Overview and Check In
Check in was quick – just confirmation of our voucher, and we were off to our room for a well deserved shower. The Club is small, only 150 rooms. Most are of "Superior" class. The difference between Superior class and Ocean view is minimal – The ocean views are maybe 30 feet closer to the beach than the (better) superior rooms. I had called ahead to request a better room, and I think it was worth calling – we had one of the best superior class rooms, a stone’s throw from the beach.
The path around the village is well lit, and lush with vegetation. Even the farthest rooms are only about a maximum of a 10 minute walk from the center of the hotel (where the restaurant, pier, reception etc. are). The ocean view rooms often have no shade provided on the balcony – as compared to the superiors which are in the shade of the palms.
The Superior RoomThe room is very smartly built. It’s very big, with amenities like TV, A/C, and fridge (they call it a mini-bar, but it’s empty). The king-size bed is actually two singles stuck together, which don’t stay together. They would have done better to have a king-size feather mattress covering to lessen the gap. Or just gotten king size beds to begin with!
The bathroom is big, with a separate enclosed toilet. The shutters in the bathroom unfortunately don’t close completely, which allows the mosquitoes in. The big screen door doesn’t have netting either, so it’s hard to sit with the door open without filling the room with mosquitoes. In addition, and more annoyingly, every time they fumigated the village (daily just after sunset), the smoke would pour in to our room – even with all the blinds and windows shut. Being on the beach didn’t bring much relief either – the cloud of smoke inevitably billowed on to the beach and gassed anyone still there.
Other smart features of the room are a huge window/ledge in the shower for the shampoo/soap, more cabinet space than you could possibly need, two safes, and modern uplights embedded into the floor providing light for the room. (the room was still too dim for us at night though). There are lots of hooks, a clothesline in the shower (although nothing really ever dries effectively there, it’s too humid). There are umbrellas right outside the door – an unfortunate necessity, even in the ‘dry’ season (it rained 4 out of 7 days we were there).
There is no carpet – a feature we always appreciate about Club Med. Tile floors are so much easier to keep clean, especially at such a high humidity level right next to the sea.
The negatives for the room are that they haven’t decorated it that well – there is only one painting on the all-white walls. They need a faux-finish, or more paintings, to spruce up the room. The other negative is that the rooms are beginning to look a little tired. The grout is dirty, and in general the floor needs to be scrubbed, hard.
The TV only has 9 channels – CNN included, and the only English channel – but who needs TV? There is a kettle in the room, and they rent out an espresso maker if the walk to the bar is just too far to get your caffeine fix.
The BeachThe beach is better than we expected. After having read so many stories on the web about it being so small, coral sand, unswimmable, we wondered if we’d ended up at the same resort! Immediately around the central pier, the sand is soft white sand. Elsewhere in the resort, it is a coral sand (as are a lot of the beaches in Bora Bora). The length of the beach is fairly good – it would take about 10 minutes to walk the entire length, going at a good clip. The sand is a little rough and sandals/flip flops are definitely useful, but once you’re in the water, you don’t need them – the sand is nice and soft, but there are bits of coral you have to look out for.
Of course, that also means there are good snorkeling opportunities right off the beach. There are even some stairs built onto the pier where there is some beautiful schools of fish and an underwater tiki statue to be discovered.
Restaurant and Bar
The buffet restaurant is typical Club Med. Great desserts, mediocre wine, hit-and-miss meat, fantastic bread, etc. The seafood is very good – lots of evenings with shrimp, and for Bastille Day (July 14th) they pulled out ALL the stops, with oysters, lobster, etc.
Lunch was mostly the same every day, with cheeseburgers, not-very-good fish, bread, wonderful cheese, etc.
Dinner was very good. They would always have some special dishes, around the theme of the day – Tahitian, French, Italian, Japanese, etc. The raw fish and meats were all excellent – I tried everything and not a single upset stomach or hint of food poisoning. Everything was being kept at the right temperature, and flies were not a problem.
Despite what other people have said about chickens and dogs being a problem at Club Med, we found it to be the opposite. Apparently they have made an effort to reduce the numbers. They never came in to the restaurant area, and the couple of dogs we saw were always very docile. There was a family of cats as well, and the children staying at the Club loved playing with the kittens.
The bar is now almost fully included, with the exception of some top-shelf hard liquor, champagne, and more expensive bottles of wine. Some of the bar staff were clueless, however, and didn’t know how to make some of the most basic drinks – but they were always receptive to being told what to do. There is some snack food available at the bar as well. (bags of chips) Although there isn’t anyone serving drinks on the beach, they never seemed to care when we took our glasses out of the bar area. It was very nice to share a drink at the end of the pier as the day ended.
Water SportsWe took out kayaks several times and it was very pleasant. Because the Club is inside the lagoon, the water is very calm.
The sailing is well set up, with 5 hobie cats meaning there are plenty of sailboats for the size of the club. There are beginner lessons twice a day (included) unless there is a special sailing event that day. Twice a week, there is a sailing armada to an area outside the normally allowable sailing area.
Unfortunately while we were there the wind wasn’t too cooperative for beginners – it was either too soft or too hard. Since there is lots of shallow coral in the lagoon, you have to be pretty careful with the boats.
There is also windsurfing, but we didn’t try that. There seemed to be plenty of boards though, and again, beginner lessons are offered.
The snorkeling was a little disappointing. We were excited at the advertised twice daily trips, but it turns out that these trips were to the same place every day – and also the same place that all the surrounding hotels go to. Unfortunately, the other hotels do not properly instruct their guests on the fragility of the coral, so we often saw other snorkelers walking all over the coral with their fins on. As a result, the coral is in pretty bad shape. We really didn’t see much, although other people reported seeing octopuses and rays. The good news (for the coral) is that since all the hotels send their guests to the same place,there is just the one section of coral that is sacrificed.
The reason the snorkeling boat is limited to the same site is that Club Med only has one boat, and that is the boat that ferries people back and forth to the motu. So the boat most go out and come back fast enough to pick up the people on the motu.
The nightly shows are normal Club Med High School level, although the traditional Polynesian fire and dance show was a nice treat (I’m sure the same troupe performs at the Sofitel and every other hotel, but it was still nice to see that Club Med is paying for them to put on a performance on site, instead of asking guests to pay an excursion fee to see it in town).
Another night was a "casino" night, which as far as we could see was just a night off for the staff.
The GM’s (the guests)
When we arrived, the Club was at about 40% capacity. By the time we left, it was running at about 75%. However, it never even began to approach feeling full. There is so much space – on the beach, at the bar, in the restaurant – that it never felt crowded.
The guests at Club Med fell into roughly two categories: honeymooning Americans, and Europeans. There were some families there, but there are no activities for children, and it’s questionable whether children would find someone their age to play with.
One of our concerns was that because the Club has now gone ‘all-inclusive’, there would be rowdy behaviour, and drunks. This was never the case. In one week there, we never saw a single person who was drunk. Maybe the bartenders just don’t let it happen by refusing to serve – but we tend to think that the kind of people who would travel all the way to French Polynesia just aren’t interested in getting drunk out of their minds.
The impression we got from the advertising was that Club Med has it’s own private motu that it shuttles guests to, partly to make up for the fact that the beach at the Club isn’t that great. So, we were expecting this small little island, covered with soft white sand, looking on to the famous Bora Bora lagoon. Well, only the last part is right. The reality is that the motu is huge – we couldn’t even see the end of it – and the land is divided up in to many parcels. Club Med has but one of these parcels. The beach is worse than the Club’s beach – lots of coral, very narrow strip of sand, and if you walk outside of Club Med’s parcel, the beach is even worse. Inland on the motu, we saw garbage. Lots of dogs – and not behaved as well as the dogs at the club. It wasn’t even clear where Club Med’s parcel ended and the other hotels’ parcels began.
There are a couple of shelters on the Club Med part of the motu – but no access to water, bathrooms, etc. They run a picnic trip to the motu twice a week – which was nice, with a great BBQ – but the rest of the time – nothing. The motu generally has better weather then the main club, as the clouds tend to gather and get stuck around the mountain on Bora Bora, but the motu is far enough away not to be affected by this. In addition, since the motu is not in the shade of the mountain, it was a good way to extend the sunlight of the day by catching the 4:00 ferry over and taking the 5:00 ferry back.
The lagoon’s water around the motu is absolutely beautiful. This is the water you see in all the Bora Bora brochures – that beautiful turquoise blue we’ve never seen anywhere else in the word.
It is probably possible to get the same type of tour by going with one of the local operators instead of Club Med’s. However, we liked the fact that Club Med was taking care of cancelling excursions in bad weather and rescheduling people. In addition, the other excursions offered (quad bike, shark feeding, etc. ) were all comparable to the rates that were in our Lonely Planet guide.
Also, while we were there, the phones from the Club weren’t working, so the only way to make an outside call was to go to the front desk and have them call for you. Then a phone in the lobby would ring and you would be connected. Having them call so we could check out the competition seemed awkward.
Basically, the excursion takes you around the island, stopping in a couple of places for snorkeling, stopping at a beautiful sandbar for photos and swimming, stopping to feed the rays, and eating lunch on a motu with your feet dangling in the water. The ray feeding was a lot of fun – the rays are not captive, but there’s a group of them that have just been almost ‘domesticated’ by constant ray feeding excursions. The snorkeling was better thanthe snorkeling offered at the Club – but again, we were snorkeling in the same area as a lot of other boats. A moray eel is always hiding in the coral where they stop, and the tour operators take turns to feed the eel and get it to put on a nice show for their guests. After a while we were beginning to wonder if this thing was on a string.
Checkout of the club wasn’t exactly smooth. We followed our instructions dutifully, and left our baggage outside our door well in advance. After checking out, the chef du village and several GOs converged to wish us off, but there was no luggage to be found. It took about 10 minutes for them to track it down – with the Chef du Village getting visibly upset – and we almost missed our boat back to the airport. It turns out, the baggage handler is not used to mid-morning checkouts, because almost everyone checks out in the middle of the night, connecting to the Air France plane bound for LA. We were only going to Papeete.