Thursday, March 31, 2016

CHRISTMAS IN ST. MARTIN

Deciding on a place to go for a trip south of the border can be difficult. And if you want to have a good trip you have to do hours and hours of research, even after you have perused the brochures. Also, finding a travel agent can be a job in itself.

Luckily, while getting my car serviced one day, the guy at reception happened to mention that he was planning a trip south with his buddies and when I asked if he used a travel agent he was delighted to give me his agent’s phone number. A few days later, my partner and I were making arrangements for a trip to the Caribbean. We chose to stay at the Riu all-inclusive resort in the northern part of the island of St. Martin.




It was an early rise to get to the airport, but check-in with Sunwing’s Champaign Service was a breeze. We didn’t drag ourselves down with too much luggage and we made sure we had everything so that we were not on the island looking for Pepto Bismol or mosquito repellant. The flight was uneventful, only one annoying passenger, you know the one I’m talking about, the one who just can’t seem to use an inside voice and wants everyone to know how unhappy they are with the service aboard the plane or some other thing that they can’t shut up about.




When we got off the plane we didn’t have any problems with our passports and finding the bus to our resort was easy; the airport is very small in comparison to Pearson. In less than 30 minutes we were on our way to the resort. The bus ride was crazy as the roads were quite narrow. And the hills, oh my god, the bus ride was like a ride on a rollercoaster, it was crazy fun. The island was just like it was described in the brochure: natural beauty, meaning no landscaping of any kind.




The Riu resort was beautiful. Check-in was pleasant with fruit punch being served on arrival, service was fine, and the wait time to get in our room was less than an hour. We were directed to one of the buffet restaurants for lunch and by the time we were done eating our room was ready and our bags were delivered directly to the room. The room was clean and spacious, with a private balcony. We found our bathing suits and went to find the beach and the pool. The swimming pool was fantastic, but the beach wasn’t very good. There was too much seagrass and seaweed and the beachfront was too narrow, there was no room for making sand castles, only to lie on a lawn chair and listen to the ebb and flow of the waves.








The next day we went to the breakfast buffet where they had lots to choose from and the coffee was to die for. After a fine meal, we made our dinner reservations to one of the themed restaurants and sat down to a half hour orientation after which we made arrangements to go sailing. Afterward, we hung around the resort, catching some rays, swimming, enjoying drinks at the beach bar, and exploring the resort. On the same property, not part of the resort, there was an Italian restaurant and bar, a few clothing stores, a salon, a few souvenir shops, and a grocery store. Later in the evening we called a taxi to go to this place called The Christmas House, a privately owned property opened for public viewing. Every inch of the house was decorated for Christmas and there was no cover charge, but donations were accepted. We tried the Guavaberry Liqueur, the legendary folk liqueur of the island, made from guavaberries. The drink had a woody, spicy, fruity flavor.



 The next day we got a shuttle bus to Phillipsburg to go Christmas shopping. We browsed the souvenir shops and had quite a few of the shop owners practically begging us to go in and buy something, which we did; we just had to help the economy you know. We found our way to Great Bay and caught sight of a cruise ship. We strolled up the beach and finally sat down to some breakfast. It’s was a treat to eat at a restaurant right on the beach. The food was good and the service was excellent. We went up a few more streets where most of the shopping was located and we were surprised to see how many jewelry stores there were. My son broke down and bought himself a beautiful gold and sapphire ring and a bracelet for me. My partner shopped at Tommy Hilfiger and we got a few more things from the souvenir shops to send to relatives. When we got back to the pick-up place my partner spotted a casino and went in to try his luck. Five minutes later he came out with a winning of 300.00, he was so proud. We headed back to the resort, enjoyed more swimming at the pool, and since I didn’t want to get eaten by mosquitos, we stayed in and ordered a pizza from a local pizza place. 

















The next day we took a shuttle to Great Bay and went for a sail. We sailed to a small uninhabited island called Prickly Pear. The beach was absolutely beautiful. We dove off the catamaran and swam to shore. We had a brew at a beer hut and then we were served a delicious lunch. We got to go swimming for a bit longer or hang out on the beach before sailing back. We stop at another cove for a swim and to have a drink from the floating bar. By the time we anchored, another day had passed and we had so much fun that we made arrangements for another sail with different stops for the next day. Sailing on those aqua Caribbean waters was a dream and diving into its warm waters was divine. I never thought once about sharks and it had been Shark Week a few weeks prior.




















On Christmas Day we took another shuttle to Maho Beach where the jet blasts from the airplanes are mind-blowing. We never expected to see so many people waiting to get sand blown in their faces, but there we were blending in and having a ball trying not to float out to sea and all the while laughing as waves knocked us over and salt water splashed in our faces. Oh, god, that salt water tasted horrible. And since it was Christmas Day, who do we see? Why, Santa of course, on an ATV! After our swim, we strolled down to Sunset Grill and had the best lunch ever. We got a taxi back to the resort and my son and I got facials at the spa. We had a late Christmas dinner at the buffet restaurant, but it wasn’t that great. Perhaps I was missing my homemade turkey dinner.







 On our last day we headed over to Grand Case where there is supposed to be some great food and fun. The beach was great and we swam for a bit, but the service at the restaurant we chose was terrible. We waited almost an hour for food that was subpar. The thing about the food on the island was that everything is shipped from Florida. So it’s really hard to get fresh fruits and vegetables and it seemed like everywhere we ate, it was mostly the same things being served.  We tried the lobster and found it tough and flavorless. And they looked weird, with those spiky claws and antenna. I guess after eating Atlantic lobster all my life, I was just spoiled. When we got back to the resort, we showered (so much sand) and my son rested while my partner and I hiked up the hill to get a picture of the resort and bay. It was a steep hill. There was a trail to go over the hill to the Atlantic side of the island, but it was getting dark and I was nervous about getting eaten by mosquitos. We went back and straightened up and did a little packing. Since it was our last night, my son bought us cigars, and we lit up. My partner inhaled the smoke and took a fit of coughing and then threw up. My son and I laughed until our sides were sore.










The next day we got up at our leisure and packed then got the shuttle back to the airport. There were so many things to see and do on the island that it was hard to fit everything in, especially since it gets dark so early. We definitely have to book another trip to go back. The best thing about the island is that it’s not that big, so you can get a taxi anywhere or you can rent a car. And the people there are friendly and helpful. We did learn that the best place to book is Divi Little Bay Beach Resort. It is not all-inclusive, but has beachside restaurants and bars. It also has a great beach on the south-west side so that you get the crazy fun waves from the Caribbean as opposed to the rough Atlantic.



Our trip back home was a bit frustrating as our seats were given away and then we had to deal with that, so much for Champagne Service. But we had a great trip, we got sunburned and didn’t care and we had the best sailing adventure ever. We can’t wait to go back and swim in those beautiful blue waters and experience the laid back life of the Caribbean once again.