The Complete Guide to St Maarten Cruise Port

Harbor Village Point - St Maarten cruise terminal

Welcome to St Maarten cruise port!

St Maarten – the Eastern Caribbean pearl boasting stunning beaches, lush tropical nature, great climate, and kind, friendly residents – is an island of diversities!

It is a small island divided between two countries – France and the Kingdom of Netherlands, spreading across the territory of in total 87 km (33 sq mi). It was named by Christopher Columbus at the end of the 15th century when he first spotted the island on St Martin’s feast day.

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.

The Dutch side is called Sint Maarten and occupies the southern half of the island. It covers around 40% of the overall territory and the 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.

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The French side is called Saint 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.

I’ve been working as a Shore Excursion staff for a few years now, and I had the opportunity to visit St Maarten a couple of times. In this article, I want to share with you the information on the St. Maarten cruise port:

  • St Maarten cruise terminal
  • Things to do in Philipsburg
  • The best beaches in St Maarten
  • Port highlights & best shore excursions in St Maarten

St Maarten Cruise Terminal

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 1.5 mi (2.4 km) away from the city center. It boasts an impressive infrastructure that can accommodate a large number of cruise ships simultaneously, including the world’s largest cruise ships.

Best hotels near St Maarten cruise port: Pasanggrahan Boutique Hotel, Holland House Beach Hotel, Horizon View Beach Hotel, Alicia’s Inn.

St Maarten cruise port (on the left) and Philipsburg (n the right).
St Maarten cruise port (on the left) and Philipsburg (n the right). Photo courtesy of Rene Cicero.
Royal Caribbean cruise ship Independence of the Seas docked in St Maarten
St Maarten cruise terminal

Upon getting off the ship, a hundred meters further, 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 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 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 come 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. They normally have fixed prices, but always negotiate as not all of them stick to it. Here, you’ll also find a tourist information desk and tour agencies offering car rentals, local vendors, and this is shore excursions meeting place as well (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.

St Maarten cruise terminal map

To get to Philipsburg, you can either take a pleasant 15-20 minute walk, a taxi, or a water taxi – the most popular means of transport. The water taxi station is located around 300 meters away from the cruise ship’s dock, and to get there, you need to pass the Sharky’s bar and keep following the path ahead of you. In case you have trouble finding it, knowledgeable island staff will help you out and direct you to the station. A ride to the Philipsburg center lasts only several minutes, and rates are fixed – last time I was there, it was 7$ round trip, and it drops you off at a beach in the city center (Captain Hodge Wharf) from where you can access all main landmarks.

Before I share with you the best things to do in Philipsburg, I invite you to subscribe below and get my exclusive, insider SHORE EXCURSION GUIDE FOR FREE!

Best Things to Do in Philipsburg

  • 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! The owners are welcoming and knowledgeable, always happy to help their customers and provide you with any information you might need. A great place to start or end your St Maarten day!
  • 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’s attractions are located. It is a quiet, spiritual place full of positive energy, and a nice place to worship.
  • Boardwalk & Great Bay beach – The cosmopolitan hub of the city full of shops, bars, restaurants, events and 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 (have I mentioned that 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 a family, friends, or alone, at any time of the day – a great time is guaranteed!

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Boardwalk in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten's capital, facing cruise ship port area
Boardwalk in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten’s capital, facing cruise ship port area
  • 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, 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 the Great Bay, Little Bay, Philipsburg, and the cruise port. A truly unique place in St Maarten with great photo opportunities! Don’t forget to bring your camera!
  • Philipsburg Courthouse – Nestled in the heart of the old town, facing Front Street, this beautiful old wooden courthouse has a 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!

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Philipsburg Courthouse in Sint Maarten cruise port
Courthouse. Source:
  • Cyrus Wathey Square – Lined with palm trees, jewelry stores, and overlooking the beachfront, this beautiful square is located in front of the 18-th 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 the Front Street – the shopping hub of the city!
Old Street in St Maarten
Old Street in St Maarten.
  • Methodist Church – A lovely church dating from the 19th century is known for its beautiful wooden façade and a bell tower. Nice place to worship with some great photo ops.
  • 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 happy to give you a tour of the museum! This is the highlight of every St Maarten visit and a true gem of the island!
  • 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, 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 its 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!

See the list of the best Philipsburg tours

Best Beaches in St Maarten

  • Maho Beach – This famous beach is one of the main St Maarten attractions and is located a 25-minute drive (13.7 km) from the cruise ship terminal. It consists of a small stretch of the 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!

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Maho beach near Simpson Bay
Maho beach. Photo by Bella.
A plane landing above my head at Maho Beach, St Maarten
Maho Beach
  • Mullet Bay Beach – A beautiful calm beach located in the southwest of the island, around 14 km (8.7 mi) from the St Maarten cruise terminal (a 30-minute drive). The best way to get there is by taxi or rent 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, restrooms, and 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, solo travelers.
Mullet Bay Beach
Mullet Bay Beach.
  • Great Bay Beach – This 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 up 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!
The view of the Great Bay. In the distance, you can spot St Maarten cruise terminal, Philipsburg, and Great Bay Beach
The view of the Great Bay. In the distance, you can spot St Maarten cruise terminal, Philipsburg, and Great Bay Beach
  • Little Bay Beach – A gorgeous beach located 3.6 km (2.2 mi) 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, restrooms. Don’t forget to bring your mask and snorkel!

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  • Orient Bay Beach – The beach is located 13.8 km (8.5 mi) from St Maarten cruise terminal (a 25-minute drive), on the northeast coast of the island, in Saint Martin – the French side of the island. It is a popular beach resort boasting a long stretch of a calm, sandy beach with a lot of facilities on it: water activities, umbrella and sunbeds rentals, restaurants, beach bars, 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 historical landmarks! Check out the best hotels in Simpson Bay
Simpson Bay in St Maarten cruise port
Simpson Bay. Photo courtesy of Rene Cicero.

Simpson Bay is located around 13 km (8 mi; a 30-minute drive) from St Maarten cruise terminal. It is a protected area featuring rich marine habitat, whose one half belongs to the French side, and another half to the Dutch. It consists of several popular beaches and beach resorts, such as Pelican Key, Simpsons Bay Resort and Marina, Buccaneer beach, Kim Sha Beach, 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, and much more! St Maarten airport – Princess Juliana International Airport, is located near the lagoon’s southern shore, and so is the most famous beach on the island – Maho beach, popular for plane spotting.

Simpson Bay Lagoon in the background, St Maarten
Simpson Bay Lagoon in the background
  • Grand Case Beach – This wonderful beach is located around 15 km (9.3 mi; a 25-minute drive) from St Maarten cruise port, on the northern coast of the island, in Saint Martin – the French side. The best way to get there is by taxi, with a shore excursion, or rent a car. A charming beach that boasts clean, turquoise waters, soft sand, and not very crowded! It offers all necessary amenities – a lounge chair and umbrella rentals, beach bars, restaurants, a nice walking area. Ideal place for people who want to avoid the bustle of busy beaches.
  • Happy Bay Beach – Located 16 km (10 mi; a 30-minute drive) from 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 the 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 15 km (9.3 mi; 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. This 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 (4.3 mi; a 15-minute drive) from St Maarten cruise terminal, near the Oyster Pond in the east of the island, Dawn Beach is a nice, white sandy beach with not many facilities on it but offering 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 nearby, as well as places to eat.
  • Cupecoy Bay Beach – The beach is located around 16 km (9.9 mi; a 40-minute drive) from St Maarten cruise terminal, in the southwest of the island, near Maho Beach. 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. This is a wonderful place to visit, and definitely one-of-a-kind!

3 Best Shore Excursions in St Maarten

1. Speed Boat Ride with Snorkel and Beach Break

If you want to have an adrenaline-packed day full of water activities, fun, and island exploration – you should go for a speedboat tour with snorkeling and beach time! You can choose between a full-day and half-day trip, based on your wishes and personal preferences. On these tours, you’ll explore the best snorkeling sites in St Maarten and off-the-beaten-path places of incredible beauty!

Captain Bob Speed Boat, Snorkeling, and Beach Tour with Lunch
Captain Bob Speed Boat, Snorkeling, and Beach Tour with Lunch. Source:

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 get to see the whole island!

Regardless of the tour you book, you should bring these things on your trip: Sunglasses, a hat, a beach bag, a waterproof camera, towels, water shoes, a waterproof phone case, sunscreen.

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See the list of the BEST speedboat tours with snorkel and beach 

Don’t forget to sign up for a FREE Shore Excursion Guide where you’ll find valuable money-saving tips, a packing list, and much more!

2. St Maarten Island Sightseeing

The island is absolutely incredible and both Dutch and French sides are charming and offer various sights and activities! If you want to take a glimpse of both the Dutch and French sides of the island, you should definitely join a sightseeing tour that covers all the main St Maarten/Sint Martin highlights.

Upon 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.

See the list of the top-rated St Maarten sightseeing tours

St Maarten sightseeing tour

Sightseeing trips normally include stops at the island’s most famous places:

  • Maho Beach by the Princess Juliana International Airport – This is by far the most thrilling experience you can get on the island – you’ll see the planes taking off and landing only a few meters above your heads!
  • Simpson Bay Lagoon 
  • Orient Bay – The bay is located on the north-eastern coast of the island and boasts stunning beaches offering a wide choice of activities such as banana boat rides, parasail, jetski. The place is full of great restaurants and beach bars, guaranteeing an amazing, fun-filled beach day.
  • 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.
  • Creole Rock – Located in the northern part of Grand Case bay, Creole Rock is a tiny, uninhabited island. It is part of the National Nature reserve and is known as an exquisite place for snorkeling.
  • Tintamarre Island – A gorgeous tiny island that is part of the French Nature Reserve and one of the best snorkeling sites on the island. The snorkeling experience is amazing here, so make sure you bring your snorkel equipment.
  • Pinel Island – Another 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.
  • Mullet Bay beach / Long Beach – Known as the most beautiful beaches on the island, these beaches are located at the southwestern tip of the island, on the French side, close to the popular Maho Beach.

What to Bring: comfortable shoes, towel, beach bag, swimsuit, camera.

Explore the top-rated St Maarten sightseeing tours

3. Off-Road Island Tour

For adventure-seekers, St Maarten off-road tours are a great opportunity to explore the island!

Atv Tour in St Maarten.
Atv Tour in St Maarten. Source:

These tours will take you through the rugged terrain of the island and stop at the island’s main landmarks, such as:

  • 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, Dawn Beach.

What To Bring: backpack, sunglasses, camera, comfortable shoes, a driver’s license.

Note: Make sure you have a valid driver’s license that complies with the tour operator’s policies.

Explore the St Maarten ATV tours

Check out St Maarten Jeep tours

See Also:

Besides these 3 best experiences you can get in St Maarten, you can also check out the ones below! They have great reviews and include some extra stops that you might like:

Topper’s Rhum Distillery Tour  (I’ve been there and enjoyed the place a lot! I highly recommend you to check it out)

Topper's Rhum Distillery in St Maarten
Rhum Distillery tour includes the tasting of different types of rum

Double Decker Bus Tour – I’ve done this one, and it was fun. It gives an overview of the island and includes some interesting stops, including Topper’s Rhum Distillery.

Private Sightseeing Tour of St Maarten – A fully private, customized tour, suitable for a small group.

Luxury Catamaran Cruise – Suitable for cruise ship guests. Great stops with snacks and an open bar included.

Electric Buggy Tour – A great tour, traveler pick-up is offered!

Shipwreck Snorkeling – Cruise-ship friendly tour, great reviews.

Discover Scuba Diving  – An amazing experience that you don’t need a professional diving certificate for!

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, and want to try something new – I hope my article inspired you for new, fresh ideas! Stay tuned until our next Caribbean adventure!

Check out today’s cruise deals from Cruise Critic!

This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see my disclaimer here.

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