Now I Get It: St. John, USVI Trip Report

Aug 18th, 2007, 08:17 AM
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Now I Get It: St. John, USVI Trip Report

The basis for the cult-like devotion to St. John from a lot of regulars on this board is clear to me now. We LOVED St. John and will definitely go back, though we would like to try out a few more islands (Nevis, Anguilla, and St. Barts, to start) before we return.

Our trip down on AA was generally uneventful, though without direct flights, travel is miserable! We made it to St. Thomas in the late afternoon, and promptly took the Red Hook ferry to St. John.

We elected not to spend the money on the Caneel private transfers as we thought that they were too expensive. As soon as we got on the Red Hook ferry, we felt ourselves getting into vacation mode.

We arrived at Caneel and were SO happy that we chose to stay there. It was exactly our kind of place. The grounds and beaches were awe inspiring. We were in the cheap seats, aka, the courtside rooms. Though it would have been nice to have been on Hawksnest or Scott beach, we were happy that we chose the cheapest room category because it was so easy to get to the beaches on property via the green shuttle bus that went around frequently. We would love to come back to Caneel. I'm wondering why some people have negative views of the hotel. Maybe they are expecting the Ritz/Four Seasons evian spritzer type of beach service. My DH and I aren't into that and Caneel is perfect for people like us who want privacy and friendliness without intrusion. You are paying for the beautiful beaches, the grounds with donkeys and other wildlife, and the unspoiled nature of the property.

We considered renting a car, but after experiencing some of the hairpin turns going to the North Shore beaches, we elected not to. I kept track of our spending in part to report on how much we spent in taxis to determine if there is a major cost savings in renting a car. We spent app. $450 in taxis throughout the week, including trips to the beaches, going to eat, etc. I think renting a car would have been about $500-700 when taxes, etc, were factored in so I'm comfortable with our decision to taxi around. We weren't prevented from doing anything by not having a car. However, I think that if you rent a villa, you should have a rental car.

I didn't have too high of expectations for restaurants in St. John. However, our expectations were exceeded. We ate breakfast everyday on property through the summer special. We loved the breakfast, and would snack during the day (I brought granola bars, etc., and we also bought some other snacks at the Dolphin Market in Cruz Bay). We did got to Grotto Deli, the Caneel Beach Bar (2x), and Ronnie's Pizza for lunch. Grotto was fine, nothing spectacular, Ronnie's was okay, and I really liked the Caneel Beach Bar for lunch. Was it annoying to pay $16 for a hamburger--yes, but it was a really good burger and the convenience was worth it. My DH and I also split an order of their chicken nachos for a later afternoon snack.

For dinner, we went to Banana Deck, Asolare, Zozo's, Margarita Phil's, and Cafe Roma (2x). Asolare and Zozo's were definitely the most expensive, with both meals coming in at about $200 after tip, shared appetizer, salads, entrees, shared dessert, and a bottle of wine. We thought they were both wonderful--Asolare's crispy pork dumplings were out of this world. I liked the lamb I ordered there, but my husband's duck was spectacular. Zozos' potato gnocchi was delicious, my husband's orange salad was pronounced the best salad he ever had, and my flank steak special was great. We like Margarita Phil's and Banana Deck, but we really enjoyed Cafe Roma. It had HUGE portions of well made and seasoned pasta dishes. We both had leftovers. Roma does takeout--which we took advantage of to order a gourmet artichoke and sun dried tomato pizza one night. For families, I would highly recommend Roma, especially if you are renting a villa. You could order a couple of pasta dishes or one pizza for the whole family and share, the portions are that large and the quality is that good.

I asked about the St. John Brewer's Tap Room prior to departing, and did not get any responses. My DH and I enjoy good beer, especially local, small production operations. Before we went to the Tap Room, we had Virgin Islands Pale Ale, and Summer Ale, at several of the places we ate. By the time we went to the Tap Room, we were hooked. It is in Mongoose Junction, on the second floor. There is wifi, a really nice bar (where you can bring your own food), and great company. When we went, there was a good mix of locals and tourists. If you go to, you can read the story of the two American guys that opened the brewery. We talked to Chirag, one of the owners, and he said they started making the beer about six years ago because they couldn't find any good beer on island.

What can I say? It has all been said. We've been to some great beaches, but for the whole package, I don't think that St. John can be beat. The islands in the distance, the birds, the lushness, I could go on and on...

We went to the following over the week: Hawksnest (on Caneel, not the public park), Caneel, Scott (briefly), Turtle Bay (briefly), Honeymoon, Soleman, Trunk Bay, and Maho Bay. We LOVED Hawksnest the most due to the scenery and the feeling that you were on a deserted island. We also really liked Maho Bay and Trunk Bay.

In preparation for our trip, I ordered from Pam Griffin's Feet, Fins, and Four Wheel Drive. I highly recommend it for providing what turned out to be sage advice for anyone coming to St. John. The descriptions of the various beaches was spot on, especially the advice regarding getting to Trunk Bay early in the morning to avoid the throngs of cruise ship daytrippers (we also went before 9 a.m. and did not have to pay the $4pp admission, and as a bonus, had the whole left portion of the beach to ourselves for about an hour).

We saw the most amazing marine life, including a HUGE stingray at Honeymoon. We saw the most fish at Trunk Bay and Maho Bay.

We decided at the last minute to take the 8:30 ferry from Cruz Bay to West End, Tortola on our last day of vacation. The price was $45/person round trip (after factoring in the $5/person BVI departure tax). The trip to Virgin Gorda was a little longer and was $60/person round trip.

The trip to Tortola only took about 20 minutes. We went to Long Bay beach, stayed there for a while and was treated to some impressive waves, went to Cane Garden Bay, which we did not like because of all of the dogs, including a pit bull, not on leashes, and then hung around at the Soper's Hole Marina, including a number of beers at Pusser's on the water. We really liked Pusser's. Tortola seems to have a major sailing/boating vibe. Also, the people seem more Caribbean and there are less Americans that live on island.

We liked Tortola fine, but by the end of our trip, we were so spoiled by the physical beauty of St. John that Tortola did not compare. It is unlikely that we would go back to Tortola since there does not seem to be enough to fit our interests in our opinion. Plus, we are not sailors/boaters so a lot of the appeal of the island is lost on us.

The question of whether passports are necessary for ferries to the BVI's from the USVI's has been asked a lot on this forum so I asked the ferry operators so I could pass along the information here. They (Inter Island operators) told me that until January 2008, an original/certified birth certificate and driver's license is an acceptable form of identification for American passengers traveling from the USVI's on commercial ferries. There are a multitude of signs posted on the shack to that effect, also, and I saw people use this method with success. The ferry operator woman in Cruz Bay told me that there is confusion because some of the private companies running day trips to the various islands (for instance, day snorkel trip to JVD, etc.), are requiring passports. So, I can tell you that until January 2008, if you are taking a commercial ferry from the USVI's to the BVI's, you will be fine with a original/certified birth certificate and driver's license.

After we were on St. John for several days, we started hearing about Hurricane Dean. We were worried, but by all accounts, the path looked like it was going to hit the lesser Antilles, and by Saturday, so we would be off island. I feel terrible for the islands that will be hit, knowing full well from personal experience what a hurricane can do to your life. I can only pray that there will not be any damage to any island, especially islands that have just recently recovered from hurricane damage.

As I noted at the beginning, we had a fabulous time in St. John. It is perfection and we loved our trip. We would definitely go back as it is our kind of place, laid back and casual, but like I mentioned, we want to go to several more islands before heading back to islands we've already visited.

I tried to provide details and as much information as possible without becoming tedious. If anyone has a question, please let me know!

mah1980 is offline  
Aug 18th, 2007, 09:15 AM
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Thanks for the fantastic informative trip report. We're fans of St. John as well. We rented a car while we were there so I do have a question about taking a taxi to the beach. Did you ask the driver to come back to get you at a certain time? Or did you easily find a taxi when you were done at a beach?
caribtraveler is offline  
Aug 18th, 2007, 12:36 PM
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Great report, thank you for sharing that. Just an FYI, renting a jeep for the week costs us less than $400 for the week. We rented through St John Car Rental. The driving is a little scary on day 1, but you get used to the hills & hair-pins by day 2....the rest is easy. Having the jeep will allow for better coverage of the island as far as exploring more beaches. Thanks again for the detailed report.
ScottB is offline  
Aug 18th, 2007, 01:28 PM
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caribtraveler: We found the taxi drivers on St. John very reliable. As far as the North Shore beaches, we never waited more than five or ten minutes or so for a taxi driver to drive by. The longest we waited was at Maho, and that was only 15 minutes and we were prepared for that since the taxi driver who dropped us off told us that it gets less taxi traffic than most beaches. You can arrange for a driver to come back and pick you up at a certain time.

Scottb: I'm sure you get used to the turns, but they are scary. I guess I'm worried about getting into an accident in the Caribbean! When we go back, and if we rent a villa, I think we'll probably rent a car, though I would have to do the driving because my husband already declared that he would never drive there (he thinks I'm too much of a back seat driver).
mah1980 is offline  
Aug 19th, 2007, 03:53 AM
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mah1980, I knew we were just going to miss you at Caneel. I'm glad you enjoyed your stay there.

I agree with you about Tortola, but I do want to make it back to Virgin Gorda.

Thanks for the report. I should be posting mine today. owa
Aug 19th, 2007, 06:14 AM
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Owa--we will definitely go back to caneel, st. john, and would like to take a day trip to virgin gorda.

I don't know if we would want to stay based at virgin gorda, but by all accounts, it is supposed to be a beautiful island.
mah1980 is offline  
Aug 19th, 2007, 06:36 AM
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Glad to hear that you had a great trip to St John! It is nice to get to Trunk Bay early and have the whole beach to yourself! We really liked Hawksnest also,for the snorkeling.

christiegr is offline  
Aug 19th, 2007, 07:33 AM
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Great report! Thanks for taking the time to post it. Those hairpin turns had us holding on white-knuckled through those roads. LOL.
mymoosie is online now  
Aug 19th, 2007, 10:14 PM
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Thanks for the great trip report. I guess the "cult-like devotion" probably fits me to a tee.
Tuxedocat is offline  
Aug 20th, 2007, 06:07 AM
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great trip report! you're right--there have been a slew of trip reports about St. John lately. It's definitely the It-Island of this board these days.

Glad you had a great time--does St. John now rank as #1 in your island trips? How does it compare to the others you've already visited?
ejcrowe is offline  
Aug 20th, 2007, 03:47 PM
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EJCrowe: I've only been to Turks & Caicos (Provo), Cozumel, Akumal, and now St. John, and St. John is definitely #1 on the list. I didn't like Cozumel, and really liked Akumal, Mx and Turks & Caicos, but for scenery, sheer beauty, and variety of beaches, I think St. John is ideal.

We would like to explore some more though. I read with great interest your trip report to Grenada, which is an island that interests me (I would love to stay at Spice Island Beach Resort). I would really love to go to Nevis, too.
mah1980 is offline  
Aug 20th, 2007, 05:32 PM
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Spice Island Beach Resort is where I'd love to stay too. I've been eyeing those deals on Luxury Link. Dreaming... One day...
caribtraveler is offline  

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