Photo: Amy Freshwater
St Maarten is an island that is half Dutch and halt French. The island is known for its lagoons, beaches and salt pans, as well as its capital, Philipsburg. Philipsburg's cobblestone streets are home to some of the best jewelry shopping in the Caribbean.
To the west of Philipsburg are beaches such as Cupecoy, set against limestone cliffs, and Maho Bay, where low-flying jets from the nearby airport create strong breezes. There are excursions that will take you to these beaches -- and the jets really do fly directly above your head. Hold onto your hat! On the east side, Dawn Beach features an offshore reef and views of neighboring St. Barts island. Catamaran sailing trips, shipwreck dives and deep-sea fishing excursions are popular daytime activities. Casinos, beach bars and dance clubs are evening highlights if you ever visit the island on your own (since most cruise ships leave by 6 p.m.).
You may have heard about the nude beaches in St Maarten. It's true and primarily on the French side of the island. You will find that the beaches will have a sign warning beach-goers of clothing optional -- that way you don't accidentally show up for a day at the beach with your kids and then have a bunch of explaining to do. Even so, just like some of the European beaches, it's not uncommon for beach-goers to be topless.
St Maarten is still recovering from the hurricane, but based on what I've been told they've made great progress.
When you're in port ...
According to Carnival Cruise Lines, here are the top 7 things to do while in port: