Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review of Club Med Sandpiper Bay

I wanted to love this resort, I really did. As the only true all inclusive in the United States, Club Med Sandpiper has a lot going for it but if you are an all inclusive junky, you will find a world of difference between this resort and most all inclusive resorts in the Caribbean.

Club Med Sandpiper is located on the St. Lucie River in Port St. Lucie, Florida. It is not on the beach and should not be considered a beach resort. There is some sand but the "beach" is actually a lake. There are water sports - paddleboards and Hobie Cats are included. Wave runners and motor boats are available at extra cost. There are three pools - one adult only at the far side of the resort, one a zero entry pool for families and a kiddie pool with small water park.

This resort just underwent a $30 million renovation but in all honesty it is difficult to understand where this money went.

Rooms are a good size for families but do not expect luxuries you would find in other resorts. You'll find them large but basic. Family rooms have a king sized bed with two sofa beds on either side of the room and a large round cocktail table in the center. There was a work desk as well. The king bed was very comfortable but unfortunately in most rooms the air conditioning vent is directly over one side of the bed and whoever sleeps on that side on the bed is going to be very cold. The pillows are also the smallest pillows I've ever seen. There are also suites available that feature bunk beds in a separate room.

The bathroom consists of two areas, one a vanity outside of the actual room with a sink and then the actual bathroom with another vanity and sink, toilet and shower and tub. The bathrooms have been refurbished but not all areas were well though out. The vanity outside the room has a makeup mirror and a chair to sit on to do your makeup. However, if you sit on the chair, you cannot get your legs under the vanity because there is an apron that hangs under it. The makeup mirror doesn't have a long enough arm to put your makeup on and the lighting is terrible. We ended up putting makeup on in the actual bathroom, where the lighting was better.

There is a huge walk in closet with dressing area. This was a nice touch for family privacy. There is also a coffee pot and refrigerator with two bottles of water. We could tell the bathrooms were refurbished, but apparently to save money the refrigerators were not and they showed their age.
The rooms were very clean, but in my room I noticed there there were dark spots on the terracotta floor. It appeared to be dirt spots that were sealed into the tile.

There are two restaurants on property, one called The Marketplace which is a buffet and Soleil, which offers salads, sandwiches and appetizers. One issue with the restaurants is that they are not open all day. The Marketplace is open for two hours in the morning, two hours for lunch and four hours for dinner. Soleil is open from 9:30 am to 10 pm but the menu offerings are very limited.
Hours for breakfast at the Marketplace were 7 am to 10 am. Lunch was noon to 2 pm, dinner from 6-9 pm.

The Marketplace food tasted very good but we felt that we were eating the same food every day, there was not much variation. Another issue we found is the set up of the buffet is awkward. The lettuce for salads are in one place and the toppings such as carrots, mushrooms, dressing are in another area. Hamburgers and hot dogs are near a grill but the rolls are in the corner of the bread area far across the room.

There were stations that prepared specialty dishes, such as oriental or French food but the chefs didn't  keep up with cooking and very often the dishes were empty. One night there was a huge line for desserts, as there was one chef slicing pies and cakes as people were on line.

One thing not to pass up is Club Med's chocolate bread. They had a light version and dark version that were out of this world. Take a few slices at breakfast and ask the chef to make French Toast with it. It is a treat you won't forget.

There is some jarred baby food available and each day a different vegetable is pureed as gourmet baby food. For instance, one day it was broccoli and leeks. I saw plenty of adults eating the daily special.

In our opinion for the price the resort charges, there should be a regular restaurant on site that serves more than sandwiches and salad and something should be available nearly 24 hours. Many people we spoke to agreed.

There is one bar on site. It is an indoor bar and is open all day and into the night. Brace yourself because children are permitted in this area, so it is not unusual to see children dancing there. Some top shelf liquor is available but I did hear a few gripes about Jack Daniels not being available as well as some beers.

If you are a golf or tennis junkie, this resort is for you. Both are available on site. There is also a kids tennis court, with small nets and appropriate rackets. And there is golf for kids.

There are three clubs for kids - the Mini-club for ages 4-10. Juniors and Teens programs for 11-17 year olds. There is also Baby Club Med. Baby Club Med is for babies 4 months to 23 months. There are two groups, one for walkers and one for non walkers. Operating hours are from 8:45 am to 5 pm. You may drop off your child during two time frames only - 8:45. - 9:30 or 2pm - 2:30. There are scheduled activities. There is also a Pajama Club available for $28 per night that operates from 7pm to 1 am so parents can have some evening time to themselves. There is also a baby bottle room with a refrigerator, microwave, sink, bottle brush, soap, filtered water, milk, yogurt and snacks.The Mini Club has two age groups - Geckos for ages 4-7 and Manatees for 8-10 year olds.

Service throughout the resort was acceptable in most areas but not exemplary. We arrived with a group and were directed to park our car on the side of the driveway for the check in process. We were quickly greeted and checked in, then directed to park our car in the parking lot and bring luggage to the check in area to be taken to our room by a porter.

I parked the car as directed, dragged my luggage to where the porters were supposed to be to find no one there. After waiting several minutes I saw a female employee pushing a luggage cart with suitcases on it. I showed her my room key and asked her how to get to my room. Instead of asking if she could help, she pointed to the direction if my room and walked away, leaving me to pull my own luggage to the farthest part of the resort myself.  No offer to take the bags. After walking to my building, I also discovered I could have parked my car in a different area much closer to the building. No one went out of their way - pointing instead of guiding if you had a question on where something was. I realized I missed hearing "My Pleasure" when thanking an employee for an answer to a question.

Many employees are also "performers" . The girl that checked me in told me she would also be performing in that night's trapeze show. I thought she was kidding until I saw her on the high wire.

Another thing many of the agents on this trip noted was the lack of areas looking "finished". For example, there was an outdoor "courtyard" area around the conference rooms. This area was not finished professionally. There was a cheap looking corrugated roof. The beams around the roof area were unfinished. Many people remarked that they felt the area looked unfinished especially after a $30 million renovation.

We carefully observed the other guests to see if they appeared to be having a good time. We noticed the most activity during outdoor Zumba classes and an evening trapeze performance (although there is no place to sit during that show, everyone was standing for the show.) Since we visited in November,  the resort was not very crowded and the air was chilly so not many were by the pool. We did see kids paddle boarding in the river on a daily basis.

Did I like the resort? Yes, I would rate it a solid three in a one to five scale. Did I love it? No. I don't consider it a four or five star resort but it is priced that way. If you expect an all inclusive resort similar to what you will find in the Caribbean you will be sorely disappointed.

Don't think of comparing this resort to anything you may have experienced in the Caribbean. If you know what to expect and you do not expect a Caribbean type of all inclusive, you won't be disappointed.

To see all our photos of Club Med, click here