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Totally new to the Carribean -- any suggestions?

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Hi all!

Definitely new to vacationing in the Carribean -- my two girlfriends and I are planning a trip in mid-April for my birthday and between researching package deals on Expedia to Cheapcarribean.com and reading lots of travel articles (written by who-knows-who) I've just gotten so confused and would like input from REAL people on where to go / stay / do / eat!

The following is a list (in order) of what we're looking for:

1. Safe, above-average hotel/resort, preferably an AI (for the convenience but we're definitely open to places where we can "taste the culture" but still affordable).

2. Ease of transport on the island (we would like to rent a car to go on day trips/go off the beaten path, and from reading horror stories about car rentals on SXM I'm a little terrified)

3. Beautiful beaches :) a given, yes, but it will be our first time on white sand and turquoise water and we want to be blown away~ we're open to places for snorkeling or day boating trips too :)

4. Nightlife!!! We're in our mid-twenties so we're past the Cabo-whoo-spring-break vibe, but would still like to keep the option of getting "ratchet" open if we'd like to :P Would love to go to a place where there are bars/clubs/lounges, maybe in the style of Vegas or Miami...?

5. Would like to keep away from super tourist-y places (staying away from places that sell made-in-china souvenirs), but still open to visiting museums, and other places that we could learn about the local culture :)

So far we've been leaning towards St. Martin--definitely drawn to the Dutch/French culture going on, pretty beaches but has the nightlife we are looking for (anyone been to Tantra? What should we expect? We laughed when we heard Drake was there haha).

Would that be a good fit for us? Any other islands that would meet our criteria? Thanks so much for hearing me out! Looking forward to all your suggestions :)

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