We returned last weekend from our 8-day trip to St. Maarten (Nov. 29 – Dec. 7) - rested but wishing that we had stayed much longer. The time goes by so quickly in paradise!<br><br>Our American Airlines flights down were on time and full. Once we landed in St. Maarten I noticed that the lock on my checked bag was gone, along with the clasp it was fastened to. I believe that security somewhere along the way randomly checked my bag for explosives or something. Even my zippered shaving kit in the suitcase was opened and checked. Nothing at all was missing. I later found out that 2 other people, one from the west coast and one from the east coast had the same lock shattering experience with their check baggage.<br><br>We rented a gray Nissan from TripleA again this trip. They met us when we arrived and we had no problems at all. We highly recommend TripleA. <br><br>We decided to make this trip more active and not let sand gravity affect us, not as much at least. Besides, if you want to make new friends the best way is to participate in a group activity!<br><br>The first activity we did was the America's Cup sailing race. We signed up 3 days prior to the race with no problems. You can either visit their store near Bobby's Marina in person or have your hotel call their office to make reservations. The race itself takes about 3 hours and it is well worth every second. Everything is handled very efficiently and professionally, from the pre-race briefing to the final rum punches back at the store. The race itself will be like none other you have ever done. After all, these are the actual sailboats from the 1987 America's Cup race in Australia!<br><br>Another activity we signed up to do was the cruise to Tintamarre Island. You can choose a snorkeling tour on the Lambada catamaran, the Golden Eagle catamaran or the Tiko Tiko nude cruise from Club Orient. We elected to sign up for the Tiko Tiko cruise since we had heard so many good things about their trip. Monday was supposed to be our cruise day but high winds and rain squalls forced Philip to cancel the cruise. No problem, he just rescheduled everyone for another day - they really want you to have a nice time! So two days later the winds calmed down and we sailed to Tintamarre with 4 other couples. We had such a great time on this adventure and met 8 wonderful people. South Carolina was represented along with Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Washington State. We could not decide which was better, exploring the island, lunch on the Tiko Tiko or the mud baths. However, being covered from head to toe in green/gray florescent mud and mooning the fully clothed snorkelers on the other catamarans has to rank pretty high on anyone's list?! We even got mooned back by a lady on one of the catamarans in a one-piece suit who peeled her entire suit off to flash us. We applauded her!<br><br>Later in the week we motored around the lagoon on the Lagoon Princess cruise that Carl Stone had arranged (Thanks Carl!). This cruise leaves from the Turtle Pier restaurant and takes about 1.5 hours. The lagoon is a fascinating place and besides, it was an all-you-can-drink cruise. There were a lot of TTOL people on this cruise too so we were able to put faces with the names.<br><br>Sand gravity finally exerted its strong pull so we crashed at Club Orient's beach. The beach is very narrow from Papagayo's northward to a little ways before the volleyball net. Then the sand is fine until you get to Pedro's. There is no beach from Pedro's to Kon Tiki. After Kon Tiki you have plenty of sand all the way to the north end of Orient Beach. Familiar faces were on Orient Beach last week (yes I know, I use a lot of the login names): Carl Stone (with his cashews), John and SugarRae, Two Hearts, Ray & Vlasta Mann as well as the tropical menagerie group (this group builds an annual display in the sand at Club Orient that includes inflatable palm trees, flamingos, and even a remote controlled hand that can extend a certain finger on command). All really nice people.<br><br>A lot of people stay at L'Host because of the 2 for 1 room rate. You get two rooms for $200 and you simply split the cost with another couple - a very good way to go. And yes, the L'Host part of the beach is also clothes optional if you wish. No one bothers you except on Disney Tuesday when they ask the guys to put their bottoms on. Fortunately the week we were there the Disney ship full of little kiddies was being cleaned in Florida so the ship did not arrive!<br><br>We had great massages at Club Orient. You simply sign up when you arrive. Even if all the slots are full you just check back and usually someone has crossed out and a slot frees up. I had Caroline this time and she was great.<br><br>Another activity I do every day is to go for an early morning run. This year I was able to visit the quarry opposite Grand Case (near the Hope Estate archaeological dig). Just ask the guard if you can pass and if it is Sunday he will allow you to run up the road, past the quarry and to the top. The other area that is a nice place to run is north, past Cul de Sac. There is a trail that begins past the trash dump and this leads to L' Habitation. You don't have to run (or hike) the entire way to L' Habitation to enjoy the fantastic north shore vistas – you can just turn around whenever you wish. Also, you can actually run from Club O, past Mt. Vernon to Cul de Sac and never get on the pavement if you are adventurous.<br><br>Another great run (hike) is to Galleon Beach (Baie de L'Embouchure). This uncrowded beach can be reached from Club Orient by simply going through the stone wall at the south end of the beach. You then run south on the sand road to the end where you can either turn around or continue south by wading (swimming) across a narrow channel to the paved road that goes to Oyster Pond.<br> <br>We really enjoy the restaurants in Grand Case. The LoLo's are good and inexpensive and compliment a long day when you aren't hungry for a great gourmet meal. This year for our gourmet treat we ate at Il Nettuno, L'Auberge Gourmand, and Le Cottage. Le Cottage was extremely nice to us when we showed up unannounced with a group of 10 not-so-sober people for dinner. They sat us at a long table in the back of the restaurant where we continued our Tiko Tiko party for quite a while. Only one prim and proper male tourist objected to our having fun and mistakenly made a gesture at one of our ladies. She was dressed in this very tiny black dress which made it easy for her to moon him on the way out of the restaurant. What would the children say?!?<br><br>For lunches we went to Ric's for nachos and Baywatch on Orient for great food and a good time with Andy and Cheryl. Breakfasts for us usually consisted of plain or chocolate croissants from either the bakery in Grand Case or from the boutique at Club Orient. <br><br>The beaches we visited were all in very good shape. Our favorite beach, besides Orient Beach, remains Long Bay. When we parked at Long Bay this year there were 5 other cars parked there. That has to be a record! There is absolutely nothing going on at Long Bay. No chairs, no food, no nothing. We usually bring an umbrella and just enjoy the peace and quiet. Every now and then someone from La Samanna gets brave and walks down to our end of the beach. But that is pretty rare. This beach is about a mile long with clothing optional if you go to the right (north, away from La Samanna).<br><br>The roads around the island were in the worst shape we have ever seen. However there is a lot of road construction going on and this should help things a lot. Of course the construction slows down traffic so you should plan on trips taking a little longer than normal. The bridge construction delayed traffic a bit but nothing out of the ordinary.<br><br>Shopping is always fun in Philipsburg. We prefer Boolchands for jewelry purchases. Brigette is a sales person who knows us from our previous trips and we like to find out what she has been doing every year. We barter with her on all our purchases and in the end everyone walks away happy. After all, you are buying a memory of paradise! I used to go for a run while my wife shopped but discovered that was too dangerous – she would always have a number of things on the counter to buy when I returned. Now I enjoy looking at the electronics and drinking the Heinekens while she shops! It is cheaper that way. After shopping we like eating at Barefoot in the plaza where they have the best jerk chicken sandwich to go along with a gorgeous view of Great Harbor.<br><br> One final tip - if you are adventurous and have the time, you can do something really out of the ordinary on SXM – go standby on a Windjammer cruise. The Windjammer ship “Polynesia” sails on Mondays for a weeklong (5-day) visit to other nearby islands. If they have room for you on the ship it will cost 50% of the normal price since you will be standby. Simply talk with one of the Windjammer people who are greeting their customers at the pier and ask them if they have space. These cruises are a lot of fun and not formal in any way (swimsuits are the normal dress code). Besides, you will get to visit 4 or 5 other islands on your weeklong adventure.<br><br>All too soon it was time to fly back to the snowy wonderland of the Rocky Mountains. We checked in for an early Saturday morning flight (the AA counter opened promptly at 6 AM and even the security people were ready to search our bags), paid our departure tax and said good bye to SXM and all our friends, wishing we were trust fund kids or had wealthy parents/relatives who would finance a permanent SXM lifestyle!<br>