Friday, September 18, 2015

Vacation Starts at the Destination Airport

Finally time off! Travelling is stressful. The destination airport is where your vacation should start (and pleasantly ends)! 

How does St. Maarten/St. Martin rank?
The island has two airports, one highly modern and heavily frequented airport on Sint Maarten ("Dutch" side) and a smaller, more regional airport on the French side near Grand Case. Let's talk about the St. Maarten airport, also known by its airport code SXM and its name "Princess Juliana Int'l Airport" (PJIA).

Airport Building Princess Juliana Int'l Airport
Not only has the terminal building been continuously updated to high comfort, also the runway has been extended and improved. Although the airport is known for its challenging approach and dozens of airplane watchers right next to the touch down point show their appreciation, it is a safe airport for passengers. See some of the videos and images, here.

Frequent past problems with slow immigration processing are overcome. As the island does not raise import duties, controls are restricted to immigration without regular customs checks.

Inside the Terminal
The airport is modern and well equipped with the usual services, such as chain restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, and an upscale 'Executive' Lounge for which you got to pay or be a member of one of the cooperating airlines. Email for membership requests.

One of my favorites is the free WiFi of the airport, which facilitates communicating with your family or friends waiting for you at home.

Despite the modern facilities, check-in can be time consuming. Come early to the airport.
The airport handles more than 1.6 mill. passengers a year. It is done better than at other overcrowded airports. The airport received multiple prizes for its good performance, see here.

Transportation
Leaving or returning to the airport is by cab or rental car, for example this company. Cabs are usually passenger vans. Rental car offices are at the airport, but the cars are all in shuttle bus distance. Some hand over cars on the "fly" at the airport parking. No public transport available.

Some of the tourist centers are 5 minutes or less from the airport, mainly the Maho beach area. The Cupecoy area is about 15 minutes away. The French side popular area of Orient Bay is about 30 minutes away. Philipsburg and Great Bay are about 20 minutes drive from the airport.

Where to Stay
Although the island has a considerable number of hotel rooms, it is more common to rent a condo or a villa. This got to be arranged before arrival, usually months before high season (Xmas to Easter).

Websites with a verified range of quality accommodation are www.st-maarten-vacation.com and www.st-martin-vacation.com. The number of available, mostly privately owned accommodation is vast. Most rates are shown in USD, some French side properties are shown in Euro. Due to the strong competition, rates are rather low, when compared to other Caribbean islands.

My special tip: Look out for Happy Bay (see photo above). It is the last untouched, non-commercialized beach on the island.

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