This was our 3rd trip to STJ in about 12 years. First 2 trips were just hubby and me for anniversary celebrations, but this year we were celebrating my husband’s retirement from the Air Force so we decided to share the experience with our 2 daughters (ages 11 and 15). As I wrote this report, I found that each day, though wonderful because of the location, brought a new set of challenges/unexpected events. Definitely a trip that took “flexibility” to a new level!
Travel to STJ: Flew out of DC on 8:00 American flight with no delays and easily made connection in Miami to STT landing 10 minutes before our scheduled 3:20 arrival time. Rachel met us at the airport on time and, after we collected our 2 checked bags, took us directly to Red Hook without delay. We knew we couldn’t make the 4:00 ferry and when Rachel found out the girls were on their first visit to the islands, she decided to stop at an overlook for a great view of Charlotte Amalie on our way! She charged us $20pp (including bags) + tip. Last time it was just the 2 of us and she charged $25 pp. IMO, having a private taxi, especially if there are at least 4 in your group, is a great way to go (even if it’s with someone other than Rachel). It’s more comfortable, about the same price, and gets you directly where you’re going. Mary-Eileen from Private Homes for Private Vacations picked us up in our rental car (St. John Car rental), we went to Starfish to pick up basic provisions, and then went on to the villa for a tour.
Villa: Stayed at Arco Iris overlooking Fish Bay. Really a great villa with a nice view from the upstairs level. It worked well for us because we stayed upstairs off the main part of the house while the girls stayed downstairs each in their own bedroom off the pool (pod style villa). AC is only in the bedrooms which wasn’t a big issue as there was a good breeze throughout the week that blew into the living/kitchen area. It was much calmer the morning we left which gave me a picture of how it might have been with no breeze – definitely a bit stuffy. Mosquitos were biting but there has been a good bit of rain lately. The villa sits right next to Fish Bay Road so there was some traffic noise but nothing too late or early that was bothersome. There was a good deal of privacy as the landscaping keeps out any line of sight to the back of the villa. For the price, it was a great option for a family and sleeps 6. PM me if you have questions.
Had not planned to eat out quite as much as we did, but circumstances required it. Did try out all the cheap eats we could find. I think the girls tried almost every mahi sandwich on the island!
Rhumblines – Had dinner her our first full day. Hubby got the Pad Thai special and I got the salmon. Both were great. The girls tried the noodle bowl off the kid’s menu but it ended up being more soup than anything else and they weren’t impressed. They did like the lumpia and fried lobster we had as appetizers along with the chocolate cake dessert.
Tap Room – Ended up here for lunch the 2nd day as it rained all morning and we decided to do some shopping at Mongoose Junction. Thought we’d try out the local beers on tap and grab a bite at the same time. Hubby and girls got mahi sandwiches which were good, and I got the barbequed pork quesadilla special which was better than I expected. Service was VERY slow and the beer a little flat although the flavors were good.
Ronnie’s Pizza – Girls wanted to relax at the villa and eat in so we ordered pizza from Ronnie’s and my husband drove in town to pick it up. Good pizza for a reasonable “island” price. Pepperoni, meat lover’s, and pesto (add chicken) were our 3 picks. 3 smalls gave us a half a pizza leftover.
Skinny Legs – Snorkeled on East End so grabbed lunch and did a little shopping. Girls had mahi sandwiches yet again, hubby had macaroni & cheese hamburger special, and I had a cheeseburger. All were yummy. The Melee drink special was amazing! Definitely worth a try if you haven’t had it before.
Banana Deck – Really enjoyed our meal here. Tried to keep it simple and cheap so we ordered 2 wing appetizers for the girls, and a Caesar and house salad with grilled fish for the 2 of us. All were very good. Xangos for dessert were excellent! Don’t let the sound of it scare you off! They are awesome!
Beach Bar – This was our biggest disappointment of the trip food-wise. We’d been here for drinks and apps before and enjoyed it. This time we couldn’t sit in the table areas because of set up for a band that we never saw while we were there for over an hour so we sat on the beach. No one came and offered to take our order although we saw them at other tables. My husband finally went up to the bar and ordered our food and drinks. We waited on the drinks and brought them down to the table. I ordered iced tea and it was horrible. Premade kind and unsweetened. So bitter I couldn’t stand to drink it so I ordered another drink a few minutes later and threw the tea away. Food did eventually arrive at our table. Girls’ shrimp was fine, hubby’s tuna bites were served sushi style, which was not stated on the menu, so he was disappointed and my burger was burned and practically inedible. Hubby did say he should have asked as tuna is so often served rare these days but he just wasn’t thinking an appetizer of bites would be cooked rare. Anyway, it was our least favorite food spot of the week which surprised me after reading so many good reviews of it here.
Tree Lizard – Had planned to pack sandwiches but bread was moldy so we ended up eating here for lunch our last day out. Ordered chicken tenders and hamburger to play it safe. Food was okay. Wish I had gotten a salad as they looked fresh and yummy as did the fruit.
Woody’s – Last dinner of the week. We had decided to try Woody’s out if there was a table available when we drove by and there was. Had to pick up 2 t-shirts for my parents anyway. Ordered shark bites and calamari….shark bites were awesome and much better than the calamari. Girls got fish and chips and tuna sandwich while hubby and I got salads with tuna. All very good…actually some of the best food of our trip! We decided we should have ordered shark bites and put them on our salads as they had a bit more flavor than the blackened tuna did. Still a very good meal for the price.
High Tide – Did a little shopping the morning we checked out and ate lunch here. Although the rain showers moved us to the bar, the staff was very helpful and friendly and found a dry place for us to sit together. Girls had their last mahi sandwich of the trip as did I while my hubby had the fish tacos. All were good and it was a nice way to end our trip.
Maho – Hubby had a phone interview that delayed our start so we only made it to Maho our first day. More crowded than in October when we typically visit STJ, but beautiful as always. Took the girls on their first snorkeling outing and saw several turtles and a very large stingray above the turtle grass area in the center of the bay. Also snorkeled along the right side where the rocks are and saw a number of neat fish. In retrospect I think we should have saved the exciting sea creatures of Maho for later in the week. So hard to top all that you see here! Noseeums were out but bug spray seemed to keep them away. Had a quick rain shower which drove most everyone off the beach. We hung in there and had a bit of peace and quiet until we headed back to get ready for dinner.
Trunk - Rainy morning this day but it cleared up in the afternoon so we hit Trunk thinking it might not be too crowded as it was still cloudy. There were a number of cruise shippers snorkeling but we were able to sit down to the left and escape most of them. Noseeums were biting here too so we eventually went in the water and snorkeled the trail with the girls and around the left side of the cay. As we were coming in from snorkeling we noticed someone looked like they were getting into our beach bag and moving our things around. As you can imagine, this made us a bit nervous so we hurried in from the water and moved quickly down the beach toward our belongings. As I got nearer I saw there were flowers on the ground and realized someone was setting up for a wedding. I guess they didn’t like the location of our chairs, etc. so they thought they’d move it for us. Although I was happy no one was actually stealing from us, it seemed a little wrong that they would move all our belongings without ever saying a word to us, even after we arrived back. The wedding party had blocked the exit from the beach on the end where we were sitting so we decided to head out before we had to walk through the middle of the ceremony. Happy for the couple but the director should be a little more thoughtful of others enjoying the beach as it isn’t private property as far as I know.
Haulover South – We had hoped to snorkel Waterlemon this day, but the winds were up and it looked a bit rough to take the girls out. It had gotten late so we got lunch in Coral Bay and went to see how Haulover North and South looked. The north side was rough as well, so we decided to snorkel the south side. Snorkeled the left side as far as we could with the girls along the rocky/reefy edge. Saw great fish and a really friendly turtle which swam with us for a good bit. On the way back we saw another stingray which made the girls happy.
Francis – After leaving Haulover, we came back to the north side and Francis. The girls enjoyed the beach and water but the noseeums were out here again so staying in the water was a necessity. Did a little snorkeling but the girls just don’t have the snorkeling stamina that hubby and I have so we mostly swam and hung out in the water. Beautiful views though.
Waterlemon – On our last beach day, we decided to snorkel the reef area along the walk to Waterlemon per our boat captain’s suggestion. Really large and colorful fan coral here. The reef is quite shallow and if you go slow you can see so much going on. We typically snorkel the cay but have never stopped to do the reef along the walk. Probably one of the best coral spots I’ve found on STJ next to Haulover north.
Cinnamon – Youngest wanted to try paddle boarding, so we went to Cinnamon to rent one. It was a bit windy, but she did a great job. Not quite as exciting as she thought it would be and the wind made it harder than it might have been otherwise. She had fun though and tried something new which was nice. Beach was pretty crowded but we found a spot to enjoy the views and catch a last few rays.
Boat charter – We had scheduled a charter with Palm Tree Charters for our 2nd day but it was stormy and windy so it cancelled. John didn’t have anything available for the rest of our stay so Pia booked us a trip with Copeland Boat Charters for 2 days later. It truly was the best day of our trip. The weather was perfect, Capt Kevin was great, and we hit someone awesome spots: the Indians, caves, aquarium, Pirate’s Bight for lunch, and Sandy Spit for some photo ops. Although we didn’t make it to White Bay, that wasn’t a priority for this trip since we had the girls along. It was a fabulous day that the girls won’t soon forget. Since we had the four of us it was not a ton more expensive than a group trip.
Travel from STJ to DC: We took the 1:00 ferry to Red Hook for our 4:25 flight back to Miami. Rachel was unable to meet us due to a prior booking so she had Sinclair pick us up. He was great and got us there in a safe and timely fashion. We had plenty of time as our flight was delayed and customs/TSA was not terribly busy. Unfortunately this meant we almost missed our connection but we ran through the terminal and made it with 5 minutes to spare. Our luggage, however, did not fare as well and didn’t arrive until 5:00pm the next day.
Summary: This trip was quite different from our previous trips with more people to satisfy and consider when making daily decisions like where to snorkel or what beach to visit. I hope the girls will remember it with fondness (although my 15 yo might only remember the rash that broke out all over her body due to new suntan lotion) and look forward to returning some day. I am not convinced that they appreciate STJ quite the same way my husband and I do, and I know that we will return without them soon so we can do the trip “our way.” It really was a great time! I think their next trip with us to STJ will be even better because they will know what to expect!