A dream trip in between a dream trip!
This year’s big adventure for us was something a little bit different. A few days here, a few days there, a week on a small catamaran around the French Caribbean with 10 complete strangers, followed by 5 days of luxury. How lucky we were!
Not one for the water, I felt I was taking a selfless trip for the benefit of my other half (OH). A total water baby, only happy when he’s diving, this was something he’s wanted to do for a while, but I’ve always found something else to tempt him away. This time, thanks to our Hilton points, conversions etc, we managed to bag ourselves a luxury small cruise sailing round the islands of St Maarten, Anguilla and St Barth’s. I’d been to all 3 in my former life, but it was so long ago I can barely remember it and this time was way different. I was with my soul mate.
After a very nice Club World flight to Antigua, paid for, as always, with air miles and a British Airways Companion Voucher, we landed in what seemed like a very happy place. It was New Year’s Day but I cant imagine the passport control staff at Heathrow or Gatwick having a nice chat with you, humming to themselves or wishing you all the best for 2020! (Little did any of us know what lay ahead of us all for 2020!)
Our first stop was a brief stay in the Antigua Yacht Club Marina hotel in English Harbour, ideal for a quick stopover, on the water, with views of all the beautiful yachts that dock for the night. Split on two levels around an outdoor courtyard, nothing too exciting but it suited us perfectly for 2 nights. There was only one problem however, I cracked my tooth on the flight over, no idea how, one minute I was eating a tiny soft egg roll, the next I was crunching down on my tooth!! So the dilemma was do I or don’t I find a Caribbean dentist before we get on the boat?? We decided to see how it went for the next few days at least, as it wasn’t too painful, thank goodness because there’s nothing worse than toothache.
The other half is always complaining to me for over packing, taking loads I don’t use, blah blah blah, but actually I think I”m getting pretty good at using everything I pack and even narrowed down my shoe selection from 6 to 4 pairs for 2 weeks (even though you can’t wear shoes on a boat!!). So I did laugh when he got out his only pair of beach/day shoes that he’d brought with him and realised he’d brought two right shoes of his identical old and new pair!!! So it was barefoot or trainers for him then!
Dinner at the Club House was lovely, delicious fresh cooked sushi for us, the place was buzzing and full of boat crews and passengers, and we even joined in for the New Year’s Day quiz, when Helen and Stuart at our next table asked us to be on their team! I love a quiz! He hates them! Unusual for us, as we never really chat to strangers when we’re away unless we’re forced to (read on for details of our week with 6 complete strangers on a small catamaran!!). We didn’t win, thought we had done quite well but actually came 6th out of 12!! Then it was back to the quaint hotel for a bit of virtual reality fun! He got into a virtual bar fight and watching and listening to him fight back into thin air was actually hilarious!
The hotel provided a shuttle to the nearest beaches, which were stunning. I wouldn’t like to stay at that hotel for any length of time, as there was no pool, bar or restaurant and I think it catered for those who prefer to self-cater or want somewhere just for a long weekend.
The next day was spent wandering around the area, English Harbour, we came across a national heritage site, Nelson’s Dockyard, which was a beautiful quaint area with various walks, and viewpoints, little touristy shops, a few restaurants and bars, and had just a lovely vibe to it. We were early enough to enjoy it without the masses of people from the day trips, their coaches that soon filled the car park as we were leaving. Then it was off to find one of the 365 beaches to sit on and do nothing for a bit. The hotel was next to the 7th nicest beach on the Island, Pigeon Point. We walked along trying to find a nice spot to lay our towels, when we came across a beach bar with lovely deckchairs and beanbags to sit on and a very nice restaurant behind it.
It soon got busy with some very fancy clientele, we did our best to fit in but ended up turning into drunken beach bums, sitting on the deck chairs, with pretty pink cocktails, and an even prettier few bottles of our favourite Minuty rosé to help us along. The rest of the afternoon was actually a bit of a blur, unsurprisingly, but I do know we had the best time and would definitely go back there on another visit.
This is often a fault of ours, we peak too soon and end up crashing into bad for a late afternoon nap and waking up 16 hours later, having missed pre dinner drinks, dinner and nightcaps. The last time we did that was after we landed in Vegas for a pre booked Halloween extravaganza at one of the gigantic hotels. We went to one of the enormous warehouse style Halloween shops in search of two costumes, which we found after about an hour, went back to hotel, had a little nap and woke up at 6am having missed the party and managing to get a glimpse of Spider-Man and Batman coming back to the hotel after what must have been an amazing night!!
Anyway, we were flying to our next island the next day so didn’t have much time to do anything else, we arrived at the airport for our 45 minute flight in what, as far as I’m concerned, can only be described as one of Biggles’ aircraft. All sat in our tiny weeny seats, bags on laps, with no space to move, we awaited take off. I may as well have done the take off myself, as I could see every button pressed, every switch turned on, the radar machine and positions of all the other aircraft, and the big lever thingy which gives you the speed to take off!! Despite being a tad nervous, it was actually fascinating to watch, and the landing as well!
As soon as we arrived in St Marteen I googled the nearest dentist so I could go before we settle in to the hotel. I have to say the experience was a very pleasant one. Again the people of St Marteen are exceptionally friendly. In the dentists’ waiting room, every time someone walked in, everybody else turned round said ‘Bonjour’ and sat down! I speak very little french but managed to explain that I’d cracked my tooth and needed it looking at before we went AWOL on a boat for a week. The kind man suggested filling it and waiting until I got back to the UK before emptying and re-filling it, and £30 later I was on my way to the hotel feeling a lot more comfortable. I was expecting a bill for hundreds, so left feeling rather pleased with myself!
We stayed on the French side of St Marteen in a hotel called La Plantation, which was about a 25 minute drive across a few bays, situated in Orient Bay. Booked in advance on hotels.com we definitely had the best price compared to the rack rate of the hotel for that night. A lovely set up, with an array of rooms built either on the same level of the reception, or interspersed throughout the winding roads up the hill.
We had been upgraded (no idea why) to a suite, which was perfect for self-caterers, with a small kitchenette, double bedroom complete with mosquito net, and a gorgeous bathroom which was set up for new visitors in such a pretty yet simple way. Fresh little flowers on the towels, and also on the bedside tables, bed and kitchen work surface. A lovely touch.
The nearest beach was across the road, again, perfect for a relaxing holiday, and in the evening a walk into Orient Bay which was made up of beautifully lit streets, a small market and a main square full of eateries of different cuisines, with a small bandstand in the middle for everyone to enjoy the music. Great atmosphere, we went for Italian which was delicious, and were looking forward to our return visit a week later once we got off the boat.
The next day, whilst waiting till 5pm for the boat ‘check in’ we had a little wander round the French side of the Island before venturing further afield over to the Dutch side. I’ve no idea about the history, and if someone had told me then I’d have forgotten it anyway, so I won’t bore you with that side of things. But, after a fleeting visit to both sides, I’d say the Dutch side is the more reasonable side and a bit like Costa Brava, whereas the French side is more like Costa del Sol. So there is something for everybody’s budget there, and it is definitely one of the cheaper of the Caribbean islands.
Potential hotels on the Dutch side, both which we visited, are the Atrium, for those with a lighter wallet or the Simpson Bay Hotel & Resort for those who have bigger pockets and like the American Style of hotel. With an array of bars and restaurants, you’d never be at a loss where to eat and drink and it’s definitely the party side of the island. During our sail that week, we spent the evening on the Dutch side. We visited the Roxxy bar for sunset cocktails, again, it had a Spanish holiday feel to it, and a young vibe, but with our new friends, Leslie and Dennis, we had a great time drinking our huge cocktails.
We then ate at Anataki, a superb Thai restaurant in a cute little atrium, served our drinks by their award winning Mojitos made by Julio from New York. We saw his certificate but can’t guarantee he didn’t make it on photoshop!! From there we finished the evening off with the rest of our shipmates at Bucaneers, definitely for the younger crowd! The island has recovered well since Hurricane Irma directly hit there in 2017, evidence of those buildings that were condemned rather than rebuilt was still there, quite sad to see what were once old traditional Caribbean style buildings stood derelict without their roofs with no chance of revival. But the island has certainly made a good recovery and long may it continue.
Finally, it was time for the jewel in the crown of our Caribbean adventure, a 7 day sailing trip around Antigua, Anguilla, St Marteen and St Barts. We’d both been slightly cautious about who we were going to be spending our week with, and arrived at the boat with anticipation for our week ahead. This is a whole new blog in itself, read it here if you fancy: Life on the Caribbean ocean waves
On arrival back to dry land a week later, we had one more night in the Orient Bay hotel, another upgrade and another day on another beautiful beach. We still weren’t feeling blazé about all these stunning places, just felt so lucky to be there, and this was without realising that this would be our last big adventure holiday for a very, very long time, as the pandemic arrived and we were all stuck at home for the rest of the year.
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