On this cruise, dear reader, I fell in love.
I fell in love in a way one rarely does; a tingling in the toes, excitement in the pit of the stomach sense of destiny feeling of love. No, dear reader, this was no mere mortal causing such stirrings, I fell in love with a location, Philipsburg, St. Maarten.
Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. The lovely Marella Celebration docked in the capital of the Dutch side of St. Maarten early in the morning, with the sun already starting to beat down on the town below us. I was immediately desperate to disembark the ship and get stuck in to life on this island. The port is within easy walking distance of the town if you can manage around 20-minutes on foot (lots of taxi options for those who can’t) and the beaches, shops, bars and entertainment options are limitless (Yoda Guy being one of the more bizarre but brilliant). The atmosphere of the beachfront in St Maarten was exactly what I was anticipating when we first boarded the flight from Gatwick. It was relaxed, friendly, bustling but with still room to breathe, of course that is helped by no matter how busy the boardwalk becomes with locals and tourists, you simply turn your head to the other direction and the glistening Caribbean sea, dotted with boats on the horizon invites you to take a moment, and feel calm again.
After several hours wandering the town, we boarded a catamaran (we booked this excursion, named the Golden Eagle via Thomson/TUI on board the ship) at the recommendation of several friends who said no trip to the Caribbean is complete without a lazy afternoon spent snorkelling, swimming and sailing in the cool breeze and hot sun. They weren’t wrong! Despite my initial fears (a LOT of people seemed to be queueing to board a fairly petite boat) we all comfortably sat on board and the hilarious and attentive crew distributed snorkelling equipment to those who wanted to borrow (I brought my own with me, of course), handed out drinks (*the usual please watch how much Carib beer and rum punch you consume warning goes here*) and sandwiches and kept everyone entertained.
We stopped off for around an hour of snorkelling in 30-feet of crystal clear water, with fish darting everywhere around us. The crew of the boat cheated somewhat and were dropping food into the water, and we were swimming above a man-made reef (think huge model helicopter, ‘shipwreck’ etc. to all provide good spots for the fish to hide if need be). After swimming around in our compulsory life jackets (not my favourite way to snorkel but I’ll grant that it is definitely safer!) we headed back to the Golden Eagle, boarded and headed out to the famous Airport Beach, where planes land and take off almost directly over the beach. It is a sight to see, particularly from the sea! We then dropped anchor just off the shore, jumped off the boat (always one of my favourite things to do!) and swam to shore to enjoy a cold drink and some more swimming. Sometimes I think all I really want from a holiday is water warm enough to spend all day swimming in. The best.
The Golden Eagle Catamaran trip is not one of the cheapest excursions you can book during your stop in St. Maarten but I would absolutely recommend it. Our boat was filled with people of all ages, from excitable toddlers right up to a woman in her 90s and everyone got something out of it. Whether you’re keen to explore the under water world and swim with beautiful fish, or if you just want to lay in the sun and drink some classic Caribbean rum, the staff on the Golden Eagle were more than happy to help you achieve your dreams. There is something so other worldly about being that close to the water for a few hours, it feels so utterly different to anything you might experience in your day to day life.
Overall, St. Maarten just absolutely captured the idyllic Caribbean feel that you want from a winter break. We wandered the streets and found Maximillian’s Art in the Garden gallery and got chatting with Max himself who told us about how long it had taken the island to start recovery from Hurricane Irma (his gallery and rental apartment had taken the best part of 18-months to be habitable again) and it really hammered home that just because we are seeing the glorious sunshine and sea of the Caribbean, these islands are in a very vulnerable position geographically and the inhabitants are put through their paces by Mother Nature every year, with her sometimes leaving an impossible trail of devestation in her vast wake. If I had the chance to visit St. Maarten again I would love to stay at Max’s gallery (he has a small rental apartment available) and just soak up the idyllic atmosphere.