We took advantage of our son Daniel’s spring break to escape our miserable, cold, wet Spring here in Atlanta and escape to warmer climes.
The requirements were: low population density, warmth, snorkeling and hiking opportunities. St. John, USVI fit the bill.
At only 20 square miles in size, St. John is a very small island. This, and the very few roads, makes it very easy to quickly determine what you want to do and where you want to be. What’s not so quick is the actual “getting around.” Driving around St. John is not for the faint of heart. You drive on the left side of the road in regular, American cars and up and down incredibly steep inclines and hair raising curves. The experience left me, at the end of the day, back at the home we were renting, really needing a drink. But that was part of the adventure, and neither we nor the jeep we rented were damaged in the enterprise.
So what did we do? Read on.
Day 1, March 17, had us flying direct out of Atlanta to St. Thomas. Upon arrival in St. Thomas, we were picked up by Discount Car Rental and obtained our Jeep Liberty and directions to food shopping and the car ferry to St. John. Let me say this about the price of groceries on St. Thomas and St. John: absolutely stratospheric. I’m used to paying a premium for being in a resorty local, but this. Well, it was just beyond reasonable: $20/lb for steak, $20/lb for FISH! The bottom price for any individual item was $4.99. Weirdly, alcohol was about the same price as in Atlanta. Anyway, we had been warned in advance. I just hadn’t grasped the magnitude of the price difference until I actually had to open my wallet. My Visa card was also promptly frozen until I called them to confirm that fraud wasn’t occurring. OK, OK, enough bitching already! This is a vacation!
After the fleecing at the grocery store, we drove on to the car ferry on the East end of the island at Red Hook. It was a stressful drive, with a big jeep, driving on the left for the first time in my life, my eyes darting in every direction with no innate idea from where the next obstacle was coming. I was happy to have made it to the ferry in one piece.
The ferry ride itself is a short 30 minute shuttle to Cruz Bay, St. John. We were met at Cruz Bay by an individual from the management services company that maintains the home we were renting. We followed him to our home for the week. It was good that this was how the entry to the St. John experience went down. Following our guide, I was able to get a “crash course” in how to navigate the roller coaster roads leading to the home. He also schooled me on the 4-5 point turn to get the car back out of the narrow driveway.
After a short 10-15 minutes we arrived at our destination: Sundancer Villa, overlooking beautiful Fish Bay. After unpacking our supplies, clothing and gear, I mixed up a stiff Gin and Tonic. It was the best drink I’ve ever had in my entire life. While sipping the drink from the deck overlooking the bay, I wondered to myself how on God’s green earth I was going to get the car out of the Villa’s driveway to anywhere on the island. No, maybe we’ll just stay up here, in the villa for the entire week and get airlifted out for the return trip back to St. Thomas later in the week.
As the stress fell away, I became more aware of my surroundings. The villa was beautiful, well-maintained and equipped. It was situated high on the side of a hill with a commanding view of Fish Bay. It’s large deck had a heated pool, Jacuzzi, eating area and hammock. Now, if the bar scene in Cruz Bay is your thing, then Sundancer likely isn’t for you. You probably wouldn’t like the solitude. And you would probably kill yourself attempting to drive back to the villa, in the dark, in your rum-addled haze.
But, if peace and quiet and beauty is what you seek, I recommend it.
The Reef Bay Trail is a 2.4 mile hike that descends 937 feet from the road to Reef Bay, add a short spur trail to view some petroglyphs and its about a 5 mile round trip. The National Park Service offers a guided tour of this hike, detailing the area’s history, flora, fauna and the sugar factory ruins. Also, they take you back from the bay via a boat ride to Cruz Bay, thus avoiding the hike back up to the road. The fee is $30 per person and advance reservations are recommended. We had a book that detailed the points of interest along the trail, and we actually wanted to hike back up to the road, so the NPS tour wasn’t for us.
It was a nice hike down on a well maintained trail.
We sat under at tree at the beach and ate our lunch. After lunch, as soon as Daniel and I put on our snorkel gear, it began to rain. Horizontally. What’s the big deal? You’re gonna get wet snorkeling anyway. Well, arguably, we got wetter caught there in that rain than we would of had we gone snorkeling. Plus, Eileen wasn’t snorkeling, so she was just getting rained on. So, snorkeling in Reef Bay was a bust for us. But, on the plus side, we did get to hike back up to the road, cooled off from the rain. So that’s something.
We drove around a bit before heading home. Stopped at Trunk Bay beach briefly to check it out. Driving was getting better. Dinner back at the villa.
Day 3 we headed into Cruz Bay to the NPS visitor center to get more St. John info and park for the trail head of the Lind Point Trail. The Lind Point Trail is a 1.5 mile round trip hike to Salomon Beach (2.2 miles if you go on to Honeymoon Beach and back) with a nice overlook down into Cruz Bay when you hike the Upper Lind Point Trail to the Lind Point Battery Overlook.
Salomon Beach was a pretty, relatively quiet beach with few people. In our National Parks experience, (with the exception of Yosemite) any time you want to get away from the crowds, just walk more than 10 minutes from where you park your car. Effort of any kind always seems to weed people out. The snorkeling was not great, but the water was clear and we had fun.
From Salomon Beach we opted to skip Honeymoon Beach and head back to the jeep to venture out further Northeast to Francis Bay and Mary Point. The snorkeling at Francis was better with more fish and turtles. Daniel came upon a very large stingray, maybe 3.5 feet across.
It was along the shore of Mary Point where we spent most of our time snorkeling.
Day 4 had us in the Annaberg area for the first part of the day. Before touring the Sugar Factory ruin, we took our gear and walked the 0.8 mile Leinster Bay Trail to Leinster Bay Beach. From the beach, Daniel and I walked further up to the point and snorkeled around Waterlemon Cay.
After touring the Annaberg Ruins, we headed southeast through Coral Bay and on down to Saltpond Bay.
Along the way, we had to stop because of the asses in the road ahead.
After the hike and a quick snorkel in Salt Pond Bay, we headed back to the house.
Day 5 was our last full day on St. John. We opted to go to the “tourist beach” at Trunk Bay. Trunk offers a beautiful coral sand beach and an underwater snorkel trail. It has lots of facilities, including food, drink, picnic tables, restrooms, showers. Of course, this all means that its just lousy with people so you need to get there early (or late in the day) to find parking. Still, it’s a nice beach and the snorkeling was surprisingly good. There were tons of snorkelers bumping into one another along the snorkel trail on the western side of the Cay. It was kind of funny. If you swam 20 yards to the right to the eastern side of the Cay, the snorkeling was just as good only there were no other people. Daniel and I swam through the official snorkel trail, rested a bit and then swam around the Cay, counter clock-wise.
After the beach, we drove out to the east end of the island, as far as the road would take us. From there, we headed back to the villa.
Day 6 was our final day and our return back to the cold, wet reality of Atlanta. It was great fun to have enjoyed the opportunity to vacation together as a family and pursue our little adventures. Now, all I have to remember is to drive on the right side of the road.