St. Barts (Photo:Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)
St. Barts (Photo:Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Cruise Critic
Cruise Critic Staff

Port of St. Barts

The island of St. Barts, known for its chic French ambience and cuisine and white-sand beaches, long has reigned as a favorite getaway spot among celebrity jetsetters.

Shore Excursions

About St. Barts


Pro

High-end French shops, gourmet restaurants, gorgeous beaches and lots of yachts and sailboats

Con

Be prepared to drop serious cash on shopping and meals, even taxis

Bottom Line

It's like the South of France transported to a Caribbean island


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That's quite a lofty status for a stony, volcanic, eight-square-mile island that claims no fresh water and little workable land. Named for Christopher Columbus' brother, Bartolomeo, St. Barthelemy is located near the northern end of the Lesser Antilles group in the West Indies, 15 miles east of St. Martin.

Many St. Bartians are descendants of 17th-century settlers from Brittany and Normandy. In the 18th century, France leased the island to Sweden in exchange for trading rights to the Baltic. Almost a century later, locals voted to restore rule to the French. Today, St. Barts, with its population of about 9,000, is a dependency of the French overseas department of Guadeloupe.

The island's beautiful beaches lend themselves to water sports, from windsurfing, scuba-diving and snorkeling to jet-skiing, sailing and deep-sea fishing. Whales pass by during migration periods, and dolphins are frequently spotted -- and might even frolic near the ship's bow.

The island also claims fame as a place where conspicuous consumption is on display in the form of mega-yachts, elegant designer boutiques, fancy resorts and fine dining. Considered among the best places to nosh in the Caribbean, lunch or dinner at one of the island's top restaurants can be a major splurge.

Taking in the island's topless beaches, vibrant nightlife and waterfront bistros -- not to mention hearing French spoken -- it's easy to imagine you've been transported to the south of France (Antibes or St. Tropez). St. Barts even features its own Riviera-like festival calendar, including winter music and film festivals and a spring food festival.

Where You're Docked

Most cruise ships anchor outside sheltered Gustavia Harbour and tender passengers to Port de Pleasance in the heart of Gustavia, the island's charming capital city.

Port Facilities

Gustavia is a pedestrian-friendly town. An Internet cafe, ATM, cafes, restaurants, elegant shops with imported French goods and a food market are located a short stroll away from the pier. The popular Shell Beach (officially called Grand Galet) sits south of Gustavia by the commercial pier, and it's just a short walk. Spend time admiring the huge yachts on the oceanfront walkway.

Good to Know

With limited fresh water on the island, don't expect a free glass at restaurants. You'll have to pay for bottled water.

Getting Around

On Foot: You can walk to attractions in Gustavia.

By Taxi: Taxis are available at the pier in Gustavia. Most cab drivers don't work at night, so if you need a ride back to the port, it's best to make arrangements in advance. There is a fixed price for fares, which are in euros.

By Car: St. Barts is steep and hilly with narrow roads, switchbacks and hairpin turns. You'll see stop signs but no traffic lights. At intersections, the car to the right has the right of way. Small rental cars that fit the narrow, two-lane roads are available from Budget Budget, Europcar, Island Car and Top Loc.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The euro is the official currency of St. Barts. For currency-conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. ATM's are located in Gustavia at the Banque Francaise Commercial (BFC) on rue du General-de-Gaulle and the Banque Nationale de Paris on rue du Bord-de-Mer.

Language

French is the official language. English is widely spoken.

Food and Drink

French chefs show off their talents at trendy venues, but you can also find restaurants serving traditional Creole cuisine, including deep-fried codfish fritters and stuffed crab. Fishermen determine the menus at some spots based on their catch -- tuna, gilthead bream, wahoo, conch, sea snails or lobsters. French bakeries serve up fresh croissants and pastries, and grocery stores are stocked with good French bread and cheese.

With its waterfront terrace, Maya's, at Anse de Public, northwest of Gustavia, is the perfect spot for Creole specialties (590-27-75-73). La Gloriette, on the water at Anse du Grand Cul de Sac (590-27-75-66), is another quiet, simple restaurant with authentic Guadeloupean food.

At Eden Rock at St. Jean's Bay, The Sand Bar serves grilled fish, sauteed shrimp and Dover sole. In addition to the crashing waves and great food, celebrity-watching is part of the lure at this resort (590-29-79-99).

In Gustavia, Do Brazil, tucked up against a rocky precipice overlooking Shell Beach, is a great spot for lunch, offering a menu of salads, ceviche, fresh grilled fish and barbecue dishes (590-29-06-40). Jimmy Buffet immortalized the "Cheeseburger in Paradise" at Le Select (590-27-86-87), a popular Gustavia watering hole with an open-air patio that's been a fixture for more than 60 years.

Pick up cheeses, pate, wine and other gourmet items for a picnic at shops in St. Jean, Gustavia or Lorient. For wine, head to La Cave du Port Franc in Gustavia. Maya's To Go in St. Jean features everything from meatloaf sandwiches and moussaka to sushi available for takeout.

Shopping

Bring home duty-free designer sunglasses or French skincare products. Many shops close for lunch from around noon to 3 p.m. but stay open until at least 7 p.m.

Best Cocktail

Enjoy a Kronenbourg beer at Le Select, the popular bar/cafe immortalized by Jimmy Buffett. Or you can switch to T punch, which is white rum, cane sugar and lime -- popular throughout the French Caribbean. It's usually served straight up.