This was my 1st trip anywhere in the Caribbean. As I live in Florida, I never gave it much thought to go, but after 2 nasty winters it seems even Floridians now need to head further south for some warmth and sun--Plenty of that in St Maarten!!!
I traveled with my mother, and we decided on St M. after tossing around ideas for a trip, and after seeing so many YouTube videos of the jets taking off and landing at Princess Julianna airport, I had to see it once for myself. SXM it was!
We decided not to do all-inclusive, as we felt that this ties you down to the resort for all meals etc, and we knew that we definitely wanted to venture out more for variety of food and local flair. Best decision we could have made! I'll break down the different resort areas/services below.
ARRIVAL- We flew from Tampa-San Juan-St Maarten, and arrived just after 1pm on 3.29.11. The minute we stepped off the American Airlines puddle jumper the hot sun and smell of humid salt air assured us we were in the right place. We breezed through customs, our luggage was waiting for us on the other end, and the transportation included with the travel was waiting outside holding a sign with our name on it. Off to Great Bay we went. The drive to the resort was @ 20 minutes, and provided amazing views of the surrounding hills, sea, and local life in action. The driver told us we had chosen a good time to come, as by the main part of the high season had past.
CHECK IN/FRONT DESK- We walked into the lobby and were absolutely awestruck by the view out the large almost floor to ceiling windows. Heaven. Vicky was our agent, and was pleasant and smiling, asking how the trip was. Check in was smooth and efficient, and we were off to the room. We were on the 3rd floor, so it was a surprise to walk DOWN a flight of stairs to get there! The lobby sits on the 4th floor, now we knew! We get to the room and find 1 King bed...oops..that wont work for me and my mom! We run back to the desk to ask about a room with 2 beds, and Vicky smiled again and said "You don't want to sleep with your wife?" I'm not sure if this means my mom looks young, I look old, or they see all kinds of sugar-mama couples...but we laughed and explained we were mother and son. No problem, new room keys and a room with 2 queen beds on same floor.
ROOM-It's pretty hard to go wrong with an ocean view, and the floor we were on was just above the tops of the palm trees, affording a dazzling view of great bay, the cruise port, and the entire stretch of beach to Philipsburg. As far as rooms go, no major complaints. How much time do you really spend in there anyway? The only thing strange was the shower set up...the whole floor of the bathroom was also the floor of the shower, with no real 'tub', and a stationary glass partition serving as the shower curtain. Had never seen that before, we guessed it was a European type set up. Just be careful in there, it gets slick after a shower, and you'll find yourself using every available towel as a floor mat!
Housekeeping services were efficient, with the staff being friendly. Sometimes the towels came later in the day, but this was not a major problem. The room was clean to our satisfaction, the beds and pillows were very comfortable, and we slept very well with the sound of waves crashing on the shore below.
RESTAURANTS/FOOD- As mentioned before, we did not go all inclusive. We were glad for that, as the breakfast buffet was alright, but definitely not what we would want to be tied down to having every day. Many days, we just had coffee before heading to the pool/beach, and we would then walk into Pburg for a later lunch. We're not huge fans of buffet style dining, but in a pinch it does get you fed. The breakfast that we did have was fine, and the omelette attendant lady, from Dominican Republic was nice enough if you said hello. I asked where she was from, she told me, and as I speak Spanish we conversed every time I was there. This, plus a dollar in her tip jar made a world of difference I guess, because she did not seem to be as hateful as others have said. We had Geneva as a waitress a few times in the main restaurant, and she was very pleasant and professional. The Monday night BBQ grill was outstanding, and dining on the pool deck was a nice touch. Only problem was with as windy as it was, the candles couldn't stay lit. Many days we would have a late lunch/early dinner at a place called Pirates in paradise on the beach walk in Pburg. Great food, very reasonable price, and the employees came to know us pretty well. Highly recommend finding this spot! They also had free wifi there, which was a plus.
HOTEL AMENITIES/SERVICES- We aren't the kind of people that need constant entertainment, the pool and beach/people watching do just fine for us in this area. We did rent snorkel gear to take with us on our day trip to Baie Rouge, and David in the activities office was a real cool guy, giving us pointers on the best/safest place to snorkel. (Which is why we chose Baie Rouge) Yes, the staff down there are all @ 18-20 and busy socializing, but we joked with them and they came right around to doing their jobs. I guess its all in one's approach? The pools were clean, water perfectly cool to give relief from the hot sun, and every day we saw the staff mopping, sweeping, arranging, etc. the pool area. The spa was closed, and my mother wanted a massage. She got one from one of several local ladies on the beach offering them, along with aloe treatments, jewelry and other things. They were very nice, and I can't imagine being out on that beach all day in jeans like they were! I can see how if people are the type that need Vegas-style entertainment they'd feel something was lacking. But, you're not in Las Vegas, you're in the caribbean! Treat yourself to a walk down to the beach in front of the hotel late at night, I promise you the stars you will see are NOTHING like the ones you see at home, and they are countless. The southern cross is truly breathtaking...and I spent a few nights just staring at it, and understanding the wonderment expressed in songs and stories about it through history. It dwarfs the big and little dippers, and is far brighter too.
BARS- Also didn't have any trouble in this area. But, we also tipped on every purchase that we made, and standard US tipping at that. I overheard the pool bartender telling someone in Spanish that the Canadians, who were en masse at the resort, never tip well. As I work in hospitality, I know this to be true. The joke goes "What's the difference between a Canadian and a canoe? A canoe tips." So, neighbors to the north, take a lesson and realize that when you travel outside Canada, tipping is a part of the culture, and you should do it!
Also, many reviews here seem to note a lack of 'pampering' here, with complaints ranging from mosquitoes in the elevator, to having to get your own drinks at the bar. Well, I'm guessing these people must be used to true 5 star resorts, and aren't accustomed to 'roughing it' like us normal Joes. (Roughing it, in St Maarten...oh the irony) Well, I know what we paid, and I know what the rates were for places in Mexico, DR, or Aruba. This was NOT a 5 star rate. So, get your own drinks, slap a mosquito, and pull your bags to your own room. Hey, think of all the money you save not having to tip poorly!
CASINO- Lost my a$$! lol...but I'm not much of a gambler. The bartender in the casino, Simone was the sweetest person, and Braulio was a real cool guy. Some of the dealers at roulette were a little less than friendly, but I wasn't terribly affected by that. AS long as you were playing, Simone would keep bringing you whatever you were drinking. Not a lot of action in the casino past 10 pm...seemed most people were done for the night by this point, which also probably speaks to the bars closing early and any entertainment wrapping up by midnight. Marie at the lobby bar was HYSTERICAL, and answered many history questions about St. M. and the Antillean way of life in general, and seemed impressed that someone was actually interested in learning about it. Another cue to tourists, be interested in the history and culture of the nation you are visiting!!
ST MAARTEN IN GENERAL- Probably not the best place for kids, as there is much gambling and no 'Disney' atmosphere here, plus nudity on beaches. Great for adults who appreciate a beautiful island nation and its own unique culture. The tropical foliage and flora were amazing to see, the different towns on the island were interesting, and the beaches we saw were the stuff travel ads are made of. Witnessing air traffic at Julianna airport from the sunset bar was just phenomenal, and humorous to watch these people sandblasted by the jet wash! Pineapple Pete's was a great restaurant...we didn't eat on the French side...we're not huge fans of food we can't pronounce. PicParadis was truly remarkable, and driving on the island was an experience to remember. We did not encounter any unfriendly islanders, nor did we feel in danger at any time. We also didn't go wandering about much after dark, so draw your own conclusions there. Did a little duty free shopping in Pburg, mostly liquor and tobacco. But if one was in the market for jewelry, this looked like the place to go. As the local Carnivale season was getting ready to start, we happened to witness a small parade of the local fire brigade (Brandeweer) complete with a marching band going thru town. The color, the sounds, the sights, the smell, the wild chickens running around..ahhh I can go back in my mind very easily.
CHECK OUT- Our trip ended 4.5.11. Again, Vicky was our agent and there were no surprise charges or fees. We had to be out by 11am, but the flight to Miami wasn't until 3:30. So, we checked our luggage in and went down by the pool and shop area to wait it out. This was the only time it rained the whole week, and even then it only seemed to last 45 minutes. The transport back to the airport was supposed to pick us up at 1pm. 1:10, no sign...1:15..still nothing. We went back to the desk to ask Vicky to call the # we were given, and she got a recording when she called. 1:20, no car, Now we're getting worried we will miss our flight. Another couple of people were waiting for a taxi into Simpson Bay, and when the driver pulled in he asked us if we needed a ride too, we said we did and he doubled us up in the cab. Worked out nicely, he dropped the others off first, picked a few more up, and then we got to the airport about 1:45. Just enough time to check in, get through customs, and learn that our flight was delayed because the inbound flight had left Miami late due to bad weather. Oh well...we hung around the airport, and the flight finally left SXM at @5:30, and we got home to Tampa late that night where the temperature was 58!! 0.0!!
Suggestions/comments to Sonesta-
1. The internet fee of $18/day is just a tad exorbitant, don't you think? I could see that for a week, but daily? Not good, especially when restaurants all over the island offered wifi for free.
2. Blankets in the hallways to clean up leaks-Looks really bad, even tho we're sure it keeps guests from slipping. I wish I had a good suggestion here...I'm sure that's one of your biggest headaches.
3. Get an ATM on property. Not being able to access cash except from the casino cashier isn't overly convenient, especially when the casino doesn't open until 3 pm. You're a large enough property, and could probably even realize revenue from fees at the ATM.
4. Where the shower is for guests coming off the beach, you'd probably see a whole lot less sand in the pool area if you put a faucet down low for feet, rather than up high for a shower. We tried our best to wash our feet, but the combination of wind and the water coming from too high up defeated our efforts
5. Give me a job in your F&B department. I'd love a chance to see St. Maarten thru the eyes of a local!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort, Casino & Spa is a serene Caribbean haven - and St. Maarten’s premier, limitless all-inclusive, adults-only resort. Delivering a new level of sophistication and style, the elegant destination hotel is situated on a mile-long white-sand beach, overlooking Great Bay and the sparkling sea. With endless amenities and personalized service, the resort invites guests to unwind at three swimming pools, four restaurants, four bars, a spa and the Golden Casino for the ultimate vacation experience complimented by stellar service. ... more less
- Reservation Options:
- TripAdvisor is proud to partner with Hotels.com, Booking.com and Agoda so you can book your Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort, Casino & Spa reservations with confidence. We help millions of travellers each month to find the perfect hotel for both holiday and business trips, always with the best discounts and special offers.
- Also Known As:
- Sonesta Great Bay Beach Hotel Philipsburg
- Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort And Casino
- St Martin Great Bay Hotel
- Sonesta Philipsburg
- Great Bay Beach Hotel
- Philipsburg Sonesta
- St Maarten Great Bay Hotel
- Hotel Sonesta Great Bay Beach
- Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort, Casino & Spa St. Maarten-St. Martin/Philipsburg