CLUB MED PHUKET – The Definitive Review
This was our 3rd stay at this particular club and our 27th Club Med holiday in total. (OMG – I hear you shriek) We also have two adult children and a close family friend who have all recently worked in Club Med. Therefore we believe we are in a position to give an extremely accurate review of how well this Club Med village compares to others in the Region. We travelled as a mid 50’s couple, without children or grandchildren and there were a surprisingly large number of people of a similar age (mostly European), doing the same. We travelled in the week leading up to Easter, one month before the official start of the monsoon season. 33 degrees every day, 28 degrees every night, No rain at all for the week.
Club Med Phuket is located on Kata Beach on the western side of the lower part of the island. Although CM claims the transfer time from Phuket airport is 50 – 60 mins, if you arrive at 6.30pm on a Saturday night, as we did, it will take one and a half hours due to peak hour traffic. We were met at the airport by a polite CM representative who labelled our bags with our room numbers, loaded them into the mini bus and sent us on our way. The transfer was smooth and the driver did his best to minimise the time taken by using back streets. It was not the ride from hell as another reviewer experienced, (that was our trip back to the airport – see later.) On arrival, we were met by Reception staff and whilst our check in details were being attended to, we were given a cool drink, a wet face towel, a quick explanation of the resort features and then we were escorted to our room. Our bags showed up at our door 3 mins later. This is all standard procedure in any Club Med. The start to our holiday had been positive.
One thing the website and brochures don’t tell you is that despite having nearly a one kilometre beach front position, there is a two way, very busy, very noisy, main road which runs along the entire front of CM Phuket and separates it totally from the beach. There is a solid fence along the entire property and there is only one gateway to the beach along the CM frontage. This is a pedestrian crossing that requires 2 traffic wardens (sometimes three) just so the traffic can be stopped to enable guests to get to and from the beach. If you think you will be able to leave your room, stroll across the lawn and be sitting on the beach, as in other Club Med Villages, think again! You will be met by a brick fence and have to walk up to a half a kilometre (depending where your room is) just to get to the sole beach access point.
CM Phuket opened 28 years ago and it shows! Despite a minor make over last year, there is only so much you can do with paint and to their credit they have done about as much as possible without rebuilding. We see reviewers who are disappointed it does not look like a 5 star resort. CM Phuket has never been a 5 star resort, maybe 2.5 – 3 Star at best, even when just opened. Perhaps some reviewers confuse Club Med’s own ‘trident’ rating system, which is a self awarded rating based purely on the services each CM offers, with the traditional hotel ‘Star’ rating system. We can assure you there is no correlation.
There are 3 main types of rooms and to be fair, we went for the cheapest. Quite clearly we got what we paid for. Thanks to other reviewers (and our room experience in CM Cherating same time last year – see separate review) we had prepared ourselves for the worst. On reflection it wasn’t all that bad. Yes, the shower leaked onto the bathroom floor making it more slippery than an ice-skating rink and there was no way you could pass off the mould in the shower recess as some kind of new ‘black grouting’. The mattress was harder than anything we have ever slept on and that is including the ground when I camped as a Boy Scout! The often mentioned mosquitoes were out in force, but we had brought with us, an electronic mosquito coil and they quickly disappeared. On the plus side though, the air-conditioning worked very well and even had a real thermostat control instead of the usual CM Low – Med – High settings. The room had been recently painted, the sheets were changed every 3 days, the room was serviced daily and all the towels were replaced daily if you left them on the floor. Water pressure was excellent, the hot water was actually hot and there was a separate toilet with a door, which was a nice touch.
The room contained a safe which was big enough to accommodate the usual valuables plus video camera and ipad. There was a flat screen LCD TV on the wall with several channels in English. Free Wi Fi is a feature in every room, the pool and bar areas. Our room had excellent signal strength but as is typical of Club Med, the speed of the connection was very slow. From our room we could send emails with small attachments and make Skype voice calls from my Galaxy SII to land lines in Australia which were as clear as being in the same room. However, Skype video calls were impossible, as was downloading anything with any content ie our metropolitan newspaper. Mobile phone reception was outstanding both inside our room and throughout the resort. For the geeks, the mobile signal strength was -75 dBm which is pretty good but the internet struggled to get above 0 .85 Mbs when we have 12 – 13 Mbs at home.
We were located in ‘H” Block (Room H 1131) and the view from our (very small) balcony was across manicured lawns and beautiful gardens. It was far enough away from the theatre so as not to be bothered by the noise at night but close enough to get quickly to meals, the pool and most importantly, the bar.
If you are going to request a room, have a look at the map that is in the pictures attached to this review. To the left of the main pool are Blocks A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,L and M. ‘M’ is the closest to reception, pool, restaurants etc. ‘A’ Block is the furthest away from the main area but closest to the land sports centre. So if you’re into Golf, Archery, Tennis etc you may care to stay in that vicinity.
On the right hand side of the main pool are Blocks N,O,P,Q,R,S,T and U. Block ‘N’ is closest to the restaurant area and ‘U’ is closest to the adults only, recently built (and fantastic), Zen pool and Chu Da speciality restaurant. This is a relatively new feature being introduced across selected CM villages. It consists of an adult’s only pool (no children under 18 allowed) with quite a few shaded, single and double sun lounges and a small bar that serves water and soft drinks all day. It is located about as far away as is possible from the main restaurant, bar and pool area and guests are requested to refrain from talking above a whisper. Perfect for reading or just sleeping!!
Ironically, the kids club is also located in the same side of the resort as the adult ‘quiet pool’ but thankfully is far enough away not to be a problem.
You can request in advance, a particular room or location within the village but there is absolutely no guarantee you will get what you ask for especially if the Club is running at full occupancy (as it was for most of the time we were there). Other reviewers have said “ask for a renovated room”. It is our understanding there are at present only 30 renovated rooms out of a total of 305, so good luck with that request. Work is currently being undertaken to build new accommodation for the onsite staff, so no further room renovation appears likely for some time.
If you wish to pay a bit more you can have a room the same size as our basic one but with a large balcony, chairs and an umbrella. If you want to pay a lot more, you can have a Suite which is actually two standard rooms turned into one with a huge balcony, chairs, umbrella etc.
Remember, no matter how much you pay, you are still in a 28 year old resort with the same air conditioning, bathrooms etc as the basic and much cheaper rooms.
Club Med generally does not make its rooms too attractive because they want you outside enjoying the numerous activities and entertainment that they provide. If you want to spend your holiday sitting in an upmarket, 5 Star hotel room, do not stay in any Club Med.
CHILDREN/THE KIDS CLUB
Having been a Dad in a previous life, I know there is nothing worse than being on holidays and having your children constantly asking you to buy them food, drinks and to pay for their entertainment. In any CM you will never have to put your hand in your pocket for anything to do with your children (aged 4 and over) because it is all included. In fact as our ‘children’ became teenagers and had their own rooms, we would just show them where reception was and tell them we would meet them there in 7 days time, for the trip home!
Whilst we didn’t use the kids club, we had a look at what was available. There is a Babies Club (extra charge) Petite Club (extra Charge), Mini Club, Kids Club and Teenagers club. The building used to house these facilities is enormous and almost a resort in itself, with a large, sun shielded wading pool, baby’s pool and numerous activities to keep children entertained. People we spoke to who had enrolled their children in this facility said the children couldn’t wait to get back there every morning. Even with 156 children in the Kids Club when we were there, the staff seemed to be enjoying their job with the children as much as the kids enjoyed being there. With the kids taken care of for most of the day (and half of the night if you wish), adults can spend quality time together or if preferred, apart, doing activities that they don’t get to do at home.
THE FOOD AND BEVERAGES
We once wrote “If you have never been to a Club Med, then when you first set eyes on the lunch or dinner buffet, trust us you will be impressed”....... That was up until this trip to CM Phuket!
One of the main reasons we go to any CM is for the food and the all inclusive drinks. You can find something to eat from when breakfast opens at 7.00am almost nonstop through to when dinner finishes at 9.15pm. You can drink alcoholic beverages from 9.00am till 1.00am every day, if you wish. However, CM ‘s are now predominantly family orientated resorts, with mature aged couples being the next largest category of guests, so the days of young singles getting absolutely inebriated are long gone. It is all very civilised.
Unfortunately, we have to say the food selection and presentation during our stay in CM Phuket was the worst we have ever experienced at any of the 27 Club Med holidays we have had. This was confirmed by other regular guests that we spoke to and even by some 1st timers who are usually pretty impressed!
Breakfast consisted of the usual yogurts, fresh fruit and Asian dishes typical of the region. Every day without fail, there was (an oversupply in our opinion), of crepes/pancakes, French Toast , Waffles and several different types of bread. If you are gluten intolerant, this is the holiday from hell just waiting to happen. If you prefer the more traditional English/Australian/American breakfast, you missed out big time. There were no scrambled eggs, poached eggs, real sausages, cooked mushrooms, hash browns (Ok, on one day only) and the tomato sauce (ketchup) ‘ran out’. There are too many other items to list here that were missing. I appreciate these are minor points that seem trivial when put in writing but at the time we felt as though the breakfast ‘was lacking in variety and quantity’, in relation to other CM’s we have visited.
Lunch was better, having a wide variety of food available, albeit, pretty much the same every day, but staple items such as hamburgers, real sausages and lots of fries, were very much appreciated by the children (and quite a few adults as well!)
Dinner is the main meal of the day in any CM. In the past the ‘theme’ of the evening meal has been clearly identified. You had ‘French night’, ‘Asian night’, ‘Seafood night’ etc.My favourite was “La Grande Buffet” which was pretty much a bit of everything. In CM Phuket, though, the type of evening cuisine was almost impossible to identify in advance eg we had a ‘Red Buffet” night (WT?). We know that CM came under attack for having these defined meal evenings because guests who stayed more than 7 nights complained that they were getting exactly the same menu the second week they were there. CM Phuket has obviously decided not to define the evening cuisine at all and just serve pretty much the same every night with a few ‘specials’, which really weren’t that ‘special’ at all.
On the imaginatively named ‘Andaman Sea’ night (which we figured had to be the old “Seafood night”) there were some scallops served as a ‘special’ which to be fair, were very nice but where were the Prawns, Lobster, crab, mussels or oysters and whole smoked salmon, to mention just a few of the things that we have enjoyed in other CM's that we have stayed in - including this resort, 6 years ago? On ‘French night’ in other CM’s (I couldn’t even determine which night this was supposed to be in Phuket), we used to get Frogs legs, Quail with Raisons, Prawns Provincial (cooked in garlic) and Escargot vol au vents, to mention just a few. There was none of this in CM Phuket this time. Ok on one night only there was a pasta that had 6 very dried up escargot in it and the person who picked all 6 snails out of the Bain Marie and made them into an escargot dish, was me!
Desserts.......well if there is one thing the French do very well, it has to be desserts. We could not fault the dessert presentation and variety. Everything from crepes, a chocolate fountain and every pastry and parfait imaginable. For lunch and dinner the selection was right up there with the best we have ever experienced and we put on the extra kilos/lbs to prove it.
Another point of difference between CM Phuket and every other CM we have been to, is that in all other CM’s, tablecloths and linen serviettes are part of many evening meals. We had the most amazing experience in CM Cherating last year (see our review) when on one night, as well as linen table cloths and linen serviettes on every table, every chair in the restaurant was covered in white linen as you would do for a wedding. Amazing!! On many nights in CM Bali, linen tablecloths and linen serviettes are a feature of the meal on over 250 tables. However, all CM Phuket could manage was to do this for one night out of eight, on 20 - 30 tables located outside, away from the three main restaurants, in the 30 degree evening heat.
Another major disappointment with CM Phuket was that they kept running out of certain selections on the buffet. (Usually the more yummy ones!) Yes, we understand the reality of buffet dining but sometimes it would be 20 mins or more before something would be replenished. On a really popular dish, say the ‘special of the day’, this is understandable but this occurred way too frequently on far too many other dishes to be ignored and again was worse in this CM than any other we have visited. Club Med have been doing this for 63 years (28 in Phuket), you would think they would have it down to a fine art, but apparently not. Ironically, one minute before dinner is officially finished (and we noticed this regularly) every single buffet option was replenished and available. This suggests there is no shortage of food but there is definitely a logistics issue in keeping it flowing to the buffet. Perhaps more kitchen staff are needed?
You will never go hungry in any CM and we are not suggesting there was never enough food, but as this is a comparison review with previous CM holidays, we are just saying CM Phuket was very disappointing in the overall food selection and delivery.
The Chef may be in charge of the food but the management of the restaurants is the responsibility of the “Restaurant Manager” (not surprisingly) and a number of hostess’s (maître d’) who will show you to a table and generally see that you are looked after. Two Thai nationals (who were sisters we found out) did this job with an excellence that had to be seen to be believed. They were always beautifully attired in national dress and carried out their duties with genuine enthusiasm. Even when regularly confronted by some very rude European guests, they handled the situation with aplomb. We have always found that by befriending the restaurant staff, we enjoy a standard of service and attention not given to those who dismiss such staff as mere servants. These girls would even reserve a table for us every night in our favourite restaurant (the only one with air-conditioning that actually worked) and placed on the table, separate bottles of wine for my wife and myself. Magic!
Speaking of wine, we have often described the wine in CM as being akin to ‘paint stripper’ but we are happy to report that this has been addressed in Phuket. The Restaurant Manager took the time (as did his assistant on different occasions) to sit with us and seek our opinion of the ‘new’ wines they were trialling. I’m sure they did this with other guests as well but we have not experienced this in the past and it was appreciated. There can be no doubt as to the passion of the Restaurant Manager, his assistant, and the staff. It was obvious they were trying their hardest to provide the best possible service............so why was there so much wrong with it?
The biggest complaint by all guests, was that on too many occasions, during breakfast, lunch and dinner, there were insufficient glasses and coffee cups. When we were there it was 34 degrees and 150,000% humidity outside (and that was just during the evening!). After the restaurant had been open for about an hour, the previously stacked shelves of glasses and coffee cups would become depleted. Five or six freshly washed glasses might appear after about 5 mins of there being none and these coming straight from the dishwasher were so hot that any cool drink poured into them became instantly warm. Surely there would be an expectation that glasses and coffee cups might be in big demand? Let me tell you that at breakfast, the sight of 15 caffeine junkies (ourselves included), hanging around a coffee machine, who have not been able to get their morning ‘fix’ because there are no cups,..... was not pretty!
CM knows weeks in advance how many people it is going to have in its resorts on any given day. There is no excuse for being understaffed or understocked with glasses and cups. Whilst we have experienced this issue on one of two previous occasions, CM Phuket was by far the worst we have ever seen. Given the enthusiasm of the Restaurant Manager and his team, these problems would appear to be perhaps budget related and maybe it’s time Upper Management employed a few more staff and bought a few more cups and glasses to enable the Restaurant Manager to provide the type of service he is obviously striving so hard to achieve.
THE MAIN BAR
Newly renovated, it looks good. Never a queue to get a drink, (unlike some other CMs) well managed and the staff are delightful. It was particularly pleasing to greeted by name and to have certain bar staff who even remembered what you were drinking, how you liked it made and even the preferred type of glass you liked your drink in. The only point of difference between this bar and all the other CM’s we have visited is that whilst it is common to have local brand beers and spirits, we have always been able to enjoy the specific brand “Baileys” on ice. CM Phuket only offered a local equivalent which was pretty disgusting. Again it would seem perhaps budget considerations may be an issue.
The GO’s are the centrepiece of any Club Med holiday, (particularly if you are there with children or teenagers) and they know it. Some reviewers have commented on the expertise, devotion and entertainment value of these staff, others have referred to them as an elitist group, interested only in looking good and making sure they have a great time themselves. Depending on the mix of GO’S in the village at the time you are there, you will get different experiences. As these staff are split up and rotated around different villages every 9 – 12 months there is no point in us commenting on them as most likely by the time you get to CM Phuket, there will be a different team to when we were there. Occasionally you get a team that are absolutely outstanding (see our review of CM Cherating for the same week of last year) but we felt the GO energy level was lacking somewhat in CM Phuket when we were there.
If it is your first time in a CM the shows the GO’S put on every night are seemingly pretty good, after all you don’t get that sort of free entertainment when you stay in a normal hotel. However, with the exception of the ‘main’ show of the week, which is usually very spectacular, the rest have been around for years and rely mainly on mime, colour and movement, due to the number of nationalities present and most of the shows have little or no dialogue for that reason.
The shows in CM Phuket were no better or worse than others we have seen previously with the exception of CM Cherating last year which were, quite simply, outstanding and easily the best we had ever seen. The ‘after show’ parties at the bar in CM Phuket were a bit hit and miss. This of course can depend on how many people are still around at 10.30 at night and how much energy they have. We have noticed if you travel in the major school holiday periods there is a clientele of younger parents and their teenage children who all like to party into the night.
There is a snorkelling boat that goes out daily but takes some 40 mins to get to the snorkelling spot and introductory scuba lesson in the pool but that’s it! There is no windsurfing, no kayaking and because CM does not own the beach in front of the village, no late night beach parties and/or BBQ’s.
HYGEINE AND HEALTH
A number of reviewers have mentioned getting gastroenteritis and blamed food poisoning. Whilst we accept this can happen, one of the main causes of upset tummies in Club Med is ‘over eating’. If your stomach is used to a certain diet and then all of a sudden it is digesting food from numerous other countries, sometimes several different cuisines in the one meal, you have to expect your stomach at some point to say ‘enough is enough’ and start to rebel. Similarly, if you stick to your normal diet but have that second entree and perhaps 2 helpings of the ‘special of the day’ followed by perhaps 3 different desserts, again, you have to expect that what goes in must eventually come out, sometimes when you least want it to!
Unlike other CM’s, in Phuket the same plastic place mats are used 3 times a day, 7 days a week, When most people finish one course they place their food covered knife and fork on the place mat and go and get another helping. Given these mats are only ever wiped with a sponge, the build up of micro-organisms, especially in 34 degree heat, can’t be healthy. Is it any wonder some people experience stomach upsets? We took the precaution of requesting new serviettes from the restaurant staff when we sat down and wiping our cutlery that had been placed on these mats, before using it. We have never felt the need to do this in any CM, prior to this holiday.
Not-withstanding the above, when your children complain of sore tummies and have diarrhoea, before you blame food poisoning, you might like to ask them how many helpings of hamburgers, cokes, fries and ice-cream they had at kids club that day? Children’s eyes are often bigger than their stomachs!
The water in all CM’s is said to be safe to drink but everybody has a different capacity to adapt to the water in a foreign country. To address this, all CM’s provide unlimited bottled water, both in your room and around the resort. We suggest you use it exclusively and do not drink the water provided in jugs on the tables (even though it is allegedly also from bottles). No matter where we are in the world, we always only drink the bottled water that we have opened ourselves and we even clean our teeth with it.
It is customary to be farewelled by some GO’s as you depart your CM Village, especially if you have booked the complete airfare/transfer package and there is a bus load of people leaving all at the same time. At the time of our departure, we were the only two leaving but it was nice that at least three GO’s made the effort to farewell us and as the Chef de Village (General Manager) was in reception at the same time, he not only personally farewelled us but also assisted us by carrying our bags to the waiting Mini bus. How many General Managers of hotels that you have stayed in have done that?
Unfortunately, the Taxi driver that took us back to Phuket Airport had the driving style of Evil Knievel and Ken Brock, combined. (Google them!) Reaching speeds of up 125 k’s per hour in a 60 zone, avoiding other vehicles with millimetres to spare, it was like participating in an extreme sport. Not for the faint hearted, but at least we lived to write this review!
Given we undertook 16 hrs of travelling time (door to door) to get from Sydney, Australia to CM Phuket, for an experience that was, for the most part, below what we have experienced in other CM’s, we would not be rushing back. We can be in CM Bali in 8.5 hrs and have a better time. Obviously you need to weigh up our review and compare it with others to decide if Club Med Phuket is right for you and/or your family. There were just so many things we have experienced in other CM’s in the region that were lacking or simply just not available in CM Phuket.
We invite you to read our review of Club Med Cherating, Malaysia where we stayed in the exact same week in 2012. It was, in many aspects, a completely different and far better experience.
We will be in Club Med Bali for 7 nights from 1st July 2013. This will be our 13th trip to Club Med Bali and our 28th Club Med holiday in total. We have always regarded CM Bali as the best Club Med we have ever been to and can honestly say we have never had a bad experience there..........but if the apparent budget cuts in Phuket are anything to go by.....there could always be a first time! Bookmark our Trip Advisor profile now to ensure you don’t miss our review!
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.