Here's What It's Really Like to Stay at a Club Med

Remember those Club Med ads from the '80s and '90s? We investigate what it's really like staying at one of the all-inclusive resorts.

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I'm perched at the edge of a narrow platform suspended 20 feet from the ground — all 10 toes teetering precariously off the edge. The only thing keeping me from a graceless fall is a harness so tight I can now honestly say I have something in common with Victorian-era women and a man whose sole mission is to coax me into jumping — not to my death, as it may sound, but by using a trapeze bar so that I can swing gaily through the air.

I grip the bar ever tighter and leap. It's terrifying. It's also something I will never forget.

Days later, surrounded by the group with whom I've traveled to Club Med Cancún, we each say our favorite part of the four-day journey, and my mind immediately goes to that trapeze lesson; not to the fear I felt, but how the activity bonded these eight strangers together. And as I've learned, that's a little — actually, a lot — of what Club Med is all about.

Think back to the late '80s and '90s, and you might remember Club Med's TV commercials with scantily clad guests or the fact that Club Med touted nude beaches, making these resorts a favorite destination among swingers. (Club Med is a French-owned company, after all.) Those are images Club Med is actively trying to change — and based on my experience at one resort (and the glowing Club Med reviews you'll find online), it is succeeding in spectacular fashion.

In fact, let's put those old ads aside, and talk about what it's really like to stay at a Club Med.

It's not all about the buffet

Club Med's properties are all-inclusive — save for top-shelf liquors, high-brow wines, and off-resort excursions. When you hear all-inclusive, you can't help but picture buffet lines and food that's languished for too long under heat lamps. That's why I was pleasantly surprised the Cancún resort has two restaurants with à la carte offerings, spanning from freshly made classic ceviche to seared steaks flown in from California. Chef de cuisine Orlando Olguin told me restaurants across the brand are modernizing their offerings for a new generation. "We have fewer options, but we're focusing on what we do really well and how we can do it better," Olguin said as we sampled raspberry salad topped with grilled lobster, al pastor-style tacos, and mole made with tender chicken.

There are no strangers

Forget the word "employees." Club Med has GOs — gracious organizers — who do everything from mixing margaritas to teaching salsa dancing lessons to coordinating private dinners on the beach. At lunch, a GO will pull up a chair and dine with you. (Introverts, beware.) By late afternoon, the GO (bartender) will know your name — or in my case, what I can only assume is the Spanish version of my moniker, Jillia. They'll greet you along walkways. They'll invite you to beach balloon parties. They'll dance with you as strobe lights flare and music plays. Curious about that? Read on, dear reader.

There will be dancing

Following each day's nightly show — more on that soon — GO's lead the audience in coordinated dances that test your coordination and agility, and, inevitably, help you burn off some of the calories you consumed at dinner. They're danced out to the beat of pop tunes and they are, quite frankly, infectious. I dare you to watch a performance from a chair. My money is on the fact you will get up and shake it off.

If you're bored, that's really your problem

Club Med might not be right for dedicated beach bums. It's not that the resort won't let you get your tan on, but by sitting butt-to-lounge-chair all day you'd be missing what Club Med does differently. Take the offerings at its Cancún property: on a Friday, you could take a dance class, play beach volleyball, attend a scuba-diving demonstration, work out in an aqua gym, and indulge in a pool party — all before the clock strikes noon. In the afternoon, at the resort, the GOs put out a crêpe bar at one pool; at night, they set up a sushi station. There are paddle boards and windsurfing and kayaks and snorkeling gear to be borrowed. There's bingo. There's a lot to do. Honestly, it can be a little overwhelming. FOMO is real, folks, and it lives and breathes at Club Med.

You'll test your limits and watch others test theirs

And now, that brings us back to the trapeze. Taking a trapeze lesson was, let's just say it, not on my bucket list. And yet, at this Club Med, I couldn't resist going for one (terrifying) swing. The Cancún property also had archery for those who prefer their feet planted on the ground. The Punta Cana resort has over 30 circus-inspired activities for guests. The point is, these resorts can bring you out of your comfort zone. But if you prefer to observe and not participate, the nightly shows could be right up your alley. I attended two nighttime performances, in which GOs — and some audience participants — break danced, and later, balanced on teetering ladders, swung from silks and ropes, and twisted not one, but two dozen hula-hoops around their ankles, waists, necks, and hands all at once. It's impressive. It's inspiring. And, though I know it makes me sound as if I drank the Kool-Aid — or as my case may be, freshly squeezed papaya juice — it'll make you want to go back.

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