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wisconsin Apr 9th, 2006 07:07 AM

STT+STJ Trip Report - Part 1
Greetings - Due to lack of time, I'll make this as brief as possible. Middle-age mom w/ 2 kids (16+11) went to STT+STJ last wk of March '06.

Air travel: Avoid Chicago O'Hare if at all possible. 4-hr delay caused missed flight in Miami - stayed o/nt + lost 1 whole day of precious once-in-a-lifetime vacation to paradise. Had to pay 1 expensive nt at Sapphire Beach Resort (Sapphire) when we weren't there. 3-hr delay in Puerto Rico on return flight caused missed flight in Chicago but fortunately got on last flight to home (we were on standby). Kudos to United Airlines, but I'm peeved at American Eagle + will be writing a nasty-gram very soon.

Budget Rental Car: Rented from Sapphire. Called 800 # when I knew we were delayed in Miami - they assured me they would leave a message for agent at Sapphire that I was still coming but would be late (agent at Sapphire open 8-2 and 3-5pm). Also confirmed my Jeep Liberty choice of rentals. Missed 5pm but went to agent 8am next day - she said "you were supposed to be here yesterday" - apparently person at the Budget 800 # left a message for her, like they said. The agent said "you can't call the 800# - you have to call me". That would have been ok if she was open when I was trying to call + I knew this in advance + I had her #. As for the Jeep Liberty - the agent laughed + said she hadn't even seen one in months. My choices were a Jeep Wrangler + Ford car. I wanted a locking trunk for valuables when we were at the beaches. I told her I would be going to STJ + agent assured me I could drive anything on STJ. I took the car. One mistake was not checking the gas level until I was well on my way from Sapphire - it was only 3/4 full, yet I knew if I returned it that way I would be charged. I didn't make a deal of it cuz it was my fault for not looking at the gas gauge before I left. So beware. The car was nice but did not have enough clearance at STJ - hit bottom of car even at <5 miles per hour. No problem driving in 1st gear w/ car but I would never take a car on STJ again - not cuz of needing 4-wheel drive (didn't need it even when we took unpaved, dippy, rocky road to Maho Bay Campground), but cuz there isn't enough bottom clearance on a car.

Red Hook Car Ferry: Look closely for signs - there's construction adjacent to ferry dock and it'll look like you're driving onto a construction sight. Ferry = prompt + smooth. You back on (they help you, cuz it's a tight squeeze) and drive forward off (both ways). You can get out of vehicle + sit on top for good view + photos. When you get your receipt for a round-trip ($48) - don't forget what ferry(ies) you are allowed to come back on. If you get on the wrong ferry going back to STT, you'll have to pay again. I remembered which to get on. Car ferry experience = no problems!

Driving: It only took 1 minute to get used to driving on the left. I was prepared for steep STJ, but never imagined 90 degree switchbacks. Scary. Roads have no shoulders. Scary. Taxi vans tend to drive in the middle of the rd + fast - everyone else seems to drive on left. Yes, I honked on Honky Hill. My 11-yr old thought it was great. 16-yr old turned into a "backseat driver"!

Snorkeling Gear: Brought our own + glad we did cuz of the convenience (especially since we traveled around). We never snorkled in deep water so didn't bring vests + didn't need them.

Shark knife: Ok, start laughing now. My kids were afraid of sharks before we left. Since this was going to be mainly a beach swim + snorkeling experience, I had to find a way to calm them. So I bought a jackknife with a hole on the handle + attached an accordian-style key chain to it. It fit around my wrist when snorkeling. I was ready to protect my kids against a shark attack + they had no problems w/fear except for one instance. At Maho Bay Campground, there is a wipe-off board for people to report snorkeling sightings (Hint - never look at this board if you have kids!)+ someone reported a shark at Big Maho Bay. My kids wouldn't even put there toes in the water at that beach!

Food: Only brought snacks + a few water bottles. Glad we didn't bring food to cook - it would have taken up our valuable outdoor time.

Musts for Trip Preparation: "Fodor's Carribean", this website + "STJ Feet, Fins + 4-Wheel Drive" (we used the odometer travel info in this last book + it was extremely helpful + accurate - great photos, thanks to this book). Also ordered off the internet the "National Geographic Virgin Islands National Park Illustrated Trails/Topographic Map" - the best part of the map was having all necessary rds on it, as well as photo taking stops along the rds.

End of Part 1 - Look for more fun stuff in Part 2...

schmerl Apr 9th, 2006 08:55 AM

Thanks for taking the time to post your report. Can't wait to hear the rest.

Carrybean Apr 9th, 2006 03:08 PM

What's really bizarre is that it's perfectly legal for those taxis to drive down the middle of the road. #-O

brenandg Apr 9th, 2006 04:34 PM

I too am looking forward to the rest of your report. I'm loving reading the reports as we just returned. I had anticipated that the roads would be steep on STJ also, but was surprised at the number of switchbacks. I guess I wasn't expecting it, but we turned on a switchback on the way to Cinnamon Bay and I literally flew forward out of my seat, did land on my feet, but the entire contents of the beach bag were rolling around the back of the taxi. It was one of those smaller ones where the benches face each other. Learned to hang on after that one!

jackiehammond Apr 9th, 2006 08:38 PM

thanks for posting the first part of your trip report! i just love the details! :)

soggydollar Apr 10th, 2006 02:54 AM

You are a way cool and brave mom for taking your kids on a trip that involved getting a car on a ferry, driving on the left and those switchbacks(they are scarey in the passenger side)!
I am enjoying your TR. Look forward to the next installment.
The jacknife weapon for shark attacks is hilarious! (How did you get it on the plane)?

jacketwatch Apr 10th, 2006 05:57 AM

Thanks for the TR. Its too bad you missed a whole day! What airline did you take out of ORD? AA?

Tuxedocat Apr 10th, 2006 11:32 AM

Thanks so much for taking the time to post your trip report. It's such a nice way to reward this forum for their suggestions and informs future travelers. Looking forward to your next installment.

joangk Apr 10th, 2006 12:35 PM

Love your trip report, particularly since I (another middle-age mom) am taking my 15 yr. old daughter on a trip to STJ. Not worried about sharks, but am not crazy about the idea of steep switchbacks! Looking forward to Part 2.

70Chevelle Apr 10th, 2006 03:46 PM

Shhh! Not another word about the sharks. I'm terrified of them. I bailed out of a snorkling trip in a Florida state park because I was so afraid a shark would swim up behind me and gobble me up! Yikes. Meanwhile, it was a protected reef with no access by large fish or sharks, so my fear was completely irrational... but isn't that usually the case? So as far as I'm concerned there are NO SHARKS in the waters around St. John. Just go with me on this folks. OK? I'm heading out to the island in a couple of weeks and and really want to try some snorkling.

soggydollar Apr 10th, 2006 05:04 PM

I am the biggest chicken of all, and on my first attempt at snorkeling( on STJ) I was in and out, trying to decide whether or not to do it. Then I told myself that if I do not do it I will be
so disappointed in myself. SOooo. I got in the water and did it and loved it! We even saw a son pointed it out to me and we slowly turned and headed back towards shore!
Then you have to think, how many barracuda "man-eating" stories do you read?!?
Just do it , you will be so proud of yourself! It is a wonderful world under the sea!

DebitNM Apr 10th, 2006 06:03 PM

Enjoyed reading your report...will be back for part 2! Debi

Tuxedocat Apr 11th, 2006 05:46 AM

I have only seen nurse sharks in and around St. John and they are close to harmless and very afraid of people. There are reef sharks everywhere in the Caribbean but I haven't seen any there. Statistically, there hasn't been a documented fatality from shark attacks in some 20 years of reporting in the Caribbean, and only a handful of non-fatal attacks noted. On my last trip to St. John, I saw a 4-5 foot nurse shark with its head stuck into a rock niche and trying to pretend I wasn't there like an ostrich with its head in the sand. Harmless. And the barrecudas? Just keep your hands to yourself and they won't bother you either.

texthejhawk Apr 11th, 2006 10:26 AM

Please excuse my ignorance, but would someone explane to me what a "switchback" is?

Kath Apr 11th, 2006 10:33 AM

A very sharp turn

wisconsin Apr 11th, 2006 01:57 PM

Sorry (again) for having little time. Here's some answers/comments to my Part 1. I took American Eagle out of Chicago O'Hare and out of Puerto Rico - both were problems. I didn't take the shark knife on the plane - I checked luggage. If I had tried to take on the plane I'm sure I'd still be in jail trying to explain myself (hah, hah). Don't worry about sharks - you can snorkel right off the beaches on both islands and don't need to go into deep water - so relax. When snorkeling off the coast of Tobago I actually swam head-on into a nurse shark. You should have seen the sharks eyes pop! I'm not kidding!! The sharks are small and sometimes can be mistaken as large fish. Please put your fears aside (and if not, carry a shark knife like I did) - you absolutely need to snorkel on a sunny calm day - you will never forget it for the rest of your life. It's a different world down there - enjoy it! I'll tell you about my barracuda experience in another Episode. Gotta take kids to soccer....

soggydollar Apr 11th, 2006 02:31 PM

not only is a switchback a very sharp turn(think hairpin) it is also going up or down a VERY steep hill at the same time!

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