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Sailing the Caribbean With Silver Spirit - A Visit to St. MartinNovember 28, 2011 By: Susan Young
|French-speaking Marigot has palm trees and a Mediterranean feel.// All photos by Susan J. Young|
On my recent nine-night voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Barbados this month, Silversea’s Silver Spirit anchored at 8 a.m. just outside Marigot Bay, St. Martin, on the fifth day of the cruise.
This island delivers two different cultures and multiple experiences, reflecting French and Dutch heritage and lifestyle. Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island is a bustling cruise port of call, while Marigot on the French side is more genteel and laid-back.
Silver Spirit transported passengers to shore in Marigot via tender. Those on tours disembarked early, grabbing complimentary bottled water and beach towels provided by Silversea, before boarding the tender.
Others went ashore at their leisure, and returned whenever they wished, as the line operated tender service until 10:30 p.m.
Silversea’s Shore Options
One popular tour for those interested in art and culture, Silversea’s “Around the Island Art Tour” transported tour goers to French Oyster Pond, for visits to the home and gallery of Dona Bryhiel, renowned for her watercolors of France and St. Martin, and Marie Moine, a specialist in big-fire earthenware and Creole paintings.
Other stops on this tour included O’Reilly Hill, overlooking Grand Case, for a visit to the home and studio of Minguet, renowned for lithographs, oils and watercolors, French Cul-de-Sac to meet the painter Antoine Chapon, and Concordia for a visit to Minoka’s Art Studio, PARADOXE. The tour concluded with a visit of Maximilian’s Art in the Garden Gallery in Philipsburg. Cost for this artsy tour was $49 per person.
Other guests onboard Silver Spirit opted for the around-island tour, “St. Martin under Two Flags.” It included a drive through Grand Case, scenic views from Mount William Hill, and one hour for shopping in Philipsburg. Cost was $39 per person.
Among the other options? Beach goers could relax and unwind on the “French Riviera of the Caribbean Transfer” to Orient Beach, also at $39 per person.
Perhaps the most-talked-about shore trip, though, was “America’s Cup Regatta,” a Silver Shore Expedition priced at $139 per person.
Guests boarded either Stars & Stripes, Canada II or True North, received sailing instruction, and then served as crew members in grabbing a winch, trimming a sail or punching a stopwatch during a regatta. Or, they could just sit back and watch.
No previous maritime experience was required. To be frank, fellow passengers who returned from this experience simply couldn’t stop gushing about the authenticity and thrill of this tour. One U.K. guest, a woman in her 50s, told me it was her favorite experience of the entire cruise.
Silversea also offered to design customized private arrangements for clients ashore. Just be aware that on some islands in the Caribbean, the line's Silver Shore Privato options are limited due to a lack of quality vehicles that meet the line’s standards.
|Fort St. Louis overlooking Marigot|
Walking Around Marigot
Since we are veteran Ste. Maarten/St. Martin visitors, on this cruise we opted to take the tender ashore to Marigot and simply walk around this French capital city on our own.
Marigot, with a population of about 10,000, is a tender-only port, without piers to accommodate cruise ships. As a result, it’s more low-key and less frenetic than Philipsburg.
As our tender sailed across Marigot Bay, we spotted Fort St. Louis, built in the late 18th century and named for France’s King Louis XVI. After the French Revolution, the fort was taken over temporarily by the Dutch to prevent any spreading of the democratic movement that caused the demise of the French monarchy.
Today, the fort welcomes tourists; the reward for the steep climb up 92 steps is panoramic views of land and sea. We settled for viewing the fort from the tender.
Visitors often say that Marigot combines a touch of France with a bit of Creole culture and a Mediterranean look. The harbor area itself is lined with sidewalk cafes and bistros.
La Vie en Rose is one of the many choices for a glass of champagne and savory French cuisine; grab an outdoor table if you want to people watch.
Editor’s note: Marigot’s harbor area is not particularly wheelchair friendly. We were using a transport chair for my mother, who can walk but not long distances. At points, we wheeled it out on the roadway rather than the sidewalk, not the safest move. But that was necessary, as some sidewalks were uneven, lacked ramps or just weren’t wide enough.
Marigot is relatively compact, so if you’re strolling, walk inland a few streets to view colorful gingerbread and Creole houses.
Along the harbor, the Wednesday or Saturday market is the place to view vendors selling everything from coconuts to sweet potatoes, from fish to fresh spices. You’ll also find batik clothing, souvenirs and local arts and crafts.
While we visited on a non-market day, a few vendors were selling produce to the locals and souvenirs to the tourists. Overall, vendors were pleasant, greeted us, and weren’t pushy once we said “no thanks” to their request to look over the merchandise.
|A statue of "The Market Woman" is just outside the market along Marigot's harbor area.|
If your clients like streetscape art, they should check out "The Market Woman,” a large statue in front of the market. It was created by the late Marty Lynn.
Nearby, on the sidewalk adjacent to local cafes, is a painted mural that depicts life in St. Martin; one scene features a fisherman working his nets.
Marigot’s harbor is home to many pleasure and working vessels. Fishermen from Anguilla arrive early in the morning to sell their catch along the waterfront. During our visit, we watched two fishermen in a small boat maneuvering their boat to set up a large circular net.
After exploring the harborfront area on an extremely hot day, we sought out an air-conditioned respite and found it in Le West Indies Shopping Mall. It’s located just opposite the tender dock and ferry terminal.
The three-story mall is home to a slew of upscale shops, boutiques and designer name stores. Several guests on our cruise -- both men and women -- returned with bags of designer goods, fine clothing, shoes, gourmet food, jewelry and watches.
One other activity option for visitors to Marigot is a stroll to the Saint Martin Museum, 7 Fichot St. Located in a historic building near the Catholic Church, it explores the archaeology, anthropology, geology, marine life and history of the island. Explanations are given in both English and French.
If your clients wish to see more of the island outside Marigot and haven’t booked an organized tour, they might want to tour round the island by taxi. Tell them to negotiate the rate before getting into the vehicle. Most spots on the island are within 30 minutes of departure from Marigot.
One favorite destination is Grand Case, with the Caribbean’s “Restaurant Row.” Here visitors will find eclectic restaurants. Some specialize in fresh fish, lobster and other seafood. The town is about a 10-minute drive from Marigot and stretches along a narrow beach overlooking Anguilla.
After our brief tour around Marigot on a hot day, though, we were ready to return to the ship. We showed our ship key cards to a security guard and entered Silversea’s small, covered hospitality area at the dock. Soon we were en route back to the Silver Spirit.
Late Lunch in La Terrazza
At about 1:30 p.m., we headed for La Terrazza, which fields a robust line-up of hot entrees, pasta, salads, freshly baked breads, multiple kinds of pizza (with a pizza menu on the table so you can order a fresh pie of your choice), sushi, fresh fruit and yummy desserts.
I particularly loved the seafood salad with fresh mussels and small clams, as well as the selection of cheeses.
What won't you see? You won't find guests carrying any cafeteria trays from the buffet. Instead, you fill your plate, and the wait staffers offer to carry it to your table. La Terrazza’s staff also whisked my mother’s transport wheelchair out of the way so she could sit in a regular dining chair.
We liked that La Terrazza was an casual yet elegant eatery. Guests will encounter open seating with tables that have tablecloths, glassware and silverware already set up.
Sommeliers circle offering complimentary wine with lunch. Friendly waiters were constantly heading to the buffet to retrieve another piece of bread, a second helping of a particular entrée or a hand-scooped ice cream dessert for guests. Most importantly, they did so with a smile.
Let’s just say that guests simply don’t want for anything during their time in La Terrazza. Guests we spoke to throughout the cruise raved about the service here.
Incidentally, I spent much time on this cruise talking to Silversea passengers; they did not know I was onboard sailing as a travel journalist. As a result, I felt I received genuine feedback.
For example, I asked one passenger about her assessment of the onboard service on Silver Spirit. She described it this way: “It’s excellent and not stuffy at all. It’s definitely not ‘hoity-toity' like some other lines. I feel comfortable here.”
Another guest said she really liked Silver Spirit and the service, but she also pointed out it’s not a cruise ship for those who want a ton of onboard activities. That particular guest said she and her husband would probably sail next on a big ship line just for the change of more activities the next time around.
That said, she acknowledged they were definitely enjoying the low-key, uncrowded aspect of this cruise. Her point was that not everyone likes the same type of cruise every time they sail.
|Balcony, Royal Suite|
After lunch, we returned to our Royal Suite, #701; I needed to do work on the computer and my mother spent a relaxing afternoon on our private veranda. Throughout the day, fishing, pleasure, ferry and cargo vessels provided a viewing diversion as they sailed in and out of the port.
I borrowed a book from the line’s library earlier in the cruise, but, alas, I never seemed to have time to read it. I was either writing copy for publication, taking photos or touring the ports of call for story fodder.
Others did read though, and could be seen around the ship hunkered down with a good book. Guests simply sign out books from the Library or the Observation Lounge on the honor system. You won’t find locked cabinets or “library hours” on this ship.
Checking out books 24-7 is guest friendly; you just sign the log book, and then return the book and cross out the entry in the book when you’ve finished with it.
What else is available to do? On this port day in Marigot, those onboard could participate in a table tennis competition, bridge play, a yoga session, golf putting and shuffleboard.
|Afternoon tea service|
Afternoon tea is, in and of itself, a cherished activity. On this cruise, Silversea had about 117 guests onboard from the United Kingdom and 116 from the United States. For those from the U.K. and other Commonwealth countries, afternoon tea brought a familiar touch of home.
Incidentally, other passengers onboard hailed from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Venezuela and elsewhere. It was a highly diverse mix of guests.
|The afternoon tea menu|
Regardless of their nationality, though, many guests headed for the lovely afternoon tea presentation. A black framed menu displays not only the names of the teas, but actual tea samples with descriptions to aid the guest in ordering.
I picked the Darjeeling Springtime, my mother opted for the Classic English Tea. Other choices included Golden Assam, Splendid Earl Gray, Darjeeling Summer and Superior Oolong. Among the organic teas offered were White Yin Long and Wokou Garden, to name a few.
Each table receives a three-tiered tray bearing scones, finger sandwiches, miniature pastries, cakes and cookies. Then the waiter arrives with a pot of steaming hot water and a small timer.
The selected tea is already immersed. When the timer indicates the tea is ready, guests or the waiter just pull out the tea bag caddy (holding the loose tea) within the pot and place it in a small adjacent ceramic container. It’s a highly civilized experience.
Conversation and Drinks
On this day, we also observed that the open-air deck behind the Panorama Lounge was a popular gathering spot for guests, who relaxed on comfortably cushioned lawn furniture to read a book or converse with fellow cruisers.
Much of the seating is under cover and out of the sun. On this day, some guests ordered the drink of the day – a Bellini.
Just before sunset, fellow guests also headed for the Sundowner Bar for cocktails. Music was provided by the ship’s DJ as the sun set over a placid ocean.
Silversea’s entertainment on this evening consisted of a pianist, a musical trio and a jazz duo, who appeared in the Panorama Lounge, The Bar or Stars. A big-screen movie, “Horrible Bosses,” was also showing in the theater.
At 10 p.m., Cruise Director Susan Wood hosted the Match Game “Battles of the Sexes” in Panorama Lounge. Piano music and “Name that Tune” fun continued with the ship’s international hostess, Soraia, at 10:30 p.m.
This was among the many Caribbean ports at which Silversea arrived around 8 a.m. and stayed until 11 p.m. That allowed guests to enjoy a full day of sightseeing or beach time, as well as dinner in Marigot, before returning to the ship.
In our next installment about exploring the Caribbean onboard Silver Spirit, we’ll visit Antigua and learn about its maritime history and attractions for cruisers.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for more of Susan's Caribbean adventures.