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For my recent cruise, a 7-night Caribbean sailing on Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf, the deadline for passenger boarding was a reasonable 6 pm on March 24 out of the Dr. AC Wathey Cruise Port on the southern tip of St. Maarten.
Since I live on the West Coast, I flew in the evening before and crashed at an Airbnb near the Princess Juliana International Airport, giving me all of Saturday and Sunday to kick around the island on my own without being jowl to jowl with other cruisers (St. Maarten is the second most popular cruise port in the Caribbean).
Taking the advice of Cruiseable team members Shannon Kircher and Gary Bembridge, and taking notes from our St. Maarten travel guide and Don Bucolo's day-tripping feature, I settled on two targets: Orient Bay on the northeast coast (passing through Marigot on the way) and Maho Beach. Talk about polar opposite experiences!
Here's my 38-second video of visitors welcoming an incoming plane at Maho Beach.
On the French side of the island, Orient Bay (French: Baie-Orientale) is très laid back, as dozens of travelers along the long, uncrowded beach sprawl under umbrellas ($10 a pop) and take in a panorama of water activities in the sparkling waters: sailing, parasailing, sailboarding, ocean trampoline. At the far southern end of the bay is a clothing-optional stretch, though only a handful of visitors (mostly from France) did so.
After a $35 taxi ride, I made my way to Maho Beach on the southern or Dutch side, the famed/notorious small stretch of sand where airlines come roaring right overhead and set down on a too-short runway. (You've no doubt seen the photos elsewhere.) Frenetic, fun and loud, the planes come barreling in every few minutes.
Just one word of warning: Don't stand behind the jumbo jets as they take off — even though it's a football field away, the blowback is fierce.
Have you been to either? Share your experience, or a photo or two, in the comments below.