Columbus Isle, Bahamas
IntroductionThis was our sixth trip to Columbus Isle and 19th Club Med. We found the club had changed some, and not all for the better, but we met a number of very fun people, some new and one old GM friend, as well as a somewhat special GO.
Getting there and BackWe booked through Mill Travel and they provided good service. Since we had luggage problems on our last trip to CI, we were anxious to find out how the new Club Med airline "partner", Spirit Air would perform. In general, the filghts were fine and on time. Spirit uses Airbus aircraft and we've found the Airbus seats to be somewhat less comfortable than most others. The flights connected in Ft Lauderdale which is a more 'comfortable' airport than Miami. The fliges between Atlanta and Ft Lauderdale were packed full whereas the flights between Ft Lauderdale and San Salvador Island only had about 32 people on an aircraft with a capacity of at least 120. Our flights were almost on time, although several flights out of FLL were delayed as we were leaving. Flight crews were friendly (any drinks or food are extra $$ on Spirit) but the baggage processing was rather slow. The biggest "problem" was the long (five hour) layover in Ft lauderdale on the return trip.
The VillageDespite something like a $8 million renovation at the village over the past couple of years, there was really little to show for it. The new beach bar is nice and convenient for drinks or snacks on the beach, and the additional landscaping around the pool area does help to break up all the concrete. There is also an expanded outside dining area between the main restaurant and the beach. But it is not at all evident when all the renovation $$ went. I unerstand there are now some special "luxury" rooms available (at appropriate prices), but there had not been any noticeable changes to our room or it's furnishings. (And the bed/mattress was getting to the point where it needs to be replaced.)
Housekeeping was very efficient and our room was well taken care of. Many of the public area furnishings, such as the chairs in the main bar, have been there since the village opened in 1992 and they are showing their age and wear. It is still a delightful village to visit and we enjoy it, but Columbus Isle just does not have the crispness or sharp edge that it used to have. More like a comfortable loafer now, rather than the shiny dancing shoe it used to be. But, the beach and general environment has always been the really strong point of the village, and thankfully, that has not changed. The beach and the water is just as beautiful as ever!
Other ChangesOn our last visit we noticed an apparent trend to emphasize and rely on the French GM more than in the past, and that trend seems to have continued. I'd guess the village was about 75% French GMs the week we were there. (The Spirit flight from Ft Lauderdale has 32 people while the charter for Paris had about 150, to give you an idea.) Although the CDV, Laurent, was Swiss and spoke very good English (and was generally very pleasent and good CDV) the emphasis on the French was obvious in most of his "public announcements": five sentances in French, followed by one or two in English. A few of the GOs did seen to have problems communicating in English: never a real problem, but noticeable. I suppose it is irritating partly because we were in the Bahamas, an English speaking (former British colony) country. On the other hand, Columbus Isle provides an excellent opportunity to brush on your French, if you are so inclined.
Sailing - Wind SurfingUnfortunately, the sailing and windsurfing activities appear to have been "de-emphasized". There was only one Hobie-16 sailboat (there used to be 5), five Hobie Waves, and a rather poor selection of old windsurfer boards and sails. I spoke to the Chief of Sports (Brian) one morning at breakfast and mentioned this "de-emphasis". He said it was unintentional and partly because two new Hobie 16s had been delayed in shipment. This didn't explain the poor windsurfing equipment though, or the other troubling problem.. the sailing team. There were only three sailing GOs and of them, two had less than 2 months of experience, and the chief of sailing (the one with experience) was frequently off doing other duties around the village. The result was that there were frequently only two relatively inexperienced GOs on duty on the beach. They tried hard, but it was clear they sometimes didn't know just what they should be doing. Their skill at "rescuing" overturned Waves was somewhat lacking also.
I suspect some of this is because of the concurrent increasing emphasis on windsurfing and (to a lesser degree) sailing at the Turkoise village. I understand Club Med has established a "Windsurfing (and kite surfing) Academy" at Turkoise, complete with very good and modern equipment... for an extra fee ($$). I expect Club Med will start steering sailors to the new facilities at Turkoise, rather than Columbus Isle. Also, I may be wrong here, but it seems that the French GMs do not, in general, have as much interest in sailing as the other GMs. Most of the sailors were American or Canadian or German, but few French. If 75% of the GMs are French, and the French are not very interested in sailing, then the result is pretty obvious.
There was a "regetta" one day (which the "best team" won, of course) but no "sail-away" such as been common at CI and other villages lately. I suspect this is another result of the small fleet size and the limited number of GOs to help.
Other SportsAlthough SCUBA diving is a very big and important sport at Columbus Isle, we don't dive so in our case "other sports" means snorkeling and archery. The weather and seas were a little rough the early part of the week we were there, so snorkeling was cancelled a couple of times and then the water was a bit cloudy for a couple of days after that. We did go out twice and the trips were well run and pleasent. On the 2nd trip we saw a nice ray and about the biggest and fattest barracuda I've ever seen in addition to all the normal reef fish and some interesting coral.
Archery was usually run by Andrew (more about him later) and was a pleasent break from all the water related activities. They had several tourments during the week but we didn't participate in them.
Food and EntertainmentAs usual, the food at Columbus Isle was very good. It might have been just a very little below the level of last time we were there, but certainly still very good. There is a different theme (asian, tex-mex, island, etc.) every night of the week as well as some 'standards' available every night. There are two specialty restaurants down at the Sea Center, but they apparently get reserved very quickly and almost exclusively by the French GMs, so we never bothered to go down there for dinner. The new beach snack bar seemed to be a welcome addition for many GMs, but we never ate anything from there. It offered burgers, pizza and small boxes of fresh fruit.
Entertainment was about normal, with nightly shows or events of some kind. The stage shows were reasonably good, with a little "live" singing thrown in the usual mix of dancning. There was a little more emphasis on entertainment in the nightclub and there was a singer in there each evening.
The People: (GMs and GOs)On our trips to Club Med we almost always meet new, interesting, people and this certainly was no exception. The first dinner there we happened to sit with a couple, Bruce and Helene, from Long Island. From that point on the mood just seemed to lighten up whenever they showed up.. a truely delightful couple. They had been there a week when we arrived, so they already had the place scop'ed out... they could tell us what shows to see, the best foods at dinner, and good times to visit the main bar. Another pleasent couple we met was Ernie and Mary, from Virginia Beach. The were on the same flight from Ft Laudaerdale and we had dinner and other meals with them several times. They (especially Ernie) are diehard Hobie sailors so we shared a few stories with them. Then there is Ann and Linda (?).. two women who were college roommates who have stayed in toucb (despite living on opposite sides of the country) and share vacations together. One was quiet and somewhat serious (most of the time) and the other really outgoing and always having fun but both were definitely fun to have at our table. And then there was Bibi... We were having dinner one evening when I looked over a another table and saw someone who looked like a GM we had met at CI four years ago! So, I just blurted out "That looks like Bibi!" Someone else at the table had met her and replied "That is Bibi!".. So we immediately went over and renewed our friendship. Bibi is a SCUBA diver and photographer and excellent sailor from Germany. You can view some excellent photos on her web site.
And then there is the GO team...... We must have had a fun-appearing table because we almost always had a couple of GOs sitting with us. If one GO had to leave, anbother would join us almost immeditely. (There is a general rule of only two GOs to a table.) The GO of Human Resources was a "middle aged" Italian who would go around doing simple "magic" tricks and just generally being friendly. Although the skies were cloudy every night, we know from our visit in 2005 that he has a very nice telescope that he sometimes brings out to look at the moon and planets. (Saturn was beautiful in 2005.) As I mentioned earlier, the CDV was Laurent, a relatively young Swiss who seemed to do a very good job. We saw him around the village frequently and he often was greeting people at the restaurant doors at meal time. We spoke to him several times and he seemed to actually remember us among the crowd.
Although we always tend to get to know some GOs pretty well, this time it seems that one GO stood out as somewhat special. At first we thought that Andrew was just another GO who was out to have fun and avoid responsibility for a while, like an escape from reality. But the more we talked to Andrew, the more we realized he has a head on his sholders and a plan in mind. He is seeking more responsibility, getting into a rapid advancement program, and promoting himself on his way to a Club Med career. Some may think this to be counter to the traditional care-free GO lifestyle, but Andrew was actually the ultimate GO: always smiling, participating in many shows, seemingingly everywhere around the village and just being a great GO. I expect to go to a village in a few years and find Andrew there as one of the youngest CDVs ever. If you are at a village and run into Andrew (don't worry, you'll know it's him) tell him that "Amateur-GO" says "Hello".
Some other stuffAlthough there were relatively few "non-French" at the village this week, it would have been even more so except for the current Poker playing craze. That probably doesn't make much sense, so I'll explain. At least 7 people we met during the week (Americans and a German) were scheduled to go to the Turkoise village, but were "moved" because there was a major World Poker Tournment scheduled into Turkoise. Even GMs who made reservations 8 months previously were forced to move to a different village.
For more photos, see the Photo Album following these pictures.
A view of the beach, from the snorkel boat.
Hobie Waves and one Hobie 16 pulled up close to the sailing shack during rough weather.
Looking from the SeaCenter toward a returing dive boat.
The pool area at village center during the day.
The Pool area at night, just after sunset.
Some of the friends we met: Ernie, Mary, Bruce, and Helen.
Two "wild and crazy women.": Ann and Linda.
Bibi (who we met here 4 years ago) and Susan.
Susan and Laurent (CDV) then Susan and Andrew (super GO).
This is me and my custom "Amateur GO" shirt.
This is me and my custom "Amateur GO" shirt.
Click on the picture to view the album