Club Med

Columbus Isle, Bahamas

May, 2012


It had been about 5 years since our last visit to Columbus Isle and several things combined to convince us to make this trip.  We had been talking about returning to Columbus Isle, but just didn’t have a good excuse.  Then we had an email from Patrick, a GO we had met and gotten to know at Turkoise.  He said that he and his girlfriend Brook (whom we had also met) were going to Columbus Isle on April 14 and he would be the new Chief of sailing.  Visiting with a friend is always a good excuse for a trip, we just needed a little push.  That came in the form of a email from Club Med announcing some very good pricing on “last minute” trips; probably the best price we have ever had for Columbus Isle.  My work was a little slow, so we made the arrangements and headed to San Salvador on May 5.  This was our 7th trip to Columbus Isle and something like our 22nd Club Med trip overall, so we would be returning to familiar territory where there were friends to meet up with.

Getting there and Back

This is going to be a bit longer than normal….. 

As usual, we booked through Mill Travel and they provided good service.  I made the arrangement for Atlanta to Ft Lauderdale and then the return from Ft Lauderdale, both on Delta.  Club Med has a contract with Spirit Air to provide once a week flights from Ft Lauderdale to San Salvador and we found this to be the weak link in visiting Columbus Isle.  We got to Ft Lauderdale (FLL) on time on Delta and walked over to the Spirit terminal.  We started to check in as a normal passenger and finally were told that Club Med visitors have a separate check-in.  There was a Club Med rep, but he had been down at the other end of the counter from where we came in.  Everything went fine until we were starting to board the plane but then an apparent FAA inspector stopped the process.  It seems that she did not like the condition of some seat-back pockets and was insisting that they be fixed before we boarded.  It took about 20 or 30 minutes to fix the problem so we could board.  But then we sat there longer and the pilot finally announced they were having trouble completing the paperwork; apparently someone had misplaced the required logbook or something such.  It took another 30 minutes to get the paperwork straight, so we let FLL about an hour late, arriving at San Salvador that hour late.

The trip back at the end of the week was even more of a problem.  The flight from FLL was about 45 minutes late to start with.  We were sitting in the waiting area outside the terminal building and could watch the activity around the aircraft.  The incoming passengers unloaded and we could tell that their baggage had been unloaded and then our baggage was loaded.  But we just sat there, they did not start boarding.  Finally, probably 15 minutes after the baggage had been loaded and no further activity they, started us boarding.  The people in the waiting area, probably about 40 or 50 people, boarded quickly then we sat there.  Additional people boarded one or two at a time for the next 20 or 30 minutes.  We decided that, since the waiting area could not hold everyone, many people were held on the land side of the security check and they were now being processed through the very slow security process.  Finally, about 90 minutes after the scheduled departure, the door was closed and we were ready to take off.  We never did figure out just why they waited so long to start the boarding process.  If the boarding had been started when our baggage was loaded, a lot of us would have avoided a lot of problems.

We arrived in FLL 90 minutes late so our planned 2.5 hours before our flight to Atlanta was now down to less than an hour.  Passport control was reasonably quick, but then we waited for our luggage, and waited, and waited…  By the time we got our bags, the line through Customs was another 20 minutes.  We rushed over to the Delta terminal, hoping that perhaps our outbound flight was running late, but no luck.  It was the last flight from FLL to Atlanta that day, so we made reservations for the first flight out in the morning, at 5:45, which was the only flight with a possibility of having seats.  We spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express, which was very reasonable, and got up at 3:30 AM to catch the shuttle to the airport.  Although the flight was overbooked, we did get some of the last seats and finally made it back to Atlanta (and rain) by about 8:00 Sunday morning.




The Village


There had not been many changes around the village since our last visit 5 years ago.  That is not necessarily bad, just an observation.  I had heard some comments that the buildings and facilities were beginning to need some maintenance and I could see some evidence of that, but not much.  There were a few chips off some tiles and some of the many boards making up the walkways were a bit rotten at the ends, but nothing major.  We did notice some exterior painting going on.  The standard exterior paint has been some of a faux faded bright color but some buildings, including ours, had recently been repainted in a solid “traditional” color. 

There were some changes around the restaurant.  There was now a serving area in the middle of what had been the main dining area, now with room for three chefs serving their specialties.  To make up for the decreased inside dining area, the outside dining had been increased further.  Most our previous visits had been in Sept. or early Oct. when it was a bit hot to comfortably eat outside most of the time but this visit the weather was perfect for outside dining.  For most meals there was a very pleasant light breeze off the water making for very enjoyable conditions, so we ate almost all meals outside. 

We normally ask for a room toward the Sea Center end of the village to be closer to the sailing shack and this time the assignment people carried it to the extreme: we were in the very last building, closest to the Sea Center.  We timed the walk from the main restaurant to our room (via the covered walkways) and it was right at 7.5 minutes.  We walk pretty fast, so this means it was almost ½ mile.  We thought of it as a “diet plan”.  Each time we walked to the restaurant we walked about a mile round-trip.  If we cut over to the beach-side sidewalk the distance was somewhat less, but that was frequently in the sun and rather warm. 

Overall maintenance and cleanliness was good and our room was cleaned and kept up very well daily.  We were never sure just what combination of face cloths and hand towels we would get or whether we’d get fresh water refills, but it never got to a point of being a problem.  The supplied bath amenities (soap, shampoo, etc.) had been upgraded.  The rooms used to have a woven wood roll-up shade just inside of the folding doors that covered the sliding glass doors to the balcony.  These woven wood shades never seemed to work very well and were more trouble than they were worth, so we were not disappointed to see that it had been removed completely.

As with previous visits, there were more French and French Canadian GMs in the village than Americans.  There is a weekly large plane from Montreal on Tuesday and another from Paris on Wed., compared to the relatively small Saturday flight from Ft Lauderdale.  There were probably about 100 people on our flight from FLL, but as we found out over the week, a substantial number of them were new GOs reporting for work. 

Sailing - Wind Surfing

Our favorite activities are sailing and windsurfing.  Unfortunately, the wind was light we week we were there, barely enough for sailing, and we didn’t even bother trying the windsurfing.  Of course, the day of our departure the wind picked up and would have been great for both sailing and windsurfing.  We had met Patrick, chief of sailing, at the Turkoise Club Med the last two years as well as his girlfriend Brook (in the Boutique) and it was good seeing friends again.  Although Patrick was sick most of the week, he always had a smile and helpful word for all the people wanting to sail. The sailing crew was shorthanded, with only two “full time” GOs that week (there should be 4 or 5) and although some other GOs were “loaned” to the sailing crew, they were not very experienced.  The other sailing GO was Tanya, who was as friendly and helpful as she is tall (about 6’2”).  Patrick and Tanya worked very hard and pulled it off, but they really need more help. 

There were a total of about 7 Hobie Waves and 3 Hobie 15s.  (The Hobie 15s are made specifically for Club med and are about the same size and sail plan and hull type as Hobie 16s, but it has a “soft boom” like the Waves and the trampoline is mounted directly on the hulls, instead of up on a elevated platform.)  Unfortunately, two Waves and one 15 were out of commission due to missing or broken parts.  Patrick was willing and able to do the repair work but Club Med had not gotten the needed parts and didn’t even have fiberglass cloth and resin for repairs. This trip was one of the few times at a Club Med that we had to wait for a boat quite a few times and most of the time we were limited to sailing 30 minutes at a time to give others their turns.  

The day before we left they did receive five new stand-up paddle boards, which are nice for low-wind days, but will put more of a workload on the shorthanded staff and it would seem to me that repair parts/supplies should be a higher priority than new paddle boards.   

There was both a sailing regatta (race) one day and a armada (sail-away) to a different by near-by beach another day.  Although we did not go on the armada (hmmm, a “miscommunication”) they were very lucky.  Most days the wind died about 4:00 and was blowing in a direction to make the return trip very slow and difficult.  On the day of the armada, about 4:00 the wind shifted to provide a very nice broad reach with a decent fresh wind on the way back. 

We never got on a windsurfer, but they had the usual mix of old and new boards, from 103 liters on up to the big beginner boards.  The biggest sail was a 6.2 M sail and was rather heavy by today’s standards, but probably necessary to stand up to beginning windsurfers. 

Other Sports

SCUBA diving is the big activity at Columbus Isle, but we don’t dive. There are two large dedicated dive boats that go out each day. The only complaint we have ever heard about the Club Med diving is that the boats are large enough that some smaller dive sites are overwhelmed by the number of divers.  We do snorkel and went on two snorkel trips during the week.  The snorkel spots were OK, but not as good as some places I remember from previous visits.  The boat is comfortable and spacious.  There is a limit of 40 snorkelers per trip and we heard that was reached several times during the week. 

Archery used to be offered at Columbus Isle, but it has been dropped; the shelter where it was run is still there, but lies unused.  There is a very nice tennis complex with 10 courts and lessons daily and we talked to a number of people who said the facility was very good, but bring your own tennis balls because Club Med tends to over-use them. 

Although not exactly a “sport” the excursion office offers a number of off- site activities, from bus tours of the island to Wave-runner tours. One morning when there was very little wind we decided to rent a couple of bikes from the excursion office.  We ride bikes at home some so we had some idea of how things should work.  The tires on both bikes seemed to be a bit underinflated, but they are “off-road” bikes so we thought that might be normal.  We first rode south, through the small town, a couple of miles along the western coastline to some monuments honoring Christopher Columbus’s first landings in the new world. We then rode back through town (stopping for some bottled water, a very good move), back past and then north and east of the Club Med.  After a couple of miles we stopped for a rest and some water where there was a cove at the end of a long beach just a little off the road.  It was a very pretty little spot with a nice little beach, but unfortunately, we had not brought towels or swimsuits. We continued on, around the northern corner and starting down the eastern side of the island.  On a previous visit to Columbus Isle we had taken a tour that stopped at a lighthouse that we knew was ahead “somewhere”: so we were looking for that.  At one point I saw a pathway that looked like it was heading toward the beach, about 100 yards away, so we rode that way and found a beautiful long beach with a big piece of driftwood on the beach.  It was completely deserted except for us.  After taking pictures we rode a little further and found a monument to someone we didn’t recognize but there were steps up about a 20 foot rise where we could get a good view around.  We spotted the lighthouse but decided that it was probably another 4 miles and the sun was getting hot and we were getting tired, so we decided to turn around there; as it turns out, that was a fortunate decision.  We rode about 3 or 4 miles back, to within 2 – 3 miles of the Club Med and I noticed that Susan was hanging back.  This is very unusual because she is a much stronger biker than I am.  I stopped and as Susan rode up, we both realized that her rear tire was flat.  Flat tires are very hard to pedal; no wonder she was having trouble keeping up with me.  I had a larger frame bike and didn’t think she would be able to ride it, so we agreed that she would stay with the bike and walk toward the Club Med while I rode back as quickly as I could to get the excursion people to go get her and the bike.  The excursion people seemed to be taking their time, so I was starting to head back to meet Susan myself when she yelled at me from the cab of a pickup truck.  A local resident who is one of the bartenders at the beach bar had driven by Susan and offered her and the bike a ride. 


Food and Entertainment

As mentioned previously, the serving area inside the restaurant had been expanded by adding a large serving island in the middle of the dining area.  They used this area for serving several specialties at lunch and dinner.  The chefs would make up individual servings on plates that you could pick up and take with you.  Since there are a lot of French visitors to this village (weekly flights direct from Paris) the food is consistently good, in the French/Continental style of course.  If you are looking for thick juicy steaks, you’re out of luck, although they did have some very nice sliced beef a couple of times and, of course, the weekly Beef Wellington is always excellent.  As usual, there were different themes each evening, like Mexican, Bahamian, Mediterranean, Chef’s choice, etc.  Breakfast was always the same, but with such a large choice, I never got tired of it.  There is always a omelet bar where you can have your omelet custom made.  Of course, the breads in general are great at all meals and the White Chocolate bread is wonderful; so wonderful that I try not to eat it at all so I don’t get started…  The wine that is included with meals is basically French “table wine”, decent and drinkable, but not something you would impress your friends with.   There is another restaurant down at the Sea Center that was open 3 nights a week.  You have to sign up for it in the mornings it is to be open and we heard it was difficult to get into.  We found that we could not invite GOs to join us, as we have done at other villages, so we didn’t bother with that restaurant.

The nightly entertainment was “interesting”.  Many of the GOs had just arrived in the previous couple of days so that had not had much opportunity to rehearse the shows, and it sometimes showed.  Most evenings had some kind of entertainment in the theater and three nights there was some kind of “beach party” at varying locations on the beach.  When you have a beach that nice, you might as well make use of it.  There were no “visiting artists” or other live entertainment as we have frequently seen but there was generally some kind of “pre-dinner” activity or entertainment most evenings.


The People: (GMs and GOs)

As mentioned, one reason we decided to go to Columbus Isle was that we knew Patrick and Brook would be there and it is always nice to know that you will have someone to visit with and talk to.  It turns out that we didn’t have to worry about that at all. 

We knew that a friend of Susan, whom she knows from a Pilates class, might be there with her husband, diving.  Michelle and Wayne had been to San Salvador and stayed at the Riding Rock and, while they liked the diving, were not impressed by the Riding Rock.  Susan had suggested they try the Club Med.  The night we arrived we found them on the dining area deck and surprised them just a little as the last time Susan and Michelle had talked, we had not made our plans yet.  We talked with then quite a bit during the week and, for better or worse, I think we may have gotten Wayne started on a major sailing kick.  I gave them a ride on a Hobie 15 and the next day they took the sailing lesson and then went sailing every day after that. 

We also met a lot of GOs.  Unfortunately, I am terrible at remembering names, so will not even attempt to name them.  At meals we usually sit at one of the large tables (for 8) and are glad to have others, GMs and GOs, join us.  The GOs have a rule of no more than two GOs per table and we almost always had two GOs at our table.  Apparently word gets around that we are “old school GMs” and welcome having GOs join us.  At lunch one day we had two GOs with us, but one was not in the “uniform of the day” because it was her day off.  The second GO started counting how many other GOs tried to sit at the table and we had to turn away.  I remember the count getting up to 10 and I’m not sure how much further it went. We were never wanting for someone to eat with and talk to. 

The first evening we had a fun table, with Patrick, Brook and a friendly French couple.  Apparently a man at an adjoining table wanted to get in on the fun and threw a napkin onto our table.  Unfortunately, it made a direct hit on Susan’s glass of red wine, sending it right onto her white shirt.  Although it was an unfortunate event, it did generate a lot of conversation, and laughing, the rest of the week.    

Some other stuff

We always look for the cats that typically live around the Club Med villages.  This time there were not only quite a few cats, but several of them were relatively friendly.  We frequently saw one gray stripped male working the outside dining area and he was glad to come see you, as long as he thought you had food.  There was another gray stripped male, almost a twin of the first, who apparently lived about 3/4 of the way to our room.  If he was around he would come when you called him and if you called him, you better have some food.  He would be there in the morning (breakfast time) and evenings (dinner time).  We learned to get some food from the restaurant to feed him.  He always seemed to be hungry and would literally vacuum up any food you gave him.  Susan soon gave him the name “Hoover” in honor of the vacuum cleaner that he is.  After feeding him for several days, we found another couple was doing the same thing, so he was getting double portions. He never looked skinny or wanting for food, but by the end of the week he looked positively “chunky”.  He finally seemed to be getting full and didn’t always show up at mealtime.  We also saw two smaller, probably female, gray cats closer to the restaurant but they were very skittish and we couldn’t get close to them.  One other cute small black and white cat seemed to be living among the GO’s rooms and had on a collar so someone was taking care of her. 



Sample Photos

For more photos, see the Photo Album following these pictures.

The Village Center and main beach with a dive boat passing by.

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The sailing shack with a Hobie 15 (yellow sail) and some Hobie Waves.

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Part of the almost maze of walkways connecting the buildings.

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The pool area at village center just after sunset.

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Brook, Patrick, Susan and I with the full and large moon overhead.

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Inside the main dining room at breakfast. The omelet chef is awaiting a customer.

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Driftwood and a deserted beach we found on our bike ride.

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A view of the Club Med beach from the other end, looking back at Club Med.

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A view of the snorkel boat, Long John, as we go for a swim.

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One of several very nice sunsets this week.

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Photo Album

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Click on the picture to view the album