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ST. MAARTEN/ST. MARTIN...Have Questions & Need Advice!

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My husband & I will be traveling to St. Maarten/St. Martin from July 2nd, 2011 thru July 9th, 2011. We are going with my sister & brother-in-law. All of us are very seasoned travelers, we've all been to various parts of the world...however it's been awhile since any of us have been to the Caribbean. None of us have been to St. Maarten, so this will be a brand new island to check out. I can't wait!

I've been reading this forum for the past month and I think everyone that's posted on here has provided tons of great info, but I do have some questions that I hope you "experts" can help me out with. ; )~

We are staying at the "under new ownership" Simpson Bay Resort & Villas (formerly The Pelican). My sister has a time-share here and this trip was booked last year, so there really wasn't a whole lot we could do when all of that crap went on (bankruptcy, employees, etc. ~ we are aware of the situation) at the beginning of this year, so we held our breath & hoped the resort would re-open by the time our trip came around.

How's the resort doing now? Have they made any changes? The new website looks beautiful, but I know that websites can be deceiving. Would appreciate any (HONEST) opinions. What "part of town" is it located in? Nice or nasty? Don't sugar-coat, like I said above I really want your honest opinions.

The posts I've read on the subject of rental cars have literally made my stomach churn, but I'm willing to take the risk in order to have transportation at our disposal so we can go where we want, when we want...we plan on checking out every square inch of that island (LOL). Is renting a car in St. Maarten really that bad? I've gone ahead & made a reservation with Budget, I hope they aren't nearly as bad as the Thrifty/Dollar mess I've read about. How is Budget? Anyone rented from them before?

Also would like to know what the best tour agencies are. We would like to do the day-trip to Anguilla/Prickly Pear, also the Pinel/Tintamarre trip. Which vendor is the best to use to book these excursions? There are a lot to choose from online, but I don't want to book the wrong one & wind up having a bad time because the tour operator stinks. Are there any other tours or day-trips that you would recommend for us?

We're laid-back folks, late 30's - early 40's, We're just as comfortable in a sand-floored beach bar hut as we are in a five-star restaurant (but we like the informal beach huts better). We'll probably eat "fancy" (i.e.- five-star) two nights & do the beach hut/restaurant/ tiki bars the rest of the time. Which are the best ones? We don't particularly want off-the-chain crazy & loud, but more chilled-out (if that makes sense).

I'm an amateur photographer & writer, so I'd love to know where the more "photogenic" places in St. Maarten/St. Martin are. Also, during the time we'll be there - the first week in July - is it really busy? Or is it a more quiet time of year?

Any suggestions that you guys can provide would be absolutely wonderful. Thanks in advance! ~ Amy

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