Remember those Club Med ads from the 80s and 90s? We recently sent our intrepid reporter to find out what staying at the all-inclusive resort is really like in 2017.
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Picture it: I’m perched at the edge of a narrow platform suspended some 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 Yucatan, 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, ads that as the New York Times points out boasted “scantily clad hosts and guests,” or the fact 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, 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.

1. 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 all-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 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, not turkey.

2. There are no strangers. Forget the word “employees.” Club Med has GO’s—gracious organizers—who do everything from mix you a margarita to teach salsa dancing lessons and organize a private dinner on a stretch of sand. 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.

3. Turns out, “crazy signs” is not some kind of strange sign language. If you’ve read anything about Club Med, chances are fair to good you’ve come across the words “crazy signs” and wondered what the heck those are. Crazy signs are, simply put, choreographed dances. Following each day’s nightly show—more on that soon—GO’s lead the audience in coordinated dances that test your coordination, agility, and, inevitably, help you burn off the calories you consumed at the buffet. They’re danced out to the beat of Top 40 tunes, such as Citizen Way’s “Bulletproof,” 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.

4. 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 that 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, workout in an aqua gym, and indulge in a pool party—all before the clock strikes noon. In the afternoon, at our resort, GO’s put out a crepe 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.

5. 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 some 27 circus-inspired activities for guests. (Club Med partners with Cirque de Soliel.) The point is, these resorts can literally 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 nightly performances, in which GO’s—and some audience participants—break danced, and later, balanced on teetering ladders, swung from silks and ropes, and twisted not one, not two, but two dozen hula-hoops around their ankles, waists, necks, and hands—at once. It’s impressive. It’s inspiring. And, though I know it makes me sounds 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.