St. Martin Trip Report - February 1, 1997

Following is our trip report from our trip to St. Martin on 2/1/97 to 2/8/97. We stayed at La Plantation this time and will be doing a separate report just on the hotel. We had not really been planning on going to SXM in February, but happened upon a two day sale in August and could not resist a direct non-stop flight for $300 per person from BWI to SXM, especially since the normal price is around $500 PP. We left home around 5:30 A.M. and arrived at BWI about 1 and one half hours prior to scheduled take-off. Upon checking in, we were told that there were no seats available on the plane. We had booked the tickets ourselves for once, instead of having a TA do it and had completely forgotten to get seat assignments or boarding passes. As it turned out, US Air had overbooked the plane by around 20 people. A few people took a voluntary bump, but there were 6 couples including us who did not make it on the flight. The US Air customer service people were very nice and tried to help us out, although originally they offered only to put us on the US Air flight the next morning. This was not at ALL satisfactory, so we said that we wanted them to get us to San Juan today, even if it meant spending the night in San Juan. We got seats on the US Air flight to San Juan which left around 9:30 and received stand-by tickets on two different American flights from SJU to SXM on Saturday and confirmed seats on Sunday morning. Before leaving the airport in BWI, we asked about the return flight on Saturday and were told that the return flight was also overbooked. Over the course of the week, we spent quite a few nice moments contemplating being bumped on the return flight also and HAVING to spend a day or two extra in SXM. As it turned out, we made our regularly scheduled flight coming home--of course!! G!!

We arrived in SJU around 1 P.M. and immediately went to the AA counter to see if we could get confirmed seats on the AA stand-by flight, which was due to leave SJU at 9:30 P.M. We were able to get confirmed seats on that flight and so decided to dump our carry-ons at the AA terminal. Our bags had gone on the US Air flight as scheduled. Therefore, we asked American to call down to SXM and have the US Air baggage people give our bags to the American people, so that we could pick them up when we arrived. They sent out some kind of a printed message. I didn't have a lot of confidence in the bags being there when we arrived. There are no lockers there at AA, like at the US Air terminal, which we found out later, but a kind of a "coat check" type situation, but it sufficed.

Since we had many hours to kill before 9:30, we decided to head out to the Cruise terminal in San Juan. I don't know whether we would have done so otherwise or not, but Eric's parents and some of the rest of his family were leaving from San Juan on Carnival's Fascination on the same date, so we thought we might take a shot and go down to the pier to see if we could see them. Well, ERIC thought that we should do so. I thought that it would be a waste of $40 (for the round-trip) for the taxi, as I didn't think that there would be any way that we would manage to meet up with 2 people out of 2,600 on that ship, just by chance. Well, as luck would have it, we were sitting by the pier for less than 10 minutes when Eric's aunt and uncle came by to check in. We said Hi and they said they would try to find Eric's parents onboard the ship and send them down. Around 20 minutes later, Eric's parents came striding towards us. Actually, they had NOT met up with Eric's aunt and uncle, but just decided to come off the ship. They were very surprised and pleased to see us.

We took a bit of a walk around downtown San Juan and Eric's mom and I checked out Touch of Gold while Eric and his dad went to buy a Hooters t-shirt for someone at home. Since we still had 3 hours or so before we had to be at the airport we went to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner for us and some cokes for Eric's parents, as they had dinner to go to on the ship! We did a little more walking around then walked Eric's parents back down to the their ship, wished them Bon Voyage and headed in a taxi back to the airport. It was certainly a lot nicer way to spend those hours than at the airport.

As was the case with just about every other AA flight this evening, our flight was over an hour late leaving SJU. With nothing better to do, we went to the bar in the AA terminal. True story--overheard in the bar in the SAN JUAN airport this night--"That will be Nine Sixty-Three, Sir". "Is that U.S.?" True story, I kid you not!!

Of course, even though the bar was packed, they closed the door to the bar at 9 P.M. and started dimming the lights, telling us to get the _ell out. These guys didn't know it, but things could have gotten REAL ugly--I've been bumped from my non-stop flight, have been travelling all day and have basically lost a whole day of my vacation, now you tell me my plane is an hour late, and you won't even sell me another drink to pass the time!!

As we were boarding the plane finally, we overheard a conversation between two of the stewardesses which inspired us with a lot of confidence. One stewardess said to the other "We have to follow special procedures flying into St. Martin this late". The other asked "Why, do they not have lights?" Answer "No, they have lights, just the guys in the tower go home for the night!" YIKES!! We finally landed in SXM around 11 P.M. We cleared customs and determined that our bags had either gone back to the U.S. on the next US Air flight, or were locked up in US Air baggage, but they definitely weren't on the AA carousel. There wasn't anyone to ask either, so we hung aorund till all bags were offloaded and decided to head out. Of course, as things would have it, the Hertz guys had also gone home already. We had pre-reserved a car with Hertz, as usual, but their offices were locked up and dark, so we had to take a taxi. And, you guessed it, there were no taxis by this time, as the AA flight was an hour late coming in, so all the taxi drivers were home in bed. They did call some more in and a bunch of taxis finally arrived. Because of the lateness of the hour, we had to pay $40 (!!!!!!) for the taxi ride over to La Plantation. And--does this sound like "The Perils of Pauline" yet??--the hotel reservation desk was closed up when we got there. We had asked the taxi driver to wait with us in case it was closed and we needed to go somewhere else. There was a night phone and he called for us and the night manager came in a hurry. We finally arrived in our room, sans car and sans luggage, around 12 :15 A.M. A very long day indeed, but we had made it to SXM and we have two free round-trip tickets on US Air back to SXM for our trouble. We'll probably be heading back down to SXM in September. And you can BET we will get confirmed seats this time! G!!

We awoke fairly early in Sunday and headed over to the restaurant for the (included) buffet breakfast at La Plantation. It was OK, but certainly nothing to write home about. Croissant and baguettes were provided, along with apples, usually bananas, (usually SPOILED!) pineapple, corn flakes and coffee and tea. It was free and the surroundings were nice. That was the best that could be said. You could get a hot breakfast there, for around $7-$8 PP. We had omelettes one morning, which were pretty good.

We asked the lady at the front desk to call about our bags and our car, to see when we might expect either or both to arrive. US Air said that they had our bags but could give us no idea when they would be delivered. And of course, for one of the only times, we had not brought along any shorts in a carry-on bag and were getting quite warm in our jeans. We didn't want to wait around all day at the hotel waiting for the car and/or the bags to show up, so we bought some shorts--for an outrageous sum of course--at the hotel boutique and proceeded to walk down to the beach. The lady at the reception desk came running down after us and said that the Hertz people had called and said that our car would be there in 15 minutes. We went back by the pool to wait for the car, just as our bags arrived. We took the bags back to the room and waited for the car to arrive.

For the first time we got a bit of a clunker from Hertz. It was your standard fire engine red 240 ZX. Really? Not, not really! G!!! It was a white Hyundai Accent. Although it only had about 14,000 KM on the speedometer, it had been rode hard and put away wet a few times, and had numerous bumps and dings. The transmission was a little out of sorts, also, but it certainly got us where we were going and the A/C worked great.

Since we finally had bags, and a car, after unpacking, we decided to head out in search of some groceries and supplies. We decided we wouldn't need quite as many supplies as we thought, since it would probably not be a good idea to eat the meat which we had brought, as it had spent about 36 hours in the suitcases. We ended up going out to eat every night and did not look to find the grill we had inquired about here on the BB.

Here's a word to the wise regarding the current schedule of the grocery stores on Sunday--Match is open from 9 A.M. to noon. They close PROMPTLY at noon, too, as we got to Marigot about 12:10 and the doors were closed! Food Center was closed by 12:30, if it was ever open on Sunday at all. Food World was open at 12:30 and doing a booming business. Food World sufficed for what we needed, as we were basically just looking for wine, booze, cokes, cheese and snacks and fruit. Their selection is not the best, however. The exchange rate for French SXM is around 5 to 1. The rate for Dutch SXM is to basically cut the price in half, then add 10%.

Having nabbed our supplies for the week, we headed back to Plantation and dumped our stuff and headed down to Orient, FINALLY! We went to Pedro's for lunch. We had two BBQ chicken dinners with fries and salad, 1 mixed drink and 1 beer for $19. Sitting at Pedro's eating BBQ chicken, listening to caribbean music and seeing that gorgeous water at Orient, I had a hard time from keeping a lump from coming in my throat, as I felt we had FINALLY arrived in SXM. It was too hard to get there this time!! It was kind of a "new" Pedro's, though, with a full roof over the place, PVC chairs, and live music. It was packed!

After a wonderful lunch, since it was now 2:30 or so, we were trying to decide whether to spend the money to rent chairs for the day. We found out something that we had not known before--you can rent 2 chairs and an umbrella from Club O for the week for $75. Basically, you pay for 5 days and get 7 days. Since we knew that we were going to have to leave the next Saturday anyway, we got the chairs on Sunday afternoon and spent a delightful couple of hours on the beach.

The guys at Club Orient give you an index card with your name and the dates on it that you carry to show you have paid for the chairs for the week. And they take credit cards. Great deal, so you don't have to worry about carrying money every day. It also saves a little bit of money if you're planning on going to Orient almost every day. While at Orient, we checked out the days and price for the nude cruise. They are running only the gourmet cruise now, at $80 PP, supposedly Tuesday, Wedneday and Friday, although they do alter the schedule based on the weather. We signed up for the cruise on Tuesday.

After cleaning up from a hard day at the beach, we headed out to dinner, intending to go to Sambucca, as we were still kind of tired and not real hungry. They had apparently just seated a huge group and said that they would not be able to seat us for maybe 45 minutes and we were not in the mood to wait. We went to the Rancho Argentine Steak House for dinner instead. We walked in and were seated immeditely. It was good, with good service and a nice band playing background music, although the steak was not in the caliber of El Gaucho in Aruba, for all you Aruba fans. Two steak dinners with a half carafe of wine was $42 plus tip.

We spent Sunday night, as most nights, at the casino. There were supposedly two new casinos open down on Front Street, but we did not get to P'burg at all this trip. We basically ended up splitting our time between the Pelican and Atlantis. We went into the Casino Royale one night very briefly and decided that we couldn't afford to play there. Blackjack, Caribbean Stud and Craps were all a minimum bet of $10, which we considered excessive. The Pelican had $.50 roulette (my favorite), so we spent quite a bit of time there. Atlantis was very busy most nights, and we probably spent most of our time there. Atlantis was very good about bringing drinks, even bringing me drinks if I was only standing watching Eric while he was playing. They also brought the drinks in glass glasses, not plastic cups, like at Pelican. Atlantis also offers a version of Caribbean Stud called Second Chance. You could play it like regular Caribbean Stud if you wanted. Or you could decide to try to buy another card, for the same amount of your ante. Eric played that game quite a bit. We found some match play coupons for Atlantis in one of the entertainment books, but that was it as far as match play. Over the course of the week, we lost some money, but had quite a bit of entertainment also.

Monday morning we made some coffee in our room, then headed out to Marigot for breakfast. We ate at a little tiny place on the harbor called Bryan's. We had two lovely omelettes and two coffees for $10 total. We enjoyed some fascinating conversation with a native SXM'er who was half Dutch SXM and half American. He was sitting (at 10 A.M.) drinking a beer and chilling out at Bryan's. Bryan's is right next door to the set for Speed II, which they started demolishing while we were there. This fellow had done some of the welding for the movie. He had lived all over the world and was a great fellow to talk to.

Monday during the day was spent at Orient Beach, as always, and then we headed to the Cloud Room (on the hill over Orient Beach) for dinner, just as it was getting dark. It was pretty neat watching the lights come on over Orient, then watching the lights of the cars climb the hill below us. We had a lovely dinner of Weiner Schnitzel for me and spiced sausage for Eric, 2 drinks, 1 cheesecake and 2 coffees, for $42. It was well worth it.

We were also treated to their singer, who was kind of an Eric Clapton-esque type of fellow and even better, to a guest singer, whose name was Mo Mo, I think. He was just sitting at the bar having dinner and was prevailed upon to sing. I heard that he is sometimes the cook there but don't know. He had a wonderful deep voice. The meal and the singing made one of our best memories of the trip.

After the Cloud Room, we headed to Atlantis and I played roulette and lost and Eric played Second Chance Caribbean Stud and used the option to buy a card only once, but it paid off, as he bought into a flush! This Second Chance game is kind of interesting but many people seemed to be throwing good money after bad, buying the extra card every time. It seemed to us that it only made sense to buy the card if you already have two pair, trips, or a 4 card flush or a 4 card straight. It also makes sense to always play the slot, with the possibility of picking up something that paid on the slot. Not that Caribbean Stud isn't the ultimate in house games, but it is fun!!

Tuesday was the day of the nude cruise. We had coffee, OJ and pastries on our deck for breakfast. By this time, we had picked up a stray cat that slept most of the time in one of the wicker chairs on our balcony. He wasn't successful in scarfing any food out of me on this day, although he was successful by the end of the week.

The nude cruise from Club Orient was $80 PP. We had gone on another nude cruise the last time we had gone to SXM which was a lot cheaper, at $50 PP. The food was burgers at that time. Even though the price was much more for this one, it was worth it. The cruise left around 9:45 A.M. and returned around 4:30 P.M. There was an open bar all day and the crew began serving drinks almost as soon as we left Orient. BTW, they have pressure seasickness bands onboard, if one feels the need for them. The trip goes over to Tinatamar, sailing for around 1 hour to get there. Once on the beach, umbrellas, floats, snorkelling equipment and drinks were provided. Lunch was served on the boat around 1 P.M. and consisted of your choice of steak, chicken or mahi mahi plus baked potato or corn on the cob, salad, cheesecake with raspberry sauce, champagne, white and red wine, after dinner liquors and coffee. It was a wonderful meal. After the meal most of us were too lazy to head on back over to the island but lounged around on the boat for an hour or so until we headed back toward Club O. There were about 9 people onboard the cruise we took, which was about the maximum number they could take, along with Guillome and Phillipe and the young lady whose name escapes me at the moment, who comes along on the cruises these days. The nude cruise is a good way to meet people, so it's good idea to take it early in the week, if possible. Unlike the last nude cruise we took when it poured rain while we were on Tintamar, the weather this time was beautiful and we had a lovely time. It was well worth the $80 per person. BTW, on the cruise we took, no one was staying at Club O.

After the open bar, wine and sun all day, we stumbled back to La Plantation and crashed for a couple of hours before heading out to dinner at Sambucca. One pepperoni pizza and a pitcher of Cokes was $16, including tip. The evening was spent at the Pelican for roulette (where I finally won at roulette) and then to Atlantis for Second Chance Caribbean Stud.

Wednesday morning we went to LaPlantation for breakfast of cheese omelettes and bacon, as well as the fruit and croissant which are provided free to patrons of La Plantation. Breakfast was good, until the rain came up and drove us further under the roof of the restaurant. Wednesday morning was on and off rainy and windy. We headed down to Orient and enjoyed bouts of sunshine and endured a rather cold wind, on and off.

Here on $P$, we had arranged to meet with Terry Minnick and friend for lunch on Wednesday at Papagayo's. They were staying at Orient and had just come in Tuesday night. We had three drinks apiece, Eric had the club sandwich and I had the (rather fatty) spare ribs. The bill came to $42!! We talked for quite a while with Terry and Kathy, then headed out for some more sun (and wind!) then came back to Papagayo's for the free wine and cheese party. I don't know whether it's supposed to be only for people staying at Club O or not, but Terry was staying there, so we figured we came as his guest, right? After the wine and cheese, we weren't particularly hungry and weren't feeling up to driving those great SXM roads, so we had some leftover pizza for dinner and toddled off to bed. ....Or should I say, tottered??? G!!

Thursday morning we again headed to Marigot for breakfast. This time we chose La Vie En Rose for breakfast. Breakfast was a continental buffet, with meat and cheese, a selection of croissant, juice, coffee and fruit salad for $19 including tip. I needed to do some shopping for my secretaries, so I checked out the stalls in the harbor in Marigot--along with three busses of cruise ship passengers. I found a couple of lovely little prints for them and a larger one for me, and we had done our shopping for the week.

I had brought my camera along on this trip to Marigot as I wanted to take some pictures of the Speed II set before it was demolished. I was standing in front of the chain link fence readying myelf to take a picture of the fake Seabourn Legend, when the Rent-A-Cop that was there on the site told me that I couldn't take a picture. Or, I'm pretty sure that's what he was saying, as he was talking in French. Well, I don't understand French, so I walked down a little further and took my pictures anyway. G!! I have no idea why this guy didn't want me to take the picture, but I succeeded anyway, for anyone that wants to see the pictures. It was pretty cool looking at it, as it's amazing the number of buildings that they built for the set. They were in the process of tearing them all down when we left.

We spent the day at Orient, meeting Terry and Kathy for lunch at Pedro's. We had an assortment of burgers and fries and ribs and a drink apiece and the total for the four of us was $32, plus tip, as compared to the meal the day before at Papagayo's. At Pedro's, BBQ chicken, fries and salads were around $7, beers $2 and mixed drinks $3. A burger and fries, chicken sandwich and fries, etc., at Papagayo's are around $9

We went to Sebastiano's in Grand Case for dinner. We arrived early, maybe around 6:30. The place was empty except for one other couple who had walked in right in front of us. They asked if we had reservations and we kind of laughed, considering the place was empty. We said no, so they seated us on the upper tier of tables, away from the windows. It wasn't quite as nice as being next to the windows, but it's a nice restaurant with lovely background music and, after an initial slow start, we had wonderful service. Eric had black ravioli stuffed with lobster and I had fettucine with ham and mushrooms.

We shared one tiramisu and had 2 coffees, plus a bottle of wine at $25 for the bottle. We asked for water and were charged for that, which I was kind of miffed at, but I will get over it. There was an entertainer of sorts who made the rounds of the tables, doing card and coin tricks, which added to a lovely evening. We had a wonderful evening but thought that the meal was a little overpriced, at $91 total. Thursday night we rounded out the night with an exciting 15 minutes of winning at craps, which did a great deal to defray the losses for the week!

Friday we had breakfast in our room and lunch at one of the shacks right beside Kontiki. A great burger and a large load of fries for around $5 PP. We put on clothes for the trip down the beach, but noted several people nude on the beach just in front of the Kontiki.

Dinner Friday evening was the best meal of the week. We went to Grand Case and kind of walked around and decided on La Auberge Gourmand. Again, we were somewhat early and were able to get basically the last table in the place without a reservation, as the place filled right up within maybe 15 minutes of when we arrived. Eric had scallops with broccoli in a white sauce and I had the steak in a pepper sauce. The food was sizzling hot and wonderful. We shared a creme brulee and 2 coffees. The bill, including a half bottle of wine, and tip, was $72. It was wonderful.

Saturday we ate breakfast at the buffet at the hotel, checked out and put the bags in the car and got down to Orient by around 9:30 to get in at least a morning of sunshine, as our flight wasn't due to leave until 4:20 P.M. We said good-bye to four friends we had met on the nude cruise, and gave them the rest of our cokes which hadn't finished and made light-hearted plans to meet again next February, as they have a time share at Cupecoy. After a last meal at Pedro's and saying good-bye to Terry Minnick, we set off for the airport. We arrived around 3 P.M. for the 4:20 flight, with about 2 people in line in front of me at the US Air counter. I asked about the bump llist for seats and the grumpy lady at the counter said that the list to take a voluntary bump was already full and assigned us seats--not together--for the flight home. I was already checked in and in line to pay the departure tax before Eric arrived back at the airport after turning in the car.

Here on $P$ many of you may remember "Jamaica Jim", who frequented particularly the Hedonism BB in years past. JJ has departed $P$ for Compuserve, but we have kept in touch with him on and off since his departure, although never met "in the flesh". We thought that we would have such a chance on this trip, as he was due to arrive in SXM about one hour before we were supposed to leave on February 8. We saw his plane land and rushed over to the window to see if we could see him standing in line for immigration and in fact saw him and waved madly. It went downhill from there, though, as we hung around until time for our flight to depart and we never saw him come out of the mass of people. I even waited till the security guard was distracted and went back into the baggage area but he missed us somehow. I was very disappointed.

Our flight was scheduled to leave around a half hour late, then we sat on the plane for another half hour or so, as there came up a huge rainstorm. Our pilots said they couldn't take off until they could see the tops of some of the mountains by the airport. (!?!?!).

As a result of the delays we got free drinks and free headphones on the way home and we arrived in BWI uneventfully, other than the SIX INCHES of snow on the car, that is! We thought very seriously about that American Express commercial--you know, the one where the guy goes up to the counter and just says, put me on the next plane leaving to somewhere warm!!

All in all, a trip too short, like all trips to SXM, but otherwise near perfect, after we finally got there. We spent the days on Orient and the nights in the casino. What could be better??

Carol & Eric in Virginia

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