeing a lot of families with the same kind of stroller, so I finally stopped one of them and asked them about it. Turns out, any family who books a room at Club Med Punta Cana and has a member of the family who is two or under arrives to find their room equipped with both a pack ‘n play and a stroller. This will be very welcome news for any parent who was planning to pack up a playpen and a stroller for vacation.
While we read several reviews before we left complaining that the resort is predominantly French-speaking, we didn’t find it an issue at all. And, trust me, despite being Canadians we are not French speakers (beyond simple counting and some basics like “Where’s the toilet?”). It did seem that one of the most common languages spoken among the G.O.s was French, they all speak at least one extra language (and often more), so between gestures and trial and error with our broken French and Spanish (thanks, Dora and Diego!), we always managed to communicate. If you’re expecting to speak English 100 per cent of the time at Club Med Punta Cana and be understood 100 per cent of the time, forget about it. It’s not going to happen. You will need to make an effort depending on who you’re speaking to and what you need, but for us that’s a fun challenge. The kids learned some extra French and Spanish as a result, and that was such a great bonus for us.
The beach is a great size for little legs. Kids will be able to run from one end to the other and still be well within eye-shot. And the water is very, very calm. So calm that for kids who are comfortable in the water, you won’t feel like you need to have them in life jackets. The water does get deep-ish fairly quickly, though, so be sure to be within arm’s reach.
There was always something to do, all day long and well into the night. No matter how old you are. In between meals (which I again must stress were truly outstanding), we found ourselves doing archery; trying out the circus school where we tested gravity on the flying trapeze; swimming in the enormous pool that goes from mere inches of water at one end to about six feet at the other a few hundred feet away; and we danced well into the night to DJs or live bands (with the kids!) every night of our stay. You could also try a SCUBA lesson in the pool, play tennis, go windsurfing and sailing and so much more. I even did an aquafit class that was really good.
There are two buffet-style restaurants. If you feel you must be served meals, this resort does not offer anything but buffets. But I’d personally rather have phenomenal food that I get myself rather than good food that’s handed to me by a server. There’s still wait staff available to fetch beverages, cutlery and bus tables. Don’t worry.
A help-yourself wine fridge is available in each restaurant, too. Step one: open the fridge. Step two: choose from white, red or rosé. Step three: drink. This is a good thing.
The gym looked really nice. I peeked in. Once.
If you’re a runner, bring your sneakers. There are numerous paved pathways that wind through Club Med Punta Cana’s beautiful property. I can only imagine that they’re suitable for runners. I can only imagine it because, alas, I do not run. Not even a little. Unless someone is chasing me, and even then I’ll think twice about it.
But because of all those paved pathways, your little runners’ knees might take a beating. Miss Q’s were a complete mess by day three. Take Band-Aids! (Or use the onsite nurse at the Wellness Centre.)
Bring water-friendly shoes for your kids if they typically have sensitive feet. The beach is a bit rocky in spots along the shore and even a few feet in here and there. Nothing an adult or older child can’t handle barefoot but smaller kids who aren’t accustomed to that bumpy feeling may be bothered.
You should also bring kid-friendly cups if you have little ones. The disposable plastic cups (which are put out after the sturdier reusable cups are all taken) at the resort are pretty flimsy and we had our fair share of spillage because of them.
Remember everything, lest ye need to shop at the onsite shops. And, oh, how they’ll call to you! Some of the stuff Club Med sells in the boutiques is just beautiful. We were totally in shopping heaven and paid for it! A pair of Roxy flip-flops for Miss Q ran $45 (less than $20 at home); a pair of tropical-looking swim trunks for The K Man? Add $55 to our tab. I bought a beautiful beaded cotton cover-up for another $50.
I wish we’d known more about what was happening at the resort in advance, particularly when we went to one of the after-dinner parties to find 90 per cent of the crowd dressed in all white. It was, lo and behold, a “white party.” Yes, it would have been listed in the daily itinerary but even if we’d noticed that earlier in the day, we didn’t have enough white clothing with us to fully participate.
The water got kelp-y about 30 feet out, which prevented me from swimming too far out into the ocean. I hate the feeling of seaweed or other plant life touching me in the water. (Insert shudder here.) There was PLENTY of clear water for swimming, though, and I never felt stifled. It’s just worth mentioning if you have an aversion to any kelp washing up on shore.
Do some of the exteriors look a bit dated? Sure. Does that impact the quality of your vacation? Only if you’re a gecko living on the exterior walls of the buildings. All of the important things that make a great vacation (food, beach, service, cleanliness) are totally present. If you want perfection down to the stucco, then you probably aren’t looking for a well-priced family getaway like Club Med.