Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Virgin Islands Trip Part I - St. Thomas and St. John (U.S.Virgin Islands)

So how much sense does this make?  We settle in the West and plan a trip way to the East.  Our trip was about 17 days total with our first travel day ending with a night in St. Thomas, then 10 days on the island of St. John, 5 days on the island of Virgin Gorda, with a long travel day home.

Day one (Sunday, April 14) included a 5:45am departure from home arriving in St Thomas about 9:00pm.  Nothing but travel.  We stayed at the Inn at Blackbeard's Castle, a small hotel adjacent to the Castle.  The castle was a military facility built in 1678. 

Lodging on the islands is pricey.  Our  room  was a bare bones arrangement with a noisy wall unit air conditioner and twin beds all for about $150 which did include a very light continental breakfast.  To be fair, we knew we were booking the cheapest room available.  Some of the others include balconies, so maybe they're bigger and nicer. The facility itself was nice, with extraordinary views from the tower,

and some fun picture taking opportunities.

Our ferry to St. John was not until 1pm.  We started Monday with some juice, a packaged muffin and a granola bar.  Not terrible but clearly not a buffet.  We then moseyed around town.  Blackbeard's Inn and Castle is located on a sizable hill in the historic district of St. Thomas so there's lots of neat old buildings to see and the area is "famous" for their 99 steps that lead to the bottom of the hill.

Very scenic with beautiful flowers.

One blemish to this tale, it is well known that there are actually 103 steps.....go figure!

So we ferry to St. John  at 1:00.  It was a fast, fun, gorgeous ride. 

Bye Bye St. Thomas!

Hello St. John!!
Please know that everything about our trip from here on out is deeply colored with a wonderful island vibe!  Upon our arrival in Cruz Bay on St. John we're met by our host Mike.  He's 74,  a professionally trained artist, lived on numerous sailboats, spent time in NYC and is a wonderfully laid back fellow. He drives us to pick up our rental car, a jeep, and we follow him to his home - Sailview, our accommodations for the next ten days.  St. John is about 9 miles long and 5 miles wide. There are about 5000 permanent residents. The largest portion of the population is in Cruz Bay on the west end.  We were in Coral Bay on the east end. Very peaceful!

So lets talk about driving.  In St. John you drive on the left with a vehicle configured to drive on the right. The island is very mountainous and most of the roads are very narrow and winding.  So it was helpful to follow someone so we at least knew where we were suppose to be in the road.  We were quite comfortable with the driving within the first couple of days. We did have to adjust to sharing the road with the local wildlife.

Mike and his delightful better half, Eileen live upstairs with their very cute and friendly kitty Mr. Buttons.

Downstairs consists of two independent suites.  Mike built the house and all the furniture about 8 years ago.  Upon our arrival we were greeted with a most impressive display of hospitality.  This included fresh baked cookies and banana bread, sliced cheese, crackers, beer, sodas, complete coffee set up, various fruits, chips, granola bars and even Cracker Jacks. 

All of this was on the house.  Eileen then spent significant time sharing a wealth of info about the island.  It all felt like a great big HUG!  Our room was very comfortable with ac (which we rarely used), ceiling fan, cable TV, fresh flowers, a great bed, lovely bathroom, beach chairs, beach towels, an umbrella, flashlight, bug spray and on and on. 

Most every imaginable need was anticipated and met!  Oh yes, we also had our own deck with a cute furniture arrangement and a SPECTACULAR VIEW!!

There also was a very large deck for the entire house that included an outdoor kitchen i.e. gas grill, sink, microwave and all the needed plates, utensils etc. I can't possibly praise Mike and Eileen enough, they NAILED IT!  Incredibly, this was also one of the most reasonably priced places on all of St. John. Sadly for the rest of the world, but I guess good for Mike and Eileen, they're selling the place after this season and moving to Charleston, SC.  Maybe we will see them there one day.

We wrapped up our day driving around a little then chilled the evening away in our tranquil paradise.

Most of what I have to say hereafter will relate to snorkeling and/or natural beauty.  Something like 75% of the island is national park and the rest is packed with character. That's what St. John is all about.   Consequently,  I'll give you a little info but mostly the pictures will have to do the talking.

Tuesday we drove to Salt Pond Bay and hiked (about 2 miles round trip) to Rams Head.  Beautifully scenic. 

We departed the area, had some reasonably good  pizza at the Donkey Diner back in Coral Bay then returned to Salt Pond Bay to snorkel.  There was a nice presence of  fish and coral, not spectacular, but it was just great to be back in the water, relaxing, cruising along and, at a gentle pace, just seeing what you get to see. 

That may be the greatest appeal of snorkeling.  Later we retrieved our beach chairs and just sat soaking up the beauty.

Wednesday we had to take the jeep back to Cruz Bay located on the other side of the island which is about a 30 minute drive.  We had a leak in a tire.  We had some "discussion" but eventually they decided that maybe it was not our doing since we just rented the vehicle and they fixed it. Fortunately we're not shoppers so it didn't take us long to walk around town some then we departed and headed back to our end of island for lunch. Later we drove to the north side of the island to enjoy snorkeling at Maho Bay.  Very calm, nice fish and coral,

then our favorite..... sea turtles.

We typically get out of bed at a reasonable hour but, in keeping with the island mentality, the next morning we're slow moving.  So we finally got our stuff together by about 11:00 and make our way to Little Lameshur Bay.  This is on the south side of the island, even more remote and oh so tranquil.  With the exception of one snorkeling location, all these spots are pristine, untouched, natural settings with the "only" attraction being the natural beauty.  What a bummer!  Very nice snorkeling and more time in the beach chairs. 

On the way home we stopped at the Concordia Eco-Resort which offers eco-tents and villas.  Villas are solid structures,  eco-tents are wood/canvas dwellings with minimal facilities.  Much of this property just sort of hangs on the side of the mountain.  They have a great restaurant with, I do mean, to die for views!  We plan to return another night. That evening we had cheese, crackers and drinks on the deck with our hosts and our neighbors Ken and Nancy.  They're from Maine and are a delightful couple.

Friday we're up and out by 7am.  We drive to Cruz Bay, have a nice breakfast and find our way to the Lind Point Trail head. 

Our mission is to hike the trail, about 2.2 miles round trip and snorkel at three different locations.  Along the way we pass an excellent overlook above Cruz Bay,

and enjoy Salomon Beach and  Honeymoon Beach. These beaches are on the north side of the island which often gets lots of wind resulting in rough conditions. That was true on our day so Debbie spent little time in the water.  I checked it out.  The snorkeling was fair to very nice and the settings were worthy of a post card.

The only way to reach these two locations is to hike in or arrive by boat.  Our last stop is Caneel Bay which is adjacent to the very high dollar Caneel Resort.  You can drive to this beach if you want to pay the Caneel Resort a $20 parking fee.  We heard you can use that as a credit toward purchases at the resort restaurants or gift shop.  Probably not a bad deal as this area had some of the very best snorkeling which includes a very calm bay, tons of fish and endless unique coral. 

 After our snorkeling we were thoroughly entertained by this cute Iguana. 
That evening we had dinner in Coral Bay with Ken and Nancy at the Aqua Bistro. The meal was excellent, the company even better! They were leaving the next to go home to Maine.  It was so nice meeting them.

Saturday morning after saying good bye to Ken and Nancy we headed for Trunk Bay on the north side of the island.  This is the showpiece of the island.  It's a sizable horseshoe shaped beach ringed with beautiful sand and palm trees.  Consequently, it's also the busiest.  Saturday is usually a slower day (tourists are typically arriving and departing that day) and that, coupled with significant northern wind resulted in thinner crowds.  The snorkeling was fair, it's never bad, and we saw lots of fish.  They also have an underwater trail marked with signs, great for the beginning snorkeler.

But it was "Cold."  TOO much northern wind and we didn't stay long.  We later warmed up some by walking around the Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins.  Interesting with some nice views.

On the way home we stopped at Skinny Legs for burgers.

It's just a very funky, open air (as is true with many of the restaurants here) place.  Their claim is "same day service."

Sunday morning we went to the Jazz Brunch at Miss Lucy's.  Our table was literally on the beach!

Words fail me.  Only pictures will do it justice.

It was during our brunch here that we first began noticing a cute little bird we later learned are Pearly Eyed Thrashers.  How we didn't notice them sooner, I don't understand, because they are everywhere, especially if there is something to eat.

After brunch we went back to Little Lameshur Bay and sat for hours in our beach chairs.  We never entered the water.

A wonderful island day!

Monday we were back on the west end of the island to join a National Park Ranger led hike down the Reef Bay Trail.  The outing included transportation to the trail head several miles away, narrative along the hike and a boat ride back to the Visitor Center.  $30 a head.  The hike was all down hill, easy,  scenic, sugar plantation ruins, petroglyphs, wildlife and the narrative was good. 

See the Elephant?

But the best part was the boat ride.  A small inflatable Zodiac picked us up on the beach then we got on a larger boat for a 45 minute ride along the southern coast of the island.

Endless beauty.  We then went home, cleaned up and returned to the Concordia for "open mike night."  Mostly it was a guitar guy, a colorful dude on a harmonica and a superbly talented female singer.  A couple of other people occasionally joined  them. 
Wonderful wonderful entertainment!  We had chicken wings while they played and stayed for dinner.  This evening included  the music, the open air restaurant and, what's the word, gorgeous, beautiful, spectacular, breath taking , endless views -  I'm at a loss.
 What a day!!!

Tuesday was another adventure.  We returned to another northern location to swim and snorkel around Waterlemon Cay. Officially Debbie doesn't know how to swim.  She gets around but would be at a loss without her inflatable floatation vest.  The outing includes a mile walk along the shore to an area closest to the cay.  Pristine setting right out of South Pacific, think Bali High. 

So we swim to the island that may be a few hundred yards off shore, 

and the snorkeling is dramatic!



Debbie did excellent.  We eventually return to our jeep without incident.  From there we drive a mile or so to Francis Bay.  A one mile round trip hike for some more pleasant snorkeling.

As I write all this it sometimes seems to me and maybe you think that we invest a fair amount of effort to enjoy a little snorkeling.  I guess we like the mini adventures not knowing what they will produce, the varied scenery and we love the uniqueness of the outing.

Our last day on St. John was  spent preparing for our departure.  We drove to Cruz Bay primarily to do a dry run for the next day.  The challenge was to be up early, drive across the island, drop Debbie and the bags off at the ferry location, find my way to the only gas station on the island, turn in the rental car, walk myself down to the ferry and be on the boat at 8:30am.  This was complicated by the fact that the car rental place was scheduled to open at 8.  The manager said he would come in at 7:45 but would he show up?  He did and everything went quite smoothly.  I was pleased!  So we wrapped up Wednesday packing, saying good bye to our hosts and just sitting on our deck enjoying the views.
Debbie spent quite a bit of time trying to catch this lizard showing off his amazing colors. 

The next morning we're up early and on our way to Virgin Gorda.

This entry has gone on way too long so we'll catch up with Virgin Gorda next time.

Thanks for reading.



  1. We've been to St Thomas (Cruise) St Croix and St John...It's Gorgeous. Loved this guided tour though! Thanks! Lovely photos.

  2. What's all this water and no red rocks.... great trip southern utah still rocks... it use ta was beach front property...
    Thanks for the tour