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Trip Report Sun, Fun & Rum: A 40th Birthday Trip to St. John (LONG w/photo link)

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A week in St. John...what better way to ring in this milestone of a decade for my best friend and I and our husbands (second trip for us and first time visit for Allison & Reed). As some of you know, I am a compulsive planner (that’s half the fun), and a major worrywart. We just missed the two week stretch of rain the island had endured up until our arrival day so that was a relief, but we were treated to the major outbreak of mosquitos left in its wake. A fabulous week was had by all despite a few mishaps (which we can now laugh about). After all, what vacation would be complete without some tales of minor misfortune?

May 25 (travel day) – all went smoothly with our flight and Jeep pick-up from Discount. We weaved our way through St. Thomas, backed onto the car barge and were chugging over to the rock in no time at all. Mark has become an expert left-hand driver over the years but we did get a good piece of driving advice which became our mantra for the week “Shoulder to Shoulder.” Great analogy for newbie drivers. We were met at the ferry dock and escorted to our villa, Calypso Del Sol in Chocolate Hole. The girl gave us the one set of keys from under the mat but commented that there should actually be two and we would need to call the villa rep for the other set (foreshadowing).

After much research, we decided on Calypso based on the good reviews I had read, the close proximity to Cruz Bay, pool/hot tub, screened in porch and full AC. I am sure part of it was my high expectations after the great villa experience we had last year in St. Martin, but I was a little disappointed. There were a number of minor issues which bothered me including ripped lounge chair slings, a pool that was in need of re-surfacing, an unpleasant odor in the villa that lingered all week and not enough beach towels. On the plus side, the grounds were lush and a favorite ritual of ours every morning was to count how many iguanas we could spot in the trees, the kitchen was well stocked, the bathrooms were nice and the showers very large (a second shower head in each would be a great addition) and the villa owner was great to work with. But it was fine for the week though we probably wouldn’t stay there again. The bedrooms not being connected to the main house was more annoying than I thought it would be and I missed having an expansive view. And there is no view from the pool. In hindsight, we should have stayed at Grande Bay as we spent so much time in Cruz Bay. The last time we visited, which was in early 08, Grande Bay was under construction and it was hard to tell how it would turn out. I know that it is not welcome by many on the island, but despite that, it really does look like a nice place and next year if just our family goes, we will rent a condo there from a fellow forumite. If we go with other families, as is looking likely, bring on the villa search!

Back to our arrival evening...after settling in, we decided to hit St. John Market to stock up. Nice, new, convenient grocery store with better prices than Starfish. Though we did buy our dinner fixings from Starfish because of the better selection. And the wine/gourmet market is very nice, though pricey. A bottle of Cruzan is $9.99 at the market and $11.99 at Starfish. After unloading the groceries, we decided to head to the Beach Bar. This was my first time there...that first painkiller was so good. Al tried the Lime in da Coconut...yum-o. And the boys discovered Virgin Islands Brewery beer...Liquid Sunshine was the group favorite. Even I liked it and I am not a beer fan.

Side note: Allison and Reed are self-proclaimed “Coozie Whores” (we even caught the fever a little). They purchase coozies from all cool places they visit that sell coozies. At minimum they will buy two, at maximum, bottle and can coozies in all color combinations. T-shirts, pint glasses, visors and the like were also regular purchases. The jackpot was finding pint glass coozies at the Tap Room. I think they needed an extra suitcase juts to cart all their “merch" home.

Back to the story...we decided after a couple drinks to head over to High Tide for dinner, but everything that interested us was on the lunch menu so we headed back to the Beach Bar and planted ourselves for the night. We made friends with Sunny the bartender (who also provided great hiking tips). The food was good and we had fun evening. After we we got home, even though we were bone tired from getting up at 4:30 am and traveling all day, we cranked up the iPod and just enjoyed the fact that it was Night One.

May 26 – Being the anal planner that I am, I of course had an itinerary for each day of the week but we re-arranged for a number of reasons and it worked out for the best. It was just a guide, after all. We were out the door by 9 am this day (as we were most every day). We packed a cooler with beer, water, soda and snacks (as we did most every day) and headed out to Trunk. This was a first visit for me and I really enjoyed this beach. The boys did the underwater trail and said it was ok but nothing spectacular. And since my well laid plan has been altered, we were there on a cruise ship day (but only one and they were all confined to one end of the beach). After spending the morning at Trunk, we decided to hit Shipwreck Landing for lunch. Another first for me. We had passed it last trip after hiking Ram’s Head and it looked like a cool place. I really like this place though the food was a little bland. This is where we had our first order of conch fritters and they were good, but little did we know that the best were yet to come..and from an unlikely place. We also browsed the little shops and Al and both got Shiva Eye shell pendants. Love mine.

The plan was then to hit Maho but the tide was so high there was barely any beach so we decided to save that for another day and check out Hawksnest. I loved it so much more than the last trip when the beach was tiny, waves were crashing and it was packed to the gills with rowdy people. This time it was perfect. We left by mid-afternoon then went back to the villa for some pool time. Then it was time to shower for dinner Rhumblines! Our favorite meal from the previous trip. It did not disappoint. I got the Pad Thai again and my husband got the tuna, which was excellent. Allison and Reed got the Mojo pork.

Another side note: My husband loves to chat it up with bartenders, servers and table mates while we are on vacation. I can tell you where each and every one of our waitresses and bartenders hail from. Tonight we made friends with the people on either side of us...exchanged advice on restaurants, beaches, excursions and Caribbean travel. Tonight was not a late night as we had to be up early for our boat trip the next morning. This was originally scheduled for Saturday but we changed it up so Reed could watch a soccer match Saturday afternoon. This ended up being a good move because we had a great group on the boat and Saturday ended up being the only day we had some rain.

May 27 – Bad Kitty! We were all super excited for this excursion and it did not disappoint! After filling out our customs paperwork and long wait by Margarita Phil’s, we walked down to the dock and boarded Bad Kitty. I was eyeing the fly bridge the whole time because that is where I wanted to be for the ride over and I knew seating was limited. To my dismay, there were already three guests up there and we were told the max was 6. We had close to a full boat so many people were stuck inside though everyone did a good job of taking turns at the various outside spots. The boys started the trip downstairs by the bar and handed mimosas up to us on the bridge. We enjoyed the scenic cruise along the North shore of St. John and then along Tortola. The boys came up a bit later with their Bloody Mary’s and we chatted with Captain Bob (great guy). Eventually there got to be 10 people up top and that was how it was for the rest of the trip! Our first stop was Spanish Town to clear customs. I was a little bummed that they told us we would get a BVI stamp in our passports and we did not. Little things like that excite me.

Then we made the quick jaunt over to the Baths. Conditions were calm so we got to swim in. Once we all re-grouped on the beach, Katie and Maggie guided us through and gave us the stories behind the huge boulders and grottos. You may recall my mention of mishaps at the start of this report. Well, here comes the first. After touring the Baths and taking all of the obligatory photos, we headed back. Reed was leading us and unfortunately made a wrong turn down a steep ravine between two boulders (thankfully none of us followed!). He was stuck for a few minutes but while we were waiting for the guides to catch up, he managed to climb his way out but not before tearing up his toe. And Al’s camera also fell prey to the dreaded “black screen” malfunction. We both have Canon D10s which are waterproof so we swam in with them but I guess a bit of water got into a seal. So I was the designated picture taker for the day, which was fine by me, but I felt bad because I have had my share of camera issues. The worst and most recent being the loss of my week old D10 over the side of our boat trip to Anguilla last year. My new D10 now does not go near the water now without a boat key float attached to the strap. But I digress. We swam back to the boat to a fresh batch of painkillers. We got Reed’s toe bandaged up and were on our way to Cooper Island for lunch. In case you were wondering what became of Allison’s camera, it came back to life the next as we anticipated. I am so glad we visited the “8th Wonder of the World” as it was very cool and something that everyone should see in their lifetime.

Back to Cooper Island...we really liked this place and had a great lunch here. I had the chicken roti and everyone else had the Mahi wrap. Everything was delicious. We dined with our new friends that we met on the boat and had a very enjoyable lunch. Next up...Peter Island for snorkeling. Very healthy reefs and we saw a few cool things here. We were all called back to the boat by the conch shell horn.

Next up...Jost Van Dyke and the Soggy Dollar Bar. I was so excited to step foot on the famous White Bay beach! Jost was quite crowded on this day. I finally got to try the Nilla Killa and boy was it yummy! We played the ring toss game and enjoyed our drinks while talking to friends. As this a hot spot for “merch,” we hit up the Soggy Dollar store for hats, coozies and a euro sticker. And Allison found a cool bracelet here too. Then before we knew it was time to head back to the boat. I could have done with at least another hour. We drank more painkillers as we made our way back to St. John. Fabulous day. Tonight was dinner at home so we stopped at Starfish for steak kabobs, potatoes, veggies and cupcakes. Great dinner. We were exhausted and in bed by 9 PM!

May 28 – The next two mishaps occur on this day. And while it wasn’t funny at the time, we laugh about it now! The plan was to hike down to Salomon then come back to the villa for lunch and to shower, and the boys were going to watch some soccer match at the Tap Room while we shopped in Mongoose Junction.

As you may have gathered, we didn’t travel anywhere without our trusty cooler. But it is quite large so I suggested we do without for this beach trek, but I was overruled. A backpack cooler would have come in handy here. Note to self for next year. Anyway, we loaded that sucker up and drove to the VI National Park sign to begin our hike with 4 beach chairs, a cooler, towels and beach bags. Yes, we were a tad overloaded. The trip down was fine, a little buggy but bearable and before long we spilled out onto my beloved Salomon! To my dismay, there were already a number of other people there. No matter, we found a spot between two of the jutting palms and set up camp. Hubby did a great job carrying that cooler. I had noticed on the way down that the sun disappeared and it still wasn’t back out. Skies were blue all around us except for one huge stationary cloud which blocked out the sun for a good hour and a half. But finally it did come out...yay! By this time the beach was downright crowded! Where was the deserted, secluded beach I fell in love with last trip? I still loved it but it just wasn’t the same. Word has gotten out! The sun’s appearance was short-lived and clouds rolled back and this time delivered some sprinkles.

After we determined that the clouds were there to stay for a while, we packed it up and started the trek back up. The forks in the paths aren’t so obvious going up as they are coming down. Or maybe we just weren’t paying attention since the mosquitos were out in full force, it was hot as a pistol, extremely humid and not a breath of wind. Then of course the sun poked out a bit and made it even hotter. We managed to make two wrong turns and while the trip down was about .5 miles as it should be, it probably took us 2 miles to get back up. After numerous comments by everyone that they didn’t remember this tree or that cactus, we turned back and came to another fork. The signs are helpful to an extent, when there were signs (and you see markers on the way up that you didn’t see on the way down which confused matters even more). At this point my poor husband had been lugging that cooler forever and we were getting eaten alive. Rather than all of us continuing to walk, Mark dropped the cooler and took off in one direction to make sure it was the right one. Reed was about to lose it. He had banged up his toe again and skeeters were feasting on him. He dropped the chairs, threw up his arms and said he needed to get the hell out of the jungle! Thankfully Mark re-appeared and said we were going in the right direction. Thank goodness!! I thought I was going to pass out on the final leg but finally we made it. We crawled in the jeep, drank some water and headed back home. I immediately jumped in the pool. Then I hear a bellowing from hubby from our room. Apparently the swimsuit he had on didn’t have a liner (damn J Crew) and well…you can guess where this is going. He didn’t let on but apparently every step back up the trail was agony. Needless to say, that was our last hike for the trip!! I really wanted to do the Caneel Bay trail (which was more open than the Lindt) and Mark wanted to do Brown Bay, but we decided to save that for another trip.

After we showered, we headed out to Mongoose Junction and the Tap Room. Of course it chose to pour right as we parked. Al and I had one drink (the rum and homemade root beer was yummy), then we took off to peruse the shops. Found some very cute things. We came back for the conclusion of the game and make our Tap Room merchandise purchases. Since this was the original day of our boat trip, we did not have reservations so we thought we would just eat at Sun Dog. It was all closed up...hmmm. Maybe Ocean Grill. It looked cool. Closed for a private party. We had reservations for La Plancha Del Mar for Monday but figured since we were there anyway, we would just do it tonight. Denied again. They were doing a special event, dinner & a movie that night and they didn’t have happy hour or the regular menu and it didn’t start until later. We decided to hit Spyglass (formerly the Balcony) for a drink. I don’t think it is as nice since they moved the bar. It used to overlook the harbor, now it overlooks the back of a building. The bartender made us a yummy drink with Black Cherry Cruzan, pineapple and ginger ale. We also tried some of the rum & coke BBQ wings. Really good sauce! Back to the dinner quandary. We had enjoyed Crazy Cracker’s a few years ago and though now it was Castaways, we figured we’d check it out. It definitely wasn’t the same. The one table upstairs which had patrons was occupied by two young guys and was filled with about 30 empty beer bottles. Definitely a party place now and not somewhere we wanted to eat dinner. The menu looked extremely limited anyway. I had heard good things about La Tapa so we figured this was going to be it. We were seated at a table one foot from the street and neither the ambience nor menu thrilled us at this point so after we paid for our bottled water, we set out again. Would we ever find someplace to eat?? The Banana Deck came to mind. Private party. CLOSED. Arghhh!! Saturday night is definitely not the easiest day of the week to go out to eat. We finally ended up at a place we saw on night one and we thought looked pretty cool. Cactus on the Blue, across from the Beach Bar. They were open, no parties, no special events and the menu looked good. Finally! We actually really enjoyed this place and I can definitely recommend as you don’t hear much about it. Great end to a frustrating evening! (or so we thought...)

Remember how we only got one set of keys? The one set consisted of a key to the house and keys to each of the downstairs bedrooms (which are not accessible through the main house). As usual, when we got home, we opened our room to put our stuff in and tossed the keys on the dresser. I went back upstairs for a bit then came back down to put my PJs on and then went back up. Everyone was falling asleep while watching TV so around 11:30 PM, I went to our room to go to bed. I went to open the slider and it didn’t budge. Oh. My. God. We were locked out and the only set of the keys was in our room. I went back up and roused my snoozing husband who was zonked on the couch. He and Allison went down armed with a butter knife and bobby pin to try to jimmy the lock. No luck. That night we slept on the hard, wicker sofa and loveseat but not before texting the villa rep to ask if they could please bring over the other set of keys in the morning. I could not imagine if this had happened the night before our boat trip when we had to be out the door by 7 AM..

May 29 - We woke on Sunday with stiff necks and I checked the phone. No message so I called. No answer, so I left a message. Mark was still in yesterday’s clothes and I was in my PJs. No toothbrush, no nothing. I sent Mark back down to work on the lock because damned if I was going to miss a beach day! In the light of day and with the absence of rum brain, he got it open in about 20 seconds with a BBQ knife. Yay!!!!!!!!! Though I guess it’s kind of scary that the lock could be picked that easily. I checked the phone one more time before we hit the beach. Still no text or call back. (The extra keys were dropped off that afternoon while we were out). The plan this morning was to hit Maho first and then see where the day took us. But first we picked up wraps and chips from Starfish to eat on the beach. We arrived at Maho and finally a beach that was nearly deserted. We would soon find out why. We set up camp and then settled into our chairs to enjoy the peaceful morning. The air was still very humid and no breeze. The mosquitos must have been lying in wait in the seagrape tees because as soon as we sat down they came out to feast. We all applied bug spray but still they came. The boys got in the water to get away from them. We thought we saw a turtle surface so mark took his snorkel gear out for a look. Never found the turtle but did see some starfish. By this point the mosquitos were really and we decided to move to a breezier beach. I was a bit disappointed because last time, Maho was one of my favorite beaches. They are building facilities so I am guessing they will be done by next year. Though it will be nice to have a bathroom, I kind of liked it as just a beach on the side of the road. We had parked in the construction zone across the street so after loaded up I decided we should head to Cinnamon.

This was a great choice. Breezes and no bugs! Though it did get crowded..lots of kids. I was really surprised at how busy all of the beaches were. It was almost as crowded as when we went in March a few years back. But we had a really good day here. I followed a stingray along the shoreline, we took a walk and just relaxed. And since I am not a beer drinker, we had loaded up a bottle of wine. So after lunch, we put or Woozies on the plastic wine glasses from the villa, poured a glass and took our raft out. We floated and talked and drank our wine. A lovely way to spend the afternoon. But couldn’t stay too late because tonight was our official birthday dinner at Asolare! We had reservations at 5:30 so we could watch the sunset. Unfortunately it wasn’t that great of an sunset because some clouds rolled in but it was till pretty. And we had a primo table with great views. The week before, Asolare had moved to a prixe menu for $48 pp which included an appetizer, entrée and dessert. You could buy each a la carte but this was a much better deal. We also got the wine pairing. The first two wines were excellent but they were very small glasses. And the dessert wine wasn’t wine at all but rather a little snifter of a sweet alcohol (I can’t recall what). The food was very good but I wouldn’t say excellent. But the ambience is more what you go for. Oh and I tried the grapefruit and rosemary martini. It was interesting and I enjoyed it (no one else did..ha ha) but I could only drink one. We did find one of our favorite drinks from the trip here though..Brown Nut Monkey Heads! Yummy! We even got ingredients to make them at the villa the next day. We must sound like alcoholics. But it was vacation and there were so many fun beverages to try! All in all, we had a great evening at Asolare.

Since it was still early, we decided to hit the Beach bar for a little while. It was open mic night and we got a treat. No, not Kenny Chesney, unfortunately. If anyone reading this was there that night, you will know who I am talking about. A girl who was there with her parents and who had just turned 18 got up on stage and said she was going to sing a song by Adele. Wow..what a voice and she did it acapela. She did two songs, the second was the very popular “Rolling in the Deep.” I could have sworn it was Adele herself up there. As soon as she started singing, the whole bar quieted to a hush to listen. Then we headed home and hung out on the porch for a while then hit the hay.

May 30 – This day the plan was to hit the beach in the morning then do lunch at High Tide and shop in Cruz Bay but we all decided we needed a break from the sun so we took our time getting ready in the morning and headed into town. We checked out all the shops then hit High Tide. I was really looking forward to the fish tacos as they were so yummy last time. But alas I was disappointed. They were totally different this time. Hard shells and basically just a piece of fish atop some lettuce. No slaw, just a tiny cup of pineapple salsa, which was good. Now the conch fritters here were better and moister than at shipwreck so we did enjoy those. After lunch we went back to few store to make some final purchases then met up with the boys at the Beach Bar. Next stop, Starfish to pick up fixings for dinner at the villa and some coconut water to make the Brown Nut Monkey Heads. We got tuna steaks, sirloins, more grilled potatoes and some zucchini. Whe We spent the afternoon/evening at the villa and the boys watched some of the Maryland Lacrosse game. It was over 100 degrees at home so we were thankful to be in St. John where it was only in the upper 80s! Dinner again was delicious. Then we played a rousing game of Uno! (Finally, a short entry with no mishaps or anecdotes J)

May 31 – Last full day Today was a beach day. Back to Hawksnest. Lunch was sandwiches from Deli Grotto. Very good. Today we made up a batch of margaritas for our beach beverage. We had a great day reading, snorkeling, floating in the water and just relaxing. The snorkeling here was great, though still no turtles. And we saw several days gliding along while we were floating on our raft. By mid-afternoon it was time to pack it up and head back to change for a much anticipated meal at La Plancha Del Mar. It far exceeded my expectations. Outstanding restaurant.

We had reservations at 5:30 so we could take advantage of the Happy Hour I had heard so much about. We sat at the bar when we arrived. The inside of the restaurant is very nice with prints of various beaches on the wall. But I wanted to sit outside on the balcony. So I picked out the table I wanted and the maître d held it for us until we were ready to be seated. First order of business…Passion fruit sangria. What a bargain! $8 for a pitcher. And not just your average size pitcher but an extra large pitcher. The sangria was delicious. And all of the appetizers were $5. We got two orders of calamari and some hummus. Though we saw the filet mignon sliders I think they were...looked amazing. There were people at the bar making a meal of the appetizers. I totally would too! The calamari were exceptional, very tender and flavorful. And the hummus was amazing. Homemade and topped with olives and pine nuts and served with homemade pita bread. We also chatted it up with the host/part owner who was telling us that the chef would make anything we wanted even if it wasn’t on the menu. We ordered another pitcher of sangria before happy hour was over and took it out to our table. We didn’t order right away since we were still a bit full from the apps so we sipped our sangria and perused the menu. I ordered the Wahoo…delish. And the homemade butternut squash polenta was to die for. Hubby ordered the seafood linguine but substituted the mussels (which he had a bad reaction to last time he ate them 10 years ago) for grilled calamari. OMG…this dish was to die for. Huge shrimp, sweet scallops, calamari. Mostly seafood, not mostly linguine. But the flavor was incredible. Not your average seafood linguine by any means. And the presentation was lovely. I had taken a number of food pictures but for some reason didn’t get a shot of this. I must have been in a food coma! Allison and Reed got the paella. It was unique in that all of the items are separate plate and you mix it together yourself. The boys then got an after dinner coffee. Mark just asked that the bartender make something good up for him and that he did. Allison had some white port which was absolutely delicious. This place is top notch from the servers to the food. A+ Go here!!

We weren’t quite ready to go home yet since it was still relatively early so we decided to hit Woody’s. Our one experience with Woody’s last trip was brief as it was super crowded...couldn’t get up to the bar and we had to drink our beverage in the street. So I was in no hurry to get back but everyone seems to love it so we thought we’d give it a try on our last night. Glad we did! We actually able to sit at the bar. Not crowded at all. And we met a fun couple that we talked to who were also leaving the next day. And of course, had to stock up on coozies and the like.

June 1 – Our flight didn’t leave until 4:40 PM and it was a beautiful morning (but hot) so we hung by the pool for a bit then did the vacuuming of the sand out of the jeep, final packing, taking the trash out etc. We decided to eat lunch in St. Thomas before dropping the car off so we caught the 11:30 AM ferry and after watching St. John grow smaller as we approached the dock, we set our sights on Duffy’s Love Shack. I had read a couple things about this place and though it might be good for our final meal in the VIs. Had I not known about it, we probably would have driven right by. A very unassuming place in the parking lot of a strip mall but we were very happy with our choice. This is a fun, quirky little place and seemed to be a locals hang out too. You don’t want to know how many ceramic drink glasses we came home with...shark, tiki men, a pineapple. As if we had room for more crap. But they are cute and the drinks were good! And the waitress kept accessorizing us with plastic necklaces, leis and stickers. Food was good too. Back to the conch fritter story...we ordered our last fritters of the trip here and guess what? They were the best! Very moist, flavorful and had big chunks of conch and veggies. The rest of our journey was relatively uneventful and while I was sad to leave, I was so happy to be heading home to see my daughter whom I missed something awful.

If I loved St. John after my last trip, I loved it even more after this trip. It has is picturesque with glorious views and vistas, many beautiful beaches, hiking trails (and many of them), snorkeling, excursion and island hopping opportunities, a great little town, wonderful restaurants and a good vibe. We want to bring the kids back next year. Let the planning begin again!

Here is a link to my photos from the trip. Hope you enjoy!

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