Thursday, 23 September 2010

Club Med - when it's good, it's very very good, but when it's bad...

Well, it's not horrid, but it's a bit rubbish.
First off, this is totally not a sponsored review.  Club Med didn't ask us to go there, and certainly didn't give us anything for free, although one of the many good things about the holiday was that it was pretty reasonable (in the grand scheme of how eye-wateringly expensive it is to take five people on holiday of course).  I can't imagine they know I've got a blog, and if they do, then they unaccountably didn't think that whatever I can say about them would make a difference.
The good thing about that, of course, is it means I feel absolutely no debt of gratitude whatsoever.
So, anyway, we went to Club Med's Hammamet resort, on the East Coast of Tunisia. None of us had ever been to Tunisia before, and none of us had ever been on a Club Med holiday either and I was pretty excited to find out what both were like.  Turns out, of course, that a Club Med holiday is pretty much designed to ensure you never find out what the country you're in is like at all, but then that might be what you're looking for.
The resort, sorry, "village", was pretty heavenly, let's be honest:  wide sandy beach, warm blue sea, three swimming pools, including one shallow enough for even S and A to paddle in.  Delicious food, plentiful wine and beer.  High chairs everywhere. A two bedroom bungalow an easy walk from the main complex, stocked with a changing mat, cots, a potty, and even a non-slip mat for the bath.  Childcare available for six out of the seven days we were there.  Sunshine. Every day.
It's clearly not the apple of the Club Med eye, though. Parts were a little shabby, and there were five or six things wrong with our bungalow when we got there (missing light bulbs, a blocked pipe, that sort of thing) but they were sorted out promptly and with no excuses.
That's all, maybe, pretty much as we expected.  What was odd was how, when they got so much right, they could also get other stuff, well, just not quite.
I think the biggest problem for us was the language barrier.  Not for B and me, who are lucky enough both to speak good French, but for the girls.  I had thought about this and had been assured that there were English speaking staff working in the Kids' Clubs.  Turns out that that was true, but only if your child was under one or over four.  Which, of course, none of ours are.  It wasn't so much of a problem for A and S, who don't really talk anyway, but L I think found it very disorientating.  She's at that stage where she's incredibly verbal - it's as though she gets a bonus based on hitting a target of using a certain number of words in a day - and so spending any length of time with people who didn't understand her and whom she couldn't understand was clearly upsetting.  I also suspect that the staff didn't make an effort.  I was told one morning that they were going to be making plaster casts of the children's hands.  When I went to get L at lunchtime, I asked her about this:
 No, Mummy, they didn't tell me, and then it was too late.
I'm sure they did tell her. But I'm equally sure that she didn't understand and they didn't go that extra distance to get her involved.
We'd never intended to leave them in the childcare for full days, but we actually ended up just using it for a couple of hours here or there, and by day five, L made it very clear she didn't want to go back at all.  It's a shame as all three of them love their nursery here, and I think in the right environment would genuinely have had as much, if not more, fun there than with us.  If we ever do another Club Med holiday, I think we will make sure it is somewhere that the second language of the locals is English, rather than here, where it was French.
And then there were mealtimes.  I discovered something on this holiday. You know how French children all get taken out to restaurants late in the evening and always behave impeccably and have a much better routine, which allows them to stay up late and still behave themselves and really the British are just rubbish at discipline?
Well, that's nonsense.  Oh, the French do take their children out for dinner in the evenings, but, guess what? They're knackered.  Blind, floppy, exhausted. Lolling in their pushchairs and looking listlessly at a plate of pasta they're too tired to eat.    The same as my kids.
Because the evening meal wasn't served until 7.30 p.m. and that's just too late if you're not quite two.  There was a children's supper as well, but even that (and it was pretty unappetising) wasn't served until 6.30, by which time my three are normally well into the evening routine.    If you didn't want to take your children to the main meal, you could, of course, get a babysitter (although actually that was pretty hard, with only four babysitters in the resort - especially when one babysitter was only allowed to babysit two children, so we had to have two.  It rankled slightly paying two people to sit in front of the telly while my children, who were already asleep when they arrived, continued to dream silently) but even then they still end up being in bed later than you'd like.
It ended up being an exercise in juggling and fiddling, and by the end we'd worked it out.   But I'd have given it more thought in advance had I known, and I'd certainly have booked babysitters earlier in the week!
There were little irritations too: the fact that they turned up with a toddler car seat and a baby one, into which we had to squish poor little S on the basis that she's about a pound lighter than her sister (and a good six pounds too heavy for that type of car seat); or the ridiculous bureaucratic way in which some things were done, probably because it's always been done like that, and no-one's ever turned round and pointed out how silly it is; the failure of the staff to volunteer information, in whatever language:  they were terribly helpful if you asked the right question, but if you didn't you'd miss out on stuff because they just didn't ever think to tell you. 
And don't get me started on the Club Med dance...
I'm being cynical and carping now, which is probably unfair.  We did, all of us, have a very good time.  I read four and a half books!  I talked to my husband. I got (for me) a tan (I'm still the colour most white people are most of the time, but as I normally glow in the dark, this is pretty impressive).  We used the childcare as an opportunity to get out of the resort, so I feel too, I've had a bit of a chance to see a bit of a very touristy, but nonetheless lovely corner of Tunisia.  We got to talk to the locals, and get some differing views on what this beautiful country is really like to live in. We did a little bit of shopping. (Beautiful plates and bowls. Got smashed in our luggage).  I got to spend some really quality time with all of my lovely family.
Would I recommend it?  With caveats, definitely.  Would I go back?  Yes, I would, but I'd rather go somewhere different, if only because it would be different.  I think, though, that the irritations would be less next time and the pleasures greater, because you'd know what to expect.  Would I go back to Tunisia?  Definitely.  B wants to see the Star Wars village next time...


  1. We always found clubs a complete disaster when our oldest children were little....we'd go on holiday with expectations that we would get a little break but they hated it...I remember language being a problem somewhere but I've forgotten where. One year we hired a nanny at the hotel and that was perfect because a lot of the time the baby and the nanny would be with us but the pressure would be taken off a little. It was a very expensive hotel though. :0( The children's club was fab too and my children loved it. Then they decided they were too old for Children's clubs!
    That 2 babysitter rule is such a con when you have more than 2 children isn't it!.
    I never realised there was a Club Med in Hammamet though and if I ever have the money again I may look into it.
    The picture of the girls with their Daddy is gorgeous and would look great blown up on the wall. :)

  2. Nova - really interesting! Next time I go on hol will ask you first! We've actually managed to book a ridiculously cheap week (less than £500 for all of us including flights!) in Spain at the end of November - no childcare, no grandparents, no nothing.... will see how that compares!


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