Sunday, February 12, 2012

St. John = Paradise

St. John Trip Report (January 21-29, 2012)


My husband and I flew direct from Boston to St. Thomas on Jetblue (nonstop!) on January 21, arriving at 2:30pm, more than enough time to catch the 4pm ferry from Red Hook to St. John.  While waiting for the ferry, we bought two rum punches from the bar – absolutely delicious!

Twenty minutes after 4pm, we arrive in Cruz Bay.  Ah, what a relief to be here at last – and the sun was shining!  Our property manager Robin met us at the ferry and after a brief stop at Dolphin Market, we were shuttled to Aqua Bay Villas near Frank Bay.  We stayed in the L’ Isle Amour villa and it was perfect!   Beautifully decorated, very private, lots of light, nice views from our two porches, one off the living room and one off our second-floor bedroom.   We even caught our first sunset from our upper balcony.

We changed (yay flip flops!), mixed a rum drink and headed down to the Beach Bar for the much-anticipated Painkiller and some dinner just in time for Happy Hour.  Jason had a tuna steak sandwich and I had the Mahi Sandwich.  Yum!  After dinner, we bar hopped and explored the little bars and shops in Wharfside Village.  The drinks at High Tide were fabulous!


Up early and made bacon and egg English muffin sandwiches and coffee, which we ate on our deck with our friendly neighborhood iguana. 

Kurt from L&L Car Rental arrived around 9:30am to drop off our Jeep Wrangler. He was pleasant and the transaction was easy.  After a quick stop at Deli Grotto for sandwiches, Jason and I had our first North Shore beach experience at Cinnamon Bay – we were in awe!  We snorkeled out to the little island and saw some great color, fish and coral. 

After lunch, we checked out Little Maho (we enjoyed checking out the camps en route to the beach and agreed we'd like to try these some day) and then Francis Bay, which was breathtaking.  We didn't snorkel the rocks on the far right of the beach so we said we’d head back another time.

Back at the villa around 4pm, it was raining so we headed into town to watch some of the Pats game.  Beers at Iguana Grill were $1 in honor of Happy Hour so we hung out with the lively crowd there and split some wings and a burger.  After the game ended, we crossed the street and got a table inside Woody’s – it was pouring at this point!  We made friends with the couple sitting next to us and tried the conch fritters and split a Mahi sandwich, washed down with the best painkillers we tasted all week!   Loved Woody’s!


We couldn't get over how much we loved driving on North Shore Road, so much that we decided to video tape it!   Our video does not do this beautiful ride justice, but click here to check it out (

We had a truly magical morning at Big Maho Beach.  When I think back about the trip, this beach was my favorite.  The beach was quiet and the water sparkled, we saw some rays swimming up and down the shallow, calm shore.  Pelicans were everywhere.  We snorkeled along the rocks at the far right of the beach and swam with large turtles and lots of fish.  So amazing, one of our favorite snorkels.  We sat under a sea grape tree and ate our sandwiches(we made these at the villa) with a couple cold Red Stripes, still in awe that we were on St. John.

After the beach, we had a quick painkiller at the Beach Bar, and realized we were tired of bar food and decided to check out Rhumb Lines.  We sat at the bar there and had a delicious drink while waiting for our table.  We shared a steak salad and the pad thai, which was pretty tasty.  The restaurant itself was so pretty inside, felt tropical.


We started off the day at Trunk Bay, an absolutely amazing beach.  The snorkel trail was cool but the snorkeling was just so/so.  I loved the palm trees lining the beach but not the clouds that continued to roll in!  The friendly lifeguard looked at the sky and told us the clouds would clear in one hour...he was right!

We packed it up and headed toward Coral Bay, stopping along the way at the North Shore Rd and Centerline intersection for a delicious smoothie (with rum)!  So tasty.  We loved this drive, the ride was amazing with the donkeys and goats and we found ourselves at Salt Pond Bay with lots of sun!   We were slightly disappointed with the snorkeling (after hearing such great things) but all in all, we saw a couple of turtles and met some nice people on the beach and had a great time relaxing in the calm bay.  On the way home, we stopped at Miss Lucy’s and shared a Grouper Reuben – oh yum!   Rum punches were mediocre but the sight of a goat with its hooves on a table eating someone’s lunch made up for it. Luckily everyone had a sense of humor.  Our server was so nice – I wish I remembered his name. 

On the drive back from Coral Bay, we stopped at Chateau Bordeaux and looked around.  The restaurant was open and it looked like a great spot for lunch or a cocktail.  The view was amazing.

After some reading and relaxing at our villa, we ended up at the Banana Deck, splitting the Caesar salad and the shrimp curry.  Very good.  After dinner, we caught some Karaoke at Cast Aways, which was really entertaining. 


We headed out to Leinster Bay to snorkel Waterlemon.  Absolutely amazing! 

We walked the .75 mile to the sandy beach and snorkeled out to the island, enjoying the starfish along the way.  The snorkeling around Waterlemon was our absolute favorite of the whole trip.  The colors and plant life surrounding the island were amazing and we swam with the most beautiful turtle.  We also enjoyed collecting shells on the cay and enjoying the sun before swimming back to shore.  Truly amazing. It started pouring after our snorkel and we hid under some sea grape trees until the rain stopped.

After Waterlemon, we spent some time relaxing at Francis Bay until the rain came back.  We were very lucky to see a manta ray swim by, in very shallow water.  The weather turned slightly dark again so we left, stopping at Jumbie Beach along the way.  We had the whole beach to ourselves, the sun came out and we enjoyed two Red Stripes under an amazing rainbow!  We enjoyed combing the beach and said we’d be back to swim and snorkel…unfortunately this never happened…next time!  Such a great, quiet spot.

That night we walked down the street to Coconut Coast Studios, which offers an open house every Wednesday night.  We loved the ceramic fish tiles and beautiful prints.  Elaine the artist was very friendly and we thought her rum punch was the tastiest we had on the island!  

For dinner, we headed to Uncle Joe’s BBQ and caught up with the couple we had met at Salt Pond Bay.  We enjoyed the steak and chicken BBQ platter and the service was quick and easy.  After dinner, we headed home to get a good night sleep before our Palm Tree Charter trip on Thursday.


We met up with Captain John at the National Park dock.  Despite the swells, Captain John gave us a great tour of the North Shore before arriving in Tortola to check in at Customs.  We snorkeled the Caves, had Bushwhackers at Pirates Bight, lunch at Foxy’s and more drinks at The Soggy Dollar.  All in all, a great day but we would have liked to snorkel one of the cays or the Indians.  Next time!  All in all, a great day and Captain John was awesome.

Back in Cruz Bay, we split a pulled pork sandwich at The Barefoot Cowboy (terrible!) while listening to a one-man band for happy hour.  Jason and I left, went home to shower and headed out for dinner as we were starving!  We split buffalo wings while listening to Inner Vision at High Tide (do not recommend the wings) and headed over to check out the Lime Inn.  We sat at the bar and split shrimp scampi and a burger, both were fantastic.  We enjoyed talking to the bartender as well.  Off to bed – it was a long day!


On Friday, Jason and I were lucky to get a parking spot at Gibney Beach – we practically had the whole beach to ourselves!  Jason had fun opening some coconuts and we snorkeled the rocks to the right (did not see much) and the small reef in the middle.  We read our books and really enjoyed the solitude and peace and quiet.  Loved Gibney - in retrospect, probably one of my favorite days. 

Later in the day, we paid the $20 to park at Caneel and walked to Honeymoon Beach, which was really pretty.  We snorkeled the reef between Solomon and Honeymoon, which was very alive and colorful. We saw a yellow eel and lots of colorful fish and plants.  After snorkeling, we relaxed on Honeymoon Beach and enjoyed some down time together.  Later, we walked back to Caneel and bought two drinks to validate our parking fee.  We walked to the edge of the boat dock, enjoyed our drinks and saw a most amazing sunset over St. Thomas.  The Caneel property is really pretty and we saw a bunch of deer grazing on the grassy area near the exit of the resort.  And some donkeys.

That night, we were tired and headed back to the Banana Deck and sat at the bar.  I had a jerk seafood platter (over seasoned) and Jason had the salmon special which was really tasty.  I loved their plantains. After dinner, we checked out St. John Spice and decided to call it an early night.  We relaxed and read our books on the couch, which was so peaceful.  We were finally settling down after nearly a week on the island.  I started feeling sad that we only had one more day but we had tickets to a reggae concert Saturday night and we love reggae.  


Our last full day on St. John!  How sad!  We grabbed bagels, sandwiches and a chocolate coconut bar at Deli Grotto (all out of groceries at this point!) and headed back to Francis Bay to chill out.  We still wanted to snorkel the rocks along the right-hand wall.  We tried to make it to Mary’s Point but the current was strong on the way back so we turned around.  We saw some massive turtles, really large rays, conch and later in the day, a dolphin jumping in the waves.  We really loved Francis Bay, just stunning. 

On the way home, stopped at Big Maho for our last happy hour.  Two Red Stripes later, we said goodbye to the North Shore and headed back to Cruz Bay.

There was a lot of action in town with the Morgan Heritage Reunion concert at the ball field that night.  We showered and ended up at Texas Coast for two painkillers and cheeseburgers before the show.  Pretty tasty!  The reggae concert was a blast, despite frequent rain showers.  Several times, I looked at the stars in the sky and remembered that I was on St. John listening to live music, such a special place.  I also enjoyed the Summer Ale by St. John Brewers at the show and wished I had discovered it earlier in the week.  Before we left, Jason and I bought some local food from one of the many vendors.  Jason had a beef patty which reminded us of the patties we love in Negril and I had a chicken roti, which brought back memories of Barbados.  We loved St. John, prettiest island ever, but we did miss the more traditional “island” food that we love to eat.  Maybe we could have tried a little harder to find it.


Ugh, so sad!  We packed our bags, said goodbye to the villa and headed to Deli Grotto for some bagels - the cream cheese at Deli Grotto is so amazing.  Returning the car to L&L was very easy and we hopped on the 10am ferry. 

We loved St. John and will be back!   Next time we may stay in Coral Bay to experience the other side of the island, we will visit Vie's, we will snorkel Haulover Bay, we will not miss Skinny Legs and we will hike Rams Head.  Maybe next time we'll stay two weeks.  Thanks for reading!  For more information about St. John, check out Wikipedia or visit the St. John US Virgin Islands Tourism and Business Guide.


  1. Thanks for the wonderful review! Reminds me why St. John is our favorite island. Beautiful photos, too!

  2. Stayed at Caneel Bay 27 yrs ago on our honeymoon! Headed back this summer..can hardly contain the excitement...your journey was helpful as we think about what we want to do this time!

  3. This is a great blog on St John's. We are going with a group of friends in June and was wondering what is the general price for things such as food and activities there? How much was the car rental? Thanks!

  4. Thank you for the comments! Li and Pete - Our jeep rental for seven nights was about $525. Our excursion with Palm Tree Charters was a splurge - about $400 for the two of us including drinks and lunch. The only beach that charged a fee to enter was Trunk Bay and it was minimal. As far as restaurants go, some restaurants are pricey and some are not. Local-brand groceries are cheaper than name brands, we saved money by making breakfast and lunch (most of the time). Cruzan rum is very cheap at the grocery store or airport as well - def buy some for your villa!

  5. Thanks Allison! That's really helpful. Your pictures are gorgeous. It's getting us really excited for the trip!

  6. Thanks Li and Pete. St. John is absolutely gorgeous, you will LOVE it.

  7. Allison - Wonderful review. Was this your first time to St. John? - you certainly packed some great excursions into the trip. I agree about the snorkeling at Leinster - never disappoints. Did you walk to the back side of Salt Pond? Interesting short hike.

    Definitely try Vie's next time. You can also, for a few dollars, go to her beach. A turtle hangs out there as well.

    The person who takes care of the gardens at Hummingbird Hill told me his daughter opened a restaurant outside of Cruz Bay, past the Westin, in the shopping area just after you crest the hill. I do not have the name in front of me, but will get it. He he told me the day I was leaving so did I not have a chance to try it. I plan to stop on my next trip. Also, I like La Tapa in Cruz Bay. Perhaps a bit biased as the owner catered our wedding, (sometime ago-before she had the restaurant) and she has some of my father-in-law's artwork in the restaurant - not cheap but always good.

    Saw your switch-back video - I agree hard to capture the full effect. Did you get a chance to travel Gifft Hill Road? The switch backs with the steep climb and view is very memorable.

    My wife and I have be going to the Island for some time - the hardest part is always "leaving". Enjoy your next trip. - Jim

  8. Thanks so much for your comments, Jim! Hummingbird Hill looks absolutely amazing! We didn't do any hiking in St. John because my husband had back issues at the time - next time for sure and next time, we won't miss Vie's. We could have used a few more days! :)
    We'll keep in mind Gift Hill Road and La Tapa for next time too. It's a beautiful island and I can certainly understand why people visit repeatedly. Thanks again for reading! Allison

  9. Your write-up of your week on St John reminds me why we are still in love with St John, decades after our first visit. You got to some of our very favorite beaches (Gibney, Cinnamon Bay) but you definitely left some unfinished business so must return to St John! Come back often!

  10. Thanks for reading! We hope to visit St. John again soon!!

  11. I found your blog on the Travel Talk Online forum and have really been enjoying it! I'm always a trip or two ahead in my mind, we travel to Negril every January, have a trip to Mexico planned for July so I'm onto our 10th anniversary trip in 2014 lol. We went to Virgin Gorda in August 2010 and loved it. We stayed in a villa in Leverick Bay and I'm deciding between going back to Virgin Gorda or trying another island. I loved your trip report on St. John. Which island did you enjoy more? We love beach bars and live music and I'm wondering if St. John has more nightlife than Virgin Gorda? Did you find it to be more expensive?

  12. Hi Tracy, I am glad you enjoy my blog as I really enjoy writing it! I am so jealous that you go to Negril every year, we loved all the beach bars and live music there, so much fun.

    It's tough to say whether I enjoyed St. John or Virgin Gorda more. I most definitely recommend STJ though- I loved it! VG is quieter, we often had beaches to ourselves but I didn't feel STJ was overly crowded either. If you enjoy snorkeling from the shore, STJ is awesome, perhaps a tad better than VG. Beaches are amazing. I didn't think STJ was more expensive than VG.

    As for restaurants, live music and nightlife, STJ has more to offer, most of it located in Cruz Bay. As for the beach bars that we've been to in Negril, there's really none of those since most of the island is a National Park. My husband and I bring a thermos and make our own painkillers for the beach or take a cooler of Red Stripe. :) There's a great bar in Cruz Bay called the Beach Bar, it has live music and it's right on the beach, very fun.

    There are a few restaurants/bars on the other side of STJ (quieter) in Coral Bay. We didn't find VG to have much nightlife at all but Coral Bay seemed more like VG, more remote, quieter, less people. I hope this helps a little!

  13. Dumb question alert: you pay the $20 to park at Caneel, then use the ticket as a voucher for $20 worth of drinks at the bar, so you dont have to cough up extra $ for the drinks, correct?

  14. I cannot remember exactly how we did it, but because we bought two drinks at the bar, our parking was validated so we only paid for the two drinks. Painkillers, of course. :)