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Trip Report First Trip to Maho Bay Camps in St. John

I just came back from my first trip to Maho Bay Camps in St. John in the USVI. I say first trip since there seems to be something in the water there that makes people come back year after year. I talked to a few women who had been back with their families every year for 12 years running. And they're probably going to keep going even after their kids are grown. I think the secret for families is that Maho is kind of like family camp but much less structured and it's a safe place for kids to run around without too much supervision. Since my DH and I don't have kids and we hadn't heard that Maho was so family oriented, we were really surprised when on our first night the kids at the dining area seemed to outnumber the adults. And when the calypso band started playing at 8, I thought the kids would all be turning in and we might cut a rug, but instead packs of teenagers appeared on the dance floor. Of course I think it has a lot to do with our timing---all of NY, NJ, and MA schools were off for February break (DH works in a school too, hence our vacation). But, this is good to know in case you're planning a romantic getaway. We really dug the camp vibe of the place and the way small things like the camp store, activities desk, and planned shuttle trips made exploring the island easier without us feeling completely hand-held. It was our first vacation in a resort-style setting, though clearly Maho is no four-star resort. It's a colony of permanent tent-cottages connected by a series of boardwalks and stairs. From where we were staying it was a good 5 minute walk and maybe 5-10 flights of stairs down to the beach, which was calm, even when a windy cold front blew in, and pristine.

Day 1: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
We left on Monday, President's Day, starting at 4 in the morning we took the subway down to Grand Central, the shuttle to Newark, a plane to St. Thomas, a van to the ferry landing in Charlotte Amelie, a ferry to St. John, and an open air shuttle to Maho Bay Camps. We arrived just in time for dinner, at about 6pm. (A note about the ferries: most people take the ferry from Red Hook to St. John, which is only 15 min. but the van ride from the airport to the ferry landing is 45 min. The van to Charlotte Amelie ferry is only 15 min. and the ferry ride is 45. We really enjoyed the longer boat ride. We sat up top in the open air and took in the sights of the islands and the crystal blue water. To me, this is a much better way to start an island vacation---that is, if you don't get seasick.) Thank goodness Continental still serves meals. That and the leg room make it my favorite airline to date. We had dinner at Maho's restaurant which is an open air pavilion with an amazing view of the bay below. The food is very good, though much more beef-heavy that I would have thought for an eco-resort. They always had a veg option but they didn't seem as inspired as the rest. Typically the food was between $18 and $22 per person and came with a salad and iced tea, which is a bit pricey but apparently not for the VI. As it was the only option without cooking yourself, driving or taking a shuttle into Cruz or Coral Bay, we ended up eating most of our dinners here. As I said above, there was a calypso band playing Bob Marley and other favorites, but we didn't listen long because of the teenage contingent and we were really tired. We settled in to our tent cottage for the night.

Day 2: Getting Oriented in Maho Bay
It's hard to describe the tent cottages and I don't think the pictures on Maho's website quite do them justice. I'm not sure what a typical tent looks like bc we somehow lucked out and got a VIP tent. What amenities, you ask, might you find in a VIP tent? A queen sized bed, a cold water open air shower, and a ceiling fan above the bed. Like everyone else, we didn't have running water in the tent, or a bathroom, had to cook meals on a two-burner propane stove and keep our food cold in a cooler (with ice bought at $2.50 a bag from the camp store). Since we camp regularly with much less luxury than this, we were thrilled. I don't know how we got the luxury of a shower, but the first night I tested it out and was amazed at the view of stars from the screened in roof. I want one of these for my apartment.
Our first morning I woke up just as the sun was rising---it's hard to sleep late when you're excited about being in a new place, plus the sun peeks in through the white tent ceiling and the open mesh windows. I went to the restaurant-pavilion and looked out onto the bay with it's moored sailboats, checked out the trips on the activities lists, and did a few sun salutations on the deck of our tent. I also saw a humming bird. I always feel so lucky when I see them while traveling. I have seen them in Mexico City, while eating breakfast at an outdoor cafe and in Utah when we were backcountry camping in Zion National Park.
The first day we decided to take it easy and just hang out at the beach on Maho and check out the snorkeling from Maho Bay and Little Maho, the two beaches that can be reached from the camps. I learned why snorkel masks have a nose cover as we snorkeled from Little Maho over to "big" Maho Bay. I brought pool goggles and borrowed a snorkel and flippers from DH's sister. I figured I wouldn't need to rent a mask from the water sports rentals since I had the goggles. Well, I'm here to tell you your nose is not meant to be hanging out full of sea water as you spend half an hour snorkeling. It got to be so uncomfortable I pinched my nose shut and just used one hand to guide my swimming. Lesson learned, I rented a mask for the remaining days. This was some of the prettiest and easiest snorkeling we did. We had amazing weather that day, clear blue sky, and the colors on the reef and the fish were just gorgeous. We even saw a turtle! We snorkeled back to Little Maho and then climbed over some rocks to the right to a little "private" beach area which we had to ourselves for most of the afternoon. If we had kept going in that direction we would have been on Francis Bay which is also a nice beach. Afternoon naps and then dinner at the restaurant. We bought a deck of cards, some coke to go with our duty free rum, and played gin until we were
ready to turn in.

To be continued...

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