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Thread: Review: Royal Islander Great Bay, Saint Maarten (also known as Sonesta Great Bay)

  1. #1
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    Review: Royal Islander Great Bay, Saint Maarten (also known as Sonesta Great Bay)

    Got a week in a 1 BR thru RCI points exchange. I will break the review into two parts because what I've written is apparently too long for one post!
    lol

    The location is pretty good for us. We've been to SXM several times before and have stayed at Divi Little Bay, Port de Plaisance and a villa rental up in Bas de Cul De Sac. We tend to spend the majority of our time on the French beaches (Friar's Bay, Galion, Pinel), mainly eat on the French side (Marigot, Grand Case), grocery shop on the Dutch side, and pop into Simpson Bay once in a while.

    The Royal Islander Great Bay (signage says "Sonesta Great Bay") is in a good part of Phillipsburg -- you do not have to fight the small one-way streets to get to the resort. It is a convenient turn into the parking lot coming in either direction. (ASIDE: I compare it a lot to Divi Little Bay because they are very close to each other whilst being totally different. I liked the beach fronting Divi a whole lot more than the beach at Sonesta, but that turn in to get to Divi is pretty much impossible if you are not coming towards that resort headed in a westerly direction. The entrance/exit to Divi is *extremely* precarious.) Driving east from the airport, Sonesta is just over the ridge from Divi. Great Bay looks sparkling and beautiful as you head over the hill, the Sonesta is on your right and has a convenient porte cochere, and the small parking lot is across the street (a slight detriment, but it keeps the valuable beach-side of the street saved for the hotel! lol).

    It is a very welcoming feel to drive up to that porte cochere and be able to look right into the lobby. We got to our resort at about 130p on a Saturday and my husband stayed in the car with out toddler while I checked in. I stood there waiting for someone to help me for about 15 min, and I saw another car pull into the porte cochere. The bellman, who had been standing there when we pulled up, immediately brought a cart over to them and unloaded their car. Then he walks the lady into the lobby, and the person behind the desk takes her before taking me. wtf?!?!? Anyway, someone else at the desk noticed and pretty quickly finished what she was doing to help me out. The staff here is pretty friendly. I have no complaints other than that one rather odd incident. Anyway, our room was ready, but when she handed me the wristbands for me and DH (we got white since we were not on the all-inclusive plan; light green is for the all-inclusive option), I asked if my DS3 needed one. She tells me "This is an adults only resort." Um, not when I booked it 6 months ago and certainly NOT when I heard from RCI confirming the exchange nor when I got a reminder email about my vacation." She didn't give me too much trouble and we promised to keep our little one in check.

    Because it was a timeshare exchange, our room was on the "Apartments" side. When I went back to the car to give my husband his wristband and room key, the bellman (different guy than when we pulled up), promptly came over to help. I told him we probably needed a luggage cart, and he looked skeptical. Turns out they have two luggage carts and one was totally broken. He loaded our stuff into the other cart and we stood around waiting for DH. He was taking forever, so the bellman told me he'd go on ahead, which was fine with us.

    We went into the Apartments side (the casino entrance is right next to those doors and DS was mesmerized by those shiny bright lights and electronic games every time he walked by -- lol), and it is a VERY long walk to the apartments. It is quite an odd hallway -- long and narrow and zig zagging. When we got to the apartments building, the it turned out that the elevator was broken (a-ha! Hence the skepticism on the bellman's face.), so we had to lug our baggage down the stairs to the second floor (so lucky that DS is big enough to do all the walking himself). Luckily, the kind bellman had taken the heaviest two bags, put them into our closet, and pointed out a few things in the villa before leaving. Very nice and friendly.

    The villa is quite small and semi-updated. It is only a partial kitchen, even though the RCI website claims otherwise:
    Small sink, full size DW, cooktop with 4 burners, microwave, small fridge (about 5' tall).
    A few pots and pans (3 or 4), full set of utensils, place settings and drinkware, small coffeepot. I would have preferred to have had a blender.
    We had one of the rooms on the pool level, so instead of a deck area with outdoor dining set, we had a tiny balcony, sort of like a low-level ocean view room on a cruise ship, with two chairs and a table. It worked out okay for us, even if we would have preferred being one level up.
    The king bed in the bedroom was quite old and creaky. We put toddler rails on it and DS and I slept in there. Good size closet that held all three of our suitcases. Two nightstands, bureau and TV. It has sliding doors to a balcony.
    Living area had a Murphy bed (thank goodness I figured that out because the "sofa" is just loveseat size and DH is 6'1". We couldn't put DS on that, though, because the sides of the unit had very sharp corners and we didn't want DS hurting himself on those corners clambering in and out of the unfamiliar bed. There was also the same bureau and TV out there as in the bedroom, an arm chair, coffee table, 4 chairs and decently large sized dining table. All that furniture made it pretty tight quarters or 3 people, one of whom is only 3 and I am only 5'4" -- and we're used to a small NYC apartment! There was also the sliding doors out to its own balcony. The lock on this door didn't work, so we had to make sure to use the security bar at all times. DH has long legs and basically would climb right over out onto the pool deck in the evenings once DS was asleep. You could see some stars and the breezes at night felt lovely.

    The bathroom is right when you enter the unit and there was another large closet there. The safe was in that closet but it never worked properly.
    The bathroom is very very old and the drain barely works, I imagine from all the sand that has gone down the drain. lol
    There is a bidet in there, but ours was barely bolted to the ground, so rather unsafe to use. It wobbled a good 6" from side to side.

    We needed new towels about mid-week and the housekeepers are so nice and so responsive. She didn't have what I needed on her cart but she came back with what I needed within minutes. It was such a contrast from my stay at a Disney timeshare the week before where I waited 6 hours for housekeeping to bring me what I needed. lol

    We were in #257, which was fairly close to the laundry room (2 washers, one of which was broken, and 2 dryers; you needed to purchase tokens from front desk and supposedly $0.75 per load to wash or dry, but it worked on just one token, or $0.25, per load. Someone on the staff told me that with a wink).

    I do like the fact that building was built such that the rooms are tiered, so you are not under nor above anyone. However, we could hear deck furniture above our room scraping all the time, from early morning until late at night. Also, you can clearly hear the people in the adjacent room (our living area had a door adjoining the next room) and their conversation was your conversation. I am sure they did not appreciate being next door to a toddler who woke with the sun, either!

    It was fun to look right out onto Great Bay and we were directly across from where the cruise ships docked. Made for pretty lights if the boat stayed overnight.

    Since we had a toddler, we kept him away from the two pools over by the hotel side of the resort. Once is a great infinity edge pool with a swim-up bar and it looks right onto the ocean. The other is a quieter pool. There was also a large hot tub that we did not visit.
    The waves at this beach are rough, and easily knocked our rather sturdy 3-year old over. We did not return after our visit the first day. It was just as nice to drive to more calm or picturesque beaches right up the east coast.
    In front of the apartments is a smaller pool (very deep, though) and hot tub. Since not as many people were on the apartment side, we took our toddler to that pool, mainly before dinner when no one else was around. It was convenient that we could just throw our swim gear right over the railing onto our balcony when we were done swimming, and it was on those balconies that I dried out the prior day's swimwear in the sun every morning before hitting that day's beach.

    We did not visit the restaurants or casino. The casino make the lobby reek of cigarettes in the mornings. Ugh.

    There was always a bowl of apples in the lobby, and sometimes a jar of cookies. There are also huge floor to ceiling windows behind the stairs leading down to the pool deck. PLEASE be careful if you do go with a child -- they can walk right out and tumble down the short sloped roof and plummet to the ground 12 feet below!

    DH used the business center for a work conference call and said that the guy in there was very nice and helpful....when he happened to be in there!

    We got drinks from the swim up bar while we were at the beach. It took forever to get my order in, maybe because I was a white wristband. Anyway, while the drinks were inexpensive, they were not well made. Shirley Temple was disgusting; she used seltzer instead of 7-Up. Salted-rim margarita had no salt. Only the pina colada was palatable, but there was barely any rum in it, and I don't like my drinks strong to begin with.

    (continued next post below)

  2. #2
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    They gave us towel cards to exchange for towels. We noticed that people left towels lying all over the lounge chairs everywhere. I think the all-inclusive people are not required to use towel cards. It was annoying the one time our towel got taken away with the clean-up, but we got one back. I appreciated the towel service, even though the towel desk was rather far -- by the hotel pool side of things. That desk was open 7a - 630p.

    It was nice to be able to walk outside through the lobby, past the pools, and over to our wing, but you had to walk through the pizza restaurant -- which I learned the second evening while wearing nothing but an embarrassingly wet bikini -- so don't do it during dinner hours. It is a much nicer route than those weirdly winding, musty carpeted hallways.

    The parking lot is close by, but having a toddler meant crossing that sometimes busy street with a toddler, towels, beach gear and diaper bag in tow. It got hairy sometimes but wasn't awful by any means. With an older kid who knows not to run into the street or bolt away from you, it is okay. Otherwise, you're in for a near heart attack every time you step out of the lobby. Then again, they are no longer allowing kids here, so moot point.

    The location is easy if you want to go east, west or north. We discovered and loved Mark's Restaurant near the Grand Marche; it was so close that we ate there 3x times! We always do the lolos and market in Marigot, and that wasn't difficult from this location. You could go two different ways (there is maybe even a third we didn't explore), so depending on traffic and what else you felt like doing, it there were options.

    Given that this resort is on a beach and maintenance must be hugely difficult, I think they do a decent job of keeping things clean. Our floors were shockingly dirty as soon as we arrived, and not matter how much sweeping or mopping I did, the linoleum just does not stay clean. I think wood floors would have been a much nicer (and greener) option, albeit expensive. Sand has to get everywhere all the time, and it was nice that the rooms and pools were clean of sand. The hot tub was another story. It was usually a tad bit slimy in there, and one day, it was full on cloudy and foamy. Yuck.

    We tried to keep DS very low key and did not see any other young kids at all during the week. We did wee one family with older (tween?) kids towards the middle of our stay. They USED to have kids here because you can still see the Kids Club room, all brightly painted. And they still have some games to borrow in the business center, but they're adult-friendly ones like Jenga or Twister or Monopoly.

    All in all, I would not stay here again, even if they did allow kids. Coming as only a couple, perhaps I might.


    I compare to Divi and given what I've written about Sonesta:
    Divi wins some points for the nicer beach, larger units, in-room washer/dryer, and blender!
    The kitchens at Divi are full-sized, but about as "updated" (trans: not updated) as the Sonesta ones. That's a draw.
    Divi loses some points with their unfriendly and unresponsive staff, their poorly maintained pools, their weirdly spread out pools.

    We love SXM and will be back in a year or two, I'm sure.
    I really do prefer a private villa rental, and since I love being close to Pinel, those Cul de Sac rentals suit me better. That area has a lot to rent, many of which include sea kayaks to use.
    If we decide to do another timeshare due to budget constraints, I would try really really hard to get Divi and stay at Sonesta only if Divi did not come through. I still rank Port de Plaisance last because we're just not yacht people (wish I were!) and it is in sort of a weird area with nothing going on. But it does have a Zee Best onsite, which is a huge plus if you like your morning croissant ASAP when you wake!

    I'll contact RCI to let them know that they should note the "Adults Only" policy for this resort on their website.

    Hope this review helps someone considering SXM.
    As for the island, I highly recommend it. It has got a great mix of things to do for a Caribbean island and doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg to live it up here.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator chriskre's Avatar
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    Great review.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Did you take any pictures you could post here?
    Would love to see the beach.

  4. #4
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    Nice review. Thanks for sharing

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