Travel Recommendations for St. John, US Virgin Islands

February 2008

Pictures coming soon

Yesterday I returned from a long weekend in the US Virgin Islands, specifically, St. John. The fact that I was greeted with sub-freezing temperatures and a lovely “wintry mix” in Washington D.C. only served as a reminder that earlier in the day I had arisen to an ocean view and seventy degree weather.

The majority of the trip was spent on St. John, and with good reason - it is the least developed of all the Virgin Islands, with a solid two-thirds being designated as national park land. It doesn’t have an airport, though, which means that to get to the VI, one has to fly into STT, St. Thomas Airport. The airport is a 15-minute, $10/person taxi ride away from downtown Charlotte Amalie, the main town on St. Thomas. Here you can find the lovely Miller Manor, run by some very kind folks, Marj and Harry, with the help of their young niece Susan and her husband Blaise - and of course the dog, Samson. Definitely not the lap of luxury but very hospitable. The honor bar with a fantastic view of the bay is a highlight.

Speaking of that bay, I must digress for a moment. Cruise ships are just about the most repugnant form of a vacation that I could possibly imagine, on so many levels. If I ever go on one… well, I just won’t, how’s that. Cooped up all day, let off for a few hours so you can shop in mall that is specially constructed solely for the cruise line and buy things that say “St. Thomas” on them… ugh. Not to mention that the local town is completely transformed by the doubling or tripling of its population that occurs daily with the swell of tourists, and not in a good way. The situation was very similar in Dubrovnik and, I’m sure, dozens of other coastal towns with ports large enough to allow cruise ships in.

Okay, digression over. From that cruise-ship-infested bay on St. Thomas you can take the ferry ($10/person) to Cruz Bay on St. John. The alternative route is to go overland by taxi to Red Hook ($12/person, 45 minutes) and then take a shorter ferry from there, but I would recommend the first option - traffic can be awful since, once again, the cruise ships dump about 30,000 people on land and clog up the streets from 1 to 5 each day. On the return journey this traffic nearly resulted in a missed flight; but only nearly.

Now for the good stuff: St. John. From Cruz Bay it’s a 30 minute shuttle with Mr. Frett up some very winding and treacherous roads to get to Maho Bay Camps. This is, in my humble opinion, THE place to stay when visiting St. John. The accommodations are somewhat close to camping, though definitely a step above that. The cottages have canvas tops, screen doors and windows, and a deck with a view. The restaurant that is located on the grounds is quite good; expect to pay about $20 for your meal (including the salad bar).

The camps are in a great location in the north-central part of the island, making it easy to get to Cruz Bay and Coral Bay, either via the taxi/shuttle service or a rental car (highly recommended because it’s really fun - more on that in a second). But there’s also plenty to do on the grounds themselves. Kayaking out to Whistling Cay and bringing along snorkel gear makes for a great morning.

There are some great restaurants on St. John - many are in Cruz and Coral Bay but there are two that I would recommend that are outside those two areas (and now that I think about it, one that is in Cruz Bay):

  • Chateau Bordeaux. With amazing views of Coral Bay and a menu that changes daily, it’s an experience to be had. Entrees run about $35 a plate. The offer to try the seven-course tasting menu with wine pairing for $200 per person was politely declined.

  • Miss Lucy’s. It’s fairly well known (and advertised as a “local favorite,” whatever that means) and for pretty good reason. Situated directly on the water, it can get a bit chilly at night, so bring an extra layer or plan to start off with a “Fufu drink” to get your liquid longjohns on.

  • Sheila’s Pot. This is the one that’s in Cruz Bay. Make a left after you get off the ferry and Sheila will be there, cooking up some love. If you are less adventurous ask for the shrimp; if you are up for something interesting ask for the catch of the day. Whatever you ask for, though, that’s just the feature. The meal comes with plenty of side dishes built in, depending on what Sheila is in the mood for, and it can be easily shared by two people per order.

A grand total of zero out of those three establishments currently have a website - sounds like an opportunity to me…

I mentioned before that renting a Jeep (which translates as “car” on the island - other vehicles are rare) is a great idea. Pulling this off can be tricky for two reasons - during peak seasons very few rental agencies will have any left for you if you haven’t called ahead (so, call ahead, duh); but also, most places will only rent to the 25+ crowd. We hit paydirt unexpectedly at a scooter rental location named, appropriately, Scooter Rental. There they had one red Wrangler left and a more informal attitude toward the entire process. Check and check….

All in all, a fantastic five days/six nights. Anything much longer than that would have probably involved another island down there, many of which are just another short ferry away…