Port of St. Martin
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Perhaps the most oft-quoted bit of Caribbean cruise port trivia is that the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin is the smallest occupied by two sovereign nations. Though snuggled together in a scant 37 square miles of mountainous terrain, these two countries maintain distinct identities.
The Dutch side (St. Maarten) is home to large resorts/casinos, bustling beaches and tons of get-it-cheap, duty-free shopping, while the French side (St. Martin) features quaint bed and breakfasts and luxurious resorts, laid-back beaches and the charm of local artisans at the waterfront market. Although St. Martin is the larger hunk of the island, it draws far fewer visitors.
Some smaller ships call on Marigot, St. Martin's capital, but the majority of lines dock on the busier side of the island in Philipsburg. It's simple and economical to make a cab trip from the Dutch side to St. Martin, especially for those who wish only to spend some time in Marigot.
One major draw is the shopping. There are bargains to be found, and St. Martin is duty-free for the most part, but Marigot attracts those who seek couture and upscale imports from France. Boutiques there fit the bill, reminding many of a more down-to-earth version of St. Barts.
St. Martin also offers cafes, bistros and brasseries ... most serving up tasty creations with Gallic flavors and panache. St. Martin has some of the prettiest beaches in the Caribbean, with assets to please everyone: families, snorkelers, romantics and those who like to catch some rays wearing nothing but SPF 50.
Where You're Docked
The Port of Marigot is right in the heart of Marigot, so the terminal contains few services. This is also where ferries to Anguilla depart, so there is a place to stash your luggage, if you are on one of the few cruises that embark/debark in Marigot. Most larger cruise ships call in Philipsburg, on the Dutch side.
Good to Know
Tourists tend to be robbery targets, so don't flash valuables or cash, and don't leave anything of value in a car or on the beach.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The euro is the main currency on St. Martin and is the only one dispensed by ATM machines on this side of the island. This is one stop where it pays to keep your dollars, however, as many vendors and restaurants offer a 1:1 conversion ratio for U.S. cash. (The banks in St. Maarten, the Dutch side, will give you a choice of dollars or Netherland Antilles guilders.)
On this side of the island, the locals speak French as their main language, although most people in the tourist industry are fluent in English. (As in most French Caribbean islands, a friendly "bon jour" goes a long way.)
Upscale and designer fashions from the many luxury shops and malls sprinkled throughout Marigot make nice mementos. Whether you're looking for perfume, crystal or the latest fashion trend, the duty-free shops in St. Martin make taking home a souvenir for yourself a decadent exploration. You can also pick up some original artwork from one of many local artisans.
Enjoy a glass or bottle of French wine or Champagne pretty much anywhere in St. Martin. You'll never see a better selection outside of France.