Saturday April 23: Newark to St Maarten to St Barth
We stayed at the Hilton Newark Airport on the Friday evening prior to our departure. Although our flight did not depart until 9:15 am, staying near the airport on the previous night is a more relaxing way for us to begin a trip.
On our day of departure, we arrived at Newark’s Liberty International Airport (airport code EWR) about two hours prior to our flight. Although the airport recommends arriving three hours prior to an international departure, we were not checking bags, we had TSA pre-check, and we were flying business class. We enjoyed drinks and food at Proof Whiskey Bar, which is a new restaurant that is part of the Terminal C multi- million-dollar restaurant revamp.
Our United flight 1444 departed Newark at 9:15 am and arrived at Sint Maarten/St Martin’s PJIA Princess Juliana International Airport (airport code SXM) after 2:00 pm. The airport is located on the Dutch side of the island. The United equipment was a Boeing 737-700, which was equipped with Direct TV in each seatback. (On the return flight, however, even though the equipment was also a Boeing 737-700, there was no in-seat [nor overhead] entertainment, despite the flight length of 4 hours: 45 minutes.) When we booked our tickets, the price difference for an economy ticket with an economy plus seat upgrade (and one checked bag) was not much less than a business-class ticket (with two free bags), so we splurged on the upgraded cabin.
Because United does not have a jetway/jet bridge in Sint Maarten (neither does American or Delta; only JetBlue has a jetway), we deplaned on the tarmac and then boarded a bus for a short ride to the terminal. All passengers deplane and board the same bus, so even if deplane first, you must wait for the entire plane to board the bus.) The lines to pass through immigration were long on the afternoon that we arrived because several other large planes from the US landed just before ours flight, so we were glad that we had only carry-on baggage and could use the internal transit security area/transit gate to catch our connecting flight to St Barths rather than having to claim and recheck our bags and then pass through the general airport security to reboard.
Upon entry into the arrivals hall, a representative of our hotel on St Barths (Le Sereno) greeted us and facilitated our transfer. His effort was especially appreciated because our flight from Newark landed late. (Our plane had to circle around Sint Maarten for more than 30 minutes before it was permitted to land.) Our connection was decreased from its original 1.5 hours to 1 hour because of the delayed landing. The hotel rep led us to the airline transfer desk (which is used by only WinAir and St Barth Commuter) to check us in and to get our boarding passes. We flew WinAir because St Barth Commuter was sold out (FYI, WinAir has no on-line check-in capability at this time). Next, we used the transfer security screening area (airside and internal to the airport) before we were admitted into the regular airport departures area. The rep then ran us through the Sint Maarten Airport because he booked us onto an even earlier WinAir flight than we reserved. (Truthfully, we would have preferred to take our time and catch the flight for which we were originally booked rather than to have to run through the airport facility.) After we reached our gate, the rep secured carry-on baggage tags to our rollaboard luggage, and then he carried it downstairs to the marshalling area for our connecting flight.
We flew WinAir from Sint Maarten to St Barth, which takes approximately 15 minutes. Although we had assigned seats, passengers sat in any available seat. The plane held about 19+ passengers in a 1-2 configuration. We checked our rollaboards planeside because they would not fit on the small aircraft. It was difficult to find room to stow even our personal items (backpacks) because the aircraft contains no overhead storage bins, and the under-seat storage was limited as well, so we just held them on our laps. FYI, there is no pre-flight check by an airline employee for seatbelts and stowed carryon items, and there is no drink service, restrooms, or air-conditioning, but WinAir is kind enough to provide passengers with a paper fan and an in-flight magazine!
Landing in St Barths is an experience! In fact, some polls rate it as one of the world’s most extreme airport landings, although we did not find it to be as petrifying as we expected. Reportedly, only certain pilots are qualified to land in St Barths, where the runway is very short, and overshooting it means crashing the plane into the ocean. The St Barths Airport is small, modern, and well-maintained. Upstairs from the arrivals and departures areas is an air-conditioned, sit-down bar/restaurant (Chez Joe/Aerosnack) and several small shops, as well as the airport offices, an Air France office, and a type of travel agency. Downstairs, next to the airline check-in counters, many car rental desks offer vehicle rentals, and if you rent onsite at the airport, cars are located right outside (there is no need to take a shuttle or go offsite). A shopping area is located across the street from the airport, which includes a sit-down café, take-out café (Mayas To Go), fuel station, pharmacy, bank (with an ATM machine; look for the BRED sign), and a large grocery store.
Several days later, we also departed from the St Barths Airport. Note that there are no services in the departures area, so do not go through the security check too early. Someone checks your passport and boarding pass, but no metal detector or X-ray machine is present. (Because the planes that fly to/from St Barths are small, security risk is low.)
Because our facilitator pushed us onto an earlier WinAir flight, we arrived at the St Barths Airport sooner than our hotel transfer expected us, so no one was present to meet us holding our names on a placard. To remedy this situation, the airport rep in Sint Maarten should call ahead/email/text the hotel so that they know that guests are arriving early. Therefore, as we waited for the hotel shuttle, we had time to use the restrooms and to withdraw some Euros from the cash machine at BRED across the street. (It is not immediately apparent from the exterior that the BRED storefront contains a cash machine.) The small St Barths airport offers two locations for its modern restrooms: one upstairs near the bar/restaurant, and one downstairs near the arrivals door. Oddly, neither of the women’s bathrooms contained a way to dry hands – there were neither paper towels nor an automatic air dryer; however, both of the men’s bathrooms contained hand dryers.
St Barthelemy (or St Barth, for short) is 8 square miles, with a population of approximately 9,000 people. As a French country, the currency is the Euro, although US dollars are widely accepted. Before France took control of the island in 1878, it had been in the possession of the Order of Malta, Britain, Sweden, and a variety of thieves and pirates. Christopher Columbus discovered the Lesser Antilles on his second voyage in 1493, when he named St Barthelemy after his brother, Bartolomeo. Schools on St Barths are only available through the ninth grade, so children must travel to another island to complete their secondary education. Fun fact: St Barths has the greatest concentration of Mini Cooper cars outside of the United Kingdom.
One of their gorgeous employees of Le Sereno drove us to the hotel. (Every employee of every hotel and restaurant on St Barths looked like they stepped off the pages of a French fashion magazine with their model good looks, lovely gleaming smiles, and perfect bodies! It is an island full of “pretty people”! The roads in St Barths are not for the faint-of-heart! (To us, driving a car was more frightening to us than landing on the short runway at the airport!) The island of St Barths is attractive, and different from other Caribbean islands that we have visited, because it contains many hills and valleys and twisty, windy roads. The accommodations package that we booked at Le Sereno included a car rental from Hertz (which is located on-site at the hotel), but our rental car would not be delivered until the day after our arrival.
We stayed at Le Sereno for four nights in a Villa Vue Mer suite. (See our separate review.) Upon arrival, we unpacked and freshened up, then enjoyed a late lunch. We shared a turkey club sandwich and some French fries, as well as two rounds of drinks. We investigated the hotel property, and then walked down the beach to explore the nearby hotels and restaurants. O’Corail is located on the beach adjacent to Le Sereno; watersports operator Ouanalao Dive Center is located just behind (and associated with) O’Corail. Next, we encountered restaurant La Gloriette, then Ondines Sur La Plage (a small 6-room hotel), and the (now shuttered) Le Club Lafayette before observing the construction at the still-under-construction Le Barthelemy Hotel and Spa. (We think that this site once held the now defunct St Barths Beach Hotel and Le Rivage restaurant). On the opposite side of Le Sereno is Le Guanahani (with its restaurants and bar Bartolomeo, L’Indigo, and Bar’to); however, due to the rocky cliff between the two hotels on which rooms are perched, it is not possible to walk to Guanahani on the beach. (Nor is it easy to walk to Guanahani on the road, because the road is narrow, twisty, and there is no sidewalk; in addition, the distance down the side street to the restaurants is far; however, it is not impossible to walk there that way.) The only other hotel/restaurant nearby is Yo Sushi Mani (at the Villa Lodge 4 Epices); we could see the sign pointing the way from the main road, but we do not know how far in elevation you must travel to reach it. We are pleased that we chose to stay at Le Sereno in quiet Grand Cul-de-Sac. Although it might have been nice to stay in St Jean and be able to walk to a few more hotels, shops, and restaurants, St Jean was busier and more crowded than Grand Cul de Sac (which was not the setting that we were looking for).
We ate dinner at Restaurant Sereno at our hotel on the evening of our arrival. When we checked in to the hotel, the desk clerks told us that we were lucky to be dining there that evening because it was a “full moon” dinner. The host led us to sit at one of the two round tables for two, which was positioned on the edge of the deck of the dining room, so we enjoyed an awesome view of the full moon. Our waiter even moved our table a little further onto the deck so that we had a better vantage point. As an added bonus, Robb Tito and friends provided live music (popular cover songs) during our meal.
Sunday April 24
On our first full day in St Barths, we rose early and enjoyed breakfast at Restaurant Sereno before relaxing by the pool. We later picked up our rental car from reception. Hertz is on-site at Le Sereno, and some room packages (including ours) include a car rental. Next, we drove around the island, but because it was Sunday afternoon, the grocery stores were closed, where we had hoped to purchase some beverages to enjoy later that night in our suite. So instead, we took a leisurely drive around the island, walking on St Jean beach and in the nearby cemetery before we stopped for a late lunch at the Sand Bar restaurant at Eden Rock (see our separate review). After lunch, we continued our drive, passing Le Toiny on its remote coast of the island. When we returned to Le Sereno, we walked to nearby restaurant La Gloriette for dessert and happy hour drinks (see our separate review). We later relaxed by the pool before we ate dinner at Le Bartolomeo at Le Guanahani (see our separate review). It was a great full first day!
Monday April 25
We rose early, enjoyed breakfast, and spent time at the beach and pool, including trying to use the stand-up paddleboard. SUP is harder than it looks, and it requires agility and flexibility because you need to “pop up” onto the paddleboard as you would do if you were surfing. We were terrible! Back in the car, we finally reached the grocery store to pick up supplies. The store near the airport offers the easiest parking, and it is well stocked and much larger than it looks from the street. We drove around the island more, including a trip into Gustavia. A sailing regatta had just ended, so there was nice activity and buzz around the harbor. We parked in the public parking lot adjacent to the main street (Quai de la Republique), where you pay your fee at a machine using either cash or credit cards. (We, and many other patrons, had difficulty making the credit card feature work.) We walked around the Gustavia harbor, but we were disappointed to find that many restaurants were open for dinner only, not lunch; however, we found a good solution at Le Carre (see our separate review on Tripadvisor). After lunch and window-shopping, we returned to Le Sereno, where we visited nearby beach shack O’Corail for dessert and happy hour drinks. That evening, we had planned to visit the Hotel Christopher for dinner at Taino restaurant, but when we drove to the hotel in the afternoon to investigate its location so that we would know how to reach it in the dark, we decided that we did not want to drive on such windy, narrow streets in the pitch blackness, so instead, we ate dinner at our hotel. Another day in paradise!
Tuesday April 26
This day was a repeat of our previous days: rising early, a hearty breakfast, and pool and beach time. We ventured into the cove using a two-person kayak provided by Le Sereno. In the afternoon, we ventured further around the island, driving past the airport and Gustavia to the lookout in Columbier. On our way back to Le Sereno, we stopped in St Jean for lunch at Le Piment and shopping near the restaurant. We filled our car with fuel at the gas station near the airport because we planned to return it when we returned to our hotel. The fuel pumps were electronic and accepted credit cards, and the pump directions were in various languages, so the process was simple. We did not see an attendant whom you could pay with cash; the gas station seemed unattended. (FYI, there is another gas station on the island near Lorient.) We ate dinner in the evening at restaurant La Gloriette (see our separate review).
Wednesday April 27: St Barths to Anguilla
This was a transition day for us because we were departing St Barths and flying to Anguilla. We ordered (complimentary) room service for breakfast on our last morning at Le Sereno, and it was so pleasant dining on our deck that we wished we had done it every day! The hotel provided us with a complimentary return transfer to the airport.
Because the aircraft that land/take off from St Barths are all small, it is not necessary to arrive at the airport any more than one hour prior to your flight. Check in went smoothly, and we waited on the second floor of the terminal because we had planned to investigate some of the tiny shops and then have a drink in the restaurant, but it was too early for the shops to open. (We had a 9:30 am flight, so we had checked in by 8:30 am.) We sat and waited a bit, but before we realized it, an airline employee had come searching for us, telling us that our flight was boarding. (It seems that if all passengers are available, a flight can take off early at the discretion of the pilot.) We went through “security”, which involved only a passport/ticket check but no metal detector or X-ray machine. We did not have any checked baggage, but we had to check our roll-a-boards planeside because we could not bring them into the cabin of the 8-seat Anguilla Air Services flight, which takes approximately 15 minutes. (Obviously, the aircraft is too small to accommodate overhead storage bins, flight attendants, drink service, or restrooms.)
Because we departed St Barths early, we landed in Anguilla at least 30 minutes ahead of schedule. We quickly passed through customs and immigration, although our flight landed early. We planned to take a taxi to the Thrifty car rental office (there are no car rental agencies on-site at the Anguilla Airport), but two other couples on our flight also needed transportation to their hotels, and the taxi drivers gave them preference over us because we had only a 5-minute ride to the rental agency, whereas the other customers had longer, more expensive rides to their accommodations. Luckily, one of the couples took pity on us and asked their taxi to drop us at the car rental agency en route to their hotel. (The taxi driver charged us $10 US.)
We encountered our next problem when we arrived at the Thrifty office before it opened. It seems that Thrifty staffs its office only when it expects customers, and we were 30 minutes early. Because most rental agencies drop off and pick up cars at renter’s hotels, the agencies are not staffed full-time as they would be in the US. Fortunately, we noticed a local restaurant nearby, and we bought some cold drinks to enjoy on their breezy covered patio while we waited for Thrifty to open. We knew that it was a respectable restaurant based on the number of local residents who were buying their breakfast. We rented the car from the “airport” location because we did not think that we could check into our hotel (Cuisinart, see our separate review) so early in the day, and we wanted to drive around the island to use our time wisely. However, once we picked up the car, we drove to the hotel anyway, because the car was quite small, and we would have had to leave our luggage on the exposed back seat rather than in the tiny covered trunk. When we arrive at Cuisinart, our room was available, so we checked in, unpacked, and familiarized ourselves with the sprawling resort.
Back in the car, we searched for a grocery store and a restaurant where we could eat lunch. The Best Buy grocery (and hardware) store near Mead’s Bay offers everything residents and vacationers need, and we purchased our items before we searched for a meal. We initially tried to eat at Straw Hat at Frangipani Resort, but it was closed because of a death in the family. Instead, we dined at Trattoria Tramonto, which we enjoyed, not just for the food but also for the amazing scenery and views (see our separate review). Back at the hotel, we spent time at the beach, and later we walked to Garvey’s Sunshine Shack for happy hour drinks. In the evening, we dined at The Restaurant at Malliouhana for dinner.
Thursday April 28
We rose early to enjoy our first complimentary breakfast at Café Mediterraneo at Cuisinart. After spending some time on the beach, we ventured out for lunch at Straw Hat at Frangipani (see our separate review). In the afternoon, we enjoyed happy hour drinks at Bankie Banx Dune Preserve before we ate dinner at Ocean Echo (see our separate review). We had planned to visit a restaurant in Sandy Ground that night, but we were more comfortable with the shorter, easier drive to Mead’s Bay instead. The roads on Anguilla are in good condition (and are straighter and more level in elevation than on St Barths where we had just departed), so while we were somewhat at ease with the British drive-on-the-left-side-of-the-road situation during the daylight hours, in the darkness of night, without the aid of many streetlights or ambient light, we felt more relaxed to dine closer to our hotel.
Friday April 29
Another beautiful day at the beach! After breakfast at Café Med, we spent time at the pool and the beach. In the afternoon, we enjoyed lunch at Jacala (see our separate review), happy hour at Sunshine Shack, and dinner at Blanchards (see our separate review). In the late evening, we visited the Dune Preserve to enjoy some live music. The cover charge was $20 per person, but we felt that it was worth it to hear the legendary Bankie Banx sing and play.
Saturday April 30
This was our last full day on Anguilla; in the morning we, would depart for home. After another breakfast at Café Med, we returned our rental car so that we would not need to concern ourselves with the return on our day of departure. Next, we took Cuisinart’s Hydroponic Farm tour. Afterwards, we enjoyed some drinks at the Lobby Bar before we walked on the beach to the Sunshine Shack for lunch. In the afternoon, we visited Cuisinart’s Azure beach bar for happy hour, followed by a phenomenal farewell dinner at Cuisinart’s Tokyo Bay (we highly recommend the chef's tasting menu!). The only negative of the day was when we tried to go to bed that night, the pounding bass music from the Dune Preserve kept us awake until at least 3:00 am. (The racket puzzled us, because the Dune was not officially open that evening.)
Sunday May 1: Anguilla to St Maarten to Newark
On our last morning on Anguilla at the Cuisinart Resort, we ordered complimentary room service for breakfast. We had an amazing room with a fantastic view, which we enjoyed while dining on our terrace. (In retrospect, we should have ordered room service for breakfast every day, instead of venturing out to Café Med.)
We had arranged a taxi to the airport with the concierge, and the driver arrived on time. En route to the airport, our driver thoughtfully took one short scenic route so that we could look out onto Sandy Ground from the cliffside. We arrived at the Anguilla Airport about one hour prior to our flight, which was more than adequate time. Outside of security (landside), the airport building contains many airline desks, one tiny shop, and one restaurant. After we checked in at the airline desk, we visited the departure window, where we paid a $20 US departure tax per person. Next, we passed through security, which included both a metal detector and an X-ray machine to screen our carryon baggage. We carried our rollaboards with us, even though we knew that we would have to check them planeside because of the small aircraft. We were making what we thought was a tight connection in Sint Maarten, and we did not want to spend extra time to wait for our baggage only to have to recheck it for our flight to the US. Once we passed through security at the Anguilla Airport, we found two waiting areas: one air-conditioned and one not. The lounge area without the A/C contained bathrooms, and what once operated as a bar. The old bar was not operational at noon, so we suspect that it is never open, which is unfortunate, because waiting passengers would buy drinks there. In fact, its position against a shared wall with the landside restaurant and the small shop seems like it would be possible for someone from the either place to staff the small bar. In addition, no vending machines are available in the secure waiting area.
After a short 10-minute flight on Anguilla Air Services that held about 24 people, we landed on the tarmac at Princess Juliana Airport. We were then bussed to the arrivals hall of the terminal, along with our carryon bags. If we had we checked our luggage, we would have had to enter Sint Maarten by passing through immigration, claim our bags, pass through customs, then recheck our bags, and pass through another security screening. Because we had only carryon baggage, we were able to use the internal transit re-screening area, which had only a short line. We had to show our passports and pass through a metal detector while our baggage went through an X-ray machine. We had a 2-hour connection between our flight from Anguilla and our flight to the United States, and because of good timing, we had time between our flights to browse in the few shops before we enjoyed drinks at Taloula’s Flight.
To board our United flight to the United States, we descended the stairs to our gate (an elevator is also available), walked across an internal airport road onto the tarmac, and boarded our flight. Only JetBlue has a jetway at the airport; the other aircraft that we saw (United, Delta, American) require passengers to board by climbing stairs to their planes parked on the tarmac. Our flight from Sint Maarten back to Newark was uneventful; the only disappointment was that the aircraft offered no in-seatback entertainment/Direct TV like was present on the aircraft on which we arrived; however, we did receive warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies as a consolation.
We had a great trip to St Barths and Anguilla! It is difficult to say which island we preferred. We loved St Barths because of its interesting topography and gorgeous hotels and people and the exotic French factor, but the beaches on Anguilla are stunning. (The beaches in the Turks and Caicos Grace Bay on our trip last year in April 2015 were just as dazzling!) We are happy that we decided on a combination trip to both islands.
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St Barths and Anguilla Trip Report (April 2016)
Saturday April 23: Newark to St Maarten to St Barth