You are warned - this is super long, and super detailed. My wife and I just returned from a week long's stay (2/15 - 2/22) in Grand Case at the lovely LTC boutique hotel there. Below is a sort-of journal/random thoughts/restaurant review/etc...of that week. Enjoy
Arrived 2:20pm. Shuttle from plane to building for customs/immigration. Customs was super easy. 5 minutes, tops to get through.Waited 20 min for Sax rental car to take me to their place. In the rain. Not overly friendly, in email or in person. Felt like they were annoyed that I was there. Meh.... After that 30 minutes, drove to Grand Case. Got lost twice but no biggie as we were more looking around than driving to get anywhere. Road signs are pretty non-existent throughout.
Trying to find parking on Grand Case Blvd was an adventure and is the biggest downside to renting a car. Take the smallest car you can to maximize the chances you fit into the 3 ft of pavement w/o getting your car hit/dinged as you stick out into the road (this assumes you're parking on the road - we stayed in Grand Case; YMMV if you're at a private residence/somewhere else on the island). Update – Saturday was the only day it was truly hard to find a parking spot. We might have lucked out, but always got one w/in 150m of our hotel after that.
Hotel is very nice, but again not the best in cust serv. Was told there was a parking lot prior to arrival; “no longer offer that - it’s now 10€ day”. I made a reservation for their lobster beach party by email, confirmed. “we stopped doing that”. No explanation or apology. Was told that the hotel was sold to new owners in January, as way of explanation perhaps to why the things that had previously been told to me were no longer being honored. Check-in was super easy and laid back. Hotel was amazing - from the fact that it was super boutique (our room was 5 ft away from the front desk, and 30 ft from bar/dining room) to the view of the Caribbean/Anguilla from our room (hell, even the shower showed the view), to the patio that was literally 10 ft from the water. A good running start out the door and I could probably leap from patio to water.
We got a drink at bar (ti punch& Margarita) after tossing our belongs in our room, then walked down the street to see restaurants, and stopped in at Cynthia’s LoLo for a crab back and some Johnny cakes, with a couple of island drinks (BBC & guavaberry coloda). Tried one other LoLo, and there was a huge difference -- definitely take the food/service at Cynthia's over the view at the Creole place on the water (Scooby’s, I believe is the name).
Ate at the hotel restaurant (b/c we were supposed to do the beach lobster bbq with them anyway before that was cancelled) around 7 and they were already out of the flank steak and Mediterranean squid dishes on their menu. They opened at 6 and we were the third party seated. Hmmm....not the best impression. (update – could have been same menu for lunch, so could explain why they were out of these items at 7pm)
Food was good. The blue cheese burger and fries excellent. The squid ink pasta and snapper with clams and sea urchin was .... fine. We had a bottle of a good French red wine (didn't take note of the name - recommend by the waitress) and an after dinner shot on the house. Met a very nice couple at the next table who were just into their retirement and were living on their boat and travelling the world; very interesting to hear about their lives, and was definitely envious. Besides them, we were probably the only American patrons in the restaurant, judging by overhead conversations. Staff was fine towards us all week -- language barrier wasn't ideal, but didn't end up hampering much, just never felt warm and fuzzy from the majority of staff; everyone did serve us well, don't want to lead you on. Was fine all the way around.
Anyway, it was probably 9:30 at that point, and after being up at 3am to travel from Columbus to Philly to SXM, we were wiped. Walked the necessary 12 steps (literally) back to our hotel room and listened to the water crash as we drifted off to sleep.
Woke around 6:30 - listened to waves crash. Got ready around 8 and walked to French bakery just down the road. Probably a 3 minute walk from the hotel. Croissant and chocolate twist with a latte and a water. Walked back and enjoyed those on our deck chairs/table while relaxing. Walked the beach around 10 and got poured on. Came back drenched and showered. Drink at bar and then drive to Hope Estates Super U for staples/wine. Only they were closing
security: “we are closed” (as people come out)
“what time did you close” I ask, as it's 12:46....
“that’s a weird time to close”.
Sure enough, sign said close at 12:45 on Sunday.
And away we went. Drove up close to the road to orient village and ate at rancho del sol. Great views, very breezy. Food okay to good. Paella was fair. Crab backs great again - could eat one of those for every meal. Out of calamari and fish fritter apps. Caesar with chicken has hidden layer of dressing, so was swimming by the time we dressed it (our fault for not looking first, but still -- who hides the dressing on the bottom?). Another rum shot after the meal and away we went. Saw a peacock and some donkeys in the parking lot. Goats are wild and all around the road too.
Hotel for a nap but techno music blaring from property 150 yds west (rainbow cafe) made sleep impossible. Waves crashing and blue skies muted the rage. Never ending baseline. I need my own island it appears to get the quiet I seek here.
Walk the beach and see the 50/50 ratio of nice beach hotels to bombed out shells of old buildings. Think about how much it would take to acquire and renovate, and where profits would come from. Mental math says it’d be slim especially with risks of hurricanes. Give up on idea of moving here to be hotelier as quickly as it comes to mind.
6:15 sunset and we dress for dinner. Walked to restaurant only to find it shuttered. Confused, as I made a rez via email and it was confirmed back in January; specifically mentioned date and time and was confirmed back to me. Le Cottage - not a good showing. Luckily there’s a restaurant around every other building, so we walked on and tried Bistrot Cairibes but they were full so no seating w/o a reservation.
Went to La Villa and got a table without delay - they were steadily busy. Service was great, food was good (lobster special and combo special ) - vegetables were great, didn’t enjoy the sweet mashed potatoes (but that's more of a me issue than the food), fish was good if a little lacking in flavor, shrimp and lobster seemed a little over cooked. Wine very reasonable and good. Great dinner, great atmosphere and all were welcoming and fun. With full bellies we walked on home and enjoyed unwinding in our own private heaven. Mercifully the music had stopped at Rainbow while we were out, and another great night of listening to the waves crash as we drifted off to sleep.
Returned to the bakery for morning coffee and pastries. Almond croissant and apple puff pastry were both excellent, and the plain croissant was great too.
Calm sea and sunny to partly sunny and 79.
Trying the grocery store once more and then parking ourselves on chairs until our massage at Ti Spa.
Bacchus was ok. Wine selection good, but little else of interest. Cheese was exotic but only a couple to choose from and in very large qtys (whereas we were looking to taste a lot but not a lot of any one). Their newly renovated store will be opening in two weeks we were told, with the restaurant expanding to take the space that is currently occupied with the wine/cheese/caviar counters now, and all wine and such going across the street. Building looks very impressive, so would like to see what their selection is when they do open, but sadly we'll be gone by then. We ended up going to grapewine and loved both the cheese selection... and the lady working there. I’ll say she was mid 50s and super cute and affable. The type of person you’d love to just have around. Grabbed four cheeses, a baguette and some olives. Pricey but meh...vacation. Took it all back to our hotel and after lounging for a couple of hours on a very crowded beach (sat/sun were nowhere near as crowded) we retreated to our second floor balcony where we over looked the water enjoying the food and wine. Drove to Ti Spa and had a great couples massage with my wife and then got adventurous and drove over the hill to anse marcel beach - very beautiful and the restaurant was great. Sat there had some Rose and enjoyed the afternoon. Saw Secrets resort's progress - still months away (I’ll say at least 3-4 months, if not more). Maybe they will rush one building open quicker, but for the whole resort? No way they make a March 1 opening - soft or not. Great location for a resort, though. In fact Anse Marcel is a very nice location, and seems super safe (save for the drive to get there!) Rained a little bit but cleared up around 5:00pm.
came back to LTC to finish the wine before napping a little and then getting ready for dinner.
Dinner at Bistrot Caraibes was great, though the lamb was overcooked (asked for med rare and got med well...wondering if language barrier was to blame [hoping so]) Lobster Thermidor was best lobster we’ve had. Escargot in a great mushroom & garlic sauce was great too. Another great hot chocolate cake & vanilla ice cream for dessert with some good wine and we were very satiated.
Came back to Hotel playing music outside (and has been since noon, mostly disco and related)...@10pm I’m walking over to ask when it will stop. Would much rather just hear the waves crashing. Maybe it's a sign I'm too old? Still, why blare music onto an empty beach all evening? If you want the music in the restaurant, surely there's a way to have only that speaker on? Finally got up and asked if they could turn the music down outside our room, and instead they just turned it off. No apology or explanation as to their practices of when/how long/why they keep the music on so long (and that's fine, just doesn't put off best customer service air [maybe it's French culture? I don't know as this is my first time dealing with French service]). No worries, just a curious anecdote onto the staff interaction with guests. Fell asleep quickly thereafter.
Pastries and coffee from bakery...excellent as always and a great way to start the day. Dressed and decided to check out different beaches. Tried to find happy beach but must have missed whatever unmarked turnoff there was. Instead saw a sign for friars bay and went there. Roads leave a lot to be desired here, and this was no exception. Pot holes are severe understatements for the craters we drove through. Beach and water were great. $10 for 2 chairs and an umbrella if we eat at restaurant. Done. Food and drinks were pricey but good. Cash only. Stayed til 4 and got lucky to miss a hard rain by 15 seconds. Though it was over in 5-10 minutes anyway. Traffic back to grand Case was at a stand still. Apparently the road work for sewers + grand Case festival that evening were too much for the only road to bear. 39 minutes for ....2-3 miles? No biggie but still, not how you want to spend your afternoon.
Dressed and got ready for dinner and festival. Nothing really to festival - Knick knack roadside stands of cheap jewelry and such for sale. Headed to L’Arbauge Gormand for dinner - gave our name for a reservation and...nothing. Got passed from waitress to owner, who said” I don’t have you down”. Showed him the emails he personally sent in late December as we wanted a table along the street for the parade. He read them and said “I may have lost the papers for one night”. Whatever that meant. He confirmed that I had a conversation with him, but wouldn't go as far as rectifying it with the open table right in front of us. He had another reservation (that was 15 min late, he said). Told us wait 10 min to see if they showed up if not he’d give us the table. We waited; 10 minutes and no one. We go to see him and he’s not around. Another 5 minutes (so 30 past when their reservation was for) and apparently they show and he tells us we’re out of luck. We can wait for an inside table that will be another 30/45 minutes.
As this is the 3rd reservation this trip that isn’t honored (Le Cottage not being open gets a pass for airheadedness -- I'm guessing the Jan 8th request I made for Feb 16th was read as Jan 16th and they didn't even turn the page in the calendar to see they were actually closed the day of my reservation request) we’re pretty put off. And I tell him so...my wife drags me away so I don’t make a scene, bc his excuse was a lie: in the end the people he gave the table to were clearly his friends and he held a table for them even though he knew he didn’t keep our reservation (which we were on time for). I can handle a lot (complain later online, sure...but I'll handle it in person with aplomb and let it roll off my back as 'that's life'), but to be lied to? I'd have much rather him just told me "I made a mistake not putting you in the reservation book when I confirmed your reservation through email, and I'm not willing to give you the table you requested b/c my friends are here and I choose them over you", instead of the 'meh, what can be done?" So Pascal, to you I say: you have no integrity (and you're absent-minded to boot). Again, not the end of the world b/c there is another high quality restaurant down the street in less than 150m; but the principle of it was frustrating.
Instead we wandered to Le Pressior, and they took us without a reservation. Their waitress was a delight, charming and warm and perfect. The ambiance was great, and their food and especially their presentation was amazing. I truly believe we had a better meal there than we could have had at LArburge Gourmand, so in the end all’s well that ends well and another memory to look back on that we realize what looked to be disaster turned out to be even better than originally expected. Still, Pascal at L’Arbage shouldn’t be trusted with your reservation - he obviously is not attentive enough to make sure the reservations he confirms are kept and really - you’re on the island for a short time, don't chance it with him, in my opinion.
Home to LTC after and music is blaring outside our hotel room again. The music they play for guests on the beach is piped from speakers right outside our balcony. I’ve got French disco going at 11:15 at night. Not sure why no one else has complained yet, but it’s time for me to do make my annual visit to the bar/restaurant and ask for a break from Donna Summers in French. And with that, An end to Tuesday.
Woke late, eight or so, to both our phones having no phone service. 1.5 hours using WiFi to chat with Verizon via text on phone and no better off. We've got kids at home with their Aunt, and we like to talk to them daily as anyone would, which is the only reason that we even tried that long to get anything done (plus, the safety net having phone service provides as we drive around St. Martin on roads and with drivers that unnerving in the best of times is something we've grown accustom to over the last 20 years of cellular service). My wife went to the bakery (since I was stuck fooling with Verizon) but anything after 8am and it’s slim pickings. Still, the croissant was exceptional. We’ve had it every day and love sitting on the terrace listening to the waves as the beach starts to wake up (and before the bad 70s disco/French pop fusion music starts; really the only fail on the hotel is that awful music pumped out all.day.long).
Went and made a reservation at the perfumery for tomorrow, on our way to pick up our car. Drove to Marigot and planned to catch a ferry to Anguilla but it was 12:45 before we could get a ferry over, which didn’t leave us much of the day. Instead shopped the open air stalls around the marina, grabbed some drinks and a bite for lunch, and then drove up the road to pic paradise. Very scary drive, especially in a little Nissan Sentra. Roads were wide enough for one car and if another came from the opposite direction I’m not sure what we would have done at the narrowest spots - someone would have needed to reverse to a driveway (and I pity whomever that would have been -- narrow roads, driving backwards, and cliffs = not fun). Views overlooking Marigot bay and the yachts and sailboats were great though. Drove back to the hotel for a well deserved nap until 6, when neither of us were very hungry so decided on LoLos for dinner. Turns out that was a bad decision - food was terrible. Everything on the grill was overcooked. French fries for a change of pace were severely undercooked and unseasoned. Drinks tasted virginal even though they were supposed to have alcohol. And no one spoke English or even understood it (or hand gestures). Surprising bc there are four lolos all together, separated only by the direction of their picnic tables. The other we went to was ten times better. This is what we get for trying something new....
After that buzz kill of a dinner, we walked back to the hotel, to wipe the majority of this day from our memory. Hopefully tomorrow is much better. Still....worst day in St Martin? Better than almost every day back home.
Was the best day of the vacation -- just another example of why not getting worked up over something (missed plans/bad dinner on Wednesday) is truly the best policy. We started again with the French bakery around the corner. Croissants, coco twist and some fruit croissant creation with a cafe latte were great as always. Views and sights and sounds from the terrace were again a delightful accompaniment to breakfast. Quick showers (where we could still watch (and hear) the Caribbean) and we headed down to the beach - where guests of the hotel get chairs and umbrella (truly the most comfortable we had anywhere we went on the island). We grabbed a couple in the front row (of two rows - beach is super narrow on Grand Case, but in a great way. Very intimate feel to it), and read and people watched and drank the morning away. Weather was sunny and 80 with a nice easterly breeze to keep temps and bugs comfortable. Water super blue as always. Went for a dip a couple of times, and then had lunch at our chairs --- trio of tuna for me, and a great crispy chicken sandwich with fries for my wife. Both were excellent. After that a well deserved nap at our chairs, and then we went and changed to go to Tijon for a perfume/cologne making class.
Luckily it was just us at the class (they offer three 90 minute sessions a day, with the 3:30 being the latest), and John, the owner, was a great host/guide as we tried our hand at making cologne/perfume. Very neat and different experience and my wife really loved it. A nice champagne toast at the end, and you go home with your own signature-made bottle of whatever you were inspired to make, complete with custom label and cap. I don't wear cologne, but it was still a nice experience to have. Bonus for those who really do like cologne/perfume/body lotions that smell good -- whatever you create, you can re-order when your bottle you take home runs out. They catalog everything you do, and can recreate for you and ship to you worldwide. Really a neat experience from a great guy. Definitely give it a try if you've got even the slightest interest in something like that.
After that we got back to our hotel and quickly changed for dinner. Made early reservations for 6 @ Ocean 82 (by this point, I've made it a point to stop in at each restaurant personally I had made reservations for by phone/by email back in Dec/Jan - to make sure there are no more repeats of the L'Arbage/Le Cottage mishaps; Ocean 82 had us on the books already, so point for them), so we could sit waterfront and watch the sun set during the course of dinner. And what a dinner it was -- I had the fisherman stew pot, in a nice cream sauce. My wife had lobster fettuccine - noodles had to be homemade. Absolutely amazing on both items. Had a nice brothy dish with lobster/mushroom raviolis for a starter that we shared, and the dessert 'the lemon' was just indescribably great - visually as well. Creative/fun/tasted amazing. Waiter (though he seemed to be part owner, truthfully, in the pride and care he took over every aspect of the dining experience -- to have that commitment is not usually seen in the wait staff of any restaurant I've been to, even Michelin restaurants) was great too. After the whole week of great meal after great meal (Grand Case truly is blessed -- if you like fine dining, you'll love almost every place they have [and they have a ton!]), I can safely say that Ocean 82 is the best of the best, and it wasn't even close. Le Pressoir came in a distant second, and that's no slight on Le Pressoir -- it was great too.
After such an amazing dinner (and being relatively early still), we headed back to our happy place (terrace of our room) and opened another bottle of wine and had a cheap bar of chocolate with the wine, and ended a perfect day beautifully. Truly the best day of our vacation, by far.
We woke with a purpose - we were leaving midday Saturday and so wanted to make sure we got to Anguilla as we didn't know when we'd be back this way and we'd heard so many great things about the water there. We'd seen three lovely beaches on St. Martin, and if Anguilla was supposed to be better we didn't want to miss it. That being said - we weren't about to rush ourselves either. We are on vacation after all, so we slept in until 8, made our way to the bakery for our morning ritual (creature of habit, even on vacation), and enjoyed that while relaxing on the terrace, watching the planes roll in to Grand Case airport (which is a trip to see how low the planes fly over the buildings on the northeastern part of Grand Case Blvd - truly looks like the wheels will scrape the paint off the roofs) while staring out at some of the bluest water imaginable. Our morning (and evening) moment of zen. Pastries and coffee was again great -- that bakery is superb. Just make sure you get there before 8 if you want first run of the goods, after that you get what's left (and while never anything but superb, if you're at all picky/in the mood for a particular item, you'll do well to get there early b/c even in Grand Case [or especially, maybe?] the worm goes to the early bird). Late breakfast, nice shower and we're in Marigot in time for the 11:15 ferry to Anguilla -- ferry runs every 45 minutes from 8 to 6, I believe. But today, there is no 11:15, which means we've got time to kill in Marigot until the next ferry. We were hoping to eat at the beach on Anguilla, and the open air (flea) market isn't going today as there are no Cruise ships in port today. We get a rum drink and wait, and I'm left feeling that Marigot isn't on the same scale as Grand Case, in terms of ambience - very working/rough area, and we were glad when the ferry did finally come (albeit late -- island time was not just a funny saying for the ferry operators on both sides of the channel). Crowded and hot, we make our way across and get to Blowing Point without any further delays. Grab a cab, and decide on East Shoal bay (or Shoal Bay east -- whatever) over Mead Bay. We've read Mead Bay had the better food, but given that we're staying in Grand Case, we can get great food morning noon and night, we'll try what we've heard is the best beach in the Caribbean and just get whatever comes to us in terms of food, so East Shoal is where we instruct the cabbie to take us.
Their system for cabs is great -- price is told to you prior to getting in, so no surprises, and the driver made plans to pick us up at a designated time to ensure we get back for the ferry when we want. At least two other couples from the ferry had the exact same plan, and it seems the taxi drivers are very friendly with Hank of Hank's place (a kickback or free drinks, maybe? for steering tourists there). We aren't much put out by the obvious steering instead of asking us what we're looking for and instead trying to take us to that type of place, and plop down at Hank's for free chairs and umbrella with lunch purchase. A blah tasting whatever (think we had a caesar salad to split, and fried snapper sandwich and something odd from my wife (quesadilla? maybe it will be good [spoiler: it's not -- but that's probably more a cautionary tale of what not to order at a beach shack as opposed to an indictment on the food)) and a couple of beers/beach drinks, and we head to our chairs on absolutely the bluest water we've ever seen in spots. The sand was softer and whiter, too. Those were the highlights of Anguilla. We swam, we walked the beach for a good mile or so in each direction, we laid out and read/relaxed. We weren't the only ones on the beach in this location (again, due to taxi steering, it seems), so it wasn't isolated, but we could've chosen to walk on down at any number of spots and been at least 100m away from the next people, but that would have been without the comfort of chairs, so we put up with stories from the many mid-60s Nascar crowd white people (no judgment - just happened to be so little diversity in the people we saw in Anguilla to be noticeably funny, especially juxtoposed to the international flavor of Grand Case and all other spots we visited on French St Martin) told at volumes too loud to ignore. Meh....still a good beach day.
Here's my take away from Anguilla though - if you're staying here for your whole trip, I'm sure it'd be lovely. You can relax, go at a slower pace, and most importantly, not have to spend $168 in transportation for less than 8 hours of beach time (if you go first thing in the morning and stay until last call ferry). In fact, with the almost 2 hours spent waiting on ferries, the hour crossing, and the drive to/from Grand Case, we were on the beach for four hours - only one more hour than the transportation to and from. And for us, for what? The beach, while marginally better, and the water, while a shade bluer, was not worth that lost time (or money, truthfully). If we had it to do all over again, we would have parked our happy butts right back on the chairs at Les Temps, and repeated Thursday's nirvana. Oh well, live and learn. (for those interested in the math - $20 ferry cost + $5 tax to go from Marigot to Blowing point; $26 cab [we also gave $5 tip to ensure a better chance he'd return on time to take us back, as we were pushing the envelope and taking the last ferry back] to the beach, then another $26+tip cab fare back, and $20 ferry cost + $8 tax to get back to Marigot. So $53 x 2 for ferries, and $62 in cab fare)
We had a 7 o'clock reservation at Barranco that we were fortunate enough not to need to keep (they graciously gave us an 8 o'clock seating when we called and explained that the ferry was some 50 minutes late leaving Anguilla [for no reason we could tell, save for 'island time']). Had a good if not great meal at Barranco. Nice, and on the water, but suffers from direct comparison to its neighbor Ocean 82. Had the veal sweet breads and my wife had a nice filet, for a nice change of pace to all the seafood we've had. I actually ordered the octopus, but the waiter got it wrong (I had previously asked if the veal or octopus was better and he replied octopus so I told him I'd take it -- but he must have got confused when putting the order in and I got the veal, which was fine, as I was contemplating getting it anyway). When he looked back later (they use handheld devices to send orders to kitchen) and realized his mistake he was very apologetic, but I promised it was no big deal. Later he actually brought out a sample of the octopus for me to try, which was a very nice gesture. It was very, very good - and I recommend it to anyone dining there.
Service was very slow here, unusually so -- as the restaurant wasn't really crowded either. Anyway, the meal stretched to 11, and with us having to pack in the morning, we decided to call it a night once we got back to the hotel, even though we had gone back to grapewine (where we were once again given exceedingly friendly customer service as she went from French to English and back again seamlessly and elegantly. I would pay her to read me the phone book in whatever language she chose to do so) earlier in the day to get another bottle of wine for after dinner.
Was bittersweet waking up -- anxious to get everything done we needed to in the hopes of having at least 2 final hours to do nothing with before having to head to the airport. Bakery one last time, still great and will remember it fondly for years to come I'm sure. Pastries (cinnamon roll was very understated but good) and coffee, and after that we packed up and got beachwear on, while leaving an outfit to change into come check out time. Check out at 11, so we had 1.5 hours on the beach, and although overcast (most mornings in Grand Case started overcast but burned off by 10-11, to turn into magically sunny days), was still great. Went in to change and checkout, and was super easy -- that hotel, while not giving the warm fuzzies, was overall great. Best was of course the view/location. Walked every day/night to the restaurants on restaurant row. 5 minute walk, and although the space between LTC and Piazza Pascal is not renovated as of yet --- buildings still showing the same destruction they have been since Irma and making the walk seem a little spooky, especially on the off chance you're on the road alone [not usually the case, but did happen to us for that stretch one evening around 11pm]. Once you get to the restaurants/shops, everything is very warm and light -- just that little stretch past that can seem eerie. Still, didn't hear, see, or feel any unsafe activities. Parked my rental car on Grand Case Blvd every day --- never was it touched or broken into. Had Dutch plates with the 'R' on the license plate signifying rental, that so many people say best not to have on the french side. For us it didn't make a difference -- we were smart about our rental, like we are in all cities we rent cars: don't leave anything in your car when not in use -- no one touched it. If you're just coming to Grand Case to eat, you'll never feel even the least bit unsafe (now the road you drive on? Like a back alley w/no room for both cars and people to coexist w/o a little give and take on who gets to go at what point/time) at any point in the restaurant row area. The bakery being so close made it even better location. Add to it how close you are to the water, and I don't believe there's a better place to stay in Grand Case. Of course that's just my opinion, but with a whole week there, I feel more than qualified to give out unsolicited.
Our room had some water damage spots showing on the ceiling, and one started to drip in the toilet area of the bathroom (like one drop every hour kind of slow drip -- could have been from A/C? I don't know -- never bothered us, just something we noticed), but for a boutique hotel, nothing out of the ordinary. The room otherwise was perfect. There was a TV, but c'mon - why turn it on? We didn't the whole week. Little fridge in the room. Of course the wall of windows w/sliding door to patio/terrace with glass wall, for an unobstructed floor to ceiling view of Caribbean Sea/beach. I will say I did not love the bed. Maybe just my preference, but it was hard and unforgiving -- not sure if that's the style they were going for or what. Certainly not even close to a deal breaker. You're given beach towels daily - take with you when you go exploring other beaches, and just bring them back and exchange with housekeeping the next day for new ones. Beach access is two steps behind the bar in the restaurant. Could not have been closer. Neighboring properties to the west are all getting redone -- looks like 9 unit (three floors of three units per floor) apartments for weekly rent on the two building directly to the west. One (Atlantatide, I believe was the name) looks like 7 of 9 apartments are being rented now, with work finishing on the other two soon. The other 9 unit building is not as close to done, but definitely in the home stretch as well. After that is Rainbow, and then Calypso, so for at least a little bit of a stretch the buildings are all looking great and redone. Hopefully the rest of the street gets started soon, b/c if it ever gets done it's gonna look utterly amazing (and prices will go through the roof I bet). That said, the non-water side of Grand Case Blvd has so much work that needs done. Looks like a lot of locals live on that side, though not sure what they do -- saw a lot of people just sitting doing nothing, all day on the street. They didn't bother anyone, and didn't ever make eye contact with us - they just existed.
Anyway, after checking out of Les Temps des cerises, we had 1.5 hours to kill until we needed to be to the airport. Ocean 82 opens for lunch in thirty minutes. First (actually second) ones there, we made sure to order quickly (much quicker than the waitress was used to going I'm sure) and had enough time for a great meal and two glasses of wine each. Should of chanced it and taken the extra 10 minutes to eat another one of "the lemon" desserts, but decided against it (only regret, save for skipping Anguilla excursion) and made our way to the airport. Leaving on a Saturday is a sh!t show!!! The line was snaked to and fro for customs, wrapped three times w/o the benefit of those blue ropes to keep everyone neat and orderly. We were planning on checking my bag on the way home b/c we had the wine we bought at grapewine that we wanted to enjoy at home, but the line was too long for that and for customs, so we ditched the bottle when we were 30 minutes away -- gave it to a nice lady at information desk who, much to our delight, decided to usher us through the customs line for the gift of the wine. Truly not our intention to bribe – we couldn’t enjoy it so someone should was our thinking, but was great to skip the last 30 minutes of waiting in line and got to go to the bar and have an hour to have a final drink before boarding our flight back to Philly. I've never seen a more disorganized line for security/customs in my life. We got to PJIA 2.5 hours prior to departure, and that was the appropriate amount of time to give ourselves for the line. Of course, there were 3 flights leaving for NY in the span of 1.5 hours, and we were the last of 5 major flights leaving for US in a 1.5 hour stretch, so not without reason....still, no joke on getting to airport early here, more so if you plan to check bags.
Overall, was the best vacation my wife and I have ever taken. We planned to do more (jet ski, snorkel, boat tour, etc...), and maybe should have --- but the whole point of the vacation was relaxation and we accomplished that many times over.
Okay, this is ridiculously long, so for the sake of wrapping up, here are some miscellaneous thoughts in one-off non-sequitur form:
*Sax car rental was good overall. The return was nicer than the initial pick-up of the car (especially given the 20 minute wait at the airport). Still, I've heard of other companies that let you just park the car at the airport and leave -- I think I'd do that for convenience alone next time. Other than that, Sax was as good as advertised.
*Gas was 0.98 Euros/liter away from the airport (between Grand Case and Marigot), but 1.43 Euros/liter nearest the airport. Save yourself the money and fill up before you come back if you're renting a car.
*After driving for a whole week, we used 3/8 tank of gas. Cost us $23 to fill it back up.
*Rental car over taxis -- freedom to do whatever you want is huge, and you'll probably pay less for rental than taxis if you go somewhere once a day by car.
*Marigot's one-way streets and general directions weren't bad at all. I was expecting worse. For this and other driving, do yourself a favor and download an offline google map of the island (maps.google.com), and even when you don't have wifi/cellular ability, you can pull up the map on your smart phone for directions to wherever you're going. Won't give you traffic updates w/o network connection, but really was easy to find my way around Marigot with that map.
*There was construction in Grand Case on sewage lines(I think?), which caused traffic backups at some times. However, I can see how traffic wouldn't really be an issue otherwise, at least following the rule of thumb to always drive clockwise around the island.
*Any reservations you make not in person -- go in and reconfirm in person once you're on the island. Trust me - people are flakes over email. Lots of books (stores inventory sold, reservations, hotel in/out status by room/date, etc..) were still kept with pen and paper, as opposed to Open Table or some electronic means, etc...for reservations and the like.
*My French is pretty much non-existent. I tried a little conversational education before going but nothing really stuck. Still, we got by very well with our English and limited French phrases. While I was told my French was disgraceful once or twice when trying to say the simplest thing, for the most part everyone was very kind and tried to bridge the language gap with their own English as a second language, for which we were very appreciative.
*I used USD and credit cards wherever I went. Amex wasn't taken at about 50% of the places I tried. Visa/MC was always taken when I tried.
*Tax/Service on checks (l'additions) in restaurants -- it never mentioned that service was/was not included at the places we went. The prices in the menu were what we were charged on our receipt However, there was always a line item for the TGCA tax (4%) but not ‘service’. In the end we tipped everywhere we felt we had good to great service. We probably overtipped b/c of it (if service was included in the prices on the bill), but I was more than okay with it, if nothing else to show appreciation for their willingness to deal with a non-native speaking foreigner. I try to think of my dealings with those in America who don't speak the language and I'm humbled to say I don't always show the patience and willingness to communicate that was shown to me (of course flip side is that I'm not in the service industry, but still)
*Safety - I will admit that some parts of Grand Case Blvd after dark seemed down right scary --- not a soul out, old shells of hurricane damaged building, unfamiliar area, and the warnings I’d read online about the dangers of walking at night in my head. Still, my wife and I walked back from dinner every night to our hotel (less than 0.5 miles) and nothing unsafe happened to us, or did we see anyone that we felt unsafe about. Again, there was only a small stretch outside of restaurant row but before LTC hotel that felt eerie - the rest of the area has people and lighting all day/night, so nothing in the least to be worried about
*Rental car - locked it and kept nothing in the vehicle as a precaution wherever we went. Never tampered with, never broken into. Not saying it doesn't happen, just that it didn't happen to me.
*Anguilla - not a great day trip (and the reverse might be true, save for food destinations in Grand Case/other high end restaurants) -- you just chew up too much of your time going to/from, time better spent in a more accessible destination. Might be a good destination for the whole week instead of St. Martin IF you are a certain kind of traveler (see below), but from what I saw of Anguilla it was super boring. Even the landscape is blah.... The demographic that would most enjoy Anguilla over St. Martin (and the one we saw more often than any other group of people as we walked the beaches for an hour or so) is the 50-70 year old American redneck: the food is bland, there is no culture, and there is no nightlife to speak of in Anguilla. Is it more safe? I don't know -- I just know that it strikes me as more of an all-inclusive type feel, where you don't venture around, so of course nothing is going to happen to you (good or bad). If you want a six pack of Caribs on the beach and then chicken wings at night for dinner, while speaking and being spoken to in English 100% of the time, I'm not here to put you down -- I'm just saying that you'd more readily get that in Anguilla than French St. Martin. Different stroke for different folks. That being said, it was pricey to drink on the beach and the food (which wasn't special) was pricey, too. Interestingly there was a line item for 15% charge for service on our bill in Anguilla.
*Regrets - would have liked to have gone to Orient Bay for an evening out given all the positive reviews online, but other than Wednesday, not sure what night we would have done so.
*BBC - my wife's favorite beach drink. Bailey's banana colada. Never heard of it before this trip
I'll try to find ways to include pictures (if possible). Thanks to all who gave me good advice prior to going -- it was invaluable in a lot of planning and maximizing of our time on the island. Paying it forward, please do let me know if there's anything I can help answer for you.