A few people are duped by flashy advertising into staying in the Maho Beach area, only to discover that all afternoon, widebody jets from the US, Canada, and Europe thunder over their hotels and beaches to land on the runway of the Princess Juliana International Airport. The runway begins literally 10 feet from the sands of Maho Beach, and as the planes approach for landing, it looks as if beachgoers could literally jump up and grab the landing gear. This offends many folks, and they leave after fighting for a refund with hotel management. After all, most people go to the Caribbean for a nice quiet vacation.
HOWEVER, there are a few of us out there who think the idea of a white sand beach, crystal blue water, and massive widebody jets is pretty cool! It gives St. Maarten just the edge it needs to scoot out other beachy, commercial places in the Caribbean like St. Thomas or Aruba.
For interested parties, the best plane watching is Thursday afternoon and all day Saturday. This is when the 747s and Airbuses from Europe arrive and depart. There is nothing quite like the feeling of lying on the sand or floating on your back and having a 747 whiz 50 feet over your head! You can actually hear the air whistling with turbulence 5 minutes after the plane has landed!!!
Takeoff is even more dynamic. The massive planes taxi to the end of the runway, only 50 feet from the short fence at the beach. The runway is very short, so the planes must crank their engines to maximum for about 30 seconds before they release their brakes and roar down the runway.
This creates a jet blast which roars back toward the beach at over 150 miles per hour. Ever experienced 150 mile per hour winds? You will if you're standing at the fence or on the beach! It creates a big wave in the water which sends a wake a good half mile out into the sea.
Many people think it will be fun to stand on the beach and experience this jet blast, without thinking that with 150 mile per hour wind comes 150 mile per hour SAND. And thus, it is quite amusing to stand on the observation deck at La Terrasse, or at the Sunset Beach Bar right next to the beach, and watch the spectators line up for a 747 departure. Seconds later they all being shrieking in pain and alarm, and either dive to the ground or run for the water as the sand blasts into their skin. It's really funny! Take a camcorder.
If you wish to experience the jet blast, which you really should, at least once, my recommendation is to stand with the observers at the airport fence, and hold on tight. There is much less sand here, but keep your eyes closed! The feeling of the warm air blasting over your body at 150 miles per hour is unreal! If you're light, like me, you might even fly for half an instant. Over the years I've seen all sorts of folks gather on Saturdays to watch the big planes arrive and take off, including several folks wearing superhero costumes.
This is really a unique experience in all the world, and warrants a trip (with lots of cameras) for any aviation buff. And if you have come to St. Maarten for other reasons (God forbid) make sure you make a special trip to Maho Beach on Thursday afternoon or Saturday to see this spectacle. It will BLOW YOU AWAY! Literally.