Just returned from a week in St. John during the Christmas holidays. We were a group of 6 people, with my fiancée, my parents and his parents. I had visited St. John two years ago with my fiancée (then boyfriend) and we enjoyed it so much that we vowed we'd go back. We had a fantastic week this time as well and will be returning again. This post is not meant to be a trip report, rather it's a few tips and things I observed over the week. My entire planning was based on advice and reviews from TA so I hope this can be of use to other travelers.
1) Rental car - Reserve early, especially during high season. I began planning in June 2013 and was unable to get a 6-person vehicle from my top choices (St. John Car Rental, L&L, Paris, etc.). We ended up renting from Cool Breeze. While they were always courteous, they were not quite dependable. First day they gave us a jeep because the SUV we were meant to have was in the shop being fixed. If not for our villa management company, I don't know how we would've transported all of us and luggage to the house. I actually sat in the trunk going to/from dinner that evening! Once we got our actual SUV, it had quite a few issues (squeaky breaks, broken window). On the day we went to St. Thomas and left the car in their lot, we asked them to take a look at the breaks, and when we returned around 2pm, we had to wait another hour for the car because they sent it to the shop. While we appreciated them actually sending it to be fixed, it would've been nice to have an alternative.
2) If you car rental company is in Cruz Bay, you can usually leave your car in their lot if you opt to go off island somewhere.
3) Ferry to St. Thomas - Go early especially if you plan to take the Charlotte Amalie one. We visited St. Thomas for a day tour and of course needed to return there to fly out on another. The hourly ferry was quite convenient between Red Hook and Cruz Bay, but it is a bit of a drive. We took the ferry to Charlotte Amalie for our day tour, and almost couldn't get on because it was so full and they apparently used a smaller boat for a couple of days (unscheduled). The ferry left 15 minutes early because it was to capacity. The afternoon return of 1:15pm was randomly cancelled, so we had to go out to Red Cook to ferry back. So overall, the downtown ferry is easy if you plan on a day tour, but it runs less frequently and is not all that dependable. All the ferry payments are cash only.
4) Ferry to Virgin Gorda - We wanted to leisurely explore the Baths so we opted to take the ferry instead of joining a tour. The ferry is just a block from the Red Hook ferry location. It was quite a slow process for the agents to check passports and pass out custom forms (only need to be filled out before arriving VG), and take payments. The ferry was scheduled for 8:30am and we didn't leave until 9:15, and the captain decided then that the return boat would leave an hour later. So just go with the flow. The $80/pp fee includes the US custom fee and they take credit card. But there is also a departure fee of $15/pp which they only take cash.
5) Baths vs. Spring Bay - When we visited the Baths 2 years ago,weI fell in love with its unique scenery. Based on some TA advice,this time I decided to stop at Spring Bay first to check it out and then head to the Baths. We stopped for a bit and it is similar to the Baths, but with a lot less people. I was somewhat disappointed with the Baths this time, with the crowd and the certain parts where the water was quite dirty (probably due to the crowd). I think Baths is still quite unique and has some nooks and cranies to explore, but Spring Bay is definitely the well hidden gem that I would probably opt for next time.
6) Devil's Bay - We had lunch at Top of the Baths (nice view and good resting place) and went to explore Devil's Bay. We underestimated the trail, especially for the 70 yo parents. It's not particularly strenuous, but the ups and downs and narrow passages were hard for them. Once we reached the other end, we found the trail to the parking is a longer trail that leads back to the restaurant which is how our parents went back up. I don't think they would've enjoyed the climb back.
7) We rented our villa from Cimmaron. I wasn't quite sure about them initially because there wasn't much review on them or the house. But the house is exactly what their pictures depicted and their staff was courteous, responsive and answered all of my questions promptly. They got us some initial provisioning and did not charge a service fee as a holiday special.
8) We mailed an USPS express package prior to going and I'm glad we did. It had more than enough sunblock, bug spray, and toiletries so we didn't have to worry about liquids in carry on. Their large box is around $17 to ship to USVI so still cheaper than a checked bag.
9) Favorite restaurants - Sam and Jacks (great sandwiches); Morgan's Mango (went twice), Rhumb Line, and Lime Inn. Fatty Crab was very disappointing (maybe because I'm an asian looking for decent fusion food?). Driftwood David was so-so.
You really can't not have a good time on St. John. Just remember to take it easy, go with the flow, smile and be friendly, and bring bug spray/sunblock and lots of cash! :)