Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
One of the larger properties on the island with plenty of features but dull and uninspiring decor
Sonesta Great Bay is just about the oldest hotel in St. Maarten. And despite renovations in 2006, the property has a rather ripe aesthetic both inside and out. From the street, the hotel's sign and entrance appear as though they easily could date back to the "Brady Bunch" era. Inside, though relatively newer looking, a certain '90s modern style prevails, with a low-ceiling circular lobby filled with bright yellow, wicker furniture, and light marble flooring. Virtually everything in the hotel branches off this circle.
The view is what really grabs most guest's attention. Seen from virtually every angle thanks to windows lining most of the southern facade, a stunning panorama of Great Bay beach, Philipsburg, and the cruise liner-filled harbor is postcard perfect.
Most of the hotel's action takes place by the beach, where two pools, a restaurant and bar, shops, and plenty of beachfront are abuzz with guests. Separated by sand dunes that create a secluded cove, Sonesta has managed to finagle one of the closest things to a private beach that St. Maarten has. It's still bursting with guests, mind you, but plenty of lounge chairs, cabanas, and umbrellas make sure that you'll at least find your personal spot in the sand. The hotel also has a busy calendar of daily activities, most of which take place in this area. The staff is always ready for a game of beach volleyball, and rowdier activities such as beer pong and a mixology demonstration are quite popular.
Much like the lobby and restaurants, the rooms meet the basic checklist of simple, nice accommodations -- basic and even slightly barren, with very few frills. Each room does have its own balcony (though some face the parking lot across the street) and a few bursts of color remind you that you are in a tropical setting, but really, these rooms could be anywhere in the world. Many of the bathrooms received facelifts during the last renovations, and they are certainly clean with very little wear and tear; but again, it’s hard to pinpoint any stand-out qualities that make these new bathrooms better than any other hotel’s.
Nightlife is decently lively at Sonesta as well, with a medium-size casino, a lobby bar, a lounge, and an elegant restaurant. It's not exactly the party scene you'd find at the hotel's sister property Sonesta Maho Beach (there you'll get a massive casino, tons of bars and restaurants, and even one of the island's hottest nightclubs), but it certainly has its fair share of action.
Within walking distance of the happenings in Philipsburg, but far enough away to feel like a secluded resort
Set on a curve in Little Bay Road that leads directly into Philipsburg's main avenues, the Sonesta Great Bay sits on a piece of real estate that's close enough to Frontstreet and the boardwalk without being sucked into the massively crowded tourist areas. Rather, the resort is nestled along a pristine and secluded cove of Great Bay thanks to some naturally occurring dunes that create barriers from the main beach. As a result, guests here don't have to cram themselves like sardines into one of thousands of tightly packed lounge chairs like at the main beach, and yet the fun beach bars, boutiques, and cafes of Philipsburg are just a 10-minute walk away.
Everything else will require time in the car, but nothing is too horribly far. Barring terrible traffic (check the number of cruise ships in the harbor to gauge how busy the roads will be), Simpson Bay and the airport are about 15 minutes away, as is Dawn Beach and the island's French side. Day trips to other islands are especially convenient from Sonesta Great Bay, as Bobby's Marina (with service to Saba and St. Barts) is a seven-minute drive.
Little exceptional traits beside fabulous views of Great Bay
For the price, Sonesta Great Bay's rooms are about what you'd expect: nothing extreme, and utterly basic. The furnishings are slightly dated, and the bedding and curtains feature the typical tropical colors and patterns found in most island hotels. Bathrooms are updated but with hardly anything worth noting -- they are on the small side and feature glass-enclosed shower stalls, single-sink vanities, and unflattering fluorescent lighting. Floor and wall tiles are at least nicer than linoleum, and black-granite counter tops are sleek.
Unless you are on a stringent budget, do yourself a favor and go for the ocean-view rooms. They are still quite affordable and make a large difference in the guest experience -- glass railings are far more dramatic when viewing a gorgeous beach and expansive ocean than a parking lot and busy street.
Those with some wiggle room in their budget might consider springing for one of the newer apartment units (located on the other side of the lobby), which are much more spacious with kitchens, separate living rooms, expansive terraces, and luxurious bathrooms.
At some point in the last 10 years, Sonesta added a second wing to the hotel for 52 timeshare-owned apartments. While these units are not in use, they are entered in the nightly rental pool. Guests here will find quite a few privileges, not the least of which are much larger units. Ranging from one- to two-bedroom suites, the apartments have full kitchens, expansive furnished decks or balconies, and whirlpool tubs in the bathrooms. The newer and flashier decor is also a step up from the hotel rooms. Additionally, apartment guests have access to a private third pool; however, the area is sparsely landscaped and has no beach access. As a result, most guests generally stick to the main pools anyway.
Tons of features for affordable rates
An elegant dinner spot, and a breezy beachside restaurant and bar
The food at Sonesta Great Bay is just ok. At the poolside/beachfront Bay View, the fare is what you would: average light meals such as sandwiches, salads, and chicken and fish entrees. The prices are reasonable, though, and the views of Great Bay are gorgeous.
Fine dining restaurant Molasses features eclectic cuisine with an emphasis on Caribbean flavors. The ambiance is lovely and the service is stellar, but the food isn't quite as upscale as you'd hope given the environment. Just outside, you'll find a small lounge with a bar. Live acts perform several nights a week here; however, other nights, it has more of a sports bar vibe.
A third eatery, La Cucina, has random hours, but its Italian fare is often served in the Molasses restaurant.
Set along a winding road on the edge of Great Bay, the highlight of the 257-room Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort & Casino is the breathtaking coastal views from the restaurants, pool deck, lobby, and most guest rooms. Rooms are nothing special, and the restaurant is mediocre -- but a stunning (and tourist-free) beachfront and two excellent pools (one with swim-up bar) add to the appeal.