All photos courtesy of Club Med Sandpiper Bay unless otherwise noted
I’ve never been big on the all-inclusive vacation option. What I’d heard and been told about these vacations centres around lounging on the beach, drinking cocktails with plastic umbrellas, dancing the night away and hanging out in/near the pool/ocean.
While that’s right up the alley of some folks, it’s not for everyone, specifically, me. Sure, I can appreciate that choice but I’m a restless fellow and don’t find solace in being still. I need to be active (although my portly body shape disagrees) and doing things, whether it’s an activity, sport, class, something.
When the opportunity came up to visit Club Med Sandpiper Bay in beautiful St.Lucie County, Florida, I stutter stepped myself thinking, “what am I going to do for four days to keep from being idle?” After quick visit to their website, I simply had to go. And this, my friends, is where I’ll start sharing how Florida’s only all-inclusive resort gave me some incredibly memorable days.
Located a two-hour drive north of Miami, a 45 minute drive north of West Palm Beach, or a two and a half hour drive south of Orlando, Club Med Sandpiper Bay is situated on the Atlantic side, nestled along the charming St.Lucie River. Upon arrival, the staff (uniquely called G.O’s, meaning Gentil Organisateur, a name that the founders created over 60 years ago) welcomed me warmly by name, quickly got me checked in and I was off to get settled in my beachside room.
Club Med Sandpiper Bay describes itself as being ideal for active families, couples or singles where they offer something for everyone via an experience like no other. My portly body was a bit apprehensive, not knowing if I could keep up with all of the athletic offerings but I thought if I can survive rock climbing and floor hockey at a higher weight, I knew I could enjoy the array of offerings here.
On a hot Florida day, the itinerary directed me toward a beach volleyball lesson with Piotr Marciniak and Karolina Sowala, where they showed me how to volley, serve, and bump, all without hurting my arms and fingers. The best tip was to bury my feet in the sand to keep them cool. Aside from a sweat-soaked t-shirt, I fared surprisingly well, though I still think my grade five teacher, Ms. Kavanaugh, was right to cut me from the team after one round of tryouts.
Interestingly, Club Med Sandpiper Bay has recently partnered with the National Volleyball League to establish the world’s first professional Beach Volleyball Academy, which is a huge testament to just how serious they take their sports side. Keep reading and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
The tennis lesson was a real treat for me because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never got around to. The instructor, former pro Rafael Muzlera, went through the basics and smartly recorded our progress on an iPad to enhance his explanation of how small tweaks in your style/approach can improve your game. For me, it worked - my paltry, overestimated approximation of a 7 km/h serve started landing within the lines opposed to on a different court.
Their Tennis Academy is led by Gabe Jaramillo, who’s developed eight number one players (Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Monica Seles to name a few) and their 20 tennis courts offer camps for all ages.
My golf lesson focused on getting comfortable with the club, adjusting the face to get maximum accuracy and finding the right amount of “oomph” in your swing. My short game still needs work (it’d help if I played more often, I suppose) and my drives, I feel, went up a notch or two distance wise. The Golf Academy is led by a PGA/LPGA award winning staff and the on-site 18-hole course is absolutely beautiful. Part of the golf lesson included a mental coaching session with Tim Kremer, who’s helped various athletes prepare mentally before participating to ensure they’re in a smart, healthy and positive head space.
Let’s take a quick break from the activity side to focus on the food, shall we?
At an all-inclusive resort, I’ve heard conflicting stories from “it was the best food I’ve ever had on vacation” to, well, the polar opposite. Seeing as I’d never been to an all-inclusive, I opted for the optimistic approach and certainly wasn’t let down.
The main restaurant, where I ate most of my meals, is The Marketplace, a heavenly buffet of high quality foods, a brick oven that fires up delicious pizza, and high quality chefs preparing fresh food for you. There’s such a variety it puts my favourite buffet, Mandarin, in distant second place.
I made sure to have a healthy (most of the time) variety of food because, well, I love food. And it sure helped that everything I ate was absolutely delicious. I even coined my own name for a plate I had at every lunch and dinner; the “U.S Special – hot dogs, pepperoni pizza and French fries.” My good friend Jennifer Allford can vouch for that. Congrats, Marketplace, on winning my heart through my stomach and for being my #1 buffet place in my 30-ish years of eating.
Soleil is a waterfront dining option full of gourmet foods that can be enjoyed on-site or as a takeout option to eat anywhere on the resort.
The Riverside Grill covers the fine-dining side of things with a great wine list, delicious lobster and steak offerings and the option of an adults only dinner.
There was a yoga class included and while the instructor was tremendous, the atmosphere serene and filled with so much zen that we certainly had extra, I still have the flexibility of an HB Type 2 pencil. But, for those who are interested, the class was something I appreciated and can see being appreciated by many. The cardio class saw same great effort and atmosphere provided by the instructor and while Jennifer and I were huffing, puffing and practically blowing the house down, a young gal from Texas was doing the “lay on your back and pretend to ride a bicycle” move and SnapChatting at the same time, all without breaking a sweat. It’s good to know that Club Med Sandpiper Bay does offer these classes for their visitors who want to relax and still remain active.
There’s are several water-based options available, from paddle boarding, water skiing, and sailing, along with two swimming pools, including an adult-only “Calm Pool,” named for obvious reasons.
I must say that somehow, I managed to find my balance long enough to spend an hour paddle boarding with zero core strength. If I can do it, anyone can.
They also have a wide-range of children’s options for children aged 4-17 full of fun activities, a splash pool and much more. Sure, you can have your kids come along for your daily excitement but in the event that they pull the “Mom, dad, I need some me time” card, there are options available.
The on-site Club Med Spa by L’Occitane will pamper you to no end and the full body massage I received was the exclamation mark on an already wonderful experience.
At night, there’s plenty of entertainment from an active dance floor with a nightclub feel (complete with light and smoke show) to themed shows, including the one I experienced, the Music Factory show where air instruments reigned supreme and the performance of music through the decades was incredibly well executed, costumes and all.
Whether you’re bringing your family, friends or partner, Club Med Sandpiper Bay is designed to take great care of you from check-in to check-out. A variety of rooms will exceed your needs, the G.O’s are there not just to cater to your needs but many of them live on-site and you’re bound to see them socializing with guests when they’re off the clock. It’s part of what makes the Club Med experience different and keeps guests coming back repeatedly.
The entire team made a long lasting impression on me, from Kevin Armstrong, head of Advertising and PR, who I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with chatting over drinks about nearly everything beneath the moon (an incredibly wonderful person and someone I’d have a long conversation with eight days a week) to Julien Laurent, Marketing and Communications specialist, who helped myself and the other journalists feel quite welcome. Even the chefs remembered my name! Probably because of my “U.S Special” plate that I was often spotted enjoying.
If you’re looking for a memorable experience at a world renowned all-inclusive destination that’s not too far from here, Club Med Sandpiper Bay should be at (or at the least, near) the top of your list.