We last visited the island in December 2009 so it has been almost 2 years before we could return. Seeing all the changes is always interesting on SXM!
This time we wanted to also enjoy Halloween at Club Orient at Papagayos and it was an amazing party. The party was well attended with lots of very creative costumes as you would expect. First place male and female each received 3 free days at Club O, and first place overall received 5 free days at Club O. The competition was fierce but the judging left quite a lot to be desired. Still it was a fun time with good music, a buffet dinner and dancing late into the evening.
The beach nearest Club Orient is still the most active part. Dr. J's beachball races and his free beads to lose your clothes provided a lot of entertainment at Club O the week he was there. Club O is charging $5 to park in their lot now and the lot was crowded with cars. Chairs on the Club O portion of the beach are filled up by about 10 am every day and sometimes earlier. Some people don't realize that guests at the resort already have tags on their chairs so the number of available chairs is somewhat limited. However the area adjacent to Club O, before Pedros on the nude section, also has chairs for rent. But remember, this is relatively low season when we were there.
The chairs in front of most places on the beach were sparsely used. Only the area running from Club O to just in front of Sexy Fruits had a lot of people using the chairs. Once you get to Kon Tiki and beyond the people just were not there. La Playa was closed due to renovation but Waikiki was open despite rumors that it is closing. Their entertainment stage was also in use this past Saturday. The so-called nude section at Cocos was there 2 days during our stay with only 1 person on each day using the area.
Le Galion Beach
This is the beach immediately south of Orient Beach. If you have kiddies this is the beach for you. The water is clear, shallow and extremely calm. This beach is mainly a locals beach and there are very few services. It gets crowded on weekends which are the beach days for locals. The St. Martin Reserve Naturelle has been extremely successful with this area. The trails I run have now been reclaimed by natural habitat and the flora, fauna and wildlife are slowly returning to this area.
Orient Beach Restaurants:
The restaurants on Orient Beach have changed quite a lot. Sun Beach is a new place that has an active French crowd at the bar in the late afternoon. It is right next to the excellent Aloha restaurant. Some restaurants on the Beach offer a 1 for 1 exchange rate but others like Palm Beach, near Mt. Vernon, offer a 1:3 exchange rate. Andy and Cheryl's restaurant is going strong and the food is as good as ever with Adrian and Ross still there too. My favorite dish is the stuffed grouper sandwich at $15. We also tried Palm Beach for lunch but at $42 for 2 hamburgers and 2 cokes with no view of the beach from the restaurant it was not worth it. Orange restaurant was doing a good business while the other places on the beach were pretty dead for lunch.
The Queen visited Sint Maarten during our stay on the island but we never saw her on Orient Beach - probably because it is on the French side!
Because of the traffic problems we were not able to sample the Dutch side restaurants on Welfare Road. Instead we spent our money on the French side and in Philipsburg.
Yvette's in Orleans - WOW!!! $15 dollars (1:1 exchange) gives you a fantastic creole meal that is the best we have ever had. The dining area is even air conditioned! Closed on Wednesdays and no reservations accepted.
Le Piment in Orient Village - This is still our favorite French restaurant. 1:3 exchange rate. Most of the x-pat French from Orient Village eat here it seems but since they like to dine beginning around 8:30 pm you can usually get a nice table before then. No reservations accepted.
Papagayo at Club O - We finally made it to prime rib night. The prime rib is very good and the music starts at 7:00 pm for a good time as well.
Lolos in Grand Case - Good basic food at very reasonable prices (1:1). Of course the service is spotty and very slow but the prices can't be beat.
Le Cottage in Grand Case - Superior French creations with great service and Grand Case prices.
Grand Case prices have increased so much in 2 years we are amazed that these restaurants are still in business. Having said that, we overheard an East Coast US couple say that they thought the prices were reasonable. At 34 Euros for a steak with a 1:3 exchange rate I guess we have been gone too long to think that is reasonable. Also note that many of the restaurants in Grand Case are closed on Sundays in November but this will likely change with the approach of high season.
This is sure to bring a tear to not many people's eyes but the infamous Burger King in the center of Front Street has closed. We liked to go there for a drink and to look at the historic photographs of the island from days gone by. Wonder what happened to those pictures?
The prices on the many menus in Philipsburg were the same as the restaurants on Orient Beach for lunch.
DK Gems is still doing well. Being there in early November we were lucky (?) to see Depti's new jewelry creations. My wife says they are outstanding. Luckily they still offer beer to those of us sitting and watching all of the bling being tried on.
Gasoline, Taxes and French Cul-de-Sac
There is now a 2% tax on certain items on the French side. This tax is not put on restaurant bills but other things like massages and purchases now include this tax.
Gasoline is currently $1.26 per liter on the French side (1:1) at Gess and a little less per liter at the station near the Cul-de-Sac roundabout.
There is a new Grand Marche at the Cul-de-Sac roundabout. When did that roundabout appear? It is working great with no traffic tie ups going or coming into Cul-de-Sac now.
There are major traffic problems on the Dutch side with the construction in the Simpson Bay area (Welfare Road). Everyone we talked to avoided this area even though they now have 2 way traffic, well sort of 2 way traffic. The delays ranged up to 2.5 hours through this area with traffic at a standstill for long periods of time. The ways around the problems are to go through the lowlands and Marigot no matter where your destination is, unless you happen to stay in the construction area like at the Royal Palm or Simpson Bay Resort - then you have to just wait and creep along.
From the French side it is easy to access about 80% of the island, with the only exception being the portion from the airport to the Grand Marche at the bottom of the big hill near Philipsburg where all the current traffic problems are. The ride into Philipsburg took about 15 minutes from Orient Beach but the parking is still a challenge in town. The parking lots fill up before 9 am so you simply park near the University at the salt pond and walk a little further. Yes, it is safe there during the day.
The back road into the Marriott hotel over Naked Boy Hill is still as terrible as it ever was. Make sure you take the normal route toward Oyster Pond and then turn south to this hotel or Princess Heights.
The weather at the end of October and early November is still unsettled. Remember, this is still hurricane season! We had a tropical wave go over us that lasted 2 days. This means overcast skies with nightly rain on Orient Beach. Rain showers appear further over the island and it can rain more frequently on the west side of the island than on the east side. The winds vary from kite days (if you see the kites out watch your beach umbrellas) to very light winds. The temperature and humidity are both higher than later in the season and the sun is very strong so bring that SPF 30 or more and use it!
The cruise ships are back. On two days we had 2 ships in port which made the taxi drivers happier. The number of ships will keep increasing as the season progresses.
Do NOT eat at the airport in the terminal area. The food is really really bad. Ralphy's and the Grab and Go are your only 2 choices and they both only offer bad tasting tired sandwiches. It is better to bring food with you but just make sure you eat it before you arrive at your first destination or they will take it away!
We flew Delta who only flies direct into SXM from Atlanta on Saturday. Because they have such a limited schedule they are relegated to the back of the line, so to speak. We saw the weekly Delta flight sit for over 30 minutes on the little taxiway waiting to get to the terminal area while American, Spirit, and US Airways taxied by them to their respective parking areas. Just a word of warning as you will be last in the immigration line as well.
There have been many changes on the island in the last 2 years but the more things change the more they stay the same. Prices have gone up and criminals still hide in Middle Region (we never can figure how they can hide in Middle Region!); The old Mullet Bay Resort on the Dutch side is still a mess with no obvious construction except for the nice orange plastic fences around the building areas; The comparable La Belle Creole resort on the French side lies abandoned and deteriorating in the tropical climate with no solution in sight; Anguilla, that beautiful neighboring island now has to expand their prison because of all the burglaries and thefts while a billion dollar development is proposed on little Scrub Island. Even with all these changes the locals we talked to on SXM are still as friendly as ever and the island can be your favorite paradise if you want it to be.