Club Med helped set the course for all-inclusive resorts: Now it’s adding 17 new locations around the world
"When everything is included, all you need to add are the memories."
Or, at least, that's what Club Med, one of the pioneers of all-inclusive resorts since the 1950s, tells guests and potential travelers about its roughly 70 resorts located on five continents.
Today, all-inclusive resorts tend to get a bad rap, with people often saying that the food leaves much to be desired, the drinks are watered down and the idea of never leaving the resort is the exact opposite of what travel is supposed to be about.
But when Club Med, originally called Club Méditerranée, launched in Spain in 1950, the idea was revolutionary yet simple: "offer vacations that combine sports with nature and the great outdoors in a relaxed and informal setting."
The original location focused on "freedom and friendship," giving guests the chance to break bread with their fellow guests and enjoy a vacation on their own terms.
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Since then, Club Med has built an empire and helped set the standard for all-inclusive resorts, though it didn't become fully "all-inclusive" until it introduced buffets for the first time in the 1960s. In 1957, it created its kids club concept that other resorts later mimicked, and over the years it continued to innovate and build a loyal following as more and more properties were added in tropical settings and mountain locations known for winter sports, such as Switzerland.
"They’re like the happiest place on Earth outside of Disney World," said TPG reporter Benji Stawski, who grew up going to Club Med resorts. "Everyone is always in a good mood and just wants to have fun."
Now, the world's "other" happiest place on Earth is setting the course for a rapid expansion, with plans to open 17 new resorts and renovate 13 existing ones by 2024.
Currently, Club Med has locations in some of the world's top destinations, from the idyllic beaches of the Dominican Republic and Mexico to the Alps. Additional resorts can be found in Brazil, China, Morocco and even the Maldives.
New properties joining the Club Med family include Club Med Magna Marbella in Spain; three locations in the Alps (plus the extension of one resort); and a ski-centered outpost in Hokkaido, Japan.
The most exciting news here at home, though, is the introduction of the first new U.S. location in more than 20 years: Club Med Utah. The first-ever outpost of the Exclusive Collection (Club Med's five-star portfolio) in the U.S., this year-round resort will be situated some 35 miles north of Salt Lake City in Snowbasin, Utah.
Related: Why I loved my first ever all-inclusive hotel experience
A retreat welcoming of all, including families, the property will offer 320 accommodations — including two-bedroom family suites — plus upscale dining venues, a heated swimming pool and all of the perks of a winter sports resort, such as ski and snowboard lessons and ski-in, ski-out access. The resort is scheduled to open in 2024.
One area where Club Med sets itself apart from other all-inclusive resorts is how its staff helps set the tone for the experience.
The "Chef de Village" helps facilitate life at the various resorts, while "Gentils Organisateurs" (or GOs) keep things fun and upbeat. One way GOs may dial up the fun is by organizing "crazy signs," which are essentially choreographed dances that spontaneously happen throughout the day to encourage everyone to get on their feet and move.
"What really sets Club Med apart is its GOs," Stawski explained. "They’re basically like camp counselors but for people of all ages. They make sure everyone is always having the best time possible. Sitting alone at lunch? A GO might ask to join you. And you really become friends with these GOs — there are ones I still keep in touch with today, years after meeting them."
While Club Med is promising to keep the kitsch with GOs and random dance parties, it's also adding new experiences to certain destinations around the world, including programming for teens, a circus school with a flying trapeze, all-day yoga and more. Best of all, the cost of the trip practically covers it all.
"I also love how everything is truly included at Club Meds," Stawski said. "Unlike many other all-inclusives, I never felt like the hotel was trying to upsell anything. No annoying timeshare presentations here!"
Last year, the company opened its first resort in Canada, Club Med Québec Charlevoix — the very first all-inclusive resort in the country and an integral part of the brand's expansion over the next few years. Club Med currently has one U.S. location (Sandpiper Bay in Port St. Lucie, Florida) until the Utah outpost opens in 2024.
All-inclusive resorts are not for everybody — and from what I gather, Club Med takes the kitsch factor to the next level. If you'd rather spend your waking hours reading a book by the pool or relaxing on the beach, then Club Med is probably not the brand for you. However, if you and your crew want a summer camp-like experience, be it in your warmest snow gear or your favorite swimsuit, it may be time to give the all-inclusive brand that basically started it all a chance.
I haven't been to one myself, but the college orientation leader in me is really, really into the idea of crazy signs. And don't even get me started on circus school.