Warm welcome for royal visitors

POSTED: 11/4/11 12:18 PM

St. Maarten – H.M. Queen Beatrix, prince Willem-Alexander and princess Maxima received a warm and enthusiastic welcome in St. Maarten yesterday. The day started out gray, and a slight drizzle came down about twenty minutes before the royal plane touched down on Princess Juliana International Airport at two minutes before ten thirty. Shortly before touchdown, a bleak sun broke through the clouds. The weather held up throughout the day, though in the afternoon the weather was overcast again.
The day started in true Caribbean style when journalists were expected to gather at the university on Pondfill Road where a bus would pick them up for a police-escorted transfer to the airport. When the bus left shortly after the scheduled time of nine o’clock, one local journalist, Maximo Castro was left behind.
“He was only seven minutes late,” quipped Dcomm head Erno Labega. Castro later said that he had seen the last-minute schedule change too late.
The trip to the airport was a breeze because the police escort cleared the way across the car-crowded Harold Jack Hill.
There were hardly any signs along the road indicating the imminent arrival of the royal visitors. Only the Windward Islands Bank, Burger King and the Red Cross made an effort by decorating their establishments with flags and balloons. The WIB in Simpson Bay, like the main office in Philipsburg and the one at Le Grand Marche sported a banner with a text welcoming the royal family. On the Pondfill Road the Chinese community hijacked a piece of the freshly painted wall around the government administration building with a similar welcome message.
At the airport, everything was in place for the Queen’s arrival with Governor Holiday, Prime Minister Wescot-Williams and Parliament chairlady Gracita Arrindell lined up along the red carpet. Airport staff was busy vaccuming it up to the last minute, to make sure not a speck of dust would get in the way of Her Majesty.
On the way to town, few people were waving flags few along the beginning of the airport road.
But getting into Simpson Bay, at the end of the airport runway there was an enthusiastic crowd of school children and residents. Though there was not a huge crowd all along the way, there were quite some pockets of cheering, waving and smiling people to give Her Majesty, prince Willem-Alexander and princess Maxima a warm welcome. Even the passengers in the press bus traveled through a barrage of cheers, tempting Sxm Island Times reporter Samuel Allen to exclaim that he had never before received so much attention in his life.
In Philipsburg, the royal delegation paid a visit to the Governor’ office before proceeding to the government administration building for a meeting with members of the cabinet. Schoolchildren lined the entrance to the building and a limited number of onlookers witnessed the arrival from a distance.

In the afternoon the Queen did the official opening of the Mental Health Foundation’ facility in Cay Hill in the presence of MHF-director Eileen Halley and Public Health Minister Cornelius de Weever.
There was a small crowd outside to follow the brief ceremony, but the majority consisted of local and Dutch media representatives.
At the Emilio Wilson Park St. Maarten Pride Foundation President Jadira Veen, Epic coordinator Rueben Thompson, Marine Park manager Tadzio Bervoets and Simarc president Jay Haviser made presentations about their efforts to protect the local environment to an audience consisting of Queen Beatrix, prince Willem-Alexander, princess Maxima, Prime Minister Wescot-Williams and Vice PM Heyliger. The royals also engaged in talks with the volunteers that work for Simarc.
While the public was kept at a distance, photographers were able to come really close to the royals in the park setting. The atmosphere was relaxed. A member of the “queen’s security detail confirmed that the friendly atmosphere in St. Maarten was definitely different from the more tensed situation in Curacao. The Friendly Island lived up to its nickname yesterday.
The third stop during the afternoon program was at the Sundial School, where students demonstrated their skills as beauticians and cooks. In the gym students sang and danced for the royal visitors.
Bu the end of the afternoon an enthusiastic crowd had gathered outside the school, and the delegation left under cheers, a roaring applause. One fan of the royal family held up a sign that read, God Bless the Queen.
All in all, the queen’s visit was more of an extended photo opportunity than anything else. Photographers were hustling for the best possible position at every location, which made one Dutch reporter concede, “Yes, it’s always the same circus on these trips, and elsewhere it is worse because there are many more photographers.”

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