My friends and I recently returned from an Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Ruby Princess with stops in St. Thomas, St. Martin, the Bahamas, and Grand Turk. Having been to St. Martin many times before, my friend Angie and I though we would just get a cab over to the French side (St. Martin) of the island and enjoy some shopping and a nice lunch. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was their remembrance day, similar to Thanksgiving in the United States, and everything on the island was closed.
St. Martin Vs. St. Maarten- One Island, Two Countries
St. Martin is 21 square miles while St. Maarten, the Dutch side of the island, is 16 square miles. They make up the dual national island of the kingdom of the Netherlands. St. Maarten is no longer an island territory, but is the smallest territory shared by two sovereign states: France and the Netherlands. According to our guide, it is much easier to do business on the Dutch side, as well as more popular, but more expensive. The climate is favorable with temperatures averaging 82. The Euro is the currency on the French side, the guilder on the Dutch, but US currency is widely accepted.
After docking at the AC Wathey pier, we were able to join 4 Canadian ladies from a Royal Caribbean cruise on a private island tour, with an hour for beach time at Orient Beach. Our price was $30, which was very fair for the amount of time we were given. We rode in a nice air conditioned van around the island, first on the Dutch St. Maarten side, through the lovely capital, Phillipsburg, stopping at several places for photo ops and then to the French side of St. Martin.
Marigot, the capital on the French side, was like a ghost town, with only a few people strolling around the beaches. Typically this is the town that is pastel colored shopping arcades and boutiques, a waterfront market, sidewalk cafes and bistros, and expensive art galleries. Nothing had changed, scenery wise, since I was there last, which came as a bit of a surprise seeing how popular the destination is with cruisers. Some of the luxury hotels had closed or changed names and our guide told us that after twenty years, hotels have to sell to become condos or apartments, as part of their agreements with the country.
Orient Beach, located at St. Martin and called “the Saint Tropez of the Caribbean”, was our destination for an hour of leisure time. Angie and I found some vacant lounge chairs and enjoyed the beach and watching a group of guys play paddleball. Within thirty minutes, we were run off by some security team as it seems we were in exclusive tour group chairs. It was just as well since we had been hounded by seven ladies trying to sell us their wares, a foot massage, or whatever else they had to offer. They even begged to give us a sample of foot massage; get me out of here!
There was no relaxing around this beach. Also, it could have been due to the rains, but the water was full of debris, mostly seaweed. A bit further down is the clothing optional part of Orient Beach. A few of our cruiser friends went there and said they would never be able to get those horrible visions out of their minds.
Kakao Beach Restaurant and Bar is where we chose to have a quick bite before heading back to the ship and I must say, their beef carpaccio is definitely worth stopping for. The prices were steep and service slow, but our food was delicious. I liked the booths they had along the beachfront that looked like huts, and our exotic tropical drinks were divine. Thumbs up to this establishment!
We arrived back to the ship and just breezed right past all the port gift and souvenir shops. The one thing I do wish I had tried was the guavaberry colada, a local favorite. My next time on the island, I plan to visit Grand Case, a seaside village town on the islands northern shores, called the “Gourmet capital of the Caribbean”, and known for its exceptional dining and unparalleled culinary delights. The selections I have seen online are impressive.
FYI: Several people had complaints about their Butterfly Farm excursion. It had rained for a couple days prior to our arrival, and the farm that should have had 40 species of butterflies, only had 2, period.
FYI: The country’s flag is lovely, featuring the national flower, yellow sage, and the national bird, the pelican, silhouetted in flight against the sun, and a blue and white background. It was first used in 2010 after lowering its flag of Netherland Antilles.
Tip: Both sides of the island are great choices for duty free shopping with exceptional choices.
FYI: Popular cruise excursions for this port are: Circle island tour and Orient beach break $45, historic Phillipsburg & Marigot island drive $35, Scoot coupe $199 per vehicle, and Rhino ride boat adventure $189 per boat.
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