I’ve always wanted to visit St. Maarten so when a friend showed me the LivingSocial deal for 50% off a four night all-inclusive stay, I caved. It had been a long time since our last tropical vacation. I used my husband’s graduation as an excuse and booked it. So that’s how I learned about the Sonesta Maho and afterwards I read some Trip Advisor reviews that were all over the map – now you can read mine too (much shorter version on TA, I’m pretty wordy in my own blog).
I will tell you a few things right up front: I would stay here again. I’ll complain about some stuff but overall it met my needs. Also, we went during the “low” season and it’s possible that things are better (or worse) when it’s more crowded. I also don’t drink so I can’t really speak to anything alcohol-related like if the drinks were strong or whatnot – although I CAN tell you I didn’t appreciate the disapproving looks I got at the pool bar whenever I asked for a virgin daiquiri. You would think the bartender would be pleased that I am cutting out a step in the process. And the bartender at the grill needs to do a better job rinsing out the blender if he’s going to add booze there and not to the glass (I can have alcohol and choose not to, but many people who avoid alcohol can’t have a taste of it because they are trying hard to quit)! Sorry, went off on a tangent there. Anyway…
Check-in: I heard some horror stories about the check in process taking forever and sure enough, it did. It took well after 3pm before rooms were ready for everyone I was standing around but even once I had a room there seemed to be a lot of walking back and forth between desk areas and copious paper shuffling going on. Whatever their process is, it could use some streamlining. On the plus side, we got our all-inclusive bracelets as soon as we came in so we could check luggage and go get something to eat or take a swim. They also offered us champagne in the waiting line and there was a plate of apples and awesome cookies that tasted like ginger with chocolate chips. So they try. Oh, backing up – when you come out of the airport someone will immediately try to shove you in a cab. If you go out the “arrivals” door and cross the street you will find a bus station. Buses (passenger vans really) are frequent and will cost you $3.00 for two people to get to the hotel instead of $8+tip so consider that if you don’t have a lot of luggage. The Sonesta is practically right around the corner.
The Room: We were in the third building on the property (the second is small and looked like it is currently under renovations). Room 420 in fact. I was pleased with how large it was and clean. It was a smoking room but didn’t smell like it at ALL. We had a nice balcony with a view of Maho beach and could watch the planes come in. No matter where you are on the property, you are going to hear the planes come in and take off. You get used to it and it’s kind of cool. The last plane comes in @7:30pm so it’s not like you hear them all night. The bathroom had a bidet which always freaks me out. We argued over whether you face the wall or the door when you use it. Feel free to enlighten me. The room also had a safe which was nice but something it did NOT have (and should have had, according to the Sonesta’s website about the AI program) was a mini-bar with soft drinks and bottled water. That would have been nice but I didn’t know to ask about it until today when I pulled up their site to make sure I got some details correct when writing this. Luckily, St. Maarten’s water is safe to drink and doesn’t taste bad so there was no need to freak about bottled water. Our housekeeper kept taking away washcloths that were still hung up and not replacing them for some reason. When my husband finally tracked down a housekeeper, she didn’t want to give him any because we weren’t one of her rooms and told him to call Housekeeping for them. Slightly frustrating. Personnel plus: their maintenance man arrived quickly when we thought the shower had no hot water. Turns out, the faucet knob was completely backwards from the sink knob and we were just morons.
Food: There are several places to eat on the AI plan but not every place that the Sonesta advertises as being on their property. In particular, Sopranos and the BBQ place are not in your plan. There is a “casual elegant” dinner restaurant called The Point, a causal sit down lunch place called The Palms Grill (who was only open for dinner one night and had an awesome menu but we didn’t realize it until we had already eaten), and the buffet/pizzeria. We ate buffet almost every single meal because it was great and no waiting. Some things stayed the same but there was enough variety to keep us coming back. Breakfast was always the same but they had every breakfast food I could think of – including a whole pan of BACON. Yeah, all the bacon I could want! My favorite desserts are the apple slices covered in dark chocolate followed closely by cream puffs shaped like swans.
Grounds: There are two pools, the one near our building is quieter and on a higher level but the other one has music, a waterfall and a pool bar. There is also beach access and lots of chairs (although going during the low season, maybe that’s why I could always find a chair if I wanted one). The grounds are very pretty but don’t look too closely. You’ll see things like plastic cups or torn Styrofoam swimming noodles that got tossed/blown into the bushes along walkways and never picked up. You can’t tell me that employees don’t use the same walkways that I do and don’t see these things. I get the feeling from everyone who works there that if they are not specifically told to do something, they will ignore it and do the minimum work required. There doesn’t seem to be any pride in the people doing the jobs, no sense of ownership and while that’s not unusual in any job, it’s especially obvious (and unfortunate) in one where customer service is so critical. Now maybe during low season there are less groundskeepers? Even so, that makes it all the more important for employees to pitch in and address things they see. One cool thing about the grounds is the “wildlife” . If you have kids (or act like one), you will be chasing land crabs, lizards, snails, and hermit crabs all night. And cats all the time – not sure what that’s about but there are an awful lot of cats. If you are playing on the grounds at night or watching a movie out by the pool (they have a cool inflatable screen) make sure you have some bug spray on – the mosquitoes are killer if you are out of the ocean breeze.
Things I Wish I Knew About: I really should have read their site better about what the AI plan comes with because I didn’t hear about any of it while I was there:
- As mentioned before, the mini-bar
- $20 in match bets per person at Casino Royale across the street
- A guest pass to Sonesta Great Bay – I would like to have visited there
I also would have appreciated some information in the lobby or room about the flat taxi rates and public bus routes/rates. Asking employees got me very vague answers. Any type of publication I could find was just full of advertisements for duty free shopping, no actual tourist information for people not interested in buying a Rolex. The nicest and most helpful people we ran into on the island were the bus drivers – the people least likely to get tipped. I find that ironic. They also seemed to take the most pride in doing a job well.
If you make a list of things that bugged me, it’s probably longer than the list of awesome stuff, BUT the awesomeness of the awesome stuff does outweigh the problems. And no place is ever perfect, so I thank the Sonesta Maho for an enjoyable and comfortable stay.