Now some Club Med resorts welcome children, too

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

As if kids werent't in control everywhere else, now they're threatening to take over Club Med. Of course I exaggerate. They do have a foothold at the Club's Fort Royal branch on Guadeloupe, where special attention is paid to the 4 -to-12 set, but far from dominating activites, the little swingers somehow improve the feeling of the place.

Club Mediterranee, the French-flavored string of some 90 resorts spread from the Swiss Alps to the South Pacific, has a reputation for mindless, sun-washed frivolity. Serge Trigano, the club's new chairman and chief executive, does not approve of the image. He is out to show that good family fun can be had at all the outposts.

Forth Royal, the 300-bed club on the lush Basse-Terre side of Guadeloupe, is the model for this plan. All ages are welcome, but there is a special Mini Club in an inconspicuous corner of the palmy seaside resort where children 4 to 12 frolic with pool, swings, and slides while their parents are off attending to such adult pursuits as water polo, water skiing, skin diving, tennis, yoga, and volleyball. I guess my point is that at Fort Royal, everybody's a child.

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Encouraged by the Fort Royal example, Club Med has just opened a branch at Kamarina on the southwest coast of Sicily with enough child's play to make a sensitive parent feel slighted. There is a bureau equipped with minicomputers on which the kids learn the ropes before graduating to full-size computers. Puppetry, kite-flying, and roller skating are also offered at the Kamarian Mini Club, and best of all there's a circus tent where European performers, on leave from the Continental tour, pass on their daredeviltry to the children. "The adults can use the circus tent too, but at different hours," a Club Med official told me.

These children's clubs-within-a-club will be established in the summer of 1982 at Eleuthera in the Bahamas and at the Caravelle branch across the island from Fort Royal. Kids get a 50 percent reduction in land costs, 25 percent off on charter air fare.

When I put up at Fort Royal a few months ago, the children were so well organized and looked after by their counselors, it was a mystery to me how they spent the day. Of course, there were fewer of them present than over the holidays or during the summer, it being a school week. On the tennis courts one morning I met Peggy Unger of Smithtown, Long Island, who felt at ease working on her strokes in the broiling sun knowing her two young sons were in the Mini Club and her husband, an eternal child himself, was in the pool playing water polo. To hear her tell it, Club Med had changed the Ungers' lives.

"We went to our first club on Martinique 12 years ago when I was working at the Time-Life news bureau and my husband was a designer at Tiffany," she said. "Right then we decided we liked the easygoing life style so much we left the New York rat race and opened a sporting goods and clothing store on Long Island. Now we take the kids to Club Meds everywhere. In the Mini Club they're taken care of from 9 to 9, they get lunch and dinner and go on picnics and snorkeling trips, and they even learn some French. The club at Cancun was rather Americanized, and French wasn't spoken that much, but this place is much more Continental."

Peggy Unger hit on the reason, or reasons, why Fort Royal is a club apart. It is small (about half the size of most Caribbean clubs) and French-scented and family-welcoming, so it tends not to draw the single minglers who prefer life at Caravelle or Buccaneer Creek on Martinique. Not that marriage or parenthood is a requisite. There were assorted unattached adults among my 300 clubmates, and although some came not knowing the adult-child makeup and others were sent by travel agents as overflow from the more popular clubs, most grew to appreciate the extended-family atmosphere.

There is something warming about seeing wide-eyed kids in the front row by the state each night as the staff members (known as GOs, or gentils organisateurs) kicked their way through some lively skits and dances.

Another reason Fort Royal succeeded was the presence of a magnetic boss lady named Myriam Karaohanessian, a 33- year-old Frenchwoman of Armenian background. Every club is overseen by a chef de village, 90 percent of whom are men. The chef can spoil the broth, or make the week. Myriam, raspy-voiced and comical, seemed to know all 300 GMs (gentils membres) in a day. She also had the respect and affection of the 70 GOs, many of whom had followed her to Guadeloupe from her previous six-month post at Pontresina, in Switzerland.

If there is a time when adults are made to feel like children, it is the morning of the so-called Olympics when staff and guests a like compete in tugs of war, wheelbarrow races, egg tosses, etc. I opted out, but all those responsible, childrearing Olympians who entered the competition took part with such frenzy, I think their own kids were startled.

Though i also sat out Fort Royal's vaunted water-sports program, this was probably a mistake. Each day there are scuba and snorkeling expeditions to the offshore Pigeon Island, and the club has recently installed an underwater photography program, providing cameras and a developing lab. Fort Royal is bilingual, but I grew to prefer the French designation for the fun and games: perfectm for advanced, debutantm for beginner; tira l'arcm (archery), plongee bouteillem (scuba diving), voilem (sailing). On the tennis courts I learned the French word for my biggest weakness.Backhand is revers.m Any kid can figure that one out.

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