Resort Spotlight: Club Med Sandpiper Bay

By Melissa Klurman

Florida is already a popular family travel destination, so what could make it better? How about a high-flying trapeze experience, circus school for kids, complimentary tennis and golf lessons, and civilized all-you-can-eat fare with a French flair? My son, Aidan, 7, and I found all this and more at the newly revamped Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Port St. Lucie, Florida, a popular all-inclusive family resort.

What It's Like: First impressions mean a lot, and Aidan and I were both struck by the sheer beauty of the property when we arrived. Although located on a river, not the Atlantic Ocean, the whole resort has a tropical island feel, with palm tree ringed pools, a golden sand beach, a rainbow of Hobie Cats dotting the harbor, and even dolphins frolicking offshore. Aidan actually said, more than once: "I love the beautiful scenery, especially all the different flowers."

What's New: According to Katie Riguzzi, public relations manager of Club Med North America, the facelift for this classic Club Med, which was closed for three months while the changes took place, included projects both big (resituating the main pool to take advantage of the gorgeous beach views, completely renovating the restaurants, a tear-down and rebuild of Slice Bar, creating a splash park for kids) and small (such as painting and redecorating the kids club). What you'll find now is fresh and fabulous, with red-accented cabanas, lounges, and umbrellas creating a modern Miami aesthetic. And although the resort comprises 216 acres, the new layout makes the property feel very intimate, although it never feels crowded. There are now five pools, including a lap pool, a baby pool, a little kids splash zone with sprinklers and small slides, a zero-entry main pool (a favorite of both mine and Aidan), and, if your kids are in camp, an intimate adults-only infinity pool and hot tub with open views over palm trees and the river. In addition, there's a new soccer field, a new basketball court, and a new tennis center with 21 courts.

Food Glorious Food: Full disclosure: This was both my first Club Med experience and my first time at an all-inclusive resort, and I was a little worried that all-inclusive might mean bad buffet served round the clock. But, I'm happy to report, that was not the case. There are two restaurants, one sit down, Soleil, and one buffet, Marketplace. The buffet has the more inventive menu of the two restaurants, a delicious duck in raspberry sauce was a standout, and the club's notorious chocolate brioche bread is the stuff of dessert daydreams. There were also many touches of Club Med's French roots in the offerings---excellent cheeses, lovely wines, crusty breads---but balanced by lots of kids' favorites, with hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, pasta, and stir fry available. Aidan was a fan of the Asian station where he could get fried rice to go with his pasta. There is no poolside service for food or drinks, which would be a nice touch, but the dining spots are adjacent to the main pool and both have breezy outdoor seating areas with views of the river.

Kids Programs: Club Med prides itself on its varied children's programs designed with specific age groups in mind, starting with babies as young as 4 months all the way up to teens. The all day programs start at 8 a.m. and go through evening; they even give the kids lunch, snacks, dinner and take them swimming. Plus there are age-appropriate sports, boating, circus school, and art on offer. However, you don't have to commit to a full day, and we found a better fit for us was a morning spent in the kids club, and an afternoon spent in the pool with mom.

Circus Skills and Trapeze Dreams: Aidan loved trying new skills in the circus school, part of his Mini Club Med program, including Chinese YoYo, ribbons, and trampoline. On the day of the big circus show I even got to watch him swing from a mini-trapeze - his smile went on for miles. And it's not just the kids that get to try out new circus skills. I screwed up my courage and flew through the air during open trapeze time up on the BIG trapeze. Okay, I'll admit it; I got a little shaky at the top of the ladder. And when I grabbed onto the swinging bar. And when I landed 30 feet below in a real circus net. But afterwards, it was all I could talk about. A completely unique adrenaline rush - and a must try if you're not afraid of heights.

Art Attack: Another unique, and exclusive, new feature of Sandpiper Bay is an art room with a wall-size mural popping with color and playful images by Britto, the pop artist based in Miami. A dedicated art teacher leads kids through art projects all day. Best of all, families are invited to drop in and participate in projects as well.

Babies: Someone with a baby definitely designed the baby program at Club Med. At check-in, they'll deliver a stroller, baby bath, highchair, and crib for you to use for the duration of your stay. Parents also receive a code to access the spotless "baby room," a repository of cereals, yogurts, milk, and baby food as well as a microwave and bottle warmer (you still need to bring your own formula and bottles) all available 24/7. It's enough to make even the most sleep-deprived parent smile.

Tweens and Teens: Club Med is an especially good vacation destination for the finicky 11 to 15 crowd. Latitude 27, a hang-out zone and meeting place near the main pool, has ping pong, pool, foozball, and Wii (although we never saw a teen go near the electronics – how cool is that?!) The big kids here have the autonomy to be on their own in a club environment, using the pools, trapeze, and sports facilities with minimal, yet ever present, supervision. The unique setup gives tweens and teens a sense of freedom and flexibility, which makes them happy – and their parents as well.

If You Go:

  • For more information on Club Med Sandpiper Bay, visit www.clubmed.us/sandpiperbay, call 1-800-CLUB-MED, or contact your favorite travel agent.
  • Prices start at $599 per person for a 7-day stay (late August to mid-December). Children 2 and under stay free.
  • All food, beverages, tips and taxes are included in the price as are tennis and tennis lessons, golf lessons, boating, trapeze, evening entertainment, and kids' club activities. Extra costs are incurred for playing 18 holes of golf, off-property excursions, spa services, evening babysitting programs, and premium wines.
  • With babies to elementary age kids in tow, book a "Family Club Room" which has bunk beds AND a trundle (you can stack them 3 high to the sky!) in an interior kids room; with tweens and teens consider the "Deluxe Family Room" which features 2 full bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms (the small, single sink bathrooms in the regular family rooms are too small for multiple people to use at the same time).
  • Coin operated laundry facilities are available on every floor, so you can pack light if you choose.
  • Mini Club Med is closed all day on Wednesday. This is a good day to try a boat excursion (fee) to look for area wildlife. Aidan and I did an exhilarating airboat ride (complete with Florida gators!) on Lake Okeechobee that was well worth the 90-minute drive to get there.
  • The resort is approximately 1 hour northwest of West Palm Beach airport. Car service to the resort for a family of four is approximately $130 one-way.

Melissa Klurman is an award-winning travel writer and editor; she has worked at both Frommer's and Fodor's Travel Guides and writes about travel for Disney's Family Fun, FoxNews.com, Parents, and others, covering everything from Southern Florida to Southern Africa, where to take a family vacation to how to pack. She lives in NJ with her husband and seven-year-old son who luckily loves airplane food and miniature hotel soaps.

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