By Francis DiScala Jr and Jill Vasil:
“Is there a psychiatrist on board this plane?”, Frank asked the stewardess. Not the ideal start to what is bound to be another fun-filled family vacation, but what do you expect when traveling with four kids ranging in age from 4 months to 11 years? Most people would cringe at the thought of vacationing with a large family, but Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Port St. Lucie, Florida, provides every amenity to accommodate a family.
Not only will the resort supply you with every essential for the daily routine of parenthood—think baby strollers, infant bathtubs, changing stations, cribs, and bottle warmers—but entertainment for ages 4 months to 17 years also runs all day Thursday to Tuesday, plus Pyjamas Club babysitting service that extends from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. You can relax knowing that while you’re lounging by the spectacular infinity pool, sipping a piña colada, your youngster will be participating in a vast array of activities ranging from sailing to trapeze with seasoned professionals. Rates for this all-inclusive vacation package start at $599/person for a seven-night stay.
We departed JFK airport in New York and landed in Miami a short 2.5 hours later. From there we took the Tri-Rail to Delray Beach. The Tri-Rail train is an extremely economical and timely way to travel from Miami to as far north as Mangonia Park. The fare is $10 per person round-trip for the complete loop of travel ($3.80 more on a weekday). The remainder of our travel time was a one-hour drive that we arranged from a friend from Mangonia Park to Port St. Lucie.
Upon arrival at the resort, we placed our bags on the cart and proceeded inside where we were promptly greeted by smiling faces behind the reception desk. No sooner did we say hello than Jessica, a young girl in an orange shirt and pigtails, approached to register all the children for their age-appropriate Club Med groups. As usual, the excitement was too much for our four-year-old to bear and chaos erupted, with her running around the lobby like a wind-up toy. Thankfully the staff catered to her and then suggested we have a bite for lunch at one of their on-site restaurants, a benefit of the Club Med all-inclusive package. We sat outside at Soleil, where the waitstaff quickly came to rescue us from our hunger. Of course the kids didn’t particularly care to order the salmon or the beef scallopini chimichurri off the menu, so the waiter kindly proposed that they run into The Marketplace where they could choose from a large buffet of classic yet gourmet prepared foods. Brilliant. While the “grown-ups” opted for the finer dining, the children returned with plates of pasta, turkey burgers, hot dogs, roast beef, and the standard side, french fries. All in all, a successful meal.
The grounds of the resort are meticulously kept, with new landscaping to accompany their current renovations. Lush hibiscus, Royal palms, and plumbago decorate the terrain. Throughout are canopy beds for lounging, but you had better get out early to place a book or pair of shoes on one to reserve it, as they are quickly occupied. The walkways are stroller friendly, and wide enough that you don’t have to break the family into segments in order to navigate the property. While touring the facilities, you will also notice that you never pass a staff member who doesn’t grin and greet you.
After dropping the oldest three kids off at the theater for circus school, we ventured to our room for a little R&R. The evening consisted of dinner and a circus presentation by the Kids’ Club. The show was phenomenal, with professional trapeze artists having taught the children some of their routines and humor. Other evening events during our stay included live performances by The Chameleons, who were definite crowd-pleasers with their potent vocals and classic rock guitar riffs.
Our first full day started off with a filling breakfast at The Marketplace, my new favorite place on Earth due to the fact that it’s all-you-can-eat and serves foods such as made-to-order omelets, crispy bacon, breads that came out of the oven that morning, and fresh fruits. We then took Cameron, the already infamous four-year-old, and Morgan, our eight-year-old son, to their corresponding classrooms at Mini Club Med, which occupies kiddies age 4-10. There is also Baby Club Med for infants 4-23 months of age, as well as Petit Club Med for 2- and 3-year-olds. My oldest daughter, who happened to celebrate her 11th birthday while on vacation, enjoyed the freedom of Junior Club Med, which offers a much more flexible schedule of stunts, sports, and gatherings. They also have their very own designated “hangout” building appropriately named Latitude 27 where tweens and teens can play pool, watch the tube, and socialize with their peers. Wren and Laura, GO’s for the teen club, made sure to squeeze every potential amount of fun from each day.
Mini Club Med and Kids Club Med both have a strict schedule of events. The daily routine was comprised of trapeze (yes! four-year-olds have more guts than most adults!); dance; art classes; sports such as tennis, golf, and soccer; meals; and fun at the splash pool. Every night you can watch the kids and staff perform at a family-friendly show in the amphitheater. The most impressive of the shows was the circus show, where the “gracious organizers”, aka GO’s Heather, Meghan, Hugh, Matt-Matt, and Nick thrilled the crowd with their acrobatic and gymnastic talents. They are also amazingly personal and patient with their students during the course of their long, sun-filled days of instruction. We had the pleasure of dining with our new friend Heather, as well as celebrating Hugh’s 23rd birthday, both experiences that reminded me of the significance of lasting impressions. The employees, through their close interaction and personal service, have a way of staying with you long after you leave the grounds.
Frank and I decided on the third day to enroll our four-month-old in Baby Club Med so that we could partake of the daily sports and excursions. Although we were leery at first, our concerns were quickly discarded as we entered and saw four people in a room awaiting the first infant’s arrival. Our Dane was that lucky boy. The only necessities we had to provide were diapers and formula. The room was newly painted with vibrant colors, and there was an abundance of well-suited baby toys and accessories. Nell, one of the staff members, advised me that she was, of course, infant-CPR and first-aid certified, and that most of the time there were 3-4 GOs in the room at all times, even though we never saw more than three tots in their care. Dane took a liking to Courtney, a seasoned GO, and we were quickly dismissed.
Seeing as the weather was ideal, we decided to hop on a sailboat. I had never maneuvered one myself, but Frank informed me that he was more than familiar and would show me the ropes. We had just started catching some wind in our sail when the mast snapped and left us stranded in the river. We were lucky that another sailboat was able to let the crew know, and we were quickly retrieved. We also had the pleasure of playing Eagle Marsh, one of the affiliate golf courses. Frank, the club manager of the golf course, provided a courtesy limo from Club Med, and we were door-to-door in less than 10 minutes. We were also given rental clubs and as many golf balls as we could fit in our pockets. The course is a well-maintained, challenging course. There is quite a bit of marsh (hence the name), and the fairways are tight. Other excursions offered for an additional cost are water-skiing, three types of fishing field trips, dolphin and sunset cruises, kayak and wave-runner rentals, as well as surf lessons.
Our last experience was at the Club Med Spa. We scheduled a one-hour couples Swedish massage. The costs are very reasonable for all spa services and packages. You can choose tables inside or opt for the outdoor cabana that overlooks the St. Lucie River. The masseuses were professional and tranquilizing. Unfortunately we were unable to participate in the early-morning or sunset waterfront yoga classes, but I’m confident that both experiences could soothe and calm the most kinetic of visitors.
The conclusion of our trip was a sad one indeed. It was our first family vacation, and it could not have been more relaxing or enjoyable. Lionel, the Chief of Village, was the last sparkling staff member we had the honor of meeting and speaking with, and he will entice you to return whether you speak English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian. We left Club Med in high spirits, with full bellies and hearts, and we look forward to another Club Med holiday with the entire tribe.
Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Club Med Sandpiper Bay.