Morning breaks over St. Maarten’s Great Bay, a crescent-shaped azure blue natural harbour. As the sun rises to greet another perfect day, early risers at the Sonesta Great Bay enjoy the postcard perfect view of sail boats floating at anchor and the sun dappling the water.

This scene is exactly what you imagined when you booked your vacation; and the hotel and resort facilities easily live up to your expectations, making the 275 room Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort and Casino a fine holiday choice. While the buildings and beach location of this 4 star resort are excellent, it’s the friendly and accommodating staff that will make your holiday one of special memories.

Many have been employed at Sonesta Great Bay for decades – their pride in the resort is evident, their enthusiasm and good humour infectious.

I visited with General Manager Juan Fernandez, an easy-going hotel professional originally from Savannah, Georgia. Juan has extensive hotel and resort experience, and I noticed during our stay that he spends considerable time visiting with staff; dining in the restaurants; and is an obviously an effective employee motivator.

The hotel enjoys the best location on St. Maarten; situated directly on the crescent Great Bay Beach that stretches eastward for a mile to the capital city of Philipsburg.

Just beyond is Bobby’s Marina, a catch-all for small sailing yachts, water taxis and home of the America’s Cup sailing challenge – where neophyte and expert sailors crew side-by-side on the ocean-going sailing yachts; the American Stars and Stripes and Canada’s True North. The duty free shops and restaurants of Philipsburg are just a 10 minute walk away.

Originally built and operated by the government in the mid- 60’s, the hotel is now privately owned. The owners invested $14 million for extensive renovations throughout the property in 2005-06; bathrooms were gutted and re-built, extra elevators were installed, (including a beachfront panorama elevator), and the landmark resort was completely outfitted with new furniture.

Guest rooms are brightly decorated and spacious, with walk-outs to balconies equipped with table and chairs, ideal for a morning coffee before heading down for breakfast. We recommend paying the little extra charge for an oceanfront location because of the beach views of Great Bay and beyond.

Superior rooms and suites have large oceanfront terraces with lounge chairs and dining tables. Very, very nice!

The resort features all-inclusive dining, and the food is excellent. Breakfast and lunch are served in the newly renovated Bay View Restaurant. Guests have the option of a sumptuous buffet or A-La-Carte service. A new show kitchen has been added, and you can see the chef and his assistants in action. Taking advantage of the warm climate, the Bay View Restaurant doesn’t have walls, allowing for a gentle cooling breeze and unobstructed view of the bay, the passing parade of sailboats and across the bay to the magnificent cruise ships alongside the Caribbean’s best designed cruise pier.

Evening meals are also available on alternating evenings in La Cucina, an Italian restaurant; and Molasses International & Caribbean Restaurant, the elegant main dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Great Bay. We dined there a couple of times, and enjoyed the fine service, excellent food and entertainment. For people with an all-inclusive package through Transat Holidays, three dinners in the dining rooms are included for every 7 days of your stay (many of our readers take at least two weeks).

A new beach front infinity pool with a swim-up bar was added during the renovations, bringing to three the number of oceanfront pools available to guests.

Adjacent to the pool area, the finishing touches of the new activities centre have just been completed. You can join fellow guests for daily fitness classes, and a wide variety of activities. An Internet Café and wireless connections are both available.
As the name suggests, the resort has its own casino with Black Jack, Roulette, craps and of course – the ever popular slot machines in all the usual denominations. Golden Casino is located just off the main lobby and is a popular spot before or after dinner.

Let’s face it – the beach is a major attraction for a Caribbean vacation, and Sonesta Great Bay has a lovely wide expanse of white sand beach that was recently augmented by the island government. You’ll find plenty of lounge chairs (with beach towels), shade umbrellas and canopies. Non-motorized sports include sailing, sea kayaking, snorkelling, tennis, and volleyball.

Duty Free shopping is a close second for choosing the Caribbean, and St. Maarten is recognized as one of The Caribbean’s best duty free shopping ports. It’s all just a 10 minute walk from the hotel.

Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort & Casino is available through Transat Holidays with pre-paid all-inclusive packages with direct flights from Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and several other Canadian cities.

Pick a date and organize a trip with family and friends from different cities and meet in St. Maarten for a sun-drenched beach vacation.

We have visited Sonesta Great Bay several times over the years, but this was the first time since the complete renovation; and we were impressed. The resort has been restored as one of St. Maarten’s premiere resorts. At the same time, it was nice to see so many familiar faces amongst the staff, who made us feel so welcome and made our holiday one of special memories. Bon Voyage!

Travel Planner: All-inclusive packages for The Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort and Casino are available through Air Transat Holidays. You can visit the resort web site at: www.sonesta.com and follow the links to this property. You can also visit your travel agent, or the Transat Holidays site at: www.transatholidays.com

You can own a piece of paradise

The elegant Miramar section of Great Bay has been transformed into condominiums and time share units. They are available in several two bedroom styles starting at $335,000 US. Again, extensive renovations were involved, with two and three hotel rooms combined to create new comfortable and spacious accommodations for real estate investors. They are fully equipped with appliances and elegant teak furniture. When we visited in August, two had already been sold to Montrealers.

Time share accommodations are available in studio, one and two bedroom configurations and start at $10,000 per week, ($20,000 for a 2 bedroom unit).

Condo and timeshare owners have the full use of the resort facilities, and special advantageous restaurant packages are available – even though they come with fully equipped kitchens. Still, with those wonderful restaurants just down the hall…

Check out the condo information at: www.greatbaycondos.com

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