Imagine waking up to the sound of waves crashing against the shore, feeling the soft sand between your toes, and soaking up the sun’s warmth on your skin. That was our family’s reality on our seven-day trip to Sint Maarten.
Related: Simpson Bay Marina Resort & Spa: A 4-star Family-friendly Resort
Both my husband and I work full time and needed a break from our busy schedules. Our family also celebrated some milestones, including our oldest daughter’s consistent placement on the high honor roll. With the pandemic limiting our travel options, we hadn’t had an international vacation in a while and were looking forward to one. I booked a trip to Sint Maarten a year in advance to give myself time to cancel if necessary. Finally, the day arrived, and we were excited to explore the beautiful Caribbean island with its stunning beaches and relaxing atmosphere. In this blog post, I’ll share our experiences at Simpson Bay Resort Marina & Spa, the beaches we visited, the island tour we took with Amigo Tours, the delicious restaurants we dined at, and our favorite moments of the trip.
Discovering the Two Sides of Saint Martin
Saint Martin is a beautiful Caribbean island that is divided between two countries: the Dutch side Sint Maarten, and the French side Saint Martin. The island is small, only 60 sq miles, but it is packed with activities, restaurants, and beautiful beaches. The Dutch side is known for its lively atmosphere, bustling nightlife, and wide range of activities. On the other hand, the French side is more laid-back and geared towards relaxation, and your favorite fast foods are non-existent. Whether you are looking for a party atmosphere or a quiet escape, this island has something for everyone.
One interesting fact about the French side is that the government has banned swimming on many of the beaches due to the strong currents and undertows. However, this does not mean that the beaches are not worth visiting. They are still beautiful and offer stunning views of the Caribbean Sea.
Do you need a passport when visiting the island?
If you are visiting St. Martin from the United States, you will need a valid passport to enter the island. However, once you are on the island, you do not need a passport to travel between the Dutch and French sides. This makes it easy to explore all that the island has to offer without worrying about border crossings or customs.
One of the great things about visiting Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is the opportunity to explore nearby islands. However, it is important to note that if you plan on leaving the island of St. Maarten, you will need a valid passport. You can take a short ferry ride to the nearby islands of Anguilla or St. Barths, both of which offer a different atmosphere and are great for a day trip or a longer stay. Anguilla is known for its stunning beaches and relaxed vibe, while St. Barths is known for its luxurious resorts and high-end shopping. We had initially planned on doing day trips to these places during our 7-day family vacation, but we ended up enjoying our time relaxing on the island so much that we didn’t want to leave. That’s why I am already thinking about our next trip back so we can explore these neighboring islands.
Language and Currency in Saint Maarten/St. Martin
During our trip to Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, we found the convenience of not having to exchange our American dollars to be quite welcomed. The island uses the Netherlands Antillean guilder (ANG) as its official currency, but the US dollar is widely accepted. This made things much easier for us when it came to shopping, dining, and exploring the island.
We also found that language was not a barrier during our stay. Almost everyone we encountered spoke English fluently, and we had no trouble communicating with locals. Our tour driver from Amigo Tours was particularly impressive, speaking five different languages! Although English is the most commonly spoken language on the island, you may also hear French and Dutch on the respective sides. It was fascinating to hear the various languages and accents, and it added to the unique experience of visiting an island that has such a diverse cultural heritage.
Why I Chose Sint Maarten for Our Family Vacation
When planning our 7-day family vacation, Sint Maarten stood out as the perfect destination for us. As a COVID-conscious parent, I wanted a Caribbean island where we could spend most of our time outdoors, reducing our risk of exposure to COVID-19. The relatively short flight (less than 5 hours from New York (JFK) to Sint Maarten (SXM)) was also a plus, especially since our toddler had never been out of the country. Sint Maarten had been on my bucket list for years, and it was the perfect opportunity to check it off the list.
Choosing between the Dutch and French sides was an easy decision. I ultimately decided on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten (St. Maarten) since it has more activities than the French side. Additionally, my pre-teen enjoys fast food like McDonald’s and Dominoes, which are unavailable on the French side due to a ban on fast food chains.
Where We Stayed in St. Maarten
During our 7-day family vacation to Sint Maarten, we stayed at the 4-star Simpson Bay Resort and Marina, and it turned out to be a perfect choice for us. We booked a one-bedroom villa that came with two Murphy beds, which was quite convenient for our family. Although our toddler slept with us throughout the trip, the extra beds provided more space for everyone. The best part about our villa was the first-floor walkout access to the boardwalk and pool, which made it effortless to go back and forth from the pool. We also had a view of the famous Princess Julianna Airport from our room, which added an extra thrill for our little one as she loved watching the planes take off.
The resort’s private beach was a major highlight for us. We had free access to cabanas, and the beach bar provided a perfect setting for relaxing and soaking up the Caribbean sun. Our stay at Simpson Bay Resort and Marina was everything we had hoped for, and we would definitely stay there again.
Where We Ate
During our stay in Sint Maarten, we had the pleasure of dining at several amazing places.
Buccaneer Beach Bar
One of our favorite places was the Buccaneer Beach Bar, located next door to our hotel. We visited this spot more times than we’d like to admit! The food was great, and our daughter loved their ribs. My go-to was their delicious mahi burger. They also serve pizza, which we ordered a few times. The shared play area with the Greenhouse restaurant next door made it a perfect spot for families with young kids.
The Greenhouse Restaurant
We also visited the Greenhouse, which came highly recommended and was within walking distance from our hotel. While the food was just okay, the portions were generous. For starters, we tried the bang bang shrimp, shrimp cocktail, and crab eggrolls. The shrimp was good, but the egg rolls were a bit greasy. The Caribbean Conch Chowder was tasty, and my husband had the French onion soup. Our daughter enjoyed a burger while we soaked in the stunning beach views.
Skip Jack’s, the top-rated seafood restaurant in Sint Maarten, was also on our list. Our hotel shuttle brought us to and from the restaurant, and we dined there a few times during our stay. Our kids loved seeing my husband and I pick our own Caribbean lobster, which was huge and could feed at least three people. During our first visit, I ordered the tuna carpaccio, which tasted fresh but seemed pre-made as there was a piece of saran plastic wrap left on my plate. I’ll admit that it was a bit off-putting and made me question its credibility as a fresh seafood restaurant. The crab corn chowder was delicious, as was the seared tuna.
For breakfast, my husband would stop by the Pelican Bistro, which quickly became our go-to spot for takeout breakfast. The restaurant’s menu had a wide selection of delicious breakfast options to choose from. Our toddler couldn’t get enough of their confetti waffles, while my oldest daughter and I loved the waffles with fresh fruit, which the restaurant didn’t skimp on. They were always generous with the toppings and fruit, making for a truly satisfying breakfast.
We also tried their bagel with lox and cream cheese, and it did not disappoint. The bagel was fresh and chewy, and the lox was plentiful and flavorful. It was the perfect breakfast option for when we were in a rush to start our day. The Pelican Bistro had a great selection of freshly squeezed juices and smoothies that paired perfectly with our breakfast as well. Overall, we were very pleased with our breakfasts at the Pelican Bistro and would definitely go back.
What We Did
During our visit to Sint Maarten, we had a chance to explore the island with Amigo Tours on an all-island tour. Despite the rain that fell during the entire tour, we had a great time learning about the history of the island, including the stories of the Salt Pickers. We also got to see the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, which is still present today. Even though we couldn’t enjoy the beaches, we stopped at Marigot Bay on the French side of the island, where we dined at Roseymary’s Seafood and Creole, a “lolo” restaurant that Anthony Bourdain once visited. While the food was just okay, the rice and peas were a hit.
One of the highlights of the trip was the Sunset Spa at the Simpson Bay Resort & Marina, where my husband treated me to a 50-minute deep tissue massage. As a mom, I definitely needed the pampering! On the day before we left, my husband also suggested we visit Toppers Rhum Distillery, which is both a distillery and a restaurant. We also tried their ice cream shop and did a tasting of some of their most common rhums. While most of the flavored rhums were too sweet for our taste, we loved the Coconut, Mocha Momma, Spiced, and White varieties.
You Should Visit Sint Maarten
Our trip to Sint Maarten was exactly what our family needed. We enjoyed the beautiful beaches, delicious food, and cultural experiences that the island had to offer. Despite the rain during our island tour, we were able to learn about the history of the island and its people. Our accommodations at the Simpson Bay Resort and Marina were perfect for our family, with a convenient location and great amenities. We also enjoyed our dining experiences, including the Buccaneer Beach Bar and Skip Jack’s. Overall, Sint Maarten is a great destination for families looking for a mix of relaxation, adventure, and cultural experiences. With its beautiful beaches, delicious cuisine, and welcoming atmosphere, it’s a destination that should be considered for your next family getaway.