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Rachel Perlow

St. Thomas / St John USVI Dining

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We're going to be staying at a resort near Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Please share everything you know about this island. We are planning on renting a car. What are the must do's and don't? Thanks in advance.

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:rolleyes: I LOVE St. Maarten! Are you staying ALL Inclusive? If so do most of your eating at the resort...on the French side, the food is REALLY expensive and very little is "authentic" anything but tourist. Your best bet for reasonable food adventure is to go to the Dutch side and roam the main drag...there's good Chinese, Indian, Italian etc, at half what you pay on the French side. Also the shopping is best on the Dutch side. But while on the French side...MUST go to the nude beach.

Be careful driving...there are practically no traffic laws, and the streets are crowded and in terrible repair. If you have any questions, stop in the dive shop near the port...they're super friendly and helpful.

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Haven't actually been to St. Maarten/St. Martin in a number of years, but recently passed through on route to St. Bart's, and there's a colleague at work who goes every year, so I'll pass along what I know......

See if you can find a good map of the island on the internet to get familiar with the lay of the land, so to speak. It's a pretty big island and there are beaches on the Atlantic and Caribbean sides. It's a pretty densely populated island, too, so the traffic can be heavy at times.

The area around Phillipsburg is pretty touristy and it's the major port for all of the cruise lines so there's an emphasis on shopping. The French side has two main towns, Marigot and Grand Case. Marigot is bustling yet charming and has lots of great boutiques. Very chic in that oh-so-French way. Fabulous baguettes and pastries -- the chocolate almond croissants are to die for. There used to be a little restaurant, Bistro Nu, and if it's still around you should try it. It's like it was transplanted from Paris. Marigot is also where you can catch a ferry to Anguilla, which I highly recommend if you feel like exploring miles of sandy beaches with virtually no one else around. I think the ferry takes about 20 minutes.

Grand Case is known for its "restaurant row". I haven't eaten in any of the places, but you could check the Fodor's bulletin board or the French West Indies Travel log, Phorum West Indies, which is a friendly site. There's also a strip of barbecue joints near the beach that are unbelievable. The women cook up ribs, chicken, and lobster in big drum grills. Served with rice n'peas and scotch bonnet hot sauce, it is finger lickin' steet food. All you need is an ice cold Red Stripe to go with it. Beaches around Grand Case and the Meridian resort are bay-like and calm. The beaches on the Atlantic side tend to be more rugged and have surf.

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Not all-inclusive (did that in St. Thomas, didn't like it, bad food). In fact it is a time-share so we'll have a kitchen. Usually don't do more than breakfast in the unit. I took out the extra insurance on our car rental reservation because I know how horrible the roads and drivers can be on these islands. Usually we don't rent a car, but this is our first time at a time-share on the islands and we know we'll want to explore and not hire a cab everytime we go out (like we did in Puerto Rico and Jamaica).

Somehow, I doubt Jason'll want to go to the nude beach. He usually sits under a tree or umbrella with a T-shirt on, sun sensitive, among other reasons. :raz:

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I haven't been to St. Martin in several years, and have only stayed on the French side, but here's what I can tell you:

Renting a car/jeep is the way to go--you'll want to explore the island at your own pace and without the hassle of cabs.

Generally speaking, the Dutch side is much busier than the French side. As I recall, Philipsburg is the St. Maarten/St. Martin port for the cruise ships, and I think there are two primary streets in Philipsburg--Front Street and one other--where shopping is plentiful. Many of the main shops have sister locations in Marigot, the main town on the French side. There is gambling at the hotels in and near Philipsburg, but none on the French side.

There are numerous beaches on the island--all open to the public, and most are easily accessible. Orient Beach (referred to above as the "nude beach") has tons of water activities--parasailing, windsurfing, etc. N.B. I believe women are permitted to go topless at all the beaches on the French side (as are, of course, men).

I really liked Baie Longue, where a mile and a half of white sand almost guarantees you to have lots of space to yourself and great walks along the water. No facilities, however. Other beaches are better for snorkeling, kid-friendly water, reading a book under a shady tree, eating/drinking/restroom facilities, etc., but I can't recall their names.

There are numerous small markets on the island, and there is a large supermarket called Match on the French side, I think it's near Marigot. I remember the prices being reasonable but not cheap. We stocked up on baguettes, cheese, wine, beer, water and would bring snacks/lunch with us to the beaches.

Grand Case is well-stocked with restaurants, some better than others, but unfortunately I can't remember any names at the moment. At the time we visited, the value of the franc against the dollar was so low that all of these restaurants were comparatively cheap to NY. I assume now, however, that the adoption of the Euro has eliminated that advantage. (You used to be able to pay with American dollars all over the island but would receive change in francs or guilders, and I assume you'd now receive Euros.)

The row of barbeque in Grand Case referred to above is definitely worth going to.

Shopping--I have no idea if this holds any interest for you, but one used to be able to get great deals in Marigot on products manufactured or originating in France. For example, we stocked up on Christofle silver, and ended up paying about 50% of what we would have paid in the US. Various brands of Limoges china were also cheaper than at home, but not as good a bargain. I think the lower prices had something to do with St. Martin being a French territory so that various import/export taxes did not exist and were not passed on to the consumer. I could be wrong about that, though, and can't speak to whether such discounts still exist.

The locals are very friendly and will be eager to help make your trip a good one. One caveat--theft has reportedly increased over the years. We never had a problem, but I would advise not leaving any valuables in your car--even in the trunk--while at the beach. A number of beaches require a decent walk from car to sand, which leaves your car out of your sight, and we were told that such circumstances lend themselves to theft of items left in the car.

If you are going soon, spring/summer is a great time to visit. The temperature is only about 5 degrees warmer than winter and there are far fewer tourists--making many beaches almost your own!

Have a good trip!

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The friends coming with us to St. Martin are even more addicted to the internet than we are. Even before booking their tickets she'd looked up internet cafes so she can check her email. Curious, I looked them up too. Here's a list of interent cafes on St. Martin for future reference:

DM Computer Center, 109 La Savane, Grand Case, $8.00 per hour

A list from winlink.org for St. Martin:

Caribbean Cyber Cafe, Simson Bay Yacht Club

Cyber Nation, Simson Bay Yacht Club

The Business Center, Simson Bay Yacht Club

The Mailbox (Palapa Marina Center), Simson Bay Lagoon

The Mailbox (Island Water World), Simson Bay Lagoon

Dockside Management, Bobby's Marina, Philipsburg

Romic Computer Systems, Cole Bay

From St-Maarten.com:

On the Dutch Side there are two major ISPs.

NetworkIDL N.V has been providing Internet Access for over 5 years and offers visitor/roaming accounts for on a weekly basis. They also operate a Cyber-Cafe facility next to their office and are affiliated with 8 Cyber-Cafe locations elsewhere on the island including 3 in Philipsburg, 1 at FX Bowling, 1 In Airport Blvd, 1 in Maho, 1 in Marigot, 1 in the Soon to open BAY WATCH. Contact NetworkIDL at (599) 544 4815/ 3188, http://www.networkidl.net or

Telnet Internet Services is the other ISP which has been open for 2 years now and also offers dialup services. They are located in Philipsburg area and also have a cafe type service within their facility. Telnet can be contacted at (599) 543-7952, http://www.sintmaarten.net or internet@sintmaarten.net

Via email the people at megatropic.com gave me these locations:

CYBERNATIONS adjacent to our office - airport blvd 95 colebay

CYBERWORLD - maho shopping center - maho hotel complex

DOT COM CAFE - Philipsburg, Juancho Yrausquin Blvd (near tourism office, and RBTT Bank)

NetCafe - at the Royal Palm Beach Resort

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Perlows! Some additions to my earlier Saint Martin suggestions..

Loterie Farms--an old plantation in a bowl shaped depression/valley, halfway up Pic Paradis is a cool (temp wise) retreat from the heat--and has--by local standards, pretty good food. Beautiful mix of good grub and location/view and very out of the way. Poulet d'Orleans, in a private home up a snaky hairpin turn in Orleans is kooky--with great chicken, fresh killed. If you care--the chef at the new place near Cupacoy Beach, Citrus, is a recent Trotter grad--haven't eaten there yet. You'll probably be the only customers just about everywhere. Let me stress again: AVOID Phillipsburg. There is nothing, nothing, nothing of interest--search for food--or anything good will be more fruitful in Marigot, Grand Case and French side. Other than Cupacoy, you can take a pass on the Dutch side beaches, too. The internet cafe in the Maho strip is pretty good....and don't forget bug repellent (applied by 4 PM when the mosquitos and no-see-ums come out). If you need a decent bloddy steak and a cold beer with burned out expats in an atmospheric environment--Uncle Harry's off the airport road in the back of the boatyard is pretty good--though filet only. They have good local lobsters--and Harry used to ride with the Angels so he has a lot of good stories. You are arriving in the heart of hurricane season, which should actually be pretty much fun--very romantic. Have fun. I am.

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Hi all you gourmands..

New to the forum and was needing info on very good, established restaurants and nightspots in the USVI. Will be heading there at the end of this month and want to broaden my culinary world to the Islands. Interested in local flavor(West Indian, Carribean) in particular, but would be happy with any fine dining in this area. ALso, any other info on local (off the beaten path) things to do and see would be great. Love to travel, but this is one area I am not familiar with. Thanks for all your help! See ya, mon! :raz:

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Thanks Tony. I did a little weather research and the chances for hurricanes on St. Maartin at the end of September is around 6% so hopefully we'll be OK. Though, I'll have to look through my travel insurance docs to see if that's covered...

Thanks for all your great suggestions!

Also, I've heard it is best to rent a cell phone locally as opposed to using the hotel phone or payphones (even for local calls). True? Anyone have a clue where to get one?

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Can't help much with St. T, but on St. John, for fine dining the options are limited...this is a very, very casual place after all. I've probably been to St. John 10-12 times, and I'll give you my favorites. Seafood is generally the way to go (except for a snack at the barbecue shack in the center of Cruz Bay).

Asolare - As close to a "destination" restaurant as exists on St. John, high above Cruz Bay - go at sunset for beautiful views and good, often Japanese-inspired seafood preparations. Reserve, pricey.

Equator - This is the Caneel Bay Resort's restaurant and it is lovely, the food is well prepared, and it is resort-pricey. Another sunset favorite is to have drinks down by the water and then walk up to Equinox - you do not need to be a guest to enjoy. Reserve

I enjoy Morgan's Mango and the Lime Inn in Cruz Bay. Very relaxed West Indian seafooders with all the tropical drinks you can think of. Great atmosphere at both places. Reservations not necessary, but a good idea

Have been to Zoso's and enjoyed - Italian, mostly pasta and fish, stylish place and not as laid back as the Mango or the Lime Inn.

People enjoy Sogo's for West Indian fare, I've not been so can't comment.

Skip Paradiso and I have never been impressed by the Fish Trap.

Outside Cruz Bay on the way towards the Wyndham there is a gourmet store in a mini strip mall on the right - good for prepared foods, etc. to take to the beach.

Out on the island there isn't much except for Lucy's near Coral Bay - people laud it for authentic Caribbean cooking, but I've never been. The owner/chef (Lucy) is somewhat mercurial and it is not always predictable when she will feel like being open.

There is also Chateau Bordeaux on the Centerline Road which gets high marks - again, I've never been to this one-but probably worth some investigation.

For casual places & nightlife. (Realize that nightlife is not the name of the game in St. John, no nightclubs or anything close, and most bars close relatively early 12:30 or so, I've found).

Coral Bay - Shipwreck Landing and Skinny Legs are fun places to while away some time (lunch - casual dinner). There is also a little snack shack way out past Coral Bay where there are great conch fritters and the like.

Cruz Bay - Quiet Man Pub is a personal fave as is the bar at the Mango and

Lime Inn. Woody's is good for frozen drinks & will put your picture on the 'net if you like that sort of thing. I've seen pretty people hngning out inside Zoso at the bar. There is one nightclub-type place come to think of it right in the middle of town not far from the ferry dock - can't remember the name, but loud music is the giveaway.

Off the beaten path - my favorite snorkeling spots are Waterlemon Key (Need to go slightly off-road and then walk for about 1/2 mile). I also like Salt Pond Bay (off-path beach) and the hike out to Ram Head (fairly strenuous, but beautiful destination). Good snorkeling in Little Lameshur Bay also - can be hard to get to.

On the path - Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay are stunningly beautiful beaches even though can get a bit crowded. On the road from Cruz Bay to Trunk Bay there is a set of stairs leading down on the left a little while before Trunk Bay (I forget the name of this little beach, but it is usually quieter, and there is an interesting trench to snorkel).

We usually do at least one day of day sailing over to the BVI and stop to snorkel along the way. Foxy's and the Soggy Dollar Bar are fun spots. The Baths on Virgin Gorda are pretty spectacular, but a bit far and can be crowded on occasion.

Anyway, if you have more specific questions - I am happy to tell you whatever I know.

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Thanks, Damian. Your info will definitely help us. We are planning a trip to St. John for a day and have also chartered a boat for a day while in the USVI. (We will be there a week all together.)Our stop on the charter will includeThe Baths(have heard spectacular things about it) and we thought about going to Jost Van Dyke as well. Do you know of anything on Norman Island? Is the snorkeling good there or can you think of anywhere else in the BVI's we might want to add to our list of "must do's"? Gracias, again!

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Sounds like you are staying on St. Thomas - sorry I can't offer more insights on that island, we usually fly in and then make a beeline for Red Hook to catch the ferry to St. John. I don't know of anything special to do on Norman Island - doesn't mean there isn't anything just that someone else might be better source. I'm sure you're charter captain will know of some good snorkeling spots, so I wouldn't worry about that so much. There are some caves which are interesting formations (might be just off Tortola, Norman Island, I can't recall) not sure if they are worth a special detour, but can be fun for a snorkel if you happen to be near by - again your charter captain will know about them.

Jost is a funky little island, there isn't much to the little town except for Foxy's. Foxy's might actually get some decent nighlife, they've been known to have live reggae bands on occasion, in any event it is a very cool place to wind down from a day of snorkeling, and the food is half-decent. There is also the Soggy Dollar Bar, so named because you have to swim ashore to get there and they pin your currency up on a clothesline when you use it to let it dry. They are famous for the "painkiller" oft-imitated, seldom equalled. It is a much quieter place than Foxy's (you can't get from one to the other by land) and is attached to a small hotel.

In general, the only "must-do" in the BVI is to completely and utterly relax and get into the flow of a very quiet tropical life - this is not something you can really do on a day trip, but a week there will make St. Thomas seem like Chicago, and San Juan like New York.

I am starting to get jealous - if it wasn't for an impending week of relaxtion on the Chesapeake Bay, I'd be at wit's end. I truly love that part of the world.

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Well, yes...I am really looking forward to going to there. Can't help but rub it in. :) I have been to Cozumel, Cancun(dont plan to repeat that unless someone gives me a free trip. Too overrun with party people and commercialism), Grand Bahama and Nassau. That is all my Carribean jetsetting has allowed thus far. I have heard remarkable things about the Virgin Islands and if it weren't for the timeshare exchange...would have loved to have spent it on St. John, St. Lucia or St. Maarten, firstly. We put in for those destinations, as well as Aruba and the Cayman's but St. T is what happened. Funny that you called it St. T. I thought I was being original.:)

We plan on scuba diving while there. We have a trip booked to do the MS Rhone and are really looking forward to that aspect of the trip as well as sipping some really good rum drinks and living a leisurely life for a week. Will be working on my tan as well.

If you would really like to know...I prefer my time in the mountains. The Rockies, to be exact and if you have clued into my forum name, you will know why. Spent much time in CO, UT, MT, Alberta, BC skiing, hiking, biking and rock climbing. The serenity and peace in the mountains that I feel is the best feeling in the world.

You are closer to skiing than I am if you leave in the Bal'more area, however...so I should be envious.

The Chesapeake Bay is very nice. Spent some time in Annapolis(really good restaurant O'Leary's springs to mind and a very nice bed and breakfast near Capitol hill) and Baltimore(wonderful meal in Little Italy and some great steamed crabs at a place called Snapper's, I believe) a couple of summer's ago and in wine country near Cumberland(I think that is the name), MD. You are lucky to be living in that area.

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Almost forgot. I remembered the name of the restaurant in Little Italy area of Baltimore. Chiaperelli's. You could tell it was well received by the clientel in occupance. Nothing but dark-eyed, dark haired Mediterranean/American people gracing the tables. A true sign of a fine Italian establishment if I ever saw one. And I should know, I am ONE of those people. ;)

In addition, The food and wine were exceptional.

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I'd avoid the Dutch side. Remarkably--their phone sytem does not cover the French Side--and barely covers the Dutch.. I suggest buying ( I don't know if they rent) a cheap cell on the French Side. Orange in Belleville was really helpful to me--they set me up with a phone--and service good all over the island--and I can call and receive from the US and internationally. You pay as you go with handy dandy Orange cards available all over.

And Yeah..I've heard to expect light hurricane season. So far the weather's been great.

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Yes, we will be staying near Frenchtown. Where Fenchman's Bay is located. Renting a

car as well. Want to explore the island. We might ferry the car over to St. John so we

can explore there as well. We are going to St. John, however, regardless. Would really

like to get a feel of some local culture and food. St. Thomas is supposed to have some

good dining choices, but we don't know anything about it, other than what we have

located on the net and through friends who have visited there before. Any info would

be appreciated. Anything off the beaten path and less touristy would be fantastic!

Thanks in advance!

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Not too expensive to rent a mini-SUV on St.John and you will want 4wd due to steep hills, even on paved roads. Not sure what the car ferry would cost, or the logistics, but suzuki samurais rent for about $45 per day (less by the week for interested others reading) and can take you over almost the entire island.

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New suggestion: If you eat only one white tablecloth/fancy meal on the island (and you might well not want to--what with the constant near-sunstroke from drinking in the sun all day--and all the great cheap shack food) I highly recommend Citrus near Cupacoy Beach. The chef. Jeff Kipp, is recently of Charlie Trotter in Chicago--and I ate there last night and was astonished at how accomplished a meal it was: great ingredients, well-prepared..far and away the best meal of its kind I've had in 20 years of coming to the island. Not cheap--but worth it.

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Tony, do you ever hop over to Anguilla and check out the dining scene (and beaches) there?

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Ok. Appreciate the info. What about Mopeds or motorcycles? Know that these are feasible in Bermuda. What about on St. John?? Any info on this would be most helpful. Thanks!

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Have not seen any moped or motorcycle rentals on St. John, I doubt they exist - mopeds would be hard pressed to make it up some of those hills, and I've never seen a motorcycle there that I can remember. Mini-SUVs are where it seems to be at.

Incidentally, just got back from my week on the Eastern Shore of Maryland -great crabs this time of year - spent much of the week getting around on a pair of mopeds, can certainly appreciate the appeal - especially there where things are flatter than flat!

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Merci, again.Alrightee then..... I guess our choice will be the SUV. Also, I am looking forward to some excellent seafood in the islands.Give me shellfish or give me death!! Nothing better than Maryland Steamed Crabs, though! You are a lucky guy.

We will give a full report of our trip..culinary included, when we return!

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