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Trip Report: Whirlwind weekend in St. Thomas and St. John

Trip Report: Whirlwind weekend in St. Thomas and St. John

Sep 29th, 2007, 11:56 AM
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Trip Report: Whirlwind weekend in St. Thomas and St. John

I took my first trip to the USVI back in August. A friend and I managed to snatch up some really cheap airfare out of Ft Lauderdale, Fl. This was our first visit to the USVI and to the Caribbean in general.

Due to work schedules and other time constraints, we could only fly out on a Friday morning and had to return to FL on that Sunday afternoon. Yes, it sounds a bit crazy, but it's a short flight from Ft. Lauderdale, and the airfare price was extremely attractive. Anyway, we had a phenomenal weekend! Would do it again in a heartbeat! I had posted a few questions here when we were trying to figure out how to make best use of our time. I received some very nice, helpful replies and wanted to give back to the forum by sharing my experiences and impressions in the hope that it might be useful to someone else who is planning a first trip to the USVI.

Warning: try as I might, I can never seem to write short trip reports! My enthusiasm and desire to wax poetic frequently gets the better of me!

So here goes...

Friday August 17, 2007:

We had one of those delightful 4:00 a.m. wakeup calls, so that we could hit the road by 6:00 a.m. for the ~2 hour drive to Ft. Lauderdale from where we live further north on the Atlantic coast of Florida.

The first thing I did upon stumbling out of bed, was log onto the National Hurricane Center website to check the progress of Hurricane Dean. We live in Florida and are no strangers to Hurricane Season. We knew traveling in August would be risky (hence the really cheap airfare deal!). We were nonetheless dismayed when Dean first made its appearance and steadfastly churned along towards our destination! We kept very close tabs on Spirit Airlines and the Hurricane Center website as our travel time approached. We actually had one friend drop out of the trip, because she didn't want to risk it. My other friend and I were definitely also concerned and waffled back and forth regarding whether or not to cancel our plans. Luckily, I had purchased travel insurance, so I wasn't so worried from a financial standpoint; we just didn't want to risk life and limb!

In the 24 hours leading up to our trip, all storm track estimates remained south of St. Thomas, with expectation of tropical storm conditions for that weekend. Spirit Airlines did not cancel our flight, so we took a deep breath and decided to go for it!

We hit the road shortly after 6:00 a.m. and began our 2 hour drive to the airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10:30, so we were good shape; or so we thought...

South of West Palm Beach, we suddenly came to a stand still on the freeway. Obviously, some sort of traffic accident up ahead. We waited... and waited... and waited... Finally, we found a local radio station that announced I-95 Southbound had actually been closed down due to the accident. At this point, we started to panic a bit. The hour was getting late, we were still 45 minutes out from the airport, and sitting in a parking lot on the freeway (cue the sinister theater music...)!

Eventually, traffic started to inch forward. They were diverting traffic off the freeway several exits up ahead of us. We took a gamble and left the freeway at the very next exit we reached. We headed east until we hit U.S. 1 and stayed on that road until we were just north of Ft. Lauderdale. We arrived at the airport with just minutes to spare. There's no way we would have made it on the plane without the assistance of the Spirit Airlines worker who moved us to the front of the check in line... and then the assistance of the security personnel who moved us to the shortest security line. Our flight had mostly boarded by the time we made it to the gate. We were among the last 4 passengers to board the plane. Whew!!

After such a stressful morning, it was nice to sit in a semi-comatose state for the duration of the flight! We could see some of the islands of the Bahamas from the plane window as we headed to the Southeast. We started to feel the first twinges of excitement, as we realized that we were actually on our way!

The flight was blessedly uneventful; arriving on time at ~1:30 p.m. Our excitement level really escalated as we made our approach into St. Thomas. After the flat landscape of Florida, its always so nice to see hilly terrain! And the color of that ocean water... Wow!

Our original plan had been to rely on taxis for St. Thomas. We planned to take the ferry to St. John the following day and possibly rent a car for the day over there. We stopped for a few minutes to talk to a man promoting the Wyndham hotels at the airport, and he convinced us to rent a car for the duration of the weekend. He good-naturedly gave us some maps of the islands and suggestions of things to do, even after we declined his obligatory sales push to attend a time-share presentation.

We next fumbled our way over to the Avis counter, and few minutes later piled into our trusty rental car for the literally 5 minute drive to the Best Western Emerald Beach resort; our home for the next 2 nights.

We had wanted to stay at Secret Harbor based on the glowing reviews it always gets here, but they were booked up for our weekend. Our fall-back choice was the Best Western, and we were completely comfortable and content there! The staff was nice, our room had a beautiful view of the beach, and with the convenience of the rental car, we didn't mind the location at all. It was also affordably priced, which was what we were after for a quick weekend getaway.

After dropping off the luggage and checking the latest hurricane update (tropical storm conditions expected to move in to St. Thomas later that evening), we decided run over to Magens Bay that afternoon. There was no cruise ship in town that day, and we really wanted to check out the famous beach.

Okay, so I'm true to form with my usual long-winded writing style! Hope at least a few people are willing to wade through it. I need to take a quick break, and then will resume the thrilling saga...
cmerrell is offline  
Sep 29th, 2007, 01:29 PM
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owa
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Most of us on this forum love long trip reports!! Good start. Thanks, owa
 
Sep 29th, 2007, 01:41 PM
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Friday August 17, 2007, cont'd:

We meandered our way through Charlotte Amalie, and up into the hills. The narrow, winding roads, blind curves, and traffic that zips right along was slightly alarming at first (not to mention, making the adjustment to driving on the left...), but I quickly got the hang of it. I was the designated driver for the weekend as we hadn't wanted to pay the extra supplement to add my friend as an additional driver.

At one point, we came upon the overlook for Magens Bay and let out a collective gasp of appreciation! It was an overcast afternoon, but the wow factor of that beach superceded the hazy atmosphere.

We eagerly navigated our way down to the beach entrance. It was almost 4:00 p.m. by this time, and the folks at the entry booth waved us in without collecting the fee.

The beach was practically deserted. We flung aside our flip flops and dipped our feet in that gorgeous, crystal-clear water. The waves were almost non-existent and the water surface was like glass. We wandered leisurely up and down the beach for about an hour, just soaking in the ambiance.

We finally tore ourselves away because we wanted to check out more of the island before night time fell, and the anticipated torrential rains moved into the area. We made a quick stop for milkshakes at the Udder Delight Dairy, just up the road. Delicious! A great recommendation I picked up here on the Fodors forum...

We drove along, making brief stops at Coki Beach and the Ritz Carlton Beach before heading back to our hotel. There was some sort of festival or celebration going on in Charlotte Amalie and traffic was really backed up. We checked out a couple of prospective places for dinner, but ended up just eating at the hotel that night (which was just as well as our early morning was starting to catch up with us).

The skies were still fairly clear as we began getting ready for bed. The waves on the beach outside our hotel room were starting to look a bit roughed up and tropical storm conditions were still expected to hit sometime that night; extending through much of the following day. We were a bit nervous about staying right on the beach. Hurricane Dean had strengthened throughout the day and was expected to make category 5 status. What if it unexpectedly turned to the north?? With uneasy thoughts of storm surge and high velocity winds, we uneasily drifted off to sleep...
cmerrell is offline  
Sep 29th, 2007, 01:58 PM
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cmerrell, this is a great report. do keep going! do they not have great ice cream at udder delight!
virginia is offline  
Sep 29th, 2007, 02:50 PM
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Great report so far! Your writing style makes for an easy read. I'm looking forward to reading the next chapter... =)
mymoosie is offline  
Sep 29th, 2007, 02:57 PM
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Yes, enjoying the report. Thanks for posting! Look forward to the rest of it.
ejcrowe is offline  
Sep 29th, 2007, 03:55 PM
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Thanks for the encouragement, guys! I appreciate it.

Saturday August 17, 2007:

Despite my concerns the night before, I pretty much slept like a log! I woke up the next morning to see a shaft of light peeking through a small gap in the drawn curtains leading out to the balcony. I slipped out of bed and parted the curtains to peer out. Amazing!! Not only was there no sign of torrential tropical storm rainfall; there was plenty of blue sky, interspersed with white puffy, non-threatening clouds. The only sign of the passing storm was the slightly rough surf crashing on the beach.

We turned on the tv to get the latest update. The hurricane had moved to the west of Puerto Rico and was heading towards Jamaica. We were of course, concerned for the people still in the path of the storm, but admittedly relieved that we had dodged the bullet. It's an odd feeling to be on vacation when a natural disaster strikes another location. You are busy trying to enjoy your own experience, but can't help but be affected by the knowledge that others are going through a really tough time dealing with the stress and emotional trauma of massive property damage and even tragic loss of life in some instances.

But back to the more pleasant task of recounting the weekend's events...

We had breakfast at the hotel's nice open-air restaurant, watching the water and the people strolling on the beach. At one point we saw a sea turtle surface in the waves, which was a really cool bonus to the morning!

After eating, we jumped in the car and headed over to Red Hook. A short ferry ride later and we were driving through Cruz Bay, St. John on our way to check out the national park.

Much has been written here of the beauty of St. John. All I can say is; its all true! The island is absolutely gorgeous and definitely a place I plan to get back to for a longer visit.

We drove all over, stopping at various overlooks. We were only there for the day and didn't have the luxury of hiking any trails or really exploring in-depth, but we got a good overview and were very impressed by what we did see.

After taking the driving tour, we wanted to visit some of the beaches. With our limited time, we decided to spend the bulk of our afternoon at Trunk Bay and rent some snorkel gear.

First, we stopped at Cinnamon, just to check it out. Gorgeous!! I was impressed with the great facilities available there. We only spent a few minutes, because we wanted to get on to Trunk and get in the water.

We got to Trunk Bay about 2:30. Our first action was to get a bite to eat at the snack bar there. The lady at the counter admonished us to keep our burgers covered by our napkins... with good reason! The minute we sat down at one of the picnic tables and tried to eat, we were assailed by an entire flock of seagulls (no, not the 80's new wave group... Sorry, had to do it! ). They were so tenaciously obnoxious that we had to eat in the rental car.

We then went to rent snorkel gear, only to find out to our dismay that we would only have an hour before the concession closed for the afternoon. It would have behooved us to check the hours beforehand. Oh well...

We threw on our bathing suits and strapped on our gear. We had both rented the flotation belts. My friend Monica is a petite little thing, and her belt hung loose around her hips causing her to indulge in some hoola hoop-reminiscent gyrations in order to keep it up around her waist as she tried to make her way to the water... with her fins already on! LMAO!! We finally got into the water and started our snorkel adventure. The day had grown overcast and the deeper water took on a slightly murky hue, but it was an amazing experience! I did notice some of the bleached coral that people mention (which is a real shame) but we saw tons of beautiful, vividly colored fish. I loved it!

Midway through our snorkelling adventure, we started to feel cold raindrops hitting our backs. At first it was just drizzle, but eventually turned into a pretty good downpour. Our hour with the snorkel equipment was almost up anyway, so we headed back to the beach. When we got to our stuff (towels, beach bags, change of clothes, etc...), everything was wet! We grabbed our stuff and ran through the still pouring rain to the rental booth; Monica still gyrating to keep the floatation belt from falling to the ground. We returned the equipment and hit the showers. My clothes were damp, but wearable because they had been somewhat protected in my beach bag. Monica had left her clothes sitting on top of her towel and could literally ring water out of them! She had a spare pair of sweats in the car, but no extra under garments. She ended up just wearing her bathing suit for a while until it was dry enough to put the sweats on over it. Luckily, we had one spare towel in the car that Monica wrapped around herself. We had a good laugh as we exited the Trunk Bay parking lot. It had been quite the experience!

The rain had eased up to a drizzle by the time we got to the entrance of Hawksnest Beach, so we stopped briefly to take a look. Another beauty of a beach! Several families (appeared to be locals) were enjoying a barbeque here. It looked like such fun!

We headed back into Cruz Bay and just drove around a bit to check it out. We stopped to stroll around the Mongoose Junction shops for a few minutes. We spent very little time in Cruz Bay, but it looked like a really cute little town.

Soon it was back to the ferry and St. Thomas. We cleaned up at the hotel and then ventured out to Bella Blue, a restaurant in Frenchtown. This was a recommendation I had also gotten from Fodors. It was a very nice meal!

We turned in at a reasonable hour, well fed and happy after a really pleasant day.
cmerrell is offline  
Sep 29th, 2007, 06:49 PM
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Sunday August 19, 2007:

We got up early and set out for the Secret Harbor resort. We wanted to check out their restaurant (Blue Moon Caf&eacute and the beach there. The place is a little off the beaten track to find but after a few missed turns, we prevailed. It does look like a very nice place to stay. The beach was very pretty, but our plans to snorkel there were thwarted by a slightly rough surf and turbid water conditions; final parting gift from Hurricane Dean. The whole weekend we found that the south/west oriented beaches had churned up surf, while the beaches with north/east orientation were very calm. Makes sense when you consider the track of the hurricane, which passed to the south of the islands.

Anyway, we decided not to get in the waves at Secret Harbor, so after a very tasty and enjoyable breakfast there, we went back to Magens Bay.

We had been captivated by Magens on our first afternoon which had been overcast. Today, the sun was shining and it was even more breathtaking! Once again, the fates had smiled upon us and the cruise ship that had been scheduled to dock in St. Thomas that day had cancelled. I’d estimate that there were maybe 30 people total at the beach that morning. The water temperature was perfect. We waded/swam to the rocky shoreline on the eastern end of the bay and found little schools of colorful fish darting around among the rocks. It was a perfect morning, the only downside being the knowledge that we would have to return to the ‘real world’ that afternoon.

We had to check out of our hotel by noon, so we left Magens around 11:15 and made the trek back towards the Best Western. We stopped at the scenic overlook to view Charlotte Amalie from the hillside above. That is a truly spectacular vista on a nice sunny day! Back at the hotel we quickly packed up our stuff and settled the bill. One quick stop at the nearest gas station to top off the car, and then it was over to the airport. We really did not want to leave!! Our flight home was on time and uneventful.

Final reflections:

Even though we literally only had 2 full days and packed a lot in, the whole weekend felt strangely un-hurried. Maybe it was because we spent so much time just driving around and enjoying the scenery. I also tend to find that there’s just something soothing about watching ocean waves rolling up on a sandy beach.

I know that St. Thomas is maligned by many to travel frequently to the Caribbean, but I rather liked it. I thought it had its own quirky vibe and was sort of fascinated by the hustle bustle of Charlotte Amalie. Now granted, I was not there on a day when 3 cruise ships were in port, and if there had been wall-to-wall people at Magens Bay, perhaps I might not have been quite so enamored.

Like most who visit there, I thought St. John was incredible. Really beautiful with a refreshing
‘unspoiled’ feel to it. Definitely a destination worthy of many repeat visits.

All in all, a wonderful girl’s weekend away!

I do have quite a few photos if anyone would like to view them. I took a lot considering the short time we were there:

http://cmerrell.smugmug.com/

Thanks for reading my mini-novel! If anyone has any questions, I would be happy to answer them.
cmerrell is offline  
Sep 30th, 2007, 05:50 AM
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I'm impressed. You did and saw a lot in 2 days! You write so well so long trip report it is not.
I really enjoyed your report and your pics. Thanks for posting!
caribtraveler is offline  
Sep 30th, 2007, 06:37 AM
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cmerrell - That was a great report! So glad you were able to enjoy your short trip. Do they still have the cats at Trunk Bay? Loved that photo of the tow truck! LMBO!! Thanks so much for sharing your experience and photos.
mymoosie is offline  
Sep 30th, 2007, 07:15 AM
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Wow... what an interesting report... you write so well. And the pictures are just fabulous!!

Thank you.

Carole
cawhite is offline  
Sep 30th, 2007, 09:16 AM
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Thanks for the complimentary comments, everyone! It's kind of nice to get everything all written out to help cement some of the particulars in my memory.

I don't remember seeing cats at Trunk Bay, mymoosie. I love cats, so I'll just have to get back over to St. John for further investigation! ;-)

Actually, the sad thing is that I've lived in Florida for almost 10 years and it took me this long to finally venture into the Caribbean! I've always tended to look farther afield for travel opportunities. I had no idea what I missing out on all this time! Now that I know, I'm already scheming how I might get my mother to some combination of the USVI and BVI next summer. She lives in Utah and would absolutely love a trip like that.

I'm sure I'll be back with questions...

cmerrell is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2007, 01:23 PM
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You managed to do quite a bit in two days. Now you need to spend a week on St. John, my home.

Glad you liked the beaches.

The most info in any one place about St. John is at www.stjohntravelforum.com. A good place for you to put your trip review, if you feel like posting it again.
stjohncaptain is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 10:56 AM
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Great report! hope u get back to st.john in the future! it's so beautiful!!!have been to st,thomas also & still do go over for a day when staying on st.john but look forward to getting back on ferry back to beautiful st.john alway's!! everyone we meet that visit's from st.thomas to st.john alway's say's they wished they had stayed on st.john instead & will do so on next trip! u can't help falling in LOVE with the island!!!! u would also love the ferry to the bath's on the bvi's don't forget the camera for that!!! awesome! the pic's were great. loved the arial shots good job! rachelle
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