It’s only 10:30 a.m., but as the sun rises above a phalanx of umbrellas, it’s already hot enough to fry a fluffy Mexican omelette on Club Med Ixtapa Pacific’s poolside patio. Towel in hand, I scan the area for a shaded lounge chair. A guy inexplicably dressed as a Star Wars storm trooper walks by me, balancing a platter of fruit kebabs; other servers ferry trays of cold drinks. They’re also dishing out a cheese course. But this “cheese” is dairy-free.
As the 1980s rock staple “Panama” blasts from the speakers, Slash from Guns N’ Roses – or rather an impostor dressed in a curly, long-haired wig – runs around the pool, demonstrating virtuosic air guitar moves, all of it a prelude to… an aquafitness session? It’s certifiably silly stuff, aimed squarely at a general-admission audience – something for which Club Med wasn’t always known.
Today’s Club Med is not your Speedo-wearing uncle’s Club Med. The gold chains and “What’s your sign?” come-ons that made the world’s first all-inclusive resort an iconic part of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s are gone, replaced by children’s activity clubs, circus camps with trapezes and well-meaning parents. (“Katie, your eye will stop hurting once you quit poking your finger in it,” I overhear one harried father say while herding his brood.) The brand has ditched some of its aging properties and revamped others, moving into more upscale territory, with high-thread-count sheets and delicious food. Yet I’d steered clear of the all-inclusive holiday, believing it was for those unintrepid souls who, when in a foreign land, want to avoid engaging in highly dangerous acts, like talking with locals or eating in non-Zagat-approved restaurants. Until now, I’d seen the all-inclusive resort as an option of, well, last resort.
Things change, though. On this trip – with in-laws and nieces – we are nine, and a simple task like booking a table at a restaurant would be Herculean. With only one week to chill, I don’t even want to try; I want to relax. So I stroll through Ixtapa Pacific’s gorgeous, manicured gardens, where the odd iguana hides in the tropical plants. Under a thatched pagoda, men and women take a yoga class taught by one of Club Med’s indefatigably cheery GOs (gentils organisateurs), part of a sporty culture and guest-services system that has been a hallmark of the French company since its start in 1950. I loop around the tennis courts before heading back to the main complex. As I sit down with a beer at the poolside bar, a voice from behind inquires about engaging in the only activity that, for our family, qualifies as competitive sport. “Dad,” my son, Mica, says, “can we eat?”
Rolling into the main restaurant, El Encanto, for the daily buffet, we run smack into a selection of desserts and gelatos. Of course, there’s pizza, burgers and fries, but also chilaquiles, freshly made corn tortillas, flautas and chiles rellenos. It’s almost too much. “Where do you want to begin, son?” I ask. Mica’s eyes sweep the room. Then his mouth drops open slightly. “I’ll start there!” he says, pointing to a massive fish, its impressive dorsal sail still intact. It’s being sliced into carpaccio.
After lunch, Mica and his two cousins are off boogie boarding in the Pacific Ocean, while my wife and her mother attend a Mexican cooking class. Looking for less structured fun, I grab a tequila Caesar from the bar and make my way to the beach, parking myself on a lounge chair next to my brother-in-law, Graham. Diego, a stocky, curly-haired GO comes by. “Everything okay?” he asks. “What are you reading?” “The Civil War,” Graham replies. “Spoiler alert,” says Diego, “the North wins.”
I’m starting to enjoy the comforting predictability; it’s a rhythm that nudges you to relax. Breakfast is followed by the pool. We swim and, when the sun gets too hot, play Ping-Pong. After lunch, we head to the beach. Rinse. Eat. Repeat. The kids run about unsupervised. We don’t plan, make reservations or worry. Reclining on my lounger, a doorstopper biography in my lap, it hits me that this may well be the first time I’ve truly unwound in years.
As evening approaches, we make our way to the beach. El Encanto is closed, but a restaurant featuring Mediterranean dishes, from paella to Moroccan tagine, has popped up on the soccer field. Passing the site during the day, I spotted a crew fixing a canopy of wires six metres above the ground; now, dozens of large white orbs hang from them. On the beach, we watch a mango-coloured sun descend to the horizon, turning a brilliant red before dipping out of sight. Closing my eyes, I take a sip of my drink. When the dangling lanterns are lit up after dark, the sky will be full of moons.Club Med Ixtapa Pacific, clubmed.ca