Having a Caribbean timeshare without an owner’s headaches can add a lot of value for a family looking for sun, sand, a gorgeous pool and the laid back lifestyle of a quiet island like Sint Maarten.
Sint Maarten is the Dutch side of the bi-national island shared between the Netherlands Antilles and the French West Indies for the past 350 years. The French side is known as Saint-Martin and in English, which is widely spoken, the island is simply called St. Martin.
Letting the Beauty of Nature Take its Course
Oyster Bay Beach caps a peninsula which overlooks the Oyster Pond marina on one side and just south, the beautiful cove of Dawn Beach, where the jagged coral coast cushioned by soft gold sand meets the Atlantic.
On a recent weekend as guests of the resort, we explored a little of this unusual island but mainly hung out like everyone else, moving lazily from our spacious condo overlooking the Oyster Pond marina to the beautiful seafront pool.
Day one, we combined Vincent’s fun aquarobics class with a breakfast of French-style nutella crepes within view of the glimmering sea… and it became one of those vacation moments you never forget.
Family Size Accommodations at Oyster Bay Beach Resort
As a “premier resort” registered with Interval International, Oyster Bay Beach Resort has condo units that can extend from one bedroom (sofabeds in the living room) to two or more, with full kitchens, balconies, and connecting doors to studios. With fewer than 200 units, this resort built 35 years ago claims to have more than 13,000 owners. Under new ownership since 2003, it has been renovated with flair and is carefully maintained, making those of us laying around acutely aware of staff dusting the pool steps, tending the lovely plantings, whitewashing the railings and taking care of the property like their own homes.
The large comfortable units are clustered in two story buildings that wrap the coast, with parking in between for the many rental cars. Prices vary according to size and beach or marina view but all are very pleasant, as you can see from the video.
Oyster Bay Beach Guest Fun & Facilities
For us, the top amenity was the long, freeform infinity pool with a zero-entry shallow end for toddlers, novice swimmers and those in wheelchairs. Comfortable chaise lounges rim all sides, with ample umbrellas for shade. Given its length, there are probably 50 meters of fresh water fed by two waterfall walls for lap swimming. The pool’s blue tiled “infinity” edge spills over to the southern horizon toward St. Barth’s, causing the glittering Atlantic, mountain peaks and stark cloud formations to reflect back on its surface.
For easy beach access, it’s a few minutes walk past the guest laundry, terrific Shipwreck Shop souvenir store, and small fitness room to wooden steps that descend to the sand. Within the resort’s small footprint, there’s sun and sand for kids to enjoy, perhaps some live pop music coming from the bar, and little else between them and old-fashioned summer fun.
During the winter, Easter and summer holidays the resort’s friendly staff organizes some activities to keep young ones busy so that parents can keep their heads buried in their Kindles. Expect to see tie-dye T-shirt making, crab races, Bingo, dance lessons and even a movie night by the pool. In-room childcare is available for a fee with advanced planning.
Dining Around the Oyster Bay Beach Resort
At the pleasant Infinity Café, which serves light meals indoors and by the pool, children can order chicken and ribs, sliders and boneless chicken wings. At Beau Beau’s Bar overlooking the beach, order a bottle of Presidente or a rum punch with some conch fritters on the wooden deck — cantilevered over the water to guarantee spectacular views — and you’ll be all set.
The resort is in a great location for loafers like us; there’s Pier Grocer for some light breakfast or cocktail fare across the way and a few local bars and restaurants within a brief walk. You can easily have a pizza or a sandwich in your bathing suit.
At sundown, we enjoyed the excellent Daniel’s by the Sea which serves fresh grilled lobster, snapper prepared in their spicy Creole sauce, and snook, a local fish we tried with butter and pesto. A big basket of garlic bread, steaks, salads, a variety of pastas, provide something for everyone in the family at reasonable prices.
More sophisticated for a dressier evening that is still casually kid-friendly, Canoa has a more international menu with a Caribbean flair. We loved our deliciously light Arawak cod and lobster fritters and their Conch Stew St. Maarten, served in a rich curry with rice and locally grown carrots on the side.
Culinary Delights of Saint Martin, the Caribbean’s Self-Styled Culinary Capital
Guavaberries made into a liqueur, fruit-infused hot sauces, and JohnnyBakes bread are island specialties not often found with the American cuisine served on the Dutch side or the fine nouvel cuisine on the other. However, Saint Martin is known for its many lolos, small “locally owned and locally operated” restaurants where grilled meat, BBQ chicken, and a cold drink are served by local chefs.
The waterfront village of Grand-Case is where many lolos are clustered almost namelessly side by side; our driver recommended Top of the Town as the very best.
By all accounts, celebratory dining is best on the French side, too, with good reports about Bistrot Caraibes and l’Auberge Gourmand among many restaurants located by the waterfront in Grand Case. And there’s a good wine list with many French selections, reasonably priced, at all restaurants.
Touring Saint Martin Attractions and Neighboring Isles
Families staying more than a few days will want to get out and see more of the island. Oyster Bay’s staff provides information on everything from sunset catamaran cruises to surfing lessons, ATV rentals, snorkeling trips and scuba excursions to Saba, so a car may not be essential.
Perhaps the island’s biggest draw, Marigot is a very pretty harbor and the capital of the French side of the island. There’s a waterfront promenade; an outdoor market with stylish jewelry, French-expat designed clothing, as well as local handcrafts and souvenirs; patisseries and a few historic forts.
From Marigot, you can also take a daytrip by hydrofoil to St. Barth’s (just 45 minutes by ferry), Anguilla, or Saba for a change of pace. Be sure to carry a passport for everyone as these are required at the ports.
Philipsburg’s Front Street, the main shopping area packed with the jewelers and Duty-free malls that greet cruise ship passengers, is fun to explore. If you head to Back Street or just keep walking farther from the cruise ship pier, you’ll see the colored shutters on the white, century-old houses and local churches of the real Sint Maarten. There is also a fort here and some of the pretty pastel, gingerbread Victorian homes and hilltop vacation villas seen on the French side.
The most intriguing excursion we found was to the Butterfly Farm or La Ferme des Papillons in Quartier Orleans on the French side of the island. (There’s actually another branch in Aruba.) Founded by William Slayter and John Coward nearly 20 years ago, it is still run by the very wry and entertaining Mr. Slayter who delights in explaining to visitors just what to plant to attract butterflies to their own garden. It’s open daily; kids will love dunking their finger into the free fruit punch to see if they can attract a butterfly to sit on their hand for a close-up photo.
Planning your Oyster Bay Beach Resort Getaway
The Oyster Bay Beach Resort (866/297-6978) is located on the border of this half-Dutch half-French island, at Emerald Merit Road #10, P.O. Box 239, Sint Maarten.
As a mixed timeshare and full ownership property, Oyster Bay rarely has hotel rooms or condo units to rent over the major holidays. But it’s worth checking, and the Front Desk recommends calling the hotel directly to find out the best available rates when you want to travel. The new 38-slip marina makes more boating options available.
Oyster Bay Beach’s limited view hotel room started from $131 per night in the low season, and one-bedroom units like ours, sleeping up to six, start at $390 per night. Highest rates are during the mid-December to mid-April peak season. Children under the age of 12 stay free with their parents, but there’s a maximum of two children per room.
We cabbed it to the airport on the Dutch side of the island, and never had to rent a car because the nearby dining options were ideal for a long weekend of beach time. We did extend our return trip to the airport, however, into a three-hour round the island tour. This must-do, fun excursion with Cappie, the resort’s driver, took us to many scenic vistas ranging from a hilltop view of L’Orient Beach, the nudist resort, to Baby Beach, the calm and shallow inlet where local babies, also in their birthday suits, are taught to swim.
Cappie pointed out many other local attractions before bringing us to Sunset Beach by the Dunes Casino in Philipsburg. It’s at the end of the international airport runway, so tourists go to sunbathe, waiting for the hot jet engine wash from airplanes taking off, before they’re forced to cool off in the sea. Really, they do.
Now isn’t that worth getting out of the pool for?
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