Thanks stmartinfan. I'm thinking that we may use a taxi most of the time but rent a car for a few days to tour around the island. Still a little concerned about the driving though. I was perfectly fine driving in Aruba since they drive on the right side and it's basically one long road across the island but didn't rent a car in St. Thomas since there are a lot of hills and twists and turns and they drive on the left side. We love to explore by foot. Where on the island are the tourist areas for shopping/eating. We'd like to check that out. I see that there are some local dining spots even within walking distance from Divi Little Bay. Is the island relatively safe? Thanks again.
We've not been to St. Thomas, so I can't offer a comparison, but I would say St. Maarten is more "rustic" and unpolished than Aruba, which felt a bit too much like Miami Beach for us, or Grand Cayman. It's much calmer and safer feeling than Jamaica, which we didn't like. In our nearly 20 years visiting, we haven't ever had a situation where we felt threatened or in jeopardy although we aren't out late at night and generally visit busy areas.
My husband is fine with driving on the island, but is very familiar with all the roads after so many visits. Like Aruba, driving is on the right side of the road, and you can essentially make a circle of the island. We feel safe driving, although there is an neighborhood called "Sandy Ground," near Marigot, that is rougher and we usually avoid going through there, especially at night. It's not on the way to anywhere we go, so it's not a problem. There is a rental car service at Divi, so you could taxi from the airport and see how you feel about driving. The stretch from the airport to Divi is mostly heavily developed, but there are many sections in the center of the island that are still open pastures. One of the best parts of the island is exploring the many beaches, like Orient, Friars or Mullet, so a car would be helpful for that. There are usually official taxis waiting at Divi, or the front desk could contact one for you.
The main shopping area is in Philipsburg, which you could walk to from Divi, although it's a hike. The worst is it's uphill coming back to the resort! I would not walk there at night, because the main street area almost completely shuts down at a night when cruisers are gone, so it's very desolate. During the day, there are lots of casual restaurants looking out on the boardwalk and water at Great Bay in Philipsburg (most close at night). Many have turned over during Covid because they were so dependent on the passengers from the adjacent cruise dock, so I can't tell you the best ones now. Two favorite restaurants in Philipsburg for us are The Greenhouse, for casual meals, and Chesterfields, an old-time island restaurant that gets both tourists and locals. (If you go at lunchtime, you'll see lots of business people from town.) They are both located at the opposite end of town, 15 minutes or so from Divi by car or taxi, and you would not walk at night. Except for the Gingerbread restaurant at the adjacent resort, Belair, there are no restaurants you could walk to at night.
There is a local "market" by the waterfront in Marigot, the largest town on the French side, on Wednesday and Saturday mornings that can be fun for shopping for souvenirs and other nicer items. If you're there early, you can also buy fresh fish from nearby stands.
Some of our favorite Dutch-side restaurants, like The Palms and Vesna Taverna, are in the Simpson Bar area, which you'll travel through from the airport to Divi. Maho is another area past the airport with several restaurants we like, like Le Moulin Fou and Three Amigos Mexican. There's a casino there and some adjacent timeshares, so it's usually busy at night and easy to walk around the block-long area. There's former outdoor restaurant being redeveloped there with several food venders and food trucks, so we plan to check that out.
The best dining is in Grand Case, on the French side, which has many amazing French restaurants. Our favorite is Bistroit Caraibes, but we also enjoy Oceans 82, La Villa, The Cottage, and a few others. There's also an area called the "lolos," a large grouping of local food stands with seating and a shared roof that feature grilled seafood and chicken with generous sides. There are several nice shops along the same main street, so you could spend a few hours there. Most of the upscale restaurants are open only for dinner, and the drive from Divi to Grand Case a night isn't one I'd do unless you'd checked it out during the daylight, since it's across the island. We've done it several times, but actually spent a week in a rental in Grand Case so we could enjoy the great cuisine and nearby beaches without the nighttime drive!
One of the best sources for info on the island is the St. Maarten/Martin section of traveltalkonline.com it's participants are mostly avid fans of the island and share trip reports with summaries of restaurants, beaches, activities, etc., You'll see lots of reports with include photos, including amazing restaurant meals, and other scenes. Several of the regular posters rely on taxis to get around so you'll also find recommendations on the drivers they use regularly. I've seen several reports with some new restaurants that I need to add to my list to check out!
We're booked for 2 weeks in January, so need to start creating my list of places to try!