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ISLANDS lean St. Maarten ST. MARTIN mm:. dm& Marigot Philipsburg MAARTEN y Bib II "t ' flj There are Burger Kings, KFCs and Pizza Huts, and numerous luxury shops, including Gucci, H. Stern jewelry, Liz Claiborne and Ralph Lauren Polo. But it is possible to get away from the fray. The best place to enjoy West Indian serenity is the Pasanggrahan Royal Inn, the island's oldest hotel. The green-and-white clapboard inn was formerly the governor's house and royal residence for Queen Juliana. The inn is easy walking distance to shops and casinos, but guests will hear only the sing-song of tree frogs, the gentle lapping of waves and the occasional burst of the trade winds rattling the palm fronds. Daytime is another matter. Enormous cruise ships, some docked and others anchored, are common visitors in the harbor. The stores on Front Street are packed elbow-to-elbow. You can sample Dutch cheeses on a beach picnic or join an afternoon race on a former America's Cup yacht (and you don't have to know how to sail). Or you can buy some Dutch wooden shoes in one of the crafts shops and tell everyone back home you went Dutch on vacation. I : If I B"-- 'I ! 111' I'ilf' ' j S hH IB l 'Wii'x ' - v.1 i . 1 If , ff i'-a ! I i -rB WIS f.'JIK Uvyy!.', f J L.,m-,. j Photos by Cheryl Blackerby JUST BRILLIANT: Agatha Richardson (left) at Delila Boutique in Philipsburg. A guavaberry liqueur shop on Front Street (right) sells the drink that began as a Christmas treat. Money makes Philipsburg go round: Spend it at a casino, in the Liz Claiborne or Ralph Lauren shops, or at a disco, till dawn. edly beaten path. St. Maarten has been thoroughly discovered, which is good news for people who like sophisticated shopping, a fast-track night life and Americanized surroundings. with the French territory of St. Martin. It's one of the Caribbean's most developed islands. Time-share resorts abound. Even swimmers at the beach aren't safe from sales pitches. The traffic can be as bad as Interstate 95 on a Monday morning. On the 30-minute trip from the airport to Philipsburg, my taxi inched along the road in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It was Sunday afternoon. The island is on a decid By Cheryl Blackerby PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten This island is not the place to find nature and solitude. It is the place to shop in the 500-plus shops, to gamble and to sunbathe on gorgeous beaches with several hundred other tourists. It's a late-to-bed, late-to-rise kind of place; nightclubs and casinos stay open until at least 4 a.m. St. Maarten is the southern part of the island shared Page 6 Do you feel lucky? The official currency is the Dutch guilder, but the U.S. dollar is the currency of choice. And you'll need a pocketful if you go to the casinos or stay in one of the luxury resorts. The three casinos in Philipsburg on Front Street Rouge et Noir, Coliseum Casino and Slots World are as crowded as a Florida mall from 10 a.m. to 4 in the morning.