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!