Sint Maarten is a stunning Caribbean island that should be on everyone’s dream vacation list, whether you’re staying a week or just a few hours on a cruise! The Dutch side, Sint Maarten, is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and is on the southern part of the island. The north side is called Saint Martin, which is a French overseas collectivity. I explored the capital Marigot, Saint Martin, and the rest of St Maarten once I’d finished my cruise.
The capital of Sint Maarten is Philipsburg, where achingly hip beachfront bars are displayed along the boardwalk along Great Bay and casinos and duty-free shops can be found along the Front Street shopping area. The port is a popular cruise-ship stop.
How to get to Sint Maarten
February 2019: I flew into Princess Juliana International Airport (airport code: SXM), St Maarten on a Friday, the day before my Wind Surf cruise was due to leave. I was terrified of flight delays, due to Chicago’s unpredictable February weather. In the end, my Delta flights (via Atlanta) went smoothly and I arrived into St Maarten on the Friday afternoon. You can get a direct flight from the United States with United, but only on a Saturday. I was worried that, if there were any delays, that I would miss the Wind Surf cruise. In the end, I met a couple on the cruise from Chicago who had taken that Saturday flight, but I wasn’t prepared to risk it.
My one way ticket (Chicago-Atlanta-St Maarten) cost $333 USD.
Where to stay in St Maarten
It was easy to walk out of the airport and find a taxi – I had read that I shouldn’t pay more than $10 USD to get to Philipsburg and that’s what the driver charged – no haggling required! Although the official currency on the Dutch side is the florin, US dollars are accepted all over the island. I enjoyed the warm, humid air and tropical sights on the ride there.
My hotel (Sea View Beach Hotel) was located on Voorstraat, or Front Street, which is one street back from the ocean. Although not as fabulous as the beachfront properties I saw, it was in a convenient location and more in my price range (about $130 for the night – I paid in advance online). As soon as I arrived, I changed into my swimsuit and a sundress and set out to explore. There were lots of touristy shops, casinos and restaurants there. I cut down a side street onto the Boardwalk, where the atmosphere was a lot more lively, with fun looking beachfront bars along Great Bay. If you are looking for a more luxury hotel on the beach, Holland House looked absolutely divine.
I was surprised that no one was swimming in the sea and that there were very few people still on the beach – it was only about 4:30pm. My brother later told me it was because Philipsburg gets very busy during the day whilst the cruise ships are docked, and then they sail off and take all the people with them! After wandering up and down the Boardwalk, I took a swim, changed at my hotel and headed back to the Boardwalk.
Where to eat in St Maarten
There are lots of lovely restaurants, most of which are open air, so you can admire them and consider them as you walk by. I decided on Nu Love Beach Bar, and enjoyed a delicious guava-colada and pizza. It seemed pretty quiet along the Boardwalk – I wonder whether most people are back on their cruises or eating at their hotel/resort.
The next morning, I treated myself to a delicious breakfast at Holland House. It was pricey (I think about $20 USD) but so lovely to sit in gorgeous surroundings, with a view of Great Bay.
I then met up with my mum and dad, and brother and sister-in-law (who had spent the previous week aboard the Wind Surf). We wandered along the Boardwalk and did some shopping – then retreated to the Blue Bitch Bar for some refreshing drinks.
Best beaches in Sint Maarten
Great Bay beach is one of the closest beaches to the cruise port terminal in Philipsburg. You can walk here from the cruise pier, or take a $4 water taxi. It is also very convenient if you’re staying anywhere in Philipsburg. There are lots of sun loungers and parasols to rent, and so many options for when you get hungry or need a cold drink.
As we dropped my brother and sister-in-law off at the airport, we stopped off at Maho Beach for a swim and a look at the iconic spot as all the planes come in to land. They come so low and close to the beach, you could almost stretch up to touch the bottom of the plane (or so it seems!). I almost lost my hat as one plane’s engines roared right by us!
Then we headed off to board our beautiful Wind Surf Cruise ship! I hope this helped you to find the best things to do in St Maarten on a cruise!