Even amidst the colorful and culturally diverse islands of the Caribbean, the half-French, half-Dutch island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin holds a special multi-cultural place. It belongs to two European nations, and is split down the middle in its allegiance. The languages, currency, and atmosphere change markedly according to which side of the border youíre on; but whether tourists favor the shopping on the French side or the bar-hopping on the Dutch, theyíre limited, lodging-wise.
Tiny boutique hotels and rented villas make up most of the available rooms, while the big hotels are generally older and musty. For those who want something modern, busy, brand-recognizable and all-ages, the Westin Dawn Beach is a relatively new addition to Sint Maarten, with an international clientele and friendly staff.
Situated on Oyster Bay, the Westin Dawn Beach is the premier hotel on the Dutch side, and perhaps the best big-brand hotel on the island. Itís a self-contained Caribbean getaway, and if youíre driving, itís also a great base from which to strike out on explorations of this interesting, multi-national island.
Sint Maarten is bustling with nightclubs that stay open till the wee hours and shops packed full of party attire. The Westin Dawn Beach is the place where people come before the all-night party, or where they return to recuperate afterward. It has a festive ambiance around the pool area, the restaurants and its Dawn Beach Casinoóa friendly mixed-together crowd of young East Coast couples, multi-generation travelers, European 20-somethings and affluent locals. Music and cocktail service lend to the vacation vibe, but itís always low-key. This is a family-friendly hotel, though itís equally friendly to singles and child-free couples.
The pool is absolutely the place to be in the daytime. A multi-level aquamarine vision, it features an infinity edge above the ocean-level terrace, with sun loungers nearly 360 degrees around. The waterís a bit chilly, but thatís welcome on hot days. A bubbling hot tub that can easily seat 12 overlooks the ocean to one side. To allay some past guestsí complaints of minimal shade, the hotel has installed several shaded private cabanas around the outer perimeter of the pool.
Perched on a hillside above the Dutch capital of Phillipsburg, the Westin Dawn Beach is ideally suited for private events and special-occasion groups. Views are gorgeous and the event staff specialize in romance and luxury. The islandís premiere destination wedding planner, Sint Maarten Marry-Me, is the key romance partner, and does an outstanding job of making every wedding unique and custom-designed for the bride and groom. Parent company Artemia plans events of all kinds, and business and leisure groups both will be pleasantly surprised by the level of local knowledge and attention dedicated to each function.
The culinary scene on the island is lauded as being among the best in the Caribbean, and in spite of being on the Dutch side of the island, the Dawn Beach hits a high standard with its restaurants and bars. Fine dining restaurant Aura and casual-elegant Ocean both boast gorgeous ocean views and excellent fresh seafood/prime steak cuisine, although Auraís dress code is a notch or two above Oceanís. Sunday buffet brunch at Ocean is the best on the island, with crab legs and sushi, carving stations and made-to-order pasta, omelet station and bottomless champange.
If the down side of the Westin is its distance from all the densely populated areas, the up side is its gorgeous views and proximity to unspoiled beaches. Ocean view guest rooms overlook sun-dappled stunning, sparkling blue waters that are barely encroached upon by developments. Itís like having a private beach that you only have to share with fellow resort guests. Once you tear yourself away from the vistas, thereís a big marshmallowy Heavenly Bedģ to snuggle you and dreams of casino jackpots to carry you away to the next blissful morning.