Trip Report - St. John

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Aug 27th, 2004, 11:59 AM
  #1
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Trip Report - St. John

Arrived in St. Thomas on Thursday, August 19. USAIR was a pain - flights delayed, unhelpful staff, but got us there just the same. Arrived at 2:41 p.m.

Taxi to Charlotte Amalie was $5 per person. Helpful yet aloof folks to help at the pier for getting the ferry to St. John. Helpful yet aloof was to be a common theme for the locals for our entire trip.

Got ready to board the 4:00 ferry and realized that two of our suitcases had been left on the taxi - which was long gone now.

The security at the ferry felt sure we'd get them back. I was dubious. As we had a rental car waiting for us and the rental car place closed at 5, we opted to take the ferry on over and call the airport when we got in. Ferry security said they would try to send our bag over on the 5:30 ferry (they didn't).

MORAL - even seasoned travellers make stupid mistakes. Always check to make sure you have everything and always pack essentials and a change of clothes in your carry on. (I did, thank goodness!)

We got to St. John just fine. Varluck Vehicles was great - brand new Jeep Liberty. They were helpful AND friendly. Highly recommend them. NO MATTER WHAT - GET A FOUR WHEEL DRIVE! The roads were just unbelievable!

Found our villa - more about it in a minute - no problem.

Called the Airport taxi dispatch and they were moderately helpful. They acknowledged that they had my bags, but kept asking me to call back in an hour. Finally, they said they couldn't get ahold of the driver again - call back in the morning. Finally, the next day, they said they had the bags, there at the airport.

We took the car ferry over, got the bags back. Everything intact. Then we snorkeled in St. Thomas for the remainder of the day. Not what we had planned to do, but seeing how I'm a dummy and didn't check to make sure I had all of my bags, I cannot complain. We went to the public beach by the Ritz Carlton. The beach was nice, albeit not well advertised. The public parking was blocked by a cargo truck, so we parked in front of it and took our chances. Thankfully, no one said a word.

Back on St. John we opted to get some groceries. We bought all of our groceries at the Dolphin Market. Here's a listing of prices to help you prepare yourself:

1/2 gallon of milk - $4
1 3/4 quart of Edy's Ice Cream - $10
1 box Berry Kix cereal - $6.25
12 pack of Coke - $5.00
Loaf of bread - $2.50
Lunch meat - $12 a pound
Apples - $2 a pound
1 dozen eggs - $3

MORAL - pack some basic dry goods to take over - dried soups, wraps, packets of ketchup, mustard, pasta, etc. I did and we were very glad, in spite of some Fodor's posters saying we were being "cheap." I prefer "economical."

We spent the remainder of our week at the St. John beaches. Here's my personal assessment of each:

Maho Bay Beach - quiet, intimate but big beach, park on the side of the road or by an abandoned snack house. Good snorkeling below the Maho Bay campground rocks. Turtles here in the morning.

Cinnamon Bay Beach - noisy, not great snorkeling. Nothing to impress us, except that there were bathrooms.

Haulover Bay - no real beach here - it's rocky. But, the snorkeling was spectacular. It's a fish nursery so that draws in the bigger fish. Saw the biggest stingray ever here. Parking is roadside. No bathrooms. Skinny Legs restaurant is not too far away. Highly recommend it for a laid back meal.

Jumbie Bay - Another highlight. Big turtles, tarpon, another nursery and feeding station. Pelicans diving for fish is always a good sign for a snorkeling spot! Quiet, intimate, and smaller beach. No bathrooms, parking is up the road a small bit, walk down some stairs into my favorite beach of the trip!

Caneel Resort has an ok dive operation. My husband was generally pleased although the dive operator who was diving with him "lost" the boat temporarily. The beaches around Caneel Resort are very nice -saw nice corals there.

Even with the "crowds" (which were not bad at all in my assessment), my kids and I loved Trunk Bay. Good facilities, nice rangers, beautiful beach. The underwater trail was overrated in my opinion. We saw some beautiful fish there, but the coral was not as nice as other beaches.

Didn't get to Hawksnest, or to my great disappointment, Waterlemon Cay. Next time . . .

I highly recommend the Cinnamon Bay sugar plantation hike as well as the Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins. Informative and beautiful. Nice to see something other than the beaches.

A bit on the two resorts - Caneel Resort is very beautiful. Intimate, lush, clean and more like an estate than a resort. There are ruins of a sugar plantation there at Caneel, as well as some of the free roaming donkeys. If you like flowers or birdwatching, take a walk through the Caneel Resort. You can scope it out for a future visit if you aren't staying there.
We got to check it out since my husband dove with their dive operation.

Our villa owners told us that if we patronized the Westin's pool bar at 4 p.m. the kids could use the pool and water trampoline. We did that once. It was a nice enough place - what you would expect from a Westin resort. The kids enjoyed the heck out of that trampoline and rock climbing inflatable! Personally, I liked Caneel Bay better. It had an enviable location - right in the middle of the Park, northshore beaches, and it has quiet, intimate feel.

Caneel Resort has 170 acres, 166 rooms. Westin has 40 acres, 282 rooms and 67 studios.

Our villa, Caribeana Villa, was like a "screened-in house," which I think is pretty standard there. It was very nicely decorated - most of it by the owner. The owners were very helpful and friendly.

The house stuck us as a bit odd, since the bedrooms had giant, screened windows, no glass. Yet the rooms had window unit A/C's. Seemed very inefficient to me. The house also had a lot of louvered doors, screened, that could be opened, at least in theory. Of course, if you did, the mosquitoes would come in and eat you alive. I guess they were more for breeze than for actual use.

We had a small "plunge" pool - about 8 feet long and 5 feet wide and 5 feet deep. The kids loved it. A very nice, large deck with a fantastic view. The deck has a few soft boards that need replacing. The telescope was missing it's eye piece, which made it unusable. A big disappointment, as the stars were just spectacular. The open spiral staircase led up to a loft room with twin beds and then continued on to a lookout room with a small deck. Also a big hit with the kids. The loft and it's bathroom were very nice; the shower a bit dark. The lookout tower was fantastic. Gourmet kitchen was nice, although showing some age. Many drawers were apt to stick, the light fixtures were in need of repair and there was a strong smell of insecticide. Mouse droppings and ants in the pantry led us to keep all food in the fridge.

Main of house was not air conditioned, also common I think. Furniture in living room was showing age - faded and torn in places. The house was equipped with a Sega Dreamcast, which my kids enjoyed a lot in the evening. Cable did not appear to be connected, although there was box there.

Never did figure out how to turn on many lights. Made do with what we did figure out.

There was a safe in the kitchen. Required 2 keys and a combination to use, so we felt safe putting our things in it. No problems with crime the entire week.

1800 sq. foot house, 3 bedrooms, 3 baths (one without a shower head, so we didn't use it). Off season rate dramatically reduced by owner to $1500 for the week.

We felt it was a good deal, we were happy enough in the house, but the house is in need of some work.

Departed Thursday, August 26th. Airport staff efficient, thorough, and professional. No duty-free shopping in the terminal. Interestingly, the taxi ride was $7/per person from Charlotte Amalie to airport.

Flight home was much better than the trip there - everything on time and airline staff was great. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we flew through Charlotte on the way home and through Philly on the way there. Don't know.

All told, a great vacation in a wonderful place! Very expensive place to go, but a very beautiful and peaceful place to go.
nancyrusinak is offline  
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Aug 28th, 2004, 09:21 AM
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Thanks for the trip report Nancy. Interestingly we made the same mistake with a travel bag in Nassau this summer.

We enjoyed both Maho and Jumbie as well. Jumbie is a hidden gem on St. John. Please, no more publicity on Haulover, this was our favorite. Feel fortunate that the wind cooperated when you went there. We attempted two more snorkels at Haulover but the water was too rough. In addtion to Waterlemon, consider Little lameshur for a future trip.

Glad the 4WD worked out.
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Aug 28th, 2004, 05:12 PM
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So, were you able to get into that island 'aloof' feeling by the end of your trip? That's the goal.
I would love to take our kids, however, when I consider the expenses times 5, it's out of budget and I sense my husband and I would not get into that 'island feeling'.
The grocery cost was a good tip for us to pack a few snacks. Thanks.
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Aug 31st, 2004, 01:02 PM
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Nancy -

So glad you had a great trip to STJ. It is an expensive island, but it sounds like you took the best of the advice on here to your family's advantage. Glad you opted for the 4WD and rented on STJ. Sorry about the luggage fiasco! Definitely check out Salt Pond & Lamesur areas and Waterlemon too on your next trip!

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Aug 31st, 2004, 07:25 PM
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nancy - sounds like a great trip despite everything.

I'm thinking of heading to coral bay for a few days - any pointers on that area? I have found a hostel to stay at, so I'm hoping things won't be to expensive.

Good advice on brining any dried foods I can - I was planning of some things, but now I'll look for more.

Question about renting the jeep: how much was it per day/week? I'm not sure how much I'd need it. I was planning to just spend the days on the beach reading and nights relaxing.

thanks!
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Sep 2nd, 2004, 10:31 PM
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Hi Debbs1130 -

Get the 4wd. No ifs, ands, or buts. The roads are steep, twisty, and even the 4wd struggled sometime. Even the safari taxis are 4wd. Rental was $70 a day or $430 for the week.

Coral Bay is on the other of the island from the "main" village. It's quieter, and if you can imagine it, even more laid back. There is a small convenience store, but no main grocery.

Take some cup-of-soups, pasta, rice, seasonings (in a ziploc baggie). I took dried milk for cooking, oatmeal packets, poptarts, and crystal light drink packets. All were enormously helpful. Also, you can now buy packets of Tysons chicken, tuna, and ground beef. All preseasoned and fully cooked. They weigh a lot less than cans and do not taste bad at all.

Wish I were going with you!

Does anyone know how people can actually afford to live there?
nancyrusinak is offline  
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Sep 8th, 2004, 08:48 AM
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Nancy, can you recommend any breakfast spots in Cruz and where was your favorite unique dining experience?
Thanks.
island_breeze is offline  
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Sep 8th, 2004, 09:48 AM
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Inn at Tamarind Court is a great spot for Breakfast in Cruz Bay.
tpatricco is offline  
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Sep 11th, 2004, 04:32 PM
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Chilly Billys for breakfast!
Cyclone is offline  
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Sep 11th, 2004, 10:13 PM
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Coral Bay is great ... a lot of old hippies and artists...more laid back than Cruz Bay.
ltilson is offline  
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Sep 12th, 2004, 06:30 PM
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I thought Chilly Billys had gotten sold?
Anybody know for sure?
Sherri1 is offline  
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Sep 13th, 2004, 02:48 PM
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All this talk of 4WD has me a little anxious. We will have our 5 month old with us in STJ this December. We will be staying in a villa and will be renting a car. I have heard there is a company that rents baby gear - car seats, etc - does anyone know about it? We of course will have a car seat but even having it will driving be OK or a nightmare? Also, any other advice for travelling there with one so young?
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Sep 14th, 2004, 08:50 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2003
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The roads are paved and marked, only a few tight steep turns. The vehicles are safe and new. Just make sure everyone is buckled in and you have a brave forward driver. It gets tricky when the roads are wet otherwise the jeeps have adequate traction. Once this active hurricane season is over, it should be dry in December.
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