Jan 21st, 2020
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TRIP REPORT Xmas/New Years
01/08/2020 05:48 PM
01/08/2020 05:48 PM
Joined: Nov 2000
Long Island, New York
Joined: Nov 2000
Long Island, New York
TRIP REPORT 12/21/2019 – 1/4/2020 Christmas/New Years
Hi everyone. We just returned from another fabulous 2-week vacation in our favorite 2nd home. We have been going to St. Maarten since 1984, with our first stay at Mullet Bay. It has been 3 years since we have seen our precious island, due to Hurricane Irma. The island looked very good, with the only glaring signs of the hurricane to me being sunken boats all around, including the Pink Lady. I remember after Hurricane Luis, it took MANY years for those boats to be cleared. The weather was very nice the first week, with a bit of rain and clouds the second week. However, there are NO BAD DAYS on St Maarten!!! We didn’t do as much traveling to the French side as normal, due to the riots and unrest on that side just before we arrived. I already wish I were back, and am counting down to next year!
American Airlines direct flight from JFK, New York
Most expensive we have EVER paid at $1500 per ticket times 3 people!!! But keep in mind this is Christmas vacation week, and it is ALWAYS pricey. Jet Blue was not really less for the same dates (weekend flights). We don’t have many direct flights there this time of year from NY, and they fill up FAST. We kept waiting for the price to lower, and when there were barely any seats left on the plane, we bit the bullet at $1500 and sat separately!
ROYAL ISLANDER LA PLAGE / MAHO area
The resort was beautiful and well-maintained as always, We had a nice wide beach throughout both weeks of our stay. The ocean was calm enough almost every day in which to swim or go on a raft, and even to snorkel by the rocks, many of the days.
The WIFI, post renovation, is sadly still spotty. Some rooms seem to be better than others, depending on location. They are still charging $50 per week or $60 per month to use their wireless network.
We still have access to the Sonesta Maho Hotel GYM on the 3rd floor. The gym is BRAND NEW since Hurricane Irma. There are 3 treadmills, 2 ellipticals, a few weight machines, dumbbells, medicine balls, stability balls, and mats. I used the gym every day, and was very happy with it. However, our friend, who used to use a bicycle in there every day, was disappointed, as there are no longer any bikes in the gym. As a guest of the Royal Islander, we are allowed to use the Sonest Maho gym; however, there were many security guards at the Sonesta who had no clue. They often stopped us coming in and even out, looking for our all-inclusive bracelets. If you show your Royal Islander key, and say you are going to the gym, you are golden.
There is a brand new built-in hot tub by the pool, in the same location as the prior hot tub. It wasn’t hot enough for us, but we finally were able to enjoy it a bit when there were no kids in it!
Our restaurant onsite, Tortuga, is better than ever. They still have happy hour by the pool, but drinks are now half price at 3:00, not two for one, and not ALL types of drinks are included. They have a guy who walks around taking orders at the pool now. I had grilled cheese with bacon twice for lunch, and salmon one night, and all were delicious!!!
Regarding the Maho shopping strip, many of the same stores are back, but not all. There is a fabulous new bar near the pharmacy, called “Hole in the Wall” that has live music 7 nights a week. Our friend and great guitarist, Ronnie Santana, plays there in a duo 4 nights per week. Casino Royale looks great—poker has been moved to the back room now, but there still seems to be a small cabaret back there.
Overall, we love our little home away from home, and wouldn’t dream of staying anywhere other than the Royal Islander La Plage. The landscaping is breathtaking, and there are always workers raking, cleaning, pruning, and generally maintaining the property. The location can’t be beat, with the Casino Royale across the street, and many GREAT restaurants and bars within walking distance.
RESTAURANTS and BARS
We mostly have breakfast and lunch in our room, but look forward to our dinners out. Sadly, a few of our favorites are gone, including Pizza Pasta and Bajatsu in Maho, Cugini in Simpson Bay, and La Belle Epoque in Marigot (we heard those guys opened something in Orient Village but we did not get there). Bamboo has moved to Simpson Bay, and Mario’s, as most of you know, moved to Porto Cupecoy about 3 or 4 years ago. Here is a recap of all of the restaurants and bars we visited:
Vesna Taverna (Simpson Bay) – first time here and went twice; great find! Fantastic grouper, snapper, duck, lamb shank, chocolate pear cake, etc.; the owner, Vesna, is extremely attentive and friendly and wants to ensure you are happy; she actually went into the kitchen and made homemade tartar sauce herself for my husband, who had requested tartar sauce (she said they don’t use anything from a jar)
Sale and Pepe (Simpson Bay) – excellent Italian food – best chicken parmesan I have had in a long time; one of our best meals, but you need to have patience here as service is slow and spotty; the waiter was very good, but then a series of other people bring out your food (slowly); when we told our waiter we had never received our appetizer (as dinner was approaching), he had no idea, and was horrified and offered a free dessert; def worth a visit- LOVED the food, but you must be pretty chill with the service if you are going to enjoy the experience, waiting for bread, etc.
Spiga (Grand Case) – always one of my favorite meals of the trip; my husband did not want to venture to the French side at all due to the recent unrest. But by the 2nd week, with things more under control, I convinced him that we NEEDED to go to Spiga!! Love their pastas and lamb shank; for any of you that used to go regularly to Sebastiano in Grand Case like us, the daughter/waitress from there, Silvana, is now a waitress for Lara at Spiga—was so great to see her!
Mario’s (Porto Cupecoy) – always a lovely meal, but we went New Years Day, and they were out of the duck—ugh! This is the only restaurant I have found on the island that serves duck on the bone; I used to also get it at Bistrol Gourmand but that has been out for years; please let me know if you have a favorite restaurant for duck served on the bone. The escargot was delicious as always
Avantika (Simpson Bay) – new restaurant for us located upstairs above Bamboo in Simpson Bay; Thai food with interesting concept—you pick your noodles or rice dish and then pick your protein to be added in. I had the duck with soy noodles, which was absolutely delicious with tender duck; my daughter had the soy noodles with chicken, but the chicken was dry; friendly service—I would go back; there is also a new Thai restaurant at Porto Cupecoy that is supposed to be good, but it was closed the day we wanted to try it
Mark’s Place (Cul De Sac) –All you can eat ribs for about $23.00; friends say the mussels are the best they’ve ever had as well (I haven’t tried them yet); in the past, we have found these to be the best ribs on the island, but this year we were a bit disappointed, as they were not quite as “fall off the bone” as prior. Still tasted good though.
Mama Pizza (Porto Cupecoy) – new restaurant for us; friendly owner said she is in business many years (15?) but she used to be located somewhere else (Oyster Pond?); the salmon was excellent
Le Moulin Fou (Maho) –fantastic French food, attentive service, and a lovely atmosphere.
We went twice-- the escargot, the onion soup, lamb shank, and the chocolate soufflés are all excellent
Skipjacks (Simpson Bay) –had the grilled Caribbean lobster—was good, but better last time
Cape Café (Maho) – this is a new small crepe place owned by a young couple from France. It had only been open 2 weeks at the time of our visit. Good crepes, but if the restaurant is busy, expect a wait for your crepes; they don’t carry croissants, which I missed
Reveil Matin – this is a new restaurant (opened 1 month) owned by Daniel who used to own Da Livio (after Livio), and many other restaurants throughout St Maarten over the years; the service is extremely friendly; Daniel came to the table several times to see if everything was ok; the crepes are good, though I prefer them at Zee Best and Le Croissanterie, which has changed its name, and is MUCH smaller now; they don’t carry croissants here either
Carousel (Simpson Bay) – went here three times this trip for gelato ice cream; this is an actual carousel ride which was built over the water on Simpson Bay. In the front is another round building which sells many flavors of gelato—you can taste all you like; be aware they close by 10 pm
Red Piano (Simpson Bay) -- Went to see “Church on Monday” twice. They play there every Monday night—great classic rock/ dance band; good crowd; be aware that this bar, though hopping and fun, is very smoky, and the band is very loud
Buccaneer Beach Bar (Simpson Bay) – went for lunch one day while spending the day there on Kim Sha Beach; Friendly service with consistently good food – their hamburgers and pizzas (try the short rib pizza) are excellent
Sunset Bar and Grill (Maho) – Good food, and a fun atmosphere watching the planes; Went for an early dinner one day-- I had the mahi sandwich, which was delicious; go after 3:30 when the cruise ship crowd has departed
Hole in the Wall (Maho) – new fun bar in Maho near the pharmacy; small place, but several tables outside where you can still watch and hear the music; Ronnie Santana (great guitarist) plays here in a duo 4 nights per week
Karakter (by airport and Mary’s Boon) – lovely beach day—if you eat lunch at the wonderful restaurant here, the beach chairs and umbrellas are free; very good food in a pretty setting
Great Bay Beach (Phillipsburg)-- Those who want to shop, shop, and the rest of us hang out on beach chairs in front of Taloula Mangos. We order lunch and beers from there and spend a very relaxing day on the beach.
Mullet Bay – Beautiful beach – some days are calmer than others; 2 beach restaurants here now, and they were building real bathrooms while I was there
Kim Sha Beach/Simpson Bay – nice day, rented chairs and umbrellas, and ate lunch at Buccanner Beach Bar; very calm beach; rented a single kayak here for the reasonable price of $15/ hour
Maho Beach – this is our home beach; widest beach we have had in front of our resort in a long time, sea not as rough as it usually is here during both of our weeks; was able to swim or take out raft almost every day; the entire Maho Beach was very crowded, particularly down by Sunset Bar, due to cruise ship excursions
NEW YEARS EVE
Dinner at Tortuga Restaurant at the Royal Islander in Maho with group of about 30; then watched fireworks from neighbors’ penthouse balcony at the Royal Islander (as we do every year)
Maho area seems to be coming back nicely
Porto Cupecoy is a very happening area now
Simpson Bay was hopping every night with more restaurants opening every year
Grand Case felt a little deserted – we walked down the street shopping, but felt very
conspicuous, as no other tourists were out and about—they were just sitting in the restaurants
New bridge over Simpson Bay Lagoon continues to be a blessing (about 8 mins from Maho to
Marigot – used to take 30 mins)
Security guards were outside almost every restaurant on the Dutch side; Grand Case had only
one roving police car, except Spiga had a guard near their restaurant
Good Life Spa in Maho is out of business
Maho parking garage has less spots, due to storage of construction materials in there
Marigot Marina has no boat slips inside there anymore
Traffic was terrible, as always, this time of year
The airport is only open in a small section; it felt like the old days with the buses and the small
waiting room; supposedly they just got a big $ go-ahead to continue the rebuild
Overall, we had another fantastic trip. The beauty of a timeshare is that you are hanging with the same people that week year after year. It’s like a camp reunion. People at home say to us, “you like going to the same place every year?” We wouldn’t dream of spending Christmas and New Years anywhere else! So many wonderful friends that we look forward to seeing each year. That’s about all I can remember. Post any questions here, or feel free to e-mail me privately. Already counting down to next year!!!!
Last edited by Bobbie; 01/08/2020 11:39 PM.