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Woman Snorkeling Near Shallow Reefs in St. Maarten (Photo: Fabio Lamanna/Shutterstock)

St. Maarten vs St. Thomas: What You Need to Know About These Caribbean Islands

Woman Snorkeling Near Shallow Reefs in St. Maarten (Photo: Fabio Lamanna/Shutterstock)
Executive Editor, U.S.
Chris Gray Faust
Marissa Wright

May 17, 2023

Read time
4 min read

"All Caribbean islands are alike" is a complaint we often hear at Cruise Critic. Not only is the statement blatantly untrue, but it also fails to consider each island's historic character.

This is particularly true with St. Maarten and St. Thomas, both popular ports on Eastern Caribbean itineraries.

In St. Maarten, you get two nationalities for the price of one, as the physical island is split between the Dutch (St. Maarten) and the French (St. Martin). St. Thomas is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands and is, as such, more American than most Caribbean islands.

Many Eastern Caribbean cruises include stops at St. Maarten and St. Thomas, so you won't have to choose. But if your itinerary stops at only one of the islands, here is our breakdown of St. Maarten vs. St. Thomas so you know the similarities and differences.

St. Thomas vs. St. Maarten: Similarities Between the Caribbean Islands

St. Thomas

St. Thomas and St. Maarten are both paradises for beach lovers. You could return time and again to both ports -- as frequent cruisers do -- and find a different sandy and relaxing spot each time. You can hire a taxi and explore incredible beaches when you pull into port at either of the islands, which is why so many cruisers keep coming back for more.

Both islands have plenty of water sports if you want to do more than just lay back and sunbathe. Catamaran excursions are popular on both islands, and you can also kayak, snorkel, jet ski and try other water sports.

You won’t go hungry when you visit either of these Caribbean islands. While the cuisine may be different in St. Thomas and St. Maarten, there are more than enough food options to have you feeling full at the end of the day. Snack on local food or munch on your favorite American-made snacks and truly enjoy every second of your holiday.

Cruisers visiting St. Maarten can enjoy fun in the sun and all-day island hopping. You can explore neighboring islands like Anguilla, Saba or St. Barthelemy from the Dutch or French side of St. Maarten. St. Thomas also offers island-hopping adventures for visitors. You can visit nearby islands like St. John, St. Croix and Water Island.

In addition, St. Thomas and St. Maarten also have reputations for great duty-free shopping. So if you have an eye on a designer watch or something else enticing, these islands are good stops. Stock up on your favorite perfume or cologne or purchase expensive liquors at reduced rates in port.

St. Thomas vs. St. Maarten: Differences Between the Caribbean Islands

St. Thomas (Photo by Carolyn Spencer Brown)

Because of its French counterpart St. Martin, St. Maarten has a more cosmopolitan vibe than St. Thomas. On the French side of the island in Grand Case, you'll find fantastic food served at small kiosks known as lolos. St. Martin also has several beaches that cater to those who prefer to sunbathe sans tan lines.

While both islands have their share of drinking establishments, St. Maarten has the famous Sunset Bar, where patrons down beers while waiting for jumbo jets to fly dizzyingly close. Meanwhile, St. Thomas has nearby St. John for those who want to escape the crowds on the more heavily populated Virgin Island.

Because St. Thomas receives the most cruise ships of perhaps any Caribbean island, you'll find that it's often the testing ground for the latest and greatest excursion ideas. On our last visit, flyboarding and jetpacking were the current rage; the island also has zip lines, an ice sculpture museum, a marine park, a mountain tram and golf. It's impossible to get bored.

One of the biggest differences you'll notice is the currency. While St. Thomas uses the U.S. dollar, St. Maarten uses the Netherland Antilles guilder, and St. Martin is on the euro. (But don't worry; many merchants use a 1:1 exchange rate, so you won't be penalized by using the higher currency). Plus, many merchants on both sides of the island will accept dollars.

St. Maarten vs. St. Thomas: Which Caribbean Island Is Right for You?

Top 8 Things You Can Do on the Cruise Critic Message Boards to Enhance Your Cruise (Photo: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock)

Choose St. Maarten if you're a foodie who likes a more international mix of cuisine, an aviation geek who loves seeing the big planes up close or a beach bum who wants to take it all off. St. Maarten also offers cruisers a great location to visit nearby islands if you’ve visited the island many times before.

Opt for St. Thomas if you like feeling like you're in America, yet still in the Caribbean; you don't mind crowds either in the stores or on the beach; you want a choice of many different activities. St. Thomas is the perfect stop if you’re looking for unique excursions and fun outdoor adventures.

Updated May 17, 2023
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