"Best of St. Maarten / St. Martin" in lots and lots of categories.
Best of SXM: Best Car Rental
Everyone has their own "best of" so you may or may not agree with ours; our reasons for selecting each of the businesses listed below appear with each listing.
We used the "we try harder" rent a car company for many years until one day in San Juan about 15 years ago when we met Mickey Daniel of Tropical-Tropicana car rental. Through Mickey, we paid less money for a better car and have been thoroughly satisfied ever since.
Tropical is owned by the Baker family, which founded it roughly 20 years ago.
Now, Stacio Baker, the son of founder Antoine Baker, has established his own new car rental company -- Unique Car Rental. It has a small but growing fleet of fairly new cars and promises customer service that is a unique cut above.
Our JMB Website Supporters members get discounts from both of these fine companies. See the membership benefits list on the secret website for details. To log into the secret website, click the login link atop every page of www.everythingsxm.com
Best of SXM: Best Small Hotel/Timeshare
There are lots of candidates here. Both La Vista and Summit Resort Hotel have achieved Gold Crown status with RCI, the timeshare condominium exchange company. Gold Crown status is a significant measurement of resort quality. We freely recommend both of these places.
Our JMB Website Supporters members get discounts at Summit; see the details on our secret website (see previous article). For membership information, click the page curl on the top right corner of this page.
Best of SXM: Best Beach Hotel
Oddly enough, some St. Maarten hotels call themselves beach hotels even though they don't have beaches. One of these is the Oyster Bay Beach Resort, which is on Dawn beach. Despite the fact that all beaches on St. Maarten are ostensibly public, the owners of the great house, next door to Oyster Bay Beach Resort, have a deed which says they own the beach. We aren't going to belabor the point, since it's moot: Oyster Bay Beach Resort guests can use the beach freely.
But we digress. Our choice for the top beach hotel is far across the island from Dawn beach. It's the Cleveland family's Mary's Boon Beach Plantation / Resort, which is on its own stretch of Simpson Bay beach. Despite the fact that it's near the airport, it's reasonably quiet, private, and has been renowned for years for its fine dining. And again, the beach is right there.
There are many other fine beach hotels in St. Maarten and St. Martin. A string of them lies along Orient beach. More: see http://www.flytravelgo.com .
Best of SXM: Best Ice Cream
It's Etna, widely available in most supermarkets and many restaurants. Made in the St. Louis area of French St. Martin. High in butterfat and authentic natural flavor so it melts slowly and is super, super creamy and indescribably delicious. Really great ice cream. See www.etnaicecream.com.
Best of SXM: Most Scenic Breakfast / Lunch Spots
There are three:
First, Mr. Busby's Beach Bar on Dawn beach. It is about as quintessentially Caribbean as exists. Traditional American breakfast fare, plus Caribbean Johnny cakes. Delicious food, good-size portions, reasonable prices. The view is extraordinary from the beach side of the restaurant. Bring your camera.
Second, Tropical Heaven restaurant at the Summit Resort in Cupecoy. Excellent food, very good quantity, low prices. The view is from the top of the cliff near the northwestern end of Simpson Bay lagoon. The view is unimaginably dramatic: again, bring your camera.
Third, Ernest and Fedel's Restaurant at Porto Cupecoy. This is designed as a Mediterranean village; it's beautiful, and we like this restaurant a lot as well. Bring your camera.
Best of SXM: Best Nude Beach
It has to be Cupecoy. Just go, spend an afternoon, and you'll fall in love with the place. Cupecoy is clothing optional.
Best of SXM: Best Family Beach
It's Friars Bay, between Marigot and Grand Case. The water is usually fairly calm, though at times there can be a fairly steep drop-off. Friars is tops optional, as are most beaches on the French side.
Best of SXM: Best Surfing Beach
If you're thinking about surfing like there is in Hawaii, that doesn't exist here unless there are major storms offshore. You also under normal circumstances don't see waves break far from shore.
There are three beaches we'll recommend here.
First, Mullet Bay is probably the most popular beach for surfers and boogie board enthusiasts. Waves are often large here by St. Maarten standards, meaning six or seven feet or sometimes higher. The place is very busy on weekends and is topless.
Second, Guana Bay beach, which faces easterly and has tradewinds pushing waves ashore. It seems to be gaining popularity, though it can be treacherous. Locals walk pit bulls here.
Third, if you want to try windsurfing, Embouchure is the place. It is immediately south of Le Galion on the French Side and you will often have much company; parasailing is available on nearby Orient beach.
Best of SXM: Best Beach for Kids
We think the best of these is Le Galion beach, beyond the Butterfly Farm near Orient beach. Water near shore is shallow and usually calm, making it ideally suited for young children. Do scout the area where you'll bring your kids; we have seen occasional sea urchins here.
Best of SXM: Best Beach Bar
St. Maarten has lots of beach bars on virtually every corner of the island.
Dany's Beach Bar is at Cupecoy. There's not much of a bar to sit at, but that's not the point: clothing optional Cupecoy gets tray service to your blanket or beach chair by Dany, who is easy to find. Cupecoy, as we've said before, is relaxed and gorgeous.
Mr. Busby's Beach Bar, our long-time favorite "textile" beach bar, offers great food and lots of it, beach chairs, and anything you want at the bar. Here, too, you can get drink service on the beach. Our JMB Website Supporters members get discounts at Island Pizza, part of Mr. Busby's.
Best of SXM: Craziest Bars
The Sunset Bar, at the end of the Princess Juliana airport runway, is the most notorious. It has a few attractions besides planes landing only about 30 feet above your head. Drinks are expensive unless you're a topless female, in which case they're free. There's usually lots of loud music, often live at night.
The Soggy Dollar bar in Simpson Bay has showerheads above a number of the tables which start showering guests without warning. Late at night, a number of guests disrobe and dance on the tables (makes sense since they just showered). Not a wise idea to wear fancy clothes or bring electronics.
The Perch Bar at Club Orient is 100% clothing optional and is just inside the northern end of the clothing optional portion of Orient beach, Club Orient.
Best of SXM: Most Enjoyable Italian Restaurants
IZI Ristorante Italiano, formerly IZI Italian pasta lounge, is a bit more outgoing since the return of founder / owner Davide Foini. Go there any night to celebrate any special occasion, like a birthday or anniversary, and tell your server beforehand of your celebration. At the end of your meal, you'll see what we mean.
IZI has excellent food on its growing menu (including some favorites from Davide's former La Gondola restaurant which he sold some time ago), reasonable prices, very good service, and something special when it comes to celebrating....
For more restaurants which could fit into this category, see our choices for most romantic. See www.iziristoranteitaliano.com . IZI is in Simpson Bay across from Pineapple Pete, another hugely popular restaurant.
Best of SXM: Most Romantic French Restaurant
Le Pressoir, Grand Case, is simply a phenomenal restaurant.
Housed in a home built in the 1870s, Le Pressoir is a tribute to its owners, Melanie and chef Franck Mear who are from Brittany, France. The restaurant is simply and beautifully decorated and the cuisine is as beautiful in presentation as it is in flavor.
Le Pressoir attracts a global clientele who return often. The most commonly repeated phrase heard here is: "We found this place a few days ago, and we had to come back."
Pressoir is special but do not save it for your last night on the island: go sooner. You'll definitely want to come back. See http://www.lepressoir-sxm.com .
Best of SXM: Most Romantic Italian Restaurant
Two longtime favorites: Spiga, in Grand Case, and Daniel's by the Sea next to Oyster Bay Beach Resort.
Spiga has several chefs each specializing in certain areas under the direction of chef-owner Ciro Russo. The dining here has always been outstanding, and with some new interior renovations that were just completed, the restaurant has a new spaciousness and openness that makes it more attractive than ever.
Spiga's food has never varied: it's consistently excellent, with highly creative and innovative specials. Reservations are essential in high season.
While Spiga is housed in a restored Creole home, Daniel's is the nighttime incarnation of Mr. Busby Beach Bar on Dawn beach -- quite a distinct difference in atmosphere. Each also has a distinctly Caribbean personality -- one Creole in its architectural origins, and the other, Daniel's, with a wood plank floor befitting a beach bar (ladies, don't wear high heels).
At Daniel's, lobster and beef are both big sellers, but we always tell people to try the lobster salad (subject to availability) to start, the homemade fettuccine as part of the main course, and get homemade apple pie dessert with Etna ice cream.