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Iowaguy's Trip Report ---February 10-18 (Part 1)

Travel discussion for St. John

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Iowaguy's Trip Report ---February 10-18 (Part 1)

Postby iowaguy » Tue Feb 27, 2007 12:54 am

We returned from a wonderful trip to St. John a little over a week ago. The weather and the water were the best ever on this trip---I just love looking at the color of the water in the photos---especially in the miserable weather we've been having (I intended to write my report this past weekend, but we had an ice storm and lost power for almost 24 hours, so I was off the internet for a bit).

We had a larger group---10 total, 5 couples---all from Des Moines. I know that some wouldn't like this much togetherness for a week, but we love it. We've found these trips to be great friendship builders. Here's a picture of our group (on our villa porch):

Image


We've traveled with this same group to St. John 3 times now. For my wife (Janie) and me, it was our 7th trip to St. John. We've been to other Caribbean and Atlantic islands, but we really prefer to return to St. John. Anyway, on with the report. Think I'll focus on certain categories rather than a day-to day report.

THE TRIP DOWN/ LOOKING FOR LUGGAGE. Its a bit of a trek from Des Moines---3 flights---changing planes in Chicago and San Juan. It seemed to go smoothly enough, but when we arrived in St. Thomas, the 6 of us that traveled together on American (4 others traveled United) didn't get our luggage. We asked the airline people about it---"next plane from San Juan" was the almost automatic response even before we finished the question. We gathered up some Red Stripes, enjoyed the warm, tropical air and waited for the next flight. The next plane from San Juan appeared an hour or so later, but not our luggage. After enduring a fairly long line with others who were similarly fated in the lost luggage department, we were off to Red Hook and the ferry. Since none of us had any luggage to bog us down, upon arriving at the Cruz Bay ferry dock, we headed directly to the Beach Bar (in our long pants, sweaters and other wintry clothes---I'm sure we didn't look out of place) to meet our 4 other friends who had already arrived, and to have a burger and a few drinks before heading to the villa and then to bed.

We were hanging out in the villa the next morning---we weren't going to go to the beach in our long pants-- and we got a call about 10:00 AM that our bags indeed HAD made it on the morning flight from San Juan and would be arriving at the 10:30 A.M. car ferry, where we could pick up our bags. Everyone was in good spirits at this prospect. We dutifully arrived at the car ferry dock at 10:30, where someone directed traffic into two lines---one line was for getting on the car ferry, the other line was the "lost luggage line." We were about 6th in line in the lost luggage line, so I got the impression this was not an uncommon occurence. They said the car ferry would be late-- this sentiment was repeated periodically over the next hour or so. We commiserated with the others in line who had lost their luggage---some, who had come over from camping on the Coral Bay side, were on Day 3 without luggage, and I clearly felt sorry for them.

The sun was blazing on the car ferry dock, and I began to think more closely about what was IN my luggage. In addition to my clothes, I had a duffle bag full of food, which I initially intended to carry on, but it grew too large, and exercising my stellar judgment I decided to check it. I hadn't brought any meat along, but I did bring along a pretty wide assortment of special cheeses to enjoy at cocktail hour throughout the week. They were all hard cheeses that I thought could survive the one-day trip (cheddars, Manchego, dry jack from a recent Sonoma visit, etc.). Admittedly, my cheese plan had some risk, but I hadn't really planned on the cheese baking in the sun on an open car ferry about a day and a half later. Anyway, the car ferry did arrive about 11:30 when someone gently "threw" my bag of fancy cheese and other food items from the hulking old ferry onto the hot cement dock. I knew better than to complain. I was happy to be in the sunshine, with luggage intact,and was prepared to toss the cheese. As it turns out, though, after a little refrigeration back at the villa, and perhaps the effect of a few drinks, the cheese was fine and we used it all up throughout the week.

BEACHES. We basically had 6 days as a group (most of the group returned on 2/17---Janie and I stayed an extra day) so we had 3 days that were basically beach days, 2 boating days, and 1 day basically hanging out at the villa or in town. A group of 10 is not the most mobile, so we would generally hit one beach a day. The first beach we tried (after an excellent Skinny Legs lunch) was Vie's Beach. Althugh we've been to St. John a number of times we had never made it out here, which I now know was a mistake. The road out to the East End is just beautiful, with stunning views of the BVI along the way. We chatted with Vie---unfortunately we weren't hungry enough for any garlic fried chicken. Maybe next time we'll skip the visit to Skinny's and eat lunch at Vie's. We appreciated having lounge chairs on the beach so we didn't have to bring our own. We also liked the access to cold beer without having to lug them along. The beach is nice---probably not as perfect as some of the Nat'l Park beaches---but the water was crystal clear, and there are great views of Coral Bay. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera to Vie's, so I'll just have to picture it in my mind.

A second beach day, in fairly stark contrast to Vie's, was spent at the beach at Caneel Bay. I was slightly concerned that we would feel a little like interlopers at Caneel, but for whatever reason, I didn't feel that way at all (might have been the planter's punch from the Caneel Bay Beach Bar). We brought our chairs and towels but no cooler---we had drinks and lunch from the Caneel Bay Beach Bar. I like the way they have added the new bar a little closer to the water. Anyway, it was a great day. Some of us did walk down to Turtle Bay where we took a swim. It was stunningly beautiful on this picture-perfect day.
Image


Janie and I had stayed at Caneel on our honeymoon MANY years ago so we always enjoy visiting. We had left a tab open at the Caneel Bay Beach Bar for anyone in our group who wanted a drink---I forgot to close it out and had to return to Caneel the next day to pick up my credit card and pay the bill. This was a pattern a number of us had all week---we kept returning to the restaurant of the night before to pick up a credit card, cel phone or something else we left behind--fortunately, nothing was lost or stolen (including my shoes that I mistakenly left overnight on Cruz Bay beach by Ocean Runners).

A third day was spent on Hawksnest Beach---also picture-perfect. Very little to report on this outing, except that the water was very calm for the winter and about as clear as I've seen it.

Image

BOATING. We rented a boat from Ocean Runners for two days of the trip. One of the guys in the group has a similarly sized power boat at home and feels very comfortable with the Ocean Runners boats. The 28 foot boat seats 10 as a maximum so we fill it up---its pretty economical this way too. Pete, who owns Ocean Runners, and really everyone on his staff at Ocean Runners, is great to work with.

Our first day out we started out by heading to West End Tortola to check through Customs. It took longer than I recalled on previous visits (probably 45 minutes). Two from our group went into Customs--the rest of us enjoyed the cloudless day outside and the activity in Soper's Hole. We headed over to Norman Island briefly, but didn't stop at the Willie T since it was empty when we got there about 11. Our next stop, which turned out to be an all-day visit, was Peter Island Resort.I had always wanted to stop here but had never done so. I was concerned they might not be too accomodating to day visitors on a small powerboat. This was definitely not the case. Everyone at the resort was extremely welcoming. A staff member gave us all a ride on an expanded golf cart from the harbor area over to Deadmans Bay Beach where we wanted to have lunch. I had previously thought White Bay at Jost was the most beautiful BVI beach I had been to. I will now have to reconsider---Deadman's Bay may be even more beautiful. It is a fairly long strand of perfect sand, dotted by palms for its entire length, with hammocks placed in appropriate locations.

Image

The views of Tortola and numerous smaller islands and cays along the chain are terrific. And the water couldn't be a more perfect shade of blue. We each had a drink from the bar on this perfect beach (a Peter Island cocktail for me)and toasted our good fortune at being in this wonderful spot on such a beautiful day. Lunch at the Deadmans Bay Beach Bar and Grill was a pretty slow affair, but the food and company were good. I had some excellent grilled fish tacos with mango salsa and a good slaw, and Janie had what was basically a Cobb Salad. After lunch, our waitress suggested that the women should really see the spa, so she called a tram driver to pick us up and take us to the spa. The Peter Island Spa is located on the far east end of the island along a wild, untamed beach that has palms and crashing waves. Very beautiful in a completely different way than calm Deadmans Bay. We headed back to the harbor and discovered we had killed most of the day---we scooted back to St. John and had enough time left to moor the boat off of Francis Bay for a bit for a brief swim before returning to US Customs at 5:00.

On the morning of our second boating day, we noticed pretty good sized whitecaps on the ocean when we first woke up. Our plan was to go to Marina Cay (off of Beef Island--Tortola) for lunch, then stop at Soggy Dollar on the way home. Once we rounded Caneel Bay and hit a little more open ocean, the waves really picked up. We decided it was too rough to go all the way to Marina Cay. We sucked it up for the passage across to Jost, thinking we would just hang out among the bays and harbors in Jost for the day (which is what we did). After our brief customs check-in at Great Harbour in Jost (much shorter than our customs visit at West End), we headed over to Sandy Cay to engage our deserted island fantasies for a bit. For lunch, we headed over to Foxy's Taboo at Diamond Cay. This is an especially protected spot---perfect for today. If you haven't been there, I recommend it. This is the kind of spot that Tommy Bahama likes to copy for its faux beach bum settings. I think I prefer Foxy's Taboo to Foxy's in Great Harbour---seems less touristy to me. Image


One person in our group had been on the Diamond Cay website at home and had viewed Foxy's plan to build a series of condos at Diamond Cay. They were concerned that the development had already started and would mar our lunch. I said I really doubted if that had gotten off the ground. All I can say is that there was no building or development that I could see. If you have an interest, though, you can take a look at the proposed development here.

www.diamondcayvillage.com/


Lunch at Taboo was OK--not great---but the painkillers were good, and the setting is hard to beat. After lunch we headed over to White Bay.

Image

It was fairly hopping. We compared painkillers at Soggy Dollar to the ones at Taboo . We missed seeing K.C., who was the bartender at Soggy Dollar for years, and who added a lot of personality to the place. We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying White Bay (which is pretty easy to do), and stayed until after the other charter boats left. I briefly walked over to Ivan's Sress-Free Bar, but it was pretty quiet there, so I headed back to our spot in front of SDB. We barely made it back in time before Customs closed. The seas had really died down during the day and the trip home was smooth.

To come in Part II---restaurant reviews, villa review, Valentine's Day Lovefest, and the Jerome's Hot Sauce Incident.
---Jim
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Postby SoCaTraveler » Tue Feb 27, 2007 1:58 am

Wow... great report and pics thus far.

Our family will be going to the USVI and BVI this summer for a first time visit. We are so excited about seeing the beautiful blue waters and white sandy beaches.

Can't wait for the next installment of your report!
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Postby wontongirl » Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:07 am

I just loved your report. I felt like I was right there with yall. I especially enjoyed hearing about your day on the water. It sounds slendid. I'm going to do some painkiller comparing on my trip too.
Can't wait for the next installment- get to typing. I haven't thought about going to Taboo. I knew there was two different places just don't really know the differences in the two. I'm not sure which one we are going to in May.
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Postby sea-nile » Tue Feb 27, 2007 9:08 am

Great report and I love the pictures!
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Postby waterguy » Tue Feb 27, 2007 9:16 am

great report loved the t shirt logo
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Postby SarahD » Tue Feb 27, 2007 9:49 am

Loved the trip report! Thanks for posting it. The color of the water in your pics is stunning!

sarahD
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Postby Ron_L » Tue Feb 27, 2007 11:21 am

Thanks for the trip report so far! Great pictures and I also love the T-shirt logo.

How was operating the boat from Ocean Runner? Were there dock and dock hands at the various stops (except for White Bay and Sandy Cay, of course)?
...ron

Time to start working on convincing the wife that we have to go back soon!
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Postby iowaguy » Tue Feb 27, 2007 1:44 pm

Thanks, Waterguy and Ron L, for the comments on the shirts. I neglected to mention that one of the two days on the water was in celebration of my 50th birthday, which occurred a few days before the trip. The theme was "One Day, Two Countries, Three Islands, Four Great Beach Bars." We were originally slated to go to Marina Cay, Soggy Dollar, Ivan's and the Beach Bar. We missed Marina Cay, so we technically didn't get the three islands in, but we did add Foxy's Taboo in to the mix (is Diamond Cay a separate island?), and also spent quite a bit of time at Woody's later that night (almost a beach bar). Nice way to celebrate a birthday in any event.

Ron L., I wouldn't count on anyone helping you dock your boat at any of these places. There was a dockmaster at West End Tortola who helped me with my clete. He could tell I wasn't too experienced in this department. Nothing at Taboo or Great Harbour. Even at Peter Island they really didn't help---but we were ok without it.
---Jim
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Postby Jerseyboy » Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:04 pm

Great report, cool t-shirt logo and Happy belated Birthday!
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Postby Betty » Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:27 pm

Great report can not wait till part 2, I hope ZoZo's was fabulous for you! I read they are looking for a new chef, I wonder if my bad experience had any thing to do with it :oops:

Ron ... most docks are empty, sometimes if you get lucky and see someone they will help out. Most of the time I have to be alert and jump out and hold the boat. I am sure the girls will enjoy that :wink: Hubby is the one that ties the boat up though, I am not good with knots :oops:
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Postby madforstjohn » Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:58 pm

Thank you for the wonderful trip report. I feel like I am there looking at the beautiful blue water and feeling the warm sun.(Winter is too long in New England) We also always go with a large group though we don't try to do everything together. We have 11 going this year in April but some leave earlier adn some come later so there will not be 11 of us all the time.

We took out a boat last year and just had the nerve to go to Waterlemon and Jost for lunch at Foxy's and the caves at Norman and then we ran out of time. We want to venture a little further this time if conditions permit so Peter Island sounds perfect but I have a couple of questions. Where do you dock on Peter Island. I have a good chart so I can find it.

Last year we did customs on Jost and it took 10 minutes. Would that be faster than the West End even if we are going to Peter Island? 45 minutes seems a long time but then again I am not on island time right now....I am in New England.

We will probably go out 2 days, we have a boat on Cape Cod so we are pretty comfortable with the water but the trick is knowing where to go so if you have any other suggestions for VI boating newbies I would love to hear them. Thanks.
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Postby mbw1024 » Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:58 pm

Jim, Is that you in the t shirt from the Pickled Onion Bermuda? Great little spot! :)
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Postby iowaguy » Tue Feb 27, 2007 3:06 pm

Yes, Marybeth---thats me in the Pickled Onion shirt. Good catch. We loved Bermuda when we went a few years back. Only problem is that we prefer to get away in the winter and its too cold in Bermuda then.
---Jim
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Postby RickG » Tue Feb 27, 2007 3:58 pm

Great writeup, thanks for including the pictures. 10 people on a 28' boats sounds tight, but I'm glad it worked for you. This sounds like something we REALLY need to do after the years of paying a pretty high tab for charters.

Cheers, Rick
S/V Echoes - Coral Bay - St. John, VI
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Postby mbw1024 » Tue Feb 27, 2007 5:54 pm

I love Bermuda as well but I feel like I have been priced out of it. My husband lived there for a year, pre me, but we haven't made it there together ... YET :)
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