Saturday, April 26, 2008

Extreme Fun on St. Martin

There are the typical and the somewhat unusual activities on the island. Both activities introduced here have to do with flying in a special way.

Canopy Tour

The Fly Zone at Loterie Farm near Pic Paradis is one of those exceptional activities. There are two 'tree top' tours. One for kids and a much more challenging for youngsters and adults (approx. from age 10). You make your way on ropes and swings from tree to tree for an hour or so. If you belong to those people, who are easily scared by being 25 ft. above ground, be assured, it is safe, and staff is assisting you. More on this adventure and other activities here. The restaurant at Loterie Farm is also worthwhile a trip, even if you are passing at the challenging Fly Zone event!

Para Sailing

Another great challenge and fun activity is flying above the sea, almost. You are hanging in two as tandem combined seats and the wind gets you up to 30 - 50 ft above sea. A parachute like sail holds you safely in the air. Start and landing is on the boat. It is easier to do it than it sounds. You see Orient Beach at bird's eye perspective being pulled behind a motorboat. Great views of the water below you are guaranteed. The crystal clear waters reflect from green to blue. The perception of flying is magnificient making this trip a great experience. We truly enjoyed it, see the photo. Just come to the water sport activity stands at Orient Bay Beach and book. More about Orient Beach here, and restaurants in the Orient Beach area here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Best Villas of the Island

There is hardly any island with such a great choice of villas for rent as St. Martin/St. Maarten. Prime locations are Orient Beach and Dawn Beach. There are also hidden gems, for example in the Terres Basses area. This deed restricted privately managed area of 200 property owners has many great places. There are million $$$ mansions, and also more moderate homes for budget oriented travelers. Another great area, which has gained reputation during the recent years, is the area above Happy Bay. A favorite villa for moderate budgets is Villa Canoua.

When it comes to location, luxury, and style, we strongly recommend Villa Belle Mer
. This exquisite villa (understatement!) is a great place for a large family or a group of friends with a budget around $ 1,000 a night.

Villa Belle Mer

An informative website entirely dedicated to
villas is here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Volatility of Island Business

Business Life Cycles can be short on the island. Restaurants, car rentals, excursion services, rental villa owners, basically all tourist service providers can quickly change ownership, or go out of service, or change focus. Therefore, when being a repeat guest on the island, always keep your eyes open, many things may have changed since last time. Apply your own judgement, and check whether additional verification is needed. Don't count on 'official' tourist boards, they don't follow these developments. At least half of the businesses, especially the smaller ones, are not even registered. Better Business Bureaus and similar organisations are unknown here. Here, you see the remaining assets of a jet ski business, 'parked' under a tree in French Quarter. Other more significant mysteries are the Radisson Hotel at Anse Marcel, which should have reopened in 2006, but still doesn't show a sign of life, or 'Da Livio' restaurant in Philipsburg, once a popular upscale place, now a defunct building. The positive side is that new businesses and services pop up every day, and some add interesting attractions to the island, see here. When you do your St. Maarten/Martin travel planning on the Internet, watch out, many directories are less than up-to-date, and may misguide you. Email for verification!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Rental Cars

Chasing for a good rate, when renting a car is a kind of standard for all tourists. Fair enough! Unfortunately, you see only the rate, may be model or size class of the car, and not much else, when you decide on how to drive around on the island.

The island has more than 100 active car rental companies, from 1-2 cars rented from the kitchen drawer, or a shack to the 50+ cars big name franchise company. Visitors can rent from Dutch side companies and French side companies, both provide cars at the airport. Rates are at US level or even lower. Off season from about $25/day, and high season from $35+/day.

The most common misunderstandings, when renting a car on St. Maarten
  • Visitors chase for rates only, and do assume the cars being safe and in good condition - wrong! Some are not!

  • People rent "micro" cars, they would not even sit in back home. Where do you leave your luggage? What's about crash safety? What's about comfort?

  • Renters believe, the credit card absorbs all risks. Wrong!

  • You can return the car any time earlier before the committed rental period ends, and get only the used days charged. Wrong!

  • The companies are as creative with extra charges, e.g. tire tread fee, as they are in the USA. Wrong, the companies do not yet have this kind of creativity, and the quoted rate is usually the final price!

So many choices, so little transparency! Right! If you need to collect your air miles with one of the big names, okay, spend a bit more, and do so. Don't assume the same efficiency from those big name franchise outlets on the island, as you may be used at home. If you decide for a local company, and there are several good ones, ask for cars not older than 1 - 2 years. Potholes and other challenges get cars get into a bad shape quickly.

When you rent a car from a Dutch side company, be aware that you drive around "branded". The Dutch license plates have the letter "R" to begin with, so everybody knows from a distance, that you are a tourist. "Best Deal" car rental even has advertising slogans on each rental car. If you mind about, rent from a French side company.

An economy sized car, like a Toyota Corolla or Kia Rio is sufficient for most island destinations. Jeeps are fun, but not really required on the island. They cost 2-3 times the rate of before mentioned cars. The extremely small cars, like a Kia Picanto, are not worthwhile the little saving. An overview of rental car companies can be found here or here. The listed names on those two links are not an endorsement.

Visitors report high ratings for "Best For Less", also known as Alizes Car Rental, a very reliable small French company run by her dedicated owner Martine. Yes, they speak English. I especially like the brand new SUV's at very moderate rates. "Best-4-Less" meets you at the airport, hand over the car right at the airport parking, and you also can drop it off at the public airport parking, when leaving. Most of the larger companies have their parking lot and offices off airport and shuttle you to these places. Guess, what works faster!

Just to avoid any misconception: The photo with the car rental shack at the top is taken on the island. The company is no longer in business. And, one last advice, if the car is not in a safe condition, just don't accept it. Check locks, tires, brakes, ...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Why are you stopped on the road? Warning!

Money makes the world go round .... Some friendly, good looking girl or guy waves you from roadside. You stop for curiosity or to help, and very different to what you expected, you have become part of a high pressure sales pitch. An OPC (Off Premises Consultant or Contact) lures you to a timeshare presentation. Free drinks, free food, free trip, free ... When following this temptation, you get exposed to an intense sales event, and possibly, you spend $15,000 for a timeshare investment. Rumour is, 1 out of 3 "invitees" sign a contract.

If this is, what you really want, fine, if not, just forget about all the freebies, and don't go there. They recently jailed a few of the OPC's for illegally working on the Dutch side. The business is just to good, so they popped up on the French side next day. Before you make an investment, think about, when being back home. Do you really use a timeshare sufficiently? Are the recurring cost properly calculated? Does a vacation rental give you more choices, and "bang" for your vacation bucks? Visit the BBB website for some food for thoughts on timeshares!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ghost Places and Phantoms on the Island

Some places come and go. Just more frequently on an island than somewhere on the continent. Some places are just virtual, they don't even exist, but you are lured to. So, I received an invitation to link to a website for a new bar on Dawn Beach, called 'Barefoot Beach Bar'. This email made me curious as I haven't seen any new beach bar, and I am there every week. Looking on the photos of the website, it turned out that none of the photos had been taken at Dawn Beach at all, may be not even on the island. Here a view, how Dawn Beach looked like a year ago, before construction changed the perspective.
So, I started to doubt my capabilities to recognize the reality. I went to Mr. Busby's Beach Bar, the premier bar and restaurant at Dawn Beach. I asked the manager about the new bar being opened here, and he stared on me like being a fool, and told me, there is no new bar. So, I was glad that my eyes and my brain hadn't misled me, but obviously, some weird folks try to mislead visitors. It reminded me not to believe in everything, you see on the Internet. People tend to play all kind of games. Why? Sometimes difficult to detect, but leave your antennas scanning!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Best Croissants in Town

Croissant and Baguette are synonyms for France! When being on St. Martin, some things are very Caribbean, and some are very French. Don't miss the French favorites, and the best are in Marigot!

'La Sucriere' is located at the main street 'Boulevard de France' along the seaside, and it is worthwhile a trip around the island from time to time (at least for me). The croissants are unsurpassed! The breads, pain au chocolat (chocolate stuffed croissants), cakes, and tarts are equally good!

If you look for another nice breakfast and snack place, just 50 yards further north, same boulevard, look out for this great bakery and self service lunch place. They offer a great variety of food, pizzas, and pastries.

Both bakeries are favorites for sitting there at day time watching the active life at Marigot's waterfront with its colorful markets. New parkings between the market stands and the sea front were recently built, so finding a parking shouldn't be too difficult. Eat French, breathe Caribbean!