If Club Med were a living person, this grand-daddy of all-inclusive vacations would become eligible for Social Security this year—soon after turning 62. Many mid-lifers have grown up contemporaneously alongside Club Med, which was first founded in 1950 by two Europeans who firmly believed that vacations should both excite and rejuvenate the traveler without any hassles.
Growing Up with Club Med
Internationally recognized artist and designer Pablo Solomon of Lampasas, Texas and his wife, Beverly, took their first Club Med vacation in the mid-1970s—and at least a dozen more Club Med trips in the years that followed. Like many first-timers, the young couple was smitten with the concept of all-inclusive travel.
In those years, Club Med had an international clientele of young and beautiful people (some of them topless); offered free-flowing wine and beer in exchange for the plastic beads guests wore around their necks; and had a program emphasizing sports, games, fun, and fitness that made it easy to meet other couples, says Solomon. "The concepts were so foreign then," he says.
One of the couple's first trips was to Cancun, Mexico. "The engineering was simply amazing," says Solomon. "The property was built at the tip of a peninsula on top of coral, with poured concrete beds and walls—and massive mahogany doors." The guests were primarily from Europe and Canada, many of them French-speaking.
Although the rooms were pretty Spartan, almost like a college dorm, he recalls that no one minded. Everyone was busy all day, often playing "silly games" to win more free drinks.
"Those vacations were a steal," he says. The couple's airfare from Houston was included in the package and Club Med arranged for van or bus pickup from the airport. "There wasn't even any tipping," he says.
Solomon waxes nostalgic about his Club Med experiences. In Sicily, the couple swam in the largest outdoor swimming pool in Europe, and at Playa Blanca on the Pacific coast of Mexico (not too far from Puerto Vallarta), they stayed in a structure perched on a mountainside overlooking the ocean. "It was absolutely beautiful architecturally; the buildings were built to look like pueblos," he says. The Solomons went to other Club Med properties, including Martinique, the Dominican Republic, and Corsica.
On September 11, 2001, during one of their last Club Med jaunts, the Solomons were the only Americans at the club in Majorca when the Twin Towers fell. On the single TV located in the bar, anchors were narrating the events in Arabic, the language of many of the North African staff working there. That was the only time they felt the stress of the outside world during a Club Med vacation.
For the next decade after their "retirement" from Club Med, Solomon and his wife threw big reunion bashes attended by their neighbors and the far-flung friends they had made from California, New York, and Canada. Like Club Med, their life and fortunes took a different spin. "As we got older, we started going to Sandals, which was a notch up the pole in terms of luxury at that time," he says. Later, their art business took them all over Europe, which added another rich dimension to their travel experiences.
The Many Faces of Today's Club Med
After a few economic blips in the 90s, Club Med has continued to expand and diversify to meet the needs of today's travelers. Now, there are 80 resorts in 25 countries around the globe with many of the properties focusing on families with children. While retaining the all-inclusive concept, the resorts have become far more sophisticated with gourmet dining, full open bars, and more exclusive amenities.
The diversity of the overall collection enables Club Med to appeal to a range of different types of travelers. For example, Club Med's flagship property in Sandpiper Bay, Florida, is an all-inclusive geared to families; some of the spacious units have two bedrooms, and one and a half baths. Known for its premium sports program, it recently improved the property's 18-hole golf course and completely remodeled driving range; kids can take golf and tennis lessons from pros at on-site sports academies. Couples are welcome here, too; they can even exchange marriage vows under a waterfront wedding gazebo before enjoying a reception in the grand ballroom.
The live entertainment is a big draw at the adult-only resort at Club Med Turkoise, Turks and Caicos. The Club Med Columbus Isle, Bahamas is located on a secluded, romantic island that appeals to couples. Club Med Gregolimano in Greece, situated between the sea and mountains, has achieved Green Globe certification for its sustainability.
Notices of reunions of devotees (from various eras and locations) on social media sites, such as Facebook, attest to the popularity of Club Med now and then.
The New Generation of All-Inclusives
While Club Med was the first, it is now one player (albeit a major one) in a crowded field of all-inclusive vacation resorts, each of which is raising the bar on luxury to lure sophisticated travelers. Think: butlers, eco-friendliness, suites, private dipping pools, celebrity chefs. And with the global downturn in the economy, popularity of the genre seems to be soaring. Even some major hotel brands, such as Fairmont, Wyndham, and Starwood, are experimenting with all-inclusive packages. Clearly travelers still like knowing exactly how much they are going to spend on their trips, and value the convenience of not having to take out their wallets each time they receive service.
- Club Med
- Examples of Other All-Inclusive Brands: Sandals, Secrets, Dreams, Grand Velas, Breezes
- Search for All-Inclusive Deals on Expedia and Orbitz