- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006

FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique — The fish said it all — a 50-pound tuna splayed on a counter in front of a white-clad chef serving up paper-thin slices to guests, a sure sign that the all-inclusive Club Med vacation resort has changed its spots.

The tuna was raw, its belly serving up delicious carpaccio buffet-style to hundreds of informally clad guests in a most magnifique setting, a restaurant overlooking the sea where the fish had been caught by locals that morning just a few miles away.

It struck me then as a symbol of the newly transformed and rebuilt Buccaneer’s Creek Resort on Martinique’s south coast, where the Club Med organization long ago secured land along one of the island’s premier beaches. The unmarked entrance leads through a coconut plantation of about 3,500 trees.

This was February, when French schoolchildren were on holiday, so the place was overrun by families coming from France. Other European voices, but very few English ones, could be heard on the premises.

“Eighty percent French clientele and a full house,” said the “chef de village,” a commanding presence in charge of this world within a world where money never has to change hands for the entire week, the drinks (most of them) are free, and there is food in abundance for the asking.

One might compare the scene to a first-class cruise ship, except that the club owners undoubtedly would object if only because activities and accommodations at this retreat generally are superior to what is offered for similar prices on many seagoing vessels.

The pricing at the club is complicated, with a dozen categories of rooms, including suites. Members of our group — brought in for a long weekend to observe and hopefully appreciate the $50 million upgrade — were told there is a minimum land-only rate of $1,120 per person, double, off-season, for one week. Promotional materials and packages are offered at various times. A charter plane is available between New York and Fort-de-France; that would involve a higher all-inclusive weekly fare. Yearly Club Med membership fees ($60 per adult and $30 per child) are additional.

The rates quoted likely were for opening specials because the new Buccaneer’s Creek just debuted in December. The rainy season in the fall brings squalls, but temperatures — warm with surprisingly low humidity — are about the same year-round, we were told.

What’s not to like? as a hidebound New Yorker would say. The investment is impressive, said to be part of an overall strategy for Club Med village improvements around the globe. In an effort to compete with some of the more high-end Caribbean hot spots, amenities now include a first-class spa (cost for services is extra); tons of imported white sand; a Creole-style architectural profile (tropical gardens, colorful decor); flat-screen TVs and air conditioning. These and other modern comfort devices — even a spacious swimming pool by the sea — would have been considered extravagant by low-key denizens of the old club.

The lively Gracious Organizers, or GOs, still are present. These are the dual-language folk who see that guests — the GMs, or Gracious Members, in Club jargon — enjoy themselves.

They are talented young people — and some not so young, in keeping with changing demographics — who assist guests and entertain in any number of ways. Unlike the old days here, children are welcome, although no programs are planned for them. GOs cannot be hired to look after GM children, should you ask.

This definitely is group living but not with any conformist’s credo. Activities are casual and plentiful, even the salsa lessons. Want a tennis lesson? Come down at a certain hour, and a GO will be your partner.

Island tours and outside excursions are extra as well, as are the rental of jet skis, biking trips, and — unique to the Martinique club — a chance to experience the local yole, a traditional island boat with a square sail. Sailors help guide the craft by balancing on slim poles slung out over the water.

We were told that some guests come to take advantage of the culture and adventure tours, returning at night to dine in one of the three restaurants on site and spend time in the two bars and disco that are open far into the night. Definitely pa ni pwoblem — “no problem” in Creole.

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