Cruising 101: St. Maarten

August 10, 2013 by Michelle

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I have received a complimentary cruise in exchange for sharing my honest views of my experience aboard the Carnival Valor

Today was our last official port of call aboard the Carnival Valor. It’s bittersweet, as St. Maarten is one of my favorite Caribbean islands but it’s hard to believe that almost an entire week has flown by.  I remembered St. Maarten being fairly accessible, and I was pleased to see that my memories didn’t steer me wrong.

Cruising 101 St Maarten

Little Miss, however, was not interested in our adventure.  She’s exhausted from all the activity and commotion and coddling by everyone.  When we announced our intentions to take a water taxi to explore Philipsburg, the capital of St. Maarten and then spend time on the beach, she announced she didn’t want to go.  She didn’t want to leave the ship at all.

And this is where being on a cruise is perfect.  Unlike a more traditional vacation, she didn’t need to join us.  She could absolutely stay aboard the ship at Camp Carnival while we left the ship.  There were plenty of activities for her during that time, and they would also feed her a dairy free lunch.  Knowing how much she’s been enjoying Camp Carnival, I had no concerns over leaving here there while we enjoyed ourselves.

After dropping Little Miss at Camp Carnival, we left the ship and walked down the long pier to purchase water taxi tickets.  While it is possible to walk into St. Maarten, we had Mister Man and my parents with us and it was hot and humid.  We didn’t wish to walk a mile or more before reaching our destination.  There are regular taxis for $3 per person or the water taxi for $5 one way or $7 per person for unlimited rides for the day.  It was an easy decision.

Island of St Maarten from the water

The water taxis leave every five to ten minutes and stop both at the beach and shopping area and at the downtown of Philipsburg, on the Dutch side of St. Maarten.  Boarding them is easy, and it’s a quick ride that we all enjoyed with an entertaining crew.

St Maarten water taxi is an easy boat

Once we exited the water taxi, the Caribbean that I remembered but hadn’t much experienced on the other islands took hold.  There were plenty of vendors offering taxi rides, selling tours, and more.  We walked along the beach for awhile, just exploring.  Every twenty yards or so, we were approached by someone offering to set us up for the day with beach chairs and umbrellas, sometimes with drinks tossed in, sometimes with free wifi added, sometimes with noodles for kids – and at surprisingly different prices.

We knew that we would eventually want to hang out at the beach but wanted to get our exploring of the area in first, as I knew I was interested in purchasing some of the guavaberry liquor that St. Maarten is known for (and that I no longer had in my own home).  We noted that the further we walked from the main pier, the lower the prices were for the chairs and umbrellas and the quieter the area seemed.  The beach wasn’t even a mile in either direction, but it’s obvious that convenience has a price.

We wandered various streets, and like so much of the Caribbean, the stores were focused on jewelry, electronics, and souvenirs.  Many offered no strings attached gifts just for entering the store, though we were just exploring the downtown rather than shopping.  While Philipsburg has definitely grown since I was last there, the streets are small, one way affairs with brick pavers.  And wandering more than a few streets from the main area brings you into a noticeably local area.  It simply isn’t that big.

street in downtown St Maarten

Our curiosity satisfied, we headed back to the beach where we negotiated to have three chairs, an umbrella, four drinks, and access to the bathroom and changing room for $20.  Most of the chair and umbrella packages were more expensive, but this worked for us.

chair and umbrella packages on St Maarten

As soon as we got set up, Mister Man headed into the water.  In St. Maarten, the water is amazingly beautiful with so many greens and turquoises and blues.  It is clear, and the harbor where we docked and where the beach was located was incredibly calm and sheltered.  I actually was comfortable enough with the lack of waves that I was willing to bring my DSLR into the water – and to let Mister Man continue swimming near shore at one point while I reapplied sunscreen.

This was obviously a man made beach, as the sand on the beach itself was fairly fine.  As soon as you dropped into the water, the sand became a much larger grain, and there were shells everywhere.  Mister Man spent the entire time we were at the beach snorkeling and exploring for shells.  In fact, he quickly realized that there were so many shells that he could a) only collect completely unbroken shells and b) gift his bounty of shells to other unsuspecting beachgoers who he was sure would be thrilled.

Mister Man snorkeling

There are plenty of restaurants immediately surrounding the beach, as well, although they are relatively expensive.  I remember eating curried goat with my friend the last time we were in St. Maarten, but my husband reported that the dish was now $12.  Instead, he picked up a hot dog and fries for $5.50 and a cheeseburger and fries at $9 on takeout paper plates covered in foil for himself and Mister Man to eat for lunch on the beach.

We enjoyed our time on the beach.  It was interested to see again how many vendors came through. They would stop at everyone’s chairs, offering to sell everything from pareos to bracelets or necklaces to towels that fold into a bag and more.  As soon as you said no thank you, they moved on, so they weren’t pushy in any way, but they were definitely a presence, and one I hadn’t seen too much of before St. Maarten.

One of the many many vendors on St Maarten's beaches

When we decided we were ready to head back to the ship, we stopped at a store we’d previously scoped out and purchased the guavaberry liquor that was my only true souvenir of the entire trip.  I was intrigued to see that there are now many other flavors from mango to banana and more – eight in total – where there had just been the traditional liquor when I was last on the island.

As we passed the official guavaberry rum shop, they happened to have the guavaberry frozen cocktail being sampled.  That alone made me glad I had purchased another bottle this trip – and the recipe of coconut cream, guavaberry liquor, and pineapple juice is supposedly on the bottom of my bottle.  I’ll be having a post cruise party, and you know that will be a featured drink.

Once aboard the ship, I picked up Little Miss from Camp Carnival where she was ready to be done.  She had watched movies, played air hockey, made a bracelet, made spin art, created a picture frame, and played PlayStation.  She had also gone with the group to Fish ‘n Chips for a pizza lunch, where she was thrilled to report that she was able to have a no cheese pepperoni pizza as her dairy free option.

My dad – who had returned to the ship after our first round of exploring the island – spotted her as she was headed to lunch.  They chatted and she wanted to go play with him.  However, I did not have him listed as an authorized signer to remove her from Camp Carnival, and the counselors abided by their policy and didn’t let her go with her grandfather.  That made me feel even better about their security.

Both wee ones are determined to enjoy their last night aboard the ship.  Though they declared themselves too tuckered out to even attempt one last slide into the pool, they wanted to go back to Camp Carnival after dinner and be a part of the volcano explosion.  They were there for the building and painting of it and this was the piece de resistance.  And tonight they are showing Kung Fu Panda 2, and I promised them they could go – if they weren’t too tired.

Instead of playing by the pool or heading for mini golf again or challenging anyone to a game of giant chess, the wee ones agreed to read quietly for twenty minutes and then attempt a nap.  And they were both out like lights.  After an hour and a half, I had to wake them to head to dinner, and it was a challenge to wake them up again.  It’s unusual to see my 8 and 9 year old children willing to take naps and then to actually do so – in the same room, no less.  It just goes to show you how busy they’ve been over the past week and how much fun they’ve had.

Tonight is our last night, and they’re currently at the movie.  I am packing up our suitcases for disembarkation, and my parents and husband are enjoying one last show.  In twelve hours, we’ll be leaving the Carnival Valor that has been an absolutely spectacular home for the past week.  But we’ll be back.  The wee ones are already asking if we can go on a cruise over Christmas this year, and I think I may have to find a way to make that happen.

Did you miss earlier installments of Cruising 101?  Check them out here:
Why cruise?
Before you go
What to pack
Dining with allergies
Day 1 St Thomas
Day 2 at sea
Day 3 Barbados
Day 4 St Lucia
Day 5 St Kitts

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  • Nancy

    I enjoyed your review. We will be in st. Maarten in Dec. we have never been there and are considering the water taxi and doing the port on our own. Is that something a first-timer should consider? I’m not interested in major shopping – just a t-shirt or something small. We were thinking we could get the taxi day pass and go back to the ship to eat and rest if my husband gets tired. Any input will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Michelle

      Nancy, it is completely doable on your own if you want. As long as you’re confident in what you’re doing and watch the time, you’ll be fine. St. Maarten was a full day stop, so there wasn’t a quick departure we had to worry about, thankfully. We felt completely safe there, and it’s so pretty! And my favorite thing from there? The guavaberry rum. Look into it if you can 🙂

      • Nancy

        Thank you for your time and info. I will check out that rum for sure!!

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