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.