Monthly Archives: April 2012

How To Find A Quiet Beach Day In St. Martin When There Are Five Ships In Port

Your long-awaited cruise is taking you to beautiful St. Maarten/St. Martin. You go online to www.cruisett.com and discover there will be five cruise ships in port the day you will be there. How will you ever find a quiet, peaceful beach day with five ships in port?

Don’t panic. Your off-the-tourist-track beach day is a taxi and “ferry” ride away. I highly recommend you make arrangements to spend the day on Pinel Island (Ilet Pinel). This beautiful, secluded, and blissfully quiet little island sits north and east of popular Orient Beach on Orient Bay. It has a gorgeous sandy beach. No sand shoes are needed here. Feel the sand squish between your toes. It’s also an easy walk in and out of the surf, with no steep grades. The water is relatively shallow for some distance from shore so it is convenient for children. And yet, there is snorkeling available in somewhat deeper water for the adventurous. Beach lounge chairs and umbrellas line the beach. You can relax out of the sun. An interesting gift shop showcases colorful pareos when you feel like browsing.

But wait! There’s more. Three restaurants and bars sit literally steps behind you. The smell of grilled ribs and chicken is irresistible. Our lunch was included in a package so I can’t say how expensive it was, but from the taste of the ribs I’d have to say whatever the price, it’s worth it. You can also pick your own fresh lobster from the cages in the surf. They are definitely fresh because we saw several “wild” lobsters while we were snorkeling.

Of course, there are always cautions whenever you travel. First, I have not yet seen a ship sponsored tour to Pinel Island. You will have to hire a taxi, find an independent tour operator, or get a boat ride over from Orient Beach. However you get there, you must demand that you be returned to your ship well ahead of the “all aboard” call. This issue became a point of contention on our trip because the tour operator also picked up people from a hotel. Those people did not want to leave early enough for us to make it to our ship. Again, you must make your demand.

Second, the “ferry” to Pinel Island from Cul de Sac is not a ferry at all. It is a large wooden boat with wooden benches and  an outboard motor. It is not a long trip to the island, maybe five minutes, but it was a full boat when we went over. It wasn’t comfortable, but it got us there. The ferry charge was included in our package deal, but I think it cost $6 per person otherwise.

With those cautions in mind, there is a lot more to do on Pinel Island than what we managed to accomplish in one day. There is a hiking path around the island. There are more secluded snorkel  and swimming spots. The main beach is not clothing optional, but the other ones down the hiking path are au natural at your whim. I also hear there is shallow water diving available here. The snorkeling, as mentioned, is easily accessible.

Forget the madding crowds. Pinel Island affords the perfect beach day: swim, snorkel, drink, eat, and sleep. It was a wonderful Caribbean beach day even though there were five cruise ships in port, and one of them was ours.

FYI: The tour operator we used was www.stmaartencruiseexcursions.com . The tour was called the Tiki Hut Tour and Snorkeling Experience. I am not affiliated with this tour operator. This information is provided solely for educational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

The Sweet Secret of Marigot, St. Martin

Does Marigot have what I have searched for throughout the Caribbean? The vibrant little French town on the west coast of St. Martin has much to recommend it. Fort? Check. It has the requisite old fort on a hill. The 1767 Fort Louis shadows the town and once protected the harbor.  Boat filled harbor? Check. Today that harbor is full of sailboats and catamarans, presumably owned by the idle rich. Chic shops? Check. Shops with duty-free French goods draw tourists and cruisers alike. Open-air market?  Check. Brightly colored dresses, T-shirts, and other souvenirs beckon as they waft about in the breeze.

But does Marigot have the Caribbean’s finest pain au chocolat? Basically a rectangular chocolate croissant, it should be gastronomic heaven.  My noble, tireless, and relentless quest for the richest, butteriest, most delectable pain au chocolat drew me to Marigot.

It drew me specifically to the scene of a pastry lovers dream called Serafina’s. Located at Rue de L’anguille #14, on the waterfront, Serafina’s oozes sweet French pastries, as well as paninis and savory little croissant sandwiches. The smell of butter, yeast, and baguette drags you right up to the counter. Hoards of people eat breakfast and lunch at the under-roof outdoor tables, protected from rain and sun. Misters help cool diners in the heat of a summer day. A loving black and white cat hangs out and speaks, “Como ta’le vu?” It’s all very French.

The glass pastry case holds beautiful treats, each a work of culinary genius. No ordinary cookies and cakes here. Each single pastry is a masterpiece. The tarts glisten with glaze over each perfect berry or apple slice . The Napoleons sport artistic frosting designs. Meringue clings in intricate folds.

But alas, despite the visual artistry of the creations, this was not the Holy Grail of French baking that I sought. The pain au chocolat was serviceable. Chocolate tucked inside the folds of flaky pastry was dark and rich, but there wasn’t quite enough of it. The chocolate hadn’t melted just barely enough to penetrate the first few layers of pastry, as it should. The pain au chocolat was not quite warm enough when served. The pastry was not quite as crisp, buttery, and delicious as others I’ve had from several street corner pastry shops on Martinique. It was certainly delicious and I would recommend a stop at Serafina’s to any visitor. My standards are just very high in this quest for French pastry perfection and my search must, alas, continue.

Have you discovered the perfect pain au chocolat in the Caribbean? If so, please let me know where your favorite can be found!

3 Things You Must Do On Maho Beach, St. Maarten

The first thing you must do is Duck! This beautiful beach to the west of Simpson Bay on the Dutch Side of St. Martin (St. Maarten) is notorious for its proximity to the airport. Planes of all sizes routinely land and take-off, seemingly within feet of the beach. In fact, swimmers are cautioned to secure their belongings out of the flight path lest a jumbo jet blow items (and them, too, judging from the sign) into the surf. The danger, or perhaps the juxtaposition of the serene surf again the roaring planes, is a big draw. This is a very popular beach on St. Maarten.

The second thing you have to do is swim. A gorgeous strand of silky sand and azure water beckons. (The airport sits across the street to the right, east.)

The third thing you have to do is party! The fabulous and famous Sunset Beach Bar sits adjacent to Maho Beach. It has several sprawling decks, an extensive bar, band facilities, rest rooms, changing areas, and friendly people. It was voted #3 Sexiest Beach Bar in the World by Travel Channel viewers and they were right. This place rocks.

Have some fun on lovely, lively St. Martin/Sint Maarten. Call me today so we can start planning your island escape. 561-841-2224

Home Again!

Just home from a wonderful 9-day Southern Caribbean cruise aboard Holland America’s Noordam. It was our third time aboard the Noordam. She is a lovely ship. Our adventure began with an amazing Meet and Greet of Cruise Critic members. HAL pulled out all the stops for that get-together! Then we proceeded to St. Martin, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. I have several hundred photos and some incrdeible videos to share once I get all the material organized. I hope you will enjoy experiencing our adventure as I relive it, here on this blog and on Facebook.

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