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St. Maarten vs St. Thomas: The Showdown

A Caribbean cruise offers the island adventures that dreams are made of. The only thing is, which island(s) do you choose? Located in the Eastern Caribbean, St. Maarten and St. Thomas are both popular choices. The great news is you can easily visit both from ports that include San Juan, Barbados, Charleston and New York.

On a cruise to either island, you’ll enjoy sun-drenched beaches and azure seas. However, both enchant visitors with unique cultural explorations, excursions and activities, with something to suit everyone.

To help you decide, here’s a detailed look at St. Maarten vs St. Thomas.

carnival breeze sailing towards the port of st thomas in the caribbean

What are the similarities between cruises to St. Maarten and St. Thomas?

When you love to spend your time lazing on powder-soft sand, zipping across the sea on a jet ski and shopping duty-free, you’ll adore cruising to either of these incredible cruise destinations.

Warm Weather

The Eastern Caribbean is blessed with warm, tropical weather year round, as it’s located near the equator. From October to April, you’ll escape the cold at home to soak up sunny days and balmy nights, with very little rainfall. No matter when you choose to cruise to St. Maarten or St. Thomas, you’ll find the sea is simply perfect for swimming, with an average temperature of around 80°F.

Pristine Beaches

Both islands boast postcard-worthy beaches with whiter than white sand and Caribbean blue, crystal clear waters. If you’re a beach lover, either cruise destination will surpass your expectations for long days basking in the sun and photo opportunities around every corner.

On a St. Maarten cruise you’re spoiled with choices, with beaches ranging from secluded cays to sparkling lagoons and vibrant hubs for people-watching and cocktails by the sea. Little Bay Beach is close to the cruise port, with shallow water that’s great for snorkeling right from the shoreline.

Gorgeous Orient Bay Beach is known for celebrity sightings and Dawn Beach offers views to St. Barts and an array of fun beach bars.

Magens Bay on St. Thomas is an award-winning stretch of sand with calm, turquoise water and lounge chairs for relaxation. Coki Beach is the spot for snorkeling from the sand, with chairs, umbrellas, and vendors for food and drinks. For beautiful views and reef snorkeling, Sapphire Beach is a popular choice.

beach goers gazing at a commercial airplane as it flys over maho beach in st maarten

Thrilling Water Sports

Can’t wait to indulge in your love of water sports? Both islands give you the opportunity to get out on the Sea for thrills, relaxation, underwater discoveries and much more. Among the most popular excursions are diving and snorkeling, where you’ll see colorful coral formations, mysterious caverns and sea creatures including butterfly fish, turtles, parrotfish and even manta rays.

To make the most of tropical breezes, set sail on luxurious catamarans to watch dolphins jumping while you relax on deck. You’ll get to stop at reefs for snorkeling and secluded beaches for lazing beneath the palm trees. Back on board, you’ll enjoy delicious food and beverages.

When action and adventure calls, your thrilling choices include parasailing, flyboarding, jet skiing, water skiing and jet boat rides. Kayaking is a wonderful way to explore the islands from the water. Discover wildlife-filled mangroves, untouched beaches and calm lagoons, with guides to point out highlights and history.

parents and their child enjoying a jet ski ride in st maarten

Fabulous Shopping

Make sure you have plenty of room in your suitcase for shopping on cruises to St. Maarten and St. Thomas. Right on the cruise ship dock in St. Thomas, Havensight Mall is a shopaholics heaven with duty-free goods ranging from luxury watches to handcrafted items and diamonds.

St. Maarten’s Front Street, in Philipsburg, is packed full of perfumeries, electronic stores, fashion boutiques and high-end jewelers.

What are the differences between cruises to St. Maarten and St. Thomas?

Though you’ll experience all the highlights of a Caribbean cruise on both islands, their unique differences also add variety and excitement to cruise itineraries.

Unique Cultures

In St. Maarten, you’ll find two amazing cultures on the one island, as it’s split by French and Dutch colonies. Mixed with a laid-back Caribbean atmosphere, this makes for an astounding amount of variety. The Dutch side offers tourist-friendly activities, rolling hills and the capital, Philipsburg. Luxury European boutiques, gourmet cafes and a relaxed vibe characterize the French side.

On a St. Thomas cruise, you’ll discover the American and Caribbean culture of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Get ready to enjoy vibrant reggae and calypso music, forts and historic houses. Family fun abounds, with aquariums and wildlife parks, while the port of Charlotte Amalie boasts cobblestone alleyways, museums and churches.

elevated view of the city of st thomas from the top of a local mountain

Exotic Cuisine

Dining is a treat on both islands, however, they each bring unique flavors. St. Maarten tempts your taste buds with Creole dishes, fresh seafood and a wide variety of international cuisines from Lebanese to Italian and, of course, French dishes.

Foods of the Virgin Islands are a highlight in St. Thomas, featuring Caribbean delicacies like tasty Callaloo stews, conch chowders and jerk barbecues.


While the United States dollar is widely accepted in St. Maarten, the Dutch side’s official currency is the Netherlands Antillean Guilder, and the French side’s currency is the Euro. As a U.S. territory, the official currency of St. Thomas is the United States dollar.

To wrap up, a cruise to either island brings a wealth of opportunities for sun-drenched fun, on a backdrop of some of the world’s most incredible beaches. The sheer variety of culture, adventure and historic attractions means there’s always something new to see and experience.

Whether you choose one or an action-packed itinerary to explore both, you simply can’t go wrong.

Note: Onboard activities, shore excursions, and dining options may vary by ship and destination.