Note: Due to the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma on St. Maarten, all Sonesta properties on the island (Maho Beach, Ocean Point & Great Bay) are closed through the end of the year. Please check their website & Facebook page prior to making plans to visit & send a prayer up to those whose lives have been severely impacted by the storm.
Because I’m married to the best man on the planet, for my 35th birthday in mid-March, B surprised me with a trip I’ve been nagging him to go on for years: a long weekend in St. Maarten to watch the planes land at Princess Juliana International Airport over Maho Beach. The preferred plane spotting hotel, both because of its proximity to Maho Beach & because of the views of the planes from the resort itself, is the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa. This was our first stay at a Sonesta property & our first stay at an all-inclusive resort & I’m happy to report that it’s definitely something we’ll be doing again in the future.
Located on the Dutch side of one of my favorite Caribbean islands (we’ve been to St. Maarten twice before), this large hotel of 400+ rooms is currently undergoing a multi-year renovation & the results are truly beautiful. Our room, a Premiere Ocean View on the 9th floor, was a completely overhauled one-bedroom suite with a huge king sized bed & ample living room, along with a balcony overlooking Maho Beach & the pool. It was the perfect place for plane spotting! Our room included three bottles of complimentary shelf liquor (which we actually didn’t touch), along with a mini-fridge stocked with water, soda & drink mixers. Renovations are moving along at an island pace (so… slowly), but guests can – & should – request a renovated room when they make reservations; currently floors 1, 2, 8, 9 & 10 have been renovated.
The hotel’s new lobby was open & airy, with ample staff offering smiles & a welcome drink. Reservations for some of the dining facilities can be made right in the lobby on a touch screen, but if you don’t see what you’re looking for, Anna at the concierge desk might be able to work her magic. If you’re looking to do a bit of exploring, there’s also a tour desk located in the lobby, along with a small shop, a bar with a few slot machines & a very popular ping pong table.
The newly renovated Serenity Spa is a tranquil environment offering a wide selection of treatments (which are surprisingly reasonably priced). I was greeted at the spa with a fruity pre-massage drink & enjoyed the calming atmosphere. Sonestra treated me to an 80-minute Island Flow massage for my birthday & it was one of the best I’ve ever had. If I had more time, I would have spent the entire morning relaxing in their steam room & sauna – but there were planes to go see!
Drinking & Dining
Since the resort is an all-inclusive, multiple dining options & beverages are all included in your room rate. Like being on a cruise, it’s nice not to think about pulling out your wallet every time you want a drink. We dined at four of the five restaurants on-site & enjoyed all but one of them (the sports bar left much to be desired, from atmosphere to service to food). The Palms is an al-fresco restaurant which offers a nice alternative to the breakfast buffet, serves a great BBQ lunch & really shines at dinner with tabletop lava rock cooking, a unique experience we had done once previously in Canada. With choices of meat & seafood, it’s one of the healthiest dining options at the resort. We both enjoyed the seafood medley, which included salmon, shrimp & ahi tuna, along with ample side dishes & sauces.
For my birthday, we enjoyed the more formal Point Restaurant, featuring Italian specialties. We both had a nice grilled sea bass &, after some initial confusion from the kitchen, a shared pasta course of cannelloni. The restaurant surprised me with a collection of birthday desserts &, in lieu of singing happy birthday, played 50-Cent’s In Da Club (“go shorty, it’s your birthday, we’re going to party like it’s your birthday…”) which took me instantly back to college in a fit of laughter. Outside of The Point was our favorite bar; we hit up most evenings for a nightcap to watch the evening planes land. The buffet restaurant was pretty typical hotel buffet, with a variety of offerings for breakfast, lunch & dinner, along with some darn good wood fired cooked pizza.
Did Someone Say Swim Up Bar?
The large pool area also featured a swim up bar & lots of shaded seating, which made it a favorite way to spend the afternoon (shout out to the bartender at the swim up bar, who opened up early our last morning there to make us rum punches). Unlike at some hotels we’ve stayed at, there weren’t many chair hogs & we were usually able to find a place to sit & relax, regardless of what time of day it was. There are two beaches – one actually on Maho Beach that is shared with the timeshares next door & a manmade beach on property (sand, but no water).
On the same stretch of land as the Sonesta Maho Beach is their sister, adults-only property of Ocean Point. We spent one day enjoying the resort’s two pools & awesome views of the landing planes, courtesy of Sonesta (adults staying at Maho Beach can purchase a day pass). Definitely more high end than Maho Beach, we enjoyed the luxurious service around the resort, including poolside cabanas, a collection of shaded double hammocks (perfect for nighttime star gazing) & a zero-entry pool with a manmade beach. Some of the rooms at Ocean Point include a private plunge pool & butler service, resulting in a truly five star experience.
Azul, the restaurant exclusive to resort guests, is built out over the water & served us an enjoyable lunch (even if the service was a bit on island time). Looking for a place to plane spot with nearly 360* views? Ocean Point is your spot. The upstairs deck above Azul was nearly deserted while we were there (but isn’t very shady, so many sure to pack your spf!)
Overall, our stay at the Sonesta Maho Beach was exactly what we wanted: relaxing, tropical & full of great views of the planes! I can definitely see the resort being in our regular rotation of winter getaways in the future.
Know if you go…
– Sonesta Maho Beach is working hard at becoming more eco-friendly, including installing solar panels. I wish they would do away with the styrofoam cups & plates, as well as the plastic disposable cups at the resort, as we definitely felt like we created a lot of waste over the 3.5 days we were there.
– something to note if you’re sensitive to cigarette smoke: smokers are everywhere. There aren’t any designated non-smoking outdoor areas, & more than once we found ourselves trying to find an outdoor space free of smoke. This is merely personal preference for me, but it got a little annoying after a few days.
– the resort is located within Maho Village, a small collection of shops & restaurants, as well as the large casino. There is a pharmacy in the village, as well as several boutique souvenir shops, a gelato cafe & a piano bar. Two of Sonesta Maho’s restaurants are also located here (the sports bar & a Chinese buffet restaurant).
– I wish the resort had more evening entertainment, especially in the winter when the sun sets a bit early. We really enjoyed the one evening there was live music.
– since we had a late day flight, we were hoping to get a late check out so we could patronize the swim up bar for just a little bit longer (regular check out is 11am). The hotel has a strange late check out policy: you must appear, in-person, the morning of your check out to request one. Unfortunately the day we left, weren’t able to accommodate us; however, we were able to leave our bags with the bellman & enjoy the amenities until we had to leave (minus swimming, of course).
– the resort is a $10 cab ride from the airport or, if you’re feeling ambitious, an easy walk. Be sure to leave plenty of time to get through immigration & security – the Sunday afternoon we left, the line for both was over an hour long.
– planning a trip to the island & want to visit Maho Beach without the crowds? Check out the cruise ship schedule. On Friday, our big day for watching planes, there were no ships in port & we had Maho Beach almost to ourselves. On Saturday there were five ships in port & the beach was packed.