There used to be a time when my husband and I would go away alone and put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have fun or do the romantic things expected of a couple that can’t always get away alone. Over the years, we’ve learned to leave those expectations behind and just ease into the flow of whatever each destination has to offer.
We’ve embraced this approach because freedom is something we experience too often when traveling with our kids. For better or for worse, the kids almost always are in charge of everything, from whether we get to sleep in (never) to whether we should stay longer in the pool (always).
On the most recent trip my husband and I took together, the romantic experience started the moment we boarded the plane. Immediately, both of us enjoyed some uninterrupted sleep. When we awoke, we had arrived at an island that’s really two islands in one: Sint Maarten (the Dutch side) and St. Martin (the French side).
Choosing a side
The island is small at 34 square miles, but it offers a lot to do and see. The majority of visitors are more familiar with the Dutch side because this is where a lot of the shops, casinos, restaurants, island activities, and nightlife are located. Sint Maarten is where the cruise ships dock and the airplanes land. It’s also very congested; getting around by car requires time and patience.
Viewfinder tip: There are plenty of taxis in St. Martin, but car rentals are the least expensive option.
The French side is known for a more laid-back and quieter feel. It’s very popular for its food scene, which is often said to be the best on the island.
We absolutely loved touring Phillisburg, the capital of Sint Maarten, and walking down Front and Old streets. Because the cruise ships dock in this area, there are tons of people walking around during the day. Bars and restaurants line the shores of Great Bay and the duty-free prices make this a popular shopping destination.
We also really enjoyed Grand Case Bay, in St. Martin, a serene bay surrounded by homes and shops, as well as delicious local eateries known as lolos (pronounced low-lohse). Here I couldn’t contain my smiles at the crystal blue waters and the friendliness of the servers at Sky’s The Limit, a popular lolo where I indulged in a cold Presidente beer (which is Dominican) and Johnnycakes, a steaming hot serving of fried dough.
The scene at a local lolo, a must when visiting the island
When you visit, you will find that choosing a side can be difficult, as the island is connected in so many ways. You will cross the border many times during your visit as you explore the island. You can pass from one to the other without worrying about being hassled by border guards.
Both sides of Sint Maarten/St. Martin have spectacular beaches. Those who prefer to go nude venture to the French side’s Orient Bay, also known for its party scene. On the Dutch side, Maho Bay is popular for its proximity to the airport (seriously). The low-flying planes have become an attraction, drawing tourists who wish to experience the thrill of having jumbo jets flying close overhead.
Including these two, there are 37 beaches around the island. Our top favorites were Grand Case and Anse Marcel. Anse Marcel is a world away from the crowds of Grand Case and other busier beaches around the island. This quiet, shallow cove is perfect for families with little ones. We found it to be incredibly romantic as well, especially during the sunset hour, when the sky became a breathtaking display of colors before greeting the night.
We were fortunate in that our hotel, the all-inclusive Riu Paradise St. Martin is right on this beach, so we enjoyed many glasses of wine from the open-air restaurant while watching this beautiful scenery. (We also appreciated the boutique hotel feel.)
No pressure, slow pace
During our visit we rested on the beach to the sound of the waves, chatted it up with locals at bars and shops, hiked in the early mornings to a secluded beach, cruised off the coast of the island while drinking rum punch, had ice cream at the popular Carousal Gelateria, took numerous naps, kissed a million times, and fell in love over and over.
No stress vacation makes for happy coupling time
Of course if my kids were to rate this vacation, they’d rank it as the most boring vacation ever, hands down. I mean, we didn’t even dip our feet in the pool once! But to my husband and me, our Sint Maarten/St. Martin getaway was everything we needed before we took the plane back to our crazy busy lives and family.
It turns out the island is a great place for couples wanting a getaway without the pressure of having to do too much to enjoy it. Just don’t tell your kids.
What is your ideal romantic getaway experience?