Philipsburg, St. Maarten
In Dutch St. Maarten, the capital city of Philipsburg stretches along Great Bay and is one of the Caribbean's busiest cruise ports, welcoming nearly 2 million cruise passengers every year. Despite beautiful beaches and a pretty backdrop of undulating hills, you won’t find a sleepy island vibe here. Instead, casinos and blinged-out boutiques bring a glitzy splash of Vegas to this Caribbean city. It’s a 15-minute walk from the pier to downtown, but your best bet is to take a water taxi across the bay.
What We Love
DIY Port Day: A stopover that's best known for beaches and shopping, Philipsburg is an easy-to-navigate city where doing your own thing will be far less costly than opting for a ship excursion.
Great Bay Beach: Visible from the pier, this lovely stretch is conveniently located in downtown Philipsburg and is a breeze to get to. Bring U.S. greenbacks to rent beach chairs and umbrellas from one of the many vendors; there are plenty of restaurants, cafes, and bars just steps from the sand and surf.
Best Known For
Duty-Free Shopping: One of the Caribbean's busiest duty-free hubs, Philipsburg showcases around 500 tax-free shops with prices at least 25 percent under what you’d pay in the U.S. for liquor, jewelry, cameras, and other items. With the possible exception of St. Thomas, this is your very best chance for exceptional buys in the Caribbean.
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Who It's Best For
Shoppers: Not only are purchases duty-free, but there’s no local sales tax here. A block off the beach, Front Street is the main shopping drag for jewelry and watches. There’s also an attractive beachside boardwalk full of boutiques and souvenir shops.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Traffic Can Be Horrendous: Steer clear of taxis and car rentals here, and blame the six-times-daily drawbridge openings and closings in Simpson Bay for the congestion. Luckily, the water taxi will get you downtown in a jiffy, and the town itself is extremely walkable.
Suzanne Rowan Kelleher is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for The Boston Globe.