"Of all the islands we visited on our cruise, St Maarten is the one we would choose to revist.
"It is a beautiful place, with incredible beaches, and somewhere that we really enjoyed spending some time. We got off the Royal Caribbean ship at Philipsburg and went on a tall ship for a morning sail.
"They dropped the anchor so we could go snorkelling off the back of the boat and the water wasn't very deep, so it was good for those who were not particularly confident in the water.
"You could even see most things from the surface. One of the crew members acted as a guide for the snorkellers and took us to a helicopter wreck in the water. I don't know how it came to be there, but it was pretty well intact and looked like it had just been out flying and had landed on the seabed. The only thing that wasn't ideal was that there were quite a few big jellyfish in the water – probably harmless but not very nice to touch, so I got out after awhile.
"The crew was friendly and looked after everyone extremely well, including cooking a barbecue lunch on the back of the boat and serving up endless rum punches. It was very relaxed, very ‘Caribbean'.
On our return to the marina, the sails were hoisted and we sailed back across the crystal-clear waters enjoying the sound of the wind in the sails. After the official excursion finished, we organised our own tour of the island, with a well-informed local taxi driver. St Maarten is half owned by the French and half owned by the Dutch.
"The taxi driver drove us around the entire island, crossing the border from the French side into the Dutch side, then up to a hilltop lookout for views across the island.
"He told us quite a bit about St Maarten and was proud of its beautiful scenery.
"We finished up by going to Maho
Beach, where the famous Princess Juliana International Airport is right next to the beach and the planes come in extremely low over the sand, almost blowing the clothes off the beachgoers.
"There are a couple of bars where you can sit and watch the planes come in and there is a bulletin board that gives details of the arrivals and departures. It's an amazing experience and shouldn't be missed.''
Value for money
Julie and Bruce paid about $85 each for the official excursion, which included the sailing and the snorkelling as well as lunch.
"It was very good value for money; we had a great day and would very happily do it again,'' Julie says.
WHO Julie Scott of Pyrmont, Sydney, on her 15th cruise.
WHAT Snorkelling, tall-ship sailing and plane spotting in the Caribbean.
WHERE Via the port of Philipsburg on the island of St Maarten, in the north-east Caribbean.
THE SHIP Julie cruised with her husband, Bruce, on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas (royalcaribbean.com.au). They did a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise followed by a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise, both departing from Port Canaveral in Florida, in the US, visiting St Maarten during the second cruise.
As told to Jane E. Fraser
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