I arrived at Club Med as an all-inclusive resort virgin and somewhat sceptical about being forced into joining relentlessly cheerful people in ghastly group activities. These days the reality is quite different and I found a few good reasons to reassess all my earlier prejudices against all-inclusive resorts.
The resort we stayed at — Club Med Bintan Island — is in Indonesia but is most easily accessed by a short ferry ride from Singapore.
1. ALL-INCLUSIVE IS RELAXING
At our resort there are four bars open all day until late. We could order sodas, milkshakes, fresh juices, beer, wine, certain spirits or cocktails any time. I approached a lady on the beach early in the morning to ask after the green juice she had only to be told it was an apple martini! My friend and I frequently did a little trawl of all four bars in the late afternoon. The cocktails aren't strong or overly fancy but you can have as many as you can drink and there is no sting at the end of the holiday when the bill arrives for all the $9 milkshakes the kids drank when you weren't looking.
Our resort had a very friendly policy about bringing your own drinks. Other guests had stocked up on fancy duty-free champagne (which isn't part of the all-inclusive deal at Club Med) and the barman happily kept it behind the bar, serving it when they wanted. No corkage fee, no dramas.
2. YOU ARE THE BOSS
There are plenty of activities and classes and I thought there would be pressure to join in but you can genuinely engage as much or as little as you want. If you want volleyball, pilates, power yoga, zen yoga, aqua aerobics and various other activities, you are in the right place. If you want to lie by the pool or on the beach reading and sipping on a little something, there is not the slightest bit of pressure.
Our resort was on a private white sand beach and the South China Sea is pale blue and warm, so many hours can be spent in quiet happiness.
The same goes for the nightlife. There are various events and parties but the afternoon cocktails combined with the time difference meant I didn't sample much of them and no-one even appeared to notice.
3. THE LESSONS ARE FUN
Each resort has different lessons available. I am a tennis novice so I would be unlikely to go to the trouble of organising a tennis coach and booking and paying for a lesson, but at Club Med all I had to do was wander up to the tennis centre at 8am and a coach was waiting. I had a wonderful time hacking my way about the court. Once I had a private lesson and once with one other person (free of charge). I did not do justice to the key instructions "more prepare, more faster, more better" but I had fun, got sweaty and now hit the ball "more better".
The food is good. There is a huge variety and cuisines to suit all palates. Each resort has a fancy dining option (included in the price) as well as a big restaurant that is open almost all the time. If you can shake the fancy food hall feeling there really is some tasty food. Major resorts are international so there are very authentic options from different cuisines including Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Italian as well as the more common options. Club Med started out as a French operation (and is now Chinese-owned) so they don't skimp on the great French cheeses. I made it my personal mission to dent the supply twice daily and the widest variety of tropical fruit took a hit at my hands too.
5. RESORTS TAKE THE KIDS SERIOUSLY
Major resorts have well-organised and well-attended kids clubs. Ours had its own pool and dining area and kept the kids flat out with activities including a circus trapeze. The staff working with the kids were young and enthusiastic and kept the kids happy with activities like a giant foam party with music and lots of fun mess - and hoses to wash it all off again.
6. NOT ORGANISING ANYTHING IS BLISS
Wandering down to zen yoga in the afternoon was peaceful. No booking, no special clothes, just turn up if you are in the mood and engage in "more relax your body" in the open-air pavilion by the edge of the South China Sea, enjoying the cool ocean breezes. No need for plans after yoga. Late afternoon is perfect for cocktails and the restaurant stays open late so nothing needs to be booked.
Getting there: Seven nights in a Club Room at Club Med Bintan is on sale from $1680 per adult and $1035 per child. Flights not included.