Hi Folks -- My girlfriend and I just returned from a long weekend getaway in SXM -- what an incredible island! We had an amazing couple of days. First, thanks to everyone on this forum -- and who posted reviews -- for all the insights. It was a HUGE help!
The brief version of the below information with quick tips is: 1) Rent a car; 2) Highly recommend Princess Heights (see separate review); 3) Get ready to be lost when driving around the island newcomers!! But hey, that's part of the fun!; 4) La Semanna for breakfast is a MUST; 5) Sol E Luna was perfect for a romantic dinner; 6) Try Plum Bay if you can -- very secluded beach, liked it better than Happy Bay; 7) Do not miss Calmos Cafe in Grand Case for a drink at Sunset!
Now, here's the longer version (for those who are really bored at work!):
Arrived on US Airways from CLT Thursday at 1pm, uneventful and on-time flights. In the end we chose to stay at Princess Heights at Dawn Beach which we loved (see separate review) which includes a small rental car in the price. Met the rental car representative outside the airport (I think the company was Prestige/Value Rental Car) -- very nice guy and an easy trip over to the lot. Rental car agency reps seemed indifferent and bored. Got one of the small, Hyundai hatch-backs. While we it seemed to be a less than a reliable car, we loved it! Small and perfect for the island roads (and for sandy feet, etc.).
Made our way over to Dawn Beach/Oyster Pond area and got lost on the way. Hit ZERO traffic at the construction site at approx. 2pm (putting in new rotary, as people have mentioned on this forum). Tried to follow the map that was given to us, which admittedly was quite detailed, but messed up a few times. Oh well, we were on island time and it meant we got to see more of it!
Went to Mr. Busby's beach bar at Dawn Beach after checking in at Princess. Amazing location and food was decent. Not sure it was as good as others have said, I think hit or miss (mahi mahi excellent, ribs so-so). Drinks were great. Cheap happy hour from 4-6pm, $1.50 USD drinks. Service so-so, but very nice people. Within 30 min we had completely forgotten about work!!
Went to La Samanna for breakfast Friday morning. THIS IS A MUST!! They have a small but delicious breakfast buffet (tons of fresh fruit, juices, pastries, omelet station, all the basics like eggs and bacon etc. as well as a hot dish unique to the island, like fish with black beans or plantains, etc.). You sit on the quiet balcony overlooking Baie Longue -- just a jaw-dropping view. The wait staff is wonderful. We had a tough time getting through the guard at the front, he was misinformed about who should be let in and a bit obnoxious -- told us we couldn't go in without a reservation (at 730am on a Sat!). We called the hotel and they were embarrassed and said they'd phone the guard. This happened twice, ugh! Needless to say, just go up to the gate and say you have a reservation and you'll be all set. Again, La Samanna for breakfast is a MUST DO for newcomer to the island!
We then went to Friars Bay and Happy Bay for the afternoon. We loved both beaches. Friars has two beach bars, both relatively expensive, but great drinks and food. We walked over to Happy Bay (about 8-10 min) and stayed there for a bit, but it was too windy that day, so we went back to Friars which has some protection from the wind. Had a great afternoon. Chairs were $10 USD and drinks approx $7 USD. Beach wasn't full at all, maybe 30 people or so.
Friday was my girlfriend's birthday so I took her to Sol E Luna for dinner. The restaurant is a real gem. First, I will say, it is VERY hard to find. Email me if you need directions or ask others. The Frommer's map is completely inaccurate and if you don't speak french it can be difficult to get directions from locals to this location. It's just in a tough place to describe, I think -- in Mt. Vernon overlooking Anse Marcel. But anyway, once we made it, we were in heaven!! As others have said, it is family owned and very romantic. We're foodies and were impressed with the meal. The service was somewhat slow, but that's par for the course on the French side (or probably anywhere in the Caribbean) and didn't really bother us. My gf had the seafood/pasta medley with spicy marinara and I had the monkfish appetizer and the shrimp/scallop entree. All was just excellent. And DO NOT skip dessert! I had a banana-crusted chocolate moose and she had the lava cake. So good!!
Ok, this is getting long. Saturday we went to Orient Beach just to see what it was like. We camped out at Kakua (I think that's what it's called?) beach bar, it was run by two young-ish French ex-pats. Very nice guys, great service and drinks. Lots going on at Orient (as everyone says). It was fun to get some action, but we only stayed for two hours or so as we prefer more secluded beaches. It's great for families and young people (especially singles), but not if you want the secluded experience. If you're there, swim out to the floating swim platform about half way down the beach and lay down to take it all in. Sounds simple and silly, but this was a highlight! Gets you away from the craziness and was great to just rock with the waves. Anyway...
We had lunch at the Sky's the Limit LoLo in Grand Case on Saturday afternoon after we left Orient. It was excellent! I had the ribs and my gf had the shrimp. Highly recommended.
Earlier we had asked our waiter at Orient -- who seemed like he knew a thing or two about SXM -- where we should go that afternoon. He recommended Plum Bay, which we hadn't thought of. Plum Bay was just wonderful. It is somewhat difficult to find, but you just take the road that La Semanna is on and follow it for about 10 minutes (past Baie Longue). You'll see the cars parked on the left-hand side about half-way through the loop. There is a small swimming area at Plum Bay and the rest is somewhat rocky (the water is rocky, not the beach itself). But don't write it off for that reason, this really seemed like a locals only beach and the swimming area was just perfect. There was virtually NO ONE there. And it feels very secluded. I would highly recommend this for folks who want quiet and solitude, we loved it! (PS: There is no shade and no bars, etc., so if you go bring an umbrella).
We drank at Calmos Cafe Saturday evening -- HIGHLY recommended (and thanks for the tip everyone!!). Great drinks and picture perfect setting in the sand. Catch the sunset here at least one night!
We then had dinner at Spiga. We liked it, food was great, but thought the ambiance was a bit distracting (tables very close to together in one big room -- it was easy to hear others' conversations from 10+ feet away, sort of awkward). However, the food was excellent. I had the lobster bisque (not bad) and the lobster ravioli as an entree (excellent). It wouldn't be the first place we go back, but we enjoyed it.
So, there you have it. We had breakfast at La Semanna again on Sunday (we loved it that much!) and then watched the planes come in at Maho with drinks in-hand at Sunset Bar until we departed at 3:00pm. We watched as teenagers on the beach thought it would be a good idea to stand directly behind the jet stream of a 737 taking off, only to find them selves being hurled into the ocean when it did. Very entertaining.
Can't wait to go back!! Feel free to send me a message on here if you have any questions! I want to return the favor! I don't know a fraction of what others do about SXM in this forum, but am happy to give the perspective of a newcomer to the island.
Thanks again and enjoy!!