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May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Rochester, Minnesota
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May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Just returned from St. Thomas (and a day trip to St. John) May 5-9th. Here are my thoughts.

1. Rental Car (Dollar/Thrifty): Arrived at the airport on time, and called the local office as I knew I had to do for a shuttle. I was told the white van would arrive shortly. It took nearly 30 minutes, but it finally did show up. The location is very close to the airport - maybe 3 minutes away. The building looks like a rat-trap. Seedy building, gross little area of town. The employees were nice and friendly, and the rental car (Yaris) did its job. No hidden fees, no problems at all. Other than the dirty looking building, everything was just fine. We did take the car to St. John for a day without issue. 3 out of 5 stars.

2. St. Thomas. We had been to Puerto Rico 4 times before, which is rather rundown and "third world" in my mind. I was expecting St. Thomas to be a step above Puerto Rico - cleaner with less poverty. As soon as we left the airport and started driving towards our resort, I thought "Oh wow, this is Puerto Rico part 2." Dirty rundown buildings, trash, broken down cars, etc. I never felt unsafe, but it definitely didn't live up to my expectations of being nicer or cleaner than Puerto Rico. St. John on the other hand is exactly how I expected St. Thomas to be - pristine and beautiful. More on that later. All in all, St. Thomas as a whole I felt had beautiful beaches, great views....but a lot of poverty, trash, and run-down properties. 3 out of 5 stars.

3. Resort: Secret Harbour. Our number one concern was a beautiful beach with great snorkeling, which was why we booked Secret Harbour. Before arrival I requested a renovated room. Upon arrival, the desk clerk (Rhonda - very nice and funny!), told us that a renovated beachfront studio wasn't available so she was upgrading us at no charge to a renovated 1 bedroom beachfront unit. Works for us! Check-in was a breeze. The front desk appeared renovated and nice. We got to our room only to find that it appeared straight out of 1980. This did not appear updated in any way, shape, or form. It was clean and sufficient, but definitely not what we requested and were told we would get. We were tired at that point from traveling, so called the front desk the next day and they switched us to a renovated unit. This one had granite countertops, upgraded kitchen and bathroom, etc. The AC worked great, internet worked well enough, and everything was clean. The beach and snorkeling was fantastic. We saw tons of fish and even a few stingrays (VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwTTPGrw37U ). Checkout was simple and straightforward. Overall it was a good stay at Secret Harbour. It's a bit rough around the edges - definitely not upscale, but that's not what I expected. All staff we encountered were nice and friendly. The dive shop was great, as was the restaurant (overpriced, average food in my opinion.) 3 out of 5 stars.

4. St. John Day Trip. The highlight of our stay. We took the car ferry for $50 (very simple), and explored many beaches. THIS is what I was expecting from St. Thomas! Clean, gorgeous views, no large pockets of poverty, no trash....just pristine. We literally said "Wow, this is amazing. This is what we thought St. Thomas would be!" We snorkeled out to Waterlemon Cay and saw the most gorgeous fish, corals, starfish, and even swam with a sea turtle (VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiqAp4Xovjc ) We ate at The Tourist Trap (funny, off-the-wall owners, good food), went to the Annaberg ruins, Cinnamon Bay, and just took a ton of photos. If we come back, we'll definitely make it a point to stay in St. John and forego St. Thomas altogether. It was that good. 5 out of 5 stars.

5. Cyril E. King Airport. Trash. It's very small, has nowhere to eat, and the staff are rude as heck. I couldn't wait to get out of that dive of an airport. This makes Puerto Rico's airport look like a gem. Ridiculous. The check-in machines didn't work, there were no pens to fill out the customs paper (which we've never had to do before), the customs agent was the rudest man ever ("Are you bringing anything back?" Me: "Yes, alcohol." "What are you bringing back?" Me: "Alcohol." "WHAT ARE YOU BRINGING BACK?" Me (perplexed and annoyed): "I said alcohol!" "HOW MANY BOTTLES OF ALCOHOL ARE YOU BRINGING BACK!?" Me: "2!" Rude as heck! If you wanted to know how many bottles you should've asked that the first time!). You have to board and deboard the planes with movable steps...just overall an airport that seems behind on the teams and a mess. 1 out of 5 stars.

6. World Famous Mountain Top. I didn't expect much from reviews, but we actually liked this place. Really good prices on trinkets, and it's SO BIG! The view is also amazing! So much to choose from. Glad we came here. 5 out of 5 stars.

7. Drake's Seat. Pretty view, lots of traffic and tourists. It's a place you'll probably only spend 10 minutes at. A nice photo-op, great view, but nothing else. 4 out of 5 stars.

8. Coral World. Fairly average. Much smaller than we expected, with not many exhibits. Great ocean view, the staff all appeared friendly, an the animals well taken care of. The gift shop was a bit higher priced. As two adults, we spent probably 30 minutes here. There's just not much to see. The lorikeet garden was a lot of fun! 3 out of 5 stars.

Overall we had a good time, but next time we'll definitely try and stay on St. John rather than St. Thomas. I don't consider myself snobby or overly picky at ALL - but I can't help but think "What's wrong with the people on these Caribbean islands who destroy them with trash, poverty, and squalor?" St. John is everything I've dreamed a Caribbean island should be. Puerto Rico and St. Thomas - not so much.

North Carolina
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71. Re: May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

I am sure a lot of cruisers may be pigs, but the day we were there the weather was lousy and there was just a few people there. Wondering since the locals litter their island with rusted/broken down cars, boats and jet skis etc. that they may be contributing to some of the trash everywhere else? It was just a turn off for us during our island tour that we saw so much garbage. Regardless, anyone should be able to state their impression of a destination without getting hammered by the local fan club.

Charleston, South...
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72. Re: May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

I personally like your truthful and candid review. Thank you so much for posting it. I have never been to St. John but heard lots of wonderful things about it. I was in St. Thomas for a day (I was on a cruise). We took a cab to Sapphire Beach to snokel. It was lovely but didn't stay for any length of time and that was some years ago. It is good to know how it is now. You are not the 1st reviewer to comment on St. Thomas could be better and doesn't compare to St. John. I am glad you didn't sugar coat it. I don't think your snubby. I have been to Domincan Republic. They people ware very nice. It has nice all inclusive resorts but outside resort, trash all over the place even the beaches. Now the beaches with the trash were where the locals were hanging out. Trash all over an island or any tourist area is sad and takes away from the vacation experience. I haven't returned since then. Been to Bermuda, the Hawaiian islands and different parts of Riveria Maya which are beautiful. Now these locations were kept quite clean; they have residents and tons of tourist too.

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73. Re: May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Wow. I hopped online because we head to STT on Saturday for our 4th visit and came across this review. This is the first time I have seen a convo like this on Trip Advisor. Holy moly!! I don't even need to watch Real Housewives this week after reading the thread lol.

Research meeting reality is ALWAYS a tricky thing. You read about marriage. And then live it. You read about parenting. And then live it. You read about a tropical oasis. And then live it. The truth is we can prepare for anything to the 10th degree but once in the throes of it we can be shocked, thrilled, surprised, and appalled. I think x was just giving his honest perception, good or bad, or in this case both.

We happen to LOVE these islands. This is our 4th trip there. We honeymooned there, then came with our babies, then with an entire family (28 of us!!) and now again with just our family. Yes, the airport does kind of suck. We live in Florida, and frankly, while our airports are newer and cleaner, the rude factor is sadly prevalent. And the drive through the reality of the hardworking locals is always tough. But it is rich in its own way!! Talking to the van drivers as they deftly weave in and out of traffic, ignoring signals and rules, and basically running into other cars is like a wonderful tropical version of NYC. An adventure in and of itself. Last year? Our first van ride was with a guy who in his full time is a detective for the STT police department. He told the best stories...there should be a CSI series here lol!!

But once on resort? The beaches, the food, the friendliness...and even yes, the slow island time...is a reminder that life is so short, so limited....we need to be honest and try to see the beauty in both the good and the bad, and not waste time bashing anyone for sharing their version of it, or bashing anyone who doesn't like it.

Not sure this made any sense. I think I may already be in kumbaya brain mode because we leave in 4 days for paradise. YAY!!!!

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74. Re: May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Thanks Floridapeapod! Your right on and glad you posted.

Cincinnati, Ohio
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75. Re: May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Just to clear up a couple of false statements about Puerto Rico. It is also part of US, is not a third world

country. It is the center of commerce, banking and shipping for the Carribean, has a University, a

Conservatory of Music, a Symthony Orch., museums, cathedrals dating back to 1500s, just to name a few

things. The city where i live has a constant war on trash along streets and interstates. Perhaps this is

the result of having more and caring less.

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76. Re: May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Vacations are what you make of them. I do appreciate your candor and honesty in your report. I spent 3 weeks in Central America in 2010. Out of all the countries, Nicaragua seemed to have the nicest people. Yes, there is poverty, trash, and corruption there as well. Show me a city or country where this doesn't exist. We are headed to St. Thomas and St. John this december, I don't hold any illusions of a utopia, I like to meet the locals and relax "island style" If you are looking for posh and pampered, I think you picked the wrong island. Thanks again for your opinions.

Ridgewood, New...
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for Kiawah Island, Charleston
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77. Re: May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

We spend a fair amount of time on St John. Yes,it is beautiful and natural; but that is largely because StJ is mostly National Park. No cruise ships put in on St John, and the full time population of StJ is much smaller than that of StT. There is less obvious poverty on St John, possibly because are few jobs available on StJ for those not involved in the high-end tourist industry.

St Thomas is the center of commerce and of normal life activities for both islands. St Johnians enjoy fewer public services or normal suburban amenities than residents of St Thomas. St Johnians commute St Thomas to go to the hospital, to the KMart, to the building supply store, to file legal documents, to have their cars repaired, and - in many cases - to go to school. St Johnians on St Thomas probably also occasionally leave some trash behind, even though St John DOES have a large (and not particularly attractive despite efforts to disguise it) public dump, and big (absolutely necessary) dumpsters all around the island to which residents must drive with their bagged garbage.

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78. Re: May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Not really off topic, but if people just took a bag with them when they go somewhere and pick up others people trash, it could make a difference.

We were "down the shore" this weekend. Beautiful, gorgeous day on the beach. I was aware, but still, totally blown away at high tide at all the trash that came ashore. Bottle caps, cigarette butts, handles from plastic sand buckets, you name it, it was there.

Port Arthur, Texas
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79. Re: May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

This was probably one of the most honest reviews I've seen. Not sure why everyone gets so defensive. While I had a wonderful time and while it is prettier than where I live in Texas, I was shocked at how rude and dirty the place was!

Every place has slums and poverty, but it seemed around every corner there was filth. And it didn't matter where I was, if I had to speak with a native person, I tensed up because I was afraid they would get annoyed at me for asking the simpliest question.

We scuba dive a lot so we didn't have to deal with natives under 50 feet of water. 5 stars to Red Hook Dive Shop!

We didn't go to St. John but based on what you said, I think that is what we would most likely do next time we visit.

Thank you for your honest review. It may upset some people that live there and vacationer there, but your experience was truthful and not unlike our experience.

And a definitely disagree with comments made that somehow the tourists are the ones making the mess!

Reynoldsburg, Ohio
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80. Re: May 2013 Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

um, ok