Perfect service at Club Med

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 05:00 02/03/2011
POOLSIDE RETREAT: With food, drinks, accommodation and activities all paid in advance, there's really no need to leave the confines of Club Med Bintan.

POOLSIDE RETREAT: With food, drinks, accommodation and activities all paid in advance, there's really no need to leave the confines of Club Med Bintan.

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It's not until I'm teetering on a modest plank of wood, 40 metres above Club Med Bintan Island, that I fully appreciate what the staff here put themselves through in the name of entertainment.

The flying trapeze is easily the least-relaxing activity at this four-star resort, but arguably the most fun. From up here, I can spy the pasty Western tourists lounging poolside and the Mediterranean guests preening their toned, tanned physiques by the South China Sea.

From the ground, my South African trapeze instructor Gid barks at me to keep my legs together and start swinging. I half-heartedly submit, and cut through the humid air with minimal grace.

Like all extreme activities, the flying trapeze is actually 50 times more fun than it looks. Gid convinces me to have another few goes and before long I'm swinging upside down like Spiderman. The less said about my dismounts the better.

Earlier, Gid had shown me how the trapeze is really done during one of the regular acrobatic shows put on by the young and peppy staff at Club Med – gentille organisers, or GOs. Their unrelenting perkiness was a bit much at first: after a 10-hour flight to Singapore and and hour on a ferry, vivacious greetings as I pass an army of GOs each morning seemed over the top. But it doesn't take long for their enthusiasm to become infectious.

The GOs exist to service your whims, but two or three will also detach themselves from the main group and casually work their way into your circle of friends or, if you didn't arrive with one, create a circle of friends for you. It is their job to make sure everyone feels involved.

I'm gently encouraged to try water aerobics or a synchronised dance akin to the Macarena.

It looks a little goofy – which is exactly how I feel doing it – but the kids are having a ball and the adults throw their arms around in a fit of tropical euphoria.

I ask Gid how the GOs go from playing children's games in the early morning to drinking until the wee small hours, and still maintain that grin for the duration of their six-day working week.

He says he's here for the experience, so creating an upbeat environment 24/7 doesn't feel like a chore.

Gid's philosophy is the Club Med concept: an array of holiday options to enjoy at your own pace.

With all your food, drink, accommodation and activities already paid for, you can lock up your credit card and know your costs aren't spiralling. It's a nice feeling.

I try to strike a balance between immersing myself and catching the occasional few winks under a thatch umbrella.

Each morning, I stroll the 250-metre beach with soft and velvety sand between my ivory-white toes. I sip blue cocktails by the pool and let waves of relaxation wash over me like the breeze through the palm trees.

My full-body massage at the newly-constructed beachfront spa is well worth the indignity of having to change into a pair of black mesh knickers beforehand.

Had my masseuse not triggered nerves in my feet that I never knew existed, I may have just gone to sleep right there on the table with the sun on my back and the soft sound of waves on rocks soothing my soul.

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A wet-behind-the-ears resort-goer like myself finds the snorkelling a bit of fun, but I doubt it would titillate anyone with a half-decent knowledge of coral.

The lifejackets we are made to wear also cheapens the experience a little. I understand it's a case of Club Med not taking any chances with weak swimmers, but not being able to dive down further than two metres makes it feel like I've been confined to the kiddie pool.

Fortunately, I stick close to a young Bintan native who squirms his way down to the sea floor and returns with all sorts of exotic shell presents, including a clam the size of a rugby ball, which I prod like a two-year-old with a puppy.

I walk back down the beach and pass people learning to sail and windsurf. The kids look to be taking to their sailboats a lot better than the grown-ups on their sailboard. Even with a stiff breeze, the conditions look perfect for learning both.

To use any of the treadmills and stepping machines in the fitness centre at the top of the hill, I have to climb an ironically large number of stairs to get there.

I'm puffing enough by the time I reach the top so I decide to give archery a whirl instead.

It's surprisingly addictive and I somehow waste an hour on challenging anyone who would raise a bow against me in anger.

But while I'm happy enough puttering about the confines of Club Med, I'm still a little curious about what lies elsewhere on this 60,000 square-kilometre chunk of land.

The resort does offer several day trips to towns and villages on Bintan, but I'm told there isn't much there to make your photo-taking finger tingle.

One part of the island that gets the swingers very excited is the Ria Bintan Golf Course, practically next door to Club Med.

The Gary Player-designed course was voted the best golf course in Asia two years ago, and has some breathtaking views buried in the lush, tropical foliage that surrounds it.

The jewel in the crown is the par-three ninth hole.

The fairway is cut in half by a rocky inlet, which brings the South China Sea into play.

The course as a whole appears suited to the more capable golfer. It also pays to secure your belongings and wear sensible shoes, as there are monkeys and scorpions lurking in that foliage.

Back at Club Med, night has fallen and the resort has transformed into a picture of elegance.

Each night has a different theme of dress, which, again, is not compulsory, but I found it worth the effort to dress up. There's nothing wrong with living out that "big-spender" fantasy on this sort of holiday.

Every night we dine at a different restaurant – each more glamorous than the last – moving from indoor dining to the stunning Terrace Restaurant on the water's edge.

The selection of food at each juncture is massive, with about 20 nationalities covered.

But as much as I try to broaden my horizons with a spicy Malay noodle or Thai curry, I end up bypassing both in favour of grilled steak and crayfish more often than I should.

Club Med Bintan is very much a resort for all ages.

I see plenty of families here, but also a generous sprinkling of young couples, pensioners and almost everything else in between.

The resort doesn't have the party-hard atmosphere of a Bali or Lindeman Island, but that is part of the appeal for me.

If I travel to somewhere that looks like it should be on every airport postcard from Auckland to Singapore, then odds are I'm keen for more relaxing than raging.

Anyone who wants to live out their VIP fantasy for a week or so won't be disappointed.

GO STAY

Club Med Bintan Island is offering a stay 7, pay 4 deal from $2999 per adult and $2299 per child until March 31.

Package includes: Return airfares and transfers, accommodation, all day dining, open bar and snacking day and night, sports and leisure with expert tuition, supervised activities and child care. More at clubmed.co.nz

FAST FACTS

Getting there: Fly Singapore Airlines from Auckland to Singapore and then take a 55-minute ferry ride from Singapore's Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to Bintan Island.

Staying there: The resort boasts 295 rooms. Superior rooms are 34 square metres and offer views of the resort gardens.

Deluxe rooms are the same size and have views of the South China Sea. They also catch the morning sun. Luxury suites are also available, which are 80 square metres in size.

Cost: All-inclusive package prices vary, but you can currently stay a minimum of six nights from NZ$1241 per person (until April 30).

General packages cover cost of accommodation, children's club and facilities, sports, leisure activities (excl. spa), food and drink.

Weather: Bintan Island has a temperature range of 23 to 32 degrees Celsius all year round, with occasional tropical showers.

- The Dominion Post

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