Philipsburg, St. Maarten Cruise
One island, two nations
Offering some of the best vistas in all the Caribbean, St. Maarten is the smallest inhabited island in the world shared by two nations—France in the north and the Netherlands in the south. Dubbed the true melting pot of the Caribbean, the 37-square-mile island is home to people from 47 different nationalities and more than 400 restaurants, featuring a hugely diverse variety of cuisines.
The island also has two capitals: Philipsburg, on the Dutch side, and Marigot, on the French. Arriving on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise to St. Maarten, explore how the two cultures have blended their very distinct characters on one of our MSC excursions.
Your St. Maarten cruise will dock in Philipsburg, founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch Navy. Philipsburg, with its pastel-colored West Indian houses, is known for its duty-free shopping along Front Street; the Great Salt Pond, which once made the island literally “worth its salt,” and attracted the attention of the French; and Fort Willem, built in 1801, with magnificent views of the bay and the surrounding islands.
From there, several MSC excursions take you on a hilly drive to the French side of the island to experience Marigot, originally a fishing village on a swamp for which it was named that became the capital during the reign of Louis XVI. Fort Louis, which overlooks Marigot Bay and Anguilla, was built in the late 18th century to protect the town’s warehouses of salt, coffee, sugar cane and especially rum from the English. Today, Marigot showcases quaint colorful gingerbread-llike houses, tasty sidewalk bistros and a waterfront market sellling fruit and vegetables, spices, local meats and fresh fish from Creole huts worthy of exploring.
For something special, spend the day on the Dutch side of the island at the restored sugar plantation at Rockland Estate. Take in a history lesson at the Emilio Wilson Museum, a nature hike and 360-degree views from Sentry Hill, and participate in a hands-on cooking demonstration of authentic local cuisines with lunch at Emilio’s restaurant, in an MSC excursion.
Also at Rockland Estate, thrillseekers can book other MSC exursions on the Flying Dutchman, a fast and furious zip line ride that will have you whizzing down the line at a speed of up to 56 mph (90 km) per hour. Then take the Pirate Sky Ride cable car back up the top to the Crow’s Nest where several platforms encircling the mountain afford panoramic views of the neighboring islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Barthélemy and Anguilla. Then plunge down the mountain on a Schooner Ride inner tube along a specially designed track.
For one of the island’s hottest spots and most popular attractions, visit the famous Maho Beach, also called Airplane Beach. Don’t get too comfortable, though. Watch as planes pass only a short distance above your head as they land and take off from Princess Juliana Airport’s short adjacent runway.