Travel MEXICO, OUI?

The Club Méditer-ranée’s prepaid package vacations are a new option for travelers south of the border.

Oh yes, the Club is doing very well,” says Anita Simek, fan of the Club Méditerranée and its special representative in New York. “This past year our sales have grown 40-50 percent. Of 76 clubs worldwide, we’ve already got eight in the Americas. In the near future, we’ll have resorts in the Bahamas, Santo Domingo, Panama, Brazil, and probably a ski village in Colorado.

“Five years ago the Club was next to unknown in America, but now the growth rate there is much faster than in Europe – not only because the club is new to Americans, but because it fits so well with their way of life – their openness, and willingness to try something new.”

All well and good, but the Dallasites who scan the Club Med brochure this year – many for the first time – are probably in for a shock. The Club, they’ll learn, has bona fide traditions and a history longer than many of its guests’. Among other oddities: The Club has its own currency (a negotiable strand of poppit beads that most guests wear as a necklace) and French titles for everyone, from Chef de Village (Club Supervisor) to G. O.’s (the young staff) and G. M.’s (vacationing guests).

First advice when contemplating a Oh yes, the Club is doing very well,” says Anita Simek, fan of the Club Méditerranée and its special representative in New York. “This past year our sales have grown 40-50 percent. Of 76 clubs worldwide, we’ve already got eight in the Americas. In the near future, we’ll have resorts in the Bahamas, Santo Domingo, Panama, Brazil, and probably a ski village in Colorado.

“Five years ago the Club was next to unknown in America, but now the growth rate there is much faster than in Europe – not only because the club is new to Americans, but because it fits so well with their way of life – their openness, and willingness to try something new.”

All well and good, but the Dallasites who scan the Club Med brochure this year – many for the first time – are probably in for a shock. The Club, they’ll learn, has bona fide traditions and a history longer than many of its guests’. Among other oddities: The Club has its own currency (a negotiable strand of poppit beads that most guests wear as a necklace) and French titles for everyone, from Chef de Village (Club Supervisor) to G. O.’s (the young staff) and G. M.’s (vacationing guests).

First advice when contemplating a Club Med vacation – forget everything you read or hear about “lifestyles.” If you’re like most guests, you’ll stay one week, which isn’t long enough to cultivate a good tan, much less a new you. What you’ll get is an unusual vacation package, which is a continual strain on some and the perfect release for others. Here are some good reasons to go or stay away, based on a week’s trip to Playa Blanca, the Club’s new $8-million village between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta on the Mexican west coast.



Do go for economy. Major expenses include the Club rates ($370 per week per Club Med vacation – forget everything you read or hear about “lifestyles.” If you’re like most guests, you’ll stay one week, which isn’t long enough to cultivate a good tan, much less a new you. What you’ll get is an unusual vacation package, which is a continual strain on some and the perfect release for others. Here are some good reasons to go or stay away, based on a week’s trip to Playa Blanca, the Club’s new $8-million village between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta on the Mexican west coast.



Do go for economy. Major expenses include the Club rates ($370 per week per person, for a room, three meals a day and use of most sports facilities, including equipment and instruction); round-trip air fare between Dallas and Houston ($80) and between Houston and Manzanillo, on Mexico’s west coast ($129); and a $10 Club membership fee. That’s $589 per person for a week’s stay. (Children under 12 get a 20 percent reduction in Club rates.) If you wait till April I, the same package goes for $519.

Beyond these prepaid expenses, spending is under your control. (I left Dallas with $45 cash and returned with $5 left.) No tipping is allowed. Not that you couldn’t spend a great deal more – typical extras include horseback riding and deep sea fishing, boutique purchases, exotic drinks at the bar, excursions to nearby cities, visits to the beauty salon.



Don’t go for the food. The Club Med pushes its cuisine heavily. In comparison with the sell, however, the food is only good. What more can you expect from an atperson, for a room, three meals a day and use of most sports facilities, including equipment and instruction); round-trip air fare between Dallas and Houston ($80) and between Houston and Manzanillo, on Mexico’s west coast ($129); and a $10 Club membership fee. That’s $589 per person for a week’s stay. (Children under 12 get a 20 percent reduction in Club rates.) If you wait till April I, the same package goes for $519.

Beyond these prepaid expenses, spending is under your control. (I left Dallas with $45 cash and returned with $5 left.) No tipping is allowed. Not that you couldn’t spend a great deal more – typical extras include horseback riding and deep sea fishing, boutique purchases, exotic drinks at the bar, excursions to nearby cities, visits to the beauty salon.



Don’t go for the food. The Club Med pushes its cuisine heavily. In comparison with the sell, however, the food is only good. What more can you expect from an attempt to serve somewhere between 300 and 600 people “French” food in Mexico and still please the Americans? And management, rightly assuming that the average guest is on a one-week binge, chooses to overwhelm him with quantity and variety. You’ll serve yourself two meals out of three at a super-smorgasbord, whose tables occupy the better part of the club house’s largest room. Best bet: be choosy. Reliable strong points include French bread, croissants and pastries, baked daily; good Mexican beer and wine from Guadalajara (in unlimited quantities at lunch and dinner): good steaks and chops; tempt to serve somewhere between 300 and 600 people “French” food in Mexico and still please the Americans? And management, rightly assuming that the average guest is on a one-week binge, chooses to overwhelm him with quantity and variety. You’ll serve yourself two meals out of three at a super-smorgasbord, whose tables occupy the better part of the club house’s largest room. Best bet: be choosy. Reliable strong points include French bread, croissants and pastries, baked daily; good Mexican beer and wine from Guadalajara (in unlimited quantities at lunch and dinner): good steaks and chops; excellent strong coffee. For many guests, breakfast was the high point: fresh eggs cooked to order, a plate of fruit, croissants and jam, café au lait.



Do go to look at, talk about and meet people. You certainly won’t be able to avoid it, not even if you shun the daily schedule of fashion shows, sand-castle building contests, Club Olympics, water volleyball and the evening’s slate of skits, musical events, and dancing. All the dining tables are for eight, and at every meal, the hostess will seat you with six new people – seven if you’re traveling alone. excellent strong coffee. For many guests, breakfast was the high point: fresh eggs cooked to order, a plate of fruit, croissants and jam, café au lait.



Do go to look at, talk about and meet people. You certainly won’t be able to avoid it, not even if you shun the daily schedule of fashion shows, sand-castle building contests, Club Olympics, water volleyball and the evening’s slate of skits, musical events, and dancing. All the dining tables are for eight, and at every meal, the hostess will seat you with six new people – seven if you’re traveling alone. Somewhere in the midst of all the silliness and strangers, guests come to grips with Club Med: You’ll either decide that it’s all more fun than it has any right to be or, like some, that you simply can’t go on.

One who dropped out in disgust was Pedro, a 22-year-old Spanish-born contributor to sci fi magazines and an avid fan of Stanley Kubrick. “I really feel myself ridiculous doing these things,” he said. “The Americans are so ingenuous. This is just putting on your smiley face. The first two dinners, I went open, ready to talk. The third one I didn’t open my mouth. They probably thought 1 was mute.”

Then there is Anita Simek, who vacations at the Clubs. She sighed when I mentioned a negative review in a recent issue of New Times. The author concluded, as Pedro had, that the Club Med had sand in its suit. ’”Oh yeah,”she sighed, Somewhere in the midst of all the silliness and strangers, guests come to grips with Club Med: You’ll either decide that it’s all more fun than it has any right to be or, like some, that you simply can’t go on.

One who dropped out in disgust was Pedro, a 22-year-old Spanish-born contributor to sci fi magazines and an avid fan of Stanley Kubrick. “I really feel myself ridiculous doing these things,” he said. “The Americans are so ingenuous. This is just putting on your smiley face. The first two dinners, I went open, ready to talk. The third one I didn’t open my mouth. They probably thought 1 was mute.”

Then there is Anita Simek, who vacations at the Clubs. She sighed when I mentioned a negative review in a recent issue of New Times. The author concluded, as Pedro had, that the Club Med had sand in its suit. ’”Oh yeah,”she sighed, “we get a lot of stories like that. People go down there as writers, you know, and they just sit back and watch . . . If you join in, you have a great time. It’s true, once you’re part of the group, you can get awfully silly. But that’s the fun – it’s certainly a lot more fun than sitting back and watching a group of people be silly.”

And this from Joe. a San Franciscan in his thirties: “I can’t remember the last time I was so completely out of myself, so utterly relaxed.”

It seemed that the guests who had the best time were some combination of natural mixer, cocktail hour freak and people-watcher. Most who seriously disliked it were naturally restrained (fair skin, fat and intestinal difficulties all translate as restraint, and a history of any means the Club is probably not for you).



Don’t go for luxuries and soft living, cause”we get a lot of stories like that. People go down there as writers, you know, and they just sit back and watch . . . If you join in, you have a great time. It’s true, once you’re part of the group, you can get awfully silly. But that’s the fun – it’s certainly a lot more fun than sitting back and watching a group of people be silly.”

And this from Joe. a San Franciscan in his thirties: “I can’t remember the last time I was so completely out of myself, so utterly relaxed.”

It seemed that the guests who had the best time were some combination of natural mixer, cocktail hour freak and people-watcher. Most who seriously disliked it were naturally restrained (fair skin, fat and intestinal difficulties all translate as restraint, and a history of any means the Club is probably not for you).



Don’t go for luxuries and soft living, causethere aren’t any. Guest accommodations seemed Spartan to many American guests – small rooms with twin beds and private bath, and often a long, uphill climb from the dining room and beach. You won’t see a carpet, padded chair, 100-watt bulb or bathtub till you return. You will have your own screened porch with view and daily maid service.

The help at Playa Blanca is nearly always non-English-speaking, and on occasion, openly surly. That’s because with the exception of the Mexicans – who never seem to rise above the rank of bartender – the “help” is young, French, ten times as attractive as the average guest and essentially motivated by the desire to see the world and take it to bed, if possible. Teaching you a sport is one thing: waiting on you quite another. Most guests never quite get the hang of the G.O.-G. M. relationship, but they quickly sense that service is not the name of the game, and ragged edges show. So be prepared there aren’t any. Guest accommodations seemed Spartan to many American guests – small rooms with twin beds and private bath, and often a long, uphill climb from the dining room and beach. You won’t see a carpet, padded chair, 100-watt bulb or bathtub till you return. You will have your own screened porch with view and daily maid service.

The help at Playa Blanca is nearly always non-English-speaking, and on occasion, openly surly. That’s because with the exception of the Mexicans – who never seem to rise above the rank of bartender – the “help” is young, French, ten times as attractive as the average guest and essentially motivated by the desire to see the world and take it to bed, if possible. Teaching you a sport is one thing: waiting on you quite another. Most guests never quite get the hang of the G.O.-G. M. relationship, but they quickly sense that service is not the name of the game, and ragged edges show. So be prepared to do it yourself sometimes, and be patient.



Do go for sports. Especially if one of your vacation projects is learning the basics of a new sport or improving your performance at an old favorite. Serious, daily instruction is available at several levels of skill for tennis, scuba, horseback riding, swimming, sailing, and snorkeling, not to mention volleyball, yoga, even leather craft and tie-dying. A friend from L. A. spent a few days brushing up on his scuba skills in the pool, passed the check-out dive and went on to take the morning deep dive, down to 80 feet – a real thrill for a novice and probably maximum use of club facilities.



Don’t go to “see Mexico,” unless you’re also prepared to pay extra and travel a while on club excursions to Manzanillo (60 miles south) and Puerto Vallarta (95 miles north). Playa Blanca is rather isoto do it yourself sometimes, and be patient.



Do go for sports. Especially if one of your vacation projects is learning the basics of a new sport or improving your performance at an old favorite. Serious, daily instruction is available at several levels of skill for tennis, scuba, horseback riding, swimming, sailing, and snorkeling, not to mention volleyball, yoga, even leather craft and tie-dying. A friend from L. A. spent a few days brushing up on his scuba skills in the pool, passed the check-out dive and went on to take the morning deep dive, down to 80 feet – a real thrill for a novice and probably maximum use of club facilities.



Don’t go to “see Mexico,” unless you’re also prepared to pay extra and travel a while on club excursions to Manzanillo (60 miles south) and Puerto Vallarta (95 miles north). Playa Blanca is rather isolated and without special effort, all you’ll see is the village. For the same reasons, shopping is somewhat limited, although visitors to Puerto Vallarta say the trip is worth it. Most necessities (and a few luxuries) are available at Club stores, however. Exceptions: American brands of over-the-counter medicine.



Don’t go to have an affair with a Frenchman, or anybody, for that matter. The Club maintains a suggestive atmosphere, with minimal clothing worn by staff and public massage and pareo-tying sessions. After listening to a week of griping from disappointed singles, however, it looks like most of the suggestions are never taken up. The only possible advice here is: Don’t count on anything.

Another caution: no nudity allowed, at least not officially. “When 1 started with the Club four years ago, I got a lot of complaints about the nudity,” Anita told me. “Now. most people call to ask me why we don’t have nude beaches in Mexlated and without special effort, all you’ll see is the village. For the same reasons, shopping is somewhat limited, although visitors to Puerto Vallarta say the trip is worth it. Most necessities (and a few luxuries) are available at Club stores, however. Exceptions: American brands of over-the-counter medicine.



Don’t go to have an affair with a Frenchman, or anybody, for that matter. The Club maintains a suggestive atmosphere, with minimal clothing worn by staff and public massage and pareo-tying sessions. After listening to a week of griping from disappointed singles, however, it looks like most of the suggestions are never taken up. The only possible advice here is: Don’t count on anything.

Another caution: no nudity allowed, at least not officially. “When 1 started with the Club four years ago, I got a lot of complaints about the nudity,” Anita told me. “Now. most people call to ask me why we don’t have nude beaches in Mexico. Well, we don’t have it because the Mexican government doesn’t allow it.” Period. If an all-over tan is your goal, better try another club.



Do go for the sights, both natural and man-made. Playa Blanca is an architectural delight – although only three years old, it looks like it should be and always has been right where it is. A twisting maze of red brick, clay tile and white, rough-cut stone, the village is set into the cliffs overlooking magnificent Chamela Bay on Mexico’s rocky west coast. Nearly every balcony is hung with vibrant tropical flowers. And never mind the climb to the top. The view is well worth it.

For further information on Playa Blancaand other Club Med resorts, call toll free:1800)528-3131.

ico. Well, we don’t have it because the Mexican government doesn’t allow it.” Period. If an all-over tan is your goal, better try another club.



Do go for the sights, both natural and man-made. Playa Blanca is an architectural delight – although only three years old, it looks like it should be and always has been right where it is. A twisting maze of red brick, clay tile and white, rough-cut stone, the village is set into the cliffs overlooking magnificent Chamela Bay on Mexico’s rocky west coast. Nearly every balcony is hung with vibrant tropical flowers. And never mind the climb to the top. The view is well worth it.

For further information on Playa Blancaand other Club Med resorts, call toll free:1800)528-3131.

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