Club Orient, St. Martin vs. Superclubs GL Braco
We have received numerous requests over the past couple of years for a comparison of Grand Lido Braco and St. Martin, (usually Club Orient) as clothing optional vacation choices. The short answer is that we consider St. Martin to be the best option for a clothing optional DESTINATION and Grand Lido Braco to be the best clothing optional RESORT in the Caribbean if one is interested in a premium resort vacation. If that is all you wanted to know, I guess your work is done here and you can go on about your business. If you want to know a little more, read on. As always, the views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are worth just about what you paid for them. (Oh, you're reading this free???? G!!)
To give you a brief overview of who we are, we are in our early 40's, both professionals (NOT travel agents), and have traveled extensively in the Caribbean since we started cruising in 1988. Since then we have cruised some 20-some times (all but two in the Caribbean) plus have spent some dozen or so other land vacations in the Caribbean. Among those land trips, we have stayed in Aruba, Cancun, and Antigua, plus in Jamaica, at Hedonism II, Grand Lido Negril, and Grand Lido Braco, and stayed a half dozen times in St. Martin, in four different places, plus toured a few other resorts in St. Martin. Our first experience with a nude beach was Orient Beach in St. Martin, while on a cruise in November, 1989. Since then, Orient Beach has been our favorite clothing optional beach and St. Martin our favorite island. That opinion colors all our other perceptions with regard to GL and St. Martin, although we will attempt herein to be somewhat unbiased.
Some of you may ask why I have singled out Club Orient in St. Martin. It is not really comparable to Grand Lido because it is not a deluxe resort. Unfortunately, there are no deluxe c/o resorts in St. Martin. Club Orient is the only fully c/o resort on the island, so that is why we have focused on Club Orient in particular. However, the beach in front of Club Orient, and Orient Beach as a whole (but to a much lesser extent than the beach directly in front of Club O) are public nude beaches. There are also some other beaches in St. Martin that are available for c/o use, most notably, Cupecoy. There are many other choices of places to stay in St. Martin if you determine that Club Orient is not for you. A good choice for a person interested in a deluxe clothing optional vacation in St. Martin might be to stay at a private villa. We have not stayed at any other villas in St. Martin other than Green Cay Village, so cannot recommend any particular villas other than Green Cay. Green Cay, however, we cannot recommend highly enough. Each villa is totally private, with a private pool, great room with TV, VCR, and CD player, fully equipped kitchen, and large bedrooms. Green Cay is not on the beach itself, but up the hill from the beach, with spectacular views of Orient Beach from most of the units. Within your unit and on your deck and within your pool (depending to some extent on the particular unit) you can be nude all the time and it would be extremely difficult for anyone to see you. Green Cay is an absolutely first class operation and highly recommended. Esmeralda is another option in the deluxe hotel group. We have never stayed at Esmeralda, but have toured the place a couple of times, including most recently in June of 99. Esmeralda is a more traditional hotel set-up, with the buildings consisting of 3 to 5 rooms, each with limited cooking facilities, arranged around a common pool. C/O opportunities at Esmeralda vary with the crowd on the beach and around your individual unit, although it is not technically designated as a c/o resort. There are also a variety of other traditional hotels along Orient Beach and throughout French and Dutch St. Martin, including LaPlantation and L'hoste, both of which we have stayed at. For reviews, trip reports and pictures regarding Green Cay, LaPlantation, and L'Hoste, as well as Club Orient and Grand Lido Braco, go to our home page, at http://www.info-res.com/ehill
Any comparison of Grand Lido Braco vs. Club Orient is very much comparing apples and oranges. They are just nothing alike, other than each being a (different) kind of nirvana for clothing optional accommodations. Nevertheless, we will try to compare them herein. The resorts are as dissimilar as two resorts could possibly be and any strict comparison of amenities within the resort itself would surely make Club Orient look paltry by comparison when looking STRICTLY at the resorts themselves and the accommodations therein.. Nevertheless, here goes. For those who are not familiar with one or the other, following is brief overview of each resort, followed by a comparison of some of the features of each.
BRACO---The then named Braco Village was acquired by SuperClubs about two years ago, and the name changed to Grand Lido Braco. At that time, SuperClubs acquired an unfinished resort next door, Pebbles..This area became the au naturel side of the resort. When I am talking about Braco, I am talking about the au naturel side of the resort. Within the a/n side of the resort, you can be anywhere without being expected to put on clothes. Braco has a prude side of the resort, where accommodations are, for the most part, cheaper in price and quality than the au naturel side. You can stay on the prude side at Braco and spend your waking hours on the nude side if you want. You just have to cover up to get to the nude side. A lot of people choose to do that. The au naturel side of the resort is to the left, as you face the ocean. Pebbles Clubhouse is a 24 hour bar and restaurant with a beautiful view of the ocean, plus clubhouse with pool table and ping pong table. There are two buildings of rooms on the au naturel side, plus the au naturel tennis courts, pool, hot tub, swim-up bar and beach. The main part of the resort is in the center and the vast majority of the rooms are on the textile side in a block to the right. In general most of the rooms on the textile side are not as nice as the au naturel side, as the buildings on the prude side are mostly older than the ones on the nude side and with all rooms on the au naturel side being strict beachfront rooms. The center area of the resort includes the gym and spa, the Japanese and French restaurants, Nanny's Jerk Pit, La Pasta, the main restaurant, main pool and hot tubs, the main bar, reception area and the town square. Braco is laid out like a little village, and a charming little village it is, with lots of brick and beautiful flowers everywhere.
CLUB ORIENT---Club Orient is a full naturist resort where it is expected that one can be nude absolutely anywhere in the resort. However, the accommodations and the services are nothing like what is available at a place like Grand Lido. The first few times we stayed in SXM we did not stay at Club Orient, but basically went there to the beach every day. The first time we stayed there, I was not particularly looking forward to staying at Club Orient, as I had always thought that it was too rustic for me. It turned out that we both loved Club Orient. What we both enjoyed so much was being able to be nude, if we wanted, all day until dinner (or through dinner, if one wanted to eat at Club Orient for dinner). What we also enjoyed was the ambiance of the clientele, who generally would all nod to you as you sat on your patio, and exchange "good mornings", or exchange conversation on the beach or at the happy hour at Papagayo. It is hard to explain, but there is a real sense of liberation associated with staying at Club Orient--liberation from clothes, liberation from a lot of the pretension of modern life. I think in part because of the lack of TV's, CD's, radios, hot tubs, etc., etc. There seems to be a real sense of community there between the patrons that is lacking in most other resorts. Club Orient does NOT have TV's, tape players or even phones in the rooms, like Grand Lido. It does NOT have a pool at all, or any hot tubs. It does not have room service. What it does have, however, is that it is on Orient Beach, which we consider the best beach in the world, and it is located on St. Martin, which means that world class shopping, world class cuisine, and casinos are all within about a 25 minute drive.
ACCOMMODATIONS---This one is REALLY not a fair comparison, I suppose, as Club Orient does not profess to be a deluxe resort and it is not.
BRACO--We received an upgrade to a suite. The suite consisted of two totally separate rooms, with a locking door in between. The bedroom was on the ocean side and was approximately 12 by 12, with king bed, 2 night stands, dresser with 3 drawers, 19 inch TV, ceiling fan and separate a/c unit, boom box with radio, CD and Cassette player and two french doors leading out to the balcony. In the closet was a keyed safe. The bathroom was about 6 by 6, plus the tub. The bathroom featured a hair dryer and one of those dispensers like at Negril, with shampoo, soap and lotion. Since we had a suite, we had a separate half bath, which we did use occasionally. Braco has free laundry and dry cleaning service. The living room was about 12 by 18, with a couch which was also a sofa bed, another 19 inch TV, a separate ceiling fan and a/c unit, a dining table with 4 chairs, refrigerator (stocked with complementary sodas and beer) , hot plate and coffee maker, with ingredients for coffee and tea. There was also a second boombox radio combination.
One of the nicest features about all the rooms on the au naturel side at Braco was the balconies, which were about 6 by 12, with two chairs and a small table. The balconies faced the setting sun and were the perfect venue to enjoy the sunset, view of the lights of a passing cruise ship, while enjoying a bottle of champagne and an order of potato skins or chicken wings or the truly decadent lamb chops.
The two other categories of rooms on the au naturel side at Braco are the junior suites and the deluxe suites. We saw one of the junior suites with two double beds and have a picture of it. The furnishings seemed about the same as our suite, except there was not a dining table like we had. There was a couch which I presume was a sleeper, like ours. The bathroom I think was identical to ours and the lovely balcony was identical to ours. Some friends of ours had one of the deluxe suites. The deluxe suites were almost identical to the regular suites, except they had two full baths and the bedroom on the deluxe suites was on the land side, which I would not have liked as well. I loved waking up in the morning and staring out at that marvelous blue ocean.
CLUB ORIENT--Club Orient was totally destroyed--down to the ground--by Hurricane Luis in September 1995, and did not reopen for business until November 96. Therefore all units are basically pretty new. There are five different classes of accommodations at Club Orient--garden studio, mini-suite, mini suite deluxe, garden chalet and beach chalet. All accommodations feature kitchenette with refrigerator, oven, coffee maker, toaster, dishes and cooking utensils, queen size or 2 single beds (or king size bed, in the case of mini suite deluxe), patio with beach loungers, BBQ grills, safes, beach towels and daily maid service. Also provided are beach chairs and beach umbrellas, free of charge. NOT provided free are water sports stuff like beach floats, sunfish sailboats, canoes, snorkeling gear, etc., which are available for rent.
The studio is listed as 288 square feet, which I think includes the patio. The patio is tight, about 6 feet by 13 feet and has a 5 foot picnic table with two benches and 2 plastic strap chair chaise lounges. The room itself consisted of a couch, large coffee table and chair, plus queen sized bed and a dresser with 6 small drawers. Bifold doors covered a large safe, and hanging space for about 10 shirts, blouses, etc, with a long shelf above that. The galley kitchenette featured a small gas stove, coffee maker, toaster and apartment sized refrigerator, which was lockable.
The kitchen in all units provided a very nice selection of dishes, pots and pans and implements. The information we were provided stated that there were clocks and hair dryers provided, but we did not see any. A BBQ grill was provided and we used it a lot. You might want to bring a small radio for noise, which we did, since there is no TV or radio in the room.
The bathroom was about 6 by 10, with a four foot vanity and stall shower (no tub in our unit, although I think there is a tub in the chalets ). Towels and wash clothes are provided daily. A pet peeve of mine was that there was only ONE bar of soap provided There were both 110 and 220 outlets in the studio, but none in the bathroom at all, so plug-in razors and hair dryers might have presented a problem.
In the studios, the coffee table was the only place in the room where one could eat inside. Having a regular place to eat inside is about the only difference between the studio and the mini-suites, other than location. There's not a huge difference in price between the studios and the mini-suites, though. The studios and the mini-suites are air-conditioned throughout, so you may want to elect for a mini-suite to eat inside in the air conditioning.
It is possible to request a particular numbered room at Club Orient. However, be advised that getting a particular unit is kind of a crap shoot. First, most of the units are in fact owned by private individuals, which means that IF the owner wants to be at the resort the week that you want to go, you will not get the unit you requested. Further, in this age of computers, their allocation of rooms is kind of a chalkboard type affair and kind of hit and miss. If you don't like the room they assign you to, make a ruckus until you get somebody like Gina Brink or somebody to fix the room assignment.
The mini-suites are arranged in a circle toward the back of the resort. Of the beach chalets, numbers 47 to 54 are the ones closest to Papagayo's and are much preferred in location to the other beach chalets. They are closer to the water and have totally unobstructed views of the water. Several of them that are closest to Pedro's (which is at the far end of the resort, furthest away from Papagayo's), you have to kind of walk across some scrub grass to get to the beach and there is a very small rise (a couple of feet) which partially obstructs your view of the ocean. The chalets have a large tiled front patio, a large living room and full eat-in kitchen, separate bedroom and full bathroom. The major problem with the chalets for me is that they are not air-conditioned, except for in the bedroom.
GROUNDS AND BEACH--
BRACO--There is some vegetation between the rooms and the beach, mostly pretty close to the buildings. The end result is that the view from some of the rooms on the bottom floor is partially blocked by vegetation, but the vegetation provides little shade on the beach. There are palm trees which are pretty newly planted on the beach, so they don't provide much shade either. There are, however, about 11 thatched roof hut affairs stringing down the beach, each with about 6 to 8 lounge chairs arranged beneath it. Although the au naturel side was virtually full when we were there, we never saw all the shade cabanas being used at the same time. The beach, unlike Negril, is flat, sandy, not rocky, and beautiful. We walked all the way out to the barrier and never found any appreciable rocks in the water.
The pool on the au naturel side is probably bigger than the one on the prude side and is one of the biggest I have ever seen. There is one area where a volleyball net is always set up. There is also a section where you can just walk straight in, like you're walking into the ocean. There is a swim up bar with about a dozen bar stools. Scattered around the pool are lounge chairs, both wooden and mesh type, and many tables with chairs and umbrellas. We never had any problem finding chaise lounges around the pool at all. The hot tub again was huge. I don't have a good handle on the size of the hot tub, but I would say that the hot tub had to be about twice the size of the au naturel POOL at Grand Lido Negril.
CLUB ORIENT--I consider the beach at Orient to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but I am probably prejudiced. The sand at Orient is wide and clean and generally cool to the touch. Looking out over the different shades of azure water and off to the left, you see the green hills above the far end of Orient Bay. Straight ahead you see Green Key and much further out, Tintamar, with sailboats, jetskis and every other kind of floating thing sprinkled between. Because of all the recent hurricanes, there is no natural shade on the beach, so an umbrella is a necessity. If you're staying at Club Orient, umbrellas and chairs are free. If you're not staying there, chairs and umbrellas are $5 each for the day, or you can get a weekly rental of $75 for 2 chairs and an umbrella for the week. There is almost always a bit of a surf at Orient, although not generally dangerous at all. The sand in the water slopes down fairly gradually, and there is rarely anything under the water other than beautiful clean sand and fish, rarely any rocks, etc., and there are no coral outcroppings, etc., to stub your toe on in front of Club Orient. There is an issue sometimes with wind at Club Orient, as sometimes the wind blows pretty strongly there. That section of beach receives more wind than most any other part of the island and many folks go to other beaches (like Cupecoy) if it's really windy, but we generally just tough it out. By contrast, some people on the internet have complained about wind at Braco, but we had no problem with wind there whatsoever. I suspect it was a combination of the wind not being very bad the week we went AND that we are fairly oblivious to wind. So long as I don't have to fight TOO hard just to read my book, I'm happy! G!
As I said before, there is no pool and no hot tubs at Club Orient. Apparently the original plans for Club Orient called for a pool, but I doubt, frankly, if one will ever be built there. The problem is that I have no idea how they would control the crowds, as it would most likely have to be fenced in and one would have to show a key to get in, in order to prevent people who were not staying there from overrunning the place. Somehow, that just doesn't seem in touch with the spirit of Club Orient.
The presence of persons on the beach who are not staying at Club Orient is a constant thing. Most of them are folks like us who just don't happen to be staying there at the time, but enjoy being on the beach at Orient. Some of them are staying on the island and some of them are there from ships, who, like us, book a particular cruise in part because it stops in St. Martin and we can go to Orient for the day. And there are many, like us, that have their first nude experience at Orient from off a ship and from there, decide that St. Martin would be a neat place to come and stay for a week or so. There are those folks, however, who come either off cruise ships or from their time share that want to take in "the sights". I know that this conduct upsets many people. It really makes no difference to us one way or another. We feel like if those folks have nothing more exciting to do in their lives than to go see all the nude people, that they have a pretty sorry life. Looking is fine, but some people get a little bent if people take pictures. There are generally one or two guards patrolling the beach, and we have seen them confiscate or expose film or video tape if folks are observed taking pictures or videotape.
BRACO--Braco Village is all inclusive. All meals, all drinks (including premium liquors and house wines and champagnes) and all entertainment and watersports are included. There is a choice of a regular menu for dinner, Italian and pizza selections, plus a Japanese restaurant and a French restaurant, both requiring reservations. Food, particularly at the French and Japanese restaurants, is excellent. There is 24 hour room service, including breakfast and a fairly good selection of snacks and sandwiches. There is a 9 hole golf course on the resort, which is free except for the couple of bucks to rent clubs and to buy balls. Braco is really kind of in the middle of nowhere, so there really are very few viable short trips to be had from there. I suspect that most people who go to Braco never leave the resort, as we did not. And, once you pay the price to book the resort, except for sundries which one forgot at home, souvenirs, and the departure tax, one literally does not have to spend ANY money at all. You eat and drink what you want, when you want, with no consideration whatsoever about price. There is certainly an allure to that.
CLUB ORIENT--Club Orient is not an all-inclusive, so there are several options for food. We cook at Orient a lot, although there is certainly no reason that one has to cook at Orient at all, as there is Papagayo's right on the resort, Pedro's and several other restaurants within easy walking distance, as well as a good percentage of some of the best restaurants in all the Caribbean within easy driving distance. The kitchen has sufficient items to prepare a simple meal, including our one pre-requisite, a grill, which in this case was a small hibachi grill. Almost anything you could want to cook can be purchased in St. Martin with no problem, as Match and Food Center are comparable to many grocery stores in the U.S, plus there is L'Orientique, the store at Club Orient, which has food and wine as well as miscellaneous sundries and souvenirs. When we stay at Club Orient, we do take meats down with us, but that is it. The reason we do that is the quality of the local meat isn't what I would like and the meat from the States is very expensive in the stores. We generally have a croissant and coffee on our patio every day for breakfast and cook burgers or steak on the grill for lunch and dinner a couple of times during the week. This ends up saving us some money, but it isn't really the major reason we do it. We enjoy doing it, especially as none of it I really consider "cooking", as it is basically grilling out and it also allows us to be nude all the time.
There is a store at Club Orient, (L'Orientique) which is a kind of overgrown 7-11, with prices to match. Papagayo's is the restaurant at Club Orient and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. All are somewhat overpriced, based on the competition. Our favorite restaurant within walking distance of Club O is Pedro's, which is a kind of beach shack restaurant which serves great ribs, BBQ chicken, hamburgers, and now is serving steak. Unfortunately Pedro's has been discovered by the cruise ship passengers and the place is generally jammed on most days. The up side is that when the cruise ship people are in, there is usually a live band there.
Further down the beach from Pedro's are some more traditional restaurants, such as Kontiki, Kakao, Bikini Beach, etc, that serve lunch year round and serve dinner during high season. Then of course, one has Grand Case. Aah, Grand Case. Grand Case is a collection of some of the best French, Italian, Seafood, Creole, whatEVER restaurants, in the world, accumulated within a few blocks radius. Many of the restaurants are on the water, with a lovely view of Anguilla at night, serving fabulous lobster bisque, and coquevin, topped off with a lovely creme brulee, served fresh, piping hot, by candlelight on fabulously painted china. That does not begin to cover the other fabulous restaurants, like Mario's in Sandy Ground, or those in Phillipsburg or Marigot. It also doesn't include the "lolos", where you can get a full plate of food, with pork or chicken, rice, fried plantains, salad, and who knows what all else for $8 a person. Dining in St. Martin is a gastronomic wonderland. It makes my mouth water just to think of it........
BRACO--Braco has somewhat traditional entertainment on the prude side of the resort, including a live band most nights, and some variety entertainment nights, as well as the disco and the bars. For us and many other confirmed nudists, however, entertainment in the evening after dinner normally is repairing to the nude hot tub for conversation and lots of lovely champagne under the stars. Nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with that at all. Best of all, at Braco, from the hot tub one can walk over to Pebbles at 3 o'clock in the morning (au naturel, of course!) and order potato skins or chicken wings or lamb chops and champagne delivered to the hot tub, or call from your room and have the same delivered. Life is good.
CLUB ORIENT--During the day, entertainment for us is watching the sand grow, or reading a book, or watching the passing multitudes of people, with a possible trip down the beach at lunchtime to Pedro's for some lunch and some live music. There are paddle boats, kayaks, sailboards, sailboats, etc., available for rent at the resort, if one is of a mind. Just down from Club O there are jet skis and parasailing available.
Entertainment in the evening at Club Orient usually consists of a bottle of champagne in the moonlight on the beach--which ain't half bad entertainment, by the way. Otherwise, there is a band at Papagayo on Tuesday during the off season, and on Tuesday and Saturday during high season. There is a bar at Papagayo of course, and there is a half price happy hour every day from 5:30 to 6:30. Drinks are what's known in the business as "heavy hand"--not light on alcohol by any means. On Wednesday night there is a free wine and cheese party at Papagayo, which we know from personal experience is not limited to Club Orient guests only. They serve red and white wine, plus OJ and non-alcoholic punch, plus cheese and pate, from 5:30 to 6:30. It's a very nice little party.
Just because you're staying at Club Orient doesn't mean you can't go out most nights, or every night if you want, to one of the many fabulous restaurants in the dining mecca of Grand Case, or to Marigot or Phillipsburg, or to watch some live entertainment or to one of the many casinos to make an additional donation to the local economy. Provided you have a car, which you really must do when you go to St. Martin, if you are bored in the evening there, you aren't looking very hard.
Jamaica vs. St. Martin--I think one of the biggest difference between the resorts lies in the fact that Club Orient is on St. Martin and Braco is in Jamaica. St. Martin afficionados call it "SXM", which is the airport designation for St. Martin, so that's what I'll call it here. SXM consists of Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin, which is one island with only a road marker and different currencies dividing the two countries. SXM is a very Americanized island, with U.S. Dollars accepted and English being spoken everywhere. It is a small island of only 37 square miles total, which boasts fantastic beaches, some of the best dining in the Caribbean, casinos, day trips to nearby islands like St. Barts, Saba, and Anguilla, and a KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King and McDonald's. The standard of living in the Caribbean is much lower than the U.S., but there are great variations within the islands. Places like the Caymans, Aruba and Martinique have a higher standard of living than SXM, but St. Martin does still have a much higher standard of living than Jamaica. That's a good part of the reason why there is only one all inclusive in SXM (and I wouldn't recommend it!!) and Jamaica has many all-inclusives. With the standard of living being so much lower in Jamaica, as well as most costs being lower overall, Jamaica is a much more profitable island for entrepreneurs to place an all inclusive. Jamaica is a MUCH larger island than SXM, the largest in the Caribbean except for Cuba. Because of the lower standard of living in Jamaica, you will see things in Jamaica that you won't see in SXM--people constantly trying to sell you little trinkets, braid your hair, sell you ganga (marijuana), etc., etc. It gets quite wearing sometimes, and is one of the main reasons to book an all inclusive in Jamaica--to make sure that the folks don't bother you all the time trying to sell you stuff..
Conclusion--I believe that Braco is the best RESORT in the Caribbean for clothing optional use. They provide the most deluxe accommodations, service and food, in a complete package at an all inclusive price, in an atmosphere that allows one to enjoy the freedom of being without clothes, if you plan on not leaving the resort. Club Orient, and by extension, the other resorts in SXM, have many other attractions, including an unparalleled choice of restaurants, casinos, and day trips to nearby islands. As I said at the beginning of one of our trip reports to St. Martin "if a person is lucky, he or she will find that one place in the world that makes their soul sing. For us, that place is Orient Beach". I invite you to try both Braco and Club Orient and determine for yourself which place "makes your soul sing".
Carol & Eric