The dual island nation of Saint Maarten (Dutch) and Sint Martin (French) is a popular island stop as a cruise ship port of call or for Caribbean lovers looking for cheap beach holidays. Like many of the Caribbean islands, this one is said to have been discovered by Christopher Columbus on his voyage to the new world. In the mid 1600’s the island was divided up among the French and Dutch settlers, and in a lesson the world could take to heart, they have lived peacefully side-by-side ever since. Dutch on the south half of the island, which is the more populated, and French on the north half, both countries rely on tourism as their main industry, and it’s easy to see why – with sunny beaches, nightlife, and true duty free shopping, this is an island paradise.
Most of the larger cruise ships call at Philipsburg in St. Maarten, while some small ships may call at Marigot on the St. Martin side. You should be able to move easily between the two sides of the island, there are rarely border checks between the two sides, giving you a chance to experience the flavor of both countries. There are plenty of shore excursions that will give you a taste of the island, or you can choose to explore on your own.
The two countries may share the same island but there are distinct differences between the sides. St. Maarten is known for having lively nightlife, exotic rum drinks, duty free shopping (electronics, liquor, and perfume are good buys), and casino gambling. Sint Martin is known for its high fashion, shopping, and cuisine. Feel free to draw the parallels (or stereotypes) between each side and it’s home country – Netherlands and France.
Of course, both sides have beautiful beaches, and there’s nothing wrong with choosing to spend your port time relaxing on fine white sand. Here are three beaches popular with cruise ship passengers:
- Great Bay is a popular beach for cruise passengers as it’s conveniently located along St. Maarten’s Front Street. The water is calm and clear, making it a good swimming option as well as a fine choice for sunbathing. When you’re ready to get moving again, try walking the boardwalk that runs for a mile alongside the beach. Great Bay can get quite crowded, so if that’s not your idea of a good time, find a quieter option.
- Little Bay, just to the south of Great Bay, provides a little quieter beach scene, but still provides the usual beach amenities. The snorkeling is good, and you can take advantage of rentals for something a little more adventurous like jet skiing, parasailing, or paddleboating. Of course, you could just sit and soak up the sun as well.
- Orient Beach, located on the French side, provides a clothing optional beach alternative. Don’t go to gawk – this type of passenger has already given the entire group a bad name – but sun lovers who appreciate and enjoy a nude beach option should feel right at home. The beach is part of larger resort and amenities are nearby.