St Maarten: Small in Size but Huge in Charm
Debbi Haney of Fox World Travel recently had the opportunity to explore the delightful charm of St Maarten. Hear what she has to say about this captivating trip!
I accompanied a group of 20 for a week in St Maarten…..Ahhh St Maarten, small in size (just 37 square miles) but huge in charm!
We received a champagne-welcome-greeting upon arrival and although we were booked as a group, our rooms were assigned scattered throughout the resort. This actually turned out to be a good thing because I had booked the entry-level rooms, yet just 3 couples (including myself) ended up in the entry-level rooms and everybody else got an upgrade.
Pool/Ocean View Room
Rooms were large and décor was typical Caribbean with soft pastels. Equipped with all of the amenities you would expect of a 4-Star resort including the in-room safe, stocked mini bar, iron/ironing board, hair dryer and bathroom amenities replenished when needed. Balconies were furnished with a table and chairs with various views of the resort, pool areas, and beach. Despite the fact that this was an older hotel, the resort over-all was in good condition and grounds and public areas were well-kept. The hotel is located adjacent to the Maho Village which is comprised of many shops, bars, and the island’s largest casino.
Sonesta Maho Beach Resort
One of the few all-inclusive resorts in St Maarten, this resort is the largest and offered four dining options, including one buffet and three a’ la carte restaurants. Not a lot of variety here and it was the same day after day. Much of the same could be said for dinner, but the added wood-fire pizzeria in the evening was wonderful! The Ascot Pub and Sports Bar featured the normal burger and fries and other sandwiches befitting of a Sports Bar. Evenings here, offered up live music a couple of nights throughout the week and seem to draw both locals and hotel guests. The Palms Grill provided soups, salads, burgers, fish ‘n chips and ice cream. Food here during daytime hours was quite good. Karaoke was the entertainment until 11:00 p.m. for two nights but this bar/restaurant closed about 6:00 p.m. for the rest of the days during the week. The Point Restaurant was the “Fine Dining” venue. The same menu was presented on a daily basis with four main entrée choices including soup/salad, breads, and dessert.
The lobby bar featured Karaoke twice a week. Another night a desert bar and champagne bar were set up in the lobby with Gold and Silver Mimes, as the entertainment. A beach party and barbecue were scheduled for one of the nights but the only open bar during that time was in the lobby and it appeared that this activity was featured more for families with children, which included games and toasting marshmallows.
The Sonesta Maho Beach is located about 20 minutes from Phillipsburg (the Capitol) where it’s sister hotel, Sonesta Great Bay is located. The hotels share exchange privileges but transportation is on your own. The Sonesta Great Bay is a much smaller resort but appeared to be much more modern. Just one pool (no swim-up bar) but the span of beach located directly in front of the hotel was an excellent swimming and sunning area. We took advantage of the main buffet for lunch one day and the food offered here was great. Just a 10-minute walk from Phillipsburg, The Sonesta Great Bay is convenient to a variety of shopping and restaurants.
We quickly learned that public transportation is abundant and inexpensive. You can travel via public bus the entire Dutch Side of the island for $2.00. Public bus stops are all over and the wait is about 5-10 minutes. The buses are 8-passenger vans and if there are few occupants the bus driver will also serve as a tour guide. The bus drivers have signs posted on their dash boards for the stops that it will make but if you have the time, it doesn’t really matter which bus you take because eventually it will go to your area. They all take the same routes. There is a roundabout which is the switch to get over to the French side of the island and it will cost another $2.00. The bus system on the French side works the same way as the Dutch side. Eventually you can get to Orient Beach and eventually you will be able to get back. Because the island is only 37 square miles you are never really too far from anything the island has to offer. There is not as much shopping on the French side but shops tend to be more upscale than on the Dutch side. There is an abundance of fine dining, and many more of the upscale resorts are also located on the French side.
St. Maarten Bay
We ventured off of our resort for 3 of the days to explore St Maarten and quickly discovered the beauty and charm that attracts so many visitors. The people are so friendly offering assistance and suggestions at every opportunity offered to them. There is a sense of security in feeling safe to independently sight see and the island is so beautiful. Full day excursions are available to Anguilla & St Barth’s as well as any other activity you can imagine. This is one destination that I would re-think the all-inclusive program. Food and drink prices are not much different than at home, and because there is such an abundance of options for dining on the island, coupled with the ease of transportation, why restrict yourselves to just your resort. All things considered, St Maarten is a great vacation destination, offering more than other Caribbean destinations, if you are willing to spend a bit more money.
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Some photos courtesy of www.sonesta.com