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So confused, too many islands. Need advice from frequent travelers....

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Apr 1st, 2011, 03:19 PM
  #1
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So confused, too many islands. Need advice from frequent travelers....

Hi,

My husband and I would like to take a trip to the Caribbean in mid June and stay in a villa but the more I look the more I get confused about where to go. We are in our late 40's, early 50's and we would like a bit of activity while on vacation.. Mainly we like to spend time around the beach and pool area, we love good food, enjoy a bit of shopping, enjoy snorkeling and doing some interesting things while on the island of our choice. A nice cocktail is a must also!

We are looking at the following islands: Aruba, Anguilla, St. Martin, Turks and Caicos and Grand Cayman. My dilema is we do enjoy relaxing but would like something else to do while we vacation. Is Anguilla to boring for us? i know they have fabulous beaches but is that it? St. Martin seems to have a variety of activities but I worry about our safety there. Is there a reason for concern? Aruba seems to fit the bill for great beaches, activity, good food choices but is it too commercialized? Also I saw some pics of baby beach and there were oil refinery smoke stacks not far off to the right of the beach. Major turnoff wouldn't you think? That leaves me with Turks and Caicos and Grand Cayman. From the pics I have seen of both the water and beaches they both seem to be some of the most beautiful that I have seen. I love shallow beaches and T&C definitely fits the bill for this. My concern with these two islands is again, are they too dull and boring outside of the beach and water activities? Any shopping in either of these places? How about the food? I guess I can't have it all but beings this is my first trip to the Caribbean I would really like to make it special and have a great time. For all of you seasoned travelers can you give me any advice on which one to choose or can you tell me your experience while visiting any of the islands I have mentioned? I have to decide soon but honestly I just don't know which one will make for a happy trip. Thanks for any help you can give me.
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Apr 1st, 2011, 05:05 PM
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grand cayman has more shopping. provo has great restaurants. both have good snorkel/dive. both have golf. activities on both are mainly water related. gc has a very nice botanical garden. i think provo has more villas. on provo you might look at coriander cottage, ballyhoo, callaloo & nutmeg at http://www.tcvillas.com/

i think you should add barbados to your list. lots of villas, good shopping, good dining & more to do than provo or gc. could be just the right island for you.
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Apr 2nd, 2011, 04:44 AM
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I admit to being biased because, from choice, I live here, but the FRENCH side of St Martin should suit you.

If food is one of your major priorities, Grand Case is quite rightly considered to be 'the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean', and the choice of restaurants is amazing.

The beaches are excellent - though perhaps not quite as good as on boring Anguilla.

For shopping the French capital, Marigot, has a fair number of 'high end' boutiques, all within easy walking distance of the pretty little Marina Royale and, if you are more interested in jewelry and electronic items, a trip to Front Street in the Dutch side capital, Philipsburg, is a must.

If you do decide to stay on SXM - which is, incidentally, entirely duty free - a rental car is essential, even though the total area (split roughly 50/50 between the French and Dutch sides) is only 37 square miles. By and large the roads are crap - even the one main road around the island !

The Dutch side is very Americanized, and grossly over-developed, with 12 casinos, KFC, Burger King, highrises and timeshare (not to mention 15 licensed brothels) but the French side is a COMPLETELY different world, where NONE of the aforementioned 'attractions' are to be found.

The Dutch side is a US Dollar based economy, and the 'official' currency of the French side is the Euro, however Dollars are readilly accepted, as are all credit cards, with the frequent exception of AMEX.

Neither side of the island has decent snorkeling.

Crime - as in all the islands (even in sleepy Anguilla) - DOES exist but, in relation to the number of visitors arriving annually is, in my view, not much worse than elsewhere in the Caribbean, but it tends to be luridly reported, sometimes by persons who have become victims as a result of not taking sensible, basic, precautions, and/or 'dropping their guard' having been lured into a feeling of security by the large (unmeasured) drinks and the sunshine !

In all fairness, there ARE areas to avoid, particularly after dark, and it is also true that on the Dutch side of the island - especially in the casino areas - tourists are far more prone to experience problems.

It is very easy to take day trips, by sea or by air, to sleepy Anguilla, super-expensive St Barts, and unspoiled Saba so, if you need a break from SXM, the possibilities certanly exist.

There are a few very good hotels on the French side of the island, such as La Samanna, Le Domaine, the nearly new Radisson, L'Esplanade, and the 'boutique' Le Petit Hotel. The Grand Case Beach Club is also well located and boasts the highest number of return visitors of any of the establishments, though very nice, it cannot be considered five star.

There are plenty of other less luxurious - but perfecly adequate - hotels, mainly clustered in the Orient Bay area, either right on, or very close to, the longest beach on the island, where there is a large choice of beach bars and restaurants of all standards, and where all kinds of of watersports facilities are available.

I suggest that you take a look at the websites of the St Martin (as opposed to Sint Maarten, which is the Duch side) Tourist Bureau, and of the various hotels and restaurants, which should give you 'a feel' of what to expect if you do come here.
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Apr 2nd, 2011, 04:44 AM
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I admit to being biased because, from choice, I live here, but the FRENCH side of St Martin should suit you.

If food is one of your major priorities, Grand Case is quite rightly considered to be 'the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean', and the choice of restaurants is amazing.

The beaches are excellent - though perhaps not quite as good as on boring Anguilla.

For shopping the French capital, Marigot, has a fair number of 'high end' boutiques, all within easy walking distance of the pretty little Marina Royale and, if you are more interested in jewelry and electronic items, a trip to Front Street in the Dutch side capital, Philipsburg, is a must.

If you do decide to stay on SXM - which is, incidentally, entirely duty free - a rental car is essential, even though the total area (split roughly 50/50 between the French and Dutch sides) is only 37 square miles. By and large the roads are crap - even the one main road around the island !

The Dutch side is very Americanized, and grossly over-developed, with 12 casinos, KFC, Burger King, highrises and timeshare (not to mention 15 licensed brothels) but the French side is a COMPLETELY different world, where NONE of the aforementioned 'attractions' are to be found.

The Dutch side is a US Dollar based economy, and the 'official' currency of the French side is the Euro, however Dollars are readilly accepted, as are all credit cards, with the frequent exception of AMEX.

Neither side of the island has decent snorkeling.

Crime - as in all the islands (even in sleepy Anguilla) - DOES exist but, in relation to the number of visitors arriving annually is, in my view, not much worse than elsewhere in the Caribbean, but it tends to be luridly reported, sometimes by persons who have become victims as a result of not taking sensible, basic, precautions, and/or 'dropping their guard' having been lured into a feeling of security by the large (unmeasured) drinks and the sunshine !

In all fairness, there ARE areas to avoid, particularly after dark, and it is also true that on the Dutch side of the island - especially in the casino areas - tourists are far more prone to experience problems.

It is very easy to take day trips, by sea or by air, to sleepy Anguilla, super-expensive St Barts, and unspoiled Saba so, if you need a break from SXM, the possibilities certanly exist.

There are a few very good hotels on the French side of the island, such as La Samanna, Le Domaine, the nearly new Radisson, L'Esplanade, and the 'boutique' Le Petit Hotel. The Grand Case Beach Club is also well located and boasts the highest number of return visitors of any of the establishments, though very nice, it cannot be considered five star.

There are plenty of other less luxurious - but perfecly adequate - hotels, mainly clustered in the Orient Bay area, either right on, or very close to, the longest beach on the island, where there is a large choice of beach bars and restaurants of all standards, and where all kinds of of watersports facilities are available.

I suggest that you take a look at the websites of the St Martin (as opposed to Sint Maarten, which is the Duch side) Tourist Bureau, and of the various hotels and restaurants, which should give you 'a feel' of what to expect if you do come here.
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Apr 2nd, 2011, 06:54 AM
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Given that this is your first trip to the Caribbean, I think that you should go with whatever your gut feeling is with respect to your safety and pleasure. Nothing anyone on this board can say will guarantee either of these two factors anywhere you go, and it is important that you make your decision based on how you feel. The advice and recos you've received are all good. I'd also suggest that a luxury resort or a boutique hotel over a villa might give you less to do or worry about for your first time in the Caribbean.

That said, all the islands you've suggested are beautiful, small and places where you will be able to find your peace quite safely using common sense as you would anywhere in the world. For that reason I'd pick any of them, and your short list is a very fine one.

Because I've been travelling there since my student days in 1985, I have a bias towards St. Martin and can't wait to be back there in 2 weeks. The island has changed enormously over the years but I know the island well enough by now to know where to go and what to do to have and enjoy a great time - mainly off the popular tourist path.
After your first trip to the Caribbean you'll understand this too and get the vibe to know how to find your groove.

Wherever you choose, have a great time.

M
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Apr 2nd, 2011, 01:29 PM
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I forgot to mention in my earlier post that, depending on your budget, there are some really beautiful VILLA properties to rent on the French side of St Martin, in particular in the area of 'The Lowlands' (Terres Basses) and above Anse Marcel,from where there are fantastic views across to Anguilla.

Many of these properties are also very secure - far more so than the average condo or hotel room - though that is not to suggest that the less expensive accomodation is wide open to theft or other intrusion, because that is NOT the case. Normal precautions such as locking doors and shutting windows or blinds should always be taken, just as if you were at home.

These villa properties are normally rented for occupation by more than just one couple - partly because the rental charges which they command make them too expensive for most ordinary couples, unless they have a pretty significant budget, and / or are seeking a very high level of privacy.

If you think you can stand it financially (or even if you can't !) take a look at the website of a reputable Real Estate Agency in Marigot, Pierres Caraibes, which specializes in the rental of such properties - though I hasten to add that I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION WHATSOEVER WITH THE COMPANY.

There is no harm in looking anyway - even if only to dream !
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Apr 2nd, 2011, 05:09 PM
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Hi...I love St. Maarten/St. Martin too. I have stayed in a condo on Simpson Beach and a villa on Dawn Beach - and many other hotels on the dutch side of the island.....and I have been visiting the french side for years! I love the food in Grand Case...love the restaurant/bars/beach on Orient.....but I like to stay on the Dutch side...this is not intended to argue with David/SXM - as there are many many great places to stay on the dutch and french side.....the reason I think you should go is because it's so easy to go to Anguilla, St. Barts and Saba!!!!!! AND tour around St. Maarten/St.Martin.....Good Luck with your choice!!!!!
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Apr 2nd, 2011, 08:42 PM
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I'll go down your list.

Aruba---yes, it is a busy place, but the shopping, casinos w/ entertainment, restaurants, resorts are all great for a first timer. It's easy, safe and the snorkeling at baby beach or Arashi is good, again for a first timer.

Anguilla---the beaches and the restaurants are top of the line. It's a bit harder to get to and the shopping is minimum.

St. Martin----It's a love it or dislike it island. For us, after 3 times, it's just OK. Far too touristy IMO, but does have good restaurants.

Grand Cayman----fantastic water, snorkeling and diving, some good restaurants and resorts, but shopping? T-shirts, etc.

Turks & Caicos----after 20+ islands, our favorite. Fantastic, beach and water, beautiful resorts and really good restaurants, but again shopping? Not so much.

Barbados----I'll agree with Virginia, more to do, great water, resorts, and restaurants, but again the shopping? Better than some, but not great.

If you want it all----St. Bart's! But it all comes at a premium, it's very expensive! And it's hard to get to.

Our very first trip was to Nassau, Bahamas and we haven't stopped since. What we liked:
Easy to get to
Stunning beaches and water
Actually quite good shopping and restaurants
Atlantis Resort---huge, touristy, but outstanding. If you can afford "The Cove" or "The One & Only Club", you will be in the lap of luxury.
The Cable Beach Resorts are also nice, fantastic water and not far from the shopping in downtown Nassau.

I just thought of another place we loved, Secret Harbor Resort on St. Thomas. On the East end close to Red Hook, you can take the ferry to St. John for the day and snorkel in paradise. Again many good restaurants and easy to get to. We've also stayed in a villa on St. John. A bit remote, but great snorkeling, shopping, restaurants, and scenery to die for.

Good luck in your search.
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Apr 2nd, 2011, 08:44 PM
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Here's the website for Secret Harbor

http://www.secretharbourvi.com/
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Apr 2nd, 2011, 10:28 PM
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I have been to many islands in the Caribbean. Without a doubt, the one I always want to go back to is St. Martin. Stay on the French side and make sure you stay ON Orient Beach. We've stayed many times at the Caribbean Princess in the condos there and loved it. We mostly stayed on the French side throughout our stays, but have gone on an adventure to the downtown Dutch side for shopping. Orient Beach is beautiful and reminds me of the beaches in Destin, FL. I find that none of the islands have much of a night life, but St. Martin seems to have the most out of the ones we've been to. For your reference I've spent vacations at: Jamaica, St. Thomas, St. John, Anguilla, St. Croix, Barbados, Antigua and St. Barts and of course, St. Martin.
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Apr 3rd, 2011, 05:47 PM
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Hello, Bixa!
We love Aruba for all of the things you are seeking.
Just returned in Feb from our third trip.
You can probably find a very nice villa at Aruba Marriott Ocean Club or Aruba Marriott Surf Club if you go to www.redweek.com
We prefer Ocean Club as it is not as crowded as Surf Club.
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Apr 3rd, 2011, 06:10 PM
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I fully agree with Karla Meche.

Though, as I live here, I have never actually stayed at the Caribbean Princess (which, by the way, is NOT a cruise ship !) but I do know people who have, and I have seen the inside of a couple of the condos to which Karla refers, and they were excellent, and virtually on the beach.

In spite of what some other posters are suggesting, I personally HATE the Simpson Bay area, as it is not exactly - in my view - the nicest part of this island.

Also though Dawn Beach, and the area where the Westin is located are considerably better, they are both still on the Dutch side, and are just about as far away as can be from any other places which you might want to visit, or where you might want to spend an evening.

Also, there is not a lot of activity around there, unless you fancy Captain Oliver's which is pretty good, or want to use the Casa Blanca brothel which (I AM TOLD) is the best on the island, and which is close by !

Frankly, Orient Bay (or maybe Grand Case or Anse Marcel) are definitely FAR nicer, though returning to Anse Marcel can be a somewhat 'challenging' drive home after a good night out and had a few drinks !
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Apr 3rd, 2011, 06:10 PM
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I fully agree with Karla Meche.

Though, as I live here, I have never actually stayed at the Caribbean Princess (which, by the way, is NOT a cruise ship !) but I do know people who have, and I have seen the inside of a couple of the condos to which Karla refers, and they were excellent, and virtually on the beach.

In spite of what some other posters are suggesting, I personally HATE the Simpson Bay area, as it is not exactly - in my view - the nicest part of this island.

Also though Dawn Beach, and the area where the Westin is located are considerably better, they are both still on the Dutch side, and are just about as far away as can be from any other places which you might want to visit, or where you might want to spend an evening.

Also, there is not a lot of activity around there, unless you fancy Captain Oliver's which is pretty good, or want to use the Casa Blanca brothel which (I AM TOLD) is the best on the island, and which is close by !

Frankly, Orient Bay (or maybe Grand Case or Anse Marcel) are definitely FAR nicer, though returning to Anse Marcel can be a somewhat 'challenging' drive home after a good night out and had a few drinks !
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Apr 3rd, 2011, 06:10 PM
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I fully agree with Karla Meche.

Though, as I live here, I have never actually stayed at the Caribbean Princess (which, by the way, is NOT a cruise ship !) but I do know people who have, and I have seen the inside of a couple of the condos to which Karla refers, and they were excellent, and virtually on the beach.

In spite of what some other posters are suggesting, I personally HATE the Simpson Bay area, as it is not exactly - in my view - the nicest part of this island.

Also though Dawn Beach, and the area where the Westin is located are considerably better, they are both still on the Dutch side, and are just about as far away as can be from any other places which you might want to visit, or where you might want to spend an evening.

Also, there is not a lot of activity around there, unless you fancy Captain Oliver's which is pretty good, or want to use the Casa Blanca brothel which (I AM TOLD) is the best on the island, and which is close by !

Frankly, Orient Bay (or maybe Grand Case or Anse Marcel) are definitely FAR nicer, though returning to Anse Marcel can be a somewhat 'challenging' drive home after a good night out and had a few drinks !
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Apr 4th, 2011, 05:58 AM
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My vote is for Grand Cayman, to be honest. (That said, I have not been to St. Martin). Turks is nice, but very quiet, unless you are at one of the all inclusives, which shows you nothing of the local culture.

Grand Cayman has the famous 7-mile beach to enjoy, if you wish to stay on the west end of the island. Head out to East End for a truly secluded getaway and even find your own private beach to enjoy for the day!

As for food, Cayman is the culinary capital of the Caribbean! There are several restaurants that are owned/operated by 'celebrity' chefs: Blue (Eric Ripert @ the Ritz), Michael's Genuine (Michael Schwartz) and Ortanique (Cindy Hutson)--both are at Camana Bay. Other restaurants around the island may not boast a famous chef, but may have a 4-diamond chef planning and implementing fabulous menus (Osetra Bay is one that I personally love!). And if you like wine, most every restaurant has a great wine list. I personally thing the wine list at Grand Old House is one of the best! (Go there on a thursday for their fresh pasta buffet and Sunset Jazz...only CI$10 a person! Best deal for a great dinner on the island.)

As for things to do, you must see the Stingrays at Stingray City. Yes, it is touristy but it is 'cool.' Diving and snorkelling are big in Cayman, but there is also various museums, the Botanic Park (where you can see the Blue Iguanas), the Mastic Trail, tour the local Brewery, go to Hell to send your postcard, tour the Cayman Turtle Farm, visit the Motor Museum, enjoy an historic walking tour of George Town with the National Trust, spend a morning horseback riding in the surf, listen to steel pans at Camana Bay on Wednesday nights, etc, etc, etc.

To top it all off, it is probably the safest of all Caribbean islands to visit! I love the fact that I can relax on the beach and not have people coming up to me every minute trying to sell something. Of course, you must be smart about things--as you would if you were home (ladies, don't walk by yourself at night, don't flash money around, don't leave car doors unlocked if you have valuables there, etc). But honestly, it is a great place to relax and enjoy your vacation!
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Apr 4th, 2011, 01:01 PM
  #16
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Well after much discussion and contemplating we decided we are going to go to St. Martin and do a day trip to Anguilla. I am a sucker for good beaches so I have to at least do a day trip to see what Anguilla has to offer. St. Martin sounds like it will meet all of our needs in regards to shopping, eating, beaches and relaxing. We are renting a beautiful villa and I would like suggestions on what places we should not miss out on as far as eating out and shopping experiences. Can one get conch on either of these islands? I have never had it and would really like to try some conch fritters or conch salad. Is it good? I would love to have any other advice in regards to our trip, tips, where to go, what to see, what not to do or see. Thanks to David for all the information on St. Martin. If you can further help me out I would greatly appreciate it.
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Apr 4th, 2011, 02:40 PM
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You will have a wonderful time in St. Martin. I'm just a little envious. I remember the first time my wife and I went to St. Martin....and now we have a home there. I look forward to sending you those suggestions you are asking for about food, shopping, beaches, entertainment, boat trips around the island, conch etc.
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Apr 4th, 2011, 06:05 PM
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sxmchuck, I would love any and all suggestions in regards to the questions I asked. Please feel free to let me know.

Thanks!
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Apr 4th, 2011, 06:44 PM
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Hi

Good decision !

Where abouts have you rented the villa ?

I will be happy to try to 'point you in the right direction' towards various things, if you can be a bit more specific about where you will be staying, so that I can get a feel for the sort of places and things you would enjoy.

By the way, conch is no problem !

Also, I do NOT have ANY connection with the Tourist Bureau, or with any place, activity, or establishment, that I might
suggest.

I just happen to like the island where I live.
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Apr 4th, 2011, 06:44 PM
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Hi

Good decision !

Where abouts have you rented the villa ?

I will be happy to try to 'point you in the right direction' towards various things, if you can be a bit more specific about where you will be staying, so that I can get a feel for the sort of places and things you would enjoy.

By the way, conch is no problem !

Also, I do NOT have ANY connection with the Tourist Bureau, or with any place, activity, or establishment, that I might
suggest.

I just happen to like the island where I live.
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