Welcome to St Maarten cruise port!
St Maarten – the Eastern Caribbean pearl boasting stunning beaches, lush tropical nature, and kind, friendly residents – is an island of diversities! It is a small island divided between two countries – France and the Kingdom of Netherlands. The Dutch side is called Sint Maarten (St Maarten) and occupies the southern half of the island. Its capital is Philipsburg – a major commercial hub and a cruise port that can accommodate a large number of cruise ships of all sizes due to its great infrastructure and port facilities.
The French side is called Saint Martin (St Martin). It occupies the northern part of the island, and the capital is Marigot, a charming town known for its vibrant markets and beautiful beaches, dominated by Fort St. Louis, the 18th-century military fort offering amazing panoramic views of the island.
Despite the occasional conflicts they had in history, French and Dutch nations have lived together on this tiny piece of land for over three centuries. Nowadays, the island reflects a blend of two cultures and mentalities that learned to live, work, and grow together. In this article, read about:
- St Maarten cruise port (St Maarten cruise terminal, getting around)
- Top 5 things to do in St Maarten cruise port and best St Maarten shore excursions
St Maarten Cruise Port
St Maarten port is one of the fastest-growing Caribbean cruise ports and the leading cruise port in the Eastern Caribbean. The St Maarten cruise terminal is located in Philipsburg, the Dutch part of the island, around 2.4 km/1.5 miles away from the city center. It boasts an impressive infrastructure that can accommodate a couple of cruise ships simultaneously, including the world’s largest cruise ships.
Upon getting off the ship, you’ll spot Harbour Point Village – a lively area full of duty-free shops, jewelry stores, market stalls, bars, and a restaurant. Tour buses and a taxi rank are located nearby; to get there, you need to turn right and keep walking to the exit of the terminal area until you reach a small building housing a tourist information desk. The walk is 100-200 meters long (depending on the location of your cruise ship’s dock), and in case you have difficulty in walking, there is a small trolley that can take you there for free.
Once you get there, you’ll spot a small roundabout with plenty of taxi vehicles waiting for the cruise passengers to take them to Philipsburg city center or elsewhere. Here, you’ll also find a tourist information desk and tour booths offering tours and car rentals, as well as a shore excursion meeting place (always double-check your tour ticket, though). Tour guides usually wait for cruise ship passengers here, but make sure you come on time because this area can be extremely busy, and might be challenging to find your tour meeting place.
- The port area and Philipsburg downtown are flat and suitable for people with walking difficulties/wheelchair users.
- To get to Philipsburg, you can either take a pleasant 15-20 minute walk, a taxi, or a water taxi. Taxis are metered and they range from standard-size taxis to minivans and open-air safari vehicles. Taxi drivers usually offer guided island tours, which may be convenient if you travel with a group.
- The roads in St Maarten are well-developed and clearly marked, so a car rental may be another good option. Check out St Maarten rent-a-car deals and offers
- The water taxi station is located around 300 meters away from the cruise ship’s dock, and to get there, you need to walk past Sharky’s bar and continue straight along the path. In case you have trouble finding it, knowledgeable island staff will help you out and direct you to the station. A water taxi ride to the Philipsburg center lasts only several minutes, and rates are fixed – the last time I was there, it was a $7 round trip. The drop-off point is at the foot of the boardwalk in the city center (Captain Hodge Wharf) from where you can access all the main landmarks of Philipsburg.
- The official currency on the Dutch side is the Netherlands Antillean guilder (ANG), while the EURO is the official currency of the French side. However, US dollars are accepted everywhere on the island, so there’s no need to change the money (although you may receive the change in local currency). ATMs and banks are available throughout the island. Credit cards are accepted in the majority of places. See the currency converter
- Dutch is the official language on the Dutch side, and French on the French side, however, English is widely spoken.
- Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is a duty-free island.
- The island has a tropical, warm climate all year round. The driest months are February and March, while the rainy season lasts from June to November. St Maarten/St Martin lies within the hurricane belt, so heavy tropical storms and hurricanes may occur in September and October. For more packing tips, check out my article What to Pack for a Cruise – Top 50 Cruise Essentials
- St Maarten/St Martin has two airports. Princess Juliana International Airport primarily services international and regional flights and is located 12 km/7.5 miles (a 25-minute drive) northwest of the Sint Maarten cruise terminal. Grand Case-Espérance Airport services mainly Caribbean destinations and lies 14 km/9 miles (a 25-minute drive) north of the port of St Maarten.
- Check out the hotels in St Maarten (Philipsburg) and Saint Martin (Marigot)
Top 5 Things to Do in St Maarten Cruise Port
Before I share with you the best things to do in St Maarten/Saint Martin port, I invite you to sign up below and get my insider, exclusive SHORE EXCURSION GUIDE for FREE!
Below is the list of the main Philipsburg attractions:
- Amsterdam Cheese And Liquor Store – On your way to Philipsburg city center, visit this amazing store where you can taste and purchase delicious cheese and other food and drinks. The store offers a great choice of cheeses at very reasonable prices, as well as a wide selection of wines to pair with.
- Saint Martin of Tours – It takes a 15-minute walk from the St Maarten cruise terminal to get to this beautiful little 19th-century Roman Catholic Church, dedicated to the bishop of Tours, the patron saint of the island. This peaceful oasis is located in the town center just a stone’s throw from the main pedestrian street (Front Street) and a Great Bay beach and a boardwalk, where the major town attractions are located.
- Boardwalk and Great Bay Beach – The cosmopolitan hub of the city full of shops, bars, restaurants, and events is always packed with people. The boardwalk lines the beachfront and offers unique views of the cruise ships and the whole Great Bay. If you plan to have some beach time, make sure you bring sunscreen and a hat as there is not much natural shade. The Great Bay beach is sandy, long, and beautiful, boasting crystal clear, warm water. There is an option to rent beach beds and umbrellas from the locals, but if you prefer you can relax in the shade of one of the countless seafront cocktail bars. If you plan to shop, this is a great place as the prices are low and very affordable (St Maarten is a duty-free island). The Boardwalk area is always full of activities and an amazing place to explore, and whether you come with family, friends, or alone, at any time of the day – a great time is guaranteed!
- Front Street – Located in the heart of the town, only a 5-minute walking distance from the boardwalk, the old street is a great place to browse around and admire the picturesque facades of old buildings. Although the infrastructure of the island was heavily damaged during the Irma hurricane in 2017, a large part of this area has been reconstructed and houses have been freshly painted in lively colors. You can find great discounts here as well as much lower prices compared to the ones in the cruise terminal area. Here you can buy jewelry, clothes, cigars, alcohol, perfumes, cosmetics, and souvenirs. There are also restaurants and cafes serving delicious food, especially in the side alleys that are less crowded than the main street. A beautiful place not to be missed when in St Maarten, close to all main city attractions!
- Fort Amsterdam – If you want to soak up some local history, Fort Amsterdam is a must-see place! It is located on the opposite side of the cruise ship terminal, on the other end of the Great Bay, and the easiest way to get there is by car or a local taxi (a 10-minute drive from the St Maarten cruise terminal). You can also hike up to the fort – it takes around 30 minutes (2 km) from Philipsburg city center. Fort Amsterdam is a historic stone fort constructed by the Dutch in the 17th century for defense purposes and consists of several ruins and old cannons. From the hilltop, you can admire magnificent views of Great Bay, Little Bay, Philipsburg, and the cruise port.
- Philipsburg Courthouse – Nestled in the heart of the old town, facing Front Street, this beautiful old wooden courthouse has great architectural value. It was built in 1793 and has been renovated a few times over the years. It was originally the home of John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch Navy and the founder of the town of Philipsburg. Throughout history, the building served as a jail, a fire station, and a post office, and nowadays it houses the court of law. What makes the building particularly interesting and unusual is the sculpture of a pineapple on the top of the building – a symbol of welcoming and friendly island residents.
- Cyrus Wathey Square – Lined with palm trees and jewelry stores, the beautiful square overlooks the beachfront and is located in front of the 18th-century Courthouse. It features a tourist information booth and a large map of St Maarten embedded on the pavement. It is a great orientation spot in the heart of the old town, at only a few minutes’ walk from the Captain Hodge Wharf – the water taxi station and Front Street – the shopping hub of the city!
- Methodist Church – A lovely church dating from the 19th century is known for its beautiful wooden façade and bell tower.
- Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit – The Star Wars museum is located in the Philipsburg downtown area, on Front Street, close to the main city attractions and a 15-minute walk from the St Maarten cruise terminal. This is the one-of-a-kind place in Philipsburg and a must-see stop if you are a fan of Star Wars and Sci-Fi. The museum is owned by Nick Maley, the creator of Yoda, and features an amazing collection of Star Wars movie props and costumes, drafts of scripts, Nick’s special effects creations, historical artifacts, a gift shop, and much more! The museum has two sections – you can visit one for free, and another one is paid (around $10). In addition, Nick is there to meet and greet, and is happy to give you a tour of the museum!
- St Maarten Museum – Located in the city center, only 1 km from the cruise terminal and a several-minute walk from the water taxi pier, the St. Maarten heritage museum is another important city landmark located on Front Street. It is an excellent spot if you want to learn about the island’s history and cultural heritage. The museum features artifacts from different periods of St Maarten’s prehistory and history, and it is a great place to learn about the Arawak’s heritage and colonization period. The museum is small, it consists of a few rooms and is not suitable for people with mobility issues, as there is no elevator to take you to the second floor (the building was heavily damaged during the Irma hurricane in 2017). There is a gift shop as well. A lovely place to soak up some local history!
2. St Maarten/St Martin Beaches
- Maho Beach – This famous beach is one of the main St Maarten attractions and is located a 25-minute drive (14 km/9 miles) from the cruise ship terminal. It consists of a small stretch of white sandy beach located next to the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport. It is popular for plane watching as they take off and land only a few yards above your head! The beach is quite busy and most of the people come there for amazing photo opportunities! Don’t forget your camera!
- Mullet Bay Beach – A beautiful calm beach located in the southwest of the island, around 14 km/9 miles from the St Maarten cruise terminal (a 30-minute drive). The best way to get there is by taxi or renting a car (there is a large parking lot near the beach). It is a clean, sandy beach with crystal clear aquamarine water and soft sandy bottom. It is equipped with beach bars and restaurants serving delicious food for a very reasonable price, showers, changing rooms, and restrooms. You can also rent an umbrella and beach chairs for an affordable price. It normally isn’t crowded and is a perfect family beach, also suitable for couples, groups of friends and solo travelers.
- Great Bay Beach – Philipsburg’s city beach is the closest beach to the St Maarten cruise terminal (around 2 km away, a 15-20 minute walk). The best way to get there is to take a water taxi ($7 round trip) at the cruise terminal that will take you directly to the beach. This is a long public beach located in the south of the island, in the heart of Philipsburg, backed by a boardwalk full of shops, restaurants, cocktail bars, and places for fun. The beach is clean and sandy, and not too crowded. You can rent umbrellas and sunbeds from local people, prices are reasonable. If you want to explore Philipsburg and feel comfortable staying near your cruise ship, this is the perfect beach for you!
- Little Bay Beach – A gorgeous beach located 4 km/2.5 miles away from the St Maarten cruise terminal (a 10-minute drive). This beach features a beautiful setting, a long shoreline, deep waters, and amazing snorkeling! It has all the necessary facilities, such as beach bars, restaurants, beach chairs and umbrellas, and restrooms. Don’t forget to bring your mask and snorkel.
- Orient Bay Beach – The beach is located on the northeast coast of the island, in Saint Martin – the French side of the island, around 12 km/7.5 miles from the St Maarten cruise terminal (a 25-minute drive),. It is a popular beach resort boasting a long stretch of a calm, sandy beach with a lot of facilities such as water activities, umbrella and sunbed rentals, restaurants, and beach bars. You’ll also find local vendors selling souvenirs and local products. There is a nude beach at the very end of Orient beach.
- Simpson Bay – The bay is part of the Simpson Bay Lagoon, the largest inland lagoon in the West Indies features breathtaking beaches, expensive yachts, the best hotels and resorts on the island, as well as numerous restaurants, cafes, shops, and historic landmarks! Simpson Bay is located around 15 km/9 miles (a 30-minute drive) from St Maarten port. It is a protected area featuring rich marine habitat, split between the Dutch and French sides. There are several popular beaches and beach resorts, such as Pelican Key, Simpsons Bay Resort and Marina, Buccaneer beach, Kim Sha Beach, and Simpson Bay beach… These magnificent beaches feature a wide variety of facilities, such as a great number of restaurants, beach bars, water sports, playgrounds for kids, umbrellas and beach chairs to rent.
- Grand Case Beach – This wonderful beach is located around 15 km/9.5 miles (a 25-minute drive) from the St Maarten cruise port, on the northern coast of the island, in Saint Martin. The best way to get there is by taxi, on a shore excursion, or by car. A charming beach that boasts clean, turquoise waters, and soft sand. The amenities including lounge chair and umbrella rentals are available, as well as beach bars and restaurants. There’s not much crowd and there is a nice walking area. The beach is ideal for people who want to avoid the bustle of busy beaches.
- Happy Bay Beach – Located 16 km/10 miles (a 30-minute drive) north of the St Maarten cruise ship terminal, Happy Bay Beach is a tranquil secluded beach with no facilities on it. The beach is one of the best snorkeling spots on Saint Martin and a true paradise for those who seek peace and a scenic natural setting. You can access it by car (go to Friar’s bay, and from there follow the directions) or by boat.
- Friar’s Bay (also called “Anse des Pères”) – The beach is located in the proximity of Happy Bay Beach and Grand Case, around 16 km/10 miles (a 30-minute drive) from the St Maarten cruise terminal, on the French side of the island. It is a beautiful sandy beach with some rocky parts with a lot of stones and pebbles, so make sure you bring water shoes. The beach is nice and quiet, with amenities that consist of a couple of beach bars serving food and drinks, and a possibility to rent beach chairs and umbrellas.
- Dawn Beach – Located only 7 km/4.5 miles (a 15-minute drive) northeast of the port of St Maarten, near the Oyster Pond in the east of the island, Dawn Beach is a white sandy beach with not many facilities on it. It offers a great rest, as it’s not crowded with tourists. The sea can be wavy, as it’s located on the Atlantic side of the island, and the place hasn’t fully recovered from the Irma hurricane. It has several hotel resorts and eateries nearby.
- Cupecoy Bay Beach – The beach is located in the southwest of the island, near Maho Beach, around 16 km/10 miles (a 40-minute drive) west of the Sint Maarten cruise port. If you are searching for cliffs and unique natural scenery – this is the beach for you! It is a semi-secluded, gorgeous sandy beach offering a lot of privacy for all visitors. There is a beach bar at one end where you can grab some food and drinks, as well as rent beach chairs and umbrellas.
3. Dutch and French Side Island Sightseeing
Both the Dutch (Sint Maarten) and French (Saint Martin) sides are beautiful and offer various sights and activities. If you want to take a glimpse of the whole island, you should definitely join a sightseeing tour that covers both St Maarten and St Martin highlights.
You can either take a taxi/car and explore on your own, or you can join one of the sightseeing tours organized by your cruise line or independent tour operators. Regardless of your choice, you should include the places below on your sightseeing list:
- Maho Beach
- Mullet Bay beach / Long Beach
- Simpson Bay Lagoon
- Orient Bay – The bay is located on the northeastern coast of the island and boasts stunning beaches offering a wide choice of activities such as banana boat rides, parasailing, and jet skiing. The place is full of great restaurants and beach bars.
- Topper’s Rhum Distillery – A great place to taste the premium quality rum and see the rum-making process. Check out Topper’s Rhum Distillery Tour for more info.
- Grand Case – A lovely town and the busy hub of the French side of the island, lying along the Anguilla Channel. This small town tucked in the Grand Case Bay (Baie de Grand Case) boasts a long stretch of white, sandy beach (Grand Case beach) and a great number of shops, beach bars, and restaurants in Boulevard de Grande Case, its main street that runs parallel to the beach.
- Marigot – The charming capital of the French side of the island, Saint Martin. You’ll spot Fort St. Louis, a military fortification built in the 18th century that stands on a hilltop and a lovely marina named after the fort.
- Cole Bay – Cole Bay is a community from where you can admire the spectacular views of the Simpson Bay Lagoon.
Insider tip: If you are booking a tour, make sure it’s organized in small groups, cruise ship friendly, and guarantees your return to the ship! Some tours include beach time, so make sure you bring proper clothing.
4. Boat/Catamaran Ride and Snorkeling
If you want to have an adrenaline-packed day filled with water activities and island exploration, you should go for one of the numerous boat tours offered by your cruise line and independent tour operators. You can choose between a full-day and half-day trip, based on your wishes and personal preferences. The organized boat tours normally take you to the island’s best snorkeling sites and off-the-beaten-path places of incredible beauty. There are a few popular snorkeling/scuba diving sites you should check out:
- Creole Rock is located in the northern part of Grand Case bay. This tiny, uninhabited island is part of the National Nature reserve and is known as an exquisite place for snorkeling.
- Tintamarre Island is also a part of the French Nature Reserve and is one of the best snorkeling sites on the island. The snorkeling experience is amazing here, so in case you decide to come on your own, make sure you bring your snorkel equipment.
- Pinel Island is a fascinating small islet featuring beautiful, relaxed beaches, hiking trails, and a few bar restaurants. You’ll spot many iguanas on your way, so don’t forget to bring your camera.
Captain Bob Speed Boat, Snorkeling, and Beach Tour with Lunch is one of the top-rated shore excursions suitable for cruise ship guests, and the return to the cruise ship is guaranteed. All you have to do is to provide the tour operator with the ship name, arrival, and departure time upon booking a tour. The itinerary of this particular tour allows you to visit both the French and Dutch parts of the island and consists of numerous stops including Simpson Bay Lagoon, Marigot, Friar’s Bay, Happy Bay, Grand Case, Creole Rock, Tintamarre Island, Pinel Island, Mulle Bay, Maho Beach… As you can see, you also get to see the whole island!
5. Off-Road Island Adventure
St Maarten/Saint Martin off-road island tours are a great way of exploring the island, especially if you look for adrenaline and adventure. You can rent the ATV on your own, or you can book one of the off-road tours that will take you through the rugged terrain of the island and stop at the island’s main landmarks. Some of these are:
- Philipsburg and Great Bay Beach
- Maho Beach
- Marigot market
- Rotary Lookout Point – A beautiful viewpoint is part of the French Nature Reserve offering scenic views of the east coast of Saint Martin and Lucas Bay.
- Oyster Pond – A community located in the eastern part of the island, overlooking Lucas Bay. The most popular resorts in this area are Coralita Beach, Oyster Bay, and Dawn Beach.
Note: Make sure you have a valid driver’s license that complies with the tour operator’s policies.
To Wrap Up
I hope my article gave you an insight into the best of St Maarten/Saint-Martin. Whether you are coming for the first time or you have already been, make sure you plan your day ahead to maximize your stay in this amazing port of call.
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