It doesn’t happen often that I visit a new place and it’s not what I expected. Of course, there are a million factors that affect one’s experience in a new place. Sometimes the conditions don’t add up to exactly what you had in mind, and most recently, that happened to me on the friendly and beautiful island of St. Maarten! It was the third and final stop on my recent 7-day trip with Princess Cruises. Click here to read about our days in port at Princess Cays and St. Thomas!
When I first heard about the island with a split personality (half of it is Dutch and half of it is French), visiting both capitals sounded absolutely charming to me. Philipsburg, the Dutch side, sounded a little more rugged and saturated with historical culture, while Marigot, the French side, sounded dazzlingly charming and like a good place to tide myself over until I visit Paris for the first time.
Our morning kicked off with a drive-around tour of the island, an experience that was essentially tailored to retired couples, so right away we realized we may have made the wrong decision. Oops! The drive through the Dutch side was quick and painless, which gets the job done if that's the kind of travel you're looking for. I learned several facts about the capital, like when slavery was deemed illegal for both sides (1848 for French and 1863 for Dutch, respectively).
The tour guide for the trek, Jasmine, was friendly and eager to give information about her country, and also eager to single me out as the only person on the bus under 50—she settled on calling me Best Friend for the duration of the drive. But my favorite thing she said was a phrase she used in passing (about a topic I can’t quite remember): “They’re all over, like butterflies.” I was immediately enchanted by the fact that anything in everyday life could be as abundant as the number of butterflies on an island. I don’t see many up in Minnesota, and of course, wish I did, because how wonderfully charming would that be.
They dropped us off downtown to shop and stroll for about an hour, and I found a few charming pockets of Marigot to shoot in. Although I was Paris dreaming, Marigot gave off much more of a New Orleans vibe than the City of Lights. It was a little gritty with a lot going on, and it was definitely a memorable experience.
The beauty of the island can’t be denied—however, there were more houses in shambles and dilapidated buildings lining the streets we drove through than I anticipated. I’ll admit I was a little shocked by the state of most of the houses I saw until I heard that residents don’t have to pay taxes on homes that are deemed “unfinished…” Such a different way of life; I was immediately intrigued.
I love learning about new places and am truly pleased I got to experience The Friendly Island for all it is. There were some lovely sights and moments—I can’t hide my love for island towns! But my experience on St. Maarten is a good reminder to do your research: make sure you find a tour available that is suited to your tastes...and maybe aimed somewhere in the range of your age demographic?
Thank you to Princess Cruises for sponsoring this post, and for the unforgettably fabulous trip through the islands of the Caribbean! I literally miss life on the Regal Princess at least once a day...