Stayed at Divi Little Bay (DLB) hotel, January 2005, 2 weeks, all-inclusive. Hotel is good but not worth its advertised 4 1/2 stars. N.B. distinction between hotel and time shares at the same site.
HOTEL, NOT TIME SHARE:
The hotel is at one end of the complex and the time shares are at the other. The distinction is important because they are seperate operations to a large extent. The time shares seem to get more negative reviews than the hotel. All I can report about the time shares from personal experience is that their laundry room, which long-stay hotel guests use, was in rough shape: its four washers were badly rusted, only one worked and only one of the three broken ones had an "out of order" sign on it; the other two you found out about the hard way.
DLB is on the south (Dutch) side of St Martin on Little Bay, a U-shaped bay 1 km across and 1/2 km wide. It is a 40 minute walk from Philipsburg, commercial capital and cruise ship port of the island, located on the neighbouring Great Bay. The bays are separated by a small peninsula on which the time shares sit and at the end of which, up on a hill, is old Fort Amsterdam. There is not much there except rusty cannon but it gives a panoramic view of both bays and their turquoise waters and off-white, sandy beaches. It is a view from a tourist glossy, almost, but not quite, too good to be true.
Clean, large, fairly recently renovated, with a large, comfortable bed and patio where it was pleasant to sit early in the morning and watch the cruise ships sail in to Philipsburg. But it lacked the general feeling of quality you would expect from a 4 1/2 star hotel. Specific problems included the following: There was no overhead lighting and the existing lighting was dim. There was a small table with two chairs but no proper sitting area, which I missed because in this quiet hotel there is nowhere to go after dinner except your room if you do not want to go off site. The room's motion detector knew when I was away and shut off power with the results that I could not leave a light on for security and the clock-radio kept resetting to 12:00. The bathtub had a two-inch wide rust stain and two sections where the finish or glaze had peeled back. One couple tried for ten days to get the hotel to remount their unit's hair dryer on the bathroom wall where it was supposed to have been in the first place; the husband even tried to borrow a screw driver to do it himself!
The rooms all face the ocean and are about ten feet from the beach.
There was a relatively old clientele with almost no children; average age may have been 50. They were a pretty quiet crowd although one couple had problems with noisy neighbours in the wee hours; I never heard a peep. There is no disco or other entertainment after 10 pm.
Good, and lots of it. There was only one restaurant. It gave the options of indoor eating or outdoor eating, either on the covered patio that wrapped around the restaurant's sea side or on a terraced open area. All sections were close to the beach and gave good views of the ocean. It was very pleasant to sit there in the morning freshness as the day brightened over Little Bay or in the evening dusk as the lighted cruise ships sailed away and an Island band sang "Yellow Bird" and other Caribbean favourites. Breakfast and dinner were served in the restaurant, lunch was served from a stand a little lower, down by the water.
Breakfast was always the same buffet of fresh fruit, cold cuts, cereal, croissants, omelettes, bacon, sausage, eggs, hash browns, pancakes and French toast. Lunch was picnicky food like nicely grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, pizza slices, chicken wings, rice, pasta and tossed salads, and dessert squares. Dinner alternated between buffets (Italian, sea food, BBQ and roast beef) and a la carte. The a la carte menu was set for each dinner, i.e., limited or no choice: soup (always delicious), salad (fresh), main course (choice of fowl, fish, meat, e.g. chicken, mahi mahi, lamb) and dessert. This did not bother me but others felt there should have been more choice. The menu repeated itself after one week.
Middling to very good. Room service did a good job of cleaning my room but one couple had trouble getting two sets of everything they needed for the bathroom. I, a single guy, sometimes came back to my room after dinner and found a duplicate set of towels on my room's door handle. Food service could be slow and haphazard but usually caused no complaint. Staff came to know my favourite table and favourite drinks and were friendly without overdoing it. Even when there was a little glitch, I would say their attitude was that of willing workers who had made a small mistake.
Reception was the one place I wanted to bang my head against something hard. They need to place more people on the desk at peak times, or streamline their system, or train staff better so they are not constantly wandering off to ask someone else how to do something.
The beach was great, and right at my door step. The water was cool at first but soon felt a nice, neutral temperture. It was coloured in attractive shades of green and blue, clean and free of sea weed. The waters were fairly calm because the hotel is nestled in a bay and the bay is on the leeward side of the island. A cordoned swim area protected bathers from jet skiers and the drop off was gradual, but there was no life guard. The beach was raked every morning.
There were beach chairs and umbrellas. The daily crab races would sound silly if I described them but were good fun. There were jet ski, kayak and snorkel rentals, and diving lessons. There was good snorkelling along the peninsula just past the time shares, out toward the dive boat and raft; on choppy days the water was silty near shore but still allowed good fish-viewing under the boat and raft.
There was a mini-mall with jeweller, gym, internet cafe, souvenir shop, spa and small store. You should take everything you think you will need and not count on buying it when you get there; for example, the store was perpetually out of mouthwash.
Warning!!! Sand fleas!!!!!! The beach has lots of them. Do NOT go to the beach until you have bug repellent! I went straight out there on Day One without a thought and spent the next two weeks scratching like mad and applying after-bite cream.
With 37 square miles and 37 beaches, St. Martin has one beach per square mile, as the tourist bumpf points out. You can see many of them by car. There is a car rental on site. A group of us rented a car for $80 for the day and toured the island. Non-stop, the drive might have been 1 1/2 hours. You can see St Martin comfortably in a day but might want to be back before night. The island's roads are narrow and winding, and I have never seen a place with so few posted speed limits but so many speed bumps, none of which seemed to be marked and all of which would be invisible at night.
Briefly, we stopped at: Le Galion Beach, said by locals to be the best, but found it sea weedy and with indifferent snorkelling; Orient Bay Beach, the longest on the island, but on the more exposed, Atlantic side and rough and sea weedy; the village of Grande Case with its abundance of small, French restaurants; Marigot with its old hill top fort and colourful, traditional market.
Depending on your tastes and time available there are of course many other things to do. One thing I got a kick out of was going to Maho where the runway begins where the beach ends and watched 4-engine jets roar in at 50 feet above our heads (but do not stand right in line with the runway or you will be right in line with the jet blast.)
One great thing about DLB's location is that it is an easy walk to Philipsburg with its 200 or so duty-free jewellers and a smaller number of electronics and clothing stores. The town is also a good place to catch busses to other parts of the island. These are actually minivans which passengers hail like taxis but they cost only $1.50 per trip (rounded up to $2 to tip the driver) and run frequently. They connect the main towns but do not cover the entire island and most of the routes do not run at night. Taxis to other towns cost 15 to 20 dollars.
DAY TRIPS TO OTHER ISLANDS:
St Martin is close enought to other islands top allow easy day trips for under $100.
Anguilla, to the north of St Martin: we went on an tour organized by the company that sent us on our all-inclusive but I imagine a similar, or the same, arrangement could be made on the spot by other travellers. They chartered the French sailing catamaran, "Paradoxe," for a one hour sail in calm waters to Anguilla. This beautiful, stylish vessel was part of a well organized operation and riding on it was one of the highlights of my trip to the Caribbean. We went ashore by small boat and were met by a bus that drove us across Anguilla to Shoal Bay beach, rated by those who rate these things as the best in the Caribbean. Perhaps. But for sure, its sand was the consistency and colour of icing sugar and its waters were the now-familiar range of alluring greens and blues. We snorkelled but the waves were a bit rough.
I went on my own to French St Barths (St. Barthelemy) to the east and Dutch Saba to the south. St Barths in physical terms is a smaller St Martin but its people are French and its towns look like they are in the south of France. This was a major difference from the Afro-Caribbean culture that predominates on Anguilla and St Martin. English is widely spoken.
Saba was quite different both physically and culturally. This small and very, very quiet island, with only 1500 people, rises straight out of the ocean in a conical shape culminating in Mt Scenery, usually lost in the clouds but on this day, open and sunny. Saba's British and Dutch descended people have created an extremely picturesque man-made environment to fit in with the great natural beauty of the island. The island is famous for its diving but this land lubber chose to spend his day climbing Mt Scenery, all 1064 concrete steps of it, about an hour up and almost that long down. The views were incredible. Of the four islands I visitied, I would say Saba deserves its boast of "Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean."
All three islands, especially St Barths and Saba, would have been worth longer stays.
I had a great trip to the Caribbean and enjoyed my stay at DLB. Yes, there were small problems but I tried to remember that (a) I was not in a hurry, (b) if I was in a hurry, I should not be, (c) it is their island and who am I to demand otherwise? and (d) if I wanted snap-to-it efficiency and every blade of grass in place, I would have chosen Switzerland; I chose the Caribbean instead, and I got the Caribbean experience I wanted.
Now, I am an old back packer who thought he was living in the lap of luxury. To provide another view, I must report that some fellow travellers came from a background of all-inclusive holidays in the Caribbean and Mexico, and they felt that DLB was not up to standard. I think the problem may be with the hotel's rating of 4 1/2 stars. Even I would have to say that if there is a consistent, world wide scale on which five or six stars is the most a hotel can get, there is just no way that DLB is a 4 1/2 star hotel.
If you go expecting a European meaning of 4 1/2 stars you may well be disappointed. If you expect a little less and look forward to being a little Caribbean while you are there, you may well have the same experience I did -- an overwhelmingly positive trip, including my stay at DLB.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.