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April 24, 2019 A week ago we (a family of four) were fortunate enough to visit Sint Maarten (Saint Martin) for a third straight year. And for a third straight year, we hired Leo Brown to be our private driver. Three years ago, we looked into booking a tour through the ship's excursion office. Now, there's nothing wrong with booking an excursion through RC but we wanted more. What we got was a lot more. We decided to research a few months before on how to hire a private driver. We found Leo Brown on the internet. He was recommended by previous travelers. We called him up and hired him for the day. The idea was that we would pay him the same amount that RC was going to charge us for their excursion. However, hiring Leo Brown has more benefits: a) You are helping the economy directly. All money you spend is going into local's pockets. Booking an excursion means that RC gets a percentage. b) More time on the island. The RC excursion will bring you back to the ship hours before it's set to sail. With a private driver, you get more time on the island for the same amount of money. c) You choose where you want to go. If the kid's wanted to go snorkeling, Leo Brown would take us to a great beach... if the kid's wanted big waves, Leo Brown would take us to another beach... when we got hungry, Leo Brown took us to the French side for delicious food cooked in a local and authentic island restaurant... Want amazing views for the family picture?, Leo Brown will drive you to one of the highest parts on the island so you can take that picture. d) Leo Brown is proud. The first time we met Leo Brown, he drove us around the entire island (Dutch and French side). He is a proud lifelong resident of Sint Maarten and it shows. Needless to say, we also learned quite a bit about the island through Leo. e) If you hire Leo Brown, you are it. No mini-bus filled with other passengers going to the same place where you will then have to wait in line and keep your eyes on the time in order to get back in line to board the mini-bus and get shuttled back to the ship. With Leo Brown, you are on "YOUR TIME". You tell Leo Brown what time the ship leaves, and he will have you back. Like I said before, this is our third straight year visiting Sint Maarten and hiring Leo Brown. Unfortunately, our plans for next year do not take us back to this wonderful island. However, if you are planning a trip to Sint Maarten (Saint Martin) via cruise ship or flying in, we HIGHLY recommend hiring Leo Brown. Leo Brown: (721) 553-4290 note: if you arrive by cruise ship, you will need to walk out of the cruise pier area to meet Leo Brown. There is a taxi area inside the pier terminal but Leo will be waiting just outside. You will see many passengers exiting here because it is a short distance to the town area. The attached picture is Leo Brown and his wonderful wife and daughter along with myself and my two kids.
There is a scam in St. Maarten that I want everyone to know about... first a short background story. We are a family of 4... with a teenage girl and a teenage boy. We have been to St. Maarten in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 & 2022. Each year we have hired a local named Leo Brown to be our driver / tour guide. In the five years we have known Leo Brown he has become more of a family member than just a friend. Every year, we end up at Maho beach to watch the planes land at the airport (if you don't know what I'm talking about, you haven't been to Maho beach). Likewise, every year we end up having lunch at SUNSET BAR & RESTAURANT at the end of the beach. This year (April 2022) my son was interested in getting his hair (about 7 inches long) braided by beach vendors. These vendors are NOT associated with the restaurant and there is a sign stating this. I followed my son towards the beach where a Jamaican lady asks us if we would like his hair braided. My son says "yes", and we proceed to a chair where he sits down and, once he is looked at by the lady, I ask her "How much will it cost?" Her answer is "Seventy ($70) dollars for the top and additional for the bottom". I reply with "OK, let's start with the top and I will let you know about the bottom when the top is done." She starts braiding. Two... yes, you read that correctly... TWO hours later she finishes the top and asked me if she should continue to do the bottom. Because of time, I said, "No. We are good." I follow it with, "How much to I owe you?" She says, "Fifty-nine braids at five dollars a braid is THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS." Again, you read that correctly... THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS. I reply with "you said it would be $70!!!" She repeats her $300 statement. I stand up and walk to the restaurant to get my two nuclear bombs... my wife and Leo Brown. I get to the table and tell them that the lady wants to charge me $300 for something she said would cost $70 (which is still too much but something I had agreed to). Before I am done telling them, Leo Brown, followed by my wife, are heading to the beach. As Leo Brown is asking the lady how she is capable of scamming us, my wife is telling her to take ALL the braids out. The lady replies with, "OK, I will just taker the $70." My wife replies with, "You either take them all out or I will... but you're not getting a penny from us." Mama Bear and Leo Brown were phenomenal. Other than our time spent sitting on the beach getting my son's hair braided, we lost nothing. After another 30 minutes, the lady finally finished removing all the braids and walked away saying, "Have a nice day. Enjoy my 70 dollars." My reply was, "We will. And I will give an extra $70 to Leo Brown." In the five years we have known Leo Brown, we have never seen him this upset. He was upset because he is a proud local from Sint Maarten and does not want any tourist (the number ONE revenue source for the island) to get scammed by anyone... locals or non-locals. I am sure the lady said it would be $300 because this scam has worked before. Tourists beware. My advice is not to get your hair braided at Maho beach. However, if you want to, please make sure you have the INITAL conversation when the lady tells you the price ON VIDEO. This way, when she changes the price at the end (and she will), you can show them the video of your agreement. Best of luck with your future trip.
In April when we were on a cruise visiting Sint. Maarten we decided to go on a tour we booked before arrival on the Island. We had read good things about the tour on trip-advisor and decided to go on a snorkeling tour with the Swaliga 2 with a group of 4. When we arrived at Bobby's Marina (very close to the cruise facility) we were welcomed by the crew. Captain JP and his mate / hostess Jessica introduced themselves and after waiting for some other groups that were also going on the excursion in the same boat we left the marina around 9.30 AM. The boat was a fast motorized yellow catamaran and before we knew it we were on our way with a total of about 30 people. After about 25-30 minutes we arrived at the airport location were the boat stopped for a while so we could take pictures of the planes that were landing and arriving. After the short stop the boat headed on to the other side of the island, the French side. It was a beautiful experience floating along the beautiful beaches of the French side of the island. Around 11 AM we arrived at a location called Creole Rock where we were able to snorkel and swim in the beautiful blue waters. We stayed there for about 45 minutes before the boat left again to go to Pinel Island. We arrived at Pinel at about 12.15 and enjoyed a very good lunch at a restaurant called karabuni's which is located on Pinel Island. The options for lunch were Mahi Mahi (fish), Chicken or Ribs. Our group choose the fish and we really enjoyed it. The atmosphere on Pinel was really breathtaking. After lunch we were able to swim and snorkel in the waters around Pinel or enjoy the sun on the beach in one of the many beach chairs available. While in the water, the crew took excellent care of the passengers, there were plenty of free drinks and the boat was clean and nicely equipped. The rum-punch was the best! Also very nice was the knowledge the captain shared with the passengers by telling things about the history of the island and telling about the nature that surrounds the island. Around 2 PM the boat left again, taking the passengers to another island that was called Tintamarre. We really had the most wonderful experience there while swimming with the turtles that are living in the waters near that island. After about an hour, the boat left back to Philipsburg and dropped us of very close to the cruise facility. We really had a great day and were on time to be back on the cruise ship in time. If we ever will be on St. Maarten again, we will definitely go on the Swaliga 2 snorkeling excursion again! Because of the good experience we had on that tour, i decided to share this with other people that will be on a Royal Caribbean cruise to St. Maarten and that would love to see the Island in a special way.
I'm wrapping up planning for Sint Maarten on a stop on Freedom in June, and am leaning toward renting a jeep to get around the island verses some of the other options. If you have been there, how is the parking situation around Maho Beach? Google maps shows what looks to be a decent parking lot next to Sunset Beach Grill, but their website doesn't have a lot of information about it.