If you're like me, you're likely having a couple of thoughts:
"Club Med still exists?!?"
"There's a Club Med in Florida?!?"
The answer to both of these questions is "yes!" I remember hearing about Club Med as a child is the 80s & 90s, and the only place I can imagine that happening was when it was a prize on game shows, such as The Wheel of Fortune. The idea of these all-inclusive resorts in exotic destinations sounded so exclusive and luxurious. Then, something happened, and I'm not sure what it was. I never heard of them again until a few years ago when I was searching for an affordable solo travel option during Spring Break as a college professor. That is what got it back on my radar, but I still never met anyone who had any experience with Club Med.
In early 2020, just before the COVID pandemic was a real thing, I arranged for a weekend stay at Club Med Sandpiper Bay, which is an hour north of West Palm Beach airport, in Port St. Lucie, Florida. My original trip was scheduled for late March, but that was canceled while the world shut down to figure out how to function again. I reached out to reschedule, and was able to visit in mid-November. Continue reading for a review of my experience.
Note: It might be interesting to read about the history of Club Med here. The founder is Belgian, and the first Club Med was sort of a campground on an island off the Mediterranean coast of Spain. The concept was to connect with people through sports. Gérard Blitz, the founder said, “the aim of life is to be happy, the place to be happy is here, and the time to be happy is now." There is also a focus on yoga, which I am just now realizing!
Check-in and COVID Protocols:
It worked best for me to rent a car, so after stopping for a lovely waterfront lunch at The Stuart Boathouse, I arrived at Club Med at around 2:00 pm. I was greeted my a friendly man at the gate who checked my name on a list and allowed me in. When I drove up to the main building, it wasn’t clear to me what I should do, so I parked and walked up to a desk outside, where two women were standing. They told me that they actually do curbside check-in, so I should go back to my car and wait. They asked for my ID and credit card so that they could get started. After waiting about 5 minutes in the car, one of them came to window with a clipboard and all of the necessary information. After signing a couple of things, she gave me a map, a schedule of activities, and told me where to park. It was a friendly, smooth process.
Like everywhere, Club Med has their own health & safety protocols because of COVID. They call it “Safe Together.” Masks are required in buildings, and I was VERY impressed with my fellow guests for abiding by this rule! Hand sanitizer stations are plentiful, and a little kiosk takes your temperature and makes sure you’re wearing a mask when you enter the dining room. Speaking of the dining room, it is called The Marketplace and is normally a buffet. Instead of being a buffet, they have food on plates for your to pick up and take to your table. For certain dishes, a person behind the counter assists you. More about the dining experience later.
Sometimes the room is a place you want to show off on social media, and sometimes it's not. This was not a room to show off, but it wasn't bad. I believe the current word for it is "basic." Honestly, although my stay was only two nights, the more time I spent in the room the more homey and comfortable it felt. It was actually sort of "endearing."
Approaching the room you can see signs of age on the buildings and walkways. The buildings have three floors with a nicely landscaped courtyard in the middle, and the rooms are entered from there. That is a plus for people who don’t want to walk through a lobby to get to their room. The door had a sticker stating that it has been sanitized. As I entered, there was a familiar scent. It didn’t smell bad, but it smelled like an old hotel room. Everything appeared to be very clean and pretty well maintained.
The bathroom had two vanity areas--one with the toilet and shower and another just outside that door. There was an enormous walk-in closet, and the mini-fridge & coffee station was between the bathroom & closet. The bedroom had a king bed that could be divided into two twin beds, and there were two sleeper sofas facing each other, with a coffee table and desk nearby. The room had a water view across a lawn, with a patio outside the sliding glass doors.
Overall Property, Pools, etc.
Walking around the resort is a lovely experience. There is a sidewalk that follows the water around the property, and the landscaping is well maintained. I must mention that this is not an oceanfront resort. However, it has a beach. Club Med Sandpiper Bay is on the St. Lucie River. If you didn't know better, you would think it is on a lake. There is a small beach area, with some nice seating, and this is an excellent place to watch the sunset!
The resort is referred to as a village, so at the center of the village is where you go for meals, the main family pool, a bar, the gift shop, front desk, etc. It's really a nice area, with lots of seating. If the rooms appear to need updating, this area does not. It felt new, current, well maintained, etc, and there was plenty of seating everywhere.
My room was near the adults only pool, which is an infinity pool, overlooking the river, and surrounded by cabanas. Closer to the pool was a row of lounge chairs. There is also a small bar with one bartender who was always friendly, although he was working hard! The day I arrived, it was pretty busy and a bit rowdy. A security guard actually came to tell a group to turn off their music. Apparently the adults only pool is more of a quiet zone and playing music over your own speakers is not allowed. While I like to hear some music by the pool, I would prefer that it be supplied by the resort, and I appreciated that they enforced the rule. However, the people playing the music were pretty disrespectful and made a spectacle, and after the guard left, they continued to play their music. Regardless of this incident, it was beautiful pool, and it was especially lovely at sunrise or late at night.
On the day I arrived (the day with the issue I just mentioned), I checked out the family pool, which on that day, was more relaxing than the adults only pool. It was not crowded or loud, and there was "chill" music playing. It is also near the best bar on the property, so I enjoyed relaxing there for a while before watching the sunset on the beach and getting ready for dinner.
Food & Beverage
I believe there are typically more places to eat, but all meals were in the same location during my stay. This seems to be common during this time. The Marketplace is the name of the restaurant. Previously, it was a buffet, but now you walk around and pick up pre-plated food from different stations. I scoped it out when I first arrived for dinner and made a plan. The food was decidedly French, so I decided to create multi-course dining experience for myself. I began with scallops as an appetizer, then tried the French onion soup, followed by duck confit and a salad (served by a person behind plexiglass). Then, it seemed appropriate to have a cheese course, since they had a lovely selection. I tried a couple of desserts, which were quite good.
When you arrive, you can get your first plate of food and take it to a table. There were many tables inside, as well as plentiful outdoor seating. I always ate outside. When you get to your table, a server greets you, pours you water, and will also serve you wine (red, white, or rosé). During this dinner, I tried the red and the white to go with different courses. It was very decent wine. There was a sommelier present, and it was possible to go into his wine room to purchase bottles. Since I was alone, I didn't pursue this option.
For this meal, as well as meals that followed, I truly enjoyed the food. This was the most pleasant surprise of the entire stay. With a Belgian founder and European/Mediterranean roots, it appears that the standards for food have continued. Regarding beverages, I already mentioned that the wine was fine. The liquor was not "top shelf" by any means. If this is important to you, they apparently have an upgraded liquor package available. At the bar in the center of the village area, the very friendly bartenders do a nice job of making a number of classic cocktails, such as an old fashioned, a caipirinha, etc.
Activities & Entertainment
This is an area where Club Med really excels. There is a full schedule of activities each day, which includes things like lessons for golf & tennis, trapeze, volleyball, kayaking, sailing, and paddle boards. There is an entire kids club that I did not explore, but I am sure there are many child friendly activities there.
On my first day, there was live music in the afternoon in the village center. That evening, there was an outdoor concert, which was a lot of fun. They had extra bars set up in the sand, as well as tables for people to stand around.
On the second day, there was also live music in the afternoon, and the trapeze show was at night. The trapeze was also a lot of fun to watch. Just like Club Med, I haven't though about a trapeze show since seeing them on television in the 80s!
There was also yoga in the morning, but when I tried to go the first morning, I didn't see a class happening where it should have been. Then, the second morning, it was there, and it looked like a good class, with a lot of people participating. Throughout the day, there were also things like making tie dye shirts, and people were dancing around the main pool. It's really like being on a cruise ship on land, actually!
Finally, the staff were consistently friendly and helpful. This was another pleasant surprise. They were typically younger (college age?) people, and they seemed to enjoy their jobs. This was consistent from bartenders, servers, and the people running different activities. They don't just do their jobs, but they engage you in conversation about your day, etc. This really enhances the entire experience and "vibe" of the place.
I overheard the resort manager speaking to a guest, and she said something like, "We know we're not the newest, high-end luxury resort, but we really place an emphasis on having a great staff." I appreciate that they know who they are, and they are doing well at that. If they were pretending to be a luxury resort, it would be very disappointing. However, they are a nice resort with good food & drinks, great activities, and very friendly staff, which all come together for a lovely experience!
I left Club Med Sandpiper Bay thinking I would recommend it as a great place for a family reunion, a friend/class reunion, or just a moderately priced family vacation. During these pandemic days, I think an all-inclusive resort is a great option since you can "stay home" at your resort for the entirety of your vacation, rather than venturing out for meals and activities. Although exploring and experiencing local culture is an important part of travel, for this time, I believe safe travel is most important. Please contact me to find your safe option, whether it is Club Med, a Caribbean or Mexican resort, or planning for the future!