I love airplanes! Living a stone’s throw away from the Toronto Airport my entire life has fuelled my love for planes. I can relate to the cult classic film, “Wayne’s World,” where the main characters are found on the hood of their car, looking up at incoming airplanes (minus the Baberaham Lincoln reference)…Been there, done that.
So, imagine my delight when I stayed at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Spa in St. Maarten for the first time: the resort is located right alongside Princess Juliana International Airport! The Princess Juliana International Airport is very unique because runway 10 is in direct line with Maho Beach. On any given day, you can witness aircrafts, of varying sizes, land right over your head, which makes it a very popular location for airplane enthusiasts, such as myself.
The Maho beach is a perfect location to enjoy a relaxing vacation for airplane lovers. Whether sitting in Palm Grill Restaurant, on the beach terrace or the above ground pool, your views of incoming aircrafts are spectacular. My idea of a perfect vacation would be returning to the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort where I would lie on a beach chair all day watching airplanes come in.
If you want to observe this St. Maarten tourist “must do,” head over to Maho Beach any day of the week. A conveniently placed surfboard, at The Sunset Bar and Grill, lists the day’s pending arrivals. For real airplane enthusiasts, the restaurant also has a radio tapped into the same frequency used between the pilots and the airport’s control. Many people camp out to witness planes that range from the US Airways DHC-6 Twin Otter, Sunwing’s Boeing 737, Air France’s Airbus 340 – 300, American Airlines 757, and the big boys like Corsair and KLM’s Boeing 747.
They say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” so of course we camped out waiting for the big planes to land. The KLM 747 is like a huge prehistoric blue bird soaring through the sky. From a distance, you can see it coming around the side of the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, then straightening and lining up to land. You can clearly see it approaching from miles away; therefore, you have sufficient time to position yourself for the opportune photo experience.
Not knowing what to expect, I stood in anticipation of an airplane with a wingspan of 212 feet, which is only 100 feet short of an average football field. As it flew over my head, I screamed with delight. I have never been that close to a 747 in my life, and it was both overwhelming and exhilarating.
In addition to arrivals, people line the beach to watch the planes depart, and they get blown around the beach by the jet blast. A clearly marked danger sign warns tourists of the “physical harm” that the jet blast of departing aircrafts can cause. “Extreme bodily harm and/or death” it reads – not my ideal fun day at the beach, but to each his own, right?! The jet blast was so strong it threw men around like dolls and stretched at least a kilometer out to sea.
We soon learned of yet another strange pastime called “fence surfing”. What is fence surfing? Well, it’s when people foolishly line up along the fence that separates the beach and the runway and wait for the jet blast of departing aircrafts to blow them around like rag dolls, while they hold on to the fence with all their might. It is highly not recommended, but I would be remiss to not mention it. We did see St. Maarten law enforcement on hand, preventing tourists from “fence surfing” and potentially getting hurt.
The highlight of the experience was on Sunday, November 6th, which marked Sunwing’s first commercial arrival in St. Maarten, and I was determined to capture the landing on film.
We checked the plane’s schedule several times to ensure we wouldn’t miss its arrival. Camped out on Maho Beach, I waited patiently for her to arrive. Like a child on a long distance car ride, I kept asking, “Is it time yet? Is it time yet? Is it time yet?” Suddenly, in the far distance, we spotted a plane approaching…Realizing it had to be her, I ran and took my position, ready to capture the arrival on film. She came gliding through the blue sky for the very first time, a route she would soon take week after week, but the first time would be the most special. My hand shook like a leaf as I held the camera in line for the shot. Once she came into view, I held the advance shutter down and it fired rapidly like semi-automatic weaponry, snapping the plane, frame by frame, as it descended to the runway. Once safely on the ground at Princess Juliana International Airport, I realized I had just witnessed history in the making: Never again would this event occur. I was there to witness as the first Sunwing airplane arrived in St. Maarten, and I captured that moment with my camera lens (and in my heart) forever.
Airplane watching at Maho Beach in St. Maarten is definitely legendary. Please share some of your airplane watching experiences at the Maho Beach in the comments section below. We would love to compare notes.