Hello Trip Advisor,
Recently returned from our 4th trip (6/9 - 6/16) and the only way I know to describe re-entry (without using profanity) is to say, "I miss STJ so much my socks hurt." I probably love that little island most not because I don't have to wear socks, but because I don't even remember to put them on while I'm there.
Hopefully I'll have a sitting on the edge of your beach chair worthy trip report posted before next June, but in the meantime, I'm a big fan of paying it forward and while I was on this last trip, I jotted down some helpful tips that I...
A) Picked up on this forum and others and put to the test
B) Learned the "hard" way...my pain, your gain.
Anyway, some of these will seem obvious to some, but hopefully there will be at least one or two tips below that you hadn't considered to make it worth the read.
WARNING: Very Long and longwinded.
Here we go...
Start hydrating before the trip and all during it and don't skip meals - No brainer, but I took some advice and brought along those single serving powder packets of Gatorade and started each morning off with a 16 ouncer. I also tried to cover off every alcoholic beverage consumed with the same number of ounces of water (oh yeah, I drank a LOT of water). Look for a help yourself water igloo at places like Skinny's or just ask the bartender for a water-back when ordering your drink. I found that most of the bartenders didn't mind and actually were for it because you actually in the mood to drink more when you're not dehydrated.
But, even doing all that didn't stop me from cramping up a bit while out on long snorkels. Apparently, you also sweat in the water. Who knew? I also think that I finally figured out that the primary reason I bonked on a long hike a few years back wasn't because I didn't have enough water, but because I hadn't eaten since breakfast and it was 2pm. Food is definitely fuel and won't get far on STJ on an empty tank.
Rash Guard/T-Shirt while snorkeling always and reapply Sun Screen every two hours regardless of whether you have SPF 15 or 75 - Another no brainer, but being that close to the Equator is like walking into a toaster. You will fry no matter how much sun block you put on if you stay in direct sun long enough. Also, the combo of sweat and salt water makes it harder to reapply sun block, so put a really good coat on first thing in the morning when it's cooler.
Mosquito Repellent with DEET and AfterBite Stick - I'd get a can per person and put it next to the villa door. Either going or coming, I typically sprayed myself like I was putting on cologne...around the neck, on the wrists, backs of my arms and legs and down around the ankles and feet. Early morning and at night, especially at dusk are typically the worst times. But you can manage it...I've also heard that garlic supplements and taking vitamin B Complex tablets the week before the trip helps. AfterBite is basically ammonia in a plastic pencil shaped tube with a roll-on point...apply it right to the bite, won't help the bump much, but it helps kill the itch fast. (And for you routine guys that employ the early morning constitutional, leaving a can of repellent next to the can, not a bad idea either...I really hate the butt bite.)
Safelock Bag and/or Waterproof Pouch with string - I always hated leaving easy to steal travel critical items like cash, credit cards and phone on the beach while snorkeling. Just couldn't enjoy the snorkel as much knowing those things were left unattended. But I fixed that...first, we put things like cell phones, villa keys, iPods and other small stuff in a Safelock back that had build in wire mesh, a lock and heavy metal cord and fastened it to the biggest metal bar under my car seat. Then we put one credit card, IDs, car key and safelock bag key into the waterproof pouch. I put the pouch into the velcro pocket on my bathing suit and tied the string up into one of the holes where you typically would thread the bathing suit strings thru. No worries.
Daily Packing List (all things we wanted with us while out and about on STJ to be flexible and get max enjoyment without having to come back to the villa) - Backpack, flip flops, hiking shoes/Keens, snorkel/masks/fins (neoprine water socks if you get fin blisters - also helps when entering water on rocky beaches), camera, crummy pair of sunglasses, hat, beach towel, hand towel (for wiping sweat, sand, or other stuff off), rash guard, extra t-shirt, baggy pair of shorts beside bathing suit...also a cooler with beer, granola bars, snacks)...as for water bottles, we filled them half up, put them in freezer the night before, and then filled the rest up with water before leaving...keeps water cooler longer if you're not keeping the bottles in the cooler, like on long hikes)
Baby Powder - Belongs on the list above, but worth its own mention...we kept it in the back of the car and it just works like a charm in removing sand from sweaty, wet skin.
Car Rental - Everyone has an opinion on the best place to rent and I'm not going to suggest one place over another, but I'm a big fan of renting at places in Cruz Bay that allow you to use their parking lot during the week while you're there. It just makes going to dinner or even parking for the day while you're out on a charter that much easier.
Always have at least $50 in cash on you - A lot of places don't take credit cards and even those that do, don't always know how to take them when the power the goes out...say like you're at the Tap Room taking a tour of the Beers of VI and the power goes out. Whoops.
Cortizon Lotion - Any guy that's walked back from Salomon, Genti, Brown, Cobblestone in a wet bathing suit can probably tell you everything you need to know about inner thigh thermal viscosity breakdown...friction rashes suck major and don't make the mistake like I did of lubricating the rash with suntan lotion...Holy Mary Mother of God, it's like touching your finger to a hot stove and not being able to remove it...good times...hit the rash with cortizon before you go to bed and again when you wake back up. It's not a 24-hour cure, but you'll be much better off for it and will be able to resume necessary functions like walking, swimming and, um, that other thing that wives on vacation actually seem to be in mood for more often.
Polar Bear Coolers - Let's put it this way, I'd trust this thing to keep a kidney cold on the way to the transplant....we loaded up the 12-pack size with a bakers dozen load of Presidentes, tossed in all the ice that would fit and that was 7am...went to the beach all day, left the cooler in the sun a lot of time (stupid palm tree needs to move with the sun), and still had cold beer at 4pm and still plenty of ice. It's Awlll-some....throw in some koozes, good to go.
No glass on beach, bring a couple of plastic cups if you like Red Strip or other beer that doesn't come in cans - btw, side note, did Red Strip go up in price. Two stripes at the airport, $12. If anything deserves a WTF, that does. "Hooray Beer" just become, "Who Can Pay For This Beer!" On top of that, the only grocery store I found Red Stripe at was Star Fish in the Hoity Toity Liquor Room...I guess VI Beers stole all their thunder. Oh well, I like Island Hoppin IPA better and there's always Banks Beer too...tastes just like the Stripe.
Don't venture over to the East Side with less than 1/4 tank of gas and no less than a 1/2 would be better
Put a flashlight next to your bed and the villa door for when the power goes out at night - if you've ever had to get back into your villa at night after a power outage using the light of your cell phone, you know what I mean. It's like plahing Mission Improbable.
Have a Rain Day Alternative - Whether you're a planner or not, it's good to have an idea of what to do when it pours...we lucked out and never had a rainy day while on the island, but if it had, we would have hit some shops or gone to the Animal Care Clinic (did that anyway, good people, animals that never turn down a friendly smile). I also like hiking in the rain.
Always say Good morning, good afternoon or good evening before conversing further with the local folks - Most people know that's customary, but I also found waiting until they make eye contact with you before saying it also helps too. Even when wait staff or check-stand personnel aren't waiting on someone, if they're not eagerly moving on the next person, it usually means they're preoccupied with something. Eye contact ensures that they're ready to go.
Take a little extra time with the villa host - Make sure you see and learn how to do everything like turning on the TV (seriously, our villa had like six remotes), put the combo in the safe, get the code for WiFi, turn the A/C on and off...also make sure the water is turned on and the pool is clean. The cleaning crews do great job, but if it's been a while since the last person rented the villa, items can get overlooked.
Keep the phone number of the car rental, taxi and STJ wrecker service handy - take it from someone who has had two tires go flat at the same time. Yeah, more good times.
Put a rubber band on your left wrist or on the steering wheel to remind yourself to drive on the left side of the road - hey, when you've been driving on the right side all your life, it's easy to forget, especially early in the morning or late at night.
Open multiple doors/windows (with screens) on multiple sides of the villa - Can't explain the physics, but it creates a breeze much greater than just opening one door. Got me through the night during one of the power outages.
Pick up customs forms at the Westin Check in desk night before departure - It just saves time and STT airport customs have a "missing pen" problem...like two pens for everyone to fill out customs forms. We didn't try using a porter because we went Thursday to Thursday and it wasn't crowded, but I hear that works well...also using a private taxi service like Rachel if you're pressed for time. On our way back to the airport from Red Hook, we made like six stops before the airport.
Also here are few things we enjoyed on the trip that we probably would not have done or known to do if we hadn't learned about them on the forum...
Haulover North - It's shallow and it definitely helps if the water is calm, but the snorkel out the left side may be the best on the island. It's like Waterlemon Cay, except 10x bigger. The coral is really vibrant and there's a ton of it.
Kayak to and snorkel around Whistling Cay and Mary Point - Rent from Maho Bay camps, 3 hour rental is plenty...for those doing it for the first time, note that the place you rent the kayak is actually the little shack right before you descend the last set of stairs down to Little Maho beach (we waited next to the shack where the kayaks are located on the beach until we figured that out)...the little stone house on the cobblestone beach on Whistling Cay has nice shade inside if you're eating lunch...snorkeling the left side or bay side of Whistling Cay is optimal, the channel side is a bit rough and not as much to see...I also concur with the forumite who suggested parking at Francis and swimming around the rocks to Little Maho with c-card in waterproof pouch - it's just much easier than driving all the way to Maho Bay camps and hiking all the way down to the beach from the parking area.
Full Moon Hike To Ram Head - We did not do this due to a torrential rain storm the night of the full moon on 6/15, but I can attest to the fact that when the moon is full, it's like a big flashlight in the sky. You can see really well. Regardless, I think Ram Head is the best hike day or night and the little spur out to Drunk Bay to see the "Coral People" is well worth it too.
Tektite - The road past Salt Pond Parking Lot over to Great Lameshur is getting better...more pavement than last year. Also, you definitely get your money's worth out of the rock scramble out to Donkey Bight from Great Lameshur beach...I'd wear tennis shoes for that one, it's like Q-Bert for you Gen X'ers. Tektite was a good snorkel, but I think I had more fun getting there and saying I'd done it than the snorkel itself. It's a deep water snorkel and we certainly saw our fair share of tarpon, turtles and barracudas, among other things, but I wouldn't say it's better than the Blue Cobblestone snorkel. Worth doing it at least once and I'd do it again if conditions are good...also, for you sea glass lovers, Great Lameshur is a good spot. There's a intermediate rock bed between the bigger rocks and the water where we found six or seven pieces without trying too hard.
Pine Peace - Definitely cheaper than Starfish or STJ Market. We knocked out most of our shopping list there and got the special stuff at the other places.
Vie's Snack Shack - Not really that unknown and I've been there many times and can't get enough of her garlic chicken and conch fritters, but I know that it can be hit or miss when she's open from what I've read on the forum...so I thought I'd add that she has a cordless phone and a listed number though I can't find it right now...anyway, you can always call after about 10am on the day you want to go to see if she's there (posted hours are 10am-5pm, Tuesday thru Saturday)...might save you a trip.
And last but certainly not least because this is by far the best tip ever picked up from this or any forum...
CAPTAIN JOHN BRANDI and PALM TREE CHARTERS!!!! - Oh did this ever deliver and then some. If you have trip coming up, don't ask, just call Sue now and book it. I'm sure there are lots of good charter boat options, but I can tell you right now that we will go with no one but Captain John from here on out. He just gets it. He's walked a mile in your flip flops and knows when to hold your hand and when to cut the cord and give you space as you go through the BVIs. I wouldn't pretend to know the secret of his success, but I'd say it's because he sweats the details even though you won't realize he's sweating them until it's over. Where as some charter boats can be more like bus drivers dropping you off at each point, he's more of a personal chauffeur. Everyone from bartenders to customs people know Captain John and when you're with him in the British Virgin Islands, you might as well be one of the Royals because that's how you're treated. As I said on my Captain John facebook video (very social media savvy the Captain)..."even though Captain John puts his bathing suit on one leg at a time, when he does, he makes gold memories." He ain't THE Saint John, but he's pretty damn close in my book.