Philipsburg is one of the major cruise destinations, which is fantastic if you are on a cruise but not so fun if you are the one swarmed by the passengers exploring.
Unique Suggestions: After about 4:30 on any disembarkation day the streets empty out completely. Or, get off Front Street onto one of the side streets.
Fun Alternatives: If you know a day when the ship will be there, go to Marigot, Grand Case, Orient Bay, etc.... It's lets you have a little bit more breathing room.
Be careful when in Philipsburg or when you are driving into Marigot. Some of the locals will offer to sell you drugs. This happened to me several times and made me quite uneasy.
Another important tip about the French side. Also, when paying by credit cards, be sure you're certain what the U.S. amount is opposed to Euros or Netherlands Antillean Guilders. Your credit card company will also impose about 1% onto the daily conversion rate. There are a lot of shops with great prices in Philipsburg and Marigot.
French Francs have been replaced by the EURO
Because we arrived on St. Maarten via ship, once we disembarked and walked the long pier it's a tourist trap awaiting.
Unique Suggestions: If you're trying to keep track of little kids that like to wander off buy trinkets that make noise. We happened to buy a flute that we found very valuable. There are people everywhere so we always knew where she was with her little noise maker.
Fun Alternatives: Buy some ice cream and sit and watch.
This was billed in Frommers as cage free and nice grounds. It is not that at all. Most all in cages, and bored animals. Also billed was a snack shop, which was not open.
Fun Alternatives: Lotrie Farms, actually really beautiful.
We went back to St.Maarten in 2005, 10 years after our first visit. The main towns are great ---but there are people trying to sucker tourists in. We were asked to try a free scratch card, apparenly'approved' by the government. We had won a share in a house! The girl, young and polite, wanted us to go with her ---just into an office at the top of some steps. The building had no visible windows. We resisted the temptation but she continued to try. She asked where we were from. We said the UK. She stopped the con immediately ---she only deals with Americans!
So, if you're approached then say that you're British or French or Brazilian ---definately not American.
When you are in Philisburg looking at the beautiful Jewelry this is what you will hear 1. They can offer you lower costs than back home because they have lower overhead 2. The cost is 50% off what you have it appraised at back home 3. You can return it if you are not happy with your purchase. 4. You can pay what you want and then go home to have it appraised then pay the rest later. 5 The store works on a small profit margins because they have many customers. None of it is true. It all sounds wonderful and makes you more willing to purchase.
Unique Suggestions: Know the prices of similar items before you leave home. Decide how much you are going to spend before you get off the boat. Do not buy anything until you see the calculator come out at least three times. Ignore the price on the sticker. Something that says 4,000 on it is really worth 1,000 or less. The higher the price, the more you can barter. Barter to half the price of your first personal offer. Be willing to walk out the door and show that you are about to because that is when you get the best price they are willing to offer. Don't say you are on a cruise. Tell them that you are staying on the island and are going to return to the island, because they will want you as a repeat customer and will give you a better deal. Chat the person up! Ask them a question that you know the answer to and see if the person lies to you. You want an honest sales person. I asked jewllers if they had any unoiled emeralds. I was lied to. There are no unoiled emeralds in St. Maarten. They are too expensive to be sold safely in one of these shops! Ask for the 10 times magnifier at the store and look at the flaws in your gem. Better yet get a 50 x magnifier from a Science shop back home for $ 50 bucks. There will be some inclusions, but should be no black spots. If there are no flaws in the gem you are looking at, they are fake, or you are a millionaire! Check the reciept you are about to sign. Does it say no refund? Note that these places have many eyes and ears. Each owner has several stores. You will be offered better quality as you travel down the street to other shops.
Fun Alternatives: There are imposters. One store will have the same name as a store down or across the street or the same awnings.
I bought a gem at DK gems and it was appraised at 2/3 of what it was appraised back home. Bought at Ballerina Jewellers, who were not honest about the goods, and they appraised as the same as back home. Carribean Gems wanted $1500 for an emerald with major flaws which they did not disclose even when I had asked about it and pointed it out. I them bartered down to $900 and walked out without purchasing. These three stores have loyal and faithful customers.
If it is too much of a bargain, then it is of poor quality.
If you buy more than one piece purchase at the same store for better bargaining power.
Remember size matters. A larger gem is worth more and is rarer than several smaller gemstones.
Most of these stores will let you take very expensive rings outside to try on in the sunlight! Have some fun with it.
On all the beaches you can rent a chair for sunbathing for the whole day for about USD 8.
But beware if you come in the afternoon they also will try to charge you the same amount !
Just say you´ll pay half !
Dont go shopping when a cruiseship has arrived !! They´ll charge you more ! Just go shopping when its not a "cruiseship-day"