Who can resist a two-for-one deal? That’s what you get on St. Martin, which has been shared by France and the Netherlands for more than 350 years. The French side, with some of the best beaches and restaurants in the Caribbean, emphasizes quiet elegance. The Dutch side, officially known as Sint Maarten, reflects Holland’s anything-goes philosophy: Development is much more widespread, flashy casinos pepper the landscape, and strip malls make the larger towns look as much like Anaheim as Amsterdam Cruise ships usually dock on the Dutch side, at Dr. A. C. Wathey Pier, about 1.6km (1 mile) Southeast of Philipsburg. Smaller vessels sometimes dock on the French side of the island at Marina Port la Royale, adjacent to the heart of Marigot.
Shopping, sunbathing, and gambling are the pastimes that interest most cruise passengers who hit this island, but folks with a taste for culture and history can make a day of those here as well.
Under the water Good snorkeling spots are plentiful. Some of the most rewarding are Maho Bay, Mullet Bay, and Dawn Beach on the Dutch side, and the small offshore island of Ilet Pinel off the French side’s northeast coast.
Try your luck Gamblers will want to stick to the Dutch side, where several casinos are clustered along Front Street in the heart of Philipsburg. All of them open early to snag cruise passengers.
Slice of history Naturally, each side of the island has its own colonial fort: the Dutch Fort Amsterdam, looking out over Great Bay from the hill west of Philipsburg; and the far more intact French Fort St. Louis, on the hill flanking Marigot Bay’s north end.
Top beach Far and away the island’s most visited strand, Orient Beach, on the northeast coast of the French side, fancies itself the St. Tropez of the Caribbean. Hedonism is the name of the game here: plenty of food, drink, music, and flesh. Watersports abound.
Shopaholics alert St. Martin is a true free port no duties are paid on any item coming in or going out and neither side of the island has a sales tax. Shops on the much busier Dutch side are concentrated in Philipsburg, around Front Street; on the French side, Marigot has a calmer ambience, with a wide selection of European merchandise skewed toward an upscale audience.