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What It's Like Sailing Club Med 2: A French Cruise Experience

Gwen Pratesi

Feb 16, 2023

Read time
9 min read

If you remember hearing about Club Med back in its early years in the 1960s and 1970s, it was known as a hedonist vacation that attracted young singles in search of a good time. Fast forward to 2023 and the decidedly French sailing yacht Club Med 2 is now retailored for Americans and others, by relaunching in the Caribbean with a vibe that the company is calling "Art of Living."

"It's the crossroads between the freedom to be and luxury. The expectations are different. It’s less tricked, less put together, less traditional and much more human," said North American and Caribbean CEO and president Carolyne Doyon.

"Today’s Club Med offers its own vision of luxury. We focus on the emotions, and we feel the memories and the exceptional experiences we live together."

It sounds very Emily in Paris. What's it really like?

First, A Little History About Club Med…

Pioneered as the first adults all-inclusive experience by Belgium entrepreneur and water polo champion Gérard Blitz in 1950 as Club Mediterraneé, the first guests of Club Med slept on the beach in tents, sang songs by a campfire and played sports on the beach.

Blitz wanted to create a utopian environment, much like an Olympic Village, according to an August 2014 article in France Today. It was a place where guests from different countries could come together, not worry and be happy, forgetting about wars and politics. Over time, the concept became known as Club Med and "villages" with beach huts were set up in various places across the Mediterranean, replacing the tents. The club-like atmosphere even had its own language, with terms like Village Chiefs or Chefs de Village for the people in charge of the property. Guests were known as GMs (Gentil Membres) and the staff, Gentil Organisateurs or GOs, an acronym for “Kind Organizer.”

This perfect world didn’t have locks on the doors, or televisions or clocks – and they didn’t use money. GMs used strings of beads to pay for drinks, and the villages were considered a socialist society where everyone was equal, and everything was free. GOs intermingled, dined and partied with GMs, dancing in rhythm to “Le Crazy Signs,” one of Club Med’s popular songs. The 1978 French parody, “Les Bronzés," perfectly captured the cult-like vibe of the villages.

Club Med 2, the company's 386-passenger vessel, is one of the world's largest sailing ships and the only ship currently in the company's fleet. The ship, which relaunched in December after a massive refurbishment, follows the sun, cruising the Caribbean in the winter and the Med in the summer.

My First Club Med Experience: Tres French

Our group of journalists arrived at the ship in the dark around 7:15 p.m. by beacher (think tender for a French yacht). After a full day of travel (a 5:25 a.m. departure), three flights and the last prop plane flight delayed by more than two hours in San Juan, it had been a very long day. Our group from the U.S. and Canada had been transferred from the airport to a bar along the beach on Beef Island, Tortola, to wait until we could be transported to the ship.

Club Med 2 had already sailed from our original meeting point after our flight was delayed, so we were on Plan B to get to the ship. There are certainly worse places to hang out and wait for a French yacht to meet up with you than a place called Mongoose on the beach in Tortola.

With a glass of French ros*é *in hand and my luggage sitting in the sand, I finally saw the five-masted yacht come into view in the distance. Shortly after that, a much larger international group of media and others joined us on the beach. We all needed to make our way by beacher to the ship, which we eventually did. We were joining a voyage that had set sail from Saint-Martin days before with 165 GMs on board.

After a much-needed aperitif and a late dinner (the restaurants open at 8 p.m.), we had our first exposure to the entertainment on Club Med 2. Other than special entertainers that come on the sailings, like the Doppelganger Paris DJs on our voyage, there are no professional singers, dancers and actors on Club Med 2.

The show, Speakeasy, in the Yacht Club, was performed by the GOs on the ship. And they were the dancers at the White Night event and the last evening’s Bohemian-inspired festivities. I have to admit that I was impressed by the young woman’s dance moves that helped me in the boutique earlier in the day as she boogied down in full costume on top of a table outdoors.

I kept waiting for a song I knew so that maybe I could hit the dance floor with one of my traveling companions, but that familiar song never came, as much of the music was in French (they did play Abba, but I missed that one). I have to admit that I didn’t know what to think after the first evening on board Club Med 2.

Club Med 2: The Ship Itself

Club Med 2 was first launched in 1992, and she’s the sister ship to Windstar’s Wind Surf, which was originally Club Med 1. The sailing yacht has 184 cabins, which include 10 suites and one Owner’s Suite, and carries up to 368 passengers and 207 crew. This nearly 614-foot-long five-masted ship has a distinct silhouette, especially at full mast, bringing back the romance of sailing at sea that’s* *often lost when cruising on larger ships.

Consider it romance with a purpose, though: Wind power is inspiring the industry again with concerns over sustainable energy and many cruise lines are building LNG-powered vessels and incorporating other fuel-efficient innovations in their new ships. When Club Med 2 is fully rigged and sailing partially under wind power, it reduces the ship’s fuel consumption by about 20 percent.

In addition to focusing on using less fuel, the company also has a commitment to the 3Rs; to remove, reduce and recycle with a goal to remove all plastics by the end of 2024. Guests will find large sizes of French brand Sothys toiletries in the bathrooms rather than small, individual containers. We were also gifted small, zippered bags with a bit of Club Med history made from recycling the ship’s sails.

The last renovation of Club Med 2 was in 2008. The recent two-month-long, 10 million Euro refurbishment included more than 29,000 square feet of new teak decks, a reimagining of the ship’s restaurant Monte Carlo and the Yacht Club lounge (both by French designer Sophie Jacqmin), insulation of the gym floor and USB and USB C-type ports installed by the bed in the cabins. The private Caribbean Beach Club experience on Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic is also a fresh offering. In addition, the Hobie Mirage Eclipse (a stand-up paddleboard with a steering handlebar) is a new water sport activity available at Nautical Hall, located at the back of the ship.

The Festive Chic Vibe On Board Club Med 2

The Art of Living concept encourages a festive chic atmosphere on board the ship. This vibe is especially true in the evenings with themed nights like the White Night and an evening inspired by Bohemian attire. Much of the activity on the ship occurs outdoors on the expansive teak decks with al fresco dining at the buffet restaurant, Le Saint-Tropez and lounging around the two saltwater pools. You’ll also find many people gathering at the indoor/outdoor bar, Le Portofino, for afternoon tea, typically at 4:30 p.m., during the nightly aperitif around 7 p.m. and for the evening’s entertainment. Champagne flows freely from 6 p.m. into the early hours.

As you might expect, French is the primary language on the legendary French yacht, but the crew and GOs can speak English. The daily program, shown on a screen by the guest services desk, rotates between the French and English versions. You’ll also find the restaurant menus and signs by the dishes on the buffet in both languages. French toast seems fancier when it’s called Pain Perdu.

Outdoor yoga classes by yoga instructor Heberson Oliveira, who was also on my sailing, are a highlight and they’re offered throughout the day as part of the all-inclusive experience. They also had yoga paddle instruction and Aqua Zumba classes at the Caribbean Beach Club along with other water sports activities from the Nautical Hall. These classes are conducted in French. You’ll need to brush up on your foreign language skills to watch television in your cabin as the shows and movies are shown in French. Even the safety video was in French but translated for us by a GO.

French cheeses, freshly baked French breads and some French fare is available on the buffet at Saint-Tropez and at the redesigned French-Riviera-inspired Monte Carlo. A new partnership in 2021 with renowned culinary school FERRANDI Paris upped the onboard gastronomy with as much as 80% of the ingredients now locally sourced. With a focus on Caribbean and Mediterranean cuisine (where the ship sails), many components of the dishes are hand-crafted in-house. The partnership also offers training sessions for Club Med 2’s chefs. Master classes for GMs are offered when chefs from FERRANDI are on board the ship, as they were during my sailing.

There’s also a small Spa by Sothys, a boutique offering a nice selection of clothing and accessories, including Club Med’s 45 shirts (dedicated to the 45th year of Club Med, which brings us to a whole other Club Med story) and one sauna located near the Nautical Hall. There are two additional outdoor bars, Le Cannes and Le Saint Barth, where yoga is typically scheduled.

Other Club Med 2 Passengers: Joie de Vivre (and No Cell Phones)

What else seemed French: Leaning into the good times onboard. After seeing the video replayed on the ship of a guy dancing on the bar at the Beach Club on the last day of the trip, I couldn’t help but revisit the hedonistic days of the early Club Med years when good times were had by all while sleeping in tiki huts on the beach. Much of the primarily French crowd was older, so they may have been at some of the resorts in the early days and were reliving their free-spirited wild youth with abandon when a Club Med vacation was all about the sea, sex and sun.

Another observation was that other than a few of us that needed to stay connected for work, no one on the ship had their phone, iPad or laptop with them in the public spaces. The GMs were smoking cigarettes, sipping Champagne and dancing the night away with joie de vivre. They didn’t snack on pizza or burgers and fries and eat ice cream all day long. Rather, they dined after 8 p.m., lingered over meals and conversation with friends and GOs that joined them for dinner. Then they partied like rock stars. Maybe the French have this whole cruising thing right after all.

What Type of Passenger Will Enjoy a Club Med 2 Sailing?

Travelers looking for a unique all-inclusive cruising experience that’s decidedly French would enjoy the club-like vibe and casual atmosphere on board the ship. If you’re interested in exploring lesser-known destinations, Club Med 2 sails into smaller ports of call in some locales in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. There’s also a focus on yoga classes and water sports, so exercise enthusiasts would appreciate the outdoor activities.

If you want a more laid-back vacation, Club Med 2 is less structured than other cruise ships. Previous guests of Club Med’s resorts will recognize the “village” concept with GOs, GMs and Village Chiefs, but there is no Cruise Director on the ship. There is one for the line, but that person is not on every sailing.

If you’d like to let loose and party and dance the night away with the staff and crew, then this may be the ship for you.

Updated February 16, 2023
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