We stayed at The Villas between Aug 11 - Aug 18 with another couple who had a timeshare exchange. Each couple stayed in their own 1-bedroom suite – the $450 upgrade option. Very nice and very clean. Ask for an upper floor if they have rooms available for the best views, but every unit faces the water.
And let me make this clear from a personal perspective: If you are here at tripadvisor checking out the Villas vs. the older SB Resort units, by all means pay for the upgrade. The older part of the SB resort is under serious construction, with trucks and construction storage equipment littered all over the old property. And the parts that aren’t under construction are just ugly and so dated looking. We walked up there from the Villas to see what it was like and to hang out at the larger pool up there (there’s an Olympic pool on the old property), and it was just depressing. We’re so glad we paid for the upgrade to the newer Villas units. I can’t stress that enough. There’s just no comparison.
OK -- I figured since most people talk about general amenities and such that I would concentrate on some of the geeky aspects (tech stuff) so as to save people some potential headaches and/or enhance the experience a bit, and give people a sense of what's there. Pictures included. I will make some generalized tips/suggestions at the end of this review that are not tech-related.
Wi-Fi (see attached picture for user name -- I've blacked out the password)
The resort uses a hardware system called "Nomadix" to regulate access to their wi-fi. This system handles all the log-ins and manages bandwidth. There are some things to realize about this setup. First, when you connect to the wi-fi, it will say it's an "Open System" (not password-protected). But when you first try to get to a web page, it may very well give you an error about the page not being available. The reason is that you have to first sign on to the Nomadix log in screen (AND SAVE THE PASSWORD WHEN ASKED!). But the Nomadix sign on screen isn't always the first screen you see when you try and surf somewhere. They should fix that. Instead, you'll possibly get an error about your intended web page destination not being available and to try again/later, etc. If this happens, you have to click on your intended link again, which usually is enough to prompt their system to display the Nomadix login screen where you are asked for a user name and password, and a checkbox to save the password. What I would usually do is just surf to google.com (which sometimes showed up) and then just type in some random search in the google box, at which point the Nomadix screen would appear and would allow me to continue.
Important: (see picture) The user name -- simpsonbay --- IS CASE SENSITIVE. Normally user names are not case-sensitive; only passwords are. But on this system, it is case-sensitive. In other words, if you typed in "Simpsonbay" for the user name instead of "simpsonbay", it would fail. Smartphones have this tendency to capitalize the first word in text boxes, so be aware of that. It happened to our friends and they couldn't understand why they couldn't get internet on their phone. I noticed this and made it a lower-case simpsonbay user name and it was fine.
Also, note that on Smartphones -- None of your internet apps will work (Facebook, etc.) UNTIL you successfully log in (via Nomadix) on your web browser on the phone. Each time you leave the resort for the day and come back, you may find that the apps won't work until you go through the web browser to some random page on your phone and log in again -- even if you have the user name and password saved. It will still temporarily bring up the log in screen before redirecting to a web page. At that point you will be logged in again, and your phone internet apps will work again.
Note 2: If you have any designs about streaming videos/Netflix/youtube, etc., from either your phone/laptop/tablet, forget it. You have a very small slice of bandwidth allocated to you. It's fine for email and general browsing, but for bandwidth-intensive apps like anything that streams video, you're out of luck. The pipe isn't big enough. I did a couple of speed tests and the speeds were dismal. Speed=bandwidth. Plus, Netflix/HBOGo/Amazon won't work outside the continental US unless you go through a VPN proxy to fool those locations into thinking you're somewhere in the US. But don't bother -- you'll get nothing but constant buffering. I'm going to say that this would include SlingBox, too.
A note about phones and roaming charges: We turned OFF roaming on all of our phones (Verizon) so as not to accrue huge data-roaming charges while there. By turning off Roaming, you’re limited to wi-fi only on your phones. If you really need to call home a lot, I would suggest you rent a phone for $20 or so. There’s a woman named Sharon who works out of the Royal Palm resort (which you can see from the Villas balconies right down the beach). She’s an ex-Long Islander who’s carved out a niche renting phones to vacationers for $20/week with a specified allotment for minutes. Much cheaper than roaming. Look her up at queenofsxm.com. The couple traveling with us has an elderly and bedridden mom here in NY who they called several times daily, so this worked out well.
TVs: The living room area of the Villas has old-style Sony WEGA CRT televisions. I don't know why they went that route as it's really out of place. Yes, I know -- who's going on vacation to watch TV?!?!? But you're in the unit at some times, so that's why I mention it. You get 26 channels of Dish Network TV. I meant to write down the channels, but best laid plans, etc. I do know that Channel 2 is CNN, 3 is an in-house promotional channel about St. Maarten and the Villas. Fox News is available. No MSNBC, though. You get NYC networks NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox, so if you're a NY'er and want to keep up with what's going on, you're all set. WGN from Chicago is part of it. Disney, Discovery, HGTV, one each of French, Italian, and Spanish channels. Oh, HBO, too. They do NOT provide a channel listing there, so you're on your own. There is the Weather Channel, but there's no local weather on it, so it's kind of useless unless you want to keep up with US weather.
The TV in the (master) bedroom is a Sony Bravia HD LCD (26"?). Same channels, obviously. But I used this TV as a large computer monitor for my laptop. If your laptop or other device has an HDMI output, you can use that (with your own HDMI cable, of course) to pipe the output of your laptop to the Bravia. It worked out great for me. See pictures attached.
Settings: For best screen on the TV from the laptop, make sure the laptop's output to the TV is set for 1360x768. If fills the available screen real estate perfectly. I'm attaching three pictures of this. One picture looks like it has curvy/wavy lines through it, but that's just the way the picture came out from the camera. The TV output from the PC was perfect and pristine. So, don't worry about that picture --it was just something to do with reflections from the camera. One of the other pictures shows the laptop sitting on the table connected via HDMI to the TV. I set my laptop's screen to be OFF and just to show the output on the TV itself. You can see by the Windows 7 screen resolution settings in the picture how I had it set up.
Use the Bravia TV remote and press the "Input" button repeatedly until you get to the HDMI 1 and/or 2 inputs, depending upon which one you use.
The TV also has a USB port that can be used to charge USB devices. BUT the TV needs to be ON for any charging to occur. You can see in the second TV picture I attached that there is an iPod white cable in the shot that's connected to the USB port. I'm guessing the USB port can also be used to display pictures and whatnot from a flash drive, but I never tested it.
Note: If you plug in the laptop on the table in the bedroom, the wall light switch must be ON for the laptop to get charging power. It's a double-switch. The switch on the right-side of the double switch is what turns on/off the power to the outlets behind the table. The double-switch is just inside the door to the bedroom. (Side Note: don't be surprised if every lamp in your suite is unplugged when you first arrive. You will have to plug them in yourself.)
Portable Stereo in living room:
There is a Sony portable stereo on a shelf in the entertainment center in the living room. It can play CD's, plus has AM (forget it -- too much static) and FM (unwind the coiled antenna cable for best reception). BUT, what I used it for was the "AUDIO INPUT" capability. For this, you need to bring your own 1/4" to 1/4" (aka Mini-Plug) cable to connect your device like an iPod, SmartPhone, etc., to the back of the stereo unit and the "AUDIO INPUT" plug. You then need to use the included remote control (see pictures) and press the "FUNCTION" key on the remote until it cycles to the "Audio Input" selection. You can play stuff to your heart's content at this point. We got a lot of good use from this by playing off of our iPod and a little Spotify from my phone. See pictures I’ve uploaded about the portable stereo front/back and the remote control.
Note: If your portable stereo has a flashing "Standby" light, you will need to unplug it and leave it unplugged for about 15 minutes or so and plug it back in. Otherwise, it will never come on. The plug is behind the clunky Sony WEGA CRT TV on the shelf above the stereo. That TV is a bit heavy, so be careful as you try to angle it aside to get to the receptacles behind it. You have to look for the electrical plug that's feeding down to the shelf below it. That will be the stereo's plug.
So, a reminder that to use the Bravia TV in the bedroom as a large PC monitor via HDMI and the portable stereo in the living room to play stuff from your mp3 player/smartphone, you'll need two cables: HDMI cable for the bedroom and a 1/4" to 1/4" mini-plug cable for the stereo. Both cables are available very cheaply online. The audio 1/4" cable is probably available for a song at Radio Shack.
You might want to bring a few things or else you can buy them there if need be, like condiments, sugar/Equal/Splenda, coffee, etc. BRING A COOLER BAG FOR THE BEACH!! You can pack stuff to eat or drink in the cooler bag. Glad we had a couple with us. No glass bottles allowed at the Villas pool, but you can bring bottles to the beaches.
There is a deli-type store just past the casino that has a lot of basics, plus beer/wine/liquor. You can get better prices if you actually go into town at a real grocery store. For example, a six pack of Heineken at the deli is $7 (still a bargain!), but it's closer to $5 at the grocery store we used.
There is a huge grocery store right next to Burger King just down the street from the resort. They will charge you $.25/bag, though, so bring some grocery bags with you to save that charge if you want. We went to a smaller grocery store further in town ("Le Grand Marche" -- you need to drive to it) before even noticing the new big store next to Burger King. The store next to Burger King is like a large supermarket, so there's lots of stuff there. We only went once late in the trip, so I couldn't compare prices between the two stores. But again, the small deli is also an easy choice for quick stuff. I think it's called the Pelican Deli.
ATMs nearby dispense dollars if you specify it. There's one next to the casino, but it was out of cash when I went. There's another past the deli, though.
Driving: If you rent a car, be prepared for a lot of speed bumps. Literal speed bumps, that is. You don't want to be cruising over those very fast! Roads are narrow. There is a lot of roundabouts on the island. Try to get a good map with actual street names or use Google Maps in the unit before venturing out for the day. The main road approaching the French side has a very dangerous/serious concrete drainage ditch running alongside of it. If you ever drifted into that thing, you'd be in trouble! Whenever we got lost, locals would be happy to point us in the right direction.
I’m including a picture of the Master Suite “Kitchen Manifest” to show you what you get at the Villas if you upgrade in terms of dishes/utensils/pots/pans. The coffee maker is an old-school Mr. Coffee. Note that it does NOT turn off automatically, so if you’re used to that at home, remember to turn it off! One thing they don’t give you in terms of supplies in the kitchen is a scrubber sponge. If you use any of the pans to cook eggs, you’re going to find it very hard to clean with the disposable dishrag they provide. They do provide small bottles of Palmolive dish detergent as well as paper towels. If you run out, I would just either let the desk know or snag some spares from one of the housekeeping carts they use, as they usually park those outside of the rooms they are cleaning.
Garbage: Chances are you’ll create some trash there. Housekeeping comes on Tuesday if you arrive on the weekend. If you have trash you want to get rid of outside of that time, they told us to just tie up the bags and leave them outside the room where housekeeping would pick them up. But what I did was just take the trash down the outside hall to the elevator where they had a combo trash can/ashtray unit.
Big trash bags are under the sink. Smaller trash can bags for the bedroom/bathroom are in the bathroom drawers.
If you want to turn on the lights on the balcony at night, the switch is kind of hidden between the curtains and the side of the wall unit in the living room. Kind of bright, though. I’d use the candle they provide (look in one of the bathroom vanity drawers).
Beaches: Mullet Bay was the best in terms of sheer beauty and pristine waters. Wow. BUT, there's hardly any breeze there, so it gets hot. You'll be in the water most of the time, but it's fantastically clear with no seaweed, etc. Check out Rosie’s Snack Bar (see picture here) for snacks/drinks at nice prices. Note: There are NO public bathroom facilities at Mullet Bay! There’s a guy there who charges a fee to use an outhouse. Just so you know…
Orient Beach is fun...much larger than Mullet and it's on the French side facing the Atlantic, so you get a steady breeze coming off the water to keep you cool. Suggestion: When you get to Orient Beach, don't just rent chairs right away. If you walk down the beach to your right, lots of the little bars along the beach have bargains where you get a chair/umbrella and a free drink for $7 or so. If you KEEP walking to the right, you'll eventually come up to the rocks that separate the totally nude area of the beach with the main area, but that's up to you! But well before you get to that part, you have all these beachside bars with their special offers.
Dawn Beach: Yuck! Unless you're staying at the Westin Resort there, this "beach" sucks. Nothing to see there.
Checkout tip: Our flight was leaving late in the day, but checkout is at 10am. You have to turn in your towels and get your "towel card" back from AquaMania as part of the checkout, so even though they will allow you to stay on the resort at the pool or whatever during the day post checkout, what about towels? Well, here's what you do: Go to the third floor gym area. Ask the attendant there for some towels (explain you are checked out but want to go to the pool). They will give you towels. Later, you can use the very nice gym locker rooms (outside the gym) to shower with fresh towels. If you ask the gym attendant, they might even let you have a locker key to store your stuff while showering. The locker rooms are very, very nice. I was really surprised.
Gym costs $10/day per couple -- $6/day single. $55/wk couples. We used it at the day rate several times. Nice gym. All Cybex equipment. The one attendant that was there most of the time was a sour-puss woman obviously not happy with her job.
If you need a cab, there's a driver named Ramon who works the hotel regularly. He charged all four of us $20 each way ($5/person each way) to take us to the Sunset Beach Bar at the end of the airport runway for a night when we didn’t want to drive. Otherwise, if you don’t want to use Ramon, the desk will call you a cab.
Fast food: Burger King was mentioned. Walking distance right down the street from the Villas. If you leave the resort with a car and drive to your RIGHT on "Welfare Road", there is a KFC fairly close. There's a Dominos, too.
Restaurants we liked:
Izi (Welfare Road up the street on your right. Walkable, but no sidewalks!)
Greenhouse right next to the resort.
Lee's (Welfare Road to your left right across from the Palm Resort) Nice live music every night.
The Buccaneer Beach Bar is literally right next to the Villas. It’s got happy hour at 4pm(?). On Sunday nights and Friday nights, they have what they call the “Buccaneer’s Fireballs” fire-dancing demonstrations. Google the bar for more info.
Beer note: A lot of the bars serve Heinekens in smaller bottles that look like 7 ouncers, so be aware of that during happy hours. So, that $2/Heineken isn't the great deal it looks like in the small bottles. Other beers come in 12 ounce sizes, like Corona, Caribe, Amstel "Brite" (like Corona), etc. 12 ounce Heine's are sold in stores, though, if you wish in bottles and cans.
Final note: You WILL be charged $50 on departure from the Villas for a “Timeshare Tax”. Boo! Plus, any incidentals like gym visits and/or bar fees.
OK, that’s enough of a review for me. Have fun! Contact me here if I can answer any more questions (if I can!).
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Villas at Simpson Bay Resort & Marina, your island hideaway with spacious Caribbean villas for luxury living. The ocean views are incredible and the resort has pools, restaurants and a water sports center. More fine restaurants and stores are just a short walk away in Simpson Bay. This resort is the perfect base for exploring St. Maarten, an island with Caribbean, French and Dutch ambiance. A privileged waterfront setting, with unparalleled location on the shore of Simpson Bay, Enjoy the best views of the Caribbean from your elegant, fully furnished and equipped Caribbean villa. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- The Villas At Simpson Bay Resort & Marina St. Maarten-St. Martin