Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sassy in St. Maarten : A Stay at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort

Nearly a ten percent hike in international visitors so far this year is making the Tourist Board in St. Maarten a happy bunch. For the first quarter of 2012, visitor arrivals from outside the Caribbean to the French/Dutch island has hiked 9.5 percent compared to the first quarter of last year.  This record jump is the best showing in international arrivals in the past five years and is attributed to increased airlift to the island.  JetBlue which filled the void left by American Eagle flew 10,012 passengers in the first quarter which is a 77.0 per cent growth over last year while American Airlines reported 3,418 arrivals or a 9.2 per cent over 2011. 

Serenity on the Sea ( credit: St. Maarten Tourist Bureau )

Ranking the airlines based on volume of passengers to St. Maarten, the top five have remained consistent over the past five years. American Airlines leads the pack with JetBlue moving into the fourth slot and knocking LIAT now out of the top five. US Airways holds a strong second position with Winair and Air France following in third, and fifth position.

On the southwest coast of sunny St. Maarten, five minutes from the Princess Juliana International Airport, Sonesta Maho Beach Resort is celebrating a USD 3 million facelift that has freshened up the largest resort on the island with additional renovations slated for completion in November.  Sitting pretty on Maho Beach and smack dab in the middle of Maho Village with its clubs, bars, shops , casino and restaurants , the resort is a one-stop-shopping vacay experience with its own tennis courts, pools ,  lively swim-up bar, mini-casino in the lobby , spa,  restaurants   and nightly entertainment to beat the band.

                                       Sonesta Maho Beach Resort                          
Credit : Sonesta Resorts

Credit: M. Reffes

Credit: M. Reffes
 Offering 537 rooms and suites on ten floors ( we recommend  the Moonlight Suite ) , the resort is now  a fully all-inclusive property which means nightly rates include all meals and drinks, cocktails shaken or stirred with top-shelf liqueurs ( none of that other stuff better known for  wicked morning headaches), no reservations needed  at the resorts three restaurants, no hidden surcharges if you indulge in a lobster dinner and no hidden fees for the nightly entertainment shows or movie screenings by the pool.

View from the Moonlight Suite ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

View from the Ocean Terrace  ( credit: M. Reffes ) 
With general manager Armando Pizzuti at the helm, the property is guided by one of the most savvy industry veterans in the hospitality business.  With three decades of experience under his belt including quality time spent with SANDALS and Secrets Resorts, “Mr. P”, as his adoring staff refer to him, knows how to morph a great vacation stay into a grand vacation stay. Recently appointed vice president of hotel operations, Mr. P. will oversee both the Sonesta Maho and its sister property Sonesta Great Bay in Philipsburg.  “I love living through a transformation of a resort from concept to completion, “he smiled showing guests the just-opened LogoShop in the lobby. 
Mr. P. taking five ( credit: M. Reffes ) 
“Armando has proven his skills and determination in leading a remarkable turnaround of every aspect of hotel operations during the past year in his role as general manager of Sonesta Maho,” said Saro Spadaro, CEO, Maho Group, “He now rises to this next challenge with the support of all of us at the Maho Group.” Additional enhancements will be done at Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort including room upgrades, revamped lobby, Spa with six treatment rooms and renovated restaurants including a new pizza eatery on the beach.  “We will be working all summer to re-brand the hotel adding extras like strawberries and champagne on the beach, “says Pizutti,   ‘we’ll be targeting the romance market including newlyweds, honeymooners , those in love , those wanting to be in love and everyone else trying to rekindle and reignite the spark.”  The re-branding and launch of the island’s newest luxury small hotel is slated for November. Although the property will be fully all-inclusive, an EP option will be available for corporate guests.
Great Bay view from the lobby ( credit: M. Reffes ) 
Eat, Drink and Be Happy
At the spirited open-air Palms Grill, delectable burgers, salads, martinis poured by Bartender Ramon and views of the jets coming in for a landing at the nearby airport are divine while at the seaside Ocean Terrace Restaurant, fabulous buffets for breakfast; lunch and dinner are a gastronomic treat. 

credit: M. Reffes
 For al fresco dining in the comfort of an air conditioned eatery, The Point is the go-to spot for delectable pastas, fine wines and desserts so rich they come with their own pre-nup. New at the resort, Napoli Pizzeria is staffed by Mr. P’s brother Marco who bakes the best pepperoni pies this side of Naples.  “Try a slice, “he says to newlyweds from New Jersey passing by his pizza oven, “you’ll come back for another, I guarantee it.”

Marco baking pies at the Napoli Pizzeria ( credit: M. Reffes ) 
Fronting Maho Beach, one of just a few places in the world where jets can be viewed in their flight path just outside the end of the runway, the resort is a favorite of aviation aficionados and shutterbugs who snap photos of the jets making graceful landings on the tarmac. Name the number one 'Truly Unique Beach' in the world by TripAdvisor.com, Maho Beach is family-friendly and lively from sunrise to sunset. For even more excitement, the nearby Sunset Bar & Grill broadcasts the radio transmissions between the pilots and the airport's control tower.

credit: M. Reffes 

credit: M. Reffes

With plenty of comfy sun loungers on the beach or by the pool, a stop at the swim-up bar is a daily rite of passage.  With a smile as wide as the sea, Elizabeth Attidore Cheryl lords over the Pool Bar as if it were her own living room.  “I knew just one person when I arrived twenty years ago from Dominica, “she says pouring a frosty Heineken for a thirsty tourist, “I came for romance but fell in love with the island and dumped the guy after six days.  “The self-proclaimed Master of the Margarita, Cheryl, as she’s known, has little time for modesty. “I’m part-psychiatrist and part-bartender,” she quips, “I offer a shoulder to cry on and an icy margarita that packs a punch.”  

Cheryl at the Pool Bar ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

Affectionately dubbed ‘Dr. Cheryl’, she mixes, blends and pours up to six hundred cocktails each day during high season and knows how to cure a hangover like nobody’s business, “My advice is to drink in the morning what you had the night before “, she explains flitting about the bar like a butterfly, “and if that doesn’t work, a shot of crème de menthe is the ultimate cure-all.”   Open from 11 am to 6 pm, Cheryl’s bar is one of the most popular spots at the resort. Get there early for a good seat and her signature BBC cocktail, a refreshing blend of Bailey’s, bananas and colada flavoring or a lighter Miami Vice with strawberry puree and whole lotta rum!

When the sun goes down, the casino in the lobby is the place to be. With video poker machines and slots, it’s all night fun for couples and singles alike. Across the street from the resort, Casino Royale is the largest casino on the island with poker tables, hundreds of slots and sports games on the big screen television sets. Complementary $20.00 match bet coupons from the resort are a good incentive for those who like to tempt Lady Luck.

Spinning the wheel ( credit: Casino Royale )

Stress No More

Serenity rules in the Maho Serenity Spa on the third floor of the resort.  A relaxing haven for rejuvenation, the spa takes pampering seriously with a medley of massages that will remind you why you booked a vacation in the first place.

Open every day 8 am to 8 pm, the spa tempts with creative massages, wraps, scrubs and buffs from a Green Coffee Cellulite treatment and couples massages with the sensual oils of chocolate and strawberries to the Detoxifying Treatment for Men that blends black pepper and frankincense oils for a relaxing rubdown from head to toe.
Have I Got a Deal for You
Both resorts are dishing up savings up to 50% off nightly room rates valid on new bookings made by August 31.  Guests booking two nights at either Sonesta St. Maarten property will receive 35% discount with rates starting at $139.00 per room, per night, based on double occupancy.  Those booking a minimum of three nights all-inclusive will receive 50% off with reduced rates starting at $120.00 per person, per night, based on double occupancy.  
Sonesta Maho Beach Resort ( credit: Sonesta Resorts ) 
“Many of our clients prefer the services offered by travel agents, “said Bernard Hunt, director of sales, “especially those with knowledge of the destination and of the property.  “ Referring to the baby boomer travel niche, Hunt observed that internet booking has not replaced bookings by agents “Travelers over fifty years old are returning to agent care after trying internet booking ,  “he said, “ The baby boomers are a big market for us.  They have money to travel and appreciate fine service in a fine hotel. “

Armando Pizzuti & Bernard Hunt ( credit: M. Reffes ) 

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