Club Med Cancun: A User’s Guide:
I spent a week at the Club Med from 18-25 May 2008 with my 12-year old daughter and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I’ll try to describe the main aspects of the club below for future visitors.
The Club Med experience.: Club Meds are very different from all other all-inclusive resorts, as they place enormous emphasis on high quality activities and facilitating socializing. There are basically three types of people at the club – the guests (called GMs – gracious members or, in French, gentilles membres), the activity staff (called GOs – gracious organizers or gentilles organisateurs) and the local staff. The GOs are international hires who are the heart and soul of the club. They are mostly 20-30 year olds who run all activities, sometimes work at the bar, run the kiddie clubs, eat in the buffet restaurant with the guests and facilitate socializing. In Cancun, the GOs came from about 20 countries – the largest contingents were from Brazil, Canada and Mexico, but there were also some from Israel, Switzerland, Belgium, Uruguay, USA, Japan, Morocco and elsewhere. The local staff are those who do the other jobs – room cleaning, dishwashing, lower-level cooks (the head cooks are almost invariably from France), etc. Club Meds are outstanding if you enjoy partaking in some activities, meeting new people and, in the “family Club Meds” like Cancun, if you have kids. If you are looking for a couch potato vacation with a partner and don’t want to do anything but lie on the beach and have intimate one-on-one meals at the restaurant, the Club Med would be fine for you but you will be paying a good deal for activities that you don’t use – your money would probably be better spent at a different type of resort. And if you want a true cultural experience – the feeling of being part of Mexican life – then avoid touristy all-inclusive resorts altogether.
Tipping. The Club Med is all-inclusive and people aren’t supposed to leave tips. That said, the local staff is surely paid local wages and we left tips for the maid with a note specifying that it was for her. The GOs have pretty strict limits on drinking and cannot go to the a la carte restaurants unless invited by a guest – offering to buy them drinks at the bar or nightclub, or inviting one to join you in the a la carte restaurant (you will need to reserve for them and you) is an easy, nice way to thank them.
The site and the location in Cancun.: The Cancun Club Med is located at the far southern end of the hotel strip. I heard that it was either the first or third hotel to be built in Cancun and they clearly got the best place in the area. For a neat old picture of the area when the club was being built in 1975, see http://www.eatonlink.net/CMcancun06/vintage.html and for a recent map of buildings and activity areas, see http://www.eatonlink.net/CMcancun06/bigmap.html. From these images, you can see that the Club is on a large strip of land shaped roughly like a “U” with the ocean on the outside and a lagoon on the inside of the U. It is a large park-like area with buildings only 2-3 stories high – very different from the denser hotels found elsewhere in Cancun. The way the land is shaped, waves break about 50 meters out from the swimming beach and the ocean was calm every day in front of the club – green and sometimes yellow flags, while 200 meters (yards) away at the chi-chi Sun Palace, their beach was cramped, their views far worse and they had red flags every single day we were there, meaning that swimming was forbidden. From what I’ve read, the side of Cancun that has the most beautiful ocean colors is on the Caribbean Sea coast – unlike the “top of the seven” (the northern beaches: look at a map of the area) – and the it also tends to have less sea lice(microscopic jelly fish) during the bad season, at the cost of having much rougher surf. The only place on the Caribbean side where you can swim every day, however, is the Club Med. The view from the Club is fantastic – probably the best in all of Cancun – and the water color is unreal. When we were there the club was a bit over half full and there were ample available comfortable seats in the shade – no need at all to get up early to “reserve” your chair. The beach area was also pretty large – uncrowded compared to most other places we saw. Farther down (south) the ocean-side, there is a snorkelling area – the only good place to snorkel in all of Cancun – and, farther still, a sailing beach area. In the lagoon there is water-skiing with crocodiles – I am not making this up. We saw a about 2 meter (6 feet long) crocodile in the lagoon and they make you sign a waiver stating that you will not sue the Club if anything bad happens to you. However, they also say that, in 30 years, no one has ever been attacked by a crocodile – they are scared of the boat motors. And the activity staff often water-skis there too, so we did it and felt safe.
Located at the far southern end of the hotel strip, the Club Med is about as far from the action in Cancun as you can get and still be in town – bars, restaurants, night clubs are all quite a ways farther north. (That said, the Club Med food and drinks are excellent, and they have a very nice open air beachside night club right there – little need to venture out.) If you do want to visit Cancun, you have two options: taxi (fairly expensive) or public bus. For the bus, you can walk out to the regular entrance to the Club Med and catch a bus there, but it only comes by about every half hour or so. Alternatively, you can walk up the beach to the next resort (the Westin), cut through to the road – in all maybe a 10 minute walk – and you will see a bus stop where buses leave about every 5-10 minutes. Bus fare is cheap but you will need Mexican pesos. Myself, I did not care much for Cancun – it struck me as being an artificial creation made mostly for American tourists – a wall of multistory mostly soulless resorts, with a few interspaced suburban-style malls and, farther away, a mostly uninteresting fairly recently constructed town. (This was also the view of several Mexicans with whom I spoke who work at the club.) If we go back to the area, it would be for the beauty of the site & sea, and for the Club Med – otherwise by my tastes there are a lot of nicer places to visit in Mexico.
Activities.: If you get bored at the Club Med, then there is something seriously wrong with you. Organized activities targeting different ages of children and also adults include: two types of sailing, water-skiing, trapeze & trampoline, tennis, soccer, beach volleyball, water aerobics, Pilates, salsa lessons, Yoga, box and step exercises, etc. And, if that is not enough, there is swimming in the gorgeous ocean, very good live music almost every evening with drinks and appetizers (one group reminded me of the Gypsy Kings, and others were: a Cuban band, a Mariachi band, and an old rock band), a very nice spa (extra $), several half-day or day outings (Chichen Itza… – extra $), shows every night and the night club afterwards. There is one half-day outing on Wednesday, I believe, that is free – to Cancun proper and nearby ruins – ask at the reception. Their trapeze setup is professional quality and run by a mostly Brazilian set of gymnasts. We saw two trapeze demonstrations, one of which had a visiting gymnast who previously worked for the Cirque du Soleil and apparently is one of six people in the world who can regularly do triple flips and be caught by a person on another trapeze. Real neat. My daughter especially enjoyed learning to sail, water-ski, improve her trapeze moves and seeing the spectacular circus-trapeze performances, hanging out at the Car Wash (the adolescent kids’ club; there is another miniclub for younger children), eating with new friends and playing in the pool; I played in a mixed doubles tennis tournament, did water aerobics, laid out on some neat canapé beds by the pool, frolicked in the water, had abit too much to drink, enjoyed the early evening music and hors d’oeuvres and eating dinner with new friends. And together, my daughter and I made use of less than half the activities offered by the club.
Of note – while this club caters to families, its large size and range of activities means that adults are not encumbered by hoards of kids – couples without kids too can enjoy themselves (I met many in this situation, including honeymooners).
Food and drink.: he main buffet restaurant has 6 different dining rooms with very different décor, and two a la carte restaurants (Tapas and Mexican) – these last ones were open on alternative days when we were there, as the club was only half full. Compared to essentially all other all inclusive resorts, Club Meds excel in terms of food. The buffet had a lot of choices, changed significantly from day to day (and from lunch to dinner), and the desserts especially were excellent. There was also a Japanese corner with a Japanese chef every evening. The food had a strong French flavour, although there were too a good deal of Mexican and Italian dishes. The large majority of people with whom I talked thought the food to be excellent (one couple said it was far better than a 5-star Iberostar that they had recently visited). I want to mention, though, that we are fairly strict vegetarians (no meat or fish, though eggs and milk products are fine) and this is the one Club Med out of four we have visited where we have had trouble eating (dinners only – breakfasts and lunches were great). One of the reasons why we tend to prefer Club Meds is that we can always find a variety of good vegetarian options there. The Cancun club however in the evening tended to overemphasize meat and fish, even in the composed salad dishes and often pastas, really limiting our choices. We spoke to the chef and then to the reception and village head and, after several days of poor food, things got better. I guess what I am trying to say is (1) if you love meat or fish, you will be thrilled, (2) if you have dietary restrictions the Club Meds are in general great places to go to, (3) this is less true of the Cancun Club Med than other Club Meds we know (Australia, Italy, Brazil) and (4) if you do have special requests/needs then fax them ahead of time to warn them and politely ask for their help, and if things don’t work out, rapidly go talk with the cook (and then if necessary, insistently with the reception staff or the village head). Hopefully, after being badgered by us the head cook will be more open to handling special diets in the future… For us, this was the one real irritation we had during our vacation.
Drinks. Like essentially all all-inclusive resorts, the free house wine is fairly basic (the rosé is better than the red; I didn’t try the white) and there are much better bottles available for sale. The very top shelf booze also required paying a supplement (Don Julio tequila for example, which could cost you easily $80 a bottle in a store), but their regular stuff was already very good (tequila, whisky, martini, pastis, beer…). For real good coffee, go to the main bar – their espressos and café au laits easily rival a Starbucks in quality.
Room buildings: There are several types of rooms at the Club Med – the basic regular (Yucatan) one we had, deluxe rooms, and concierge suites and rooms in the Jade building. The regular rooms are not ocean front, but ours directly overlooked the lagoon and right in front of our window/balcony we saw beautiful sunsets every evening. From what I have heard and read, the best rooms are in the Jade building but only on the ocean side – it is not worth paying extra for rooms on the other (road) side. The deluxe rooms in the other buildings are slightly larger or come with an ocean view. You can request a certain room type by faxing the Club 7-10 days prior to your arrival – they are good at trying to meet requests (check their website for the fax number). However, do not expect a better type of room unless you are willing to pay for it – they do not give free upgrades. In general, unless you are handicapped or have a stroller, avoid the ground-floor rooms which tend to be less private and noisier. Buildings with rooms are all 2-3 stories high – if you don’t mind stairs the best are on the third floor. Buildings A, B and C (Amatista, Obsidiana, and Topacio) are located between the main area (pool, restaurants, bar…) and the trapeze/water-skiing and miniclub area for younger kids. Building D (Turquesa) is very near the main area and apparently tends to be relatively noisy. We were in building E (Granate) – a good choice (as I recall our room number was 5207). Buildings F (Onice), G (Ambar) and H (Opalo) are abit farther away, between the main area and the tennis/sailing areas. About the farthest away, but with the best ocean front suites (for a price) is the Jade building. Again, unless you have trouble climbing steps, it is best to request an upper floor room with a view and also not road side (they have a service road that may rarely be abit noisy – when tour buses leave in the morning, for example). After hurricane Wilma about 3 years ago the Club Med completely renovated this Club. The rooms are real neat – strong colors, very comfortable beds, a stylish shower area, and an unforgettably bright deep pink toilet area. There are flat screen TVs with a limited good choice of channels (English, French and Spanish) and we had a free cable internet hook-up, a digital safe, a coffee/tea maker and a minifridge at no extra cost. I believe that all rooms have either a balcony or terrace. Prior to being a family Club Med, this club catered to adults – mostly couples. For that reason the rooms, while real stylish, tend to be small. You could fit three people into a room but it would be tight; I believe (to be confirmed) that if you are a family of four, then Club will provide you with another room at no extra cost – they have a fair number of adjoining rooms.
In any case, as the Club Med has been going upscale on recent years, it has also gotten much more expensive (excellent food and top quality activities don’t come cheap). It is well worth your time to look at the Club Med website early on, or work through a travel agent who is real familiar with the Club Med, as they often have great sales going on. Speaking for myself, abstracting from travel we spent about $1,100 for the week for both of us – my daughter stayed (and ate and played…) for free, and I did not have to pay a supplement as a single parent.
To resume: To resume, I’d rate this Club at a 5-star level: 8 stars for the activities (nothing else out there comes close) 4.5 stars for the room: much more style than a Hilton or Sheraton, but the rooms are fairly small 2 to 5 stars for food & drink: 5 stars for breakfasts and lunches, 5 stars for dinner if you are a consummate carnivore 1-2 stars at dinner if you are vegetarian and dislike having to talk insistently to the chef to get decent food 6 stars for fun and the ease of socializing (again, the Club Med excels here) 6 stars for the beach 4 stars for the pool: very nice, but probably crowded when the resort is full 5 stars for the front desk – they were very pleasant and professional
In Cancun, I would not consider staying anywhere else.