The ABSOLUTE best place in the world is St. Maarten during Carnival. The locals are already SUPER friendly, but during Carnival season, everyone on the island is HAPPY—even the visitors.
There are two that take place, one on the French Side that takes place during Lent; and the biggest one on the Dutch side, which takes place for 17 days after Easter.
I had visited St. Maarten six times before my first Carnival. After experiencing it, I could have kicked myself for not experiencing it sooner.
I have only been to Carnival twice, but when you go, you ABSOLUTELY have to take in Carnival Village, which is located in Philipsburg. Not only do local restaurants and bars set up booths for food and drink purchase, but the concerts that take place in the Village are well worth the money.
During the first week of Carnival, a night is dedicated to a certain kind of music. One night may be dedicated to Hip-Hop, another Reggae, Soca, and Calypso. The artists they book are HUGE name artists in their genre. Last year, there was Beanie Man on Reggae night (rescheduled due to his brother's death), and Ja Rule on Hip Hop night, with Soca Queen Destra. The year before, Sean Paul and Shaggy - Reggae Night.
The best part is the price. Yes, air and hotel to St. Maarten can be a little pricey, if you don't find a good deal (or own a timeshare week during Carnival). But, imagine trying to see such names here in the States—easily $50+ for tickets. During Carnival you can see a big name artist for as little as $20-$25. Not one or two acts, but three to four acts in one night.
There are the free things to do during Carnival as well. One of the best events is the Jump Up, or Jouvert that takes place. Very similar to the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, there are floats with great island music, lots of people dancing throughout the streets, and tons of free things given out. There are no beads in this parade, rather t-shirts, golf towels, beer, and other nick-knacks to take home as souvenirs or keep for yourself.
Another freebie is the show at Cherie's Cafe. It is fun and interactive, and can get CRAZY—ESPECIALLY after a couple of Guavaberry Coladas.
Yes, they have some of the best restaurants in the world. When you are ready for a world class Caribbean meal in a serene, but sophisticated setting, you HAVE to try Temptation (located in the Atlantis Casino area). The chef-owner, CIA-trained, Dino Jagtiani, and his mother, hostess Asha, will treat you like a celebrity from the time you set foot in the door. The surroundings and the food are equally glamorous—just like a celebrity.
But, if you happen to stumble upon a man with a grill under a tree, stop and get the ribs and chicken. If he has it, get the lobster. His food is WONDERFUL, and not pricey. I would actually recommend any small hole-in-the-wall places for the best food at a GREAT value.
I am not going back for Carnival this year, and hate I am going to miss it... but keep my colada frozen... I will be back next year.