Of course it would take me until the end of the year to finish writing a post about a trip I took back in July...
Anyway, last summer's visit to Sint Maarten / Saint Martin - the island is divided between The Netherlands and France, hence the two names - was a "family" affair in that myself, Corinne, Kirby, my mom, my brother and his wife all made the trip. Dad was originally supposed to go, too, but it was only after mom had made the reservation at the timeshare that he realized his passport had expired, and due to significant backlogs in passport processing he was unable to get a new one before the trip. (It was probably for the best, given his mobility issues; he would have had trouble with a lot of the excursions we ended up making.)
This was technically not my first trip to Sint Maarten; it was a port of call on our 2015 Eastern Caribbean cruise and we took a shore excursion to Maho Beach, which is arguably Sint Maarten's most famous tourist attraction, to watch planes land. However, I really didn't spend any time on the island itself, meeting its people or eating its food, until this trip.
While Sint Maarten is technically a semi-autonomous "constituent country" of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, it is culturally Anglo-Caribbean. Saint Martin, on the other hand, is an integral part of France (although English is spoken as much as French and dollars are accepted as readily as Euros). The cars (including my rental) even have standard French plates! This meant that this vacation technically represented my first trip to France, as well.
Neither side if the island is doing particularly well right now; on top of the effect that the pandemic is having on this island's tourist-dependent economy, there are still the lingering effects from Hurricane Irma, which devastated the island in 2017.
Here are some photos of the trip:
An (almost) empty beach in Philipsburg.
Pandemic and Irma in a nutshell: repairs are being made to the jetty in the foreground, while several cruise ships idled by COVID-19's shutdown of the cruise industry, including the Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas that we sailed on during our trip to Greece a few years ago, are docked at the cruise terminal in the background.
Fort St. Louis overlooks Marigot, the capital of the French side of the island. The fort was originally built in 1789.
A typical Street scene in Marigot, with stores and boutiques and cars with French plates. Driving on this island was an adventure. The roads were narrow and winding, with no left turn bays (which meant a lot of time stopped in traffic while somebody in front of you waited to turn) in . Most major intersections were roundabouts (which I personally don't mind); I only came across one traffic signal on the entire island. Finding parking could also be difficult at times.
Looking down at Marigot from Fort Saint Louis. Before the pandemic, a ferry ran between Marigot and the British island of Anguilla, which would have made for a fun day excursion. Alas...
Kirby poses with the Tricolore atop Fort Saint Louis.
Another (mostly) empty beach. This is Kim Sha beach in Simpson Bay, west of Philipsburg.
The sun sets over Simpson Bay.
Long Beach in Baie Longue. We stopped here on a catamaran excursion, which visited several beaches and snorkeling spots along the southern end of the island.
A view from the catamaran of some of the homes and resorts on Pelican Key, on the Dutch side of the island.
A cluster of restaurants on Orient Bay, on the French side of the island. We did most of our dining on the French side of the island. The food was excellent!
Princess Juliana Airport was heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma, and several years later only makeshift repairs have been completed. It was also extremely crowded.
While we enjoyed the trip, this is the last time I am going to travel internationally until the Coronavirus pandemic is over.* It was a real hassle, and knowing what I know now (articles like this one would have helped me, had I found them ahead of time) I probably wouldn't have done it. The hoops we had to jump through - getting a COVID test within 72 hours of travel, filling out a form on Sint Maarten's website and waiting to receive authorization to travel, purchasing mandatory "COVID insurance” on that same website, printing everything out so that test results and travel authorizations could be verified both in Miami (where we flew out from) and at Princess Juliana, checking our temperature every morning and reporting it to Sint Maarten health authorities via a special website for tourists - were considerable, and a failure at any point would have doomed the trip.
We also had to get tested in order to return to the United States, which our timeshare did, for $100 per person, utilizing a "doctor" using an in-home rapid test that miraculously showed everybody as being COVID-negative in a matter of minutes. American Airlines accepted the negative test document he gave all of us when we checked in to fly back home, but the process was shady as hell.
Finally, two personal notes about future travel plans:
- First, I am not going to take my son on any more trips unless he has his own room with his own bed. His (oftentimes tiresome) teenage surliness aside, it really wasn't fair for him to have to sleep on the pull-out sofa in the living room, next to the kitchen where people woke up early to eat breakfast and talk. It interrupted his sleep and made him grouchy.
- Second, I am going to try to stick to a minimum of two weeks for vacation. This isn't always easy and calls for me to plan and reserve my vacation time carefully, but one-week vacations are simply too short. You don't feel like you've had any "time off." (To be sure, we did spend a couple of days visiting some of Corinne's friends in Florida before we flew on to Sint Maarten, so this vacation ended up being about a week and a half long. It still felt too short.)
Here's to hoping that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that is the current pandemic, and that everybody can have wonderful vacations in 2022.
Happy New Year!
*Exclusively domestic travel for family vacations also makes sense, given my father's aforementioned mobility issues. When you travel domestically, you can expect most facilities - airports, hotels, museums, etc. - to abide by ADA regulations. Traveling internationally, you can't always expect such accommodations.