BEST BEACHES IN ST MARTIN FOR KIDS; PRE AND POST HURRICANE IRMA

Seven years ago Jono & I came to Saint Martin/Sint Maarten on our honeymoon. Unfortunately, we only had one day here as we were on a cruise (not so unfortunate) of the Caribbean Islands. Looking at the multitude of shore excursions we could do, such as snorkeling, island hopping, visiting the French and Dutch sides, zip lining, hiking, standing on Maho Beach as an areoplane lands over top of you, along with 37 beaches to explore we knew that we would need to come back at some stage to do it all. We settled on a day at the beach at Baie Oriental on the French side, and this solidified the desire to return. So here we are seven years and three children later, staying in a quintessential colourful, Caribbean HomeAway apartment right in Orient Bay Village for a month. Our memories of Orient Bay were those of sun lounges and frozen cocktails, at the numerous beach bars situated right on the sand dotted the whole way down the 1 kilometre strip of the most stunning beach. We knew that this time would be different though, with a 5 year old, 3 year old & 6 month old baby in tow.

To our surprise we were still able to lounge around and have the odd frozen cocktail, as although at first glance Orient Bay looks like an adult playground, it turns out that a number of the bars have actual children's playgrounds.
Here are our favourites to keep both the parents and children happy.

 

KONTIKI BEACH
Here you will find a play area suitable for all ages, with ropes to climb, tunnels, slides and a baby swing.
The playground here is set back behind the restaurant and bar area, although there is still seating around it.

Kontiki has re-opened

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KAKAO BEACH

Kakao Beach offers a slightly smaller playground, yet with a climbing wall up to a slide and a couple of swings. There are also some great trees to climb!

Kakao has re-opened

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BIKINI BEACH

This would have to be our favourite. Unlike some of the others, the playground is set right by the outdoor seating area, near the oceanfront, offering great views of the turquoise waters. There is no hard dirt ground, only soft white sand. There are multiple slides, swings and climbing structures. We enjoyed happy hour exchanging French and English language tips with local parents, while the kids played happily with their local children.

Bikini Beach has re-opend.

 

OTHER HIDDEN TREASURES

Walking far along the less populated northern end of the beach, we discovered a playground built among the trees.  It had a cool netted plank tunnel tube that led you down three levels. This was a real gem, as although it looked old and abandoned, perhaps from a beach shack bar that is no longer there, it was so different, raw and really got the imagination flowing, it was like being on the movie set of Swiss Family Robinson.

What's Open in Orient Bay?

  • Shamrock Residence

  • Alamada Resort - Restaurant open, with Friday-Sunday Pool Parties! Hotel to open in November 2018

  • Palm Court re-opening in July 2018

  • Esmeralda Resort re-opening in November 2018

  • La Plantation Hotel re-opened

  • La Playa re-opening mid 2019

  • The first beach bar to re-open was Perch Bar & Grill at Club Orient

UPDATE: Sadly since I originally wrote this post, St Martin has been devastated by Hurricane Irma. Who, with all her fury on September 6 2017 ripped through this beautiful Caribbean island destroying almost everything in it's path. Orient Bay and all the aforementioned beach bars, and playgrounds are no more. I feel though that it is important that I still publish this article, though no longer fully relevant.  I hope that by doing so, I still spike your interest in this idyllic island paradise and hope that when Orient Bay is rebuilt, it will be better than ever.  I believe that as all these beach bars were previously so child friendly, that they will rebuild with the same spirit and vibe.  I just truly hope that this devastation does not offer the opportunity for the big wigs of the corporate world, to come in and change the relaxed, laid back, and most importantly authentic feel.  I hope that the playgrounds are still basic but welcoming. I hope you can still grab a coconut on the beach for $5 from the man with dreads carting them around in his wheel barrow. But most of all, I hope that tourism continues, in order to support St Martin and Orient Bay's rebuild at all. To support the friendly locals livelihood, the man that made the most delicious baguettes at the local deli, the lady who loved giving our children ice-creams in the afternoon, as her children were at preschool while she worked.  The gorgeous family that owned the cafe, that invited us in for Mothers Day cocktails and nibbles, while they all sang and danced.  And the staff at the local mini-market, who patiently let me practice my French with them!

So from here, rather than mention all the activities we did, that may no longer be in operation, I'd like to take you on a journey around a number of St Martin/Sint Maarten's 37 beaches.  It's here that regardless of what Irma did to the buildings on the island, that we can still find beauty, serenity and untouched paradise.  Here are our favourites for babies, pre-schoolers and kids:

 

GALION BEACH

Galion is a flat calm bay, also known as Baby Beach, with shallow water for at least 100 metres.  Small fish are easy to spot on the shoreline.  There are two pontoons, one located just off the shore, where even the youngest toddlers can happily jump into your arms.  The other is out in the deep, and has a raised platform for the more thrill-seeking older kids. With no waves whatsoever our six month old who was not yet sitting up by herself, could happily be supported in a wee hole in the sand at the shoreline and enjoy splashing in the warm water. Galion is popular with the locals and you will find them under the palm trees dotted along the beach offering shade.  Rather than paying for the beach chairs and umbrellas each time we visited, you could also find us and our sleeping baby under the palms!

GRAND CASE

The days we swam at Grand Case we had only a gentle rolling tide, with the tiniest of breakers on the shore.  The kids could easily play in the shallows unassisted as there was no risk of a big breaker knocking them over, or an undertow dragging them out.  The warm turquoise water of the two kilometre long beach, gently rocked us all back and forth as we floated together watching the boats in the distance.  We planned a visit to Grand Case on the day of the Fete de la Mer festival.  A community run event, with the aim of providing as many water based activities to locals, visitors and families at an extremely low cost. With activities such as snorkeling tours, paddle-boarding, jet-skiing, and fun beach based games for the young, starting at as little as one dollar or euro! Due to the fact that St Martins natural playground was not destroyed by Irma, Fete de la Mer will still go ahead this year on May 26th & 27th.  Grand Case also has a jetty where you can jump off from one side, and board a semi-submarine on the other.  It was on this submarine that we discovered that mermaids live in St Martin! 

What's Open??

  • Bleu Emeraude Hotel

  • Hever Hotel

  • Grand Case Beach Club - opening October 1st 2018

FRIARS BAY

Bookend by cliffs Friars Bay is small quieter beach, which made it one of our favourites.  As you can easily see each end of the beach, it sets the challenge to swim the length of the bay.  The water is calm, and we did this easily with the kids taking turns on our back. Friars Bay is also the start of the track across to the even more secluded Happy Bay Beach.  The hike is only about 10 minutes, even with a 3 year old, and is great for spotting Iguanas!

  • Kali's Beach bar at Friars Bay has reopened and re-namend to Roots

  • Friars Bay Beach cafe has also re-opened

Sussing out the best spot to sit and swim at Friars Bay

Sussing out the best spot to sit and swim at Friars Bay

HAPPY BAY BEACH

Happy Bay Beach is accessible via a 10 minute hike from Friars Bay. The kids found the hike easy, and were distracted from tired legs, by all the Iguanas we spotted hiding in the bushes along the track. Happy Bay Beach, is off the beaten path, and is so secluded and untouched that there are not even any beach bars or chair and umbrella vendors.  The ocean itself has a quick deep drop, with a big swell, so only Jono and Bodie jumped in for a quick refreshing dip, while Summer slept in the shade of a palm tree, and Lola and I built sandcastles.

The trees open up allowing stunning views along the track to Happy Bay Beach

The trees open up allowing stunning views along the track to Happy Bay Beach

BAIE ROUGE

Baie Rouge or Red Bay, is one of the last beaches to the North West on the French side of the island.  The beach itself is quite a long stretch of slightly pinkish sand, hence it's name, with beautiful beach villas atop the cliffs at one end, and two beach bars right next to each other at the other end.  Like Happy Bay, this beach also has a sudden deep drop, however it was calm enough for the kids to safely float around holding on to their noodles, while we could relax on the beach chairs right on the water's edge.

Beautiful Baie Rouge

Beautiful Baie Rouge

ANSE MARCEL

Anse Marcel Beach is quite unlike the other St Martin Beaches.  Due to the deep green lush bush on the hills at either end of the beach, the water appeared to be more of an emerald colour than the turquoise that is synonymous with the Caribbean Sea. There were no waves, the water was still and calm, and felt more like swimming in a bay than the ocean.  We hung out floating in the deep, having family chats for ages!

What's Open?

  • Anse Marcel Beach Resort will be re-opening December 15th 2018

Family time at Anse Marcel Beach

Family time at Anse Marcel Beach

PINEL ISLAND

Pinel Island is a small island situated just across the water from Orient Beach. You can easily get across to it by a calm five minute ferry ride from Cul de Sac, for just $12US per person. There are four small boats that are run by the same four men, since Pinel Island was opened to the public. They run back and forth all day, every half hour or so from 9.30am-5pm. Or for the more adventurous, or those of you with older kids, you can hire a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and paddle across. Caribbean Paddling now even have a super sized paddleboard holding up to eight people, which we will definitely try out next time we visit! We had the best day on this idyllic island.  We set ourselves up on the famous yellow sun lounges under an umbrella at the recently re-opened Yellow Beach. From there we could sit back and relax and watch Lola swim in the shallow wave-free water, while Summer napped under the sun umbrella, and Bodie spent hours with his new buddies....the resident Iguana's. Just when we thought our day couldn't get any better, an Ice-cream boat the pulled up.  This was a welcome reward after we had done an easy hike up and over the island.

PHILLIPSBURG - GREAT BAY

Phillipsburg is the capital town on Sint Maarten, the dutch side of the island.  It is where the cruise ships dock.  In the Summer there can be as many as seven ships in port at one time, making it a vibrant shopping, dining and water sports hub.  We struck it lucky in early June, and only had two in, the day we visited. Being a city beach, there are numerous vendors all wanting to offer you the best price for their beach chairs and umbrella's. All wanting to out do the other with the best drink specials, or most rum punch included.  The further down towards the cruise terminal the cheaper, we found.  Although the beach area is best, more centrally. For such a busy beach, we still found it clean, with clear water and relaxing, even with the cruise ships a few hundred meters away, and jet ski enthusiasts speeding past. Taking a stroll along the promenade was great, with local markets at one and , and high end resorts at the other.

What's Open??

  • Alicia's Inn

  • Holland House Beach Hotel

  • Horizon View Beach Hotel

MAHO BEACH

Maho Beach otherwise known as Airport Beach is situated right at the end of the runway at Saint Martin's Princess Julianna International Airport. The beach itself isn't really any thing to write home about, however this beach is famous for huge jet aircraft coming it to land right over top of you.  From here you can also stand behind a jet as it powers to take off.  There are signs advising you against standing up against the fence as this happens, as the blast is very powerful, and numerous over-zealous tourists have been seriously injured as they are forcefully blown back across the road on to the sand, even getting blown into the ocean.  With caution, Bodie and Jono stood well away from the fence, on the sand, as a very small aircraft departed.  Even then they were blasted with sand, and described it as awful, and something they did not feel the need to have experienced! Standing under, as an aircraft lands though is a lot safer and an exhilarating experience.  If you choose to visit Maho Beach, please be careful, take the advice of the warning signs, and DO NOT go up to the fence. Sitting just off to the side at either end of the beach is still an experience that you can't get in many other places in the world.  Or even better, stay at Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, and watch from your balcony like we did.  Or sit back and enjoy the views from the resorts restaurant and bar. For more on our stay here, see our Sonesta Maho Beach resort review.

  • Sonesta Maho Beach Resort has re-opened , freshly renovated and all-inclusive.

Taking the fly like an Aeroplane game to a new level at Maho Beach

Taking the fly like an Aeroplane game to a new level at Maho Beach

LOTERIE FARM

Although this is not a beach, Loterie Farm is worth mentioning, as just like the Saint Martin's beautiful beaches, Loterie Farm, is a place of stunning nature, and unspoiled wilderness. Loterie Farm is a private nature reserve and the only tropical forest on St Martin. Although the restaurants were damaged by Irma, the private pool area is re-opened.  Here you can relax in luxury and hire a private Cabana starting from $150 euros per day for up to 10 guests, including a bottle of wine.  Daybed hire starts at 15 euros per person per day, or you can simply spend a minimum of 10 euros per person in the newly opened upstairs/downstairs dining area and hop in and out of the pool as you please. A perfect way to relax, recharge and refresh after a hike on one of the many trails at Loterie Farm.  We chose to pay a small entry fee (five euros) and hike what seemed to be one of the easiest trails, however we think we went up the trail intended on coming back down, and also ended up a lot higher than we were advised to with the kids.  They thought our kids couldn't hack it, but we knew otherwise!  Bodie walked and led us the whole way.  Lola mastered most of it, with her little lady legs, with the odd piggy back from Jono, and Beck proved to be superwoman, with baby Summer putting in the least amount of effort, sleeping the whole way up and down in the Baby Bjorn front pack! (Fair enough at this stage, she couldn't even sit, let alone walk!) If you like to free-roam (like us) just grab a map and head off, or if you are directionally challenged (also like us!) you can book a guided tour. It was from the top the we spotted a beautiful beach below, and when we left, drove in a straight line in the hopes of finding it.  It turned out to be Friars Bay, which turned out to be one of our favourite beaches.  Unfortunately during our time on Saint Martin, we didn't make it across to neighbouring island Anguilla, however from here, we could see stunning views of the whole island, across the Caribbean Sea.

St Martin's rebuild is well and truely under way, with a huge variety of restaurant bars and hotels re-opened. Tsonehe airports are fully operational, the cruise ships have returned.  Hurricane Irma may have destroyed everything else, but the beaches are still there, the sand is whiter and softer than ever, the fun and sun are still there.  It is currently like the Caribbean of 30, 40 years ago. The long, secluded white beaches of 'The friendly Island' are calling you. (And us............)

 

 

 

 

WEEK 1 - Four Flights, Three Theme Parks, Two Hotels, One Bus, and a whole lot of fun!

After a reasonably easy 12 hour overnight flight from New Zealand, we arrived at LAX just after midday. We were heading straight to Anaheim, for a couple of days at Disneyland & California Adventure Park, so this time we decided not to rent a car, and tried out the Disneyland Resort Express  Shuttle Bus. I was a bit apprehensive about an hour bus ride with the kids after the long flight, and waiting for the bus to collect us from our arrival terminal. Standing curb side on a middle island at LAX for potentially an hour was not how we wanted to start our holiday! However, by some perfect timing miracle, literally as we got to the stop, the bus pulled up. The bus was large, comfortable and even had a toilet. You can pre purchase tickets online, here or just pay on board as we did. The price is $30 per adult, children 11 years and under are free per paying adult, infants are free. They have a large number of Anaheim hotels they drop off at, if like ours, yours isn't one of them, it will only be a minute or two walk away, which even with our 7 bags, 2 car seats, stroller and 3 kids was easy. I would recommend this as a convenient, stress free way to get to Anaheim after a long flight. 

On our way

On our way

 Although Anaheim and Disneyland Resort offer some fantastic hotels, with great family themes and amazing swimming pools, we decided not to stay at one of those, as we have found with previous visits, that unless you an stay an extra day or two at the hotel when not visiting the Theme Parks, then you really don't have time to use and enjoy the facilities! In saying that, the Best Western Stovall's Inn (where we stayed) does have a great pool area, with 2 pools, 2 hot tubs and a new children's wading pool. We had a swim in the late afternoon the day we arrived, as we weren't heading to Disneyland until the next day. This was the only chance we had to use the pool! The rooms were slightly small, however still large enough for our family of five, and a baby crib! They were clean and modern and had a mini Kitchenette area. The staff are all very helpful, friendly and accommodating. They helped us purchase our Disneyland tickets right from the front desk. A generous buffet breakfast was included, which we always look for in a hotel in Anaheim. It saves time, so you can get to Disneyland nice and early and fills you up nicely before your big day! Each day we walked the easy 15 min walk via Downtown Disney to the parks. For an affordable, convenient stay, we will choose Best Western Stovall's Inn again.

 

Catching a ride at California Adventure Park

Catching a ride at California Adventure Park

You can read our previous post on our Top 5 Tips for Disneyland with toddlers, which goes into a lot more detail, however here are a few extra tips we learnt this time. 

1. If you only have two days and want to do both parks, I recommend purchasing the one park per day ticket, as you really need a full day at each park. Especially if your children are still young enough to enjoy the characters and young children's ride, but also tall enough (42'') to do most of the bigger rides. You will waste time trying to park hop, and also waste money, as the park hopper tickets are more expensive. (For 3+ days the park hopper ticket is a good option, as after you have done it all, you can hop between the parks to redo your favourites, or see shows. 

2. If your child (like Lola) will get upset when they realise that they are too short for some rides, then I would wait until they are 42'' tall. There are a lot of rides at California Adventure park she missed out on, that broke her heart, especially when Bodie got to ride! (48'' is the next height level and the maximum restriction, however there are only a few of these rides). 

3. A great improvement since our last visit is that they now have a cast member letting you know when the line to have a photo and grab an autograph with the characters is closed, and will advise you what time they will be back. No more waiting in line for ages to get to the front and then being abruptly cut off! 

Meeting Mickey

Meeting Mickey

Tips with having a baby at Disneyland:

1. Parent swap as mentioned in our previous post still worked well this trip. It was a surprise to find we could completely swap riders. As in Jono and Bodie could go together first, while I stayed with Summer, then Lola and I could jump the queue and have our turn! By using this option, and FastPasses we felt like we owned the park and almost never had to wait longer than 10mins! Bodie gave Jono the name, Fast Pass Master!

2. Strollers are not allowed in most queues and attractions, (such as Star Wars Launch Bay). So while it is great to have a stroller, sleep times might be easiest in a carrier, so that for the rides that the baby can go on with the whole family, one of you isn't stuck outside sitting with the stroller. In saying that babies must be awake for the Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. (Although this was a rather psychedelic, loud, spinning ride, that in hindsight I wouldn't take a baby on to! They are also allowed on the teacups practically from the day that they are born, but again I don't recommend it for babies, and luckily Jono and Bodie arrived just as Lola and I were about to board, and I passed Summer over the rails to Jono, - Summer is a spewer at the best of times!!!

3. If you go on It's a Small World just prior to the night time Electrical Parade, and can't find your stroller when you get off, it's not likely to have been stolen, but just moved to a new stroller parking area behind the shop, as they need to clear the original parking area for the parade! As you then have no clue where in the huge pool of strollers it will be, it is a good idea to tie some sort of ribbon or name tag on to the handle in order to make it stand out from the rest! 

Yet again, we had a great couple of days at Disneyland and California Adventure Park, although they can be long days, with a few tears, it is all worth while to see the joy, delight and sometimes nervous excitement in the kids eyes! 

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On Day Three we made the easy 1hr drive to Legoland, and yet again had a great couple of days at Legoland and the Legoland hotel. You can read our previous post here. The highlights this time, were the Disco Dance Parties from 6pm each night at the hotel, and the fact that Lola was tall enough for most of the same rides as Bodie, as the height restriction here for the majority of the rides is 36''. 

Best bonuses are:

By staying at the hotel you get early access by half an hour. 

A second day ticket is only $25, when purchased on your first day. 

The impressive Legoland Hotel

The impressive Legoland Hotel

After four exhausting days at Theme Parks we boarded a red-eye flight to St Martin via JFK (in which all three kids slept like champs on both 4 hour flights!) We were leaving a whole lot of man-made fun behind, to indulge in a whole lot of natural beauty and beach fun for the next month, staying in our Caribbean HomeAway vacation rental in St Martin!

Below our our top reccommedations for a fun, successful day at Disneyland & Legoland!