Twenty-five hours after our train left Penn Station and started south through snow-crusted New Jersey factory yards, my husband, my son and I stumbled like three sleepwalkers into Club Med Sandpiper's courtyard, gratefully inhaling the humid Florida evening breeze. It was a bit like the moment when Dorothy Gale emerges from her black-and-white past into the Technicolor of Munchkinland. There were children everywhere, performing impromptu dances on an outdoor stage, posing for snapshots by the immense pool, spilling out of the dining room to run off dinner among the palm trees. Adults milled about among them, looking serene and amiable. We desperately needed some dinner and some sleep, but this, we agreed, looked promising. According to Club Med's website, Sandpiper is the resort to visit if you're looking for an "American-style" vacation in a country club setting, and if you want your children to enjoy themselves as much as you do. Fortunately, Club Med's idea of a country club bears little resemblance to the stodgy, uptight, homogeneous places that I remember from my Westchester childhood. Yes, country club staples like golf and tennis are among the activities available, but, aside from that, Sandpiper could only be compared to a country club where someone has spiked the gin-and-tonics with happy pills and replaced the tennis dresses and dreadful golf pants with tie-dyed tees, batik sarongs, and chic French resort wear. Around the pools, French, English, Spanish, and other languages intermingle to the point where it sounds as if everyone is speaking one universal, blissed-out tongue. If you're into homogeneity, you'd be better off trying, say, Augusta National.
So much for Sandpiper's atmosphere. You'll also want to know about the following:
Children's Club: Programs for all age groups, supervised by caring, competent, multilingual counselors. Activities include sailing, trapeze instruction, arts and crafts, swimming, and much more (depending on age). My son hasn't wanted to take off the tie-dyed shirt he made there since we left.
For Adults: Most of the above, plus golf and lounging in a decadent way around the pool. There are some "adults-only" areas, but Sandpiper is definitely a family resort (you'll get used to hanging out with toddlers at the bar).
Meals: Buffet-style, and, in terms of variety, quality, and quantity, amazing. The dining room is a bit cafeteria-like; ask to be seated on the terrace for a more romantic atmosphere and a nice breeze from the St. Lucie River (usually you'll be seated at a large table with other guests).
Rooms: All have either balconies or terraces. Ours was large, bright, and airy, with a view of the marina.
Location: Port St. Lucie, Florida. The nearest airport is West Palm Beach.
For more information, or reservations, go to www.clubmed.com, or call 1-888-WEB-CLUB.