I have been a long time lurker of the St. John forum and especially love reading the Trip Reports. My wife and are in our early 40’s and this is our seventh trip to St. John. These reports have really helped keep us close to the island from afar, especially during the cold winters in Chicago. I feel it’s now time to do my part to help the islands. I want to reinforce that St. John is still alive, still breathing, and needs us to come back. The recovery has been incredible in such a short time. I hope this tale will play a role in helping to make people comfortable in coming back.
Travel: From Chicago, getting to St. John does make for a very long day if done in one day (12 hours door to door). You have to go through Miami and on to St. Thomas. It also sadly takes me 10 days to recover from getting up any day before 7 AM. I have been known to order and pay for delivery from a restaurant across the street so that gives you an idea. Thus to simply avoid my bad attitude, the wife agrees to go Miami the night prior, stay overnight at a hotel near the airport, and head out in the morning fully operational. Also included my first experience in the American Airlines Admirals’ club, which makes an airport wait much easier. The brownies alone are worth it, I had at least 15 (will pay for that dearly later).
Next morning we face a serious roadblock in getting to our flight on time. The royal wedding is on. Seriously? Wife is completely engrossed in this and I’m about 48.5% sure we are going to miss our flight. I show her a picture of our dog at camp to snap her out of the trance and off we go. We board the plane miraculously on time. However, we just sit on the runway for 45 min. I don’t understand, why do airlines board everyone when they know they can’t take off for an hour? It’s like 100 degrees in here. At least pass out some of those “mini bottles” maybe. Finally we are in the air on our way to paradise.
I just love/hate the landing at St. Thomas airport. It appears you are going to land on the water until the last second (hold me). The hillsides look great from afar and the airport is in good shape. You know you have arrived when greeted by the Cruzan rum sample(s) at the airport. At that point I always say one of these years I’m going to land here and never fly back. We booked a taxi with Rachel and head off to Red Hook. The St. Thomas landscape is actually in very good shape and looks to be recovering strong. I was very hopeful at this point, until the van started to smoke and overheat halfway. Eh, we are on the islands it happens (although someone we were with mentioned, “in 25 years that’s never happened to me”, well you are with me this happens stay tuned for more on that). Luckily a backup van arrived quickly and we made our ferry just in time.
I was stunned to see the shape that Cruz Bay is in. The cleanup has been miraculous. My first thoughts were wow, you can hardly tell! Like many of you, I saw the videos of the Irmaria aftermath. Yes, half of Wharfside Village is still under construction and the Lumberyard building is destroyed, but for the most part, it really looked great. We head over to Beach Bum to get our snorkel gear (full face masks are a game changer) and the engineering marvel that is the pop-up beach tent. Top 3 human engineering feats; the wheel, wife’s meatloaf, and this popup tent. Some sort of shade structure is a must as there is barely any shade on beaches now. Off to Conrad Sutton’s to get our jeep. Very good prices and extremely accommodating (more on this later). Did not meet Mr. Sutton himself but we will very soon. Next up pick up our provisions at Starfish. We order ahead of time so it’s all ready for pickup when we get there. We have ordered approximately 7,000 items and learn later the one item you actually need, sunscreen, we didn’t order. If I could exchange the 7,000 for the one I would. Well played.
We head to our villa in upper Peter Bay and get a first glimpse of the landscape along the drive. Yes, it’s taken a hit, you can see this clearly. Especially high up on hillsides it's still brown and flattened along all the beachfronts. However, you can also see the new growth trying to come through, the island is starting to green up, especially on the Cruz Bay side of the island. There are these majestic views all over that you’ve never seen before. This will take more time to heal but it is coming, and it certainly needs a good rain. Caneel Bay is in bad shape; nothing has been done in upkeep (unlike say the Westin that hopefully will open this winter). I heard they are aiming to extend their lease before doing anything here, safe to say it will be a while until it opens.
We finally arrive after a somewhat difficult vertical twisting drive up and we can’t believe our house survived and is still standing. The view is unlike any on earth, truly magical. We decide to grill out on the balcony and notice the biggest difference of all - WHERE ARE THE BUGS? Of the 7,000 items that we provisioned, half were to combat the bug magnet that I am. I look like people from naked and afraid after a one day camping trip sometimes. This year, I never used bug spray once. My guess is it is somewhat dry and had not rained in a while and the thinned out landscape. We watch Netflix (yes, I brought our Amazon Firestick to St. John, don’t judge me).
Its’s 82 and sunny. Wife is coloring on the balcony at like 5 AM. I’m not. After I wake up hours later we decide on Honeymoon Beach. We head off to Cruz Bay to park and hike over. Parking is somewhat limited in town with the garage under construction, however most Jeep places you rent from let you leave it there. In this case, we park at Conrad’s. Finally, we see Mr. Sutton; he is sitting in another Jeep with some sort of death glare. What did we do? Shaken to the core, we head down to the path that takes you to Honeymoon. It’s about a mile hike over flat ground but without the tree cover is now like walking in the desert. How do donkeys do this? We arrive and the beach front is certainly transformed. Many massive trees are just gone or completely uprooted, the power of this storm was incredible. However, many trees survived and are now growing this fluffy Dr. Seuss-like foliage. Like all beaches now, looking out it is still the same – glorious. This is sort of the fun beach on the island. Has all the water toys available for rent, kayaks, paddleboards, flotation gear, tours and chairs/umbrellas. We rented two chairs and an umbrella that was installed for us. Dig down, place a rock there, and lean the umbrella on it. Genius, only way to hold it up in this wind. Trust me, a normal umbrella just placed in the ground, in this wind, will not hold (more on this later). There is also a little bar with food and drinks and a seating area with couches and chairs. Lots of fun and a great way to start our vacation. We decide to take the provided dinghy back to Cruz Bay and it takes 5 minutes? What? What a great new service this is (again considering I get delivery across the street). We do the Cruz Bay happy hour trifecta bar crawl: High Tide, looks as good as new great open air view of the bay and amazing conch fritters; Cruz Bay Landing, looks as good as new, food as good as ever with live music, and then finished at Longboard. Longboard in my opinion has the best food and drinks in town overall. Had Poke for the first time and it was so good that it made me angry. Can’t beat the happy hour deals in town. Back home to watch….. Netflix!