Note that the following was written in 2001. Note that the Club was badly damaged during HurricaneWilma in 2005. Since then, Club Med have spent 20 million dollars for repair and refurbishments and are scheduled to re-open the club in the fall of 2006. For more information, see their press release.
My wife and I spent two and a half weeks in Club Med Cancun in July 2001. We had about 2 days to make vacation plans, as I suddenly found myself between jobs and we wanted to take advantage of the free time.
The last minute choices
We looked at a few other Club Meds but Cancun seemed to be the easiest to arrange at the last minute. Moorea or Bora Bora we considered, but Moorea is currently having windows/AC installed so we thought we’d wait for that to be done. Since it was a longer vacation, we didn’t want to be stuck somewhere with nothing but the club (i.e. Huatulco). Cancun was attractive because we wanted to see the Mayan ruins.
Believe it or not, it’s not easy from San Francisco. In the summer, there is one weekly charter from LA to Cancun, but it fills up months in advance. As well, we were leaving on a Tuesday. The only other option, and the option most other Bay Area people we met chose, was to fly from SFO to Guadalajara, then on the same plane to Mexico City, then change planes to Cancun. Not a short flight by any stretch of the imagination. Mexico City was a nice airport though – well organized and clean. All our flights (there and back) landed and took off on time.
We flew on Mexicana. It was embarassing that we had never heard about this airline, when it turned out they were celebrating their 75th anniversary! The only hitch we encountered was on the way back, my wife’s vegetarian meal was grabbed by someone who hadn’t requested one. Luckily the main meal was vegetarian anyways so no problem. There are no special meals on domestic flights.
Club Med was one of the first hotel properties in Cancun and so they have the best location. They are right at the end of what is now a long Miami-Beach-like hotel strip, and have ocean on two sides, and the lagoon right behind them. Almost everywhere you look, there’s water. And lots of space – a real rarity in Cancun.
Despite all the space however, the club has a very "concrete" feel to it. Everything’s been paved, even the paths for foot traffic.
The village is centered around the main building complex, which contains the pool, reception (very nicely done!), main restaurant, theater, shops, bar, club, etc. There are signs everywhere so it’s pretty hard to get lost. Nothing is crammed in. The disco is set up facing the ocean, so the music is not really heard anywhere else on the club. Cool ocean breezes moderate the club’s temperature. An outside area is also great for cooling off and chatting, as well as a circular platform/stage right outside the disco.
The swimming beach on the ‘strip’ side is joined with the other club’s beaches. The sand is nice, but huge chunks of coral in the water mean you have to be careful. The slope in the water is pretty steep. This side of the beach is really the only place where you will see non-Club Med’ers – by law, Mexican beaches are public, so you will have non-GM’s wandering the beach. Locals try to sell you jewelery, parasail rides, etc., but they are not agressive. On the other side of the peninsula (that separates the "strip" side from the more empty side), is the sailing shack, snorkeling, and the other restaurant. The beach here is narrow and the sand is rough. Swimming is possible, but you’ll need teva’s or some other sand-shoes. I also believe that Club Med discourages swimming off the main swimming beach.
Towards the windsurfing shack and second restaurant (La Palapa), just offshore, is an anchor point and docks for motorboats and jetskis that some amusement park rent out miles away. It is a constant source of noise, and wrecks the view. During the day, there are usually more then 50 boats scoooting around, following the leader through the lagoon behind the club, and generally causing a nuisance. Club Med is powerless to prevent it, as the water is technically public, and these rides generate a LOT of revenue for someone. I will talk more about this in the relevent sports sections.
Continuing along the beach, there is a second night club that they open occasionally. In two weeks we were there, it was only open once, and we didn’t go. At the tip of the property is the sailing shack. They used to have a shuttle to get you here from the main building – it ends up being almost a 15 minute walk. I think they still do when the property is it’s busiest.
The hotel buildings are spread around the property nicely, and never exceed more than 4 floors. In typical Club Med style, they’ve tried to integrate them well into the surroundings. I can’t say so much for the other hotels on the "strip". The buildings all have outside corridors, and some are quite far from the main building/restaurant (10 minute walk). If this bothers you, ask for a closer room. Our room was very clean (no carpet, as is normal for Club Med). Air conditioning worked great (although we heard of some people having problems with humidity due to over-AC).
The building we were in had a sunken area by the door to the balcony, giving it a nice multi-level/larger room feeling.
On our oceanview room there were some chairs facing outside. The ground floor oceanview rooms open right up onto the beach – very nice, although not that private. As I mentioned, almost all rooms will have some sort of view of water. Unfortunately our ocean view also included a view of the hotel strip – if we’d gotten a room on the other side of the club, we might have just been looking at water. (although it would still be plagued by noisy jetskis and motorboats during the day)
This is an adults only Club. It is mostly american, and there are as many couples as there are singles. There are some Europeans (mostly French, and they stick to themslves), and quite a few Canadians. We were lucky enough to mix with almost anyone, as we speak French. There was some toplessness from the Europeans, but not that much, if that bothers you. The crowd is mostly young (the Europeans tended to be older), I’d put the age average in the high 20’s.
There are two restaurants in this club.
The main restaurant overlooks the pools and the lagoon. There is beer and wine included with meals. There are lots of choices here, even for vegetarians. The chefs are accomodating to any particular requests you might have. It was very good compared to other Club Med’s we’ve been to, topped only by Columbus Isle (which is way more expensive, and 4 trident) The "ice cream" was more of a frozen yogurt. The hostesses try to sit you down with a table who speaks the same language, but didn’t always succeed.
La Palapa is the second restaurant located by the windsurfing shack. It is open for late lunch and dinner (most of the time). It is more quiet and romantic (all tables are for 2-4 people, if memory serves). Reservations are necessary for dinner, and when we were there, were often full (despite the club being half empty). The selection of food isn’t as good here. One night there was fresh lobster at this restaurant. Of course we didnt find out about that till after – try asking them when the lobster night will be.
One day per week, there is a barbecue out by the Palapa. This is carnivore’s paradise. Delicious grilled ribs (all you can eat of course), chicken, corn, more ribs, and oh did I mention delicious ribs.
The waterskiing show left a little to be desired. To their credit though, they have a very small amount of space they can perform tricks in (in the lagoon), so not much room to get up speed, get into position etc. Evening events
Starting just before dinner, the Club Med formula is to offer some form of constant entertainment until the night club opens late into the evening. Usually this consisted of starting with "Bar Games" – i.e. trivia, then after dinner, a dance class, followed by the evening performance in the theater. The performances are the same pre-prepared-sent-from-HQ Club Med shows you see everywhere. The quality of them depends entirely on the GO staff for that season. Usually they were entertaining. The Mariachi band is definitely worth checking out.
After the performance, the next venue is usually the night club. The Night Club was not that packed when we were there. Of course, the club was only half-full. They often had events/games before giving up the floor to the
Night club. The DJ was spinning mostly American top 40 from CD’s. There was a bit of European top 40 thrown into the mix too.
Once a week, most of the young uns head out to Daddy-O’s (or whichever american dance club provides the biggest kick-back to CM that season). The cover was around $20 and got you free drinks for the night. We didn’t go so I can’t comment beyond that. The pool was nice and empty the next morning though! Excursions
The excursions office is located in the main building, and offers many trips. There’s shopping to Cancun, day trips to the Yucatan to see the ruins, a cruise/boozefest trip to Isla Mujeres (followed by snorkeling – sounds like a bad combination, but hey – it’s Cancun!). None of them grabbed us, as we were doing a 4 day "excursion" to the ruins of the Yucatan.
I won’t go into too much detail here, as it’s not available or sold to Americans. That being said, there might be some other Canadians who are interested. Club Med France offers an entire series of "Decouvertes" (discoveries) guided tours all around the world (check out www.clubmed.fr). They are all done in French. They offered a 4 day trip around the Yucatan, as part of an extension to a trip through Guatemala. After much arguing with the Club Med Cancun Excursions organizer, we finally persuaded her that our French was good enough (and we were sufficiently un-american) that we could join the trip.
It was well organized, and we stayed at club med "Archaeological Villas" outside of Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Coba. We also visited Merida. It was our first time taking an organized trip like this, and overall, we regretted it – it’s just not our style. Despite the small group, being shepherded from one location to another just didnt appeal to us. The Villas were great, however. Very clean, and they couldn’t have possibly been better located to the ruins we were visiting.
Chichen Itza is well worthwhile, even as a day excursion from the club. We heard while were there, however, that they would be closing the tallest pyramid to visitors at the end of 2001. (it’s crumbling away). Climbing the pyramid was definitely a highlight, but not for those scared of heights. The big problem with doing this (or Uxmal) as a daytrip from the club is that you arrive at the same time as all the other Cancun tour groups – and have to fight the crowds.
The sports we tried were well organized, with great equipment and great instructors. Par for the course for Club Med.
We went sailing a few times on the Hobie Cats. They had a few sizes of sailboats – I think they were all the single sail kind, though. The wind was constant and moderate, and there wasnt any water obstacles to avoid. The biggest problem was the idiots in the jetskis and motorboats. They had no idea how to drive, and had no courtesy around sailboats. We saw a lot of near collisions. It made it really stressful, especially given that we’re not experienced sailers. You could avoid the path of the jetskis and motorboats by going further from shore, but then you just deal with the speeding glass-bottom boats and diving/snorkeling boats, which throw a huge wake.
For us, the snorkeling was the absolute highlight of all the sports that were offered. The coral and fish were right off the shore. We saw barracudas, a ray, and lots of huge parrotfish. It astonished us that the coral was in such good shape, considering all the human impact around Cancun. There were organized tours every day by GO’s out past the shallow coral, into the deeper waters. Not only did the GO’s guide you out and ensure your safety, they spotted incredible things we would never have seen. There are "easy" and "difficult" tours. Getting out past the coral barrier can be a bit nervewracking, as the channel is very narrow, and the coral is very high. Once out past the reef, the waves are pretty high, but it’s well worth it, and the GO took good care of everyone. Things we didn’t do
The club offers waterskiing, but we avoided it because of the leeches in the lagoon (small guys, apparently, that you can just pick off with your hand and no harm done) and the crocodiles (who are apparently scared of the boats, we decided not to test that theory either).
There’s a lot of tennis courts, but it was too hot – even in the early morning or evening. Beginners get the shaft though, as their lessons are latest in the day – 10:30, if memory serves.
There’s also windsurfing, but it’s even closer to the jetski’s and motorboats then the sailing shack. It is however amusing to watch the beginners class while eating lunch at La Palapa restaurant. (not that I’m any better)
If you made it this far, you’re probably really wondering why I’ve given this a thumbs down, after so many positives. Yes, the food was great, the sports are great, the room was very comfortable, etc. But all this doesn’t come close to making up for the problems with Cancun. This world has too many beaches, and too many beautiful, unspoiled places to waste your time with this American tourist trap. There’s even a Walmart, for heaven’s sake. (and the taxi drivers will take you there for a very reasonable price). That being said, however, if you have your heart set on Cancun, Club Med is by far the best resort on the strip.