Philipsburg, St. Maarten Cruise Port

4.4 out of 5

About Philipsburg, St. Maarten

St. Maarten is an island of dualities — the root of that being its dual sovereignty. A little more than half the island is under French government, while a little less than half is Dutch-governed. The French side has good restaurants and boutique shopping; the Dutch side offers cut-rate electronics, gaming, and nightlife. Both have lovely beaches, bad traffic, and good duty-free selections — and, fortunately, you can move between the two easily. Here's our list of the best things to do in the unique island of St. Maarten.

Top Hotels in St. Maarten

la samanna hotel st martin

La Samanna overlooks the sea
Photo by Joe Vaughn

Splurge: La Samanna – Just because a hotel has a fancy brand affiliation shouldn’t be sufficient reason to break your piggy bank. A top-to-bottom renovation to a five-star landmark is a different story, though, and La Samanna by Orient-Express is in the final stages of a full makeover that will modernize it and bring it back to full swoon-inducing potential. Doubles from $445.

Steal: Holland House – One of the nicer boutique properties on St. Martin, this one earns spendthrift street credibility by including breakfast in the room rate. You’ll also save on transportation costs by staying in downtown Philipsburg, which is on the Dutch side and just a mile from the cruise terminal. The hotel itself is a European chic urban retreat, with a busy commercial scene conveniently right outside. Want quiet? Ask for a harbor-facing room. Doubles from $195.

Tip: Plagued by crime in recent years, the island still feels safe in most of the tourist hot spots. Get out and explore this colorful, attitude-free isle, but don’t let the innocent look lull you into a false sense of security. We don’t suggest wandering around at night, or taking your eyes off your belongings.

St. Maarten Restaurants

carrot juice st martin

Fresh carrot juice
Photo by Shutterstock

Breakfast: Zee Best – Locals agree that this is indeed “zee best” place for a memorable breakfast, and we credit one simple thing: house-made pastries. A simple croissant or piece of quiche can be sheer bliss when made properly with plenty of butter … and here, it will be. The breakfast menu is lengthy, with eggs Benedict, banana almond French toast, and more than a dozen crepe variations.

Lunch: Freedom Fighters Ital Shack – This authentic Rasta eatery is a great place to cut calories that can be stored up for your cruise. The menu is vegan and organic, with fresh-pressed juices and veggies from the garden. The décor is in red, gold, and green, and the music is enough to make you think you’re in Negril.

Dinner: Le Tastevin – Consider yourself warned — in this Grand Case gem in a candlelit seaside cottage with flower-filled window boxes, you’ll want to snuggle the person across from you, even if that person is not your significant other. The views of sailboats bobbing in the sea provide a fantasy of life cut loose from all moorings. Best of all, Le Tastevin doesn’t rely on rich French recipes, instead serving global fare with a Caribbean influence, such as scallops with tropical fruit.

Dessert: Piece of Cake – This simple little patisserie in Simpson Bay delivers exactly what the name promises, plus the ultimate companion dish: small-batch authentic Italian gelato. The digs may be modest, but the in-house pastry chef offers authentic French fare, including fruit-topped crepes and delicate lemon tarts.

Tip: Wanna pretend you’re Anthony Bourdain? Head to a lolo, a roadside food shack specializing in barbecue and island dishes. These St. Martin establishments — featuring a makeshift roof, an order counter, a grill, and picnic-style seating (if you’re lucky) — are all over the island. The easiest to find are on the main boulevard in Grand Case.

Activities in St. Maarten

loterie farm pool st martin

One of several pools at Loterie Farm
Photo by Loterie Farm

For Everyone: Maho has the most peculiar tourist appeal of any beach ever: It is mere feet from the airport tarmac, and the main attraction is watching planes take off immediately overhead. Diehards go so far as to position themselves right where the jet blast will threaten to push them into the ocean.

If 747 exhaust isn’t your idea of a beachy vibe, drive up to Orient Beach, home of beach clubs, dance parties day and night, topless sunbathing havens, and enough European flavor to be fun.

For Couples: Caribbean Concierge Services – Don’t want to follow the crowds on an all-ages snorkel extravaganza? Rent a “boom boom” boat for two. Then join the caravan of like-minded couples and jet across the Caribbean, following the leader to Creole Rock nature reserve area, where you can find a patch of sand to call your own.

For Families: The Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit – This quirky St. Martin attraction is a labor of love for Nick Maley, a Hollywood special effects artist. Relics, life-sized costume figures, monster casts, and oddities from “Star Wars,” “Thriller,” “Alien,” “Terminator,” and many other classic films are crammed together in a Philipsburg storefront. Sure, it’s touristy, but when else will you ever be able to tell your kids, “Hey, let’s go meet the guy who invented Yoda!”

For the Adventurous: Loterie Farm – Out of the way and as eco-adventurous as the island gets, this farm has hiking trails, a swimming area, and an exhilarating “FlyZone Extreme” adventure that consists of 12 zip lines, bridges, and rope swings — starting at the highest point on the island and swinging down at extreme angles.

Tip: Cabs in St. Martin aren’t going to save you significant money, and public transit is … oh come on, you’re on a Caribbean island. You know better than that. If you want to explore, rent a car. At 15 miles an hour, the driver will never have to puzzle over British driving rules at high speed.

Insider tip

There’s no passport control on the border between the two sides of the isle. Tourists can cross at will and may not even realize they’ve done so, as the only indicator is a simple roadside sign. American dollars are accepted on both sides, but the Euro is the preferred currency here — and things are more expensive due to the exchange rate.

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3912 reviews and tips of Philipsburg, St. Maarten

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whidbeyben

St Maarten is open for business and putting their best face forward. We did an ATV tour which started out a bit dicey. We booked through the Shipmate App, and had reservations for 2 single riders. The ShorEx paperwork said to meet our representative from “Blue Bubbles” near the Tourist information desk by the bronze statue at 9am. We had no trouble finding the place, but nobody showed up at 9am. At 9:10am we called the local contact number but got no answer. We then tried the emergency contact number. Got a message “ that number is not assigned”. On trying the local number again, someone finally answered and said “Ask the people behind the info desk how to find where we are at.” The tourist info person said to go out of the port security gates and ask for “Kinja” or something like that. There were a bunch of taxi drivers milling about, and when I shouted out “Anyone know Kinja? We’re supposed to meet him for ATV rides” one of them looked up and said follow me. We walked about a half block and crossed the street to a partially fenced in area with a few ATV’s and a bunch of wrecked equipment. A darkly tanned young man strolled down decked out in bling and introduced himself as Safraaz. He made a phone call and then determined we were his only customers for the ATV tour. It’s a good thing because it didn’t look like there were more than 3 ATV’s in running condition. He gave us he briefest of safety briefings and operational instruction (we explained that we have experience with these machines), we were off and running. The entire tour took place on St Maarten’s streets. There was no off roading or tearing up any beaches, but we were fine with that, since we mostly just wanted to see the sights without being jammed into a bus. We zipped over to the French side of the Island to Orient Beach. Along the way, the devastation from Hurricane Irma was truly impressive. There were piles of rubble where buildings had once stood, and buildings that had survived still had obvious damage to roofs and siding. Lots of plywood over windows and many cars were driving around with smashed windshields and plastic duct taped over other windows. The outside of the International Jeweler’s store at the head of the dock was under obvious construction, but they were open for business. The roads we rode over were in pretty good condition, but it was shocking to see all the wrecked boats that had been flipped upside down or tossed onto the shore everywhere we went. There were also plenty or wrecked cars and it was rare to see dwellings that looked like they were ok. The Dutch side of the Island was in a more advanced stage of reconstruction than the French side, where neighborhoods looked like shantytowns. The resort at Orient Beach was totally destroyed. It was very windy when we were there. There was a bar and cantina set up on the beach, but we didn’t check it out too closely. The beach is still lovely, despite the shredded and uprooted palm trees and ugly naked men. The club at the end of the beach was destroyed. Walking through the destroyed resort was like taking a post-apocalypse tour. It was sad, but also gave us a new respect for the forces of nature. There were steel reinforced concrete bungalows that looked like a giant had crumpled them like saltine crackers. We didn’t get in the water because it was so windy, but there were plenty of kite boarders riding the waves. Our next stop was a shopping area, which we passed on because we would rather spend more time at the airport beach, so we rode on around the island. The Airport beach had a bar and restaurant open, and it was a lovely but slightly steep banked narrow beach. A Jet Blue Airlines plane was scheduled to land, but all we saw were two small turboprops land. The Jet Blue flight was either more than 20 minutes late, or cancelled. We did see a 737 take off, sending some Japanese tourists scampering down the beach after their hats and bags got caught in the jet wash. Pretty funny. We the rode to a huge flag erected 3 months after hurricane Irma to lift the spirits of the Islanders. It was a nice view of the city, but you had to wonder if all that concrete they poured on the foundation of that massive flagpole might have been put to better use rebuilding homes. Anyways, we got a nice open air adventure tour and returned to the ship with hours to spare. Seeing the amount of destruction left by Irma, and how hard the islanders have had to struggle to get back on their feet has really left a lasting impression on me. Come to St Maarten and see it. They really need our tourist dollars to recover. Our ship is only he second Princess ship to call St Maarten since Irma, and our tour was the first for Blue Bubbles since Irma as well, so we’re sure things are just going to keep getting better.

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