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First Time Visitor Trip Report #261127
07/22/2021 03:11 PM
07/22/2021 03:11 PM
Joined: Jul 2021
Posts: 2
A
ashaway12 Offline OP
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ashaway12  Offline OP
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Joined: Jul 2021
Posts: 2
Good afternoon, this is my first post here but I have been following the boards for some time as I planned our first trip to the island. I am writing this trip report because I found reading other trip reports helpful as a first timer. This was me and my wife’s first time on the island, it was a ten year anniversary trip and just the two of us, no kids for this one. It is a long read, brevity is not in my skill set.

Prior to departing on 7/17 we received the Abbot Labs ID Now NAAT test, I know there seems to be some back and forth as to whether or not this is a PCR test or not, consensus seems to be that St. Maarten is accepting this within the 72 hour window, we submitted the test in the 48 hour window so I can not speak to personal experience here about what this test counts as.

Day 1 – Our flight was scheduled to leave Boston at 8:11 on Saturday. JetBlue did allow us to print our boarding passes the day before, which turned out to be a massive help because the airport was absolutely jam packed. The check-in lines and security lines were huge. My wife and I have TSA pre-check, but if you do not, and can’t get your boarding pass the day before, please make sure to leave yourself enough time.

The gate agents were checking COVID test results and EHAS approvals prior to boarding to help speed up the process, we had physical print outs and that seemed to speed things along. They checked our test results one last time and we boarded. We had a non-stop flight and for the first time ever flew the Mint service on the way down and it was a great experience.

Upon arrival we got off the plane, onto the bus, and off to customs/immigration. Our flight was delayed somewhat taking off so we got there just as a few other flights were arriving. The line to clear customs was crazy long, but if this happens to you do not be intimidated, it moves very quickly. It took us about a half hour from when we got in line to when we exited the terminal. While in line they had someone coming through and checking our EHAS approval and negative tests. It looked like those without physical printouts had to go to a separate booth after waiting in line and before they went to customs but I am not positive.

After exiting the terminal, we went out and waited for the Hertz shuttle, it came fairly quickly, we picked up our Jeep rental and we were off to our Air Bnb. We were staying on the French side of the island, in an Air BnB in the neighborhood on Pic Paradis (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16767933?source_impression_id=p3_1626983690_NXxn%2BXECn9QhrR1t&guests=1&adults=1) . It was a spectacular villa, with great views, and well equipped and the hosts were great in answering our questions and helping us with anything we needed. We settled in and left to go to Orient Beach for a light dinner/drinks.

We stopped at Kontiki beach club first, we got there at about 4:30 and they told us the kitchen was closed, we stayed for drinks and they were awesome. There was some seaweed on the beach there but nothing that would cause me not to go there.

We made our way down the beach to Bikini Beach for some appetizers and drinks. We were just looking for a light dinner after a long travel day and this place hit the spot.

Afterwards we hit the Super U in Hope Estate and the store has just about everything that we needed.

Day 2 – We started out our day with a late breakfast at the Sunset Café at the Grand Case Beach Club. It was difficult to find a parking spot on the street but we got lucky. Those that have traveled here more often could answer this but I think that if we had pulled up to the gate security would have let us park in their parking lot but we did not ask about that. Breakfast was great and what a view!

We then made our way over to the Dutch side of the island. We were only doing a four day trip so we went to go get our COVID test done for the return trip. We got our test done at the airport testing location. Admittedly, they are much more expensive than getting it done at a pharmacy but a couple of factors for us, 1.) we wanted the test done on a Sunday and we could not find any place open besides the airport location, and 2.) using this location was very easy, efficient, and quick. We were in and out in 20 minutes with our results in hand in a printout. There was only two or three other people in there with us. I understand with a family of four or 5 it can get very expensive, but my wife and I do not get away on our own much and we wanted to maximize our time and for us spending $220 instead of $100 and saving ourselves two hours of vacation time was well worth it. We parked in the airport parking lot and for the 20 minutes we were there it cost $2.

After this we drove over to downtown Philipsburg. It was a beautiful drive and great to see some parts of the island we hadn’t seen yet. Here is where we made our first “mistake” of the trip. I did see somewhere before going that stores were closed on Sundays; I took this as a few stores would be closed. I didn’t realize that this would mean 95% of the stores in that area would be closed (I hope the frequent travelers reading this are having a good chuckle at my expense). We walked around the area anyways and enjoyed the quiet, it looks like it would be a lot of fun when it is lively. My question for those frequent travelers, is everything being closed a religious thing? An off-season in July thing? I would think that an area that makes most of their revenue off of tourist dollars would be open every day.

We then headed over to the Sunset Bar in Maho beach. We got a few drinks and some appetizers which hit the spot. We also had the opportunity to see a few planes take off and land.

That night we went to Il Patio (I believe it was formerly known as Piazza Pascal) for dinner. It was a great Italian meal on their rooftop patio. We parked in the pay lot that was a little bit down the street ($5 for the night).

Day 3 – We didn’t have much of a plan for breakfast and ended up at Café Atlantico which turned out to be a great “accident”. Great coffee, great pastries, great food.

We then made our way over to Baie Rouge. This was a beautiful beach. We stayed here for a while, enjoying the warm clear water. Another question for the residents or frequent travelers, at the end of the beach there is a hurricane damaged home that has not been repaired, while we were there someone was spray painting “Do Not Climb Bad Dogs”, which got me wondering, is the house abandoned and is now full of stray dogs? Does someone live there with a bunch of dogs that are dangerous? I felt like the warning label gave rise to more questions than it answered.

After the leaving the beach we went to the Driftwood Boat Bar for some drinks. We split a burger as a late lunch and it was very good. The drinks were also great and there was a nice vibe at this place.

That night for dinner we had reservations for Ocean 82. I had seen a few negative reviews of the place but the experience was spectacular. We had a great table right on the water, the drinks were awesome, the food was awesome, all around a great dinner. For parking we again parked in the pay lot.

Day 4 – Another day without much of a plan for breakfast, we ended up Yellow Sub in Orient Bay. We were back and forth between doing a kayak trip to Pinel Island or doing the hike to Happy Bay beach. We ultimately decided to go to Happy Bay.

We parked near the Friars Bay Beach Club and took the hike to the beach. It took about 12 minutes, was hilly at first but nothing that was too extreme. My wife has a bad back and was able to handle the walk. I am glad we did, it was a beautiful beach, there were only 7-10 other people on the entire beach. Some nude sunbathers but that made no difference to us.

After leaving Happy Bay we were going to grab some drinks but the Friars Bay Beach Club was closed so we worked our way further down the beach and ended up at Kali’s Beach Bar which turned into another happy “accident”. We only ordered drinks so I can’t speak to the food but they were the tastiest frozen drinks we had during the trip.

For our final dinner we had reservations at L’Auberge Gourmand and had another excellent dining experience. The food was great, the service was great, the drinks were great, all around a wonderful experience. The pay lot that we had been using was not open when we were looking to park so we went to the free lot that was a little bit further up the road.

Day 5 – Check out day, we were so sad to have to leave, we had such a great trip. We had a quick breakfast at Zee Best which was very good, took one last drive around Maho Bay and dropped off our car. Drop off from Hertz was very smooth and I would use them for future rentals again. We got to the airport about three hours before our flight, short line at check in but we cruised through it and security and were at our gate in no time. We flew out on a Wednesday so I suspect that it may have been a slower travel day than if we left on a Sunday.

Some final thoughts:
I brought cash (American dollars and Euro’s) but used my credit card wherever possible. I tipped in cash though as the way the credit card system seemed to work down there made it a little different to tip on the credit card the way we do here. I had no issue with anyone accepting US Dollars if I didn’t have Euro’s on me.

We used the Verizon Travel Pass ($10 per day) and had cell phone reception just about everywhere we went.

Prior to leaving I saved a copy of the Google maps St. Maarten/St. Martin map on my phone and it was very helpful. We got our bearings quickly but when going new places there are no street signs anywhere so having Google Maps help guide us was very valuable.

Most of the drivers were fairly in control, way calmer than what I experience in Massachusetts, but there were some on dirtbikes and mopeds that are pretty wild. Just stay in your lane and they will go around you, I didn’t view this as a problem at all.

I didn’t take the time to learn much French prior to the trip and I wish I had. We never felt at a disadvantage as most people speak English and have some signs translated, I just felt like maybe I was being rude by not being able to converse with people in their home language.

In Grand Case the parking is every bit as difficult on the street as it has been described. I thought maybe people exaggerated but I think it is safe to say that you aren’t going to find street parking there and use either the free lot or the pay lot.

The only thing we missed was a great sunset, we had great weather but at night it did get hazy and we never really got a great sunset, something to look forward to for next time!

I have read some reports about the safety of the island, we felt safe everywhere we went. Most of our nights were in Grand Case and we felt safe every night, granted we were out of there by 8:30 or so every night but we never found that to be an issue.

The service everywhere was spectacular. From the airport employees, the Hertz employees, our Air BnB hosts, the waitresses/waiters, bartenders, parking lot attendants, store owners, etc. were all so kind, helpful, and great to work with. We didn’t have one bad customer service experience.

Another question for the experts, the Dutch side seemed to be much further along in their recovery from Irma. On the French side the damage was still noticeable, especially around Grand Case. Is that a function of it hitting the French side harder? I did read about how it seems there have been some issues with the French government and getting permits to rebuild but wasn’t sure if the French side generally caught the worst of the hurricane.

Overall, it was a spectacular trip, the island was great, the people were great, and we would love to go back again soon. Thanks again to everyone here for your own posts because it helped me so much!

SXM Sponsors
Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261128
07/22/2021 03:23 PM
07/22/2021 03:23 PM
Joined: Dec 2010
Posts: 370
Detroit
bluejacket Offline
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bluejacket  Offline
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Joined: Dec 2010
Posts: 370
Detroit
Thanks for the report. Glad you enjoyed your first visit.

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261132
07/22/2021 03:43 PM
07/22/2021 03:43 PM
Joined: Jul 2003
Posts: 2,000
North Kingstown, Rhode Island
RI Bob C Offline
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RI Bob C  Offline
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Joined: Jul 2003
Posts: 2,000
North Kingstown, Rhode Island
Well appreciated report. The French side did very little recovery for quite a while after the hurricane while the Dutch side went right at rebuilding most of the damaged sites.

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261133
07/22/2021 03:50 PM
07/22/2021 03:50 PM
Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 716
Western MA
S
SandS Offline
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SandS  Offline
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Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 716
Western MA
Great report. I think you are now an official St Maarten lover.

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261135
07/22/2021 04:00 PM
07/22/2021 04:00 PM
Joined: Mar 2012
Posts: 245
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BlueGreenWater Offline
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BlueGreenWater  Offline
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Joined: Mar 2012
Posts: 245
Great trip report. Thanks for posting.

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261139
07/22/2021 04:33 PM
07/22/2021 04:33 PM
Joined: Aug 2000
Posts: 76,821
Central Florida!
Carol_Hill Offline
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Carol_Hill  Offline
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Joined: Aug 2000
Posts: 76,821
Central Florida!
Hi. Your link didn't work. Is this the villa? Link

If so, it looks amazing!


Carol Hill
Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261141
07/22/2021 04:39 PM
07/22/2021 04:39 PM
Joined: Jan 2009
Posts: 87
actionone Offline
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actionone  Offline
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Joined: Jan 2009
Posts: 87
Great report...fun read...thank you

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261142
07/22/2021 04:41 PM
07/22/2021 04:41 PM
Joined: Aug 2000
Posts: 76,821
Central Florida!
Carol_Hill Offline
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Carol_Hill  Offline
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Joined: Aug 2000
Posts: 76,821
Central Florida!
First, welcome to TTOL!

Thanks for the report. Seems like you really got around, for only 4 days. Can't imagine going through everything one has to go through, to stay only for that amount of time. Congrats on such fortitude!

Regarding P'burg on a Sunday, it has never been particularly busy on a Sunday. Traditionally, if there are no ships in town on Sunday, there generally are not ANY shops open in town. Some restaurants, etc., but no shops. Irma need a real job on P'burg, followed by Covid, so there are a lot of places that closed permanently as a result of those twin calamities. These days, Front Street in general is a mere shadow of what it used to be. Hopefully it will come back some, once there are more ships calling.

Don't have any idea what the explanation is for the painting you saw.

So, when do you head back?? grin


Carol Hill
Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: Carol_Hill] #261145
07/22/2021 05:01 PM
07/22/2021 05:01 PM
Joined: Jul 2021
Posts: 2
A
ashaway12 Offline OP
Member
ashaway12  Offline OP
Member
A
Joined: Jul 2021
Posts: 2
Originally Posted by Carol_Hill
Hi. Your link didn't work. Is this the villa? Link

If so, it looks amazing!



That's the place! It was a great place and the hosts were awesome, they own a few other places up there too I believe.

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261148
07/22/2021 05:51 PM
07/22/2021 05:51 PM
Joined: Apr 2001
Posts: 13,691
Brookfield, CT.
pat Offline
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pat  Offline
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Joined: Apr 2001
Posts: 13,691
Brookfield, CT.
Ashaway,

First if all, happy tenth anniversary and wishing you many returns of the day.

What a great report and so beautifully done. Thank you for your thoughts and experiences. I think you managed to squeeze more into your short trip than we did in two and a half weeks last time there in April past.

Glad you enjoyed the island. As a long-time visitor I can assure you it has much to offer. After almost fifty years of annual trips we still find something new with every visit. And we aren’t tired of visiting yet either.

So now that you’ve gotten a personal taste of what we here all love about St. Martin/Sint Maarten, are you contemplating when you might be able to get back there again? One of the really great aspects of this wonderful place is that you can explore it until you think you’ve seen all there is to see, and then you can start on St. Barts, Anguilla and Saba.

Till the next trip…….


Respectfully,

pat



"Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat
them."
Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261155
07/22/2021 07:13 PM
07/22/2021 07:13 PM
Joined: Aug 2000
Posts: 76,821
Central Florida!
Carol_Hill Offline
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Carol_Hill  Offline
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Joined: Aug 2000
Posts: 76,821
Central Florida!
As I said, looks amazing!!!


Carol Hill
Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261157
07/22/2021 07:15 PM
07/22/2021 07:15 PM
Joined: Mar 2009
Posts: 15,006
Auburn, WA
SXMScubaman Online content
Traveler
SXMScubaman  Online Content
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Joined: Mar 2009
Posts: 15,006
Auburn, WA
"is everything being closed a religious thing?"
No. If there are no ships in port on Sundays most all shops are closed.

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261164
07/22/2021 08:40 PM
07/22/2021 08:40 PM
Joined: Jun 2009
Posts: 4,164
Portland, OR
jazzgal Offline
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jazzgal  Offline
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Joined: Jun 2009
Posts: 4,164
Portland, OR
Thanks for the great report!

I doubt you would have been successful going to the gate at GCBC. I tried it in June and they told me over the intercom to park on the road, walk back to the gate, and they would buzz me in. I think that's standard operating procedure at this time, which is a bummer.


[Linked Image]
Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261170
07/23/2021 04:24 AM
07/23/2021 04:24 AM
Joined: Mar 2001
Posts: 16,391
Ohio
ruralcarrier Offline
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ruralcarrier  Offline
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Posts: 16,391
Ohio
Welcome and thank you. You covered a lot of territory on a short amount of time.


J.D.
Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261177
07/23/2021 07:07 AM
07/23/2021 07:07 AM
Joined: Dec 2005
Posts: 1,966
Royersford, PA (30m NW of Phil...
Biturbo Offline
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Biturbo  Offline
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Joined: Dec 2005
Posts: 1,966
Royersford, PA (30m NW of Phil...
I especially enjoy reports from first timers. Thanks for sharing an enjoyable read.


"In a yellow El Camino, listening to Howlin' Wolf" - Lucinda
Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261284
07/24/2021 11:29 AM
07/24/2021 11:29 AM
Joined: Feb 2006
Posts: 1,055
PA
biglar Offline
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biglar  Offline
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Posts: 1,055
PA
Enjoyed everything about your report! Happy Anniversary! We have been going to the island for about 20 years and still find new things to do every visit. We have missed two years now, but do hope for a visit this October. We have been staying on the French side since years ago we met a very nice French rental agent and have stayed with her ever since. We will stay in Orient Village once again this year. As others have said...you did way too much for just 4 days. Next time plan for at least a week and you will still feel like you missed out on so many things. We are now up to over 3 weeks and I'm sure we will miss a few things that are on our list to do this next visit. Most days we plan for just a half day at the beach which turns into an all day affair. And, then the next day comes and we do the same again. Known as sand gravity! Make sure you come back next year and see a few more sights that you may have missed this trip.

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261302
07/24/2021 07:20 PM
07/24/2021 07:20 PM
Joined: Oct 2017
Posts: 933
S
SammyM Offline
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SammyM  Offline
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Joined: Oct 2017
Posts: 933
I, too enjoyed your report. You covered things quite well, and didn't focus on every thing you ate or drank like some of the trip reports do. Stayed in Philipsburg several times and for sure Sundays are not the best day to visit. A few shops are open here and there if you're looking for a last minute souvenir, but at least you were able to avoid the aggressive sales people who try to guide you inside and pressure you to buy something (made that mistake once). Many of the places you enjoyed are likewise high on our list, including Ocean 82 in Grand Case. Great dining there and with the exception of one waiter who was a total jerk a few years back (pre Irma), the staff there is extremely friendly and accommodating. And, isn't that hike from Friar's Bay to Happy Bay Beach awesome! Met some really cool looking iguanas last time I hiked it, and in my opinion Happy Bay Beach is the prettiest 'plage' on the entire island.

When you go back -- and trust me you will go back -- add a few days to the vacation and don't worry if you don't speak any french. All you need to say on French St. Martin is 'si voo play' (please) and 'merci' (thank you). Never hurts to say "please and thank you" wherever your travels take you! Finally, keep in mind that the best part of returning from St. Maarten is the immediate planning of your next visit there (whenever that may be). Glad you had a great time.

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261310
07/25/2021 04:01 AM
07/25/2021 04:01 AM
Joined: Jul 2011
Posts: 1,294
Westchester /NYC
Colour1 Offline
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Colour1  Offline
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Joined: Jul 2011
Posts: 1,294
Westchester /NYC
I am super impressed with how you got around and found the places you mapped out!! It's safe to say, you and your wife are hooked on SXM!!! For us, after going to so many other islands. There's no reason to go else where!!! There's no doubt in my mind we will see you two on the island again!!! For us, is going on almost 20 years and over 50 trips!! Yet, sometimes we still feel like newbies!!! LOL!!! It's the thrill of finding some place you've never been before! Welcome to the club!!!


Sand Gravity, got to love it!
Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261383
07/26/2021 10:39 AM
07/26/2021 10:39 AM
Joined: Jan 2002
Posts: 629
Bucks County PA
JohnB Offline
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JohnB  Offline
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Posts: 629
Bucks County PA
thanks for the report it reminded me of our first few trips to the island. We had much more energy in those day and very eager to explore our new found island. 20 + years later we stay longer and do less! I think you are hooked now and like us found your happy place. BTW we would have had a hard time leaving your villa

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261477
07/27/2021 05:56 AM
07/27/2021 05:56 AM
Joined: Feb 2011
Posts: 122
Virginia Beach, VA USA
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barryvabeach Offline
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Posts: 122
Virginia Beach, VA USA
I'll join the crowd and say great report. I have not been there as much as many here, but I think all of your choices seem well thought out, and panned out as well. I also agree, we usually plan a few days of staying at the beach in front of the place we rent, but we do venture to other beaches, and you made some great choices. As to Grand Case parking, yes the lot is the way to go most times. As for the people, I think that is the real draw of the island. The locals as well as the visitors, are so friendly, it is a very special place to visit.

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261626
07/29/2021 02:54 PM
07/29/2021 02:54 PM
Joined: May 2021
Posts: 104
LI, NY
R
RM5 LI Offline
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RM5 LI  Offline
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R
Joined: May 2021
Posts: 104
LI, NY
A lovely trip report. Glad you had a wonderful time.

Re: First Time Visitor Trip Report [Re: ashaway12] #261682
07/31/2021 02:49 AM
07/31/2021 02:49 AM
Joined: Jul 2011
Posts: 1,294
Westchester /NYC
Colour1 Offline
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Colour1  Offline
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Joined: Jul 2011
Posts: 1,294
Westchester /NYC
I am super impressed with your ability to get around so easily!!! You most defiantly did your homework on where to go and what to do. Yes, Sunday's a high holy day for most businesses. Yes, parking in "GC" is not easy on any day, IMHO, better off just driving to Danny's lot for the $5.00. And he and his guys keep an eye out for your car. Now that you got a taste for the island, when is the next trip!! We still to this day haven't hit every place on the island!! My question is, you had a 8am flight out of BASTin and you got to Orient at 4:30pm what happened??? Sorry you missed the food at Kontiki, it's amazing!!! We are still "newbies" after 20 years traveling to "our" island from NYC! Thanks for posting!! Photo's???


Sand Gravity, got to love it!

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