Club Med, Columbus Isle
This was our 4th trip to Columbus Isle and I've written reports in the past, so I'll keep this mainly to the differences: what's new and what's changed. (For reports of previous visits to Columbus Isle and other resorts, check my web site at www.hammocktree.org/ms/trips.html )
Arrangements were made by Hal Segal of Le Beach Club, and everything was in order. All flights (American Airlines) were on time, the only problem being relatively long layovers in Miami going both directions. Based on our preferences, I had requested some speific rooms and we actually got the first one he had listed.
We had a room overlooking the sailing area and reasonably convenient to most activities, about halfway between the Village Center and the Sea Center. The room had two beds, so we had housekeeping push them together and make them as one LARGE bed.
This was our first visit to Columbus Isle since we were there the week of Sept. 11, 2001. The village was closed for about a year after that because of reduced travel. I suspect this previous dependence on American travel was one reason for the biggest change we saw.
The one thing that was most different from our previous visits was the makeup of the guests (GMs). Previously there were about 50% North Americans, and a mix of Europeans and a few South Americans. Now, Club Med is running a weekly charter flight, non-stop, from Paris, France and has apparently not advertised this flight to other Europeans. The result is that the GMs were about 80-85% French, perhaps 10% North American, and the rest a mix of Europeans and South Americans. This heavy French majority does change the character of the village somewhat; not necessarily bad, but different. The AA charter flight from Miami to San Salvador only had 26 passengers, including one French couple (who had just spent a week at the Paradise Island Club Med) and one couple from Argentina. Some other people did come by way of Nassau and BahamasAir. Also, since the Paris flight arrived and departed on Friday, the village was on a Fri.-Fri. schedule, rather than on the normal Sat.-Sat. schedule. The village was probably close to capacity, I would guess in the 80-90% full range, based on restaurant seating and other activities. The high occupancy did not cause any problems, other than an occasional wait for a sailboat or favorite windsurfer board. Speaking of which, the club has a mixture of five Hobie Wave catamarans and five Hobie 15s. All were reasonably well maintained. I did seem to detect a bit more of a "let the GMs do the work" attitude, at least among the sailing/windsurfing team. On other visits and at other clubs, the GOs did not expect us to put away the windsurfer boards and sails, and were appreciative when we did. This time, the GOs made no (or few) attempt to assist in putting away boards and sails, seemingly expecting us to do the work for them. Perhaps I imagined it, but the mostly French GOs seemed more willing to assist the French GMs.
The last time we were at Columbus Isle, the Acting Chief of the Village was Abdel and we felt he did an excellent job during a very difficult week (9/11/2001). We saw Abdel again in Cancun early this year (as Chief of Animations) and felt he did a good job there. The Chief of the Village at Columbus Isle this time was Aziz. As soon as we saw and watched Aziz we wondered if he and Abdel were related, so we asked at our first opportunity and indeed, they are brothers. The thing we liked about both is that they are very available and tend to show up at many of the activities and just walking around talking to the GMs. At dinner most evenings, Aziz was at the door greeting everyone as they came into the restaurant. We saw and spoke to him a number of times and somehow he remembered us each time. We also saw a chef who we remembered from our last visit to the Turkoise village. We stopped to speak to him and compliment him on some of the good food at Turkoise and we immediately had another friend in the village. We spoke to Robyn a number of times over the week and we'll definitely put him on the list of interesting GOs we've met over the years.
The week before we arrived the village had suffered some of the "side effects" of hurricane Isabel, getting 30 mph winds and 6 - 8 ft surf. All water sports were suspended a couple of days. The day we arrived was apparently the first "nice" day in almost a week. The first couple of days we had excellent wind (for sailing and windsurfing) with an occasional passing rain shower to cool things off a little. Toward the middle of the week the wind died down a little, but we always managed to get in some good sailing and went snorkeling when the wind was low. On Friday afternoon and Saturday morning the wind picked up again and offered some decent windsurfing. On Thursday afternoon the sailing team organized (a very careless use of the term in this case) an "armada" or "sail-away". We loaded up all the sailboats and headed off to a distant "island" (actually, just a big, white, rock formation sticking out of the water). The wind was just about ideal, with enough to make it interesting for the experienced sailors, without causing problems for the new sailors in the open water. Someone said we were going to stop at a beach bar along the way, but apparently it was closed, and everyone just headed back to the club after about a 2.5 hour sail. We had a delightful passenger and "co-skipper", BiBi, on the boat with us and we had a good time.
The food was, as usual, good. Their strategy seems to be to offer a wide selection of above average buffet items along with a few really outstanding items at every meal. A lot of tables were set outside on the restaurant deck and on the pool deck for outside eating and one of the two Sea Center restaurants was open each night. The new ice cream machine was very popular and had some very good flavors. One thing that was missing was seating by hostesses: everyone just chose their own seats. I suspect this is another result of the large number of French GMs, but it tended to reduce amount of "mixing" at mealtime. I would have preferred "intelligent" hostess seating (by language, when possible) where you can always decline the service and choose your own seat.
The facility was in good shape, with just the normal little problems (like a leaky shower head and the large bi-fold doors that never have worked quite right). There was considerable painting going on and everything was clean. The room air conditioning was good (we had lunch with the GO responsible for room A/C one day and complimented him). The main restaurant was warm, but we found out that the French liked to eat outside(the reason for all the outside tables) so, with all the traffic going in and out and the open doors, it was impossible to cool the room.
I was somewhat disappointed in the quality of the evening entertainment. It had seemed that some of the clubs (including Columbus Isle on our last visit) were definitely trying to upgrade the quality of the shows. The shows this week seemed to have regressed largely to the Club Med of old; the same shows and skits that we've seen many times before with little new material or improvements.
Upon proofreading this report, I'm afraid that it sounds more negative that it really should. I do try to point out the weaknesses and any problems of a resort (you can get the good stuff from their web site). But don't let this give you the impression that we had anything other than a great time. The food was great, the sailing and windsurfing equipment and facilities some of the best to be found, the GOs were friendly... I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
On Friday evening, one American couple who had apparently been bothered by the French influence more that we had, asked if we would be coming back. Our answer.... "Of course!" We actually get along quite well with most of the French GMs, and who wouldn't want to come back to "paradise"??
On a side note....
While at Columbus Isle we heard that the Paradise Island Club Med had just been sold to the developer of the Atlantis Resort, which is essentially next door to the club. I understand that they had been trying to buy the Club Med property for several years. Unfortunately, they now appear to have been successful. I understand that it has been booked for mostly corporate group uses until the end of the year, at which time it will no longer be a Club Med property. (Note that this schedule differs from other reports, so best to check for yourself if you are making or have plans for Paradise Island.)
The San Salvador International Airport terminal The view out our 2nd floor room toward the sailing area. Our room, with two beds made into one. Indoor/outdoor seating at dinner. Some of the buffet one evening (yes, that's red and black caviar). A section of the beach, looking from Sea Center past the sailing shack. The Sea Center, as seen form the departing snorkle boat. The Sushi table one evening at dinner. The beach with umbrellas, from the center of the village toward the Sea Center. The village and beach, as seen form the other end of the undeveloped beach. One of the walkways connecting buildings at night. Sunset over the sailing area beach. A specialty buffet line: always something special and good here.... Around the pool and patio area in the afternoon.
The San Salvador International Airport terminal
The view out our 2nd floor room toward the sailing area.
Our room, with two beds made into one.
Indoor/outdoor seating at dinner.
Some of the buffet one evening (yes, that's red and black caviar).
A section of the beach, looking from Sea Center past the sailing shack.
The Sea Center, as seen form the departing snorkle boat.
The Sushi table one evening at dinner.
The beach with umbrellas, from the center of the village toward the Sea Center.
The village and beach, as seen form the other end of the undeveloped beach.
One of the walkways connecting buildings at night.
Sunset over the sailing area beach.
A specialty buffet line: always something special and good here....
Around the pool and patio area in the afternoon.