Our first landfall was on the divided island of St. Maarten (the Dutch part) and St. Martin (the French Part). We were almost unable to visit. There's no suitable cuise ship dock in the port of Philipsburg so it's necessary to take tenders from the ship. There are some large island-based tenders supplementing the ship's own so, at least in theory, it's supposed to be a relatively quick process. We'd arranged to rent a Jeep to visit the island so we were able to board the first tender. The wakeup call we requested for 6:30 never came but, nonetheless, we were at the large watertight doorway on deck one, ready to board the tender, at the appointed 7:45. However, since leaving Miami, the seas had been getting rougher and by Wednesday morning they were pretty big.
For an hour, we watched with growing apprehension as they repositioned the ship to minimize the relative motion between ship and tender. Just as I was sure we'd get scrubbed, they let us off the ship. Our Jeep was reserved with "Dutch Tours" and we'd been told to look for a lady on the dock in a red skirt and white blouse. Sure enough, there she was to walk us two blocks to a van which drove us out of town to the rental office. We'd visited this island twice before, once for a week in 1983 and again on a cruise in 1990. I was pleased that traffic wasn't quite as bad as on our last visit but, by the time we reached Marigot on the French side, we were in the thick of it. Leaving Marigot, I happened to glance at my fuel gauge (should be full, right?) and it was firmly on "E"! After addressing that, we had a delightful lunch at the Tastevin in the picturesque village of Grand Case, checked out the tiny "L'Esperance" airport, had a bit of a swim at Orient Beach, and returned the car. I'd hoped to call my voicemail but the very few phones at the pier had no long distance lines so we shopped a bit and headed for the ship. After showering, we headed for the Viking Crown to watch Philipsburg slip away.
The island is about 37 square miles in area and is divided in two parts. The southern part, St. Maarten, is part of the Netherlands Antilles and its port, largest city and capital is Phillipsburg. I don't really like "P-burg" very much. It's very crowded and, of course, "touristy". Traffic is crazy. There are hotels right on the beach in the middle of town but I don't think I'd want to swim there. Outside of P-burg, there are a number of resorts, some of them quite nice. The "big" airport of "Princess Juliana" is in the southwest part of the island and jumbo jets land there.
There only way you know when you pass into the French part, St. Martin, is by seeing a small signpost. The border has been open for many years; long before similar borders were opened in Europe.
Personally, I like French St. Martin a lot better than its Dutch counterpart. I find the people friendlier and the place just "quainter". The capital of St. Martin is Marigot. When we first visited (in 1983), it was a sleepy little town. Now it's been "discovered" and a lot of trendy shops have opened. Traffic is crazy here as well and a lot of the charm has gone. However, there's a picturesque harbor and an open air market on Wednesdays. Much more to my taste is the small town of Grand Case, just north of Marigot. It, too, is starting to get a bit crowded but it still has a lot of charm and the people are great. As in most parts of the Caribbean, there's a lot of poverty with the associated filth and decay but you just need to look beyond that to see the beauty.
In Grand Case is French St. Martin's airport, L'Esperance. It takes small commuters and private planes.
On the east side of the island, still in the French (northern) part, is what I think is the best beach, Orient Beach. The good news is that it's 1 - 1/4 miles of beautiful sand. The bad news is that, while it was once almost deserted, it's now overcrowded. At the southern end of the beach is Club Orient, a "clothing optional" resort. The first time we visited, the majority of the people on the entire beach skipped the swim suits so you felt strange having one on. Now, it's quite the opposite and I think (seriously, now) that the change is an unfortunate one.
There will always be a soft spot in my heart for St. Martin but change has not improved it. I'm unlikely to return for a long stay.