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Trip Report First trip to St. John, US Virgin Island

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We took our first trip to St. John April 14-24. St. John is a great island if you are a laid back sort, not looking for glitzy resorts or raucous nightlife. You access St. John via a ferry from St. Thomas. There is no airport or large port (no cruise ships!).

2/3 of the island is a US National Park, which is the main reason we chose to go there. The best beaches are all National Park lands, and not bordered by hotels and such. I think most visitors rent a villa, and a jeep, and visit a different beach everyday, although there is a large Westin on the island (which I never saw), and Caneel Bay Resort, and a few condo projects.

We rented a magnificent villa on Bordeaux Mountain called Summer Wind and we rented it directly from the property manager; it can also be rented from CaribbeanVilla .com. Although this is a four bedroom villa, it is perfectly set up for two. It had a very nice built-in pool, hot tub, and was wonderfully furnished (even a king size bed). The outdoor shower was wonderful. It had a very well equipped kitchen (although I did not cook at all), and a full laundry room. The villa is totally private and completely clothing optional; gardeners and pool guy call down for clearance, lol. And the best part -- the view was absolutely breathtaking!!! BTW the villa was cheaper than any of the decent condos in Cruz Bay.

We rented a Jeep from St. John Car Rental which worked out well because you can park in their lot when visiting Cruz Bay (and believe me when I tell you there is NO PLACE to park otherwise). Note that their parking lot is strictly a white knuckle parking job. Also believe me when I tell you that you have to rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The rental was very expensive, but I wouldn't want to be there without wheels.

We took a wonderful, all day charter boat trip with Captain John Brandi of Palm Tree Charters. I highly recommend that activity if you can swing it. Capt. John is so fun, so easy to be with, and will take you anyplace you want to go - and if you don't know where to go, not to worry! He has GREAT ideas. He showed us the sights, we went to Tortola, snorkeled , lunched on a large, moored boat called the Willy T, and we stopped at a bar you can only boat to called the Soggy Dollar. It was a VERY fun day. He can take up to 6 passengers (you arrange the six), although we went with only two of us. His boat was extremely comfortable, stable, and had a nice shade awning. It was just wonderful to see all the islands there from the water.

In the course of our 9 days on the island we went to many different beaches, although we settled on one favorite and went there several times. Some of the beaches are easier to get to than others - we preferred the less busy beaches and they required either a little hike or snagging a parking spot pretty early in the morning (8:30). Some beaches have services - snack bars, bathrooms, etc., but we always packed a cooler. The villa came with several different sizes of coolers, beach chairs, flotation devices, a beach umbrella, and really wonderful beach towels. The water is wonderful - sandy bottomed for the most part, great snorkeling (coral reefs right off the beach), and shady palm trees. (True confession - I am not a big snorkeler, but my H went quite a bit.)

We rented a dinghy one day from Noah's Little Arks and had a blast with that. It cost about $130 (I can't quite remember) and you have it from 9 to 5. You can beach those on the beaches, so it's a wonderful way to explore. You pile in your cooler, snorkel stuff, and lots of sunscreen, and off you go! (They do provide you with a little video about rules and suggestions.)

We hiked one day (Reef Bay Trail), and saw some interesting ruins and ended up at a pretty beach. It was a nice break for our sunburns. There are lots of trails that are part of the National Park system. You can pick up a map at the Park Headquarters which is right in Cruz Bay.

St. John is, well, how can I describe it, primitive? There is not a lot of shopping, or fancy-pants stuff, but there is one decent grocery store (although very expensive) and a good wine shop across from it. Our days were literally, beach, then a visit to the Beach Bar for frozen drinks, then home for hot tub/pool, then get ready for dinner - which consisted of a shower and throwing on shorts, tank top, and flip flops.

We had absolutely fabulous meals on St. John - nearly all at very casual, laid back, can I say "quaint?" places. We loved it. Here's a list:

Cruz Bay -- Zozo's (the fanciest place we ate, wonderful food and a sunset view to die for), Banana Deck (yum dinner), Cactus Blue, Mojo Cafe (great breakfast burritos), The Beach Bar (burgers and daily drinks - catch happy hour). Very good take out sandwiches for beach picnics from Deli Grotto.

Coral Bay -- Shipwreck Landing (our favorite restaurant), Aqua Bistro, Skinny Legs (hamburgers), Donkey Diner (yummy diner food). Really, we didn't have a bad meal anyplace on the island. We always eat at the bar when we go out, and we had lots of fun talking with some of the people who have moved down there.

We took the advice of a different forum and mailed down a box of toiletries so we could just do carry on. We shipped a Flat Rate Priority Mail box for $15, but it never got there. In fact, a month later, it has never turned up. So that was a waste of money. Either suck it up and check through a bag, or buy all your stuff there (but get ready for BIG bucks and limited selection).

Pack lightly, it's very casual. I brought 4 bathing suits (wore them all), a bathing suit cover up, two pairs of shorts (wore one), a few shirts (wore two), and a very small dress (which saved me when i was sunburned and didn't want to put on my shorts at night). Flip flops and an old pair of sneakers for hiking (which I threw out when the week was over).

St. John is quirky too - all part of its massive charm. There are stray donkeys, pigs, goats, cows, chickens, and the villas nearly all come with a feral (neutered) cat or two that you will be asked to feed. The roads are horrifying, although the speed limit on the island is only 20 mph, 10 mph in town (and you really won't be able to go faster than that). There are no stop lights on the island. You drive on the left, in a regular American style vehicle. Numerous times I had to close my eyes and declare, "I'm gonna die!" Alas, even I got used to the near death thing.

We went during "spring break" (the week before Easter), which meant busy traveling time with lots of families. After some seriously %$#ed up flights , I have vowed to never again travel during those school break weeks. (Out of St. Thomas on Easter Sunday, US Air sent too small of a plane and stranded 36 people from our flight for 3 days. This caused a two hour delay for those of us who squeaked by and got a seat; most people missed their connections...) The beaches were busier than usual (so we were told). I am told the beaches (especially Trunk Bay) get busy when the cruise ships from St. Thomas send over passengers, but we never really spent much time on the main beaches, so I can't really testify to that.

St. John turned out to be a pretty expensive destination. Things there are very expensive because of transportation costs, a very limited infrastructure, and limited building. I'm not sure you could do it much cheaper, even if you cooked instead of eating out. The grocery store was nearly as expensive as just ordering a meal in a restaurant!

This was a very fun, romantic, relaxing vacation. It's probably not everybody's cup of tea, but I hope this description will help you decide if it sounds like something you would enjoy. Personally, I can't wait to go back.

Thanks for reading and Happy Travels.

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