Caribbean cruising: final chapter.

Saint Martin, or Sint Maarten, is an unusual island in that it is split between two countries. The two halves are both relatively autonomous parts of, respectively, France and the Netherlands. Both sides are, by any measure, successful territories. However, like Macau or Cancun, they are places where a lot of people want to go, but that have absolutely no appeal to me – unless perhaps if I was looking for a quiet beach vacation.

By Aldo Bidini, via Wikimedia Commons

By Aldo Bidini, via Wikimedia Commons

The only thing of interest for me is this, the Princess Juliana International Airport. Because of the limited available space, planes have to fly only 10 meters above the beach before landing. Crazy videos on Youtube. Unfortunately, it is only shortly before leaving that I realized Saint-Martin is where this crazy airport is. I have only myself to blame for this lack of research.

Dutch and English are the official languages on Sint-Maarten, but I don’t recall seeing anything written in Dutch or hearing anyone speaking it.

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French is more present on Saint-Martin, at least on anything official.

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Private businesses seem to have a more creative approach. Despite this, you can certainly get by exclusively in French on the French side. I couldn’t tell you about the other side, since I don’t speak Dutch.

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The beaches looked very nice, with great walkways and lots of food, cafe and bar options.

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And the rest is all shopping and casinos, things which hold absolutely no interest for me. In fact, having been a duty free zone for decades, the place has become a major shopping destination, comparable to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Attracting people with flying toys.

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And even flying toys on floating toys.

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This is where these people don’t shop. Actually, I only took this picture because I have always been amused by completely over the top business names. There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with owning a modest shop or a small cafe. But you can call it “Aunty May’s Shop”, or “Blue Bird Cafe”. What would possess someone to call this place Golden Palace? I just don’t get it.

Not to repeat myself, but although cruises are incredibly convenient, they’re not really my thing. I gave my general impressions on my first cruise. I will just add a few more complaints.

First, you never get to experience the nightlife of the places you visit. Occasionally, this is because the ship has to leave early in order to arrive at the next destination on time. But on many (most?) occasions, the ship only has a few hours of sailing to do, but the cruise line doesn’t want you in bars, they want you in their bars. Except for luxury lines, alcohol is not included on cruise ships and you cannot bring your own. The ships sell duty-free alcohol at North American bar prices. Depending on the Caribbean island you just left, the price is about 300-500% higher than on shore.

Also, photography enthusiasts know that dawn and dusk are very often the best time to take great shots. On a cruise, you are likely to be on the ship for both.

And finally, at the risk of sounding snobbish, affordable big ship cruise lines feel a lot like shopping at Walmart for me. Sure, you get what you wanted and you pay less, but it’s not the most pleasant shopping experience.

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On the positive side, I can’t really get over how huge they are. How can this be inside a ship?

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On our first cruise together, Michelle and I picked an inside room (no window), and we just loved it. Totally dark and quiet; you could sleep until noon everyday. This time I did it again, one deck below the main restaurant deck, for convenience. Turns out, out of 1,000+ rooms, I picked one of the 2 that are located exactly under the dance floor! The noise and shaking was insane. Luckily for us, the poolside dance party was only on the first night and didn’t go on very long.

Finally, some cruising tips.

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I know it’s called a “private balcony”, but when 2 ships pass each other, you should probably put on some clothes.

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This is a bad close-up phone picture, but with my own eyes I could very clearly see what this is, which leads to the second piece of advice. When your room is right next to a gangway, you might want to consider putting your enormous sex toys in the drawer. Maybe.

Next: amazing Chicago!

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