ABOARD CRYSTAL SERENITY_We wake up to a view of the crystalline blue waters that surround the island-nations (plural) of St. Marteen, also known as Sint Marteen or St. Martin. This half-French, half-Dutch country is one of our favorite Caribbean stops. The Dutch call it Sint Marteen; the French, St. Martin. One supposes St. Marteen is the compromise between the two.
While we have visited here a number of times, we’ve signed up for an island shore excursion just to see what may have changed. One change we didn’t expect: The French side of the tour is canceled due to political unrest in France. The local port agent has advised that visiting the French side is not a good idea right now. That’s disappointing, but we tend to spend most of our time in Philipsburg, the Dutch capital, so we’re good.
It’s a busy day at the cruise terminal. Besides Serenity, there are three other ships here: Costa, Norwegian and Princess. We will be here overnight, so there’s plenty of time for Pam’s favorite activity: Shopping.
There are enough of us on tour to spilt between two buses. The wind has kicked back up as well, but that’s not an issue for a land-based excursion. More of an issue is heavier-than-normal traffic on the Dutch side due to the French restrictions. One thing is obvious — the island is still recovering from the damage done by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Your heart goes out to these friendly people who rely so heavily on tourism.
Our tour made two stops — one at an overlook to capture postcard-worthy snapshots of the island, the other to redeem a ticket for a free drink or ice cream at a place that featured a working carousel. Since carousels bring out the kid in all of us, we had to take a spin. We also drove by famous Maho Beach, adjacent to the airport, where tourists seem to enjoy getting bounced around from the jet exhausts of landing planes. Go figure.
Back at the cruise terminal, Pam does some prefunctory shopping at the kiosks, but ultimately decides it’s too crowded and will wait until some of the ships depart. Besides, we’re both ready for some food, and there’s no better place to find that than back on Serenity.
Speaking of food, we noticed there are new procedures in place when entering the dining areas: Guests are required to actually wash and dry their hands in lieu of using the sanitizers. We were told there had been a few reported cases of GI illness, which basically triggered a “Def Con 2” procedure that, besides the manual hand washing, includes wiping down the public areas every four hours. Impressive that Crystal is that pro-active when it comes to health and well-being.
Tonight’s big event is the Crystal White Extravaganza, where we are encouraged to dress in white and party down with the Crystal Showband in the Crystal Cove atrium area, midship.
Strands of white, lighted fabric have been hung from the ceiling, with white arches around the dance floor. It could have easily also doubled as a setting for a royal wedding.
A shoutout to Crystal vocalist Karin Kovacova, and Cruise Director Raphael Derkson, who kept the party moving and the dance floor crowded.
Day two dawned on St. Maarten partly cloudy with a chance of showers, but the wind is gone, at least for now, replaced by heat and humidity. The three ships here yesterday have departed, and a new one has arrived: Royal’s “Serenade.”
After a leisurely breakfast in the Bistro, we exit the ship and buy round-trip tickets on the Water Taxi ($14 total) that will take us over to Philipsburg. The stretch of shops, restaurants and bars that ring the beach is one of our favorite Caribbean hangouts. There’s an abundance of beach chairs and umbrellas and lots of choices for shopping, getting a drink, connecting to WiFi and people watching.
Pam scores some new clothes, a new fragrance and buys a new shirt for me as well — thanks, sweetie. Afterwards, we land at the Blue Bitch Bar for drinks and appetizers. We also learn something new: The name derives from the blue bitch rocks found around the island. Who knew? If you’re in the area, you can’t go wrong with their conch fritters and chicken skewers with peanut sauce.
It’s hard to budge from our outdoor table by the palms, but move we must and catch the Water Taxi back to Serenity. We encounter a local who is hawking rides to the nude beach. Tempting, but no — we’re good. Once back at the ship, we are greeted by an attendant dispensing cold towels. They do think of everything, don’t they?
In the afternoon, it’s time for the not-so-glamorous but necessary job of doing laundry. Crystal provides complimentary laundry facilities on every stateroom floor, another nice perk included with your cruise.
Later in the afternoon, we’ll be saying goodbye to St. Maarten and setting a course for our next port of call, St. John’s, Antigua.
A panoramic view of St. Maarten
The Blue Bitch Bar along the waterfront
The white party in the Crystal Cove