My family lives in the state of Texas, in the southwestern part of the United States. We decided to vacation at a Club Mediterranee (Club Med, CM) in June / July, 1996. We realized that staying at a European CM would cost only a little more than staying at one in Mexico or the Caribbean. Additionally, this would be a chance to expose our 11-year-old daughter to other cultures. Here is a report on our vacation.
Getting reservations at a European Club Med is difficult for an American. CM seems to divide the world into two halves, with no connection between. They publish two CM booklets (In Spring 96, the American one had a picture of a palm tree on the cover and the European one a cover depicting a heart shape on a sandy isle). The covers do not identify the books as American and European. We had to order the European book, using the 800-CLUB-MED number, and it took several weeks to arrive.
We learned from the 800 number that only two European CM's offered both Kid's Clubs and English as one of the village languages. The clubs are Don Miguel (Spain) and Metaponto (Italy). By coin flip, we chose Spain.
CM offers charter flights (actually, discounts on regular British Airways flights) from London to Malaga, Spain, with free ground transportation the 50 kilometers to Don Miguel CM in Marbella. Unfortunately, tickets for these flights must be purchased in Great Britain. Our local travel agent said no how / no way could we get tickets.
Internet to the rescue! We located Garber Travel in Boston, by way of their agent Maria Marinelli. Garber-Boston could not get the tickets, but Garber-London could! London bought the tickets and expressed them to Boston, then Boston FedEx'd them to us. I can't say enough good things about Maria Marinelli, firstname.lastname@example.org ...she did a tremendous amount of work for us in this endeavor!!
We flew to London on Continental, struggled with jet lag for a day, then early next morning took the flight from London Gatwick to Spain. We and several other families were met at the airport by a GO (Gentile Organisateur, the term CM uses for its employees) and whisked to the Club.
Don Miguel is a curious place...a 12-floor hotel with 4 swimming pools, large grounds and a dozen tennis courts. One of the GO's told me that it had started out in 1975 as a casino, but the builder went bankrupt before the casino ever opened. CM purchased it, and it has always been a CM. Several GO's said that the building will revert to the actual owners after Summer 1997, ending its career as a CM.
Image shows view from the rooftop restaurant of Don Miguel toward Marbella and the Mediterranean Sea. Two of the resort's four pools are in the foreground.
The building reportedly holds 1200 people, but only 450 were there. My wife and I had one room, with the idea that our daughter would share another room with a child from some other family. Due to the low number of GM's (Club Med-speak for guests), she got the room all to herself. Well, actually, she didn't like being alone so she and my wife stayed in the "parents" room and I got the private room.
We noticed some examples of poor maintenance. The A/C in one room would not cool. Faucets in several rooms would shriek at certain flowrates. Plaster on the building exterior needed minor repairs. The single light bulb mounted low over the double bathroom sink is dim. Since I am tall, the best way to see my hair to comb it was to get down on my knees.
The weather was excellent. Most days the sky was cloudless, and it never rained. The temperature was comfortably warm. Humidity seemed low. Haze limited our view of Gibraltar and Africa most days.
This is a view from a 6th-level balcony at Don Miguel, looking west toward Gibraltar.
Don Miguel is a family Club Med. That means that the sound of children is everywhere. The environment is very different from a singles CM. If you do not have children, this is not the Club for you.
We all had a wonderful time! Our daughter was apprehensive about having no friends, but that concern vanished the first day at the Kid's Club. There were several "clubs" (Baby Club, Mini Club, Kid's Club, etc.) for children of different ages. Our 11-year-old daughter hurried to Kids Club every morning at about 9:30 AM, and finished up there about 9:30 PM. We would catch sight of her at dinner, eating with the other Kids Club members and their GO's.
Kids Club members could choose from a variety of activities, including archery, golf, tennis and "Circus School." The latter was the best...the GO's took ordinary kids and taught them tricks on the flying trapeze. In a couple of days they were swinging upside down and every which way, over a safety net and with the assistance of some very talented circus-type GO's. The kids put on several shows for the parents.
Many children chose to enroll in Circus School at Club Med. Here, one practices on the flying trapeeze with the highly-talented acrobats. Their final performance for the parents was held at 11 PM.
During our week stay there were several shows for the families, put on by the GO's. They included Carmen (in which the chief administrator of the CM played the lead), flamenco dancing, comedies, and American Night (suggested dress style: bluejeans and white T-shirt).
Speaking of Americans, there were fewer than 10 at the Club. And that even includes the Canadian couple! Most GM's (and GO's) were French, Belgian, British, Swiss, Dutch or German, along with a few GM's from Japan and Singapore. Virtually everyone (except the Americans) was multi-lingual (up to 4 or 5 languages). All GO's are multi-lingual. It was impossible to determine a person's nationality from his appearance.
Many guests played golf at the area's courses. The town of Marbella, on whose outskirts the CM is located, is a well-known "playground of the rich," and golf courses dot the area.
The Club has two large swimming pools (plus two smaller ones). Being Europe, topless sunbathing around the pools was common, although nudity was prohibited anywhere on the grounds.
CM offered pricey excursions to Gibraltar, Granada, Seville, Ronda and Puerto Banus. My family took the 1/2-day Ronda trip...Daughter hated it because she had to miss Kid's Club, but my wife and I enjoyed it. I took the half-day Gibraltar trip, which was very good. Excursions cost about US$50 per person per half day.
Meals are all you can eat of whatever they have, much like a cruise. Wine is provided at every table. The food in the rooftop Panoramic dining room was even better, but you had to make reservations in advance.
Children are a big part of this Club Med. Here they put on a play / talent show for their parents, who were an appreciative audience.
This was the best vacation that my family has had, and we expect to go with CM in the future.
Club Med vacations are relatively economical, considering that all meals and shows are included in the base price. Children pay a substantially reduced rate, even when they occupy a separate room from their parents. Club Med is like a cruise where you wake up every morning in the same place.
P.S.--On three separate occasions Europeans asked me some variation of the following question: "Why did you come all the way to Europe, when you live in such a beautiful country?" I guess the grass is always greener....
You can find an excellent treatis on the Club Med experience, written by Po Bronson and published in Salon magazine, here.
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