By Roger Cox, Editor
As an early arrival in Punta Cana—the Club opened in 1980—this Club Med was able to snag one of the great pieces of property on the eastern end of the Dominican Republic. The 75-acre resort fronts a boulevard of soft sand nearly 2,000 feet long, 165 feet deep, and protected by an offshore reef. It's beaches like this, and the 80 degree temperatures, that lure vacationers to the Caribbean.
To that extraordinary venue, Club Med added it own enhancements, including 14 tennis courts, circus apparatus and workshops, and a Mini Club. Seemingly everything has recently benefited from a $34 million upgrade, that among other things added an oceanfront complex of upscale two-bedroom family suites dubbed Tiara and expanded the children's programs to handle everyone from age four months to teens. It is a very different and much more appealing Club than the one I visited in the late 1980s, made easier now by an airport a mere 10 minutes' drive from the reception center.
See my On the Road: Club Med, Punta Cana story for a more in-depth look at its appeal and amenities.
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Tennis Programs. The typical Club Med tennis format for adults—45-minute beginner, intermediate, and advanced clinics most mornings and a variety of competitive or social events most afternoons—is about to have cardio tennis injected into the mix. A trainer was on site when I visited in early December 2008, showing the g.o. pros how to set up the heart monitors used with the program and how to organize drills. Meanwhile, there are a variety or tennis programs for children, including Le Petit (mini) tennis on a dedicated mini-tennis court for ages 4 to 7, a Quickstart program for those ages 8 to 10, and mini tennis camps for ages 11 to 13. Private lessons are available as well.
Courts & Fees. There are 12 courts—2 asphalt and 10 cushioned, the latter painted U.S. Open blue. Nine of them with lights. These are scattered singly or in pairs though a forest of trees and shrubs behind the lodging and not far from the main reception area. (NOTE: the Club Med website currently show 14 courts, 6 of them clay, but that information is out of date. There are no clay courts and 2 of the 14 hard are out of play.) Court fees: None.
Spa & Fitness
Beach. The Club fronts its own stretch of a beach at the eastern end of the Dominican Republic. The deep, sandy strand, nearly 2,000 feet long, seems to have three sections: a lounging section with a roped-off shallow area for families behind which extend several lines of blue and white lounge chairs beginning near the water and extending back into a glade of palm trees and anchored by an open-air bar and lunch spot called Celeste; a watersports section just beyond Celeste, and then a much quieter section, with a less-dense population of lounge chairs and more adult, to judge from the topless sunbathers.
Swimming Pools. The main pool is a kind of multiple figure 8 with a very shallow section for families at one end and lounge chairs all around it. There is also a plunge pool at the spa (see below), a kiddy pool with lots of water features at the Mini Club, and a private infinity pool for exclusive use of those who rent the family suites.
Golf Courses. The Club has no golf course of its own but will arrange for guests to play at as many as 15 local courses for an added fee.
Spa & Fitness Center. The spa by Comfort Zone northern end of the property, it open air covered waiting area and adjacent infinity plunge pool looking out at the beach and ocean. There are three cabanas below where you have the option of a treatment open to sea breezes (the slatted windows let in air while affording privacy. The other rooms—eight in all—wrap around the reception and waiting areas. There's a boutique with Comfort Zone products. My sports massage therapist, Angelique, began by having me take three deep breaths of an aromatic oil, before going about the task of untying knots and stretching limbs. Afterward, I sat in a lounge chair with a glass of water (several teas are also options) gazing at the sea. The lockers include a bathrobe, towel, and disposable paper thong as well as showers.
The air-conditioned fitness center, not far from the central reception area, contains about 10 cardio and nine workout stations—all of them by LifeFitness—as well as free weights and dumbbells. Though it has windows are an area called the Ramp (see Children's programs below) and the sea beyond, I never saw a single person using it. Maybe if it rains.
And ... Long known for its circus workshops, the club teaches kids juggling, lets smaller ones bounce on a trampoline, and older ones learn tricks on the flying trapeze. There are adult trapeze lessons as well. Otherwise, the choices of activity are extensive, including windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling, scuba (for certified divers), football (soccer), aerobics and yoga in an open-air thatched roof palapa on the beach, inline skating, softball, and archery. There are also numerous off-property excursions to a rain forest, river cruises and tours of the historic city of Santo Domingo
With the 2008 enhancements to the Punta Cana, the Club extended the children's programs to handle every age from four months to late teens (joining Sandpiper Bay in Florida, and Ixtapa in offering that broad range). The Mini Club at its core has been expanded to become the largest in Club Med system worldwide, with separate sections for Baby (ages 4 to 23 months), Petit (ages 2-3 years), and Mini Clubs (ages 4-10 years) grouped around a fenced-in array of recreation areas, playgrounds, and a shallow water park. Those ages 11 to 17, meanwhile, get their own exclusive area to hangout, The Lab, alongside a skateboard and rollerblade park known as The Ramp.
For kids Punta Cana is one giant summer camp. Their days are filled with a variety of diversions, most of them outdoors and focused on learning skills, whether its circus tricks, mini tennis, cooking lessons, inline skating, sailing, or any number of other sports and activities. Kids get shunted indoors only during inclement weatherâ€”or in the case of younger kids to take naps. Unlike most summer camps, however, this one goes on year-round and is multilingual, so your English-speaking child will be exposed to French, Spanish—the language of the Dominican Republic—and possibly a smattering of other languages as well.
There are two classes of accommodations. For families seeking a more upscale accommodations than are typical of Club Med, Punta Cana offers Tiara. this resort-within-a-resort consists 32 two-bedroom oceanfront family suites tricked out with such amenities as computers with Ethernet connections, espresso and coffee makers, teak decks with ocean views, and access to a private, lifeguard-protected infinity pool. 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. Everyone else beds down in one of the 521 air-conditioned rooms in one-, two- and three-story buildings variously painted in shades of coral pink, mango, and yellow with white corrugated-iron roofs and white latticework trim. Layouts vary slightly. The most common consist of a bedroom, a living area with two sofas suitable as beds for kids and separated from the bedroom by sliding doors, a bath with shower, and a walk-in closet with two safes. The bedroom has a flatscreen satellite TV and coffee maker. Off the bedroom is a small patio with two chairs and an end table. The rooms have terra-cotta tile floors and sand-colored walls decorated with Dominican pottery wall scones, framed metal cut outs of leaves, and images of tropical leaves and plants.
Of the two main restaurants, the open-air Hispaniola stands out for its location overlooking the ocean, but it's upstaged by Samana, next to the reception center. Loosely designed as a marketplace, Samana has concentric rings of food stations, many with chefs preparing dishes as needed and specializing in a particular dish or international cuisine. Kids gravitate to the pizza, pasta, burgers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs while adults may opt for more sophisticated entrees like rack of lamb, lobster, sushi, or local fish with ginger. On any evening there are dozens of choices, including a vast array of salads, breads, and cheeses. Desserts, too, are abundant, though the one that drew the longest lines was the creperie. You could watch your crepe being made by a machine that spread batter on a griddle and then choose the toppings or fillings you liked, among them hot fudge and various fruit compotes.
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See the Club Med website for rates during the time you wish to visit.
Visit the website for current rates
Travel Instructions. The nearest airport is Punta Cana, roughly 10 minutes from the Club. It's also possible to fly into Santo Domingo, but it is a 3-hour drive away.
General Tourist Information. For general tourist information, visit the Dominican Republic Tourism website or contact them at Ave. México esq. 30 de Marzo, Santo Domingo, DN, República Dominicana; phone (809) 221-4660 or Fax (809) 682-3806. In the U.S. you can telephone them toll-free 800-723-6138. There are also regional tourism offices in New York City, Chicago, Houston, Miami, California, Puerto Rico, and Haiti and in Canada, and various countries in Europe, Central and South America, all of them listed on the website.