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Trip Report St. John Trip Report ~ June 16-23, 2012

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Another St. John vacation come and gone. This was our third and the kids’ first trip. We visited many favorites, tried some new things and still haven’t done everything I want yet. We traveled from June 16 – 23 with a three other families for a total of 15 in our group. 8 adults, 2 teens and 5 kids ages 3 – 7. (Kellybeaches from Fodors and family included). We stayed at Island Stones in Catherineberg.

Since airfare was so ridiculously high this year, I pieced together separate legs of our trip to minimize costs and maximize time on island. That worked well flying in but not so much going home. We flew to San Juan Friday night via Air Tran and stayed at the Best Western in the airport. Of course they moved our flight back by an hour so we didn’t land until 12:45 am. After a few hours of sleep in our frigid hotel room (was a completely fine room/hotel for one night), headed to the new JetBlue wing to catch our 8:25 AM flight. Love JetBlue. From the service to the planes to the timeliness, it’s a great airline. 15 minutes after take-off, we were on the ground in St. Thomas with the whole day stretched before us. I was anticipating a shot of rum upon entering the airport but the rum hut wasn’t yet open. Um...9 am isn’t that early when you’re on vacation ;). We got our bags, turned around and there was the smiling face of Magdalena from Amalie Cars holding a sign with our name. She directed us to a brand new 2012 sparkling clean red 4 door Jeep Wrangler waiting just outside. She and her husband explained a few things, we signed a paper and off we were. Best rental car experience ever. I highly recommend. This would be our 2nd time navigating the streets of St. Thomas to reach Red Hook and the car barge. No problems, mon. We’ve now got that route down pat. We never saw a cruise ship in port either coming or going. Nor were we able to stop at Duffy’s Love Shack for food, fun drinks and cheesy souvenirs as we passed by before they opened, both coming and going. We backed our Jeep onto the 10 AM barge and off we went. This was out first time on the “nice barge”. Lots of seating, palm trees and a bar on board (no we didn’t get a drink :) )

After reaching the rock, our first order of business was to hit St. John Market to stock up on some groceries for the first couple of days. We were supposed to meet the villa rep for Island Stones at the National park sign at noon. Initially I told her we would just meet at the villa but she thought we would get lost and insisted on meeting at the sign. We should have stuck with the original plan because the directions were easy to follow. But instead there was some confusion as to which park sign we were supposed to meet and the rep was waiting at one while we were waiting at the other! I didn’t even know there were two. Live and learn! We ended up just meeting her at the house. The “road” to the villa is quite bumpy and steep Kids enjoyed it! Maids were still there when we arrived so we dropped our things and everyone sat down to eat their wraps from Starfish except me. There were photos to be taken!! This is the first time we have stayed mid-island and it was a decent ride to get anywhere. There were no “quick trips” to the grocery store (which we hit every day or two anyway). But it was a good central location and I would stay in that area again. Though between Cruz & Coral, I am in the Cruz Bay camp.

The view from this villa is just jaw-dropping. Gorgeous. We could see Cinnamon, Francis, Leinster, the east end of St. John, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Whistling Cay, Little Thatch Cay and other little islands. One small disappointment was that we didn’t have a sunset view. I should have known based on the beaches/islands it overlooked but didn’t realize until we arrived that it is situated to face Northeast vs. Northwest. We probably could have seen some sunrises but most mornings and evenings the clouds rolled in anyway. The house itself is beautiful..all stone and almost castle-like. It was definitely a maze. Finding our bedroom that first day was a challenge! The villa has 6 bedrooms each with and outdoor shower. Only the main house rooms and the master had indoor showers. The bedrooms aren’t created equal; they are all nice but the downstairs rooms are quite a bit smaller with lesser views. While the house was great, it didn’t have an ideal flow for a large group like ours. There is also a bathroom and shower on the pool deck and a large game room with bar downstairs. And exercise room in the “dungeon” but no one used it. The tables and bar stools in the pool were great...Mark enjoyed his morning coffee there and the kids ate their pancakes in the pool one morning! The outside bar is really nice too. We did have some issues though which I did email the owner about when we got back and he was very appreciative of the feedback and suggestions. Some examples were that one side of the grill didn’t work properly, the ice maker didn’t work, kitchen was not well stocked (no spatula or whisk) a lot of pool tiles were missing (creating some sharp surfaces), the waterfall didn’t work, there was a short on the stove which constantly caused the breaker to trip and delivered shocks if you touched the burners, and a lot of the outdoor lights didn’t work or the bulbs were burned out. The staircases to some of the bedrooms are steep and dark. My step-daughter tripped and fell down several stairs on day two going to her room and sprained her ankle. We left a flashlight at the top of the staircase from then on. And there was a big wasp’s nest which we sprayed heavily for several days and finally got rid of. I understand that things happen and break etc but when you pay that much for a villa, I would think some of these issues should not be issues at all. We probably should have called sooner about some of the problems but mid-week the maintenance man did come and he seemed to already be aware of some of it. When I informed the owner, he was extremely grateful for the feedback as he relies on guest comments to make sure the property managers are doing their job. He promised that everything would be rectified soon. Overall, it was a great house, very upscale. But the views are the best part.

Weather was good but not great. We did have a couple really nice days and the sun came out every day but we also had a lot of clouds and some rain/ thunderstorms almost every day. Thankfully the storms were mainly at night. But the bugs. My goodness. I figured since the island hadn’t had rain in weeks prior to our arrival that they wouldn’t be bad. Some people didn’t get a bite all week but sweet people like me and Julie got feasted on :) Not even sure by what as you couldn’t feel them until it was too late. By day 3 I looked like a leper. I counted 60 bites on legs, and feet. It seems they only liked the women. Use bug spray from the get-go even though you may not think you need it! My husband always jokes that the gin he drinks keeps them away. Well when we were in a restaurant and one of the other girls was itching, the waitress told her the best anti-itch remedy for bug bites is to rub gin on them! Guess hubby was right…

We saw so many critters on this trip…kids loved it (and so did I) – Iguanas, Lizards, Donkeys, Deer, Mongoose, Chickens, Goats, Cats, Bananaquits, Hermit Crabs, Sea Turtles, Stingrays and lots of fish. We heard lots of loud frogs at the villa but never saw them. Oh and in two of the bedroom we found two small scorpions!

Our arrival day we hung out at the villa and waited for everyone else who were on later flights. A pit stop at the Tap Room made them even later! But they did bring back some nice insulated cups with straws which we used daily (and then bought 4 more to bring home). We also splurged on the Tap Room’s Root Beer to make R&Rs at the villa…a case of root beer costs the same as a case of beer! But boy was it good. We ate dinner at the villa all but two nights…lots of grilling. Got swordfish and snapper from the Fish Trap, did clam linguine one night and Uncle Joe’s BBQ carry out on the last night. We ate most lunches out though did grab sandwiches from Deli Grotto one day to eat at the beach and finished off leftovers another day. Evenings were spent limin’ at the villa. Eating, drinking, talking, listening to music, playing pool and looking at the stars.

Our first full day we lazed around the villa in the morning. We ate breakfast in each day (except one family tried Donkey Diner and loved it). We made eggs, pancakes (both of which were challenging with no griddle, spatula or whisk), bagels, fruit salad, cereal. Then we headed to Cruz Bay for lunch at Woody’s. And the first painkiller of the trip. Very good food and drinks. Clouds had cleared up by late morning so instead of shopping as originally planned we decided to hit a beach (Cinnamon) since it was hot. And upon arriving home each afternoon all the kids (and most of the adults) hopped in the pool to swim and admire the view.

Next day we hiked to Salomon in the morning – we didn’t get lost coming back up this time! I love this beach but it’s even nicer when you have it yourselves (as are all beaches). As we discovered last year, Salomon is no longer as obscure as it once was. For off season, all the beaches were quite crowded. Then we hit the Beach Bar for lunch (our friends were given tokens for free painkillers when they got off the plane so we used those up). Lunch was excellent. The kids played in Great Cruz Bay while waiting for the food to come out.

Day three was Hawksnest. Beautiful beach day.. Pretty good snorkeling here too. This night was our big dinner out at La Plancha Del Mar. We loved it so much last year that definitely wanted to go back. Before dinner we took some pictures of us all cleaned up :) Kelly has a great group shot on her camera that I will share once she returns from week two of her vacation (they ferried over to Tortola the day we left). I was a little nervous about dinner out 15 but it was great. The servers at La Plancha are outstanding. As was the food. I preferred the menu offerings last year better but everything we had was excellent. We had originally wanted to sit outside but of course this was the one day that the sun was still shining brightly at 5 PM and the balcony was hot. So we sat in side…great atmosphere. After dinner we did a little shopping in Mongoose Junction.

Next day everyone was on their own as one family was doing the Bad Kitty trip to Virgin Gorda (which we had done last year). We decided to check out Jumbie Bay. It didn’t do it for me so we packed it up after 2 minutes and headed to Maho. Great beach and super calm shallow water. That evening we went to Skinny Legs for dinner.

Thursday morning my husband and step-son got up at 6 am to do the Reef Bay Trail hike before hitting the beach. They saw, crayfish, mongoose, huge hermit crabs, ruins, stone walls, a dried up waterfall and the Petroglyphs. Then it was back to Maho with the whole group. This was the day I saw, swam with and touched the sea turtle. So amazing! There were actually two..a large one and a small one. There were also huge stingrays. But no Manta sightings :(

Our last full day on island we were going to do the Annaberg ruins and hike to Waterlemon. But first we wanted to check out Francis (we had stopped briefly during our first trip in 08 but didn’t spend any time there). Most of the group just decided to stay but I was antsy so we rode up to the sugar plantation. Cool ruins, beautiful trees and flowers and gorgeous views of Leinster Bay and beyond. The color of the water was amazing here. The water seemed a bit rough though around Waterlemon so we just headed back to Francis where we hung out in the shallow pools by the rocks at the end of the beach. The kids collected hermit crabs and other sea creatures. We enjoyed this beach very much. Then it was on to the Tourist Trap in Coral Bay for lunch…first time, and we were looking forward to the Lobster rolls and “Drink Right Drive Left” adult beverages. Very cool little food shack and the owners were great. Lobster roll was very tasty as was the drink but I think we all liked the “Boom Boom” better. And the Bananaquits were busy! Tons of them feasting on sugar in a bird feeder. They sounded like a hive of bees. We packed then enjoyed one last evening in the villa as we had to catch the 6 am ferry to make our flight back to San Juan. Saw a beautiful sunrise as we departed…

Until next time!

Here is a link to my Facebook album (less than 200 pics) and below that is the Shutterfly album with about 350 pics. So you can choose to view more or less :) I will also be adding some part 2 photos that Kelly took when she returns from week two of her vacay in Tortola.

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