Half of the tiny island is Dutch (St. Maarten) and the other half is French (St. Martin), giving this popular Eastern Caribbean cruise ship port a split personality: It's the smallest island in the world to be divvied up between two nations.
Several days a week, a small flotilla of cruise ships moors alongside the docks at Philipsburg, the Dutch capital, and thousands of travelers spill out ready to take advantage of the island's duty-free shopping. A small cruise ship mall alongside the docks serves those too busy to explore the island, but most visitors walk into town (about a 15-minute stroll). The trip is worth the effort. Jewelry is a particularly good buy along Front and Back streets -- the main shopping area -- as are resort wear, perfume, crystal and other luxury items. For a small place, it offers some big deals.
Cruisers can spend a day in Philipsburg, lounging on the beach, sailing or visiting ocean-view restaurants or bars -- but there's more to the island than this cruise port city and a local cabbie will give you a 2 1/2 -hour island loop tour for about $50.
Yo ho, yo ho
Once a haven for pirates, the island still draws sailors from around the Caribbean: An international coterie of yawls, sloops and mega-yachts often can be seen anchored near shore or in island marinas. Among its other charms are its sandy, white beaches. Within its 37-square-mile territory, St. Maarten/St. Martin has 37 sunny beaches -- some of which are clothing optional or topless. Most tourists try to visit Baie Orientale, known as the St. Tropez of French St. Martin (it's the place to see and be seen) and the beach at Grand Case, where a picturesque village offers excellent food.