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st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

seattle, wa
7 posts
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st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

Looking to take a trip to either St Maarten or St Thomas & St John in August but not sure which way to go. I don't plan on spending much time in the hotel, just sleeping, otherwise I want to be out experiencing Caribbean life. I like both islands for the amount of activities they offer and how easy they are to get around. I've never been to the Caribbean and want to make the most of my trip. Any advice I can get from someone who has been to both areas would be great. Thanks!

Frederick, Maryland
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31 posts
16 reviews
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1. Re: st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

Those three islands have three distinct personalities and price ranges. I have been to all three, but my personal favorite is St John, where I return every year. August will be brutal at all three, can be partially rainy on any given day, and some shops/restaurants/will have closed for the down season. That being said, St. maarten has beautiful beaches with enough night life to keep you busy. Hotels are expensive, but you will have plenty to do and explore. St. Thomas is a busy, crowded island, my least favorite of the three. There are crime areas to watch out for, and only a few gorgeous beaches to choose from. It's also a big cruise ship port so the shops are expensive on cruise ship days and the beaches are crowded. However, there are hotels with pools in every budget, and plenty of night life as well. St. John is the quietest of the three. Mostly beaches and national park, so plenty of quiet places to explore. The beaches will be mostly empty in August, and the snorkeling is beyond compare. There are a few restaurants to choose from in each budget category, and several easy-going bars. If you're looking for busy night life, this is not your island. Accommodations can be expensive, but the Westin usually runs deals that time of year. Check into Villa rentals for all three islands, but confirm your area as safe if going to St. Thomas. Good luck and enjoy!

seattle, wa
7 posts
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2. Re: st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

Thank you for your response. This is the first I'm hearing of St Thomas having crime. What areas of St Thomas are bad? We were thinking of splitting time between St Thomas and St John or just going to St Maarten the whole stay. We like St John for all the nature that we can experience, but we also want a nightlife where we can experience local food, music and culture, thus why we thought of splitting time on St Thomas. Still really torn on what to do.

St Thomas
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for St. Thomas
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15,127 posts
20 reviews
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3. Re: st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

Have to to disagree with shocktraumanurse on a couple of points. August is by no means "brutal" where weather is concerned and rainfall is pretty level all year round unless there's a front coming which of course happens from time to time. By "level" our usual forecast is 20% rain and that 20% usually encompasses hard very short showers that are over in a flash but which keep the islands green and our cisterns full!

Many restaurants on St John close for a couple of months in the summer (but many stay open) but only a few on St Thomas close for a couple of weeks and most stay open. As far as crime on STT is concerned it's 99.9% local upon local connected with "turf wars" and the incidence of crime against visitors is infinitesimal. When traveling to any place unknown awareness of one's surroundings is a must and the islands are no exception. As far as "safe" and "unsafe" areas, if you're out very late at night walking down unlit alleys in town then you might get into trouble but common sense prevails and there are no outright "unsafe" areas that you would just sort of happen into by chance.

I've enjoyed several visits to St Maarten over many years and enjoyed my time there but I think the beaches on STT and STJ are better. One advantage here too is the close proximity of islands to each other. You can stay on STT and ferry over to STJ for day trips and, if you want to go a little further afield the British Virgin Islands are just a ferry or charter boat ride away from either.

Read all there is to read here on TA where general information is concerned and then use the forum search engines to seek further input. So much information is right at your fingertips. Whichever you choose, have fun planning and enjoy a wonderful vacation!

St. Thomas
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4. Re: st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

"It's also a big cruise ship port so the shops are expensive on cruise ship days"

That is totally incorrect. The prices in the shops are the same all the time. There are plenty of wonderful beaches on St. Thomas with the advantage of being able to stay ON the beach instead of mostly having to drive to them from most places on St. John.

Sint Maarten's restaurants are incomparable & if you like to gamble, that would be the place to go unless you visit St. Croix. That said, the crime in Sint Maarten is very bad & even St. John is not crime free.

An advantage to either St. John or St. Thomas would be the availability to day trip to the BVI's but you can also go to St. Barth's, Saba or Anguilla from Sint Maarten.

Destination Expert
for Bonaire
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2,524 posts
100 reviews
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5. Re: st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

I've been to each island, and my preference would be:

1) St. John

2) St. Thomas

3) St. Martin

Like the others have said, each island has its own character. St. John has natural beauty, gorgeous beaches, clear water, amazing snorkeling and a low key vibe which I really appreciate. It's one of my favorite places on the planet.

I also really like St. Thomas and think that it sometimes gets a bad rap, especially by those who haven't really taken the time to explore it. Yes, it is busy and the cruise ship crowds can be annoying. However, if you take the time to research it you can find gorgeous places to stay and avoid the crowds. The opportunity for day trips is a huge plus - St. John, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, Tortola, etc.... You can always find good restaurants, shopping and enough to keep you busy.

I also like St. Martin even though it wouldn't be my choice of the three islands that you mentioned. I particularly enjoy the French side and the wonderful restaurants in Grand Case. There are some beautiful beaches in St. Martin, but they don't compare to St. John or St. Thomas, IMO. St. Martin is a busy island and you will always find something to do. Two other reasons that I like St. Martin are day trips to Anguilla and watching the planes come in at the beachside airport bar.

The bottom line is that it all depends on what you want in a vacation.

Elk Grove Village...
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1,235 posts
66 reviews
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6. Re: st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

I would clarify some of the comments about restaurants closing on St. John. Our first trip to St. John was a week that encompassed the last few days of August and the first few days of September. Almost all of the restaurants were open while we were there. While it is true that many places do close, you are much more likely to encounter that in September or the first half of October than in August.

The website for St. John Spice publishes a list of restaurant closing and re-opening dates. This list for 2010 isn't up yet, but last year's list can give you an idea of what to expect. You can find it here: http://stjohnspice.com/stjohnrestaurants.htm

As you can see, last year almost all of the restaurants were open until at least August 30, and most waited until early September to close (if they closed at all). So while off-season closing is something to be aware of, it should not have much of an impact on a trip in August.

Holland, MI
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1,224 posts
4 reviews
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7. Re: st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

Rating the three islands goes like this for me and I've been to all of them.

1) St. John - beautiful beaches, good hiking and snorkeling and good restaurants. Renting a villa is the way to go on St. John. I've never felt unsafe and I've been going to St. John for 20 years. It's my favorite place on the planet with no close seconds.

2) St. Thomas - many nice beaches, more people, more traffic and just more of everything including crime. I'd have to list this as a distant #2

3) St. Martin - some nice beaches but not powder white sand as you'll find in the USVI. More expenseive than the USVI and extremely crowded and lots of traffic. Wonderful (but very expensive( restaurants on the French side but we found the French to be much less friendly than folks on the Dutch side. If you want gambling, you'll find it on the Dutch side. The crime problem is what would deter me from returning. Breaking-in's are common plus we encountered some unsavory types on the beaches. I'd list this as a verrrry distant #3.

oklahoma city
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301 posts
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8. Re: st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

1. St. John 2. St. Thomas 3. St. Marrten.

Stayed on St. Marrten last year and kept kicking myself for not returning to "old faithful" St. John. We leave for St. John in 3 days to rectify that previous mistake. I have stayed on St. Thomas at the Wyndam Sugar Bay and it's ok and very close to redhook ferries. Not that my opinion means anything but I would strongly weigh what your looking for with activities and budget. We as a group always rent a villa around Great Cruz Bay and then hit a different beach each day with a day trip over to Jost Van Dyke. So in my opinion it's St. John and Jost Van Dyke. I think of St. Marrten and St. Thomas as a passing thru Island not a destination. As far as crime goes stay in a group, lock up your valuables and keep in mind that nothing good goes on after midnight and you should be fine where ever you visit.

Amsterdam, New York
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495 posts
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9. Re: st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

St. Maarten is okay but, if you do go, you should spend the majority of your time in Anguilla. That's where the beautiful beaches are. Just the same, if you go to St. Thomas, you should spend the majority of your time in St. John. St. Thomas & St. Maarten are the bigger, more developed islands that offer activities, shopping and nightlife, while St. John & Anguilla are much smaller islands that offer a different kind of tranquility and untouched beauty.

I think the USVI's win because of the lush tropical landscape, but Anguilla would edge out all but St. John on beaches/water.

seattle, wa
7 posts
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10. Re: st Thomas/St John vs St Maarten

Thank you everyone for your input, its greatly appreciated, and I think our decision has been made! We will do the St Thomas/St John combo with more emphasis on St John. Now, could you give me some opinions on places to stay? We don't need anything extravagant we just plan on treating as a place to sleep not to hang out. I've been looking at the EcoTents on St John, but I'll take all suggestions for both islands. Thanks again everyone!