My family of four recently returned from a vacation at the Club Med Sandpiper Bay.
It's the only family all-inclusive in the US and underwent renovations 12 years ago.
The resort felt run-down, but we'd go back in a heartbeat just for the childcare.
A week ago, my wife and I returned from a vacation with our family. Not a trip, mind you, a vacation.
The difference is simple. Trips are wonderful experiences: You take the kids on adventures and experience fun times. We recently had a family trip through Virginia, with beaches, zoos, aquariums, water parks, and more. Every day was something new and fun. The kids had a blast, and by the end of that trip, my wife and I needed a vacation. We were exhausted. Beyond the normal dadventures and energy of being a stay-at-home-parent, trips take an immense amount of extra energy. And unfortunately, hotel coffee is usually awful. We got back from our trip ready to sleep for a solid week. Yet our two alarm clocks — one age 6, the other age 3 — had other ideas.
So, my wife and I searched for vacations.
We found the only family all-inclusive in the US
We looked for some type of experience where we could all have fun, but that included childcare. We wanted to relax, but we also wanted the kids to have fun. We wanted the entire family to have fun: a resort with childcare that was great for all. Add in the difficulty of needing vegan options and childcare for a 3-year-old, and the list of possibilities was tiny.
Club Med Sandpiper Bay was known as one of the "only family all-inclusive resorts" in the United States, and the only Club Med. The resort was refurbished 12 years ago and has a stellar reputation for its childcare. We were excited.
Until we got there.
The resort felt run-down
The resort felt at once like a fancy motel. The rooms look out on what can only be described as a dump — an area of sand, weeds, some trash, and some pipes. The room itself felt like it had been left untouched since the 1980s. Peeling paint, cracked fixtures, and a desk that looked like it was designed by a high-school theatre troupe.
The entire resort felt run-down, or, as one guest we met early on called it, "tired." Broken golf clubs and a falling-apart mini-golf course, nothing to do indoors, blaring music until midnight at a resort filled with young children. The spa was downright rude and totally booked, despite telling our travel agent there was no need to book ahead. The front desk was no better.
In the kid's craft area, there was a giant wooden Connect Four game. It was the perfect metaphor for the place. It looked fun from a distance, yet up close, the game was broken, and there were nails sticking out along the sides. All of this led me to leave a 2-star review on Tripadvisor.
We'd go again
And yet, we had a wonderful time and would go back in a heartbeat.
They offered amazing kids' programs: Our two kids were delighted while there. We gave them a choice on several days, and they begged to go back with their new friends. They did crafts, spent time in the pool, had dances, made pizzas, and even tried trapeze. Their leaders were phenomenal.
Despite the rest of the resort, the food was amazing too.
We weren't staying in luxury, but it didn't matter. We had a vacation. In fact, we were able to enjoy the tropical weather with delicious food and silence at lunchtime. We'd nearly forgotten what that sounds like.
We met a family from London who would only travel among the 71 Club Med resorts. In the father's words, "Sandpiper Bay is the worst Club Med, but the only one we return to yearly." An astounding statement, yet I understand.
Vacations are necessary, and childcare makes all the difference.
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