We've been to St. Maarten twice now - both cruise ship stops. The 1st time was in 2005 and we took a ship's tour around the island-Phillipsburg (the Dutch side), Cole Bay, Orient Bay, Marigot and Bikini Beach . The beaches were lively; but not what I would call crowded. The atmosphere was slow and laid-back. It was a very different story on our next cruise stop in 2009! The pier has been expanded to dock the larger cruise ships and there's now a very crowded boardwalk on the beach in Phillipsburg. There's construction going on everywhere nothing has yet to be built. So much the the slow pace of caribbean life in Phillipsburg. I would stongly suggest you find out what days the cruise ships arrive be for you book a stay here or stay on the French side and just come to Phillipsburg for cheaper shopping.
We took a taxi over to Marigot (the French side) to get away from the crowds. The taxi driver wanted it to be at least 4 of us to make enough money for the trip so we agreed to pay $60 for the roundtrip. We discovered why he wanted what used to be $20 in 2005. The traffic was so bad it took us almost an hour to get to Marigot; but once there it's a lot less crowded except for the Market on Wednesdays. And then that's just the area where the Marigot Market is going on. The taxi driver parked and we spent most of day just exploring the area and sampling the best mango diaquiri I've ever had. We learned you can also take a ferry to Anguilla and St. Barths from Marigot and found some hotels turned condos right down the street from the square/ferry dock. There's also daily bus service to Phillipsburg and the beaches.
We'd like to go back during the carnival to Marigot!
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