One of my most favorite destinations in the world is St. Maarten. In fact, I even wrote about it here in my blog in an earlier post titled “Why St. Maarten is My Ideal Vacation Destination.” Whether you are in St. Maarten for a week or only for the day while on a cruise, you will more than enjoy yourself in this idyllic vacation destination. We were on the Norwegian Epic last month and one of the ports of call was St. Maarten and we were so excited to go back to St. Maarten yet again. This photo is of the beach along the boardwalk near where the water taxi drops you off.
If you are on a cruise ship, once you disembark the ship, getting to a beach is easy. If you haven’t made any plans to do anything, don’t worry! Simply take the water taxi over to the boardwalk area. It will stop at the middle and one end of the boardwalk and tickets are $4 for a one-way ticket or $6 for unlimited rides all day. Another option and the one that we prefer is that we simply hoof it over to the boardwalk on foot. It’s not a long walk at all and although I’ve heard some people say it takes 15-20 minutes on foot, we’ve definitely made it over in far less time. If it is your first time walking, you won’t get lost — I promise. Follow the scores of people who are going to the same place you are and you’ll get there in no time. In fact, you know you are close when you see this building on the right with its “Welcome to St. Maarten” poster by Presidente Beer.
Once you walk off the ship and make your way to the duty free shop area, you will hear cars on the street in front of you. Walk in that direction and make your way through the turnstile out to the sidewalk. This is the same area you will walk back into but be sure to have your ship card with you to present to security when you return. Once on the sidewalk, you’ll walk along for several minutes and then once you see the building in the picture above, you’ll walk through the parking lot to get closer to the boardwalk area. All along the way you’ll see an abundance of shops and restaurants as well as little stands selling drinks and snacks. My big advice to you is to not go shopping at these stores when you first arrive, but to save the shopping when you are ready to return to the ship. This way you won’t be lugging along lots of bags with you. A tradition we have while in Philipsburg is to stop off at Taloula Mango’s and the Blue Bitch Bar for no other reason than I like the name, but more on that in a little bit. Should you or anyone in your party get tired from walking, you’ll see that there are benches where you can sit and take in the scenery before resuming your walk.
If you are looking to spend the day at the beach, I highly recommend walking along the boardwalk until you see a section of the beach that you like. Then look for the chairs and umbrellas that you like because believe me, they are not all the same. Once you slow down and start really looking at an area, you’ll be approached by the person in charge of that section of the beach renting out the chairs. You’ll find that prices vary, but in general you’ll probably find that you can get two lounge chairs and an umbrella for around $20. Some offers include a bucket of beer, but that might be in a less desirable beach area so weigh your options out carefully. It also doesn’t hurt to be one of the early ones off the ship because you’ll have your choice of where on the beach you want to go and you’ll also get a front row option. Here you can see that our view included the four ships in port that day.
There is something special about the water in St. Maarten and I fear that if I talk it up too much everyone will want to go! Nevertheless, if you love crystal blue water and a clean and beautiful beach, then you’ll love St. Maarten. Granted, you might want to visit Orient Beach where topless bathing is the norm or Dawn Beach, but if you have a few hours in port, going to the beach by the boardwalk is the easiest thing in the world to do. After baking in the sun for a few hours, we decided to stroll the boardwalk and do a little shopping. In this picture you can see the water taxi dock and the buildings beyond it where you can eat, drink, or shop. Along this area is the Hard Rock and some other local restaurants and bars. Most visitors to St. Maarten will go down one street to the main shopping area where you will find Diamonds International, Effy Jewelers, and Colombian Emeralds as well as other lesser known stores. You’ll be able to buy jewelry, electronics, souvenirs, and much more along this famous shopping area.
We walked from one end of the shopping area to the other and we were ready for a break. We headed back to the beach and decided it was time to grab a quick drink and some lunch. We were able to hold our chairs by letting the man in charge of the area know that we would be back and off we went to Taloula Mango’s. This place is always busy, but if you’re patient you can usually find a great seat. They have outside seating on two levels so if you want to sit outside, I highly recommend the upper level with great views of the beach. As soon as we sat down, my husband ordered his bucket of beer and we looked over the menu. Taloula Mango’s offers a “Mix the bucket, 5 beers – any brand” for $10″ and opting for a non-US brand, my husband chose the local Presidente beer. 18 fluid ounces of local cold beer goes down relatively easy on a hot day at the beach.
Never being one to turn down a pretty, girly drink, I opted for a drink that was so good, but unfortunately I’ve forgotten the name of it. It definitely had Midori in it since it was green, but it was cold and yummy so I guess that’s all that matters. They have an amazing drink menu with an abundance of choices and even a separate shot menu! Their menu is huge and yes, they even have non-meat options for us non-meat eaters! In fact, they have an amazing falafel burger called “Moshe’s Favorite Falafel Burger” made with ground chickpeas, corn and peppers, served with tomato-red onion salad, and hummous served in a pita pocket. It’s so cool to be able to simply order off a menu and know that you can get something more than just a salad or a side of veggies. My son, the carnivore, surprisingly ordered the Haitian Voodoo Wings, which are supposed to be really hot and they weren’t hot at all unfortunately. I was surprised that he even wanted anything hot because he usually avoids it. You can check out their entire menu using this link.
While you enjoy your lunch, you’ll not only have great views, but great entertainment. Right down on the boardwalk near the front of the restaurant is an area where you can listen to live music. The music is pretty good and they are always very entertaining. Between the breeze from the water and the amazing panoramic views, you cannot possibly go wrong with this location. As the palm trees swayed, we saw the bikes down below for rent as well as Segways nearby, but we also spotted the massage tent. After lunch my son decided he wanted a massage, but of course, had no money for one. I wasn’t about to spend $100 or more on the ship for a massage for him, but here on the beach a 30-minute massage cost only $20. Keep in mind that the women providing the massage are probably not trained masseuses, but what does my teenage son know?
After several hours of fun in Philipsburg, we packed up our things and headed back to the ship. This is when we decide that if we are going to buy souvenirs, that we buy it at the shops farther away from the boardwalk as the prices are generally better for everything. You can find t-shirts, jewelry, sarongs, beach cover ups, sandals, sunglasses, and pretty much anything you can imagine buying. We always look and usually don’t buy anything, but I did find a cute little pinky ring so that made me happy. Of course, we had to stop at this great little shop, The Candy Store. We met the owner on a previous trip and now we always go inside to get water and chat. Hopefully, I have the story right, but he went on a cruise with his mother on MSC Cruises and one of the ports was St. Maarten. He fell in love with the island and moved there and opened up The Candy Store.
Inside The Candy Store you’ll instantly feel transported back to grade school where you thought it was perfectly acceptable to eat sugar as a snack and you didn’t feel bad about it at all. Every square inch of this small store is filled to the rafters with candy, but you can also get cold beverages including ice cold water, popsicles, and ice cream. When we arrived the power had just come back on so we were the only ones in the store. The owner is an absolute sweetheart who provides free wi-fi access, but also allows you to leave something for someone else visiting St. Maarten. This is great for guests, but also the crew on cruise ships and they definitely flock here because let’s face it, who else is going to be this generous when you are on a budget and traveling the world? This is one of those must see places to visit and chat with the owner and you’ll feel like you’re visiting an old friend.
Walking back to the ship always seems harder after spending a day in the sun, but we stopped off to check out the stores and look at the other ships in port. We were docked next to Disney Magic and although that ship is quite large, she was dwarfed in comparison to the mammoth Norwegian Epic. The other two ships in port were the P&O Cruises Azura and Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas. I had never seen the Azura before and with a little bit of research I found out about the line. The sister company to Princess Cruises, this UK cruise line currently has 7 ships in service including the 2010 Azura with all ships flying under the flag of Bermuda. You would think that it was a Princess ship because it looks just like any other Princess ship. I just love looking at and learning about new cruise ships. Yes, I admit I am a cruise geek at heart. Until next year St. Maarten, you will reside in my memories and of course in all of my pictures and videos.