Memories of St. Maarten
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and with so much destruction on the Caribbean Island of St. Maarten / St. Martin, I was reminiscing and thought that I’d post on my memories of my two visits to St. Maarten. It’s been a couple of years since my last visit there, so mostly I’ll post pictures of how beautiful it was, but I’ll attempt to give you an idea of what it was like, and what it will be like again, hopefully in the near future. St. Maarten is one of my favorite ports in the Caribbean.
Our first visit was in 2013 on the Carnival Dream. We elected on that visit to take an excursion purchased from the ship that would take us around the island and then would take us to do the Semi-Submersible boat ride in Grand Case to see the coral reef. I’m not a strong swimmer, so I really don’t snorkel, but we wanted to see the fish. The port in Phillipsburg, St. Maarten (the Dutch Side) is a very nice port. It has all the pre-requisite shops, such as Diamonds International, and a number of restaurants and local shops. It also has a water taxi that will take you across the bay into the town of Phillipsburg. An alternative would be to walk around the bay to Phillipsburg, but it seemed like a pretty hot and long walk. I would definitely suggest the water taxi.
We started out on a full sized air conditioned bus at the port. It’s been a while since this excursion, but I do remember it as very enjoyable. We drove through the town, the views from the road are incredible. Our tour guide was enjoyable, she made the drive to Grand Case seem quite short. In Grand Case, on the French side, our bus let us off, and we walked over to where the semi-submersible boat was moored. We sat on the deck in the fresh air until we got to the coral reef. Let me tell you, I had taken Dramamine that morning, and once I got down into the semi-submersible part of the boat I had a bit of motion sickness. So, be prepared. You go down into the boat, the seats actually then drop down like benches across the width of the boat and you sit two by two on them. Everyone should get a window seat. It’s pretty warm down there, and it does rock and roll extensively. However, it was lots of fun. It’s really interesting to see the fish, and a diver will actually go out and feed the fish so that you can see more of them, while the guide tells you what you’re seeing. We saw a wide variety of tropical fish, and some beautiful coral. I’d say that you’re under the water for 45 minutes or so watching the sea life, and then you come back up to the deck and are taken back to Grand Case. After Grand Case, we went to Marigot, on the French side, for about an hour. Marigot is one of my very favorite places. It’s got wonderful picturesque views of the Caribbean, and lots of places to shop. On this stop we mostly went through the Straw Market. It’s a pretty good size Market and has quite a few vendors. Remember that you’re expected to haggle in the Caribbean, so you can try and get a better price on anything you’re interested in. The easiest way is just to say no thank you and start walking away. A lot of times they’ll call you back with a better price. I’m not all that comfortable with haggling, so a lot of times I’ll just pay what they ask if I really like the item. Along with the Market are shops and restaurants. We went to a shop that the tour guide recommended and got some souvenirs for our kids, and a couple of bottles of rum. That shop definitely had the best prices on rum that I saw anywhere. Once we got back on the tour bus, a young woman from the area came on board and sold us baked goods. That was a nice touch and hit the spot.
After Marigot we went back around to the Dutch side of the Island. We could have stopped in Phillipsburg and found our own way back, or we could go back to the ship. We opted to go back to the ship for a while. I then decided to take the water taxi over to Phillipsburg and he decided to get back aboard the Dream. I think it was around $7 for an all-day pass to the water taxi. I loved Phillipsburg. There are a lot of shops, casinos, and restaurants there. It’s a cute little town. The beach is gorgeous and there were a lot of chairs. I don’t know if you had to rent them or not. I spent quite a bit of time with my feet in the water trying to figure out what kind of fish was trying to bite my toes. It almost looked like a cuttlefish, maybe it was a squid. It was kind of cute and it was very curious.
The second time we went to St. Maarten was in 2014 on the Carnival Liberty. We decided to try out Bernard’s Tours that time. Bernard’s Tours is a local tour group that came highly recommended. It was also much cheaper than the same excursion from the ship, plus, they serve rum punch, beer, and bottled water on the drive back. We were glad we went with them. We met the tour guide at one of the buildings in the port that was easy to find, and then were lead to a smaller tour bus, but it was plenty comfortable. Our tour this time was an island tour with a stop at Maho Beach to see the planes come in, and a stop in Marigot again. I would really recommend Bernard’s tours, hopefully they’ll get up and running again soon. Maho Beach was a lot of fun. It rained for a while, but we just got up under the roof of the bar and waited for the planes. It’s unbelievable how low those planes are, and how crazy the people are who hang on to the fence while the outgoing planes try to knock them over with their jet engines. It’s seriously dangerous, you won’t find me doing that. I didn’t get a good shot of a plane coming in, but I got one from a friend who was traveling with us. After that, it was back to Marigot. This time we stopped at Sarafina’s for a small sandwich. We had to figure out how many dollars equaled the Euros, but the waitress helped me out. They do use Euros on the French side, but also American dollars. The sandwich was very good, I was glad we stopped. Then on to the Market for some more shopping, and back to get rum at the small shop that we were at last time. We had originally wanted to go back to the ship and over to Phillipsburg again, but it was some kind of Dutch holiday, and everything there was closed. That was disappointing. So, back to the ship we went.
I can’t wait till St. Maarten is ready for tourism again, I want to go back.