Teen fun sets this Club Med apart Resort: All-inclusive package at facility in Mexico wraps in sports and parties - along with meals - for the under-20 set.

May 17, 1998|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HUATULCO, Mexico - It's nearly 4 a.m. Where is my 14-year-old son?

Only at Club Med, I think, would a 2:30 a.m. curfew - the first he's ever required - not be sufficient.

Matt arrives sheepishly a few minutes later. "Sitting by the pool with a bunch of friends. Lost track of time," he apologizes.

This is the teen who didn't want to come to Club Med because it would be "so boring." Instead, he's found himself smack in teen heaven. Offering Club Med's only organized year-round teen program, Club Med-Huatulco draws more teens - typically 100 a week and as many as 250 during school breaks - than any other resort I know. It lavishes attention on them with teen-only activities, from water polo to shopping excursions, horseback rides through the jungle, teen-only dinners and late-night beach parties.

Decidedly cool young counselors lead the way. Taline Sheriff, a gorgeous, dark-haired, 25-year-old University of California grad, for one, had a gaggle of teen-age boys following in her wake wherever she went. If the teens are playing beach volleyball and Taline spots a prospective player, she encourages him to join in. If they're gathering in the open-air bar before dinner, she's got one eye roving the crowd for other teens she can invite to join the crowd.

"We get the teens to help recruit, too," says Ashley Guide, the 26-year-old Texan who oversees the children's and teens' programs here. "The key is to pull them in with the activities, and for the GOS [that's what they call counselors here] to be very visible."

The teen program is looser in structure than the one for younger children: A daily schedule is posted on the bulletin board so teens know where to find the group any hour of the day. One day's schedule read:

* 10:30 Water polo

* 12:30 Lunch

* 2:30 Beach volleyball

* 3:00 Water sports - kayaking, sailing and windsurfing

* 4:00 Softball

* 7:00 Games

* 7:45 Dinner

The teens - anyone 12 or older - also may join in any of the adult activities at the 50-acre resort, from step aerobics to tennis clinics, sailing lessons to soccer games to flying-trapeze workshops. Early every evening, I see adults and teens together playing basketball, volleyball, pingpong and softball. Other teens and younger siblings are playing in the surf or splashing in the giant pool.

This is the largest Club Med in the Americas, with a capacity for 1,000 guests in hillside casitas that wind down to four Pacific beaches. During the week we spend here, my son Matt is too busy with new friends and the jampacked schedule (as are his two younger sisters) to remember he had to be cajoled into this trip.

He doesn't even miss television; the modest rooms with tiled floors have neither TV nor telephones. They do have air conditioning and private balconies overlooking the sea with colorful hammocks. When we arrive at 4 a.m. from our charter flight, 7-year-old Melanie hits the hammock rather than her bed.

Matt and 12-year-old Reggie are thrilled that their room has sliding floor-to-ceiling cabinets and sliding glass doors to the balcony, enabling them each to have a small private room connected by the bath.

The rooms are simple by design and in accordance with Club Med's philosophy: "We don't want guests spending a lot of time in their rooms," explains the club manager, Gino Andreeta, at 33 a 10-year Club Med veteran.

"I'm glad there's no TV," said 16-year-old Erin Garrison, from suburban Boston. "You're out doing stuff instead of being in your room watching something."

The teens I met, though they are the first to tell you they don't want to follow an organized schedule (this is vacation, after all), seem glad to be getting so much attention.

"It's not like anyone is telling you what to do," explains 13-year-old Matt Belitsky, who lives in Stowe, Vt., and was vacationing with his dad. "You stay for the activities you like and leave when they're doing something you don't like."

That's not to say the kids spent much time with their parents, however. This is not the place to come for family togetherness; even the 6-to-12-year-olds were busy with their own organized activities.

"You know, I feel like we're on separate vacations," mused Woody Lawson, the mother of two teen-agers from Hingham, Mass. "And I don't like it. We don't have that many vacations left before they go away to college!"

Price break

I came to Club Med with my three kids over spring break, drawn as were many families I met by a low-price deal being offered that week. (Summer until just before Christmas is value season.)

I wanted to see how the company that has made its name synonymous with family fun in the last decade runs programs for that invariably difficult-to-please teen group.

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