by Terry Ward
It can be a bit hard to describe the depth and breadth of the Club Med experience to the uninitiated. But suffice to say that what you’re in for at Club Med Sandpiper Bay — the only Club Med in the United States — is an all encompassing vacation dedicated to water and land-based sports, quality entertainment, delicious dining and, most likely, some of the most quality family fun you’ve ever had on vacation.
This iconic all-inclusive resort located about 10 minutes from the beach, on a quiet cove along the St. Lucie River (about 45 minutes from West Palm Beach), is neither a typical Florida beach vacation nor a typical American resort (it’s originally a French brand, after all). Because of the spirit of the place, kids come away from here feeling particularly independent. It’s a beautiful thing.
As is standard across all Club Meds, all of your food and drinks, kids’ club activities, tennis instruction, sailboat rentals and even trapeze lessons (yes, there’s an onsite flying trapeze) are included in your room rates. But you and the kids will hardly spend any time in your room, for all there is to do across the large property.
Imagine a summer camp feel, with everything from golf putting clinics for the adults to glow stick parties for kids planned throughout the day, from early to late. GOs (the Club Med-wide term for the mostly young and worldly staff) are energetic and friendly, and feel more like your friends as they lead you through all manner of activities and even pop by your dinner table at lunch or dinner to say hello.
The property, which opened in 1987, feels less hotel-like and more like a collection of condos, with rooms spread between seven buildings in prettily landscaped gardens. The most recent renovations, to the tune of $25 million, were completed in 2011, so while exteriors may look a bit dated, interior dÃƒÆ’Ã‚©cor is contemporary throughout.
Families have endless ways to spend their days here. On property, there are Hobie Cats, SUP and kayak rentals for forays out into the river (with a chase boat at the ready to wrangle you if you stray too far). The three onsite pools range from an adults-only pool to a splash pad for your youngest ones. The expertly managed kids camp keeps them entertained all day with everything from cooking classes and pool parties to arts and crafts and dance lessons, scavenger hunts and talent shows. Golf and tennis lessons and clinics are held throughout the day. And should you tire of all there is to do onsite (quite impossible), day trips to Miami, Orlando, the beach and even air boat rides in the Everglades can all be arranged.
The French chain takes on an especially European feel at night, when musical and theatrical productions play out on the main stage. And the disco, Slice Bar, comes alive every night with a party for all ages. Finding time to take a break from it all is likely to be your biggest challenge here.
Our Editor Loves
- All-inclusive meals, drinks and activities
- On-site dining at the Baby Corner
- Beach for sailing and kayaking
- All Inclusive Rates
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Free Breakfast
- Free Wi-Fi
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Meal Plan
- Onsite Dining
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The village-feel of this property comes through in the layout of the 337 rooms, which are spread between seven two and three-story buildings around the property. The look is more akin to an upscale condo community than a typical hotel. Because the property is quite spread out, some of the buildings are a considerable walk (max 10 minutes) from common areas such as the main restaurant and pool. So if you have family members with mobility issues, be sure to request one of the buildings in the heart of the action.
Rooms, which basically come in two varieties here but with varying views (some of the resort, garden and/or parking lot and some with nicer river views) are well apportioned for accommodating families of various sizes and privacy requirements. All rooms are tiled with clean-lined furniture and bright paintings and throw pillows.
Note: Because all of the rooms have pull out sofas, there are no options for adding rollaway beds to any rooms.
Club Rooms are the resort's entry-level rooms. They are equipped with a king-size bed that is actually two beds combined (and can be configured that way, too). In this room, there are two sofa beds, so a total of four people can be accommodated (or five, with the addition of a crib for an infant; free of charge). Another option in the club rooms is to opt for a room with the dividable king bed and a set of bunkbeds in an alcove, also good for families of four. These rooms have a bathroom with a shower-in-tub configuration, a balcony or lanai with chaise lounges, a stocked refrigerator and coffee-making facilities. There are no DVD players in the rooms, but bring your own if you need it because hookups are available.
Deluxe Family Rooms
The Deluxe Family Rooms, more like suites, are perfect for families with five to six people who are looking for a bit of separation. The main room has a dividable king bed and a sofa bed. And a hallway past the bathroom from here leads to a separate bedroom (with a door that fully closes) with two single beds. These suites have 1.5 bathrooms, and the usual shower-in-tub layout. A balcony or lanai with chaise lounges, a stocked refrigerator and coffee-making facilities are also standard.
The resort is a popular place for family reunions, and the connecting rooms are a great option for keeping everyone close, yet separated. Only the pricier Club Rooms with a bay view (partial or full) can be connected to other Club Rooms. Be sure to request when booking.
Several Club Rooms with garden views are configured to ADA standards, with roll-in showers, handle bars and ground-floor access.
This was our second trip to the Sandpiper Bay resort. The first time was several years ago before the birth of our second child. It seems like a lot has changed and improved in that time. The facilities were nice and seem more updated. The staff was friendly and accommodating. They were especially great with the children!
My wife came for the pool and relaxation but I came for the food and drinks. I left every meal stuffed and satisfied. Of course tried to save some room for the white chocolate bread. I don’t know how they make it, but I could not get enough and highly recommend it! The bartenders were always quick and helpful which was a big plus too.
We will definitely come stay here again! Hopefully sooner than it took since our last time now that the kids are a little older.
We stayed here 2 nights so we could check this place out for a family vacation. We checked in around 4pm. Friendly staff at reception. Given our wrist bands and map. Room on 3rd floor of building C was as expected. Great view. Room was clean but worn furniture. Rusted shower rod. Two sinks, plenty of vanity space. Bed was comfy with good pillows. Blackout curtains worked well. Plenty of closet space with hooks and nooks for clothes. But when the air conditioning was on, it sounded like a train was coming through. Hard to have a conversation. One more thing. There was a master switch and other switches that controlled other lights and I never figured it out.
Club Med is known for its food. It did not disappoint. The sit down restaurant was closed so we ate 3 buffet meals every day. It got old. Did the tennis clinics 2 mornings which we enjoyed. Spent hours at the adult pool. No shade. Our last morning, we had to scrounge for chairs. The chair hogs were there. Not enough chairs.
Saw 2 shows and they were entertaining. Checked out a lot of the activities and it looked like the kids were having fun.
It's the employees who make or break a vacation. Had the majority of them been smiling and friendly, this rating would have been a 4. Every bartender looked like they were offended if you asked them for a drink. The buffet, most looked like they really didn't want to be there. When you don’t feel welcomed by the employees, it does put a downer on what could have been a great time.
Club Med may have a reputation as a party hotel chain in some parts of the world (an iconic French movie called "Les BronzÃƒÆ'Ã‚Â©s" from the 70s celebrated just that). But the Florida outpost, which bills itself as a "premier family sports resort," is as family-oriented as hotels come. Absolutely everything here revolves around keeping families entertained in an active and well-supervised, yet independence-loving way, from daybreak until way past sundown.
There are three pools onsite. The family pool, in the center of the property and a short walk from the river beach, is a zero-entry pool that's 4 feet deep. There's a lifeguard on duty here from around 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (they break for lunch for an hour around noon). Note that this pool is not heated, and can get quite chilly during the winter months. Activities like water aerobics are often held here.
A short walk away, there's a lap pool that is mainly used by adults for exercise, but also hosts kids gatherings from the kids club since it's located next to the club. Also near the kids' club is a splash pad (the water is heated in the winter) with slides and other water features for younger kids.
Close to the river's edge and with the best views is a quiet adult's only pool and Jacuzzi for those 18 and up only. The cabanas and lounge chairs here overlooking the mangroves are a particularly nice spot to escape when the kids are off doing their thing.
You're on the brackish water of the St. Lucie River at this property, but the water is warm (most of the year, anyway), so jump in! With a gently sloping beach, the shallow water near the sandy beach is perfect for younger kids to play in. Sign up to use the kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and Hobie Cats and you can venture farther out into the water. (There's a chase boat at the ready to rescue you if the winds start to blow you away). Sailing lessons using the Hobie Cats are offered every day as part of the all-inclusive package. And for an additional cost, jet skis can also be rented from the resort's small marina. Fishing trips and scuba diving can also be arranged for an additional fee.
Ever had to beg your kids to take part in a hotel's kids' camp? That won't be a problem here. Club Med's programs are all action and all fun, all the time. And the fact that most (except for the very young kids) are included in your rate makes taking part in them all the more appealing. Kids love the clubs so much they're known to shed profuse tears when it's time to say goodbye to their new friends.
Baby Club Med (basically day care), for kids from 4 months to 23 months, is offered from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for an additional fee, and must be booked in advance. Diapers and formula aren't provided so be sure to provide those at drop off. Also, you may be required to show a health document proving your baby is up to date on diphtheria, tetanus and polio shots, so bring that along.
Petit Club Med, for ages 2 and 3, is also available for an additional fee from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Mini Club Med is included in your all-inclusive package and open to kids age 4 to 10. They'll be divided into age groups, and you'll see them traipsing around the property, singing their respective theme songs between attacking activity after activity (from trapeze to talent show rehearsals to cooking lessons, pool parties and more). Mini Club Med hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with additional activities (perhaps a scavenger hunt or glow party) from 6:30 to 8 every night (you can even ship them off for dinner with their crew).
Finally, for the 11 year olds to 17 year olds, there's Club Med Passworld, also included in your rate. Supervised and less-supervised activities for this age group include crafts; dance lessons; excursions, such as camping or hiking; trapeze; tennis; and more.
Sports are huge at this Club Med, so if your family is the active type, you're in heaven here. The Flying Trapeze Academy is as fun as it sounds -- an authentic chance for adults and kids to take lessons while flying along in a safe harnessed-in environment. The resort's excellent Tennis Academy has daily or weekly programs for both juniors and adults run by skilled coaches. There are 20 courts, including illuminated ones for night play, and lessons are available to kids ages 4 and up. The resort's Fitness Academy, for those 16 and older, has a nonstop schedule of things like Zumba, Pilates, BODYPUMP and water aerobics. And the Golf Academy, held at the resort's 18-hole course, has group offerings for kids from ages 4 and up, too. There's even a Beach Volleyball Academy here with group lessons included in the all-inclusive rates. Other included sports include basketball, Ping-Pong and bocce ball. Prepare for some exhausted kids come nighttime, in other words.
The GOs work double duty at night, getting clad in costumes and stepping onto the stage to perform in very entertaining musicals, comedy shows, and more. And while programming is always kid friendly, you can expect some jokes and innuendos that keep adults having fun and rapt with attention, too. Shows take place at 8 p.m. nightly in the main theater, and from there the action rolls right on over Slice Bar, where a DJ spins music and the GOs lead dance steps for an all-ages crowd. The bar usually stays open until 2 a.m., even if the kids head back to their rooms earlier.
The excellent quality and variety of food at Club Med is a chain-wide standard, and the Florida outpost is as excellent as any Club Med anywhere in the world. Families plan most of their meals at the buffet restaurant, The Market Place, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and with ample seating for groups. And there are a few other options, too, and all are family-friendly.
The Market Place
Serving breakfast (7 to 10), lunch (12 to 2) and dinner (6 to 9), this centrally located restaurant is the main eating hub and where you are likely to spend most of your meals. Feel free to let the kids free range here to fill their plates with their favorite things. Choose your table, indoors our outside on a terrace overlooking the river, then hit the buffet for a delicious selection of international foods. Breakfast has omelet stations, and all manners of hot bacon and potato dishes, as well as fish, fruit, smoothies, French pastries and more. Lunch and dinner are quite similar, with a range of American foods (burgers, pizza, etc.) and more international meats and seafood dishes and a wonderful range of fresh, European-style salads. There's so much selection at every meal, you'll hardly to be able to try it all in a day, not to mention a week. There's usually a crepe station several times a week, which kids love, and GOs scooping out ice cream elsewhere. Moms appreciate the "Baby Corner" area, with microwaves and small plates and bowls for preparing baby meals.
If you need a snack between buffet meals, this is the spot -- a casual riverfront restaurant open from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. where you can get easy things like burgers and light sandwiches.
The Riverside Grill & BBQ
Open to non-guests, this riverside restaurant is by reservation only and particularly popular during the ample Sunday brunch spread (there's an additional fee for this meal), when there's a great variety of grilled meats and seafood and all the sweet treats (pancakes, muffins, waffles) that kids love. You can request a special meal of lobster for an additional fee.
Highchairs and booster seats are available in all restaurants, and you can also request crayons and paper for coloring.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
There is no free Wi-Fi at this property. Weekly charges are $60 for two devices per room.
If it's your first time in the year booking a room at a Club Med, be aware there's an additional "membership fee" of $60 per person or $30 per kid up to age 15. You pay only once per year and it's good at all Club Meds worldwide.
While babysitters are not provided onsite, the concierge can help with recommending an outside service should you need one. Additionally, Club Med offers its Pajamas Club for kids aged 4 months to 7 years old, available every night from 7 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. for $28 per child. It's basically just a supervised mellow time for kids to relax with movies and books, and they can also sleep on mats on the floor here until parents are ready to pick them up.
There is a top-notch gym near the spa with all manner of cardio and weight training equipment, open to those 18 and up only.
The Art of Smart Timing
All of the Club Med's facilities are open year round, but the main pool is never heated and can get quite cold during the winter months, when you may not find it very tempting to swim in. All sports activities -- including tennis, golf, flying trapeze, etc. -- are available all year long.
Weather in this part of Florida is very hot for much of the year, from about April through October, but there's often a breeze coming off the river. The weather is pretty much perfect from December through March, which also coincides with high season and higher prices at the resort. If you're here over the holiday season in December or during March (spring break), expect the property to be packed.
For the best deals on rates, aim to book during the first two weeks of June and in September.
The nearest airport is Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, about 45 minutes or 50 miles from the property. The Club Med can arrange transport from the airport to the resort for $118 for three people or $131 for four people, one-way, in a private van. Fort Lauderdale International Airport is the next closet airport, about 1.5 hours or 100 miles way. Shuttles from there cost $210 for three people or $234 for four people, one way. Book in advance with the hotel.
You can also consider renting a car at the airport you fly into, which may be a less costly option depending on the length of your stay. Parking is free in a secured outdoor lot. And a car is handy if you want to visit the local beach at Jensen Beach or do any shopping in the area.
The Club Med Sandpiper Bay is surrounded by residential neighborhoods and not located near anything of particular tourism interest. As such, there isn't a shuttle to bring guests off property.
For Mom and Dad
The resort's Club Med Spa by L'OCCITANE is a fabulous facility (additional charges apply) with five treatment rooms, including one for couples' treatments. There is also a hair and nail salon, a Turkish bath and pretty outdoor Zen relaxation area. All treatments -- from massages and facials to wraps -- use the delightfully smelling products made in Provence, France. Indulge in a treatment for two when the kids are off at camp.
Slice Bar, open till 2 a.m. nightly with DJ music and cocktails, is a fun place to relax with a drink or get your dance on after the kids have gone to bed.