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Trip Report Is there "island time" in St. Martin? (brief trip report)

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We recently vacationed for the first time in French St. Martin, staying at the Radisson for a week. Our previous island vacations have been in (listed from most-liked to least-liked): Nevis, St. Lucia, Grenada, Bonaire, Tortola, St. John, Cozumel/Isla Mujeras, Provo, Grand Cayman, and Nassau. I mention and rank these locations so that you understand our perspective.

Our overall impression was: There is no "island time" in St. Martin. But after only a week, and only staying at the Radisson, I don't feel qualified to make it as a statement, so I'll pose it as a question: Is there "island time" in St. Martin? Read on for our take.

The Radisson is a solid choice for hotel. No, it won't satisfy everyone, but I'd bet that almost anyone would find it at least acceptable if not enjoyable. It's not too big nor too small. It's very well-run and efficient. In particular, the staff is superb: friendly, efficient, helpful, and competent. The facilities and grounds are well-maintained, clean, and spacious. There is enough "elbow room" where, even when the hotel itself is busy, one doesn't feel crowded.

The Radisson pool, in particular, is amazing: large...no, huge...with enough room and landscaping such that the inevitable game of "marco polo" is not a bother. Yes, there are many families here, but the size Radisson campus allowed peace and comfort for all.

The beach is fairly quiet, offers good swimming in calm waters, and is large enough to do some walking and exploring.

The rooms at the Radisson, while offering some nice amenities (Sleep-Number bed, robes, nice veranda, room safe, flat screen TV, etc.) are just basic--even a bit spartan--hotel rooms.

Our biggest complaint with the Radisson was the night-time dining experience, which was, at times, unsatisfying. The Radisson is in the difficult position of "competing" with world-class cuisine just a few minutes away in Grand Case, and therefore it seems like they just kind of "go through the motions" with dinner. The food is OK, but limited. For instance, there are times when one merely wants something close, simple, and inexpensive, and this was hard to find at the hotel. For those times, Le Restaurant C (while good) was too pricey and "fancy". Le Marche, while offering choice, is also a bit pricey, and frankly the all-buffet felt a bit too much like a cafeteria. There are two dining options just outside the lobby, and one fit the bill for simple/inexpensive, but it was frequently packed (take the hint, Radisson) and the service is slow.

The Radisson is a bit off the beaten track, but not completely isolated. It's a 10-minute drive to French Cul de Sac (some eats and the ferry to Pinel), and a 15-minute drive to Orient Beach or Grand Case. So leaving Anse Marcel will involve cabs or rental cars, and either can get expensive.

Speaking of expense, be prepared to shell out some dough, everywhere. St. Martin is not inexpensive. Beers or glasses of house wine are $6 - $9, entrees run $18 - $45. A moderate lunch for two will be $60+, dinner: $120+. The taxi rides seem to run about $1 per minute: $10 to Cul de Sac, $15 to Orient Beach or Grand Case, $40 to the airport.

We visited Pinel Island, which was a fun little excursion, but nothing spectacular. A nice sandy beach with the ubiquitous "two beach chairs, table, and umbrella" for rent, a couple of beach bars, and a "boutique". The snorkeling was overrated. The small, scrubby island can be explored on foot. Don't go looking for a "deserted island" experience, but if you want a new beach for a change of pace, it's a fun day.

We took the Wednesday all-day sail on the 75' catamaran Scooby Too. A great day of sailing on a huge comfortable boat (with good shade) with an excellent crew. There is a 3-hour stop-off for snorkeling (disappointing), swimming, lunch, lounging, exploring, and whatever-else on Prickly Pear cay. This more approaches the "deserted island" experience.

We did our day on Orient Beach. It's a huge, busy beach, with lot's of activities, great water and surf, and about a million of those "two beach chairs, table, and umbrella" combinations for rent. Even if that scene is not your cup of tea, everyone should do it at least once. Great for people watching! Had lunch at Kakao, and it was very good.

Dined at Le Ti Provencal at Grand Case. Excellent fresh fish, simply prepared, without the heaviness that can come with some of the more traditional French offerings at some places. Wished we spent more time in Grand Case.

So, overall, we had an enjoyable vacation, with few, if any hitches. Everything seemed well-run, professional, and efficient, if not a bit expensive (perhaps those traits go hand-in-hand).

And that leads me back to my opening question: Is there "island time" in St. Martin? We didn't find it. But that's not necessarily a good or bad thing; it depends on your tastes.

For us, it was a bit too efficient, professional, and lacking in some of the charm and spontaneity that we've enjoyed in more "out of the way" places. Perhaps our opinion is colored by our short stay at the Radisson. Perhaps with more time, or a more varied itinerary, we would've found "island time".

But our desire for "island time" is, of course, just our personal preference. There are others who will enjoy the efficiency and predictability, and that's great for them.

In the end, though, French St. Martin ably satisfied those basic reasons that we all travel to the islands: sunny skies, warm tempreatures, clear water, nice beaches, and friendly smiles.

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