OUR LAST VISIT: January 2013
Quite a lot has changed at Club Orient since our first visit to St. Maarten (Dutch)/St. Martin (French). For those of you who frequently skipped class when you took Caribbean History 101, the confusion about what this tiny island is actually called could be a whole course in colonialism by itself! America, Europe, and Great Britain (for the sake of this argument, GB gets their own category) seemed to do a pretty good job dividing up the spoils of the south Atlantic, island by island, but apparently this conundrum was just too complicated. So like that episode on The Brady Bunch, they apparently took a roll of masking tape and simply divided the island in half.
It’s all a little easier now that at least the French side is on the Euro, (apparently the Dutch side is still using the former Netherlands currency, despite the fact that Holland is on the Euro… go figure!) though we’ve not had much trouble using American dollars pretty much any place, at the exchange rate du jour. But since this blog is about finding places to get naked, the first thing that you should know is that the famous Club Orient Beach is essentially at the farthest possible distance from the (new and greatly improved) Princess Juliana Airport – which means about 45 minutes by taxi; or who knows how long (?) if the Simpson Bay drawbridge is up.
Having visited so many top notch naturist places in Europe, it’s difficult not to get a little snarky about Club O, beginning with the relatively steep price tag for a self-catering cottage, to the fact that some of them are looking pretty well worn. A particular pet peeve of mine is poorly lit bathrooms that give you the impression that if you could see better, you might notice how badly the remodel is overdue. In this case, a single florescent tube over the sink makes even the toned and the tanned look washed out and hung-over every morning, and leaves the reality of mold mostly to your imagination.
But really, the chalets are fine, and you’re not going so spend much time inside anyway unless you happen to hit monsoon season (which we sorta did one year). The attraction is the long sandy beach with a bazillion orange loungers and the emblematic yellow umbrellas. Since there’s a restaurant at one end, and a beach bar at the other, and a little store near the registration office where you can buy basic groceries and sundries, you really can make it through your entire stay and never wear a stitch of clothing – and in fact, I believe many do just that!
The old-timers tell of the days when you could wander past the rocks near Pedro’s restaurant and be naked most any time of the day. (Only the beach in front of Club O is officially naturist, but the shore stretches perhaps another mile to Mt. Vernon, with various concessions for renting jet skis, buying swimwear, and any number of restaurants and boutiques if you look back in the nooks and crannies.) When we first start going, there was an unspoken rule that you could walk to Mt. Vernon until 8:00 am, but after that, “beware of the gendarmes!” Apparently, the early bird grace period is no more, so on our last visit, we brought along our pareos in an intentionally feeble attempt to cover our midsections, (topless is apparently still OK, any time of day, for boys or girls!) enjoying a bit of gleeful vindication when a sudden gust of wind would cause a sudden ‘Marilyn Monroe’ photo op! This time, we only saw one other totally naked person on the main beach; an employee setting out lounge chairs for a neighboring resort. While contemplating the irony, it would be worth noting that the in-the-buff beach employee would actually (and might well be) a local tourist attraction, possessing the type of physique that would justify all the cruise people from the Dutch side hiring cabs to come ogle and gaze upon his… significant assets. Which leads me to an entirely new perspective as to why the locals of Orient Beach have become so deeply concerned about meandering naturists… Because, more often than not, the sight-seeing is a little, shall we say, lack luster!
Now before I spawn the ire of those who may accuse me of reducing naturism to an over-simplified excuse for free-for-all voyeurism, let me go on record that this is not my position on such matters. (Though, when my blog has matured a bit more, I think I will finally summon up the nerve to talk about the biological inevitability that naked humans are actually hard-wired to look at other naked humans, but most of the time we simply do it with our clothes on! But that’s another post!) But if there is one thing I’m not so keen on about Club Orient, it would have to be the fact that this father of three grown children still feels like one of the youngest people in the entire place! Perhaps less so than during our first visit back in 2005, but it seems that might not be true either, since a majority of the guests appear to be from the US, and there is no question that the demographics related to the age of US naturists seem to be creeping up at a steady, death-defying rate.
I know this is a problem throughout Europe as well, and I will also muse – at some point – about all the stunning swimsuits I’ve seen on young and not-so-young adults inhabiting the (supposed) naturist beaches of France. But Club Orient definitely gives you that feeling that this is the place you go once your children are grown and gone so you don’t have to tell them where you are. It’s that particular spin that changes the whole dynamic a bit – and not so much for the better.
Eventually, I’ll re-launch my naturist travel website and talk a bit more about karaoke night in the restaurant (thinking older women singing even older songs, bedecked in body jewelry that you could never explain to your daughter or your mother.) Or the fabulous Tiko Tiko Cruise that takes you out to see what a desert island really must feel like, sans a soccer ball named Wilson; but with value added commodities like unlimited rum punch and filet mignon cooked to order. And I could start an entire blog about the countless excellent restaurants, many of which are in the neighboring town of Grand Case, where for the price of a two-door Kia, you can have a life-changing meal and a bottle of wine… or two! (Call a cab!)
In short, we really do like the place a lot. Not like we like France, Greece, or Croatia; but you don’t go to those places in January or February, and given the other options like Mexico, Dominican Republic or Jamaica, I think this remains the best naked value for the dollar. Recent changes in management have definitely resulted in a friendlier environment, and the be naked all day (until the taxi comes to take you to Grand Case) bit is very, very good – especially when you start drinking at 10:00 am, and now at 3:00 pm, you’re standing in the naked queue at the Perch Bar for Happy Hour 2-for-1. Who wants to put pants on for that?
It’s a good place. And we’ve met some really fine people there. I just hope the next generation steps up pretty soon here. Us empty nesters aren’t getting any younger!