Flyer Talk
Photo: Bradley Wint/Gate Checked

Rough around the edges: Review of Sonesta Maho Beach Resort in St. Maarten

May 22, 2019
Photo: Bradley Wint/Gate Checked

Back in September 2017, Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. With over 70% of houses and many business blown to pieces, the popular all-inclusive Sonesta Maho Beach Resort suffered badly, resulting in it having to be rebuilt almost from scratch. Being torn down to its bare metal frame, Sonesta used the opportunity to completely refresh the hotel’s image in St. Maarten.

With a soft launch finally taking place in February 2019, let’s take a look at what they have to offer.

Booking

As part of its relaunch, the hotel initially offered a whopping 45% discount as part of its “Re-opening special”, setting the cut off date as January 31, 2019. However that date has constantly been extended, and was still offered at the point of publication of this review. As I was going partially to plane spot (besides spotting from Maho Beach itself), I booked the Premier Ocean View Room for $188 a night plus taxes. I booked directly via the Sonesta website, but I have noticed lower prices being offered on third party sites like Expedia and Hotels.com. Cheaper rooms run for as low as $139 a night.

As with properties offering meals as part of bookings, prices will vary depending on how many guests are planning to stay with you.

Location

Sonesta Maho is located on the dutch side of the island, a mere two minutes away from the airport, next door to Maho Beach. Even though it might be tempting to take a taxi directly from the airport to the hotel, there are mini buses coming from the towns, which run along the Airport Road. They cost just $1 (at least one-tenth of what airport taxis would charge to get there). Unless you are carrying a ton of baggage, do yourself the favor and save a few bucks even if it means waiting a few minutes.

Sonesta Maho resides on the same property with Sonesta Ocean Point (adult-only all-inclusive) which is closer to the sea side just after the pool and restaurant area.

Maho is about 25-30 minutes away from Philipsburg, the main town on the dutch side and about 15 minutes from Marigot (main town on the French side). If you plan to visit the towns without a tour group, there are mini buses which you can pick up outside the hotel, and only cost $3-$5 each way depending on where you want to go. They usually have signs on the front indicating their final destination.

Check In

For those keeping tabs of reviews, Sonesta Maho has struggled to get things right since its soft launch in February. Reviews have been mixed and I can’t say I was immune from some of the problems. The biggest pain point came when I had to check in.

Lobby area

Additional waiting area

I arrived around 12:45 p.m. after spending a few days in St. Lucia, and headed straight to the hotel. Knowing fully well that check in time started at 3:00 p.m., I knew my room would not have been ready given issues the hotel had been going through. Still taking a shot, I found out that my room was not ready (as predicted), but they still checked me in on the system and stowed my bags.

The front desk staff were very accommodating, but told me I had to wait until 3 to get access to my room. The processing time was also quite long, as it took me about 10 minutes to sort out the details. In the mean time, I was given my RFID room key wrist band which would have given me access to the rest of the property’s facilities while I waited.

I decided to have lunch and drinks, as well as do some beach plane spotting to kill some time (more on that later).

Heading back to see if my room was ready, I was met with long lines as a majority of the North American traffic had arrived around 2-3 p.m.

I was once again told that my room was not ready as cleaning staff were still attending to it. They told me to wait about 20 minutes. Going back half hour later, another check in agent informed me that the system still showed the room as not being ready. She physically went up to the room and confirmed that cleaning had not even started, and gave a new waiting time of at least an hour. My frustration started growing at this point, but I waited it out as I could see front staff trying their best to accommodate me even with the long lines.

Good news finally came around 4:45 p.m. as a room was made available, even though I eventually found out that it was not the one initially intended for me. After finally sorting out that mess, the new room was re-assigned to my wrist band. It was located on the 7th floor of the western wing. At the time, only 2 of the 3 elevators worked, resulting in long lines of people waiting to go to their rooms.

One weird quirk with the elevator would be it sometimes missing floors, forcing you to go up to a higher level before coming back down to where you were supposed to stop at. On one occasion, it went straight from the 4th to the 8th floor, missing others and mine entirely even though the option was selected. We tried to blame it on the drinks, but the reality is that this has been a common issue popping up in some of the reviews on the web.

I was informed that the 3rd lift has since been put into operation, resulting in improved wait times. I am not sure if the skipping floors issue has since been rectified.

As I was really tired, I decided to take the emergency stairwell instead. Climbing 7 flights of stairs was obviously tiring, but I really just wanted a hot shower and a chance to lie down.

Room

As mentioned before, I booked the “Premier Ocean View” located on floors 6 through 10. Room 738 was located almost to the end of the building, offering a great view of the ocean and airport’s runway (if you like looking at airplanes).

The 480 square foot room is very spacious spacious and definitely has that somewhat island vibe to it with its mix of wood and pastel colours. I thoroughly disliked the separating lines between the prefab panels on the walls and ceiling, as it made the room feel much cheaper than it really was.

The king sized bed featured a striped comforter, plush pillows, and a false wood background with recessed lights to the top. The bed itself was quite comfortable and I got a very good night’s sleep.

In the corner are a few chairs and a table with 110 volt sockets near by if you need to work. There is also a very basic work station under the TV. There was no accompanying chair though, so you would have to sacrifice one from the sitting area if you planned to work there. It would have been nice if the mini fridge could have been worked into the design as the current set up looks very bland and unprofessional.

Like many other Caribbean resorts, the floors were tiled for easier cleaning as a lot of patrons here visit the near by beach.

The general design was still cozy enough, especially at night time, and the room was kept in spotless condition. It was also pretty nice to breathe in that new air condition smell.

As far as air conditioning goes, it appears that the system did not function as it should as the room always hovered around 20 Celsius no matter what setting was inputted. Even when the unit was off, the floor in particular was extremely cold, forcing me to walk in slippers all the time. Other guests on the same floor complained about a similar issue.

The TV features cable channels, even though I am not a fan.

The mini fridge was stocked with bottles of water, along with a small selection of soft drinks and Coors Light beer.

There was also a choice of harder liquor including vodka, rum and tequila, along with a Mr. Coffee coffee maker and packs of ground coffee, and related items. I only realized later on that these spirits (and the beer in the fridge) are limited to Premier Ocean View rooms and both Deluxe and Loft suites. Lucky me!

Even though it would have been nice if more drinks were provided, I believe they left enough space for food (given that it’s an all-inclusive) and getting top-ups was not a problem either.

There was enough closest storage space, along with the basics like an ironing board, safe, and an extra pillow. It was surprising that no robes were included though.

WiFi is complimentary. Even though it is relatively slow by today’s standards, hovering around 2Mbps, it still felt responsive enough and I was able to watch YouTube videos on lower settings without a problem. Connectivity was excellent in the room and around the resort itself and I even got signal from as far as the middle of Maho Beach.

The bathroom features an open concept shower (overhead and hand shower), with a blue transparent pane of glass separating it from the sink area. As mentioned in another review, the floor can get quite messy if you are not careful. One interesting quirk is a semi transparent glass to the side, allowing you a view of the rest of the room itself. Note however that those on the room side can also see into the bathroom (more so during the night). This isn’t exactly apparent at first as the reflection from outside could lead you to believe that the glass acts as a one way mirror. Thankfully there is a switch that allows you to turn the glass completely opaque, blocking the view from both ends.

Good concept for a peep show if you’re with a partner, but if you’re sharing with someone who isn’t so close to you, remember to flick that switch before stripping down.

The higher rooms have a wonderful view of the ocean, and of course it’s a huge win for plane spotters. There’s a decent view of edge of runway 10, along with the ocean approach view. The only depressing bit is the view of Royal Islander Club blocking the rest of the view, but I guess with limited real estate, there’s always some giving and taking.

The balcony is all glass with a metal frame. There are two chairs and a table to enjoy the view with some drinks. All rooms at the hotel have balconies, even though I’m not sure how much fun it would be for those on the ground floor.

I can’t wait to see what the property will look like once all the plants have grown.

Here’s a quick one I captured from my room.

I highly discourage people from booking Island View rooms as guests would be greeted with the below sight. I am not exactly sure what these storage tanks were holding, but I was told that it was the hotel’s waste water treatment plant. On that side of the hotel, the smell could be bothersome depending on from which direction the wind blew, and was very noticeable of you used the stair well on the western side of the building.

Those with Ocean and Pool view rooms need not worry though as the only occasional smell really was the lovely burnt jet fuel odor wafting over from the airport when aircraft lined up for departure.

Food and Drinks

As mentioned above, the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort is an all-inclusive property, but all-inclusive is obviously a subjective term depending on which property you visit.

The hotel has currently had four operational restaurants including:

  • Ocean Terrace Restaurant (serves a wide variety of meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner)
  • The Palms Grill (as the name says, expect mostly grilled items. They are open for lunch and dinner)
  • Jing’s Kitchen (A mix of Asian dishes which I believe opens for dinner mostly)
  • The Point Restaurant (open for dinner only. More of a casual-formal vibe)

If you plan to have dinner, it’s always recommended that you make reservations well in advance as they are usually packed.

Ocean Terrace offers buffet-style self-service. It’s as simple as taking a plate and grabbing what you want, even though there are servers who pass around clearing tables, laying out cutlery and filling up on basics like water and coffee (if requested). Service seemed somewhat chaotic as some guests were attended to and taken to seats, while others (including myself) were left standing to wonder if to wait to be seated or if to simply take the next available empty table. Putting aside the confusing service, Ocean Terrace had a huge selection of foods to choose from.

Even though I only went for breakfast, I was able to have something completely different every day. There were a wide variety of fresh and cut fruits, eggs (including omelettes customized and cooked on spot), breads, pancakes, hash browns, meats, cheeses, yogurt, juices, coffee, and water (among many other dishes).

The Palms Grill offers a variety of grilled items and other Caribbean creole cuisines under their all-inclusive menu. During the evening, the restaurant transforms into the Lava Rock where guests become their own chefs. Patrons can choose from a variety of fresh meat, fish, and vegetables, which they then cook right at their tables on hot volcanic stone plates. Overall the food was quite tasty, but it did take some time to get mixed drinks. I guess with no limit on alcohol, I could understand why the bartender would be under some pressure. Regardless, the drinks were strong enough, so that’s a plus.

I think the biggest let down was Jing’s Kitchen. The menu allows guests to choose an appetizer and main course item, and from there they can take more food from the buffet section.

Between lousy service, limited and bland food options, and drinks, I can’t say I would recommend it.

Lastly is The Point Restaurant. They have both all-inclusive and à la carte items and serve meals more on the fine dining side of things, but unfortunately I was unable to try their food because reservations were booked tight for the weekend. I was able to find a menu taken by another guest on TripAdvisor.

Besides the restaurants, there is also a pizzeria which serves both ready-made and to order pizzas and paninis. They are located just outside the Ocean Terrace Restaurant. There are also bars at the pool side, near the lobby area, and in front of The Point restaurant. There is also the Ascot Pub & Sports Bar located to the left of the hotel on Rhine Road, but they serve items of an à la carte menu.

The hotel also plans to open a small coffee shop called Maho Café, which is supposed to open in the lobby area near the bar. It was still under construction during my stay, but there was a small coffee stand to the side.

Overall, there is a good mix of food, but it is important to make reservations for dinner, and take note of closing days for some of restaurants.

Amenities

Let’s start with the pool. There is the large Oasis pool with a swim-up bar, with a kids section cordoned off to one side. You should come  early (any time before 10 a.m.) if you plan to get a pool chair and towel as they are taken pretty quickly. Given that the pool area is somewhat crammed in the middle of all the action, it felt rather crowded at times partially due to guests making their way through to the restaurants further down (nearer the Ocean Point side).

In the back, there is a kids section with a play area and smaller pool with slides (from a submarine and octopus).

There is a fitness center offering a variety of weight training machines, free weights, and cardio machines including treadmills and elliptical machines. As there were many people in the fitness room, I decided to skip on the photo op to not seem like a creep.

The resort plans to eventually offer access to a full spa, but in the mean time, they do offer a few treatments (at an additional cost). You can read up more about it here. There are also tour packages (at an additional cost) but I chose not to try them as I would only be spending two nights at the resort.

There are also activities including games and fitness sessions depending on the time of day.

Service

One of the biggest shortcomings was customer service.

As mentioned above, even though front desk staff tried to be helpful, it was disappointing to see that it took close to two hours for a room to be made available, even after I sent an email a week before to confirm my reservation (not that that really counts for anything). Besides this troubling start, they were able to satisfy my post-check in questions in a timely manner.

The bartenders were also very friendly, but mixed drinks took some time to come as they were kept quite busy with orders flowing in round the clock.

I was really let down with the service at the restaurants though (not counting The Point and the pizzeria) as the servers who attended to me didn’t seem interested in what they were doing. Even though I got everything I wanted at the Palms Grill, the two servers who attended to me appeared to be more concerned about pushing out numbers to make way for other guests. I got this same feeling at Jings as well.

Service at Ocean Terrace was quite confusing, and every time I asked questions, I was directed to someone else, who would then point me back to the very people I asked in the first place. This was the first time in a while I refused to tip anyone, as none of the servers could seem bothered to check in on their guests.

Conclusion and Rating

Given the low introductory price, I felt like I got good value because of the spacious and updated room, as well as the decent selection of food and drinks. However, customer service at the restaurants was lackluster and took away some of the value from the experience.

With construction still in progress, there were quite a few moments when I ran into workers in the lobby area, elevator area, and in the emergency stairwell (which happens to be incomplete).

As the pool area is centrally located between the two hotels and restaurants, it can get quite busy at times (even with alternative footpaths for non-pool goers).

Overall the Sonesta has a good hard product, but they really need to sand out those rough edges before considering charging closer to standard prices.

6.8 Out of 10
Location12/15
Room20/25
Amenities10/15
Foods/Drinks16/20
Service10/25
What we liked
A decent variety of restaurants to choose from, most of which served tasty food. The drinks were also strong enough.
What we didn't like
Waited two hours for a room to be made available. Customer service at the restaurants were of poor standards, which left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth.

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