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The capital of the Dutch side of St. Maarten is the town of Philipsburg, though St. Maarten is an island with two distinct sides. To the north is the French side, whose capital is Marigot, while Philipsburg sits on the southern part of the island. When exploring on cruises that go to St. Maarten, it’s important to visit both sides to understand their customs and heritage.
On an Eastern Caribbean cruise, you’ll quickly be charmed by all sides of the island. Of course, this Caribbean island is best known for its beaches, like Maho Beach or Great Bay Beach, one of the area’s best snorkeling spots. Sample local seafood or rum during your time in port, which have become symbols of St. Maarten life. There’s just enough to fill the day here, especially if you hop between the French and Dutch beaches.
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Philipsburg is home to Fort Amsterdam, a historic fort built by the Dutch during the 17th century. Views of the Caribbean and its bright blue waters are a highlight. Visit the fort at sunset for a romantic experience.
Arguably the most popular beach that travelers on cruises to St. Maarten visit is Maho Beach, which is known for having the area’s longest stretch of hotels and resorts. Snorkeling, swimming, and jet skiing are the reigning favorite things to do on Maho Beach.
Marigot is the capital of the French collective of the island. Highlights here include shopping at the Marigot Market, its bustling marina, and plenty of stylish cafes and restaurants. Pop into the boutiques, chat with the locals, and enjoy the beauty of the Marina Royale as you explore.
North of Marigot is the formidable Fort Louis, which is the oldest monument on the island. It was built to protect Marigot from invaders and spot passing enemy ships. Today, a trip up Fort Louis promises the best view of the entire island. Snap photos and take in the fresh sea breeze from on high.
The calmness of Grand Case Beach is a welcome break from the busier party beaches of St. Maarten like Maho Beach or Orient Beach on the French side of the island. Grand Case is ideal for family fun and a relaxed afternoon swim.
It wouldn’t be St. Maarten or the Caribbean without a thriving beach bar scene. While on cruises that go to St. Maarten, you could spend a whole day alternating between sunbathing and swimming on the beach to drinking rum cocktails in style.
96 Front St, St Maarten
You’ll know when you arrive at L’Escargot thanks to its colorfully painted exterior. French classics are the menu staples, where you can enjoy escargot served in butter and garlic or the signature sole meunière.
Simpson Bay, St Maarten
A meal at The Greenhouse offers the standard classics like chicken fingers, burgers and fries, steaks, and sandwiches. The portions are sizable and the mood is unpretentious and relaxed. On Monday and Thursday nights, all-you-can-eat ribs are the best seller here.
Lazy Lizard Beach Bar & Grill
Great Bay Beach 29 | Boardwalk, Philipsburg SXM, St. Maarten
After a full day of swimming and time on the beach, you’re going to want a cold drink and a hot meal. Head to Lazy Lizard Beach Bar & Grill on the boardwalk for fried foods and sandwiches, whether you’re craving calamari, fish and chips, stewed oxtail, or a classic hamburger and fries combo.
In the 17th century, both the Dutch and the French colonized St. Maarten. The Dutch later built Fort Amsterdam as a military outpost in Philipsburg for protection from intruders. Over time, the Dutch and French found ways to maintain their island colonies, respecting each other’s cultures and heritage. St. Maarten has steadily grown in popularity as a tourism destination in recent years. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, St. Maarten suffered significant damage that it’s still working to recover from. Tourism dollars help contribute to the rebuilding and preservation of the beaches and businesses that were affected by the hurricane.
It’s about a half-hour walk to get from the Philipsburg pier to the center of town. The port facilities for cruises to St. Maarten offer helpful amenities like ATMs, shops, a tourist information desk, taxi and rental car information, and restaurants if you’re hungry right when you get off the cruise ship.
Some people travel St. Maarten via minibus or rental car, but you’d need an international driver’s license to drive here. While stopped in on cruises to St. Maarten, however, most cruise passengers explore the town on foot or rely on taxis to get around. Bike rentals are also an option.
There are souvenir shops available once you exit the cruise ship. Shopping in St. Maarten includes a lot of handmade jewelry, small shopping stands, and local vendors hawking their wares to tourists. Duty-free shopping can be found concentrated along Front Street.
Even though the area is ruled by both the Dutch and the French, U.S. dollars are commonly accepted and often preferred on cruises to St. Maarten to lessen any confusion. Otherwise, the French side accepts the euro while the Dutch side takes the Netherlands Antillean guilder. It’s good to have some cash with you, because not all ATMs accept foreign credit cards. When it comes to tipping, round up to the nearest bill for your taxi driver, and leave a few euros or dollars behind for excellent service in a restaurant.