Sunway Holidays took a group of travel agents to Club Med Da Balaia in the Algarve. Club Med were the founders of kids clubs, created the world’s first all-inclusive resort and it has the world’s largest sports academy. But does it have the X factor?
Club Med was recently bought by Chinese billionaire Guo Guangchang for a whopping $1.3 billion. He decided to reduce the number of properties from 127 to 66, upscale existing hotels and continue to buy new luxury properties. People generally associate Club Med with the Mediterranean but they have hotels all over the world, including 5-star adults-only resorts and cruises. They own the world’s only all-inclusive ski resorts, some of which are open for six months. Their resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, even has a Cirque du Soleil playground.
As soon as we arrived at the resort we noticed that the atmosphere was very relaxed. There was jazz playing in the bar areas and staff who anticipated our every need. There were no loud noises from pool games and, overall, the resort seemed to be very quiet. Although the resort was fully booked, the grounds and bar areas are so spacious that it never felt full.
From start to finish we were wined and dined at what can only be described as the best buffet I have ever experienced. In fact, buffet is probably not the correct term: ‘feast’ is probably more like it!
There were some typical self-serve stations as well as numerous chefs cooking in full view. Dishes were served to you in a similar fashion to what you would expect in a fine dining restaurant. The selection was one of the best I have seen. From oysters, fois gras, beef tartare to pasta, beef wellington or simple fish and chips. You name it, it’s there. Good wine is served by the bottle at your table, and replaced immediately if required. The staff to guest ratio is so high that there was no queueing for food or no waiting for another ‘batch’ to come out.
If buffet is not your thing you can also choose the a la carte restaurant, where you can visit as often as you like on the all-inclusive package. This is an area where Club Med differs from other all-inclusive resorts, because almost everything is included in the price. Food and drinks are served round the clock and there are heaps of sports facilities to choose from, all free of charge.
There are eight different fitness classes each day, including aqua aerobics, zumba, pilates, as well as discovery walks and jogging in the morning. You can play volleyball, football, mini golf, tennis and even try kayaking, archery or a flying trapese. You can also practice your swing with free group golf lessons or tennis lessons. Private lessons incur a surcharge.
If you just want to relax, there is a large outdoor pool and a new infinity pool is being constructed during the winter, which will be for adults only. They also have a spa with numerous treatments available at a supplement.
On our first night we were treated to a typical Club Med ‘White Party’, a theme that is carried through all Club Med resorts. The main dining and bar area is decorated with white drapes and many of the guests oblige and wear white clothes. It is, of course, not compulsory but like most things in Club Med, the guests like to get involved. With complimentary champagne on arrival, it created a fantastic ambiance for our first night. As the name suggests, it had a party atmosphere and the entertainment centred around the bar area, with dance competitions and all around fun. Entertainment on the whole is quite mixed with theatre-style shows alternating with entertainment in the bar area each night. However, you should note that some of the theatre shows are in French.
Their kids clubs are excellent with options for children aged 4 months to 17 years, all complimentary with the exception of the baby club. They have baby rooms with sterilisers, bottle warmers and even buggies free of charge! The separate baby corner in the restaurant offers fresh healthy food buffet-style. It also offers bottle warmers, mixers and microwaves, should you wish to make your own.
We also had some time to visit other hotels that Sunway offers, and they did not disappoint. Our first stop was the nearby Villa Gale Cerro Alagoa. Situated in the new town of Albufeira, the indoor pool and spa facilities make it a popular choice with holidaymakers.
Next we visited the Villa Petra Aparthotel. I was pleasantly surprised at the high standard of accommodation and the excellent facilities on offer here, including free wifi throughout the complex. Even the studio apartments were spacious and overall the complex deserved its 4-star rating.
After a quick look at the Grand Real Santa Eulalia, we took a tour of the stunning Epic Sana Hotel. This ultra-modern hotel offers the highest standards in design and facilities. The minute you walk into the lobby you get the WOW factor and you immediately understand why it is one of the best hotels in the Algarve.
And to round off what was a great trip we went off for a quick wander around Albufeira. Of course we had to stop off and watch the Ireland v Italy rugby match – sure it would be rude not to!