Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Shop Local on Cruises

Buy it whenever or wherever you find it. don’t be disappointed later.


So I’ve told you all about our be-jeweled shopping experiences, but when you’re in the islands, don’t forget the local markets.  We didn’t shop in any jewelry stores in St. Maarten.  Perhaps if we did, my Diamonds International bracelet would have another charm.  In Marigot, St. Martin, on the French side, we enjoyed a local arts and crafts market.

Shopping Local in Marigot

You’re always at a disadvantage at your first port of call.  Though we weren’t in jewelry stores, there was some lovely jewelry in Marigot.  The difference was that it was all handmade from natural materials, like shells, wood and natural beads.  Had I really known then what I know now, I would have picked out a trinket for my mother there, but I wasn’t as well educated then.  The prices were great.  We got a cap for Bill that said, “Bad to the bone,” for $5.  Debbie bought the first part of my birthday present, a sundress for $20 dollars.  The jewelry that I liked ran from $40 up to a whole lot.  We saw some beautiful wood carving, but we weren’t in the market for it.  All in all a pleasant and affordable shopping experience.

We didn’t get a chance to shop with the locals in St. Thomas, because we were too busy getting free jewelry, but there was what appeared to be a very active market near the main shopping district in Charlotte Amalie.  If we’d had more time there, I think we would have enjoyed it.

Nassau’s Straw Market

If you’re looking for something made out of straw, though, I’d say Nassau’s Straw Market is the place to go. We passed through it on our way to find a taxi to take us to Atlantis and were overwhelmed by the experience. That’s not my favorite kind of shopping.  The first thing that assails you as you enter the market is the sheer number of items for sale. The aisles are narrow and there is no degree of separation between the booths. What’s more, the goods are stacked up almost to the high roof. This is not a place for the claustrophobic.

After Atlantis, I came back to the Straw Market, because I was desperate.   I remembered fondly the natural handmade jewelry in Marigot, but that’s not what they have at the Straw Market.  They have straw.

My mom is not the sort that you can just give the first thing you happen upon. She has very discerning taste, and it’s complicated by her arthritis, her un-pierced ears and her indifference to scarves and shawls. She doesn’t wear hats either and purses have to be of just the right size.

The Bahamian natives are not bashful. If you so much as glance their way, they start trying to bargain with you for whatever they think might have caught your eye. If you don’t glance their way, then they’re going to say or do whatever they need to do to get it. Well, anything is a bit of an exaggeration. I have been places where they are more aggressive No one grabbed my arm to stop me or cursed me out for not shopping with them.

Local Bargaining

Still, I was was happy when I saw an attractive straw clutch offered by someone who seemed more interested in their phone call than my American dollars. Deb and I considered the pros and cons of her offerings and she eventually got off the phone.

“Twenty dollars,” she said.

“American?” I was getting good at this.

For you, yes.” I considered her offer while Deb and I compared similar clutches at her booth. People nearby started waving handbags of all sorts at us. “Seventeen fifty,” the lady said.

“Fifteen,” I countered. It was well worth the twenty, but I wasn’t about to pay the first price. I had the feeling I could have gotten her down even further by playing the walk-away game, but I felt sorry for her stuck in the loud crowded market all day and pulled out my money.

Success!  I’d found something for Mom.  It wasn’t really enough, but I corrected that problem with some costume clip earring that I found a few door down from the Straw Market.

When it comes to shopping local, first be sure to know what currency you’re bargaining in.  Then be sure to bargain.  Some prices are set, but usually you can get a little off, even if it’s just to get Euro prices for American dollars.  If you see something you like, buy it when you find it.  That goes for local shopping and jewelry shopping.  The boat was not going back to St. Maarten, so I couldn’t get Mom one of the cool bracelets I saw there.

There’s not much of the cruise left, but come back next week and hear about dinner at La Cucina.

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning Fail

The gang's all here
The gang’s all here


Remember the travel seminar last year where Pauline Frommer told me to explore the possibility of shore excursions through sources other than the ship’s shore excursions. I carefully took notes and researched excursions through all the sites she recommended. I ordered two shore excursions from Cruise The one we took on Saint Thomas was marvelous. We weren’t so lucky on St. Maarten.


Our Hilltop Stop
Our Hilltop Stop

Starting Out on the Right Foot

Things started out fine.  The instructions we were given for joining the tour were exactly right.  We were soon led to a bus by a joyous resident of the island named Josay.  We thought it was going to be a great day.

Josay made several trips to the information area and kept coming back with passengers until the bus was full.  Then we headed off for our tour.  Josay drove along pointing out less than spectacular sights, but I’d been here before and knew the island was not brimming with tourist attractions and museums.  This was a laid back, go to the beach kind of place.

A Sample of Creative Hilltop Parking
A Sample of Creative Hilltop Parking

As he drove through Philipsburg, he pointed out the famous salt ponds and explained their historical significance.  Our first stop was a hilltop overlook where other tours stopped.  To say the snack shop was a little run down was a huge understatement, but the creative parking of the many tour buses assured us this was a popular stop.

The First OOOPS

As we drove away from the overlook, Josay pointed out the airport and told us about how crazy it was.  I gathered that we wouldn’t be getting any closer to it on the tour from the way he talked about it.  That was a problem.  The one thing Bill wanted to see on this cruise was Maho Beach, where the planes fly so low they literally knock over people on the beach.  Josay has a very ebullient personality, but I broke into his on-going dialog to ask him about the airport.  He clarified for me that we were as near to the airport as we were going to get that day.

Sometimes when I’m angry, I get very loud.  This time I got very quiet.  I didn’t want to make a big deal of things and ruin the tour for everyone else, but I was really upset.  Sure, the disclaimer said changes could be made to the itinerary, but the airport was the whole reason we were on this tour, and what could I do about it?  The only one in our party that was really interested in the airport was Bill, but he was the one I most regretted disappointing.

Picturesque Marigot on the French Side
Picturesque Marigot on the French Side

The Market in Marigot

The tour continued to Marigot, where Deb and I enjoyed shopping in the local market.  I found a great cap for Bill that dubbed him “Bad to the Bone.”  Deb bought me a sundress to celebrate my upcoming birthday.  In other words, I decided to have fun in spite of our disappointment in itinerary.

Maybe it was because of the airport or maybe Josay had a little something to take the edge off while he was in Marigot, but his ebullient personality got down right egotistical after the stop.  For the remainder of the tour, we didn’t learn anything else about St. Maartin/Martin, but we sure got to know a lot about Josay.  How his girlfriend dumped him after he helped her win a beauty contest, how he went to Cambridge and played basketball, how his son was going to Abilene Christian College, where he lived, how he got such a good deal on it and how he and a bulldozer tricked the local cops into allowing drag racing on a certain road every Sunday morning.  There’s more, but you don’t want to know any more about him than we did.

An Escape Hatch

There was a contingency on the bus, primarily the older crowd, that seemed to adore Josay and egg him on to greater feats of braggadocio.  I was beginning to think I was the only one on the bus he was driving crazy, but I soon discovered that my other traveling companions were as ready to murder him as I was.

We’d actually paid extra to spend some time on Orient Beach, but my traveling companions were so ready to rid themselves of Josay that we opted to forego the beach.  I think we were afraid that if we ever got off the bus, we’d never talk ourselves into getting back on.

Heading back to the ship at the end of the tour.
Heading back to the ship at the end of the tour.

Here’s the bottom line.  DO NOT take the Smart Price Tour of St. Maarten/Martin through Cruising Expeditions.  In fact, in Saint Maarten, I’d stick to excursions through the cruise ship, so that if you get cheated out of the one thing you wanted to see, the way Bill did, you have someone to take your complaint to.

And one thing more, no matter who you book your shore excursion through, if the bus driver or tour guide is named Josay RUN!

Back at the ship, we got ready for dinner at Taste and Legends in Concert in the Epic Theater.  Come back next week and see how it went.