Friday, February 15, 2013

Planning your own Tropical Vacation to St. John - U.S.V.I Part 6

Below you will find information about St. John and St. Thomas, including ferries, car rental, accommodations, food, and beaches. I hope you find this information helpful when planning your own tropical vacation!!!

The ride from Red Hook, St. Thomas to Cruz Bay, St. John’s cost $6.00 per person and took about twenty minutes. (It cost $13.00 per person for a taxi from the airport to the Red Hook dock.)

The ride from Cruz Bay, St. John’s to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas cost $12 per person plus $2.50 for each piece of luggage (anything larger than a bag or backpack will be stored separately) and took about forty-five minutes.  

Travel Tip: If you plan to sit on the upper deck, you might consider applying sunscreen beforehand or having it available. It gets pretty bright and intense up there (and if you got sunburned the day before, it doesn’t feel too good).

Ferry Schedule: (I recommend checking at the docks or with your hotel, in case this information changes.)

We rented a Ford Focus from L&L Jeep Rental. There are plenty of rental agencies, so you might want to shop around for the best price. A Jeep is a good option if you want access to some of the beaches that are only reached by traveling a rough dirt road.

Parking Tip: It’s free to park in the National Park Visitor Center employee parking lot after 5:00pm.

Cinnamon Bay Campground (St. John’s) - This is the cheapest place to stay that we could find on the island. Rather than bring all our camping gear with us, we opted for a furnished tent, which cost us $93 per night plus taxes. We were assigned Site #21, which is extremely close to the beach, so I would suggest requesting this spot if you can. The tent was adequate, the showers were cold, and they’ll give you blankets at the front desk if you ask (our tent was only supplied with two thin sheets). Bring bug spray - there are gnats and mosquitoes at night. There is a small convenience store that sells ice for the provided cooler. Use the provided bin to store food - Nick left bread out one night, and a critter got at it. 

Galleon House Bed and Breakfast (St. Thomas) - The Galleon House is a short walk from the dock (just be aware that part of it is uphill). Our room was simple, and it had it’s own air-conditioning unit. We had a shared bathroom, but we never encountered who we were sharing with. The showers are hot. :)  A light breakfast is served in the morning - we were given the choice between three options. At the front desk, they keep a binder of restaurant menus, which I found helpful. Our room rate was $115.55 per night.

Dolphin Mart - The small grocery store is located in Cruz Bay, a short walk from the dock. It’s small, but will have any provisions you need for drinks, meals, and snacks. There is another market called Starfish, but I heard that it’s more run-down (I didn’t check).

Skinny Legs Bar and Grill - This is located near Coral Bay, just past the turn off for Salt Pond Bay. It’s got a nice, relaxed vibe and some good live music. The food, although typical American pub grub, is not half bad. The homemade vinaigrette makes my otherwise plain salad really good, and Nick’s burger is alright.

Vie’s Chicken Shack - I heard that this is a good, locally-owned place to grab lunch. It’s on the road on the way to East End. I didn’t get to try it, though, because it’s closed on Sunday (and Monday).

Rhumb Line - The pricer restaurant is in Cruz Bay, but it has good food. I also love the open air courtyard; it’s lovely with the sun shining and in the evening. We ate here for their Sunday brunch, which is a slightly different menu. I loved my mango gazpacho, and Nick really enjoyed the berry-filled French toast. We ended up coming back here one night for dinner, and we shared a variety of small plates of the tapas menu. Each tapas comes with two servings, such as two chicken skewers or two tiny pork rolls, so each plate is only a small amount of food. I thought the tapas were alright, but they definitely didn’t stand out. And my overpriced $12 mojito wasn’t very good, either. (All the drinks on the island are overpriced, but I think they should be pretty darn good for the price I’m paying.) We tried the oreo cake for dessert, but it ends up being an ice cream cake (maybe I didn’t hear correctly), which didn’t really interest me. 

Sweet Plantains - The pricier restaurant is located on the road to Salt Pond Bay, not too far past the turnoff. I had heard it was excellent, but unfortunately I didn’t get to eat here. Even though their website says it’s open on Sunday, it was most definitely closed when we arrived around 6:00pm. So, you might consider calling ahead.

Shipwreck’s Landing - When we discovered Sweet Plantains was closed, we drove a little further down the street to this popular restaurant. Both times when we’ve driven by, it’s been crowded. Warning: It’s difficult to find a parking spot (at least it was for us). We didn’t eat here because I wanted something a little nicer than burgers on my birthday, but based on its busy atmosphere, I’m guessing it serves pretty good food.

Morgan’s Mango - The pricier restaurant in the Mongoose Junction shopping center in Cruz Bay offers an interesting menu. I recommend a Hurricane Hugo as a wonderful way to begin. The Jerk Chicken quesadilla appetizer is also really good. The pork tenderloin with potatoes and vegetables tastes pretty standard, maybe even a little overcooked. We each get our own dessert - the chocolate mousse cake and blueberry bread pudding are both delicious.

Deli Grotto - This is a reasonably priced deli located in the Mongoose Junction shopping center in Cruz Bay. It seems like a nice place to grab breakfast or lunch, but I was only interested in their baked goods. :) The chocolate caramel bar was sooooo good.

Baked in the Sun Bakery - This is a cute little coffee shop not too far down one of the roads coming off the roundabout (I can’t remember which one) in Cruz Bay. We had coffee and couple pastries. The peanut butter ganache brownie and rugaluh were both really good.   

Glady’s Cafe - This Western Indian cuisine cafe is located in one of the alleys in Charlotte Amalie. We enjoy a tasty lunch of conch fritters (basically a local version of clam fritters), fresh homemade guacamole and chips, and a Jamaican Jerk chicken sandwich. Oh, and we try a soursop colada, made with a local fruit (it’s actually not sour at all and very tasty). West Indian is the local cuisine, but these restaurants close when the tourists return to their cruise ships (the locals don’t want to eat what they cook at home), so keep this in mind if you’re interested in tasting the local cuisine. 

Tavern on the Waterfront - There aren’t many dining options during the evening in Charlotte Amalie, so we chose this restaurant over a couple others because the menu sounded more interesting. We sit on a tiny patio only large enough for two small tables, and we have it to ourselves for most of the meal. Aside from the roaring buses passing by occasionally, it’s quite nice. My almond-crusted snapper is delicious, and I savor every bite of my chocolate lava cake. The Monkey Around Town frozen drink (banana, Baileys, Kahlua, rum) is good, too.

There are many beaches on St. John’s, and we didn’t see them all. The ones we did visit are on Cinnamon Bay, Trunk Bay, Francis Bay, Hawksnest Bay, Honeymoon Bay, and Salt Pond Bay. Cinnamon Bay was where we stayed, so we usually chilled on the beach for a little after returning from our excursions around the island. Our favorite was Trunk Bay, but it’s also the busiest and the only one that charges a fee (~ $4.00 per person). Get there early to enjoy time before the crowds and also so you have an easier time finding a parking spot. Francis Bay has some snorkeling, and supposedly there are turtles there sometimes, but we didn’t see any. Honeymoon Bay is only accessed by taking a short downhill hike, but this makes it less populated. Salt Pond Bay is a nice point from which to watch the sunset and not be on the more developed west side of the island (and probably the sunrise if you want to get up that early).

Swimming is really nice because it’s pretty calm surf and the water temperature isn’t that cold at all. Be careful, though, because if it does get choppy, the waves can knock you down - we watched a few people get knocked over because they were standing in the wrong spot. The snorkeling honestly isn’t that impressive after being to Hawaii. It was still fun, though, so bring or rent your snorkel gear.

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