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Tropically Together in Club Med

by Tom Tugend

November 4, 2004 | 7:00 pm

In its early days, Club Med catered mainly to single swingers, but when business dropped, the management wisely turned some of its resorts into family destinations.

That suited us fine, because my wife and I have three daughters, three sons-in-law, seven grandchildren and counting -- and once a year we all gather from the East and West Coasts for a family reunion and intergenerational bonding.

We generally vacation in the States, but this year, my wife, Rachel, who organizes these things, somehow managed to juggle all the conflicting schedules and decided to try something more exotic.

We settled on Club Med Ixtapa, on Mexico's southwestern coast, some 140 miles north of Acapulco. What sold us was that Ixtapa has five different clubs for kids, according to age levels, from babies to teenagers, each offering full-time activities.

Since our grandkids range from three to 18 years, that seemed an ideal arrangement. As it turned out, they had so much fun playing with their cousins that they hardly went to the clubs -- but the facilities are there if you want them.

We discovered that Ixtapa does a thriving business with Orthodox tours at Passover and during yeshiva vacations in January (more on that later).

First a quick overview of the pluses and minuses: Club Med is directly on the Pacific Ocean, with a sheltering bay, wide clean beaches and a stunning picture-postcard setting.

As promised, the package price (around $800 a week for adults, less for kids) includes just about everything. That means small but pleasant air-conditioned rooms, generous and varied buffet-style meals, sports from archery to tennis, and even a free bar.

What with the exercise and the hot weather, the adults worked the Corona beer tap in the dining room assiduously.

There are, however, charges for organized outside excursions. They are fairly expensive, but with a little enterprise, you can make your own arrangements. Recommended are the sailing and snorkeling expeditions up the coast and a trip to the countryside for a dose of reality about village life in Mexico's poorest state.

The main downside was the climate during our June 29-July 6 stay. The daytime temperature in Ixtapa ranges from the high 80s to the low 90s year around, but we also hit the high summer humidity. That didn't slow the kids down, but affected some of the adults, who took frequent refuge in the pool, at the beach and next to the beer tap.

June is also the beginning of the four-month rainy season, but except for an all-night downpour and one short daytime sprinkle, we had no problems. The best and most popular time to visit Ixtapa is now, from early November to the end of April.

We were lucky enough to link up with Julia Ortiz, the village group coordinator, who treated our clan to a cocktail party. She told us that Ixtapa, as most Club Med villages, offers matzah during Passover and she proudly displayed a small menorah lit during Chanukah.

For a more intense Jewish experience, Ortiz referred us to Raphael Bellehsen, who runs Le Voyage Travel in Woodmere, N.Y., and specializes in glatt kosher tours.

As he has for the last five years, Bellehsen has organized a seven-night tour ($1,339 per adult) and a 10-day tour ($1,650) in late January to Ixtapa, during which a rabbi and two assistants will lead two daily prayer services and Shabbat observances.

The Passover tour, April 21-May 2, includes, of course, a festive seder, with kosher-for-Passover tortillas as a treat for the kids.

Each tour consists of up to 150 people, the number limited by the size of the separate, koshered restaurants provided by Club Med for the occasion.

Otherwise, the groups participate in all the normal Club Med activities, and Bellehsen is also planning a glatt kosher tour for singles in August at Club Med Sandpiper in Florida.

Most of his clients are Modern Orthodox, Bellehsen said, but also include Jews from other denominations, and they come from all over the United States and Canada.

More information is available from Le Voyage Travel at (877) 452-8744, or e-mail info@levoyagetravel.com.

Alaska Airlines has a 3-hour 40-minute nonstop flight from LAX to Ixtapa. Travelers from most Midwest or East Coast cities will have to catch a connecting flight in Houston or Mexico City.

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