Spring Break in London

Spring Break in London


Spring Break for us comes at the end of a long Minnesota winter. Typically, we choose to go somewhere warm, a little reward after months of snow and bitter cold.  A couple of years ago, however, we decided to take our daughters for their first European trip, ten days for Spring Break in London.  Little did we know that London would be experiencing a cold wave with record low temperatures that reminded us of home.  Despite the cold temperatures, we had a fantastic Spring Break in London and rate it as one of our best all-time trips.

We decided on London after an internal family debate. We wanted to go somewhere different than normal and decided upon Europe.  But where in Europe to go?  There were a number of cities we considered including Rome, Paris, Amsterdam and London.  We looked very closely at going to Rome.  Rome has incredible history and culture but it was a longer flight that required a connection.  In addition, the airfare was very expensive.  London had a lot of things in its favor.  There is a nonstop flight from our home in Minneapolis.  The airfare was more reasonable.  There is no language barrier and Deb had studied in London during college and knew the city very well so that naturally went to the top of the list.

Where to Stay

Our Apartment building in London

Our Apartment building in London

When booking accommodations in London, we first looked at the major hotels. One thing we quickly discovered was that hotel rooms in London, like those in New York and other big cities are very expensive.  On top of that, you don’t get a great deal of room in the hotel rooms.  We had four people and the idea of spending ten days in a small hotel room all competing for one bathroom was not appealing.

I next looked at Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO.com). Friends of ours had used the site for an apartment in Paris and were very pleased.  I was surprised by the wide variety of places available.  The site is very well organized by location and includes photos to give you a better idea of what you’re renting.  There is also a calendar included so you can see if a particular property is available when you want it.

I found a great two bedroom apartment in Knightsbridge in a secluded area just a ten minute walk from Harrods, two subway (Tube)

Apartment kitchen

Apartment kitchen

stops and Hyde Park. It would have more than enough room for my wife, two daughters and I including a great kitchen so we didn’t have to go out for every meal.  Best of all, it was less expensive than the hotels we had been looking at and had more than three times the space.


I emailed the owner of the apartment. She was very responsive and answered several questions I had about the property.  We agreed on the rental and I wired a deposit to her through my credit union. It was a simple, easy process.  She even arranged transportation for us to and from Heathrow Airport with a car service she has an arrangement with.  It could not have been easier.

Things to Do

I am not going to do justice to everything there is to see and do during Spring Break in London. I’m just going to provide some highlights and why our kids liked certain activities.  For a more detailed overview of all the activities in London, there are several websites mentioned below in the London Resources section.  As always, we recommend Fodor’s Guides, our “go to” guidebooks when we travel.

The girls with the Yeoman Warder

The girls with the Yeoman Warder

Tower of London – The Tower of London is one of the most visited attractions in London.  Getting there is easy by taking the District or Circle lines on the Tube to the Tower Hill station.  The Tower of London is a short walk from the station.  The Tower is actually a complex of buildings, the oldest of which dates to 1078.  It has served many functions over the years ranging from a royal residence to a prison to now as the home of the Crown Jewels.  Be advised that some parts of the tour may be scary for younger children as they feature replicas of medieval torture devices.  I highly recommend taking one of the Yeoman Warder tours.



Our family at Windsor Castle

Our family at Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle-A short train ride outside of London puts you in Windsor, home of Windsor Castle the weekend residence of Queen Elizabeth II. Trains depart London from either the Waterloo or Paddington stations and drop you within walking distance of the castle.  There’s a lot to see at Windsor Castle and The Royal Collection Trust which manages the castle recommends a stay of 2 ½ to 3 hours.  Be advised that there is quite a bit of walking involved, something to consider if you have small children.  The town of Windsor is quite nice with many shops and restaurants.



The view from the London Eye

The view from the London Eye

London Eye – Originally intended to be a temporary structure, the London Eye opened in 2000.  It proved so popular that it is now a permanent fixture on the London skyline.  The London Eye is basically a very large Ferris wheel but unlike a Ferris wheel you may ride at a carnival or fair in the U.S. the London Eye has large, enclosed compartments that hold 20-30 people and allow you to stand and move about as the Ferris wheel turns.  There are incredible views of the city from the top of the London Eye.  A complete revolution of the London Eye takes about 30 minutes.  I highly recommend a “Fast Track” ticket which helps you avoid most of the long lines that can form.  This was one of our kids’ favorite attractions in London.

Churchill War Rooms – We planned our trip with our daughters in mind. We tried to look for things to do that would be of interest to them.  The only thing I really wanted to see on the entire trip was the Churchill War Rooms, an underground complex from which Winston Churchill led Britain during World War II.  My wife and daughters agreed to accompany me on this tour reluctantly.  They just didn’t think it would be of interest to them.  Given their frame of mind, I expected my Churchill War Rooms tour to be a quick one.  Imagine my surprise when we spent over four hours touring the War Rooms and associated museum.  My daughters were fascinated by the whole experience and the story of Britain’s struggles during World War II.  My older daughter was so impacted by the experience that she decided to use some of Churchill’s speeches as part of her school Speech team presentation.

If your children are middle school aged or older, I highly recommend a trip to the Churchill War Rooms.

Harrods at night

Harrods at night

Harrods – Harrods is quite unlike any other department store I’ve been in anywhere in the world. While much of the store will remind you of other department stores in New York or Chicago, parts of it are quite unique.  I for one could spend most of the day strolling the Food Hall.  Case after case of meat, fish, vegetables, baked goods and flowers all meticulously displayed.  We happened to be there during Easter week which was an amazing sight.  The colored eggs and other Easter decorations were simply amazing.  Our kids really enjoyed the sights and sounds of the store. A special treat is seeing the store from outside, at night, outlined completely in bright white lights.


Our family at Stonehenge

Our family at Stonehenge

Stonehenge – Although I had been to London several times before, I had never been to Stonehenge. It is something that I’ve always wanted to do.  We located a tour that had a bus out to Stonehenge.  After a little more than 90 minutes on the bus, we arrived.  I have to admit that at first I was a bit underwhelmed.  I just didn’t expect that a site like Stonehenge would be located so close to a major highway.  Despite the cool weather, it was quite busy at Stonehenge. The size of the stones that make up Stonehenge is quite impressive when you get close to them. It was surprising to us that much of the history of Stonehenge is unknown.  The tour guide would make a statement like “Why were the stones moved to Stonehenge?” and then follow it up with “We don’t know.”in a heavy British accent.  This happened several times over the course of the tour and became a running joke with our family.  Later in the trip I’d ask my daughters what they wanted for dinner and they’d respond with “I don’t know!” in their best British accent.  I enjoyed our trip to Stonehenge but I’m not sure that I need to see it again.

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace – Buckingham Palace has served as the home of the British Royal family since 1837 and seeing the Changing of the Guard at the palace is one of the most iconic tourist attractions in the world. The day we went it was 25 degrees and windy but it was still an amazing sight.  There are certain times of the year when regular people are allowed to tour the palace.  Check the Buckingham Palace web site for details.  During the summer months the ceremony takes place every day.  In the winter months it occurs every other day.  Check the schedule before you go.


Warner Bros. Studio

Warner Bros. Studio

Warner Bros. Studio Tour-The Making of Harry Potter – If you have any Harry Potter fans in your family like we have this is a “must see” on your Spring Break in London.  Located just outside of London in the town of Watford is the studio where they filmed all of the harry potter movies.  It’s a short 20 minute train ride from London’s Euston station.  From the station, you hop a studio bus and you’re there in no time.  I have to admit that I have not read any of the harry Potter books while our daughters have read all of them multiple times.  Even I had an incredible time on this tour.  It’s incredible to see the amount of work that goes into making movies like these.  While I thought we would be at the studio for a couple of hours, we ended up spending most of the day there.  This was perhaps the highlight of the trip for our daughters.

Portobello Road Market – The Portobello Road Market bills itself as the World’s Largest Antiques Market and I’m sure that’s probably true.  In addition to antiques you’ll also see new items, fruits and vegetable, food and fashion.  The peak days for the market are Friday and Saturday.  It’s a great place for the kids to explore and find some unique souvenirs.

London Theatre – The theatre in London is every bit as varied and impressive as Broadway in New York.  We knew we wanted to see a show in London but weren’t sure which one. We went early one morning to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square.  The booth sells the remaining tickets for that night’s show at a number of London theatres.  We were fortunate to get tickets to see Jersey Boys at the Piccadilly Theatre.  The show was just fantastic and we all had a great time.

Where to Eat

Pret A Manger – Pret A Manger means “ready to eat” in French. It’s a British chain with locations in several countries including the United States.  You’ll find Pret locations in New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C.  There are Pret A Manger locations all over London.  We liked it because it is good food, reasonably priced that can be eaten quickly.  They have sandwiches and salads which our daughters love.  In the morning they also have breakfast sandwiches and pastries.

The Grenadier

The Grenadier

The Grenadier – A friend who travels to London frequently on business told us about The Grenadier. He said it was his favorite pub in London. The pub was originally opened in 1720 and served as an Officer’s mess.  We ate there on our first night in London and were not disappointed.  It can be a bit of a challenge to find The Grenadier; it’s located in an alley in one of the nicer sections of London.

Upon entering it seemed that we were some of the only non-Londoners in the pub. We had to wait a few minutes to be seated but were served promptly upon sitting down. It had a very comfortable feel.  The menu is a typical pub menu including fish and chips, bangers and mash etc.


We ate at a number of different pubs while in London including The Prince of Wales, Adam and Eve, the Westminster Arms and The White Horse. All have very similar menus with basic sandwiches, burgers and of course, fish and chips.

The Orange – While in London we weren’t looking for much in terms of fine dining but we didn’t always want to end up in a pub. We wanted someplace that would have food my wife and I would enjoy while also having something for the kids.  We found just such a place in The Orange.  It has a wide variety of excellent main dishes and salads while having really tasty wood-fired pizzas for the kids.  We highly recommend it.

The Royal Standard of England

The Royal Standard of England

The Royal Standard of England – A bit outside London in the town of Beaconsfield is The Royal Standard of London which bills itself as the oldest pub in England at over 900 yearsold.  The food was better than traditional pub food and the service was outstanding.  We enjoyed just walking through the building and reading about its history.  It was quite impressive.




Eating In – We typically would eat breakfast in the apartment we were renting. We stopped at the grocery store, Sainsbury’s, several times during the week.  There are locations all over London and you’ll be sure to find most everything you could want there.

Getting Around

London is a large city but very easy to get around. The London taxis are everywhere and very easy to hail.  The cabs are larger than taxis in the U.S. and extremely clean.  We used them frequently.

The subway in London is called the Tube. There are numerous stations throughout the city making it very easy to get just about anywhere you want to go.  We bought a seven day Travelcard which gave us unlimited transportation on the Tube, buses and trains within the London travel zones.  I kept track of the time we used the cards and they more than paid for themselves.  Other friends who have gone have purchased the Visitor Oyster card which they’ve like as well.

London also has an extensive bus transportation system, the symbolic double decker buses. They can take you virtually everywhere in London.


For our first European trip with our kids we could not have picked a better spot than London. It was different enough that our girls got a taste of a new culture but similar enough that they didn’t feel uncomfortable.  Unlike a typical Spring Break that involves a lot of beach time, on this trip we did not relax much.  We were constantly moving wanting them to see as much as possible during our stay.  We took a family poll at the end of our trip and everyone agreed that this was absolutely one of our best Spring Break trips ever.

Family Spring Break in St. Maarten

Family Spring Break in St. Maarten


One of the best trips we’ve ever taken with our kids was a family Spring Break in St. Maarten. It took a bit of discussion at our house before we settled on St. Maarten.  We wanted somewhere warm which ruled out ski destinations.  We considered Hawaii which we’ve been to before with our kids and we all just love.  But we only had a week off and the prospect of a ten hour flight, including connections, and having to deal with jet lag on both ends of the trip made that option less appealing.

We turned our focus to the Caribbean and were looking at a couple of different options. We looked seriously at the Dominican Republic which we’ve never visited.  Friends who’ve been there said it was beautiful but a bit resort-focused.  We like to get out and explore the destinations we visit so we chose not to go to the Dominican Republic.

We decided to go to St. Maarten which we had also never visited. We chose St. Maarten for a couple of reasons. First, it was a simple five hour nonstop flight from our home in Minneapolis.  Second, it was only a one hour time change at the time of year we were going.  St. Maarten observes Atlantic Standard Time (AST) year-round so jet lag was not going to be an issue. And finally, St. Maarten has qualities that make it unique among Caribbean destinations.

DSC09805St. Maarten is an island split in two. You have the Dutch side of St. Maarten and the French side of St. Martin.  While there are definite differences between the two sides of the island, one thing you never have to deal with are border crossings.  It’s clearly marked when you are going from one side to the other but people move about freely with no need to stop at any kind of checkpoint.



There are a number of differences between the two sides of the island. The official currency on the Dutch side is the Netherlands Antillean Guilder while on the French side it’s the Euro.  American dollars are happily accepted most places, however. One thing to keep in mind is that things may be marked in the local currency in stores.  When we first arrived in St. Maarten we went to the local grocery store.  I was a little shocked at the prices and I remember thinking how expensive everything seemed.  It took me a few minutes to realize that the prices were marked in Guilders and the exchange rate with the dollar was 1.79 to 1 at the time.  Much better!

Another difference is the electricity. On the French side they use the European standard 220V service with the pronged plug used throughout Europe.  For Americans it will be necessary to bring an adapter with you or buy one when you arrive.  On the Dutch side they use the American 110V service with the standard plug you’d find anywhere in the U.S. No adapter is necessary.

The weather in St. Maarten is remarkably consistent with highs in the low to mid 80s and lows in the low to mid 70s year-round. I loaded St. Maarten into the weather app on my phone so I still look at the weather every day and I’m amazed at how consistent it is.  The week we were there it was absolutely perfect every day.  We had a brief 10 minute rain shower one evening but that was it.

DSC00067We were able to get around the island quite easily with our rental car. Once you’ve been there a couple of days it’s hard to get lost.  I will admit that it took a bit of getting used to driving on some of the narrow roads.  The people on motorbikes have no hesitation in passing very close to your car.  Unlike some Caribbean islands, we never felt unsafe wherever we went.  We traveled all over the island day and night and had nothing but good experiences.




Where to Stay

There are a number of beautiful resorts on St. Maarten and they appear to offer top notch service and accommodations. With two daughters we, however, needed more room than a single hotel room could offer. We wanted some space to spread out, a kitchen in which we could prepare breakfast and have snacks and separate bedrooms for my wife and myself and our daughters.

Having had success renting an apartment in London before through VRBO.com I decided to check out the site to see what was available. I was pleased to see that there was a wide variety of accommodations available on both the Dutch and French sides in all price ranges.  For those who have never used the VRBO site, I encourage you to go and explore the site before your next vacation.  You’ll be amazed at the wide variety of places to stay.

We settled on a two bedroom condo on the Dutch side of the island in an area called Cupecoy. I liked that it was reasonably close to the airport but not subject to airplane noise. It was also very convenient to restaurants and shopping.  Best of all there was a private beach right in front of the condo that was absolutely beautiful along with a pool area if the Caribbean became too rough.  I emailed the condo owner who was very accommodating and very gracious.  Fortunately, the dates we wanted were available so we booked the condo.

Where to Eat

There are a quite a few incredible restaurants in St. Maarten. In fact if you walk down the main street in Grand Case, you’ll be passing several of the best restaurants in the entire Caribbean.  During our family Spring Break in in St. Maarten we ate at a wide variety of restaurants from the local “lolos” to a fantastic takeout pizza place to some of the higher end French restaurants with incredible ocean views that line the Boulevard de Grand Case in Grand Case.  Here are a few of our favorites.IMG_1458

Sky’s the Limit -Boulevard de Grand Case Grand Case

The restaurant is classified as a “Lolo” which is a local restaurant. It was a recommendation we saw in the Fodor’s guide.  The restaurant sits close to the street among a number of other lolos in the center of Grand Case.  They serve great chicken and ribs in an extremely casual setting.  The food was good, inexpensive and plentiful.  If you want some local color and great people watching, this is the place to go.

Sint Maarten Yacht Club –90 Welfare Road, Cole Bay, Simpson Bay

There are quite a few restaurants along Welfare Road in Simpson Bay. We happened upon this restaurant because it looked as if it had fantastic views from the road.  We were not disappointed.  The restaurant has a large outdoor seating area overlooking the harbor.  If you’re interested in seeing large yachts in action, this is the place.  In fact, many of the table seemed to be occupied by crews from the yachts at anchor.   A casual but tasty menu and really good service.  We went back later in the week on our last day in St. Maarten.  The bartender, Keith, a great guy originally from Ireland remembered us and even remembered what my daughter had ordered on our previous visit.

Sarafina’s – Boulevard de France, Marigot

Sarafina’s is a cafeteria style restaurant with perhaps the best baked French goods I’ve had outside of France. The baked goods reminded us of Le Panier, our favorite French bakery in Seattle.  Our older daughter had a ham and cheese sandwich on a great baguette and the rest of us had ham and cheese quiche.  I also bought two pear tarts which we shared and they were incredible.  The girls bought some macaroons which we ate later in the evening.

Papa Dan’s Pizza – Near the American University of the Caribbean Campus, Cupecoy

We ordered pizza, via Skype, from Papa Dan’s Pizza in Cupecoy. Papa Dan’s is located about two blocks from the condo we were staying in and is behind the Starz Casino and adjacent to the American University of the Caribbean’s medical school in Cupecoy.  Dan is from France and he makes a great pizza.  We had a Traditional (Tomato and Basil), a Pepperoni and a St. Maarten special which was chicken and spinach.  It was all great.

Zee Best Café – Simpson Bay and other locations.

We started this morning with a little breakfast adventure to Zee Best Cafe in Simpson Bay. Zee Best promotes themselves as the best breakfast in St. Maarten. While it was good, we all agreed we’ve had better breakfasts elsewhere.

The Delight – 106 Rhine Road, Cupecoy.

Located directly across the street from our condo and connected to the Starz Casino. The restaurant is owned by the chef and his wife who is also the primary server.  Both are French citizens who grew tired of the cold winters in France.  We ordered a variety of their tapas which all had a French flair.  The food was absolutely fantastic which caught us by surprise given that the restaurant was largely vacant.  This place is an undiscovered gem.

La Villa – 93 Boulevard de Grand Case, Grand Case

This restaurant came highly recommended from some people we had met earlier in the week. The restaurant was crowded but we were able to get a table.  The restaurant had a prix fixe menu for 49 euros which included appetizer, main course and dessert.  My wife and I had a great tuna dish, our daughter Colleen had Mahi Mahi and our other daughter Caroline had a pasta dish.  All were excellent.

Le Tastevin – 86 Boulevard de Grand Case, Grand CaseDSCN3603

Perhaps the prettiest restaurant we ate in all week, Le Tastevin is located directly on the water and has incredible views. Forgetting that Europeans tend to eat later we got there when the restaurant opened in the evening and found it largely deserted.  The good news is that we were able to get a great seat right by the water.  The service was attentive but we found the food a bit inconsistent especially considering the price point.

Things to Do

Jet Skiing

St. Maarten Jet Ski Tours – 19 Little Bay Road, Philipsburg

Jet Skiing in St. MaartenWe arrived at 9:30am and our guide Nickolas was ready for us. Nickolas has an interesting background.  He was born in Argentina to French parents.  His grandparents had emigrated to Argentina at the start of WW II.  He had lived on several French islands around the world including in French Polynesia.

We booked a jet ski tour around the island. We left on the jet skis in mostly sheltered water for the first part of the tour.  We went first to Marigot and then up to Grand Case.  There were many beautiful homes and a lot of large yachts that we were able to see up close.

The second part of the tour was through the ocean. It was VERY rough and made riding the jet ski a challenge but we all did well.  If going with smaller children, ask about the ocean conditions before departing.  Smaller children may not do well in the rough water.


No. 1 SXM Watersports – Front Street 165 | Phillipsburg

Our day started early with a 7:00am wakeup for our 9:00am appointment for parasailing in Philipsburg with No. 1 SXM Parasailing. We found the location on Front Street withoutParasailing in St. Maarten difficulty and got a parking spot directly across the street as a bonus.  We met the owner Christel and her father who helps run the place.  Her brother is the boat captain.

We were lucky in that it was just the four of us and one additional person parasailing. It was a bit windy but after heading out into the ocean a bit we were able to launch the parachute and go parasailing.  My wife and I had done it before but it was the first time for the girls.  Deb went with Caroline and I went with Colleen.  The water was a bit rough due to the wind.  Despite that, we had a lot of fun but I have to admit I was happy to get back on the boat!

If you go, try to go early in the day. Depending on the day of the week Phillipsburg can get very crowded with cruise passengers.


Marigot Market

A unique spot that’s a large, open air, market right in the center of Marigot near the docks. It’s open every day but there are significantly more vendors on Wednesday and Sunday.Marigot Market  It’s a great spot if you’re looking for a t-shirt or other inexpensive souvenir to bring home.  There are also a number of high end shops on the side streets of Marigot.  Many of the most recognizable brands in the world can be found in the shops of Marigot.



West Indies Mall – Marigot

Located steps from the open air market in Marigot is the large West Indies Mall. It’s very similar to a mall you would see in the U.S. with many brand name                             West Indies Mall, Marigot             stores that are easily recognized.




Blue Mall – Cupecoy

A large, modern and visually attractive building from the outside. Go inside and you’ll find very few stores and those that are inside are not particularly attractive.  I’d go into Maho village or to the West Indies Mall in Marigot instead next time.

Phillipsburg – Phillipsburg is where the cruise ships that come to St. Maarten dock. There were five in port the day we were there and it was crowded. There are a ton of stores all of which cater to the cruise passengers.  You’ll see many of the stores you see at cruise ports throughout the Caribbean like Little Switzerland.  If you’re looking for any kind of jewelry or a watch you’re sure to find something to your liking here.

Grand Case – If you were to go to Grand Case in mid-afternoon you would think the area is deserted. There are very few people on the street and most of the shops are closed.  It’s a different world when you comeback in the evening.  All of the restaurants and stores are open and there are a ton of people on the street.  Most of the stores are small and locally owned.  There are a number of shops selling the normal tourist ware like t-shirts but there are a few shops that sell antiques or higher end artwork.  Parking can be a challenge although there is a nice, large public parking lot at the north end of the village.


Maho Beach – Having worked in the airline industry for a number of years I had always heard about Maho beach in St. Maarten. The beach sits directly at the end of the mainIMG_1360 Maho Beachrunway at the St. Maarten airport and you can probably get a better, and closer, view of the planes landing than you can at any airport in the world.  It was our first stop in St. Maarten on our first day of vacation.  Go in late morning and get a seat at the Sunset Bar and Grill.  You’ll notice an old surfboard with writing on it just near the entrance.  It contains the day’s flight schedule.  The highlight is the KLM 747 that comes in nonstop from Amsterdam several times a week.  We were fortunate to be there in time to see it land (see the accompanying video that I took). It was very exciting and a little bit scary.  There are a wide variety of planes that land at the airport from the 747 to mid-sized jets like the 737 to small prop planes that come in from surrounding islands.  Be sure to watch the people on the beach get blown off their feet when planes are taking off.  Unbelieveable.



Marigot – In addition to the market and the great baked good at Sarafina’s, Marigot is also home to Fort Louis, a 1600’s era French fort which has a magnificent view of MarigotThe fort in Marigot harbor. The hike up to the fort, while challenging, wasn’t too bad.  The fort’s remains haven’t been touched and only some of the fort’s walls and interior structure remain.  Still it was obvious why the fort was built where it was.  It had a commanding view of the city, the harbor and beyond.  When you get to the fort you can enjoy and absolutely beautiful view.


Going to the Beach

Orient Beach – Fodor’s guide describes Orient Beach as the best beach on the island. The Fodor’s writer must have been there when there were no cruise ships in town.  Orient Beach was about as far away from our condo as you can get on St. Maarten so it took about 40 minutes to get there.  We missed the turn for Orient Beach and ended up instead at Le Galion, a small, shallow bay with a small beach club and restaurant.  Wanting to visit Orient Beach, we backtracked about 5 minutes and turned on the road we had missed.  Orient Beach was absolutely packed with people and there were numerous vendors selling a variety of clothes and crafts.  There were tons of people there and it didn’t look like a place we would enjoy.  We made a quick retreat back to Le Galion.  It wasn’t until later that we found out that the cruise lines drop busloads of passengers at Orient Beach for the day.

Le GalionLe Galion – Very close to Orient Beach was Le Galion a beautiful and quiet beach that is home to two small beach clubs that will gladly rent you chairs and umbrellas. It was a far cry from the large crowds at orient Beach.  There is also a small café that sells cold drinks and sandwiches.  It was a welcome change from Orient Beach.



Happy Bay – We had heard that Happy Bay was perhaps the prettiest and also one of the most remote beaches on St. Maarten. We were determined to see for ourselves.   To get there we drove first to Friar’s Bay which was a very picturesque beach with two large beach clubs in operation.  The road into Friar’s Bay is mostly dirt and very rutted.  We got quite a jarring driving into the parking lot.  We drove to the end of the parking lot and parked the car.  There was a small, handwritten sign with an arrow pointing the way to Happy Bay.  About a 10-12 minute hike from the end of Friar’s Bay is Happy Bay which is absolutely beautiful and very uncrowded due to the hike it takes to get there. There were, however, a number of Europeans who were embracing the clothing optional feature of the beach.  This surprised our daughters a bit.

Happy Bay is every bit as beautiful as we had heard. There is also a gentleman near the entrance to the beach selling cold beverages from a cooler.  A true entrepreneur!

Cow in the road St. Maarten

We all swam and snorkeled a bit. We stayed at Happy Bay about three hours before hiking back to the parking lot at Friar’s Bay.  The drive out of Friar’s Bay was interesting due to the herd of cows we ran into on the drive out.  They did not seem bothered by cars in the least so we were very careful not to hit them.




Cupecoy Bay – Right outside the condo we were renting was Cupecoy Beach which fronts Cupecoy Bay. It’s a narrow beach but very beautiful due to the absolutely incredible blue color of the water.  We went there several times during our stay due to its close proximity to our condo.  It never seemed very crowded.  In fact, it seemed at time to be our own private beach.

Learning More About St. Maarten

There are a large number of very good guidebooks and websites that give you great ideas for your St. Maarten vacation. We have always been partial to Fodor’s Travel guides and this trip was no exception. Fodor’s Guide to St. Maarten gave us a great overview of the island and things to see and do as well as great places to eat.


I Love SXMI can’t say enough about our Spring Break in St. Maarten. The island is beautiful, the people are friendly, the food is incredible and the scenery is breathtaking.  We all decided as we were packing up to come home that this is definitely once place we want to come back to several times in the future.   We can’t wait!

Stay tuned to TotalFamilyTravel.com in the next few weeks for other great Spring Break travel ideas.

Planning For Spring Break

Planning For Spring Break

Living in Minnesota you have to learn to love the winter. Here the winter is long and it’s cold.  We embrace the winter and do our best to get outside and enjoy it.  But everything has its limits. That’s why planning for Spring Break is something we look forward to.

One thing that many Minnesotans look forward to every year is Spring Break. That time when the kids have a week off from school and you can get away from the snow and cold.  Some people head to Florida, some to Arizona and others go to Mexico to get some beach time and warm sunshine.  Those who haven’t had enough of the snow head to Colorado or Montana for some great mountain skiing.  Some people take advantage of our proximity to Chicago for some time in the Windy City.  And others choose to stay close to home visiting places like the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the United States.

Wherever you go, you need to plan your trip to make sure you’re taking advantage of everything your destination has to offer. Total Family Travel would like to give you some help in planning your Spring Break trip with the following tips.

Deciding on a Destination

When planning for Spring Break perhaps the biggest decision you’ll make is where you’ll go for Spring Break. You’ll need to consider your family and what they enjoy doing.  Do they like the beach or the desert?  Do they dream of skiing down long mountain runs with the snow in their face? Are there relatives in other parts of the country you haven’t seen in awhile who might enjoy your company?  If time or budget is a consideration, are there great things to see near your home that you’ve been missing.  There are great museums and attractions all over the country that your kids will just love.


After choosing your destination you have to consider your budget. Is flying an option?  If not, can you drive or take a train?  We took the train to Chicago one Spring Break and our kids absolutely loved it.  Amtrak has a great web site that makes it easy to plan a trip.

Even when flying you have some less expensive options. Airlines like Spirit or Frontier specialize in low fares.  Be careful however because they will charge you for other things like bringing certain carry-on bags on board or early boarding. You may be able to get a lower fare on major airlines like Delta, American or United by taking connecting flights or flying at off-peak times.

The best advice to get the lowest fare is to plan early. In colder climates flights to popular warm destinations at peak times can sell out months in advance.

Additional Considerations

When planning for Spring break decide in advance if you think you’ll need a rental car. At some destinations, cars can sell out so be sure to book early.  Check the major chains on airport but also check their locations nearby.  We’ve saved more than $100 on a weekly rental last year by using a major car rental company’s office in town as opposed to at the airport.  In some locations you won’t even need a rental car particularly if you’re staying at a large resort.

If there are things you absolutely want to do at your destination, be sure to book it early. Some destinations like Orlando get extremely crowded at Spring Break which can make it nearly impossible to schedule that breakfast with the Disney princesses that your daughter has been counting on.

Most importantly, don’t stress about your trip. Everything will turn out fine.  The trip, no matter the destination, will create memories that your kids will remember for the rest of their lives.  The important thing is to be together and have fun!

Over the next few weeks we will be highlighting some great Spring Break trips for all budgets. Stay tuned and happy travels.



We like to say that Total Family Travel helps you to create a lifetime of memories one trip at a time. Our site is dedicated to families that have always wanted to travel and those that travel continuously, families that are new to travel and those who are experienced road warriors. We provide travel tips and ideas that make getting from point A to point B easier.

Life today is hectic. Between work, school and outside activities it’s difficult for the average family to have dinner together let alone spend any quality time together.  Family travel is the one time when families can be together without everyday life interfering.  Families can visit new places, experience new things and create new memories, together.

We’re here to help you with your travels. From planning your trip, to navigating the airport, to flying on the plane or sailing on the ship to sightseeing at your destination, we’ll be with you every step of the way.  We both worked for a major airline and have traveled most everywhere you can go.  Together with our daughters we’ve traveled extensively around the U.S. and abroad.  We’d love to share what we know to make your life on the road easier.

John and Deb Wagner

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