By Roger Cox, Editor
Two things distinguish Club Med, Sandpiper Bay from most of its sister properties in North America, Mexico, and the Caribbean: its superb and extensive children's programs for kids as young as 4 months (though Punta Cana also has those) and its recent launch of the Club Med Academies to provide not only high-quality tennis experience but also a training environment for aspiring players.
The tennis element of the Club Med Academies (the other two legs of the stool are golf and fitness) came about when the International Tennis Academy formerly based in Del Ray Beach, Florida moved to the Club Med. Having that academy and its staff on the grounds impacts tennis-loving guests in several very favorable ways. It means that the caliber of tennis instruction available is of a very high standard—something that is not always true of tennis instruction at a Club Med—and that's true whether you or your kids are taking the free daily clinics that are part of the all-inclusive package or opting for the adult and junior tennis camps available at additional cost. But it also means that in wandering around the courts you'll get to watch the full-time academy students and an occasional touring pro working out under the watchful eyes of the staff—among them ITA founder Scott Del Mastro, who has devoted 20 years to coaching and training juniors and professionals worldwide, and Gabriel Jaramillo, who while at the IMG Academy Bollettieri Tennis Program helped develop Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Jim Courier, and many others.
The installation of the academy coincided with significant upgrade to the tennis complex as a whole. It now consists of six Hydrogrid tennis courts and 14 hard courts, with a two-story tennis clubhouse, with a pro shop, classroom space, and a rooftop terrace overlooking the courts. The overall effect has been to turn tennis from a mere amenity into a genuinely compelling reason to choose this Club Med not only over its siblings but over many traditional tennis resorts and camps as well—and that's especially true if you're coming as a family.
Set alongside the Port St. Lucie River, 45 miles north of the West Palm Beach airport, this expansive club covers some 1,000 acres, taking in a 20-court tennis complex, an 18-hole golf course, four swimming pools, a circus trapeze, a marina and watersports center, a sprawling restaurant, a theater, and a bar. The Club dates to the late 1980s, when it moved into the premises formerly occupied by the Sandpiper Bay Resort Hotel. That explains why the accommodations are much larger than is typical of Club Med.
The Club has recently undergone a thorough refurbishment. That includes not only the tennis complex but an enhanced Marketplace-style dining room, reconfigured pool area, Slice Bar, a water park and playground, and improved facilities for children of every age, from as young as 4 months to teens (the latter get their own place to hang out).
Pro Shop: 772-398-5100
The formation of Club Med Academies totally alters the tennis chemistry at Club Med, Sandpiper Bay. Headed by world-class coaches Scott Del Mastro and Gabriel Jaramillo, the staff brings a level of expertise and experience rare to find at any resort or camp and vastly superior to anything Club Med has offered in the past. On the most basic level that means you can look forward to high-quality instruction even in the clinics that are part of the all-inclusive package. But now, you also have the option to make tennis the centerpiece of yours—or your family's—Club Med holiday by opting into tennis camps that run two hours a day for adults and as much as five or more for juniors.
Tennis Programs. In any given week, there are a variety of free tennis options for adults and juniors ages 13 and up. These include beginner, intermediate, and advanced clinics and singles, doubles, and mixed doubles tournaments. For kids, Sandpiper Bay runs 30-minute Le Petit Tennis sessions for those ages 4-7 to help develop motor skills; 45-minute Junior tennis clinics for those ages 8-13. Adults and juniors wanting more have other options, though these come at added cost. For adults, this Club Med has added a two-hour-a-day tennis camp, dubbed Active Adults Program, under the direction of Rafa Muzlera, an Argentine with international training and coaching experience. His program keeps student:pro ratios small—no more than 4:1—the adult camp director Rafa Muzlera, who is from Argentina, runs daily camps that focus on the modern game and are supplemented by nutrition advice, mental and fitness training, and video analysis. The camps run for two hours each morning and two hours each afternoon and can thus be combined for a total of four hours. The cost is $125/two-hour session. Juniors ages 8 and up can opt for weeklong tennis camps. Finally, juniors looking for serious training can enroll in full-time boarding or non-boarding programs for a semester or academic year as part of the ongoing academy.
Courts & Fees. There are 14 hard courts and 6 HydroGrid courts. Court fees: None.
Golf Courses. Sandpiper Bay has an 18-hole golf course, a 9-hole pitch-and-putt course, practice facilities, and a golf academy offering boarding and non-boarding options. Guests can also arrange to play at other courses nearby.
Spa & Fitness Center. Their mall spa offers a variety of treatments, include various massages, facials, and body scrubs, with the option of having some of these treatments outdoors in a riverside palapa. There is a small fitness center with a covered outside deck overlooking the river and a lap pool directly in front of it. Some of the aerobics, stretching, and body sculpting classes take place there, weather permitting. The air-conditioned fitness center itself houses a selection of Stairmasters, treadmills, and exercycles and a few weight-training machines. However, both will be replaced by a much larger spa and fitness center late in 2011.
And ... Beyond tennis and golf, the other major sports at Sandpiper Bay are the circus, Hobie Cat sailing, bocce ball, and several swimming pools (including one for adults only). Except for premium activities (among them the tennis and golf academies), there is no charge for lessons or use of the equipment.
Sandpiper Bay demonstrates its commitment to luring families by offering three levels of children's programs: a Baby Club for those ages 4 months to 2 years (one of only two in the North American Zone); a Petit Club, for those 2 to 4 years; and a Mini Club, for those 4 to 12. These provide supervision and activities from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (or until 9 p.m. in the case of the Petit and Mini clubs). Sandpiper Bay also has a baby-bottle room, which is open day and night and contains a supply of baby foods and supplies. Parents can also pick up strollers with umbrellas there or arrange for babysitters from outside.
The 365 rooms at Sandpiper Bay occupy seven three-story buildings (with elevators) grouped around the central village. All have outside entrances and full terraces; some have views of the river. Some are a longish walk from reception. These are very spacious accommodations, particularly by Club Med standards, with connecting doors between pairs making them ideal for families. Each has a kingsize (or twin) beds, a daybed-cum-sofa with brightly colored cushions, white-tile floors, a flatscreen television, a phone, WiFi, and coffeemaker. The bath, in tile and marble, has a separate vanity area with a hair dryer. There is a large walk-in closet with a safe, a small fridge, and open shelves.
Like all Club Meds, Sandpiper Bay serves up an extensive and quite varied array of fruits, vegetables, salads, pastas, breads, cheeses, hot and cold entrées, and desserts as well as an assortment of kids' favorites, like pizza, burgers, and hot dogs. It is all quite good. The buffet tables stand at the center of a sprawling building whose right and left wings contain two expansive rooms of tables. Adults with children are shuttled to one end; those without children have a choice of dining near families or at tables of their own at the opposite end. In addition, there is Soleil, a table-service restaurant on the porch overlooking the river.
If you're looking for other resorts with an adult tennis camp and well-run children's programs, check out:
Club Med-Sandpiper Bay
Club Med's all-inclusive packages bundle lodging, meals, drinks, and a broad range of recreational programs, with extra charges only for premium activities like the International Tennis Academy camps. Rates vary from week to week. Both land only and packages with airfare are available. In all cases, you must be a member of Club Med to sign up.
Visit the website for current rates
Club Med Academies at Sandpiper Bay
Club Med offers free daily clinics and social tennis directed by the Academy's professional staff.
Visit the website for current rates
Travel Instructions. By Air: The closest air gateway is Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) in West Palm Beach, 45 miles to the south. It is served by most of the major airlines. Rental cars are available as are cabs for transfer to the Club. Other accessible airports are Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FFL), in Fort Lauderdale 95 miles to the south; Miami International Airport (MIA), 111 miles to the south; and Orlando International Airport (MCO), 120 miles to the north.
General Tourist Information. For general information about vacationing in the Port St. Lucia area, visit the St. Lucie County website at www.visitstluciefla.com or the Visit Florida website at www.visitflorida.com.
©2016 Roger Cox