On the Road: Club Med, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

The official schedule of the day's activities at Club Med, Punta Cana listed a series of tennis clinics during my visit late last fall, so I strolled over the courts to take part. Club Med, Punta Cana, Dominican RepublicInstead, I bumped into the future.

Mike Woody, a national cardio tennis trainer, had recently arrived from his home club in Michigan to instruct the Punta Cana g.o.s (or gentils organisateurs) in the fine art of running cardio tennis drills. So instead of the scheduled strategy clinic, the dozen or so of us g.m.s (or gentils membres) strapped on heart monitors and became willing guinea pigs as Woody put us and the first of several pros through an unexpected demo of the program Club Med expects to launch officially sometime late this spring.

Serendipitous though that was, my real reason for visiting this particular Club Med was to experience firsthand what a $34 million investment had done to enhance the family-oriented property. For the French-based company, the changes at Punta Cana signal a new direction. Its chairman and CEO, Henri Giscard d'Estaing, says that the intention is to make it "the best of the all-inclusive upscale family resorts," a goal it shares with Club Med, Ixtapa in Mexico.

Nothing is more central to that effort than Tiara, a necklace of 32 two-bedroom oceanfront family suites with such deluxe amenities as flatscreen televisions, in-room computers and espresso makers, concierge and laundry service, in-room breakfasts, stocked mini bars, in-room massages, golf-cart transportation around the grounds, and private pickup from the airport. Guests of Tiara also have their own private oceanfront infinity swimming pool, with a lifeguard on duty. Staying in one of these suites also comes with added perks, among them private pickup at the airport, golf-cart transportation around the property, concierge and laundry service, a stocked mini bar, and breakfast room service.

Even if you're not staying in Tiara—and I wasn't—the enhancements to this Club Med are so extensive and appealing that it's worth checking out, especially if you have children. Kids have been a focus of this Club Med since it opened in 1980, but with these latest additions theClub Med, Punta Cana, Circus, Dominican Republicy now have programs for the entire gamut of ages, from four months to teens. Divided into appropriate age groups, each cluster has its own g.o.s and activities, including mini-tennis on a small, dedicated court beneath a tarp at the Mini Club and junior tennis at the courts.

The Mini Club itself creates an almost village-within-a-village atmosphere, with a large shallow pool with slides and water features as well as playgrounds appropriate to different age levels and rooms to nap, get out of the sun, or in case of rain do arts and crafts. The g.o.s focus not only on keeping the kids occupied but also on helping them develop skills, from a baby gym to a circus school. Teens, meanwhile, have "The Ramp," a supervised skateboard/rollerblade park and their own place to hang out called "the Lab," where they can pursue creative activities like video editing, DJ lessons, theatre, and more.

As an adult, I had an equally lengthy roster of daily options. The sheer size of this Club Med—at 75 acres it's the second-largest in the North American zone—provides ample room for diversions of every stripe, from the 12 newly resurfaced hard courts to a free-form pool the length of a football field and a flying trapeze. Not surprisingly many of the activities take place at the beach or in the ocean. The beach is in fact one of the glories of the Club. At almost 2,000 feet long and 165 feet deep, this boulevard of soft sand borders turquoise waters protected by an offshore reef. At its core stands Celeste, a casual restaurant/bar by day and a nightclub after dark, along with a covered stage in a coconut grove for merengue, salsa, and yoga classes. Platoons of lounge chairs extend in both directions. Part of the ocean has been roped off for swimming, while water sports launch from another. The far northern end of the beach, away from all this activity, tends to be less congested, luring adults (some of them topless) in search of a quieter spot to plop down on a lounge chair.

That tranquil, far northern end is also appropriately the location of the new spa, which sits slightly back and above the beach. It has a couple of outdoor palapas for individual and couples massages as well as another eight treatment rooms inside and a Zen-inspired open-air lounge with a plunge pool at one end. Traditional massages aside, you can also choose from aroma scrubs, mud treatments, pearl facials, and more.

There are two restaurants: Samana, modeled on a marketplace, and the oceanside Hispaniola. Both serve elaborate buffets with an abundance of international entrees, salads, breads, cheeses, and desserts. Nightlife, meanwhile, typically begins with drinks at El Cielo, the open-air bar at the reception center, and continues after dinner first in the theater and later in the oceanfront bar Celeste. And finally, if you want to get off property and explore the Dominican Republic, you can choose from a dozen or so excursions (at extra cost), among them trips to a small village, a school, and a plantation—sampling tropical fruits and Dominican coffee along the way—a wildlife park, and the historic capital city of Santo Domingo.

As for the tennis, the cardio workouts are tentatively sheduled to begin in May, the last I heard. Meanwhile, there are clinics in the mornings and some sort of social or competitive activity in the late afternoon. Court time is free. And when not runnign other programs, the g.o. pros are available for private lessons.

For additional information, including rates, visit the Club Med, Punta Cana website.






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