Over the course of several visits, we had yet to make it to the French side of St. Martin, the half-Dutch, half-French Caribbean island. I knew this was our moment of opportunity. When I saw the Flavors of St. Martin tour in the shore excursion list, I had found how I’d like to spend my day. FKGuy and I had taken one of their tours in San Juan, and I assumed this one would be just as terrific.
Booking turned out to be a bit of an issue onboard. Out of our group of ten, eight people were interested in the food tour. As we all had a good amount of onboard credit, we waited until we boarded to reserve our spots. Four of us received tickets right away, while the other four were put on an earlier trip that opened up. Our concierge rescheduled us all to the noon departure, and we planned accordingly. Unfortunately, a clerical error left two frustrated friends canceling their reservation. Six of us forged ahead with what would be a tasty afternoon.
We met our guide on the pier, and I immediately let her know that we had some food issues: I have this annoying allergy to mayonnaise and mangoes, several in our group don’t eat pork, and one person eats no red meat at all. She was horrified that this was her first insight into our issues (“didn’t they give you the questionnaire onboard?” Uh, no.) Her displeased reaction to a vegetarian joining the group moments later was not unexpected.
Our guide did a fabulous job of catering to everyone’s diverse needs with virtually no notice. Cheese and wine were on order at our first stop, the Amsterdam Cheese and Liquor Store, where twenty-two of us gathered around enjoying cheese samples and glasses of wine. Each cheese was delicious, ranging from the youngest gouda to the pepper cheese, and the 2 -3 year aged gouda. (Apparently, the length of aging is a company secret.) Either way, it is worth taking a piece or three home. Fortunately, we had time to purchase a few souvenirs (and taste even more cheese) before meandering to our next stop, Captain Oliver’s.
The waterfront resort boasts a restaurant with views of St. Barts (or, as my dad calls it, St. Barfs, but that is a tale of seasickness for another day.) Drinks here were on a cash basis, but the rum punch was worthwhile, and we all enjoyed the vistas as we waited for our next course. An authentic taste of the islands, including fresh shrimp, mahi-mahi, and red snapper, served with a cheesy potato and homemade tartar sauce. (Unless, of course, you can’t eat mayo, then they served it with a delicious homemade hot sauce. I was the envy of my food-touring companions.)
Enjoying the beautiful scenery, selfies, and seafood nibbles came to an end, and we boarded our bus for our next stop, The Sky’s the Limit, a lolo. While lolos originated as stores in the 17th century in slave quarters of plantations, today, lolos are beachside or roadside shacks, complete with picnic tables and plasticware, turning out some of the island’s best barbecue.
The Sky’s the Limit sits right on the beach, complete with open kitchen, fresh fried Johnny cakes, and delicious bbq. We scattered throughout the open air restaurant, enjoying either pork ribs (most people) or chicken (for me, and those of us who don’t eat pork). I have no idea what the vegetarian ate here, but I think her husband may have left with an entire rack of ribs. The freshly fried dough, tasty proteins, and homemade relish all make this a must-visit on any trip to St. Martin. In fact, a couple on our tour had already been to The Sky’s the Limit on a trip the year before.
Full and happy (and one guy with a rack of ribs for later), we made our way back to the bus and made our way to the final stop of the day, Carousel gelato. Traffic on the island was heavy, and our guide did not do a great job of keeping us on schedule, so we took a quick look around the gelato shop, including the full carousel in back, got our desserts and returned to the bus for our long, late-arriving, jaunt back to the cruise ship.
Overall, the tour was very enjoyable. However, twenty-two is way too many people for this type of experience. They (the company and the cruise ship) need to cap the participants at fifteen to ensure a more personal journey. The previous tour only had five cruisers, so some of us could have easily switched to the other tour. Everyone would have had a better time. Plus, we probably would have returned to the ship on time (we were only a few minutes late. They were waiting for us.)