Our Trip to St. Martin/Sint Maarten

We have just returned from a 10-day vacation, the first three of were spent at the Westin Dawn Beach Resort and Spa on the island of Sint Maarten. The other 7 days were spent a 25-minute ferry ride away on Anguilla. More on that in a later post.

(For specificity, I’ll use St. Martin when referring to the French-side of the island and Sint Maarten, when referring to the Dutch side. The airport is on the Dutch side, and so was our hotel.)

We arrived into St. Martin via US Airways through Charlotte. The trip from CLT is just under four hours. Thankfully, we had some frequent flyer tickets in first class. They made all the difference. We arrived in a rain storm, which was the last rain we would see on St. Martin/Sint Maarten, but not the last on our trip overall. We breezed through passport control, but waited over 30 minutes for our bags. As we stood by the carousel, the lost baggage desks were conspicuously over our shoulder. Our bags were nearly the last off the plane, but they made it.

Based on some advice on Trip Advisor, we rented a car through Kenny’s. As promised via email, Lesley was there to meet us. He took us over to our white Toyota Corolla in the parking lot, where we did the paperwork. The Corolla will never be confused with a luxury rental. We came to call it the “golf cart” because pressing the gas got you about the same acceleration as would a regular golf cart. This was particularly challenging around the hills near our hotel. That much said, Lesley was very efficient, and the car ($40/day) worked great.

Our drive to the hotel through Simpson Bay took forever. The road out of the airport through Simpson Bay is one-lane and very crowded. It moved faster once we got out of that general area and headed up into the hills. Our porter at the Westin later told us that it’s faster to go the other direction, all the way through Marigot and Grand Case. We later traveled through there and now believe him.

We got to the Westin fine. If you go (and we do recommend it), beware of the last hill to the hotel. The hotel is at the bottom of the steepest hill down which I’ve ever driven. It’s worse than anything I’ve seen in San Francisco. The roads on the island go up and down as the landscape does, and we were constantly challenged to see over the hill at oncoming traffic.

The Hotel

Check-in went well. We asked about an upgrade to oceanfront and were told it was available for $100 per night. Knowing we were headed to Anguilla with an oceanfront room reserved there, we passed. After checking-in, I parked the car in the free garage, and we headed up. To our dismay (and the porter’s), our room had not yet been cleaned. That was frustrating to say the least. He was really embarrassed. The hotel found us a room relatively quickly, and we got our oceanfront room for free! I’ll give the hotel credit for recovering nicely.

Our Oceanfront View at the Westin Dawn Beach (looking left)

Our Oceanfront View at the Westin Dawn Beach (looking right)

The room was standard. King size bed and a sitting chair. A desk with wired and wireless Internet. Cable TV. Separate shower and tub. Oddly, our sink was cracked, something Mrs. Spidey thought had to happen upon installation. Internet was $14.95 per day per device. We plugged in Mrs. Spidey’s laptop, but elected not to use wireless for our iPhones and my iPad.

Our Room at the Westin Dawn Beach, Shot with My Back to the Balcony

Our Bathroom Shower and Sink at the Westin Dawn Beach Resort

The pool and beach area was quite nice. The hotel is tucked into a little cove on Dawn Beach near Oyster Pond and is unreachable, except through the hotel. That made it very quiet. We had no trouble finding lounge chairs on the beach. Towels were readily available, and waitresses came by to take drink orders. The water was warm in both pool and ocean, and the ocean wasn’t too rough. Granted, this was low season, but the quiet and serenity was quite nice. We could envision it more noisy at Easter or Christmas, but even then, the beach was long-enough and secluded enough to find a good spot.

Beach Chairs Looking at the Hotel at the Westin Dawn Beach

There is a casino (a very, very small casino) just off the lobby in the hotel. Although it seemed like some tourists went to the hotel just to gamble, it was never crowded. We probably lost $100 on slots between the two of us, in the three days we were there.

Food

We were on the island for three dinners and three breakfasts. We had one breakfast and all dinners outside the hotel. The hotel has a breakfast buffet in its restaurant that was around $25 per person. It had made-to-order omelets, french toast, cereals, sweets, and lox and bagels.

Our View from Breakfast at Mr. Busby's

Our breakfast outside the hotel was at Mr. Busby’s, which was just back over the hill behind the Coral Beach Club. It was about $25 for the two of us for breakfast right on the beach. The breakfast was the quality of any diner I’ve been to back the U.S. – very sufficient. The view, however, was fantastic.

Our first dinner, the night we arrived, was also in Coral Beach Club at Big Fish. It was very elegant and is recommended. We sat outside on a deck, but there is no view, as it is inside a courtyard. We ate well, although the service was a bit slow. We learned over the next 10 days that the speed at restaurants on both islands is much, much slower than at home. We never really got used to it, but we were accepting. Mrs. Spidey had a dish called Oprah’s Favorite, which was a mixture of different types of seafood. I had a Mahi Mahi dish that was stuffed with crabmeat and covered with lobster sauce. Both were served on incredibly large plates, each with four small sides. We would go back, although we’d be a bit hungrier next time. We were stuffed.

Our second dinner was at a café in Marigot. (IMPORTANT NOTE – Marigot basically shuts down on Sundays. We were lucky to find anything open. When I write that it was a ghost town, I mean it.) Unfortunately, neither of us can remember the name of the restaurant in Marigot, but it was right in a strip of four outdoor restaurants to the left of the ferry terminal, as you face it. The food wasn’t to die for, but was enjoyable. I had the curried conch, and Mrs. Spidey had some coconut shrimp.

Our last dinner, before heading to Anguilla, was in Grand Case. If you are in St. Martin, you must got eat in Grand Case. It is a town of perhaps 3/4 mile in length, but much of it is a one-way strip of Grand Case Boulevard, on which there must be 10 or more restaurants. The proprietors/chefs of the restaurants stand outside beckoning you in. Armed with the Trip Advisor rankings, we chose La Villa for dinner. We were not disappointed. The restaurant offers the first drink free and (if you think ahead) will convert 1 Euro for 1 USD, if you pay in cash. I had an escargot appetizer that was as buttery as one could want. I also had a filet that was cooked very nicely, also with four sides, just like The Big Fish. I wish I could tell you the rest of the meal, but I just can never remember what I eat unless I write it down right away.

Final Thoughts

Here are a few summary points for those of you thinking about going to St. Martin/Sint Maarten:

1. Definitely rent a car. The island is not that big, and renting a car gives you the flexibility you want. Kenny’s worked well for us.
2. Get out of your hotel for meals. Mrs. Spidey told me that Grand Case is considered the culinary center of the Caribbean. I now believe her.  We didn’t even stop at any of the outdoor barbecues. Enjoy it.
3. If you want to shop, synchronize your shopping in Marigot or Phillipsburg with the cruise ships. We did neither and didn’t enter a single store. Plus, the stores close at 6:00pm. You need to leave the beach early.
4. Although we didn’t see rain for our three days, rain is prevalent in the low season. However, it never seems to last very long.

I think we would go back to Sint Maarten or St. Martin, but, if you read my next post, you’ll see that we’re more likely to return to Anguilla.

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Spidey in Arizona

We just returned from a four-day, three-night visit to the Phoenix area, the primary purpose of which was to watch our son with his high school marching band in the Fiesta Bowl Parade. In addition to the roughly 120 seconds or so of watching our son, my wife and I saw some of the area, but were obviously limited by the short time there. We left St. Louis on Thursday afternoon (12/31), arriving into Phoenix around 5:00pm, and we left Sunday afternoon (1/2) getting back into St. Louis around 5:00pm. As I said, short visit.

I have read and heard a lot about how bad US Airways is. The plane interiors (and A319 out and an A320 back) were old and the seats were barely padded. I also don’t understand how, on a flight over 3 hours, the flight attendants don’t bring the cart out a second time to offer drink refills and don’t offer the entire can. All that said, both flights left on time and arrived on time — on a holiday weekend. That works for us. We stayed at Marriott’s Buttes Resort. It’s so close to the airport that you can see the planes take off and land. However, it’s on a hill and doesn’t seem to be in the flight paths. From the pool, you have no idea you are near a highway or the airport. The location makes it very convenient for people not staying at the hotel, but getting out and about. The room were standard, although I do think it’s time to upgrade the 25″ tube TV’s.

Our first night, we met up with our son and the rest of the band at a place called Rawhide, located in the Wild Horse Pass area. It’s a group-event type place that recreates a Western town. The foot was fine (we had a ticket for a group dinner), but there wasn’t much to do after that. It was cold by Phoenix standards, so we didn’t stay long. We left there and went over to the Wild Horse Pass Casino, which couldn’t have been more crowded. We tend to play slots, and were fortunate to find even one machine open. No luck there. We did have luck, however, when we found Roy’s Restaurant over in Chandler for some dessert and a cocktail. They have a Hawaiian Martini — made from vodka, vanilla vodka and coconut rum, infused with pineapple — which is perhaps the best drink I have ever had. It is comparable, if not better than the Stoli Dolis at the Capital Grille.

On Friday, New Year’s Day, we took the nearly two hour drive up to Sedona. On the way, we noticed Mayer, Arizona on our map, about 10 miles off the beaten trail. Of course, we had to go. We took plenty of gratuitous shots. Most notably, I thought it somewhat ironic that the placard showcasing the “Historic Mayer Building” somehow ended up on the side of an outhouse (see picture at below). Sedona itself was a bit touristy in town, which is why you must slow down on your drive in to take in the sites and take a jeep tour. We used Pink Jeep Tours, which I highly recommend. We went out for 2 hours on the Broken Arrow tour and four-wheeled it seeing the landscape. The driver was a bit too much like an encyclopedia, but he knew his stuff.

On the way back, we stopped for a bite and to do some additional gambling at the Cliff Castle Casino. Four hours later we left, after a great dinner and up $100, thanks to a Royal Flush hit by my better half on a poker machine.

Saturday was the parade. Now that I’ve watched a parade, I don’t know that I’m running back anytime soon. We spent Saturday afternoon in Scottsdale, mostly visiting Taliesin West, the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright. Candidly, we were both starving and our guide droned on and on, so we may not have gotten the most positive perspective. I think the best part was learning of the history and how the site came to be before electricity, roads, etc. If you are an architecture aficionado, you’ll probably go regardless of what I say. Saturday evening we went over to downtown Tempe to see A Serious Man. We could see from the four blocks of downtown Tempe how Arizona State gets its reputation as a party school. It was very active, despite being January 2. A Serious Man was a good move, but two requirements before viewing. First – if you aren’t Jewish, go see it with someone who is. I’ve not been to a movie with more inside jokes about the Jewish Community. Second — plan a drink afterwards. This is a dark, dark comedy.

We’re back now into the cold of St. Louis getting ready to go back to work and school. My next trip is likely the week of the 18th overseas. I’ll have more on the blog between now and then.

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