Posted Apr 18, 2012
Travelers headed to St. Maarten on a Caribbean cruise have a chance to witness a seamless fusion of two starkly different cultures. The island is split nearly in half by French and Dutch powers, although no formal boundary exists so that locals and visitors can freely roam these separate territories to take in their unique architecture, cuisine and traditions. The foundation of life on St. Maarten, however, lies in the pristine coastline and abundant wilderness. What has resulted from hundreds of years of peaceful living is a truly unique French-Dutch nation with fascinating cuisine and chic shops.
Grand Case, located on the northern French side of the island, is hailed as the gourmet capital of the Caribbean and is renowned for its fusion eateries. Passengers on a Caribbean shore excursion who are looking for a quick bite to eat can choose from more than 200 restaurants, cafes and bars, each offering their own take on local, French and Dutch food. Nearly every dish will include fresh seafood such as lobster, snapper and yellowfin tuna. At The Lolo's, located in the heart of Grand Case, locals flock for the catch of the day, live music and home-style meals. Chefs from Italy have also made their mark on this small town, offering thin crust margherita pizzas and scallop linguine.
Located at the southern port, Philipsburg is St. Maarten's Dutch capital, and although it is only one mile long, it features great shopping retreats. Founded in 1763 by John Philips, this relatively bustling city contains numerous historical buildings and charming cafes. After the main harbor was dredged to make room for more Caribbean cruise ships and freighters, the excess sand was used to reconstruct Great Bay, where many tourists bask in the warm sunlight. The main street is closed to automobile traffic, making it a long lane for outdoor shopping and beachside promenades. Visitors can purchase luxurious perfume and pearl jewelry before heading back on their shore excursion to see some of the islands geological sites.
The nearby Great Salt Pond is a natural wonder and proved to be a vital asset for Dutch sailors that arrived on the island centuries ago. A great food preserver, salt is extremely useful for long voyages and receives a continuous supply of the mineral from a subterranean connection with the seawater. Although the food on St. Maarten is preserved with refrigeration today, maritime enthusiasts on a St. Maarten cruise will certainly appreciate the abundance of these crystal salt ponds.