I have been visiting the Caribbean for forty years and growing up my parents owned a condo on St. Maarten. While Philipsburg has been nicely "rehabed" and improved the French side is in disrepair. Marigot was depressing. Most of the good stores have closed due to the down turn in the economy. We rented a car at Hertz and had lunch in Marina Royale at Belle Epoque and then drove thru Grand Case and then stopped at Orient Beach. The sea was very rough and there was a lot of seaweed. The last 2 times we have been in St. Maarten in 2006 and 2010 we went to Anguilla for the day. This time we considered going to St. Barts but the docking time of 10:00 am and departure at 6:00 pm did leave adequate time for the boat and plane to get there and back without rushing. The people of St. Maarten are still lovely and I am hoping for much better days ahead for them.
We were tendered off Princess Cays, not Nassau but there is no option for it. We really enjoyed this port. The water was crystal clear and very calm. Lots of shade and plenty of chairs available. Considered renting a bungalow but glad we did not. The food at the buffet was just ok. The pineapple was delicious and I think grown on the island.
The ship docked in St. Thomas we took a taxi and ferry to St. John, The ferry ride was very smooth. It was like a lake and only took 20 minutes. Upon arrival in Cruz Bay we walked to Mongoose Junction and looked at the stores. It was only 9:30 am so some were not open yet. Around 10:30 am we took a taxi to Caneel Bay. We had stayed at Little Dix Bay in Virgin Gorda many years ago. They are now Rosewood properties. It was not a problem getting thru the gate at Caneel. However, the chairs and towels are for hotel guests only but the beach is public. We had our suits on under our clothes so we disrobed and went for a swim. The water was amazing. Warmer than in the Bahamas and very clear. We spent about an hour in the water and then "air dried" before putting our clothes on to eat in the restaurant. The terrace restaurant buffet was not open yet for the season so we ate upstair above the bar area with a beautiful view of the water. The food in price and quality was excellent. We had contemplated going to Trunk Bay but we bascailly had the beach in front of the hotel to ourselves. I read later that Caneel has 7 beaches so next time we may explore a little more.
I don't know how to rate Grand Turk because we disembarked here and went straight to the airport. The airport is quite nice and an improvement to what was here 20 years ago. I was hoping to have enough time to go the museum in Cockburn town but the instructions from Princess for our disembarkation in Grand Turk was not clear and we wasted an hour. We flew on Air Turks & Caicos (Embraer 120 turbo-prop) to Providenciales which is 75 miles away for 2 nights. We then flew to Miami Sunday afternoon the same day the ship returned to Fort Lauderdale. I highly recommend Provo to anyone who has only experienced Grand Turk. Turks and Caicos is comprised of 8 islands and 40 smaller cays. Wish Princess would explain this in their literature on the ship to the passengers.