Wedding: Travel: Honeymoon: St. Maarten

We’ll go so far as to call St. Maarten the most laid-back destination in the Caribbean for this reason: For over 350 years, the island’s been split into French (St. Martin) and Dutch (St. Maarten) sides — the oldest, most harmonious coexisting arrangement in history. (Newlyweds: Take notes on this lesson in compromise!) Today, its crystalline waters are not only the center of Caribbean sailing and yachting (have a local give you the


We’ll go so far as to call St. Maarten the most laid-back destination in the Caribbean for this reason: For over 350 years, the island’s been split into French (St. Martin) and Dutch (St. Maarten) sides — the oldest, most harmonious coexisting arrangement in history. (Newlyweds: Take notes on this lesson in compromise!) Today, its crystalline waters are not only the center of Caribbean sailing and yachting (have a local give you the celeb who’s-who on those mega-yachts docked in Simpson Bay), but its shores boast exquisite dining and endless duty-free shopping, plus all the daytime excursions and nighttime diversions to make you seriously contemplate canceling that return flight. After just a few days soaking up the sun and the mellow vibe, honeymooners will understand why the island’s latest marketing slogan, “a little European, a lot of Caribbean,” makes absolute, honest sense.

BY DAY: Shop in the two capitals — Marigot (French) and Philipsburg (Dutch). Not only will you find designer goods at bargain prices, but on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Marigot, the deal-savvy haggler can go to town negotiating for souvenirs with the salespeople in the outdoor bazaar. For a fun side trip, don’t miss the Butterfly Farm (thebutterflyfarm.com), or the 12 Metre Challenge (12metre.com), St. Maarten’s best learn-to-sail excursion. Or take a day trip and travel by air or sea to scope out neighboring islands such as St. Barths, St. Eustacius, Anguilla or Saba.

BY NIGHT: Stop by for dinner and dancing at the Kon Tiki Beach in Orient Bay (kontikibeachsxm.com) or the Sunset Beach Bar (sunsetbeachbar.com). The party-hard couple will no doubt head to Bliss, a beachfront lounge/bar/club (myspace.com/theblissexperience), located inside Caravanserai Beach Resort. Casinos abound, and the biggest is the Casino Royale in the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort (playmaho.com); stay for a nightly performance in the new 1,000-seat Showroom Royale. For a low-key evening, stroll the streets of Philipsburg, stopping to sit on the beach and watch the sunset sparkle between the masts of harboring sailboats.

WHAT TO EAT: For lunch, scout out an authentic “lolo” (locally owned, locally operated) barbecue, like the Buccaneer Beach Bar (buccaneerbar.com) in Simpson Bay. For fresh seafood and casual appeal, try Skipjack’s in Cole Bay (skipjacks-sxm.com), right on the water. For fine French-side dining, you can’t miss L’Escapade in Grand Case (escapaderestaurant.com). Equally romantic is Le Marrakech in Marigot for magnificent Moroccan food and decor (sxm-marigot.com/marrakech).

WHERE TO STAY: The Westin St. Maarten, Dawn Beach Resort & Spa — the newest resort and one of the most luxurious on the island — has a magnificent spa, beautifully appointed rooms, those signature “heavenly” beds, and fine dining on-site. Rooms from $278 per night (011-599-543-6700, westin.com). For tighter budgets, try Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort & Casino near Philipsburg. Rooms from $119; they also offer an all-inclusive package (800-SONESTA, sonesta.com).

BEST TIMES TO GO: With the trade winds, weather year-round is summery (average 80Ú Fahrenheit), so any time can work—but for lower rates and fewer crowds (the island is a popular cruise stop) book between mid-April and mid-December. (Beware: Hurricanes are most common in September and October.) For an all-out party, go during the Heineken Regatta (early March), when sailors and enthusiasts from all over the world come to race by day and boogie by night.

NEWLYWED NEWS: If you’re heading to the Westin, chat up one of their romance concierges, who can set up a romantic dinner on the beach, intimate couples treatments in the spa, and more.

GETTING THERE: Fly nonstop from Philly on US Airways or United, or nonstop from Newark on Continental (all about four hours). Note the one-hour time difference!

ROMANCE RATING: 4