We felt a particular emotion on July 10 in the port of Nice, on the deck of the Club Med 2 sailboat. with real passengers, after a year and two months of forced stopover due to the pandemic. As he does on special occasions, Captain Yvon Laloge at the helm of this elegant white liner for more than thirty years, had the masts illuminated and music accompanying the port exit, to the sound of “conquest of paradise“, the soundtrack of the film 1492, signed Vangelis. A few regular passengers on Club cruises shed tears as they left the channel, as the Promenade des Anglais slipped away from their sight.
Interior of a suite on the Club Med 2 sailboat which has 186 cabins. Credit: Bruno VAN LOOCKE/Club Med
“It’s not an ordinary boat, we are very attached to it, explains Patrick Calvet, general manager Club Med Exclusive Collection. With its 186 cabins, it has a human size, numerous exterior decks which allow passengers to be outside all the time if they wish”. Released from the shipyards of Le Havre in 1992, the Club Med 2 is a precursor in the world of cruises since it is equipped with two electric motors and 7 sails, entirely controlled by computer, which supplement the engines and allow 25% savings of energies. Technological choices that have proven to be very relevant over time and environmental concerns, and very consistent with the high-end positioning of Club Med. A sailboat with a slender profile and a shallow draft (5.40 m) allowing it to approach bays and beaches, and to enter ports. It evokes much more the art of living and the yachting spirit than an 8,000-passenger liner that looks like a floating council house like you see a lot of in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. There are no floating casinos and flashing neon lights here.
Forced stopover during the pandemic
When the global tourism industry came to a standstill in March 2020, Club Med 2 was operating a series of Caribbean cruises. “I took it upon myself to interrupt a cruise, only three days after its departure because I feared that we would no longer find any port to disembark,” says Patrick Calvet. The 300 “nice passengers” looked gloomy, but they were compensated and repatriated to the Club Med village of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. The return of the boat was more complicated, however, it was stranded for a month, with its crew, in Martinique and could not return to France until the end of April 2020.
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Then, for many months, the mobilized personnel, reduced to about thirty people, carried out maintenance while the building underwent a general refreshment at the La Seyne-Sur-Mer site in the Var. “We decided to take advantage of it to carry out work that we never have time to do, says Patrick Calvet. We redid the teak floors of the bridges, i.e. 2,000 square meters and 1.7 kilometers wooden railings, re-varnished all the wooden furniture in the cabins, we repainted the hull, lightened the machinery, etc.” In terms of comfort and equipment, the company run by Henri Giscard d’Estaing has modernized and improved several very visible equipment for GMs (“nice members”), with a catering offer signed by the cook instructors of the Ferrandi school , a spa under the Sothys Paris brand and a Yoga By Heberson area.
View of the Club Med 2 swimming pool. Credit: François PEYRANNE/Club Med
“These developments will be further developed, explains Patrick Calvet. We are going to internationalize Club Med 2, which today is a little too Franco-French. We have just changed service provider for the “ship management” activity (maintenance and on-board services) with a view to constantly improving the level of quality”. Of course, this 2021 season remains marked by health precautions. Club Med 2 limits the number of passengers to 70% of its normal capacity, in order to have isolation cabins if necessary. It has a hospital and only accepts passengers after presentation of a negative PCR test of less than 48 hours and imposes a second test (antigenic) on non-vaccinated people, just before access to the boat. At mealtimes, tables are limited to four people and the self-service buffet is no longer required. Guests are served by the staff as in the good old days.
The introduction of the health pass will therefore not change much for the tour operator. Henri Giscard d’Estaing, the president of Club Med was even the first to announce, in May, that he was going to ask for proof of vaccination or a test from all of his customers when they arrived in the villages. At the time he had been frowned upon by the government.
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Finally, another wise precaution, the sailboat will remain in French waters for a few weeks. “We have designed a series of trips between the Mediterranean ports of Occitanie and the Côte d’Azur (Nice, Cannes, Bandol, Collioure, Sète, Marseille, St Tropez) and a grand tour of Corsica”. But he has planned his return to Greece in September and to African shores in October. In December, the Club Med ship will anchor near the Virgin Islands, Grenada and the Amazon.
Then will come in 2022, a new time of renovation for this boat which will then celebrate its thirty years. “We plan to redevelop our large restaurant, our performance hall and perhaps also our fitness room, which is now located on the highest deck and enjoys the most beautiful view of the sea”, reveals Patrick Calvet. Sign of the times and the evolution of the clientele, the fitness could be relegated to a lower deck to make way for a new, very chic restaurant.