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Trip Report St. Martin Trip Report ~ May 8 - 15 (lots of photos!)

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Our family of five (me, hubby, 14, 11 and 5 year old), Kellybeaches (as she is known on Fodor’s) and family (her, hubby, almost 5 and almost 2 year old), and another couple spent a wonderful week in St. Martin from May 8 – 15 at an amazing house called Happy Bay Villa. Sidebar – be on the lookout for Kelly’s report which will be coming soon! The villa itself and the company of our wonderful travel companions were the highlights of this trip. All I had previously seen of SXM was six years ago when we took a cab from the airport to Marigot to catch the ferry to Anguilla. I was nervous about the customs and traffic horror stories I have been hearing about but both were a breeze upon arrival. More traffic and longer lines going home. We rented a car from Unity (beat up Corolla), no problems, and were on our way to find the villa! I have to say, this has been the only island thus far where we have gotten lost numerous times. We drove through a few sketchy areas on our journey from the airport (Cole Bay maybe?) but finally we made it.

Happy Bay Villa is just gorgeous. The photos on the web sites don’t do it justice. As soon as we pulled through the gate and saw this beautiful villa in the wonderfully manicured yard bursting with tropical flowers, we all couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. This villa has an open area living/kitchen and dining area which can be closed off by sliders but we left it open 90% of the time. The indoor living area spilled onto the huge outdoor dining/sitting area and pool deck. As soon as you walk into the door you see the infinity pool, then the beach, palms and boats of Happy Bay below and Anguilla in the distance. We saw many amazing sunsets and even some sunrises. There is also a great gazebo where we spent much of our time. All of the rooms and decor were very tasteful and upscale. And each bedroom opened right onto the pool deck. There were only a few very minor issues….sporadically working ice maker, issue with the pool light and powder room lights. Nothing to detract from our enjoyment of the villa. The pool alarm went off at random times too…one of its sounds was like the ticking of a bomb in 24! The little girls discovered a tangelo (or some variety of miniature orange) in the yard so they were always picking fruit, peeling it and eating it. Island life.

Kellybeaches told me that once you do a villa vacation you won’t go back and she is right. I was really turned onto villa living during this trip. The thought of being stuck in a hotel room with a tiny balcony doesn’t hold much appeal. And I can never go back to not having a sunset view. That was a great part of each day.

Some general island observations…I was a bit worried about the crime I had been hearing about but not once we did we sense or encounter a hint of crime so that was a relief. We spent the majority of our time on the French side. We saw many pretty vistas but also some unattractive areas (as is the case with many islands). I do like all of the rolling hills though the island isn’t as pristine as St. John. The Dutch side seemed quite congested and built up. I’m not a fan of seeing Burger Kings and KFCs on a Caribbean island. And the local drivers reminded me of New Yorkers (just a generalization, no offense intended)! They don’t fool around. And there was a lot of trash around..along the road, on the beaches, in the wooded areas. It’s a shame that both the residents and tourists don’t have more respect for the island. Now Grand Case was just my speed..quant little Caribbean town. I also a little surprised at how many things were closed in May. One of the locals said many things close down at this time until the busier summer season. We cooked most of our meals in the villa and shopped at the US Supermarche when it was open. Everything was closed on Sunday and many things on Monday. Couldn’t find a pizza place open until later in the trip. And then everything was also closed on Thursday for Ascension Day. When you are shopping for 11 people (6 adults, 2 teens and 3 kids) a stop the grocery store was an almost daily occurrence. On the days when the Supermarche was closed, we made do at the small Chinese market. Our friends who have been to SXM before said the local fish guy at the Supermarche is no longer there which was a disappointment. This is a very expensive island all around..with the exception of the Lolos, liquor and French bread! Anyone who thinks Cayman is expensive probably hasn’t been to St. Martin.

Aside from our boat trip to Anguilla, most days went like this: coffee and breakfast at the villa (we ate outside every night..only used the indoor dining table to pile our stuff when we returned from an outing), excursion in the morning, afternoon in the pool at the villa. Happy Hour either in the pool or under the gazebo, sunset, dinner, then just relaxing, playing cards or playing ball in the pool. For dinner, our chefs for the week whipped up salmon, shrimp pasta and hamburgers (when all that was open was the Chinese market). I was really looking forward to fresh fish tacos but alas, that menu was slated for Ascension Day so we had to make do with frozen fish fillets again from the Chinese market.

Weather was pretty good..we had a few great days, a couple good days and a couple marginal days. The wind and the seas increased each day into our trip. We had a few showers here and there, mostly in the evening which was fun to watch from the covered area of the outdoor living space in the villa. But the sun came out every day and never did we have a wash out.

Here are the things we did and saw…

Happy Bay ~ This was a 10 minute hike from our villa. Not a bad hike at all. The worst parts were getting through the barbed wire fence and then the steep trek up the paved road on the way back. The 5 year olds did it numerous times with no problems! Cows everywhere too. The eight abandoned homes/villas right before the beach are shame to see. They sit on prime real estate and that’s just what they do..sit. Though there does appear to be a squatter in one of the homes as every night we would see the glow of a light inside. This is a very pretty beach lined with Palms and Sea Grapes. Not sure how the snorkeling was as the day we tried, it was quite rough and all you could see was churning sand. We did see Friar’s Beach one but I wasn’t real impressed with it. Rocky, not very pretty beach.

Le Galion Beach ~ we visited on Sunday so it was very crowded with locals and dogs. I love dogs but there was a lot of poop on the beach which no one seems clean up. This is a nice calm, picturesque beach and I enjoyed it.

Orient beach ~ The drive into Orient is so nice! The area is very pretty. We decided to plant ourselves at Kontiki for a few hours. Very cool atmosphere. Saw a few topless women and some banana hammocks but nothing major. The beach itself is nice but a bit overrated in my opinion. Fun day though and good people watching.

Power catamaran trip to Anguilla ~ This was supposed to be the highlight of the trip. We booked a full charter on a 52’ power catamaran “The Polly Girl” for the day to take us to four stops on Anguilla. There must have been some breakdown in communication between the guy who booked our trip and the crew because when we boarded (they picked us up via dinghy at Happy Bay) the captain said the itinerary we booked was impossible. So that was quite disappointing. We were scheduled to visit Rendezvous bay, Meads Bay, Shoal Bay and Little Bay. Shoal and Little Bay they told us were out of the question as the boat goes too slow and there wasn’t enough time. So we had to settle for two stops. Maunday’s bay (home of Cap Juluca) and Sandy Island. Both were nice but it wasn’t the trip we thought we had booked. The Polly Girl itself is very nice and the crew was very friendly albeit a bit disorganized. As soon as pulled away from SXM, the clouds rolled in ad the island got a serious storm which we watched from the boat. We had pretty good weather all day though the pop up storms around us did churn up the water and made for a rough ride at times. My step-kids and husband rode it out on the bow getting pounded and sprayed but they had fun. And then my worst nightmare came true (well, second worst aside losing my 5 year old daughter overboard!). The girls were on the fly bridge pointing to birds and just being cute so my husband asked for my camera so he could take a picture. When he went to hand it back to me..him on the side and me up top, the camera left his hand before it reached mine (though hubby has a different version of the story and to be honest it was all a blur) and it hit the side of the boat and went straight in to water L L I was upset about my brand new week old camera being gone, but even more so about the pictures. It was only day 2 and I missed my D10 for the rest of the trip. I could have gone and purchased a new on in P-Burg but I feel more comfortable buying things like that back home in case there are any problems with it. Thankfully we learned a lesson when we took the kids to Grand Cayman and the camera got left on the plane never to be returned to us. I had already downloaded the pics from the day before and we had brought a spare camera. Of course this put me a foul mood for the rest of the day. Then the boat trip back, one of our friends got extremely sea sick and spent the ride home throwing up over the side. A fun day but not the dream trip we were hoping for.

Marigot ~ Nice town with lots of craft vendors set up. We stopped to get a gin and coconut drink at the Coconut juice house (as seen on “Three Sheets”). Fun to drink to but not that tasty. We stopped for lunch at Sarafina’s after reading all the rave reviews. More to come below but it didn’t live up to its expectations.

Pinel Island ~ Our excursion to Pinel was probably one of the best days we had. We got chairs and umbrellas on the Karibuni side. My husband and step-son did some snorkeling but didn’t see too much. We spent most of the day in the calm shallow water drinking Carib’s and Tutu punches (again from “Three Sheets”). Kids drank virgin mixed fruit daiquiris. We found a starfish and watched an iguana swim.

Grand Case ~ Cute little town with shops and restaurants lining a narrow main road. Seemed like a mini, more laid back version of a cross between Bourbon Street and Duval Street Our friends arrived a day before us and stayed at Grand Case Beach Club, which they really liked. Cross reference Kellybeaches trip report for more details! They said the snorkeling in front of the hotel was amazing.

Anse Marcel ~We took a ride to check out the Radisson after breakfast in Grand Case one day. Pretty views of Pinel and Anse Marcel driving there and back. It’s nice but not one of the best Radissons I have seen. The rooms are set up in a motel like fashion which I didn’t care for. And the beach is fine but nothing special.

Loterie farm/Pic Paradise ~ very cool area toward the interior of the island. Banana trees everywhere. The Hidden Forest Cafe is a fun tree house style restaurant. Sex in the Trees is a yummy frozen drink. My step-daughter was dying to do the zip line so she and one of our friends did the extreme version. They said it was awesome. A truck takes you up to the top then you go through a series of 17 zip lines which above the trees. Everyone else did the hour long hike up to Pic Paradis.

Philipsburg ~ We walked the boardwalk and then cut back on to Front Street to peruse the shops. Hit the Guavaberry Emporium and my husband got himself a Tommy Bahama/Kenny Chesney straw hat which he didn’t take off for the rest of the trip. One of our group got conch salad from Le Escargot. Not good. Cannot even compare to the fresh conch salad from the Bahamas Out islands or Da Conch Shack in Turks & Caicos. We picked up some souvenirs and a St. Maarten license plate for our tiki bar at home. Next stop was Sunset Bar to watch the planes. After sitting in traffic and their one year old getting cranky, our friends decided they would pass as they had already experienced it. We went though and had lunch and watched the planes come in. Fun experience. My step-daughter stood behind one of the jets taking off and got pelted with sand. Our friends made the drive back to Orient while their son slept to pick up some fresh grilled lobster from Boo Boo Jam. We all tried a bite when we met up back at the villa. Caribbean lobster is amazing. So much better than Maine lobster. Also way more expensive!

Places we ate…

Kontiki – Very good but very expensive. Hubby and I shared a big sushi platter which was delicious. We make sushi at home and will now start adding pineapple and mango. The kids had nuggets and a big burger..all of which were very good. The mojitos were tasty…they use brown sugar instead of simple syrup. And the kids loved the strawberry daiquiris. Then I guess since we spent so much money there they brought us out a carafe of rum, oranges and sugar to do shots. Very tasty.

Sarafina’s – We had high hopes for this place but it was just okay. The doughnuts (and I realize they are French doughnuts) were very dry and bland, our brie sandwich was pretty good but nothing special. The cake part of my daughter’s strawberry tart was a bit hard and the croissants were just okay. One pretty good artery clogging item was some kind of coconut macaroon. Very dense, buttery and rich. Couldn’t eat more than a few bites.

La California – I knew going into it that La California is not one of the top rated restaurants but it was kid friendly, had a varied menu and nice setting on the beach. The atmosphere and décor here are great so it scored points there. Service was also excellent. The food was good but not great. Everyone got seafood…mahi mahi, salmon, scallops etc. No one had a bad meal but nothing really stood out except for the pizza….excellent pizza. We got carry out pizza here one night as well. All of the restaurants in Grand case were dead between 6 & 8 PM. I kind of wished we had tried la Villa where I know we would have had great food but the interiors of some of the restaurants looked quite cramped and stuffy. Our friend tried Calmos Café (even did the Millipede shots again seen on “Three Sheets!”) and Le Shore the day before we arrived and enjoyed both very much.

Sunset Beach Bar – yummy Guavaberry coladas, good chicken tenders and huge tuna steak sandwiches. Good bar type food. They ran out of ice cream though so the kids had chocolate mousse instead.

Talk of the Town Lolo – This was one of our best meals. We did carry out and ate at the villa. Ribs, chicken, Mahi Mahi, plantains, dirty rice, veggies, mac and cheese. Excellent food and a very good value. It’s a shame they put Kraft BBQ sauce on the tables though!

L’ile Flottante – jackpot for breakfast! I noticed this little place under the bougainvillea at the split in the road in Grand case as we sat in construction traffic. Next morning everyone wanted crepes so we decided to give it a try. The ham and cheese crepe and the Chocolate banana coconut crepes were to die for. The older kids got chocolate croissants to which they gave a thumbs up. This place far surpassed Sarafina’s. Not too expensive either.

We also enjoyed the mango, pineapple and coconut Jumbie rums at the villa and brought some home. We had a good many bottles of French wine as well which we just kind of picked out without any rhyme or reason., Some very good, some okay and one not so good.

Places we didn’t make it to but wished we had…Mullet Bay, Oyster Pond, Dawn Beach, the Dinghy Dock, Karakter and more Grand Case restaurants.

Since many people have asked, I will do a comparison of SXM to our favorite islands. Though we had a great time and I would return to Happy Bay Villa, St. Martin/Sint Maarten did not join the ranks of my favorite islands which are: Anguilla, Turks & Caicos and St. John. I am sure it was just the restaurants that we tried (or didn’t try) but Anguilla still boasts the finest restaurants in the Caribbean, in my opinion. Anguilla’s & T &C ‘s beaches and water color/clarity also far surpass those on SXM. I am a beach snob J. I also found the Anguillans to be the friendliest people. But Anguilla isn’t for everyone because aside from the beaches and restaurants, there isn’t much else to do. So it fits the bill for a relaxing vacation. We did like the hills in St. Martin which is a similarity to St. John but found St. John more to our liking. Just quieter and more laid back. And more picturesque. Also, SXM is the first place I have seen a trash problem. And way more traffic than the other islands I like. On the plus side, SXM is a fun island with lots to do and lots of local flavor. Grand Case is a great town. The Lolo food and crepes will be hard to beat! And we couldn’t have asked for a better villa.

Below is a link to my Shutterfly album. Between all of us (minus the photos buried under the sea) we took about 2,000 photos. I have whittled it down to about 240 for your viewing pleasure :) And if that's still too many, I have included the link to my Facebook album which only has about 130 pictures. (Note: some of the same photos will appear in Kelly’s album).


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