This summer I officially became a real “family man” because I finally did a Club Med for summer vacation. I say that because before I was a dad, and especially a dad of two kids, I would never have been caught dead in or near a Club Med. However, times have changed. Turning over a new leaf and trying to keep and open mind, I packed everyone up and we headed for Club Med Kamarina in Sicily and the following is a smattering of observations and notes from the trip. Hope you enjoy it.
Intro and Arrival
Club Med Kamarina (near Marina di Ragusa in Sicily, Italy) is a 3-trident club (4 is the max) so it was supposed to be relatively high-end but not “top of the top”. As you will see, there were things about it that merited the 3-trident rating but others that were clearly a 2-trident level…anyway, let me start from the beginning. The management of the trip (we used the Club Med charter and everything – this was the “we don’t lift a fucking finger” vacation – was excellent. The check-in process was impeccable and there was hardly any wait-time on the ground and the flight was on-time. OK, so the Airbus A320 had us packed like sardines (and the asshole in front of me insisted on reclining his seat into my lap despite the fact that I has my 7-month old daughter in my lap!) but no surprises and a relatively quick painless flight. The bus transfer to the Club was also nice complete with an introduction by a G.O. (“gentil organisateur” aka nice organizer) as the hostesses (and hosts) are called. Actually, there are two more Club terms that need to be spelled out: G.M. is “gentil membre” or nice member aka the guests (like me and my family) and G.E. is “gentil employé” or nice employee (aka invisible service staff). On arrival at the Club, we were greeted by a tribe of G.O. that welcomed us to the site and helped organize luggage and showed us to our rooms…probably the nicest and easiest entry into a vacation I have ever experienced.
The First Week – Adjustments
As I already mentioned, I felt just a little out of my element at a Club Med but felt I wanted to share the impressions I got from being there. First off, the number ’45’ is everywhere. Seems like the first 25€ that G.M.’s drop as soon as they arrive is a Club Med T-Shirt in a bright color and with the number 45 plastered all over it. It took me almost a week to figure out the ’45’ mystique. It turns out that back in 1995, they celebrated their 45th anniversary with these ’45’ T-shirts and had quite a success with them. In 2000, they figured that they’d have an equivalent amount of success with a ’50’ shirt for their 50th birthday, but ’50’ turned out to be a dud. They tried again in 2005 with ’55’. Still no dice. So how in 2010, rather than reattempting a ’60’, they opted for a retro ’45’ and met with what seems to be overwhelming success. I haven’t yet found a socialogical explanation for this bourgeois obsession with the number 45 but there you go. ‘Course, it also begs the question of why folks wear the ’45’ when they first get there – I’d think it was something they’d wear when they got back home…but then the Frenchies only wear T-Shirts on vacation so I suppose this would be the unique occasion to wear the shirt. Good an explanation as any I suppose.
Speaking of Frenchies, the overwhelming majority of G.M.’s were French. There was a healthy Italian contingent – complete with sprawling Soprano-like families with adolescents covered in tattoos wearing Rolexes, older men smoking cigars and basically bossing around their overdressed wives, and so forth. Otherwise, I met one British couple (living in Dubai, they felt that the 36 degrees Sicily sun was “pleasantly cool”) and was neighbors to a Nordic couple that shouted a lot. I was told there were Russians too but as I didn’t see them flashing AK-47s around, I suppose they were the quite types. As for the G.E.’s, they were overwhelmingly Italian. The G.O.’s were a fairly good mirror of the guests: lots of Frenchies, lots of Italians and a smattering of Dutch and other European folks. I met no other Americans and didn’t see any Ozzies, Kiwis – very, very few anglophones actually.
As for the social mix, it was fun to observe the various stereotypes that presented themselves. There were the classics like the “fit” couples that played tennis every day, strutted around in lycra most of the day, and drunk themselves into a stupor most every night at the open bar. Then there was the “fashion” couples. The wife and I took to observing one particular couple that was on the same flight with us and also had two young kids. The guy was not too showy, but his wife, well, she had a different bikini, different day dress and different nightwear for EVERY DAY she was there and she was there for the same two week stint as we were! Once we say the spanking new Samsonite 2-ton luggage on the way back to Paris, things made a little more sense…Then there were the redneck families (such as the previously mentioned Sopranos) which one couldn’t help wondering what the fuck they were doing there.
There were four restaurants at this Club Med:
- Le Dune – this was the principal restaurant. The breakfast was pretty good, but lunch and dinner were pretty hectic. It was themed via regions of Italy (a different one each night), but the selection of “local” food was VERY disappointing
- Trinacria – this was the hotel’s restaurant. It was slightly better and had “international” themes. We tried several and were either really disappointed (disgusting sushi on “Asia” night) or pleasantly surprised (nice tagines on Morocco day)
- Cavallo Marino – this was the pizzeria. It was pretty disappointing. There was a choice of three pizzas, one of which was ALWAYS the margarita (Cheese/Tomato) for the kids. What really annoyed me was the last time we were there, they had both margarita but also nutella pizza. Argh!
- Il Volcano – This was the seafood restaurant. Disappointing because after two weeks next to the Mediterranean and at a not-inexpensive Club Med, I didn’t eat decent broiled or baked sea bass or trout even once 😦
Another remark is that the G.O.’s were not allowed to order alcohol at the bar. I recall one evening a half-drunk G.O. asking me to order him a drink, everyone has a workaround I suppose…There were also the “fit” G.O.s, the “glamour” G.O.’s…and the invisible G.E.’s The Club does a good job of keeping the less valued staff (ie. the employees) pretty invisible and nameless. For example, the G.O.’s all had a little badge with their first name and some country flags for the languages they spoke. The G.E.s had a service badge but no name that was readable.
A fun thing to watch at the pool was Aquagym. There were two different instructors. Most of the week, an older guy, he must have been in his 70’s, gave a pretty good class to probably 50-60 primarily ladies with some kids and overweight men thrown in for good measure (no I had swimming lessons so stayed clear of Aquagym). On Thursdays, my swimming coach gave his class which was probably a little more athletic and accordingly, a little less attended than the other one.
Other possible sports included: tennis, volleyball, catamaran, golf (exterior to the club), archery (I got a real bullseye on my 6th shot and never tried again!), and petanque. There used to be biking but apparently this was eliminated. There was also a fitness room that looked out to the dance patio (yes, it was entertaining to trying the running carpet machine thing and stare at the backs and butts of the salsa class). I realized what a real pain in the ass those machines really are. How increadibly and mind-numbingly boring it is to run in place. Unfortunately, the beach was small, windy and polluted and the domain not really designed or practical for 10-15k runs that I am used to…
There were several clubs for kids: the Petit Club for 2-3 year olds, the Mini Club for 4-11 and the PassWorld for the ados. No baby club for my daughter though. My son only agreed to morning at the Petit-Club (he’s three) so we had about 1 1/2 to 2h with just one kid to take care of each day (outside of naptime of course). The G.O.’s at the Petit-Club were really nice (almost all French because Italians almost never put their kids in Club). However, attempted conversations with G.O.’s in the Mini Club never got passed ‘hi’ presumably because since they weren’t taking care of my kid, they couldn’t give two shits or something. Anyway, we felt like super-parents compared to, in particular, the “fashion” couples that would dump their 2 and 3-year olds at 9am and only see them again at 18h or 19h30 after the kids dinner. Perhaps the view is a little extreme but with kids that young, you’d think that spending a little time with them on vacation would be a priority…
After a week at the Club, we needed a break and rented a car for the day. Actually, that is not completely accurate. Since my two weeks in Marina di Ragusa (not in a Club – see the blog from last summer), I have had this thing for Sicily and had read in a Sicilian recipe book that the best ice cream in Sicily came from the Finocchiaro Caffé in Avola which is only about 1h20 away from Ragusa and Kamarina. Never having established contact with Finocchiaros outside of the US and not knowing any Italian, I figured I NEEDED to go there and meet some family and enjoy MY ice cream! So, I drove my wife batty with this concept until she caved and we packed into a tiny rental and drove to Avola. Now, there is also a kind of Finocchiaro curse. Perhaps 50% of the time that I go somewhere for a museum or some other specific purpose, whatever my goal was is closed: The Archeological Museum in Olympia, Greece – closed for the Olympics, Palace Museum in Taipei – closed for renovation, Winter Palace in Peking – closed for renovation…you get the picture. Well, wouldn’t you know that once I found the café, it was closed for renovation until October 2010. As a consolation, we spent the rest of the afternoon down on memory lane in Marina di Ragusa. I ate my sorrows in the form of a brioche with ice cream – the famously deadly briosica that is a staple for lunch in Sicily. The great irony is that this and almost everything else that is really Sicilian was completely absent from the club. On returning to the Club that late afternoon, I swear I imagined a sign ” Thank you for visiting Sicily. Welcome to France.”
Second Half – Jaded and Bronzed
New arrivals were fun to watch. You could see them dragging their suitcases, squinting in the Sicilian sun, and then an hour later sipping the watered down sangria wearing a ’45’ shirt. Saturday was a riot in terms of people-watching! The Club Med ladies’ fashion seems to be the straw hat, a transparent white robe over the bikini and tongs during the day and then the set themed dress at night. The Agora had a central kiosk on which they posted the various activities, the restaurant menus and the evening dress code: Black and White, Elegant, Blue and White, Casual, Very Elegant…I suppose the folks that are Club Regulars (Silver and Gold level members for example) must get the list mailed to them or something because I don’t know how one packs such a variety of clothes in a suitcase to deal with 6 to 12 themed evenings plus the day times but then that’s not really what toots my horn…
Another funny thing to observe was the watch contest. The guys didn’t really have the same obsession with clothes as the ladies. However, when one goes to the Club Med bar, one carefully places one’s wrist just at the right angle so that one’s neighbor can gawk at the letters “R-O-L-E-X’ or “I-W-C” or “P-A-T-E-K” embossed on the watch. It was like a Geneva watch convention sometimes. OK, so I was jealous because my Wempe Zeitmeister was in Germany for repairs (no kidding) and couldn’t show off but that doesn’t take away from the impression of just a tad of ridiculousness…
Two weeks of Club Med Karamrina food and I swear, they had no more surprises for me. I think they just about ruined buffets for me for a while. It was like a carbon copy of my cafeteria at work. Like I already mentioned, the food was not a highlight of the trip.
Being the nerd that I am, I couldn’t resist using my iPad for keeping up with email occasionally. I wasn’t going to pay the usurious prices for 3G roaming but did pay the 32€ for a week of WiFi access. Hint: you can continue using the 1-week pass for a long time. I think I still had 200 hours left after two weeks! However, network quality really sucked. WiFi only worked in the Agora area – either the fly-infested area near reception or stutteringly in the bar. It was actually quite painful especially for downloading magazines and such. The other thing I did with the iPad was catch up with S01 and S02 of United States of Tara with my wife, S01 of the Wire and a few episodes each of Treme and Mad Men S01. Great stuff and something else I miss living over here…
Club Med is legendary for their shows. The French comedy troupe les Splendid made a highly recommendable comedy called “Les Bronzés” which lambasted the Club atmosphere thus the title of my article. My personal experience was that the shows that I got to see were pretty lame. Crappy music and glorified line dancing. I mean the Frenchies love to look down their aquilian noses at redneck country line-dancing as something incult and pathetic, but the Agora dancing each evening (as well as the dancing in the shows I saw) is not entirely different. Admittedly, I was on baby duty for two shows that my wife said were OK but what I saw was pretty lame.
There was also a show where they had about 200+ kids from the Mini-Club did some dance numbers. The theme both weeks was Asterix and Cleopatra. The shows had exactly 5 seconds of Asterix and 5 minutes of Cleopatra and 40+ minutes of dance numbers by the kids. With the Egyptian theme, you can imagine that the Bangles were unavoidable. For those familiar with French popular culture, no, I didn’t escape from Alexandrie, Alexandra by Claude François either. The other must was even worse. As were the stereotypes. Just to mention one. the show is about Egypt right? Well why did they do a raï song? Raï is Algerian and even more specifically as a friend of mine from Algiers pointed out, exclusively from Oran in Algeria. There is absolutely no raï music in Egypt apart from fugitives fleeing violence or persecution in Algeria. Perhaps I am once again being too picky, but the raï number I felt was a bit too much of a stretch. At some point, one does ask oneself who is benefiting more from this kind of spectacle the kids or just the parents in the audience. That being said, I am sure to be on the first row with my camcorder when my kids are in a similar show…
Another fashion note: the return of the string for the mommies. Yep, it was apparent that the “string qui dépasse” is coming back in style – at least at Club Med. As well as giving 11-year olds BlackBerries. Now, I am a nerd and a technology freak but I don’t really thing an 11-year old needs a smartphone – particularly a BlackBerry Storm with international roaming. Sorry son, but you’re gonna have to get a job to get one of those pal.
Well, that’s about it. My first Club Med experience. Pretty funny actually. And yes, I’ll be trying it again – Villars-sur-Ollons in Switzerland next February.
Stay tuned for “Les Finocchiaros et Les Bronzés au Ski” …