Some Club Med Basics

(In random order)

Hands up!

Summer camp
The closest way to describe the Club Med experience is: summer camp for adults. If you go into it with this expectation you'll be better off. I met one guy that said "If I'd known it was summer camp, I'd been OK. But I wanted a real hotel". Club Med is about meeting people, doing sports, and relaxing away from day to day life. Remember, every Club is always the same, but different; and is certainly not reality.

Those that work at the Club are referred to as a 'GO' - staff, gentils organisateurs. The people that spend money to go to the Club are a 'GM' - guests, gentils membres. The 'Chef de Village' is the head honcho. All Club sites are referred to as a 'village'. You don't even think about the terms after a while. Always remember that Club Med is a French outfit and can, and will, do things just a bit different.

American zone
The definition of "American zone" is 'those villages that are directly sold and advertised with a full air & land package from the US'. This they do for the two Tahiti villages, but not Phuket or Lindeman or ....

The transition
GOs work a six month contract at one village, then they are sent to another village for the next six months; so on and so on. The 'transition' takes place around May and October. This rotation is intended to 'stir the pot' and insure that the GO team doesn't get stale. The total change out usually takes about a month. If you go during a transition (many of mine have been) it can sometimes be disconcerting. That fantastic sailing instructor you were with yesterday isn't there today and the new guy replacing him doesn't have a clue.

I usually don't bring very much cash. Certainly anything purchased within the village, can be signed for and settled with a credit card at the end of the stay. If you plan on doing much shopping outside the village, especially in small shops, then some cash would be needed.

Bring a watch
I know this sounds like a contradiction of the Club Med theme, but I've found it essential. I don't wear a watch at home, but I do at Club Med. Events happen at certain times and you need to be there. Some sports like sailing or wind-surfing don't matter; just show up and go. However the SCUBA boat will not, by any means, wait for you. If you find you really don't need it, take it off, but it's good to bring one with you.

The NEW Total All-inclusive (for the American Zone only)
Please skip the next three sections if you'll be doing a Total All-inclusive village.
NOTE: Club Med has reciently decided to reduce the meaning of 'Total'. Be aware that bottled water and bottled sports drinks now cost extra. Go figure, you can drink as much scotch as you want, but if you want to take a bottle of water back to the room they make you pay for it; assuming the boutique is still open.

All-inclusive, but what costs extra?
Club Med invented the concept of 'all-inclusive', but some of the Jamaican resorts have taken the concept to an even further level. The most notable 'extra cost' at Club Med, is the bar. Drinks (beer and wine) are included (free) at lunch and dinner, in the restaurants ONLY; it is free flowing there. ANYTHING at the bar costs extra. This includes alcoholic drinks, bottled water, soda, tea; anything. Excursions and items from the boutique cost extra; same with the Jamaican super clubs. Horseback riding, golf, and scuba are the three sports that cost extra. Horses have always been extra (that I can remember), but scuba was added a few years ago. The costs for scuba equipment and boats are high, so why should it be passed on to non-scuba GMs; maybe it's justified. Massage, though technically not an excursion is treated like one, and so, also costs extra. Can a person do a Club Med without incurring any 'extra costs'? I think, yes. The bar is the danger spot. I think this is the major distinction between Club Med and the more-all-inclusive Jamaican super clubs. If you are a power drinker, head for Jamaica. If you want to drink sociably, then Club Med may be more for you.

The bar tickets / bar beads
Anything at the bar you pay for with Club Med bar tickets (a small booklet of paper coupon like things); this even includes soft drinks or bottled water. In the past, bar beads (popit beads) were used, but are now replaced by the paper tickets. The tickets are more compact, but don't jump in the pool with a booklet in your pocket. Paper or beads, they come in three colors (or denominations) that represent 1, 1/2, 1/4. Next question is: '1' what? Sorry, can't answer that. It depends on where and when; you have to figure it out each visit. Once you buy them they are yours, they can't be refunded. I always like to come home with a few tickets/beads so I'll be ready for anything when I get to the next village.

If you haven't seen'em before:
bar tickets Tickets Beads bar beads

The bar bracelet
After an experimental test at Playa Blanca and Sonora Bay villages called 'More For Less', Club Med has rolled out the 'bar bracelet'. For an extra cost you can buy a bracelet that allows unlimited drinks (bar brand) at the bar; for the week. The convenience alone of not bothering with tickets, might make it worthwhile. But there are things the bracelet doesn't get you, like premium liquors or bottled water or a late night snack next to the disco, you need tickets for those. There is no refund if you decide later it isn't for you. In Club Med's own words, the reason for the bar bracelet is " strengthen the 'all inclusive' concept". Personally I find the cost of the bracelet quite pricey - it varies at each village. You've got to be a pretty big drinker in order to make the bracelet pay for itself.

The food
Some all-inclusive resorts have less than enticing food. I've never found this to be a problem at Club Med. I can always find items to my liking; usually way too many. Most people list the food at Club Med as a high point. The meals are buffet style and each day has a different theme (Asian, French, Tex-Mex, Fish, Etc...); though some of the annex restaurants offer 'served at the table' service. Most villages now offer breakfast, late breakfast, lunch, late lunch, and dinner. There are only a few hours late in the day that you can't eat. Even at these times there is usually a small snack bar where you can buy a burger or something (pay with beads). Some villages (like Cancun) open breakfast much earlier than the announced 7AM; this is for the early departing excursions. If your arrival at a village is late they will frequently find something for you to eat.

Meal seating
The seating is random and the tables are for eight; it's a nice way to meet lots of new people. This is my favorite aspect of the Club Med experience. For singles traveling alone, it's very pleasant. Many of the annex restaurants have smaller more intimate tables for two or four. I personally prefer the main dining room with the large tables. While being seated the hostess will ask you 'Smoking or Non'. I don't smoke (and smoke doesn't bother me), but I always try to spend one day per week having meals in the smoking section, just to meet some of the people I might otherwise miss. Sometimes you'll be asked if you would prefer a table that speaks english (or not). This might only mean that the first person that sat down at the table responded in english, the conversation may be in german the rest of the meal; all part of the international flavor. If the hostess doesn't ask about your language preference, don't be bashful, there is nothing worse than spending a meal in oblivion.

Does this really deserve its own subsection? I think so. One of the pluses of Club Med being a French company, is their attention to bread. Sounds silly until you see the bread table during dinner. There is always a fantastic selection and variety of breads; with a rather pleased looking baker standing behind the table. It's a big treat for me.
One last thought - white chocolate bread. Mmmmmm!

White Chocolate Bread Recipe (from 2004 at Turkoise)
1kg (2.2lb) flour
10gr (1 tsp) yeast
10gr (1 tsp) sugar
20gr (2 tsp) salt
600ml (2.5 cups) water
600ml (2.5 cups) white chocolate chips
Mix the flour, yeast and sugar with the water for 15 minutes.
Add the salt and mix again for 5 minutes.
Add the white chocolate chips and mix again for 5 minutes.
Bake at 160c (320f) degrees for 20 minutes (baking time should not exceed 25 minutes).

Americans have this TERRIBLE habit of lining up (queuing). It's inbred in us. So when you are at Club Med and getting dinner, remember the French saying "There are no lines at Club Med". Americans have this notion that you work your way down a buffet table, one item at a time. This just slows everything down. The French would just cut right in, get what they want, and get out. Way faster for everyone. Watch for it, you'll see what I mean.

The rooms
Spartan. Think back to your dorm room in college and you'll be very close to the rooms at most Club Meds. They are intended for one purpose only (well maybe two). There is a room safe to stash your valuables; two safes actually, in case there is a roommate. Most rooms have two beds, that might be twin size or double, depending on the village. Most villages have a few rooms that have a single large bed, you'll need to ask for these. You might want to bring a couple of clothes hangers, as they never have enough. The maids keep them nice and clean. Of course, most of the rooms could be cleaned with a fire hose.

Dress code
Comfortable casual. You go to Club Med to relax and enjoy, none of this crap about a jacket and tie for dinner. They try to position the 'Club Med Finest' (like Columbus Isle) as a little fancy. I think that's bunk. During my visits everyone seemed to be dressed the same as any other Club Med. For myself, it's usually something like a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of shorts. My old girlfriend would dress pretty similar. Some ladies wear skirts, some shorts, and some pants. I'd say, dress whatever is comfortable for you and it'll be just fine.

Tipping is not allowed. Not now, never has been, and there never will be tipping at Club Med.

Traveling alone
Club Med makes it easy. Assuming you are doing the full air/land package, there will be a Club Med person (GO) at the airport when you land, they'll get you to the village, and take care of any problems. They will match you up with a roommate, which is nice, because you have someone you can relate to right from the start. The tables in the dining room are for eight and this makes it VERY easy to meet new people. Warning for nonsmokers: with the usual European attitude toward smoking, they will NOT ask if sharing a room with a smoker is OK.

Membership fee
This should have gone away a loooong time ago. I look at it as a 'tax'. For a person going to Club Med for the first time, they say "What, on top of what you've already quoted me I have to pay an extra $55US just to go! For what?". I find it ridiculous. The European catalog states the same fees for the English as 14 pounds (8 initiation + 6 annual membership); or about $21US. Germans pay nothing. The catalog states that "As a member of Club Med, you'll receive travel insurance coverage". That is NOT correct! You only receive the insurance if you buy the full land/air package, not for land only. So in reality, the insurance has nothing to do with the membership fee. It's just a tax that offers no benefits.

Full land/air package vs land only
Club Med focuses it's sales (and advertisement) on the full land/air package. This includes air fare from a gateway city, all transfers to and from the village, and any departure taxes; in addition to the land package. There will be a Club Med person at the airport when you're departing (most of the time) and another (GO) at the destination airport. This person will make sure that your luggage is transferred and guide you to the waiting transportation. Near the end of your stay, they will post notices (usually near the travel office) about the departure times from the village. The full land/air package makes for a hassle-free (no brain'er) vacation. There are some villages that I would not recommend traveling to, any other way; Playa Blanca being one example. The down side is that you are forced to make the vacation in blocks of 7 days (1 week, 2 weeks, etc..). Also the flight will leave sometime Friday through Monday, and you have no choice in the matter. If you want to spend 10 days at a village, then you are forced to be an 'Independent Arrival' and take the land only package. Some villages (like Cancun) are a breeze to arrive independently. Just remember that you'll be arranging you own flight(s), finding your own taxi to get you to and from the village, and remembering to keep enough cash for the departure tax (if any); possibly in a country that doesn't speak English. Do I, personally, do the full land/air package, or travel independent? It depends. Some villages (like Playa Blanca or Moorea), I've always done the full package. I look at the length of stay, the day of the week that I'll be departing/arriving, the cost of purchasing my own air fare vs the charter, and the hassle factor involved.

Booking directly through Club Med vs a travel agent
If you currently have a good travel agent that is knowledgeable about Club Med (hopefully has visited one), then there's no decision; the agent rightfully deserves every penny of his/her commission. But, I don't believe there are very many that fit the rule of 'knowledgeable'. If you call Club Med directly, you will be talking to a sales person that has been to one or more villages, has been trained on the others, and understands the Club Med experience; you can't say that about the average travel agent. The problem with finding a travel agent, is that you may not know that you've got a bad one until it's too late. The main detraction with going direct, is simply money. You will always be paying the 'rack' rate. These days, the prices in the catalog are more like 'ballpark', rather than a fixed price. I've seen some travel agents offering $100 off, or they may pick up the membership fee, or pick up the price of a scuba package. Another important aspect is flexibility. Most Club Med full land/air bookings revolve around charter flights from gateway cities; if you don't fit their schedule - tough. A good (knowledgeable) travel agent can sometimes bend things in your favor. Let me give you an example. On a recent CM trip I wanted to do the full land/air package, mainly because of the travel insurance. But, I didn't like the flight arrangements at all. I discussed some alternative flights with my travel agent that I much preferred, and said see what you can do. A while later I got a call and my agent said that he had saved me $400, and gotten the flights that I wanted, and he had gotten Club Med to approve the flights as part of the full land/air package; there by getting me the insurance and the ground transportation. Perfect. You would not get that from Club Med directly, nor from a agent that didn't understand Club Med.

Club Med touts itself as one of the largest sports organizations in the world. They have sports instruction for all levels. If you've always thought about learning how to [fill in sport here], Club Med can teach you.

Circus: Many people return again and again to Club Med just because of their circus program. How many other vacation resorts (non-ClubMed) can say that they have flying trapeze with full instruction. Even if you're not interested in participating (or scared), it's fun to watch. The villages that have circus usually focus one (or two) of the evening shows on the program.

Snorkeling: It's a rare village that doesn't have snorkeling. Most villages have a boat trip to snorkeling sites once or twice a day. Nowadays they make you wear a life vest for safety.

Tennis: Good players should bring some balls (I don't mean that weird). The tropical heat takes a toll and the tennis balls that the village has, quickly go flat. Virtually all (3 don't) of the Club Med's world wide offer tennis.

Beach Towels
Beach towels are available (against deposit). They will charge you $20US if you lose your towel; this could be a problem with kids. You can exchange the towel for a clean one, anytime through out the day.

The evening show
Every night after dinner there's a show. Go to them. They're not Broadway by any stretch, but they're fun. OK, some are stupid and some are downright bad, but I do go to them anyway and I do enjoy them (except for Grease). I've seen every skit they've ever done, many times; I still laugh - maybe the wine helps. If you can, be part of the GM Show (we're GMs, those that work there are GOs; remember); it's silly, but what the hell. Have I ever done the GM show? No. Should you? Yes (I'll be in the audience watching).

Crazy Signs
At the end of every evenings show, they do 'Crazy Signs'. Sort of a ritual hand signing put to the sound of 'Hands Up'. I can't even write these words without the song going through my head. This is a Club Med tradition. Some people love it and really get into it, others bolt for the nearest exit. I bolt.

The picnic
The weekly picnic has been an infamous tradition at Club Med; talk to anyone that went on one 15 years ago. It is NOT the same today. You will NOT be swapping your bathing suit with the girl next to you. The purpose of the picnic is NOT to get you face down in the sand drunk. The picnics are much tamer nowadays. These are the more sensible 90's/00's.

There are exceptions - Playa Blanca '99

Wake up call
If you need a wake up call you can sign up at the hostess/reception desk. Someone will show up at your door the next morning and start pounding. He will NOT go away. You need to get out of bed, open the door, and sign your name where he's pointing. It's very effective. I've never slept through one.

If SCUBA is all that you're interested in and you are wanting to do 5 dives a day, you'll be frustrated with Club Med. They are geared for SCUBA being part of your day, not the reason for it. If you haven't been diving for a year they will ask you to do a checkout dive. This just means doing your first dive in a group with an instructor; no big deal. If you haven't been diving for two or more years they will ask you to do a refresher dive. It's just simple stuff, take the mask off and back on, clear the reg, make neutral buoyancy, etc... They usually take your word for it rather than checking log books. Bring your 'C' card, they WILL ask to see that. All of their boats have bars under the boat at 15 feet for a safety stop. They do ask that everyone do a 3 to 5 minute safety stop; standard drill. The gear the Club supplies is usually in fair, but well used condition; I've never had a problem using their reg and BC. I bring my own mask and fins though, just because they fit right. You don't really need a suit, but I always bring one (3/2mm). Sonora Bay is a different story. Depending on the time of the year, the water can be cold enough that you'll want a 7mm suit or so warm it's almost uncomfortable. You will usually need to sign up for your first dive, the evening before. Then after each dive, you'll drop your plastic chip in the appropriate tube for the next days dive. You can pay by the dive or buy the dive package (6 days of diving). The SCUBA operation varies quite a lot depending on the current Chief of Scuba at each village. Don't expect the same experience even if you return to the same village a year later. The SCUBA GOs are usually pretty good. They have to deal with plenty of, how to put in nicely, novice divers. I give them a lot of credit for not strangling some/most of them.

ClubMed SCUBA Rules
Using a Computer Using a Watch (tables)
1st dive 130 foot max / 45 minutes max 100 foot max / 45 minutes max
2nd dive 70 foot max / 40 minutes max 50 foot max / 40 minutes max

SCUBA doctor
This is one of those little known facts. Club Med likes to have a doctor on-board the SCUBA boat for safety reasons, but they don't want to pay for a full time position. If you are a doctor and you dive, Club Med will give you free room and board just for going on the boat. You can dive if you want, or not. What a deal. Stay for a month or two for free. Note: this is not a 'free week at Club Med' kind of thing, they do want a longer commitment than that.

Attractions of the earlier Club Med experience, that are now GONE

Top 10 (stupid) questions GMs ask the GOs every single week

  1. Do you work here?
  2. How long have you worked for Club Med?
  3. How many villages have you been to? ...and what are they?
  4. How long have you been at this village?
  5. Do you really have to leave after six months?
  6. Do they make you do the shows?
  7. Do you get any days off?
  8. Do you really work all day and all night long?
  9. Do you have to speak French?
  10. Can you have sex with the GMs?

Top 5 (stupid) questions new GMs ask other GMs (hopefully only the first day)

  1. What do the different colored tickets/beads mean?
  2. How much does a drink cost?
  3. What does GO mean?
  4. Is the water OK to drink? (as they're having a drink with ice in it)
  5. Are you a GO? (only if you are tan)

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