We honeymooned at Club Med Columbus Isle (on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas) beginning Jul. 19, 1999. A bit of background: Neither of us had ever been to an all inclusive resort. We are not divers (Wendy has asthma). We are not terribly sporty people but are interested to learn. We are not big party people, but like dancing. We are not big drinkers. We couldn’t decide whether to go to Sandals Royal Bahamian or Club Med Columbus Isle, so we did a week of both. (Isn’t a marriage all about compromise?) Another post will talk about our experiences at Sandals (hint: DON’T GO!).
First of all, despite the fact that Columbus Isle is touted as a good honeymoon destination, the remoteness of San Salvador makes for very difficult travel arrangements. We got married on a Saturday. By the time we were able to reach Nassau on Sunday, no more flights were available to Columbus Isle. Even the new New York to Columbus Isle charter didn’t help as it leaves on Saturday. Thus we had to overnight in Nassau (expensive: we stayed at Holiday Inn for $100 US with $20 cab from and to the airport..).
Arrival:Our flight on Bahamas Air was without incident, despite what we had heard on the net. We were greeted off the plane by a Club Med GO. The San Salvador airport is tiny, with only one plane a day and a big "NO SWEARING" sign posted outside. The resort was a 2 minute drive from the airport. We were checked in very quickly, given a drink, and were on our way to our room.
Accommodation: Our room was very clean, with beautiful pieces of art on the wall. Huge beautiful wooden shutters opened to an ocean view with a big palm tree shading our balcony. Even though we did not pay for the ocean front upgrade, we had a great room. There are no carpets in the rooms. The bathroom is very big, with nice wooden slatted doors to the separate toilet. We also had a minifridge. Nicely appointed, with cool looking glasses, nice hairdryer, iron/ironing board.
Note that the water at Columbus Isle is not completely desalinated and thus it is necessary to drink bottled water. ($2.40US for a liter and a half). Showers took a little longer to get the soap out of your hair and never left us feeling 100% clean. No big deal though. There is a TV in the room with about 15 channels for when you need to relax from the sports. They carried the Discovery channel, and that’s all we needed to be happy.
The pool area (no whirlpool) has many lounge chairs around it, many of them shaded, and we never had a hard time getting a place to lie down. There is also a tall palm right at the corner of the pool, so in the afternoons there is always a corner of the pool that is shaded. Very thoughtful.The buildings are kept in perfect shape, especially considering the club is almost 8 years old. (And in the tropics everything ages quickly). There are no signs of age at all. The villa-style accommodations are painted with bright colours using a cool paint technique, giving a very interesting and relaxing look. The public bathrooms were always very clean and nicely decorated, and featured walled off stalls. The decor was continued right through to the stall rooms. Almost every building has a view overlooking the ocean. There are tables outside the main restaurant which offer a beautiful view if you’re willing to brave the mosquitoes (not that bad, much worse on the beach, and only in the evening). At the annex restaurant, reserve early enough that day and enjoy a table for two overlooking the ocean every night. Beautiful.
One of the things we enjoyed the most about the grounds was that the property was so spread out that no matter what time of day, we could go for a walk and feel alone. The week we were there they were nearly at full capacity but we didn’t ever feel like it.
The Beach:The beach was very clean and there was lots of it. (They have 3.5 miles of private beach). Thus we never ever felt crowded in the water. The only motorized vehicles in sight were the snorkeling/dive boats and the water ski boat (which headed away from the main beach) so it was always very, very quiet. The beach gets steep fairly quickly (about 20 feet out). There were lots of fish right off the beach, and even some coral formations that were about waist-high in water, complete with Sergeant Majors and a lot of other fish we’re not bright enough to identify!
There was some topless-ness at the club, but it was pretty rare.
Columbus Isle is now buffet at all the restaurants including the Annex. This was a bit of a bit of a disappointment to Ian, as he doesn’t like buffets too much, but Wendy was in heaven, as she loves to sample.
Breakfast buffet is offered from early in the morning till 11:00. We usually made it around 10:30. Very nice selection of cheeses (European influence) and amazing bread – I can still taste the white chocolate bread. Omelets are made on the spot. Nice selection of juices. Fruit was ok. The breakfast food was average buffet, but with a really big selection. The hot food was warm, and the food was heavy.Lunch was again standard buffet food. We stayed away from most of the beef at Club Med – it was all prepared very rare. (Or still moving, often…) However, there was definitely enough other stuff to keep us well fed for the week we stayed. There was a lot of very good salad mixes (most involving seafood and lots of cool cheeses), or you could make your own. Again, excellent breads at lunch. There were also plenty of choices for hot food that were well done. Lots of different kinds of fish, (and, for the Americans, hamburgers and hotdogs).
Dinner was good buffet food. The restaurants were all fairly similar in terms of quality, but the main restaurant had a little more variety. However, there was often lobster to be had at the Annex restaurant. The Friday Night theme buffet was incredible – we felt sick we ate so much – and that’s how it should be! Service was very good – friendly staff. Everything was very clean.
This is another area where Club Med absolutely blew us away. We snorkeled, sailed, water-skied, and windsurfed. The staff was excited, knowledgeable, and helpful. The equipment clean and in good condition.Snorkeling: Wow – 6 different snorkeling sites! Two trips a day. One hour each. We went out three times. Very good snorkeling. Equipment was very clean. Nice inflatable life vests were required to be worn, but it was easy enough to let the air out of them if you wanted to do a surface dive. Very good visibility, very calm waters. We even saw a nurse shark. (From which we ran! – yes, we know they’re harmless). We were impressed by the guy running the trips (Mathieu) and really felt we’d be taken care of if anything happened.
Waterskiing: Neither of us had ever water-skied and we were terrified but we did it! There is a waterskiing raft anchored about a 50 foot swim from shore. (of course with a tarp providing shade, and drinking water available as you wait your turn – this IS Club Med, after all!) A simple short lesson, and soon we were in the water. A boat is equipped with a pole for first-timers, as a GO helps you from the boat with re-teaching the lesson you just learned on the raft and promptly messed up. The GO’s were very patient and gave us the confidence to get going. We then tried on the rope and were both successful – again with much help from the staff.
Sailing: Another great experience. Neither of us had ever sailed before. We were taken out on a Hobie Cat for a private lesson by a GO. He spent about half an hour with us in the water making sure we were very comfortable. Very good patient instruction. We were assured that if we got into trouble, it was no problem, and they would come out to help us. When we took the boat out alone later, it was smooth sailing (no pun intended!). Very good constant steady wind had us going back and forth with no problems, we looked like old pro’s.
Windsurfing: This didn’t go so well, but it’s not Club Med’s fault! We both just have no sense of balance. A short private lesson on the shore and then we were on a windsurfer in the ocean. We practiced scrambling up on top of it and trying to stay on. Nice touch: Club Med had set up a buoy in the water to tie the windsurfer to so you wouldn’t have to worry about being blown out to sea and be unable to come back. My record was to stay on for a minute and a half! After about 30 minutes of practicing, the GO swam out to see how we were doing and offered us some tips but at the end of an hour of trying we decided to leave that sport to the 9 year olds who were zipping by us as we were sailing.
Tennis: Didn’t go so well – we didn’t bring running shoes and couldn’t get instruction. Besides, it was way too hot.
Table Tennis: No shoes needed for this one! But the table was outside, and the light wind blew the ball around all over the place. Well organized though, and good equipment.
The GOs put on a show every night. We caught two of them, and were very impressed. They obviously practice a lot and took it seriously. It’s not Broadway, but it’s also not your kid’s school play. The disco we found disappointing. It started around 12:30am and seemed to be just picking up when we stumbled home at 1:00am. Obviously Europeans need less sleep than we do! Be warned that there are other "European" aspects to the disco: There were a few TV’s in the dance club showing soft-core porno movies.
The GO’s: We were impressed across the board with the staff, except for one GO who taught dancing who took her job a little too seriously (we thought). There is a staff introduction event on the Sunday night (We caught this at the end of our stay because we were off-cycle due to our Monday arrival). The GO’s are from all over the world. Very friendly bunch who loved their jobs. (This is in stark contrast to the Sandals crew). They are almost all young, university educated, very energetic. They often hung out at the evening entertainment and we met them at meals.
The GM’s: The guests are mostly European. French was the most commonly spoken language. We were originally worried about the "sit with 6 other people" concept but very quickly loved it. We met lots of interesting folks and got to practice our French! (For those who don’t speak French, all the staff spoke English.) And when we did want some privacy, all we had to do was arrange to be at the main restaurant early enough to get a table for two and it would be arranged, or go to the Annex, and reserve one.
Go! You’ll have a blast.