St. Maartin by Jill Crompton

After 18 hrs. from Phoenix (leaving at midnight) we were the fortunate ones to be "allowed" to fly on to St. Martin. Those going to Tortola (on LIAT) where we were to stop on the way to St. Martin were told that there was no room and they could go tomorrow. For once in our lives we were headed in the right direction!

Overall was a better trip than expected. We arrived in St. Martin at 5pm, easy through customs, picking up car at Budget ($150/wk) at check in at Royal Islander. One fact no one mentioned is that all license plates end in 971 (I think) and all cars on the island are white and small! We had our first meal at Cheri's Saturday night: had a Ceasar salad for two and French onion soup, very good! We also walked up to Paradise Grill for our first rum punch of the trip. The bartender, Rev. Tbone III, makes an outstanding punch! Unfortunately it had rained Friday, Saturday and Sunday which forced us into shopping on Sunday -- our first day there. The rain was so heavy that we really didn't know what the island looked like. Being from Phoenix it didn't really bother us though, we were just happy to be alone on an island. Many stores were closed on Sunday even though cruise ships were in Philipsburg. Even the big stores, like Little Switzerland were closed.

We ate lunch at Ric's on the beach in Philipsburg (owned by a Dallas couple).

We went back to Orient express for happy hour - a deal we couldn't refuse all week - 2 for 1 from 5-7pm. Robin, the bartender was also a tremendous help whenever we wanted to plan for the next day. If anyone is looking for a stiff drink, see Robin -- he won't let you down. We went daily (except for one day) and the tab was either $7 or $11 for 4 drinks a piece. On Sunday we had dinner at Paradise Cafe, great food as we had heard. We had swordfish and Chicken parmesan, bottle of wine for $61 and received a coupon for 15% off next visit (cash only). They also had island entertainment books there. Monday: We visited the Food Center and was really surprised at the great selection there. Didn't plan on eating in the room much, but the experience was worth it.

The Royal Islander had a Bacchanel Party in the street, $10 included hat, t-shirt, 2 drinks, music, dancers. We went to the Casino Royale for second time to recover our money and got lucky. The Caribbean poker God was with us, for a little while anyway. Tuesday: We packed snorkel gear and headed for Baie Rouge. One of our best days, but then I don't recall any bad days in St. Martin . Baie Rouge has an unusual surf, very deep sand, and more rock formations than Maho. It's great snorkeling, as long you don't keep your back side facing the sun too long (as Dave did). But he managed to stand and drink that evening! We ate lunch at Gus' Beach Bar, $5 just as we were told and saw several kinds of fish snorkeling, starfish, lots of coral as well as many neon or iridescent fish. The people on this beach seemed to be predominately European. Not much interaction between the people on the beach, unless the water was washing your belongings into the ocean.

Anther comment we hadn't picked up is that the casinos are very different than what we expected, or are used to. Not bad, be

With the rainy weather it's just as well that the casinos were not more inviting, we would have just lost more money. They didn't open until 1pm and Caribbean poker does not start at Casino Royale until 9pm. There's only 1 blackjack table available in the afternoon. Tuesday night we had dinner at Don Carlos. Strange as it may sound, We had a green peppercorn filet mignon that was out of this world! Definitely one of the best steaks we've ever had! It was a huge portion and both of us took enough home for dinner later that week. The vegetables served with it were very well presented and cooked perfectly. Also had a bottle of wine, dinner including tip was $68. The filet must have been at least 12oz. We went back to Casino Royale and managed to walk out a whopping $6.50 ahead of the game! (This is where the good news ends)

Wednesday: Plans to go to Anguilla were canceled as we had too much sun in a measly 5-6 hours (and we're from Phoenix mind you). So had to shop instead, oh darn! We were on a T-shirt mission, but no luck. We started in Marigot, had lunch at the French CanCan. We had great food, but if you don't speak French, improvise. They didn't volunteer much English. We can survive speaking limited Spanish, but my years of elementary/H.S. French were useless. Wednesday is open market in Marigot. We stopped at La Brasserie for Rum Punch before heading back to RI.

Thursday: Caught the ferry in Marigot and headed to Anguilla. WOW! If we had gone there on Monday, I'll bet we would have returned. Shoal Bay is everything everybody says and more! Perfect place to be alone, all beach and very few people. Walked until there were no more people on the beach and settle in for some snorkeling and relaxation. Watch out for thistles growing in sand (made us feel right at home in cactus heaven). We had lunch at the place next to Uncle Ernies (can't remember the name of it), they took charge cards and by then Casino Royale had caught up with us! Anyway, we had great food, chicken, chicken salad and many Heineken's. Hated to leave this beautiful, peaceful beach and nice people. The water was gorgeous, gentle waves, beautiful color. That night we had dinner at Tiberio's - Italian restaurant at the end of Maho Plaza on the second floor. Impeccable service, great food, can't think of anything they could have done better. Shared an appetizer, marinated beef with lemon and greens, had daily fettucini with tomato, cream sauce and mushrooms and also Gnocchi dinner. Excellent food! This was our most expensive dinner, but again we had a bottle of wine -- not sure but think it was about $80 including tip.

We went to Casino Royale Cafe for great dessert, Napoleon, $4.

Friday: Bummed out! Last day in St. Martin, started at the RI on the 5th floor for coffee, explaining why we were not interested in buying a timeshare. No pressure, 10-15 min. unless you felt like talking. Sure had what seemed to be good deals, just too hard for us to get there. Took our last shot at shopping in P'burg. We had lunch at Bayside -- good food, very reasonable prices. Somewhere along the line we stumbled upon an outstanding jewelry store in Marigot, La Coulee d'Or. This is jewelry with an artistic flair! Guess it's good we did not find it early in the week.

Saturday: Not much time for anything other than our last good bye to St. Martin and the RI. Would highly recommend RI, and hope to be there again sometime! T