This story originally ran in the July 18, 2019 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
PUNTA CANA — Back in the late 1970s Club Med had its eye on the D.R.’s east coast. Originally known as ‘Punta Borrachon’, AKA Drunk Point, the area was eventually rechristened ‘Punta Cana’.
The region was almost completely undeveloped but it had beautiful beaches, and Club Med put down stakes.
The all-inclusive pioneer went on to build the first large-scale resort in Punta Cana, and helped build the airport too, just like it did in Cancun a few years earlier.
It’s a pattern that will play out again – minus the airport – when Club Med opens the new Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda later this year. But more on Michès in a minute.
For now, let’s look at Club Med Punta Cana, one of the company’s most popular resorts. It’s a decades-old favourite that doesn’t look its age, thanks to renovations and additions like the adults-only Zen Oasis, and premium space Tiara.
“Club Med Punta Cana is a machine,” says Nick Jenness, the property’s Meeting Event Manager, leading a site inspection on a recent Club Med Punta Cana press trip. He means it in a good way. Club Med Punta Cana is a perennial top seller, and has been welcoming guests for going on 40 years. It’s an efficient property, and yes, it runs like a well-oiled tourism machine.
About 70% of Club Med Punta Cana’s clients are families, and with the circus-inspired playground CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil, and all the kids’ clubs for ages, there’s no shortage of family-friendly activities and diversions. Club Med Punta Cana, along with Cancun Yucatan, also has the brand new ‘Amazing Family’ program promoting everything from life-sized versions of games like Twister and Jenga, to pool games, to kid-friendly yoga.
Families are a big part of Club Med Punta Cana’s success but that’s not to say the resort doesn’t cater to singles and couples too.
Jenness started the site inspection of the resort with family-friendly facilities before moving on to Zen Oasis, the property’s adults-only haven. Showing off Zen Oasis’ oversized lagoon pool and an extensive sundeck dotted with private cabanas and in-water chaise lounges, Jenness said any Club Med Punta Cana guest 18+ is welcome in Zen Oasis from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Guests booking into Zen Oasis’ 78 rooms can enjoy the amenities around the clock. There are shows here, and weekly singles cocktail events.
The Zen Oasis rooms are beautiful, designed with wellness and comfort in mind and with features including spa-like bathrooms with rainfall showers. The décor is neutral, with a splash of colour thanks to a bright red hibiscus-shaped rug. The eye-catching rugs pop beautifully against all the white.
As any agent who sells a lot of Club Med knows, a Club Med resort is called a ‘village’. In that case, Zen Oasis is a village-within-a-village at Club Med Punta Cana. And so is the Tiara Exclusive Collection Space. Club Med bills Tiara as “the perfect option for those in search of privacy and upscale, personalized services, without sacrificing the friendly Club Med spirit.” At Punta Cana, Tiara has 32 Family Suites with 753 square feet each, with a room and ensuite for parents, a room for the kids and a lounge and terrace with sea views. The suites, bungalow-style, sleep four.
There’s a clubby feel to Tiara: the intimate surroundings, buoyed by social events (tea at 4 p.m., champagne toasts at 6 p.m. and plenty of BBQs), means everyone gets to know everyone in short order. Loyalty is high for Tiara’s return guests, says Jenness. The space is often booked solid. “Ever since January we’ve been maxed out.”
Club Med Punta Cana makes the most of its enviable beachfront location – the company got first dibs, after all – by lining the beach with many of its Tiara bungalows, plus newly refurbished dining venue Hispaniola, which just reopened on our May trip, as well as Indigo Beach Lounge, open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks. Spa-goers can also opt for a beach-side massage. Open-air treatment rooms offer the lulling sound of the surf instead of the usual plinky-plinky spa music. Of course, there are also plenty of wide open stretches of beach for sunbathing too. And the free-form pool is perfect for swimmers of all levels.
The heart of the Club Med Punta Cana village, the Rotonde, includes Samana restaurant, with its beautiful buffet options. Club Med knows how to raise buffet dining to a fine art, and that’s especially good news for families. There’s also Cielo bar and La Cave wine cellar.
Walking by Cielo bar, many Club Med Punta Cana guests were stopping in their tracks to check out a ‘sneak peek’ dream board of gorgeous rooms and village concepts planned for Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda. The brand new resort is still under construction about 90 minutes north of Punta Cana, in Michès, in anticipation of its December 2019 launch.
At 37 hectares, Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda is Club Med’s biggest project of its type in the Caribbean in the past 40 years, and will be the first full Exclusive Collection resort in the Americas, serving as the new flagship of the dedicated line in the region.
Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda will feature four boutique villages, each with its own unique environment, activities and accommodations. These include Archipelago, Caribbean Paradise, Emerald Jungle, and Explorer Cove.
My eight-year old daughter, who accompanied me on this kids-welcome press trip, said her favourite was the Archipelago. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Archipelago is one of the adults-only villages. Thankfully the punchy pinks and citrus hues of Caribbean Paradise caught her eye too – it’s family-friendly.
While the D.R.’s Michès region is undeveloped, many visitors to the island are still familiar with the area thanks to the famous swings at Montana Redonda.
An Instagrammer’s dream, the swings provide photo ops for days. Michès’ Montana Redonda is a popular excursion option especially from Punta Cana, and anyone who braves the twists and turns of the drive up the mountain is rewarded with incredible views from their swinging perch.
Club Med’s Michès site, located beachfront far below Montana Redonda, offers untouched beaches and whales swimming off the coast of Samana Bay.
The Michès village will be the new benchmark for Club Med luxury, says Teddy Tillman, Assistant Chef de Village at Club Med Punta Cana. The 5-Trident property exemplifies “what Club Med is going towards now: upscale vacations for active families and active couples,” says Tillman.
Club Med’s goal going forward is simple and right on trend. “We want to keep that convivial feel, that sense of sharing moments. We want to sell an experience.”