Booked through Sunwing Vacations for a one week all-inclusive stay at the Sonesta Great Bay Resort and Casino in St. Maarten. The flight down was somewhat of a nightmare. We took off from Toronto around 6:30 a.m. and were supposed to be in St. Maarten at 11:40 a.m. their time. Unfortunately there was a bad storm over St. Maarten and we were unable to land, and had to fly to Punta Cana to refuel. There we spent over 3 hours on the plane and another 2 plus hours in the airport. Finally they loaded us back up on the plane and we got to St. Maarten at 8:15 p.m., so a very long day.
Arrival: Once we arrived in St. Maarten everything went quickly, and were were checked into our room by 9 p.m. We had booked an oceanview room, which I would recommend – 5th floor or higher. We had a great view of the beach/pool area, and the cruise ships and could see all the way to Philipsburg. This is a smaller hotel, just over 200 rooms. The lobby is actually on the 3rd floor, so our 5th floor room was just 2 flights of stairs up. There is a small elevator, but it only holds 4 people and is quite slow, so easiest to take the stairs.
The rooms in the hotel are a little dated (bathroom and furnishings), but very clean and comfortable, with everything we needed. We had a fridge in the room stocked with beer, water, and pop, and 3 bottles of liquor (I think this is exclusive for Sunwing/Signature guests). There was also a flat-screen TV, inroom safe, ironing board and iron, coffeemaker, hairdryer and clock/radio. There is wifi available for $18.99 US a day or $55.00 US for the week. We purchased it for the week, but reception in our room was quite spotty, usually had to go out on the balcony and even there the connection was sporadic and we’d end up going down to the lobby.
Restaurants and Bars: There is a buffet restaurant and two a la carte restaurants for dinner. When we were there, there was only 1 a la carte open at a time. I would guess when they’re full they have them both open. You make your reservation in the morning at the buffet restaurant. Monday nights is the beach barbecue. They moved it inside because of cloudy weather, but it was pretty good, lots of selection. The buffet breakfast was good, you could get omelettes and eggs cooked to order, and they had lots of fresh fruit. Lunches were good too, you had a choice of buffet or you could order a sandwich or a pizza from a menu. They also had hamburgs and hotdogs available. Dinners weren’t my favourite there, they had a different theme each night, but not a huge variety and somewhat repetitive. We went to each a la carte once. The Italian was a little disappointing, the restaurant is actually in a banquet room, felt like we were at a wedding reception. No atmosphere. The tiramisu for desert was excellent though. The Molasses Restaurant had a variety of menu items. We had the Caesar salad and steak and it was excellent. Both restaurants had a guitar player, who was very good. Bars There are several bars – one in the lobby, one in a room behind the lobby, one downstairs by the buffet restaurant, and one at the beach.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: Pools and Beach There are two pools and a whirlpool (hot). One is an activities pool and one is an infinity pool. The beach itself is lovely. The sand is actually shells, but soft, the consistency of oatmeal. The water drops off quite quickly and is a little rocky getting in, so if you have beach shoes take them. Water clarity wasn’t the greatest because of the sand, no snorkeling here.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: Activities Kind of low-key, they have aerobics, bingo, a few other things during the day. Karaoke one night, music in the Living Room bar in the evenings. Casino There is a small casino off the lobby. We went in a couple of times, but quickly lost our money Location The best thing about this hotel is its location. It’s just a 10 minute walk into Philipsburg, either by road or along the beach. Here you will find dozens and dozens of stores, from high end jewellery and clothing stores to souvenir shops. The cruise ships dock here and it is bustling with tourists. We went into town a couple of times and always felt perfectly safe. Lots of bargains to be had in quality jewellery. Generally I thought prices on everything were quite reasonable. There is no tax so the price on the sticker is what you pay, and you can negotiate on some items. US currency is accepted everywhere on the island. There are also numerous restaurants in town if you get tired of the hotel restaurants. Getting around the island Taxis are not metered here. There is a set fare to each location. You can also take a local bus for a couple of dollars and go pretty much anywhere on the island. Car rentals are available, but there is a lot of road construction going on, it’s very hilly, and it’s hard to find a place to park, so we decided against that. We saw Marigot on the French side of the island where they have a market (same stuff you see in Philipsburg), and also went to the other Sonesta hotel at Maho, where guests have exchange privileges. This hotel has a much more impressive lobby and beautiful landscaped gardens around the pools, and at first we thought gee we should have stayed here. But the beach isn’t as big or as nice, and the food (at the buffet anyway) was the same as the other hotel. Also louder music. I preferred the softer music played at our hotel. The water there is clearer, though, and we could see fish swimming around the rocks from shore, so better for snorkeling. Also had a chance to look at the rooms and they are pretty much identical, maybe a couple of feet wider and longer, and looked a little fresher because they had been redone more recently.
Other Comments: Weather wasn’t too bad. Of course the day we arrived they had a bad storm, and the next day was overcast but the sun shone through a bit. The rest of the week was good until Saturday, when it was overcast and rained a bit during the day off and on. Conclusion Service was good for the most part, a couple of dinners where staff seemed overwhelmed and items weren’t refilled as quickly as they should have been. We liked this hotel, though, I think because it was smaller, and because of its location. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.