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St. Maarten

St. Maarten Cruise Port Tips

Shopping & Dining | Attractions | Transportation | Beaches | Weather

St. Maarten cruise docks
St. Maarten cruise docks. © 2017 Scott Bateman
A St. Maarten cruise has great appeal simply because the island has one of the best cruise ports in the entire Caribbean.

What makes a good cruise port arguably is a combination of:

  • Shopping
  • Beaches
  • Excursions
  • Local people
  • Atmosphere

The St. Maarten cruise port of Philipsburg has all of the above in a pleasant mix. It is a must-see stop for any southern or eastern Caribbean cruise and why 2 million cruise visitors tour the port every year.

Quick Tips

  • The main St. Maarten cruise port is Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise & Cargo Facilities at Philipsburg.
  • Walk a half mile, ride or take a water taxi to the tourist district.
  • Great Bay Beach and shopping on Front Street run side by side.
  • Orient Beach and Marigot are two popular attractions on the French side of the island.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

Philipsburg itself is one of the best attractions on the island because of its appealing and well-developed tourism district.

It is rare among Caribbean ports for having a decent beach right by the city. Great Bay Beach has a long boardwalk with bars and restaurants. Running parallel to the boardwalk is Front Street, which has most of the shops.

A nice day trip is a jaunt from the Philipsburg cruise port over to Marigot, capital of the French side, or Grand Case. Other St. Maarten attractions include the Mont Vernon Plantation and the Butterfly Farm.

Philipsburg isn’t big enough or historical enough to earn guided city tours like other major Caribbean destinations. Instead, there are shore excursions that take visitors around both the Dutch and French sides of the island. These tours, which often cost about $50 to $75 per person, usually include Marigot, beach visits and sometimes shopping.

Prices, which are subject to change, depend on the sail date, length of the tour and possible amenities such as meals or snacks.

St Maarten photo
Orient Beach St. Martin

Beaches Near the Cruise Port

Philipsburg has that convenient beach right there by the cruise docks on Great Bay. Cruise visitors who arrive from the docks by foot, taxi or water taxi will get dropped off right by the Great Bay Beach.

They can rent umbrellas and chairs for a reasonable price and a lovely view of the bay.

Orient Bay, a well-known clothing-optional beach on the French side, is easy to reach via tour bus or other means. It is about 25 minutes north of the cruise docks. It also is one of two famous beaches on the island.

The other famous one is Maho Beach right by Princess Juliana International Airport. Jets fly low over the beach and send blasts of air at people who stand in the right -- or wrong -- locations. Maho is about 30 minutes from the cruise docks.

Shore excursion operators often include both Orient Bay Beach and Maho Beach in one tour. The cost is usually about $50 per person.

Anyone with an interest in good beaches might instead consider an excursion to one of the neighboring islands, such as Anguilla, St. Barts or Saba.

Anguilla is the most popular of the three. It has beautiful white sand beaches and is reachable by ferry from Simpson Bay and Marigot. St. Barts is frequented by the rich and famous. Saba is known for hiking and other ecotourism activities.

Shopping and Dining

St. Maarten cruise port
Front Street in Philipsburg ©
Anyone wanting a break from Great Bay Beach can walk a few more feet to reach the Boardwalk, which is lined with restaurants and shops.

They can walk a hundred more feet to reach many more restaurants and the port's extensive shopping district, most of which falls along the lengthy Front Street.

Front Street ranks among one of the best shopping experiences in the Caribbean -- along with Playa Del Carmen, St. Thomas and Old San Juan. It is a festive pedestrian beach.

The street is a long walk but not too challenging for anyone who is somewhat fit. If walking isn't appealing, there are quite a few transportation options.

Restaurants are mainly concentrated in two areas -- Philipsburg on the southern coast and Simpson Bay on the southwest coast because they have the cruise port and the airport.

More restaurants sit in the packed resort areas. A smaller number of restaurants are on the French side in Marigot and Grand Case.

The Philipsburg and Simpson Bay restaurants cater to all tastes, but they mainly represent low-end casual in one group and high-end seafood and steak in the other.

There are few chain restaurants. The St. Martin French restaurants tend to be smaller and casual in Marigot.

Getting Around

On foot. Philipsburg is big enough and developed enough to spend most of the day on foot.

But traffic outside of the Boardwalk and Front Street is often heavy. So get a taxi or car rental if you plan to see more than just the tourism district.

Taxis. Taxi rates are set according to more than 20 zones around the island.

Expect to pay anywhere between $7 and $35 to get to a zone. At the time of this writing, getting to Marigot is $18 and Orient Beach is $20.

Car rentals. The island has a small number of narrow winding roads, so car rentals even for a day are quite common -- so common that traffic jams are frequent.

A cruise visitor who is thinking about a car rental might do so for visits to the less-populated French side of the island, especially the quaint city of Marigot.

Driving around parts of the Dutch side, especially around Simpson Bay, adds some risk of traffic jams and late returns to the ship.

Public bus. Taking a bus is a less expensive option. A St. Maarten bus is often an SUV. It has BUS at the beginning of the license plate and the destination sign in the window.

Taxis, which also are usually SUVs, have a T at the beginning of the license plate. A 10-15 percent tip for bus and taxi drivers is common.

Bicycles / scooters. While it is useful to consider a rental car, bus or taxi, it is wise to avoid renting a bicycle or scooter.

The island has virtually no stop signs or stop lights. The roads are narrow and winding. Drivers are sometimes aggressive when fighting through traffic.

Weather / Best and Worst Months to Go

St. Maarten's average weather consists of warm temperatures year round that average in the mid 80s Fahrenheit.

Sea water averages about three degrees cooler, which makes swimming good at any time.

Rainfall is a different matter. It is often moderate from January through July. Then it climbs to a high point for the rest of the year.

September and November historically have the highest rainfall and are the riskiest months to go there.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Ports   

June 21, 2019

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