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after trip notes

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Vienna, VA
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51 posts
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after trip notes

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! :)

1. Re: after trip notes

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ny
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275 posts
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2. Re: after trip notes

Thanks. Two questions. The ferry to VG is near the Red Hook ferry? (Can you clarify?) Also, the round trip ferry from STJ to VG is $80 + $15?

ny
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275 posts
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3. Re: after trip notes

Thanks. Two questions. The ferry to VG is near the Red Hook ferry? (Can you clarify?) Also, the round trip ferry from STJ to VG is $80 + $15?

Vienna, VA
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4. Re: after trip notes

Yes roundtrip ferry between STJ and VG is $80 plus the $15 departure fee. The ferry is not in red hook which is on St. Thomas. There is the regular Cruz Bay ferry station where the St. Thomas ferries dock. Just a block over is the ferry to the BVIs. Any locals should be able to point it to you.

Pennsylvania
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2,333 posts
16 reviews
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5. Re: after trip notes

Good info.

We have been visiting STJ for nearly 20 years and experienced similar vehicle rental issues several times. The bigger vehicles are in short supply. Even with the "better" companies, they seem to turn over the cars so quickly that maintenance gets deferred.

You brought up a good point about the Baths and visitors who might not be spry. The trail isn't hard but it also isn't easy to scramble up the rocks and squeeze thru the small openings. Twice was enough for me. We love Spring Bay.

Ridgewood, New...
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61 posts
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6. Re: after trip notes

That was all very helpful! Planning our first trip to St. John next Christmas and wondering what villa you stayed in - we are a family of five (older kids), so would probably need the same size. The choices are overwhelming me right now!

ny
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275 posts
109 reviews
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7. Re: after trip notes

So, a trip from STJ to the Baths using the ferry is $80 + $15 + Baths entry fee ($3?) + taxis roundtrip from VG dock to Baths. Does anyone know the cost of the daytrips from STJ (e.g., Stormy Petrel, Sea More)?

Grand Isle, VT
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231 posts
2 reviews
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8. Re: after trip notes

So glad that you mentioned Cimmaron and had a good experience with them. They are our property managers at Sunset Ridge Villas http://sunsetridgevillas.com and we have been pleased with their service. They have been excellent partners.

Vienna, VA
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51 posts
81 reviews
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9. Re: after trip notes

We stayed at Sea Dreams and it was wonderful. It is in Cruz Bay and about a 10 minute drive to town. The choices out there are definitely overwhelming and our decision was based on location (Cruz Bay), price range (prices almost double for the holidays), and villa layout. Since it's 3 couples, we wanted each couple to have enough privacy. The layout worked for us because it had a large open kitchen/dining and living area, with 2 separate bedrooms on each side of the common area and with its own bathroom. The upstair rooms are fairly comparable in size. Huge veranda overlooking hart bay and chocolate hole and the entire main level has the view. There's a smaller room downstairs with its own bathroom. Nothing fancy but enough for my fiancée and I to just sleep. There's also a pool which we never took advantage of. The other important thing for us was for each bedroom to have AC which proved useful.

Vienna, VA
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51 posts
81 reviews
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10. Re: after trip notes

As for the VG question, we did not pay any Baths entry fee. The taxi from ferry to the Baths or Spring Bay is $4/pp one way. So all in all it was $80+$15+$8. We actually took a taxi to Spring Bay first (same price), walked over to Top of the Baths (about 15 min) and taxied to ferry from there. IMO ferry vs. tour such as Stormy Petrol is dependent on what you want to do, and not necessarily the cost. The tour is a bit more costly but not significantly. We actually did Stormy 2 years ago and I believe it was about $120 or so. Keep in mind you will also need to pay a US custom fee separately when you do this, which is about $25 or $30. It was a very fun trip and a good intro to BVI. You will get to snorkel in the caves, have lunch on Cooper island, and visit the Baths and Jost Van Dyke. JVD is a fun place to visit and experience. Of course with all these stops you sacrifice time at each location. I believe we were at the Baths for no more than an hour. This time we decided not to join the tour because 1) we wanted more time at the Baths and 2) most of the parents were not avid swimmers so snorkeling or having to swim up to the soggy dollar bar would not have been a plus for them.