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Trip Report Trip Report: St. Thomas

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Well, this trip to St. Thomas was a little unexpected. I had originally booked my annual BVI sailing cruise aboard the Arabella, but due to the fact that the company decided to sell the boat, they canceled all their upcoming cruises. I found this out back in September which gave me plenty of time to make other plans, but I had already booked my airfare to St. Thomas where the boat used to depart from. To make matters worse I had booked on 2 separate airlines this year—American on the way down and Jet Blue on the way back in order to get the best schedules and pricing. However, this meant that if I canceled both flights, I’d be out a $150 change/cancel fee for both airlines (I had trip insurance but it only covers financial default of a company—not just a company deciding to cancel your itinerary for other reasons). I really didn’t want to spend an entire week by myself on St. Thomas, as I doubted I could amuse myself for that long . . . so I determined the best thing to do would be to keep my return flight as is, but rebook my flight down to St. Thomas for a later date than I was originally scheduled for. That way I would only have to pay one change fee and I’d still have a few days on the island to enjoy the weather and water sports.

I departed Boston Thursday on American Airlines 6:40am flight connecting in Miami. The flight left BOS on time and arrived MIA a little early so I had plenty of time to make my connection and to get some food at the airport. Terminal B at MIA has a fairly wide selection of food choices so I opted for a Cuban sandwich from Café Versailles and a slice of dulce de leche cake from Icebox. I ultimately arrived in St. Thomas at approximately 3pm. Once deplaned, I made my way inside the terminal; this year I had no checked luggage. I then decided to pick up a customs form (which you need upon your departure from the island). They will give you a form when you check in for your return flight, but then you need to take time to fill it out before proceeding inside, and the airport is very often extremely crowded on Saturday and Sunday and I find it simplifies things to have the form ahead of time. You can pick up a form from any of the airline counters or if you go inside the terminal towards customs there is a small shelf on the left that sometimes has extra forms laying on it. I then went out to the taxi stand to get a cab to my hotel the Best Western Emerald Beach. The taxi stand is located just outside the baggage claim and rates are posted on a sign board according to where on the island you are going. On St. Thomas, taxi rates are per person, so for a single traveler I don’t consider it that expensive, but for families it can add up.

The Best Western Emerald Beach is one of 3 hotels along Lindberg Bay: the Best Western Caribe is right next to the airport, then comes the Island Beachcomber and finally the Best Western Emerald Beach. All of these hotels are within walking distance of the airport, assuming you don’t have lots of luggage. I still chose to take a cab though just so I didn’t have wheel my bag the approximately half mile distance in the heat. (The BW Emerald Beach would be about a 10 minute walk). I stayed at the BW Emerald Beach last year too and liked it just fine. The hotel consists of 4 guest room buildings with 3 stories each and all rooms have an ocean front view. They also have a nicely landscaped swimming pool and a bar just steps away. The beach bar serves lunch and dinner and the main restaurant is open for dinner starting at 6pm each night. Check in time is 4pm and they sometimes adhere strictly to this time, so if you arrive before 4pm, you can store your luggage behind the front desk and go and enjoy the beach or pool area with a coupon for a free rum punch.

I arrived at the hotel about 45 min before the 4pm check in time and luckily they had my room ready so I was able to check right into room 2205. The rooms have tile floors, tropical style furniture and bright, tropical printed drapes. Each room has a balcony overlooking the bay with 2 chairs and a small cocktail table.

After taking some photos around the property, I decided to sit by the pool until the restaurant opened for dinner at 6pm. The restaurant, Portobello, is open air with slatted wooden shutters that they leave open. The interior is terraced so that each level of tables has a view of the bay. There are also tables set up outside on the deck as well. I had a NY Strip Steak with a baked potato, pina colada to drink and chocolate cake for dessert. The steak was tasty enough and had a flavorful shallot sauce with it.

Friday I was up at 7am as usual and got ready for my snorkel cruise on the Nightwind. The boat boards at 9am from the Sapphire Beach Marina, so I got a cab from the hotel at about 7:50am to allow plenty of time for the approximately 30 min ride to Sapphire Beach. Nightwind is a wooden yawl and carries up to18 passengers on all day snorkel cruises in the waters off of St. John/St. Thomas. The day I went we had 10 passengers. We boarded at 9am and owners Rick and Cathy and crew member Kim had breakfast prepared. This consisted of cinnamon rolls, pineapple, and other breads. The tray was arranged beautifully and was garnished with bright pink flowers. You are also given your choice of beverage either alcoholic or non alcoholic (water, soda, rum punch, mimosas etc). We began our sail across Pillsbury Sound to St. John towards Honeymoon Beach. This was going to be the first snorkel stop but Rick thought the visibility didn’t look that clear, so we instead moved on to Christmas Cove which is off of Great St. James island. They will provide you with mask, snorkel and fins or you may use your own. I have been to that spot before several times and think the snorkeling is pretty good there. There is usually a good variety of fish. On this day I also saw a stingray. We snorkeled for about an hour before re-boarding the boat for lunch.

While we were in the water they had rigged a canopy over the center of the boat to provide extra shade. Lunch consisted of chicken drumsticks, pickles, pasta salad, deviled eggs, pineapple and banana bread.

After lunch we moved on to our second snorkel stop which was off of Little St. James. Here we stayed in the water about 30 minutes, due to the fact that there was a stronger current there and some people didn’t like that. I thought the snorkeling was better at the first stop, but I did see a bunch of squid here.

After this stop, they served chocolate cake for a final snack before we had a leisurely sail back to Sapphire Beach. We got back about 3:30pm and you then had the opportunity to purchase a T shirt as a memento of the trip, which I did.

I had not arranged for a taxi to pick me up again so I asked one of the cab drivers who was waiting for some people off another boat and he called one for me and another group.

For dinner tonight I considered going off property, but after being gone all day I decided to just eat at the hotel again. Tonight was the West Indian buffet. They had ribs, chicken, johnny cakes, rice and salad. Dessert was also included (chocolate cake, citrus cake and one other). The food was okay—not the best—next time I’d probably eat off site that night. They did have a performer playing a steel drum which added to the atmosphere.

After dinner I enjoyed the view of the ocean with a Bushwhacker at the bar before heading back to the room to read on the balcony.

Saturday I decided to go to downtown Charlotte Amalie to look in some of the shops. I like the set up of the downtown with the shops that are down the narrow alleys and passage ways with tropical plants on the walls. I got a cab at 8:45arrived downtown about 9am and spent a couple hours looking around. While I like the set up of the downtown, there are not really too many shops for my taste. What I call cruise ship stores (Diamonds International type shops etc) have taken over the downtown and not too many small shops which sell locally made island wares remain.

Besides roaming up and down the picturesque passage ways, I also went up the 99 steps and enjoyed the beautiful plantings along the sides and the view of the harbor from above.

I had a quick lunch at Pasta Go Go of a ham and cheese pressed sandwich and then got a small piece of chocolate covered Key Lime Pie on a stick from the Belgian chocolate factory. After lunch I got a taxi to the ferry terminal in Red Hook to go over to St. John. I arrived just in time to purchase a ticket ($6) and get on the 12pm ferry for the approximate 20 min ride to Cruz Bay St. John.

From there I got a taxi to Trunk Bay. Despite having been over to St. John a couple times before, I had never been to Trunk Bay. I brought my own mask and snorkel but rented fins there for $3. I also got a locker for $3 to store my valuables while I was in the water. Trunk Bay facilities include snorkel equipment rental, lockers, restrooms, snack bar and lifeguard.

I started on the underwater snorkel trail which basically just has some placards sunk underwater, which you can read as you go along. Visibility was less clear closer to shore where there were more people swimming and churning it up and improved as you got farther out. I saw a wide variety of fish there and also snorkeled on the other side of the rock where it was a little shallower and had some smaller fish.

After snorkeling for about 40 min, I got out and took some pictures and just enjoyed the beach before changing and getting a taxi back to Cruz Bay. I asked to be dropped at Mongoose Junction which is a small open air shopping area with.

After looking in the shops I made my way along the streets and went to a fruit stand called Our Market ( I think) where they have all kinds of smoothies, cocktails and ice cream drinks. I decided to get a Mango Dream cocktail which was good. From there I continued on to the Beach Bar which fronts the beach in Cruz Bay, where I had a couple of Painkillers while waiting until it was late enough to eat dinner. Funny enough, I actually ran into someone I know from work while there.

Dinner tonight was at the Banana Deck. This restaurant looks out at Cruz Bay and has 2 decks with tables. I had a garden salad with blue cheese dressing, ribeye steak topped with a roasted garlic topping served with baked potato and Key Lime Pie for dessert. I thought the food was good—I especially liked the steak with garlic topping, as it was very flavorful.

After dinner when walking through a bar on my way to the ferry, I ran into 2 more acquaintances—this time 2 former Arabella employees.

I got the 7pm ferry back to Red Hook and caught a cab back to my hotel. The only bad thing I can think of staying out at the West End of the island is I am always the last drop off!

Sunday was my last day and I was flying out that afternoon. Unfortunately the internet was down at the hotel this morning so I couldn’t use the computer to print my boarding pass. So I decided to walk to the airport and check in for my flight there. It was about a 10 min walk. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let me check in for my flight at the counter since it was too early (even though I had no bags to check and you can check in online 24hrs in advance—they say to check in at the counter it must be no more than 4 hours in advance). So, what I decided to do was stop in at the Best Western Caribe on my way back to my hotel and print my boarding pass there. This worked out fine and enabled me to have my boarding pass and not have to leave the hotel extra early to stand in a long airline check in line just to get a boarding pass.

I sat by the hotel pool for the morning until about 11:30am when I went back to my room to clear out for the 12pm check out time. The hotel will allow you to store your bags behind the front desk if you need to. I then had lunch at the pool bar which was a cheeseburger and a bushwhacker. Unfortunately it started to rain a bit, but at least the bar is covered.

I left the hotel about 12:30pm for my 1:59pm flight and got to the airport in a few minutes via cab. There didn’t appear to be a long line at JetBlue to check in, but I’ve learned from past experience on American out of STT that the check in lines for the airlines can be the worst part of the whole experience (which is why I wanted my boarding pass in advance). The lines for customs and security were not too long—maybe 10 min each. If you have carry on only there is a sort of separate security line you can go through. I say sort of because it only saves you time because you don’t have to stand in line behind all the people who are trying to drop their checked bags, but it eventually feeds back/merges in with the general security line anyway.

The flight boarded on time, we took off about 30 min late while we sat on the runway for some reason. By this time it had started to pour and you could see the people boarding the Delta flight next to us getting completely soaked. I was glad we got on before the rain really started, as it would be freezing cold sitting on a flight for 3+ hours soaking wet. Our JetBlue flight was supposed to stop briefly in San Juan for a fuel stop, but they announced we were light enough on this flight to go nonstop to Boston without the scheduled stop, so we arrived about 45 min early.

I enjoyed my somewhat impromptu trip to the USVI and will definitely return for another long weekend.

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