We visited St. Maarten for the week before Christmas and had a great time. It was a relaxing combination of staying in a nice beach resort and exploring around the island. We also took a day to make a visit to the nearby island of Antigua.
by travelswithkids on July 22, 2012
One cool thing about visiting St. Maarten is that you get to say you visited two countries in one small island, the French St. Martin and the Dutch St. Maarten. But in this part of the Caribbean, you have several opportunities to get to yet another country with just a short ferry ride. So I convinced my family we needed to go for an addtional stamp in our passports and we made a day trip to the English island of Anguilla.The shortest ferry route to Anguilla leaves St. Martin from the port of Marigot. The ride takes about 30-45 minutes, and it was on the long side of that for us due to relatively choppy seas. The ticket cost isn't too bad at around US$ 30 round trip, but remember you'll have to pay some departure taxes on both ends of that (adding another $25 or so). So bring cash to pay for all that. There are other ferry options, for instance to take you directly from the St. Maarten airport, but they cost more and take longer at sea.Of course, I know many people stay their whole vacation on Anguilla, and I don't mean to imply it's only worth one day's visit, but that's all we decided to allot for the island on this trip. Anguilla's tourism brochures are full of various celebrities who've visited their island.I have to admit, we didn't do a lot of advance planning for our trip. We thought we would just talk to the tourism desk at the Anguilla dock or the taxi driver and find a nice place to go. Once we stepped ashore, we realized this was a mistake as there wasn't much tourism advice to be found, and we wished we'd consulted a guide book beforehand. After consulting with the taxi dispatcher and our driver, taking into account the weather (beautifully sunny) and wind direction (sort of a windy day) we decided on Crocus Bay Beach. Crocus Bay Beach turned out to be a gorgeous crescent of sandy beach. It wasn't beside a town at all, but there was a restaurant on the beach where we ate lunch which entitled us to use of their beach chairs, umbrellas, and changing areas.We had a very nice day on Anguilla. We wound up selecting a pretty nice spot to spend a relaxing day. The choice to wing-it with respect to planning was, honestly, not a great one. Taxis are really expensive, we probably could have rented our own car for not much more than we paid in taxi fares. It would have been nice to see more of the island, but you can't do everything in a few hours.One final piece of advice: if you're going to collect a passport stamp, bring your passport! Going to Anguilla (or other island you can visit from St. Martin), you are going to another country, so you need your passport. The first day we intended to go to Anguilla, we neglected to bring our passports from our hotel. So that day turned into St. Martin circle-island-tour day and we went to Anguilla the next day.
If you're looking to try out another beach while on St. Martin, you should consider Pinel Island. It's a pretty little islet off the northeast coast of St. Martin and its best feature is the small sand beach with a nice shallow bit of calm ocean with a sandy bottom. There are a couple of restaurants there, so you can pay for food and drink if you're sticking around for a while, but you're sort of a captive audience. There was supposed to be a good snorkeling spot on the end of the islet opposite the beach, but we didn't make it down there and didn't have snorkels along when we visited.You reach Pinel by a short (10 minute?) ferry ride from St. Martin, north of Orient Bay. It's not a huge passenger ferry or anything, just an open boat with benches to seat 30 people or so. Near the ferry dock are restrooms and a few souvenir stands. We actually first arrived late in the day and the boat captain offered to take us over and back for free (not staying) and then we could pay the regular price for our ride the next day, so he was pretty nice about the whole thing.Ile Pinel is another pretty part of St. Martin with some nice sand and worth taking a look at, but since you have to pay for the ferry there, you feel obliged to stay a while and it isn't that big. It was pretty popular the day we visited, but not over-crowded, I would say.
We wound up eating dinner at the KFC in Phillipsburg one Sunday night, and, no, it wasn't our top choice by any means, but it seemed like about the only choice we could find. We came into town about 6:00 to look around and find a place to eat, without a real destination in mind and not knowing much about the town. The problem that we found is that nearly all the restaurants along the beach and the main street start to close down around 5:30 because that's when all the cruise ship passengers leave. We didn't realize how much the town is driven by the cruise ship passengers as opposed to people staying locally. We learned fast.After wandering around a good long while and getting frustrated by seeing places close up just as we were walking up, or being closed because it was Sunday, we came across the familiar red and white logo of the local KFC, near the main courthouse square. Since it was about our only option at that point, and we were plenty hungry, we ordered some chicken and sides. The food at KFC was pretty bad. Not the worst we've had, but a few steps below what you might get at a KFC in the US. But hey, they're open on a Sunday so we didn't go to bed hungry!Lesson learned: go early while the cruisers are still around, have a destination restaurant planned, or stay at the holel!
by travelswithkids on June 17, 2012
Set on a peninsula between two bays, the Divi Little Bay offers a fantastic view no matter which way your room faces. The protected beach on Little Bay that it occupies is very nice for swimming or sunning, though not so interesting for snorkeling right there. The view to the other side overlooking Philipsburg's Great Bay is gorgeous, and you can watch the huge cruise ships come into to dock on the far opposite side of the harbor.The Divi Little Bay offers some choices in room type. We stayed in one of their "casitas" and were really happy with our choice. All we gave up was the on-beach experience (really, walk out the door, across the patio and you're on the beach) that would have come with a standard hotel room. By opting for the casita, our family with two teenagers got a huge suite: A spacious king-bed bedroom, a living room with a fold-out couch for the kids to sleep on, a breezy balcony facing Great Bay, a huge bathroom, and a small kitchen. We economized during our trip by making use of the kitchenette for breakfasts and several dinners. We really enjoyed watching the ocean from the pretty balcony although it was a little too windy to comfortably dine out there a couple times.. The casitas are a little further up the garden path away from the beach and reception desk, but instead of a 10 second walk to the beach it's just two minutes.The Divi Little Bay does sell time-shares and some guests are owners. While we were asked if we were interested, it was only about two times and we weren't pestered about it too much.A couple nights during our week, they had entertainment by the main pool, along with a free rum-punch, soft drink, or glass of wine. One of the singers/DJ's they had was really talented and fun and these were nice little events. The pool and hot tub were pretty small and didn't add much to the resort at all. Up the hill a little ways, is a nice little pool with an infinity edge that provides a dramatic view overlooking Little Bay.It wasn't perfect of course. We could nit-pick about the mattress firmness, some of the chair coverings, and how long it took the front-desk to answer the phones at times. But the room was kept clean and nice by the housekeeping staff and they supplied us with plenty of nice towels.It is possible to walk into Philipsburg from the hotel, but, being lazy and on vacation, we had a rental car and it was nice to be able to zip into town or to the nearby grocery store instead of a 20 minute hike.Our family of four had a great time in our week at the Divi Little Bay. We were also happy to be on the island for a few days instead of a few hours like the cruise ship visitors. Not that we did an exhaustive search or anything, but honestly, we didn't see any hotel on the island that looked like a better place to stay.
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