Club Med Punta Cana: An All-Inclusive for the Active Family
By Ellen H. Parlapiano
Club Med is famous for its family-friendly ambience, international flavor, and amazing array of all-inclusive family oriented activities. And Club Med Punta Cana, located on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, is one of the company’s best resorts for active families. With direct flights to Punta Cana now available from many major gateway cities, it’s easier than ever to travel there. And once you and your family land, the resort is just ten minutes from the airport.
You’ll never have to worry about hearing whines of “I’m bored” at this place. There’s so much for families to do together. Yet there’s no pressure to do anything, either. At Club Med, it’s all about convenience and freedom of choice. You pay one all-inclusive price, which covers your air-conditioned suite, meals, drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), sports activities and lessons, fitness classes, day and nighttime entertainment, tips and gratuities, and most of the children’s clubs. (There is an added charge for the toddler program for ages 2 to 3.) You’ll receive a menu of activities in your room, so you can pick and choose the daily events that most appeal to you. Seven-night “Total All-Inclusive Vacations” start at $840 per adult, $305 per child (ages 2-3) and $438 per child (ages 4 – 15.) There’s also an additional annual membership fee of $55 per adult and $25 per child.
The summer camp atmosphere embraces you the moment you arrive. You’ll step into the tropical open-air lobby, where you’re likely to receive a hearty round of applause while being warmly greeted by a cast of energetic characters known as GOs (short for Gracious Organizers). Part cheerleader, part camp counselor, and part concierge, the GOs are there to ensure that you (the Gracious Member, or GM) get the most out of your all-inclusive vacation. You can choose to sample every activity offered, or loll in a beach chair while your kids build sandcastles or play in the children’s club.
A Village of Fun
Club Med calls its resorts “villages,” because they’re designed to convey a sense of cozy community. Suites are clustered on the far ends of the property to create a quiet, residential feeling, while the center of the village bustles with activity and entertainment. The newly-renovated Punta Cana village is loaded with Dominican charm, set on a sprawling 75 acres against the turquoise backdrop of the Caribbean Sea. The 519 suite-style guest rooms are housed in 2-story sherbet-colored buildings. Each suite sleeps up to five, and features a separate small room for children with two twin daybeds. Suites are equipped with a balcony, TV, telephone, clock radio/CD player, coffeemaker, mini fridge, hair dryer and personal safe. Many of the suites have ocean views. The mood in this section of the village is one of peace and tranquility—just perfect when you’re trying to get little ones to sleep after a fun-filled day. But when you’re looking for something to do, you’re just a leisurely stroll from the center of the village, where most of the action happens.
Perhaps you’ll hit the sports beach first—where you and the kids can learn to kayak, snorkel, windsurf, or sail. You can also join a game of beach volleyball or take Latin dance lessons in a covered area just steps from the beach. Youngsters can master their own funky dance moves in the Hip Hop Kidz workshop, also held beachfront. Dancing is just part of Club Med’s excellent fitness program. In addition to early morning power walks and water aerobics, there are innovative classes sponsored by Crunch, the upscale chain of U.S.-based gyms. The Crunch classes are held in a beachfront palapa. You can work up a sweat doing yoga or Cardio Tai Boxing, or test your balance and strength in the Bosu Bootcamp or Smart Bells classes—workouts done with specially designed equipment. There’s also an air-conditioned gym, with cardio and weight-training equipment. If lounging in the sun is more your speed, grab a chair on the sandy strip next to the sports beach, or head to the “quiet,” beach designed for adults only.
The spacious main lagoon pool is another great place to chill out. It’s shaded by swaying palms and thatched umbrellas, and has great views of the sparkling sea beyond. There’s a shallow area so toddlers can splash safely, while older kids swim in the deeper ends. The pool is one of the most popular hangouts for parents with young children, so get there early to nab some chairs in the shade. Later in the afternoon, families can compete in water polo matches and other pool games, and during the weekly themed “Sports Night,” youngsters and tweens can even kayak across the pool.
Sports reign supreme at Club Med, and the Punta Cana Village offers a dazzling variety to try. Besides the water sports, there’s archery, basketball, soccer, softball, volleyball, bocce, inline skating, ping pong, and tennis. The Petit Tennis instruction program teaches the game to kids ages 3 to 7, through scaled-down equipment that helps build hand-eye coordination, teamwork and self-confidence. There are various sports tournaments throughout the week, and awards are given out by the GOs on the beach.
At the circus school, adults and children ages 4 years and up can learn some untraditional sports, like juggling, trampoline bouncing, tightrope walking, and trapeze-flying. Or, you can just watch others do it at the circus show, put on by the GOs and children from the kids’ clubs. If the idea of flying through the air on a trapeze makes you queasy, just wait till you see how effortless the preschoolers make it seem. Tiny four- and five-year-olds fearlessly scamper up the narrow ladder (don’t worry, they wear safety harnesses), reach confidently for that trapeze, and swing through the air with the greatest of ease as their proud parents watch with teeth clenched and eyes half closed!
Award-Winning Kids’ Programs
Club Med Punta Cana has a stellar children’s program for kids ages 2 to 10; a junior program for tweens, ages 11 to 13; plus a brand-new, ultra-cool teen club called The Ramp, for 14- to 17-year-olds. What sets Club Med’s children’s programs apart from other resorts is its emphasis on child development. Many of the children’s club GOs have degrees in early childhood education. And the kids are grouped according to age, so activities can be geared toward their specific developmental needs. The Petit Club Med for 2- to 3-year-olds is divided into two age groups: Bambis (2-year-olds), and Dolphins (3-year-olds). At the Mini Club Med, for 4- to 10-year-olds, kids are put into one of three age groups: Meddys (4- to 5-year-olds); Clubbers (6- to 7-year-olds); and Kids (8- to 10-year-olds). Both the Petit Club and Mini Club are housed in a bright, sparkling clean, multi-room facility, with fenced-in playgrounds and a kids-only pool. There’s hardly a TV in sight—since most of the activities center around crafts, music, story times, and outdoor exercise. Hours are 9 am to 9 pm, but you can sign your child in or out at anytime. Two- to three-year-olds take a break for dinner with mom and dad, but older kids can eat with their group. You can even stay with your kids in the Petit or Mini clubs if you wish, and participate in all the fun. After 9pm, you can put the kids in the Siesta Club, a special evening babysitting service, for $20 per child per night.
Since Club Med attracts families from the U.S., Canada, and France, many of the children’s club activities have a multi-cultural flavor. In the Putumayo music program, kids learn songs from different countries and sample exotic instruments like African djembe drums. As they walk in groups with their GOs to activities in various parts of the village, kids can often be heard chanting songs that teach them basic words, like “hello,” in different foreign languages. You’ll find that young children forge a connection that transcends language barriers and cultural differences. That feeling of togetherness continues at the evening musicals and circus shows, where kids perform for their parents.
For older kids over 10, Club Med Punta Cana arranges supervised events that respect this age group’s desire for independence. In the Junior Club, for ages 11 to 13, kids meet in a central location, and choose what they’d like to do from a list of activities—ranging from basketball tournaments to group snorkeling to themed party nights. Over at The Ramp, the new teen club for ages 14 to 17, there’s an even greater feeling of freedom and flexibility. This uniquely designed clubhouse has multi-leveled spaces for teens to hang out and socialize, though they are free to come and go as they please. On the ground floor there’s a lounge area equipped with a jukebox, foosball game, photo booth, and self-serve soda fountain with flavored syrup shots, so kids can concoct their own custom-made beverages. Upstairs there’s a ramp for skateboarding and rollerblading, and a giant hammock built into the floor. The Ramp is topped with an immense fabric sail; as teens lounge on cushions on the upper level, they can view movies and light shows projected on the bottom of the sail. There are many special nighttime events, like teen dance parties, and kids wear a cool fabric surfer-style “Ramp” wristband that gains them special access into this private place. Teens love the fact that The Ramp is off-limits to anyone under the age of 14, as well as to all adults (except for GOs, of course).
Meals and More
The resort has two buffet-style restaurants: Samana is an indoor restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner; the open-air Hispaniola is open for lunch and dinner. Both offer a bountiful assortment of international dishes, plus kid-friendly fare, like pizza, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets. The ambience is casual and no reservations are necessary. You can sit at a small table with your family, or opt for a larger one, where you can fraternize with other guests. There’s also an informal beachside grill, where you can show up in your bathing suit and snack on burgers, sandwiches, fries, and other light fare. Beverage bars, near the beach and pool, offer smoothies, and a variety of frozen drinks (both virgin and spiked).
With so much food and activity at your fingertips, you may never feel the need to leave the resort. But if you’re the type who likes to venture off property and sample the local culture, Club Med does offer several guided Cultural and Adventure Tours for an added cost, ranging from $57 to $148 per person. You can take older children on a Discovery Tour through Dominican villages and sugar cane plantations. It takes you up into the mountains to a small farm, where you you’ll meet an authentic “caballero” and taste home grown fruit, coffee and hot chocolate. (The Discovery Tour costs $57 for each adult; $33 for each child.) Younger children will enjoy Manati park, a small zoo with an array of exotic animals ($58 for each adult; $36 for each child). If you like the open sea, try the snorkeling, fishing, and whale-watching cruises.
Before your Club Med Punta Cana vacation ends, consider splurging on a massage in one of the resort’s beachfront cabanas. Though not covered in your all-inclusive package, it’s definitely worth fitting into your budget. The spa menu includes: Swedish massages; anti-stress, muscle relieving massages; detox massages; aromatherapy reflexology massages; and hot stone massages. You’ll be lulled by the sound of the waves, as the therapist tailors the massage to your trouble spots. You may even fall asleep—and dream of how you can one day return to this Caribbean paradise.
IF YOU GO:
**Contact Club Med at 1-800-CLUB MED, or visit their website at www.clubmed.com, and ask about any special deals. From June 18, 2005 to September 2, 2005, you get one free stay for a teenager aged 14 to 17, with every 7-day adult booking in a Garden View Room (limited to two free teenagers per room).
**All visitors entering the Dominican Republic are required to have a tourist card (in addition to a passport or birth certificate showing proof of citizenship). Tourist cards can be purchased at the Punta Cana Airport for US $10. (You may also be able to purchase them when buying your airline tickets, so ask your travel agent or airline when booking flights.) You will need to keep a portion of the tourist card for your return flight.
**Reserve space in the childcare program when you book, since openings can be limited. There is no baby club at this Club Med resort. Childcare is offered for children 2 and up, and is free, except for the Petit Club Med program (for 2 to 3s), which costs $30 per night for the entire duration of your stay.
**Children’s cribs, high chairs, and booster seats are readily available. Strollers are available on a limited basis, so it’s a good idea to bring your own umbrella stroller. The grounds are sprawling, and tiny legs get tired quickly.
**Book massages upon arrival, since they are quite popular with guests. Both the basic Swedish massage and the anti-stress muscle relief massage cost $50 for 25-minutes, $80 for 50 minutes, and $110 for 75 minutes. The 50-minute detox massage is $90; the 25-minute aromatherapy reflexology massage runs $50; and the 75-minute hot stone massage is $120.
Ellen Parlapiano is an award-winning writer who has covered family travel for magazines such as Parents, Child, Woman’s Day and Working Mother. She lives in Eastchester, New York with her husband and two children, and has traveled extensively with her family.