First Timers Trip Report
(I posted this in the USVI forum, and at the request of others I am reposting it here)
I am going to try and do my TR right away this time, when everything is fresh in my mind. Here is the set up: We were 2 adults (self and hubs) and 2 children (ages 11 and 16) traveling from the Mid-West to the USVI for my 40th birthday trip. We wanted to experience both a villa on St. John and a "hotel on the beach" so also did 4 days on St. Thomas. I'll do a day by day, and then cover some areas that were of particular concern to me and how those were addressed, as well as some ups and downs of the trip.
Day One: We left our house at 3:30 am to get to the airport, flight was at 6. We had a smooth flight to Miami, where thanks to the brilliant styling of American Airlines, we had a 7 hour layover before the next flight to St. Thomas. I had read online about the Airport Flyer, the bus that takes you from Miami International directly to South Beach, and we thought with 7 hours to kill, why not? We trudged though the airport with all our gear then made the LONG walk to the flyer bus. Seriously, it was a very long walk. We made it to the bus okay, bought passes right there and then hopped on. We got off on Lincoln Road and walked 3 short blocks to the beach. We hung out there for about 4 hours and then picked up the bus back on Lincoln Road and back to the airport. All of it went very smooth.
We landed in St Thomas at 10:30 pm and caught a cab to Tillett Gardens, where we had booked a private room at Rhoda's Guest House. The reason we did this was that we got into St. Thomas so late, it was too late to take the ferry to St. John and stay there. Rookie mistake. Everyone was very nice at Rhoda's but it is RUSTIC. I won't give it a bad review, as this is personal choice, but it did not work for me. We were up at 7 the next morning, threw down some breakfast and headed over to the ferry dock to go to Cruz Bay.
Day Two: We are very big on National Parks in my family, so we were excited to see St. John. Ferry was prompt and a nice ride over. We thought the price of 7 dollars pp reasonable. I did get asked if I was local, (hubs did not) so that was kind of cool. :) We had rented Heavenly Villas, and the owner was there to greet us as we got off the ferry. Headed over to St. John Car Rental. They could not have been nicer or more professional. Our Jeep was new and clean, tires were fine, staff was excellent. I would not hesitate to rent from them again. We got our jeep in about 20 min and were off up the hill! The villa is located on top of "Jacob's Ladder" and has a wonderful view of Cruz Bay and other islands. It was nicely appointed and had a homey feel as well as being very clean. After we took a bit to settle in we decided to head out for food and to the beach. We stopped at the Beach Bar for food and drinks, wonderful drinks but the food was sadly lacking for these vegetarians. We downed some veggie burgers and headed out. As it was a little later in the day by now (around 2 I think) we headed over to Maho to see if there were turtles feeding. There were! We spent the afternoon there swimming with turtles (we had all brought googles) and laying in the sun, feeling the 20 below weather just melt off us. Snow? What is snow? :) After the sun started to go down we headed back to town and made our way cautiously around the round about (first time driving on the left) and over to Starfish Market to stock the villa. A word about the shopping. I shop mostly at the co-op here, and some at Whole Foods Market. Starfish prices seemed very reasonable to me! I did not see an 8 dollar bag of chips or a 7 dollar gallon of milk. I bought milk for 4.39 a gallon, which is only .40 more than I pay in the states. So that was a nice surprise. Also the little liquor store had some of the best prices on good cheese and beer we thought, and wine that I enjoyed for 5.00 (5 bucks!) a bottle. After getting our food we went back to the villa for the evening.
Day 3: Off to Honeymoon Beach today as I had bought the VI Ecotours all inclusive beach day package. This was WONDERFUL and my kids are still talking about it. The package includes all snorkel gear, paddleboards, kayaks, chairs, floats, and a locker for your stuff. We used it all, there was plenty of stuff to go around, snorkeling was excellent, wonderful day. The passes were 49.99 for adults and 19.99 for kids, but there was a 50% code when I booked and it was well worth it. After we were done, we just had to get our pass initialed by the ecotours guy and then stopped by the front desk at Caneel and they waived the 20.00 parking charge. After a full day (we were there from 10-4) we headed back to the villa for some food and lounging.
Day 4: Virgin Gorda and the Baths! This was a little controversial as MANY folks on this forum advised not to waste a day on St. John by going here. But the hubs wanted to go and I did too...so we went. We took the ferry and absolutely loved it. There were not too many people there and most of them did not make the trek to Devil's Bay so it was very nice. The snorkeling was crazy good and the water like glass. Very fun day, got back around 5:30, went to villa and collapsed.
Day 5: We took it easy today, got up around 9 and packed up for Salt Pond, got there around 1. It was raining when we left, so we assured ourselves it was going to be sunny in Coral Bay. No such luck. We rented snorkel gear from Crabby's who also assured us it would blow over soon. :) No such luck. We made our way down to Salt Pond in the rain, snorkeled for about 2 hours in the rain, ate our soggy sandwiches and left when the winds started to pick up and it actually got a bit chilly. It was about 3:30 when we packed up and Coral Bay Caribbean Oasis opened at 4, so we headed over there to get takeout for the villa. (after spending all the time in the rain I really didn't feel like cooking) We got the veggie special as well as some sides, it was all delicious. Another evening on our villa deck. (it was habit forming)
Day 6: Gibney and Trunk! We headed out screamingly early 7:30 as I had droned into my hubs ear about the 3 (!!!) parking spots at Gibney Beach and what would happen if we did not get one of those three spots. Well, we were the only ones there and on a Saturday! Was this odd? I felt like it was, but it was fine by us. Simply beautiful beach and my son loved the tire swing. We hung out there for a few hours and then headed over to Trunk Bay. Trunk Bay was busy but not overwhelmingly so. The credit card machines were down (this was to be the theme of the vacation) so leaving family at the beach I ran back to town and picked up sandwiches and treats from Sam and Jacks Deli who also only accept...CASH! :/ Oh well, the food was awesome and much better than veggie burgers (again) at the Trunk Bay snackbar. After lounging at Trunk for a bit longer, we hustled back to the villa to take advantage of another sunset on the deck.
Day 7: Leaving day! (for St. John) we were so sad to leave "our" lovely villa and St. John, but were also excited to actually stay on a beach (more on this mistake later) We cleaned out the Jeep, packed up our food and hung out at the villa pool (we had sadly neglected the pool) until the rental car had to be returned. Returned car and the wonderful staff at St. John Car Rental said we could just leave our bags there while we tooled around town for a bit. So we went to a few shops, (we are not big shoppers) and then went for a sit at the beach bar and had a couple last painkillers. Then it was on the ferry to Red Hook and a cab to Sapphire Beach.
I should add that staying on Sapphire Beach was supposed to be a "treat"-a way to wind down a fairly active vacation. It turned out to be stressful in its own special way. We rented a unit from an owner on VRBO, very nice lady pics of unit looked great, everything was fine. It was quite expensive for what we were getting (one room) but we justified it by being right on the beach. The unit was very clean, however it stunk to high heaven of must and mildew. We looked everywhere for the source of the smell-I just don't know. It was much worse at night, with the doors shut but we could not leave the doors open at night.
Day 8: Or as we like to remember it, the start of the battle for the chairs. Our condo came with 2 chairs that could be moved out to the sand, clearly marked with our condo # on them. However, if our butts we not in those chairs, they were fair game for whoever was hanging out in front of the condo. And there were a TON of people in front of our condo. Apparently we were party central, as there were guys out there smoking (not cigarettes) under the tree in front of our condo (great when we are eating dinner with our kids on our deck) people who brought in foldable picnic tables, (again, placing them literally 3 feet from our condo) set up with food, drinks and 20+ people...we were just really disappointed in this "spring break" atmosphere ESPECIALLY after St. John. And the funny thing was this was supposed to be the relaxing part of the vacation as we were right on the water and did not have to drive anywhere.
Day 9: Spent most of today by the pool, to get away from the beach party. To his credit, the security guard came and checked with everyone by the pool to see what unit they were in and if they were on the list. We saw some people flee. We went into RedHook for a bit, that was fun, got ANOTHER veggie burger at Duffy's, it was good but was still a veggie burger. Missed our jeep and our non-stinky villa on St. John. Used my inhaler twice in the night due to allergic reactions to mold/mildew. So weird because that condo was so clean and nice-but the smell...
Day 10, leaving day: Got up and hung out at the beach for a bit, seemed a little slower maybe due to it being a Wednesday. After we packed up and went to meet our cab we got some weird song and dance about needing to meet some other people at Coki Beach and he was going to bring us to another cabbie where we would get into his car..so on and so on...we said no and went up to the top of the hill where we proceeded to catch the safari bus to the airport. OMG, do you like to walk? If so, take the safari bus to the airport, lol. Really, it was fine but it was maybe about a mile walk. We saved about 60 bucks though.
Final Random Thoughts:
We should have come over to St. John the first night. The whole taxi to TuTu (which I thought was closer to the ferry dock than it was) checking into Rhoda's Guest House and trying to get to sleep there was WAAAAYYYY more exhausting than I anticipated. We should have gone to STJ and clearly slept at the Beach Bar. :) Just kidding! But in the future I want to wake up on St. John, not try and get there in the am.
CASH!!! We anticipated charging about half this trip and paying it off. Nope, didn't work that way. :) Which is good and bad I guess. The cabs were a KILLER. So expensive, I am so glad we rented the Jeep.
Food cost way less than I thought it would. For my family of 4, we spent about 275.00 for the week on food at the grocery store-I thought that was good considering we spend about 200 here. This did not include BEER money. :/ I tried to get the hubs to switch to wine but that didn't work, lol. Beer is expensive. Nuff said.
I am wondering if we should have used one of our St. Thomas days to go to Virgin Gorda. I just don't know...
I was so worried about bugs-we did our absolute best at keeping all food in fridge and keeping things VERY clean, we still saw one bug, but I think it may have come in from outside as we had the patio doors open a lot. Loved St. John, loved our villa-will not be back to St. Thomas/Sapphire Beach. Again, the condo was new and clean, but so musty smelling. Any questions about anything I may have forgotten, please PM me.
(currently scheming on when to get back to STJ)