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We recently visited St. John's, which was absolutely amazing. During our trip, I often thought, ‘if only I would have known. . .’, so here are a few helpful hints for getting around the island a bit easier.
We used our Starwood points and stayed at the Westin during our visit to the island. They first placed us in building #14, which had a terrible view and the room was a bit less than desirable, but after a call to the manager, they moved us to building #23. Words for the wise, they have pool view, ocean view and beachfront rooms (beachfront being closest to the ocean). Building #23 was oceanfront, but it was great, as we were off of the beaten path and had an amazing view. From our experience, they offered good customer service. Most of the staff was overly nice and willing to help. They tried to have us attend a meeting for their timeshares, which are being built as we speak. We declined, but the compensation packages for attending the meeting may have been worthwhile. Building #23 is right next to the construction, which was pretty unnoticeable during our visit.
Many folks said the beach at the Westin was horrible, but it seemed just fine to us. It is ½ mile long and not as lavish as the other beaches on the island, but who plans on spending their days at The Westin anyway!?!
I would strongly advise against renting activities or vehicles from the Westin; their fees are quite expensive. However, do take advantage of the complementary water only offered at the front desk and free cooler rental from Magos Deli (located next to the gym). If you are interested in non-motorized water equipment, it can be used free of charge, but has a one hour maximum and you cannot leave the bay.
Westin Ferry - If you are at The Westin, The Westin Ferry may be worth forking out the money. It travels from Charlotte directly to the Westin. The cost is $95 / person, which includes unlimited trips to St. Thomas and no charge for transportation from the airport to the ferry.
Charlotte Cay - This ferry also picks up from Charlotte and drops off at Cruz Bay. If you take this ferry you will have to pay $10 for a taxi from the airport to Charlotte, $5 / person and $2 / bag for the ferry ride, and $10 from Cruz Bay to The Westin. Total for 2 is approximately $40. Keep in mind, this ferry's schedule is constantly changing, so it is not very reliable.
Red Hook Ferry - This ferry picks up from Red Hook in St. Thomas and delivers to Cruz Bay in St. John's. You will pay $35 for a taxi from the airport to Red Hook, $5 / person and $2 / bag for the ferry ride, and $10 from Cruz Bay to The Westin. Total for 2 is approximately $65. This ferry has a schedule that they usually follow.
For these reasons, I say the Westin Ferry may be worth forking out the money. It is just the easiest and most convenient way of transportation.
*Keep swimsuit and sun block on carry-on luggage *
All in all, the Westin was a nice resort, although if I were spending cash and not using my points, I may have chosen to stay at another, less expensive resort.
We ate so much food during our vacation and were referred to several of the restaurants by locals. If this is your first time to St. John's, keep in mind, most of these restaurants are located in Downtown Cruz Bay, which is a little rougher part of town. Our opinions are as follows:
Chilly Billy's - nice breakfast, really cheap. (340.693.8708)
Inn at Tamarind Court - nice breakfast, really cheap. (340.776.6378)
Miss Lucy's - a must if you rent a vehicle; awesome view; great staff; reasonably priced. (340.693.5244)
Skinny Legs - if you are this far from Cruz Bay, continue onward to Miss Lucy's, you will not be disappointed.
La Tapa - our best meal on the island! Would have eaten there several times, but felt obligated to try other restaurants; located in the heart of Downtown Cruz Bay with a less than desirable street view of the locals. A must during your stay on the island! (340.693.7755)
Panini Beach Trattoria - second best meal; located downtown, but has a great view of the ocean and reasonable prices. (340.693.9119)
Stone Terrace - located downtown, but has a nice view; good food. (340.693.9370)
Tage - had great reputation, but chef just quit and food was not good; would not recommend.
Chateau Bordeaux - far drive; very expensive; won't revisit next time, but has nice view.
Asolare - didn't eat there, but heard excellent things; has an excellent view. (340.779.4747)
Chloe & Bernard's - located at the Westin property; decent food; easy access if you are staying at the Westin; easy to keep the check under $100 if you just order a few appetizers.
Zozo's - didn't eat there, but heard excellent things. (340.693.9200)
In St. John your options are limited in regards to grocery shopping. The Dolphin Market is located in Downtown Cruz Bay and has the biggest selection with the cheapest prices.
Trunk Bay is basically the beach that locals refer the tourists to visit. We didn't visit this beach, because they were so many tourists! Instead we visited Waterlemon Bay (which requires a one-mile walk). Pack a small cooler and bring lunch, snorkel gear and towels. You could spend an entire day here! Also heard great things about Cinnamon Bay and Hawksnest, but didn't visit them, we loved Waterlemon too much!
We did a BVI tour through Pirates Penny (referred by locals) and it was hands down an awesome tour. Rick, our captain, was fabulous, as well as the snorkeling and tour of the Baths. Apparently, with the price of gas increasing, many tours cut the trip short and do not go around the back side of the BVI, but Pirates Penny hasn't changed their route and has a maximum of 12 passengers.
One of our main goals was to go deep sea fishing, but pricing is the same for 2 or 10 people, so we were hoping to persuade another couple. Since we were unsuccessful, we didn't go fishing, but heard great things about Mixed Bag.
We were somewhat hesitant to rent a Jeep during our stay on the island, since the hills are extremely steep and driving is on the opposite side of the road; however, after being on the island a couple days, we decided this was a must. We spent an entire day touring the island and drove all the way to the East End and as far south as possible. We also visited Skinny Legs and Miss Lucy's for lunch and drinks. The locals will recommend Skinny Legs, but I promise Miss Lucy's is worth driving the extra couple miles. It is not near as crowded, the food is good, prices are reasonable and most importantly, the patio is 10 feet from the ocean. The Jeep rental wasn't near as worrisome as we had anticipated. We rented from the Westin and paid an outrageous price, I would suggest heading down to Cruz Bay; there are so many car rental places that they are forced to be somewhat competitive on pricing. To truly experience the island, you must get out of Downtown and visit the 2/3 of the island that is owned by the national parks. This is when you truly appreciate the beauty of St. John's.
We rented a Hobie Cat (a mini-catamaran), which was great. The day we chose had a minimal amount of wind, so we did a short 3 hour trip and headed over to a small island. Han, our captain, made the trip great. If you choose the 6 hour trip, you have lunch, go snorkeling and tour a couple additional islands. We will try again during our next visit!
Went snorkeling around small Cay off Waterlemon Bay (by Leinster Bay - which requires a one-mile walk), and it was amazing. We saw tons of Starfish, several Sting Rays, beautifyl coral and many fish of all kinds. Rented snorkel gear by Morgan's Mango in Cruz Bay for $5 / person / day. Pack a small cooler and bring lunch, snorkel gear and towels. You could make a day here!
DO NOT plan to arrive in St. Thomas several hours before your flight to shop. We thought this was the best idea of the day, but you must go through customs before checking your luggage and once you go through customs you cannot leave the airport. We made this big mistake and spent 6 hours in the airport!