PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic -- The term "Caribbean all-inclusive" can evoke an array of images: partygoers drinking bottomless daiquiris -- or perhaps a slothful beachgoer, overdosed on both sun and jambalaya.
In the Dominican Republic, Club Med Punta Cana's version of "all-inclusive," comparatively, is refreshingly healthy. It's an indulgent, family-oriented vacation that is all-inclusive in not only food and beverage but, even more so, a limitless menu of sports and wellness under the sun for the whole family.
Now, we're not saying you can't spend a day by the pool all day and summon the waiter to do all the exercise back and forth from the bar, or have a serving of chocolate or syrup-covered crepes five days in a row (gulp, I'm guilty), it's just that this isn't the resort's sweet spot.
Punta Cana emerged as a golf destination starting in the late 1990s, but Club Med was the area's first resort to come to the sunny eastern side of the island, opening in 1980. The resort owners eventually built the Punta Cana Airport in 1984, which made the journey here far easier than the original five-hour trek through farms and sugar cane fields from Santiago. Today, PUJ receives 5 million passengers, coming from all over North America, Europe -- even as far as Moscow.
In spite of the major tourism growth of the area, the original Club Med still holds some very nice cards: 2,000 feet of secluded and scenic beach and a picturesque beach dotted with palm trees, with nary another resort in view. A shipwreck also sits just offshore and makes for a neat dive site. Some areas of the beach house activities -- such as bocce ball and beach volleyball. An open-air fitness palapa is steps from the water (and also the breakfast buffet).
Watersports, from kayaking to snorkeling, sailing and wind surfing are all readily accessible (lessons or on your own) and part of the all-inclusive package.
The golf connection at Club Med Punta Cana
New for 2014, Club Med added its own new golf facility to its array of activities. It's pretty basic: hitting nets, a chipping green and an 18-hole mini-golf course. Like all sports here, group lessons for beginner, intermediate and advanced are part of the all-inclusive package.
The real golf attraction, however, are the two world-class courses bordering Club Med, so close in fact they can be seen from either end of the beach: Punta Cana Resort & Club's La Cana Golf & Beach Club and Corales Golf Club.
The lavish Corales, designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 2010, exemplifies the exclusive Caribbean golf experience. Forecaddies accompany every group, and the tee sheet is limited to 45 golfers a day, so you feel like you have the run of the joint, and it's quite a spread. Fazio laid out gently rolling fairways, clean-but-large waste areas and water features. But there's so much Paspalum turf out here (the rough is cut most generously) that nearly every hole calls for a nice rip of the driver.
Two holes, the 3rd and 15th, feature alternating left and right greens. Three holes play entirely along crashing waves, while three other holes finish at seafront greens. The long, par-4 18th, demanding a tee shot over the crashing ocean, is a thrilling climax.
On the south side of Club Med, La Cana, opened in 1999, sports 27 holes of golf and a nice collection of seaside holes throughout as well. Designed by P.B. Dye, the course has its tough parts -- forced carries, some elevated greens and waste bunkers -- but nothing so severe you forget you're on a Caribbean vacation, after all.
What makes La Cana an ideal daylong escape is its beach club. Club Med guests can spend the afternoon after golf lounging at the pool or at the on-site private beach, an idyllic spot that's far quieter and secluded compared to the more festive Club Med beach.
Video: A visit to Punta Espada, Corales and La Cana
Trip highlights off the golf course at Club Med
Go G.O.s Go: The staff at Club Med, led by the "G.O." team (or "Gracious Organizers") lead the club's various activities and are the resort's ace-in-the-hole. Multi-lingual and always enthusiastic no matter how poor you may be at the activity they're leading, they foster a contagious spirit of activity.
By trip's end, my wife and my running tally of various sports -- from fitness classes to tennis lessons to kayaking to flying trapeze lessons to an ill-fated attempt at wind surfing -- was over a dozen, and that isn't to say we didn't spend a good deal of time half asleep on a poolside lounger, too. It was enough activity that we added a visit the L'Occitane Spa, whose open-air, beachfront palapas steps from crashing waves have no need for new-age music playing on an iPod.
Bon Appetite: The French carry a well-known stigma for taking their cuisine very seriously, and the result at French-owned Club Med is a dining scene that exceeded expectations. The main style of dining is buffet, with two large restaurants, but the open-air Hispaniola and rotating dinner themes nightly helped keep things fresh for the duration of our six days. Dinner theme highlights included Moroccan and Italian nights. Lobster was served one night, and house white and red wines flow freely -- not to mention a self-serve keg of Presidente at the drink station.
The Tiara touch: Club Med rates its properties on a "Trident" scale, with "five tridents" being its most luxurious class. Club Med Punta Cana is predominantly a four-trident resort but with a more exclusive five-trident wing, Tiara. Here, guests have spacious, two-room oceanfront casitas measuring 753-square-feet.
You're also steps from La Perla, a private bar and pool area serving drinks and Hors d'oeuvre all day. Its sunset happy hour is a particularly pleasant perk, and the overall ambiance is geared towards the lazy adult, with the water slides and play areas entirely out of earshot.
For more information visit ClubMed.us