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Jamaica Jim's

"Virgin Islands Trip Report"

 

Jamaica Jim Visits the US Virgin Islands!

U.S. Paradise Found!

(NOTE: Below, names of places are shown in blue and names of people are shown in red.)

Prologue

As a long-time aficionado of the Caribe Basin, I realized a few months ago that my knowledge of a group of islands in the northern Leewards - the US Virgin Islands - was grossly insufficient. In fact, the only time I had ever been to any one of the three - St. Croix, St. John or St. Thomas - was way back! It was on a return from Martinique, when we landed at St. Thomas to clear U.S. customs and immigration. It was SO far back, the airport was the Harry S. Truman Airport!

Well, two members of The Caribbean Travel Forum told me that I had been all over the Caribbean and it was time that I went to what is fondly known as "the American paradise" -- and they were right! It WAS time I saw first- hand what so many other folks have found out -- that the U.S. Virgin Islands are in fact a "paradise!"

Traveling To Paradise

Nina (my first wife - of thirty-seven years) and I flew down on Delta and the flight was super.  We went from Greenville-Spartanburg to Atlanta and then had a non-stop direct to St. Thomas.  Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta is being readied for the soon-to-occur Olympics, but there wasn't any problem getting around. We had a short layover.  Our flight to the USVI's wasn't full, so it was an enjoyable experience.

But, as has somehow become the norm, the airline "meal" was something I'll leave to the imagination of whoever has the time to read this tripe I type! Suffice to say the in-flight meal left a LOT to be desired!

St. Thomas

We arrived at Cyril E. King Airport right on time! Our "hostess" on St. Thomas - Juliana Leonard, of Wolf and Juliana [www.cstyle.co.vi] had arranged for Nesley to meet us with his van and deliver us to the condominium at Cabrita Point.  (Note: The Caribbean Style.Com link above doesn't work with NetScape browsers older than version 6.2.)  Thus, our first real views of the island were from the inside of a cool, air-conditioned van!

Our St. Thomas host and hostess, Wolf and Juliana, with Jim and Nina at Mim's Seafood Bistro
Our St. Thomas host & hostess, Wolf and Juliana 
with Jim & Nina at Mim's Seafood Bistro

Going through Charlotte Amalie (pronounced "Ah-mal-ee" or "Ah-mal-ya") was a treat - there were three huge cruise ships lining the wharf across from the center of town, there were shoppers everywhere and I was amazed at the number of cars and trucks that plied the streets of this capital city of the U.S. Virgins! I think this may have been my first ever experience of a "traffic jam" on any of the twenty-plus islands of the Caribbean I've had occasion to visit!

Nesley took the Frenchman's Bay Road on our way to Red Hook. If you should happen to go on this road, look out for Donkey Hill! As you start down, you will swear you're not on a road - but a roller coaster! I didn't think I had EVER been on a road to compare, as far as being steep!

Red Hook

We were welcomed by Wolf upon arrival at Carbrita, where we spent two of our four nights on St. Thomas. Finally meeting this bearded fellow in "Three- Dee" was a real treat! He has been a resident of the island for more than ten years and, driving around the island with him, it appeared that everyone knew him - and he knows everyone! Juliana is a "Kiwi" from New Zealand, and I don't think I've ever met anybody quite like her - she's tall and slim and stunningly attractive and one of the friendliest people I've ever met! (My only question - how did Wolf catch such a beauty!)

Our "digs" at Carbrita were extremely comfortable and very well situated, with a balcony that overlooks Vessup Bay and the harbor at Red Hook, a pool just a few steps around the corner, a constant, cooling sea breeze, and with beautiful Bluebeard Beach just a short walk from the Carbrita complex.

However, the real treat was that Juliana had set the place up better than any place I have ever stayed! The cabinets in the kitchen held everything - cereal, condiments, snacks - while the refrigerator had a half gallon of milk, bottled water, orange juice, bread and even eggs and bacon! I was even amazed to find that the cabinets in the bathroom were equally well stocked! There was even a television with a VCR -- and plenty of video tapes to watch! I tell you - that Juliana is one smart gal! We watched "Pretty Woman"! <BG>

We had our first meal with Wolf and Juliana at Latitude 18, a small marina on the south side of Red Hook's harbor. The meal was not only well cooked, but it was probably the least expensive place we ate at during the entire nine days!  Ron, the proprietor, was most cordial and we went back there a couple of more times during our stay on Red Hook. I would highly recommend Latitude 18 to anyone who's planning to be in the Red Hook area on the East End of St. Thomas!

After staying two nights at the condo at Cabrita, we moved to make room for another couple who had prior reservations. Juliana was able to accommodate us in another condo at Eastwind, the complex where she and Wolf live. It was fully as nice as Carbrita, and was just two minutes walk from Latitude 18 and three minutes walk from a gorgeous sandy beach at Muller Bay.

At both places, we watched the bananaquits (see graphic below) - the official bird of the Virgin Islands - and hummingbirds "attack" the sugar water that Juliana puts out for them. In addition, we regularly saw numerous land iguanas, small chameleons, as well as many mongooses scurrying around!

Driving Around St. Thomas

The road system of St. Thomas was "unique" to say the least!  First off, all vehicles drive on the left, even though I didn't see a single car, truck, bus or other vehicle that had the steering wheel on the right! It is just that these islands still retain the habit of driving on the left from the days when they were a Danish colony!  With the huge number of vehicles on St. Thomas, the roads, while wide enough to accommodate two way traffic, are somewhat in need of repair.  And, if you do rent a car or jeep to use while staying on St. Thomas - as we did - don't be surprised if you get stuck in a traffic jam - it's gonna happen!

It's virtually impossible to get lost on St. Thomas - least not for long!  The island is only thirteen miles long, and there's no place on the island more than thirty minutes driving time - traffic jams permitting - from Charlotte Amalie.  However, if you do rent a car, be aware that parking in Charlotte Amalie is a real problem. Also, there is a Strictly Enforced Seat Belt Law, requiring both front seat passengers to be belted in - and woe unto you if the local constabulary catches you NOT wearing a seat belt!

The views from around the island are stupendous! The roads wind up into the hills and you can see literally scores of islands, from Culebra on the west to St. Croix to the south, St. John to the east and many of the British Virgin Islands off to the northeast, including Tortola and Jost Van Dyke! And I can't fully describe to colors of the water that visitors see! The blues are the bluest I've ever seen - I can't remember ever seeing ANY other waters in the Caribbean that could compare to those blue hues! To say that the water must be seen to be appreciated is a huge understatement - even after seeing them, I don't think they can be fully appreciated!!

We had a treat - Richard [75467,1763] on The Caribbean Travel Forum, from Florence, SC, was staying at "Villa Sand Dollar" above Megan's Bay. He had posted me that he was gonna be there while we were on the island and invited me to drop by to meet him. Well, being adventurous, we tooled off and located it - and the second steepest road on the whole island of St. Thomas was what served as the driveway for the villa! Nina opted to get herself outta the car, while I drove down undaunted! On the way down, I spied an iguana, and decided if Nina saw it and it scared her, it'd be fit tribute for her not having confidence in my driving abilities - but she didn't even know it was there!

(As an aside, Villa Sand Dollar was the place where President Clinton and Vice President Gore and their families stayed some months later! It can be rented by anybody! But, I saw it BEFORE they did!)

We met Richard and his wife and enjoyed a cold drink, while looking out at the blue colors of Megan's Bay - one of the most beautiful bodies of water anywhere!

We also had an occasion when Wolf took us around to some interesting places to see the sights. Our first stop was the boat yard across from Compass Point, where the Wolf's sailboat - "Tuch-a-Klas"- is "on the beach" as a result of Hurricane Luis. Then it was on along the south coast, with stops at places I had read about on The Caribbean Travel Forum and now I was seeing first-hand!

One of the most stunning places Wolf took us was up to the top of Paradise Point, where the tramway from just across the street from Havensight Mall climbs up to the top! (We drove it!) The view of the harbor was outta sight!

Eating Out

I won't attempt to list all the great gourmet restaurants around St. Thomas. However, I have already mentioned Latitude 18. In addition, I want to tell all y'all about a couple of more we found to be delightful!

Mim's Seafood Bistro at the Watergate Villas has an all-you-can-eat shrimp dinner on Thursday's that's to die for! We went Thursday evening with Juliana and Wolf and I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the shrimp was the best I think I've ever had! We met Gerald Defreitas, Mim's "other half" and his new son! (Boy, is that a good looking baby boy!) I can't recommend Mim's highly enough!

We had a delightful dinner at Dottie's Front Porch, which is located conveniently right at the front of Compass Point Marina. We had not only an excellent meal, but we were there early enough that we were the first customers and had the distinct pleasure of meeting the proprietress, Dottie Daughtry, and having her tell us of her experiences on St. Thomas for more than a score of years! She's a real jewel! Her after dinner culinary concoctions are in her words, "happy fat deserts"! Try Dottie's Front Porch - you'll like it!

Shopping on St. Thomas

There's no question that the USVI's have shopping that can make even the most dedicated shopper jump for joy! There are so many shops that I won't even try to list them. Suffice to say, if it's shopping a person wants to do, the USVI's and particularly Charlotte Amalie will provide a person with the ability to shop till you drop!

But, while we were on-island, "Carnival" - the island's annual April nine- day festival - was going on, so we pretty much stayed out of Charlotte Amalie, where most of the Carnival action was, along with the attendant crowds and inevitable traffic jams!

Nina did see an advertisement for the Virgin Islands commemorative gold coins that were minted in 1990, and she dearly wanted to get at least one! We were able to stop at Irmela's Jewel Studio in the Grand Hotel, just before going to the airport to fly home, so I have a happy wife now! (More on shopping under St. John's Shopping below.)

CompuServing From Paradise!

On the last morning we were on St. Thomas, I did get a chance to see Wolf's computer setup. I thought MY computer room was something to behold, but I can say with some certainty that Wolf's closely rivals "Caribbean Computer Control Central"! Wolf was gracious enough to allow me to access the forum and I was delighted to get chat sends from our own Lynn (Scuba Mom) and Jim (Palm Dude) telling me that The Caribbean Travel Forum was still there and that good ol' Jerry hadn't sold it while I was gone!

Leaving St. Thomas

On Saturday morning, we took our leave of Juliana and Wolf with a great deal of sadness, knowing it'd be a long time before we might be able to be with them again. But, we were also looking forward to visiting the second of the two islands on our itinerary - St. John! In addition, we were going first class all the way!

St. John

St. John, just to the east of St. Thomas, is a tropical wonder to behold! The island consists of twenty-one square miles, of which almost two-thirds is taken up by Virgin Islands National Park, which is part of the United States National Park Service. With about 3,500 permanent population, it's never crowded and is without a doubt the prettiest and cleanest island that I've ever seen!

Luis Argote, Managing Director at the world class Caneel Bay Resort and a member of The Caribbean Travel Forum, had extended to us an invitation to be his guests for the four nights of our stay on St. John. I had accepted his invitation without any reservations A TALL (sic)!! Luis even arranged to send the "Miss Caneel II" - the resort's sixty-four foot steel hull guest ferry - to pick us up at the National Park Dock at Red Hook. Wolf had driven us down to the dock and waved a farewell to us as we departed.

I can't begin to express the beauty we saw, both on the boat ride across to Caneel Bay's private dock right at the resort, nor the magnificent views of the property we got as we arrived! During all my travels around the Caribbean, I've seen some great resorts, but let me tell you - Caneel Bay Resort is right up there at the very top!

Luis met us when "Miss Caneel II" docked - the first time we had met in "Three-Dee". He was as gracious in person as he had been the times we'd spoken by phone. He's a super fellow!

He had indicated to me earlier that Caneel Bay was closed until October 1st, due to damages sustained by the property during first Hurricane Luis and then Hurricane Marilyn. (Hummm? I wonder if there was any correlation between the name of the first hurricane and the name of our host?) <smile>

Luis had told me that most of the usable rooms at Caneel Bay were occupied by construction workers, who were doing the repairs and reconstruction to the resort. Therefore, I had fully expected we'd probably be staying at the campground at Cinnamon Bay, which is managed by Rosewood Properties, which also manages Caneel Bay, for our whole stay on St. John. Imagine my delight when Luis informed me that we would be staying at Cinnamon Bay that night, but there was a room that would be available for us at Caneel Bay the next day!

Luis personally drove us over to Cinnamon Bay, introduced us to the staff, including Julia Gregoire, took our bags down to the "cottage" and then drove us back into Cruz Bay, so that I could arrange for the rental of a jeep for the duration of our stay. He then went back to work - and we began our St. Johnian odyssey!

Cinnamon Bay Campgrounds

The campgrounds are just that - a really nice place where families can use the facilities of a national park to camp out, either using a "bare site" - where folks use their own tent set up on a permanent site, a "tent site" - where folks use tents furnished by the campgrounds, or "cottages" - which are large, screened-in, permanent buildings with concrete floors and beds, complete with pillows and sheets! The cottages even have table and chairs, as well as a small refrigerator!

The bath facilities are contained in bath houses located around the grounds and anybody considering a stay at Cinnamon Bay should understand that it's a more than a "short" walk to go use the "potty"! (Nina wasn't real happy with THAT walk, to say the least! According to her, the walk was "real long!" Of course you hafta realize that, to Nina, "camping out" is staying at an old Howard Johnson's Inn!) <Big Smile!>

There is a well stocked general store at the main office area, as well as an excellent snack bar/restaurant! We had breakfast there twice and I can say that both the food and the cost were well worth it!

The beach at Cinnamon Bay is just like most of those on the north side of St. John - soft white sand and azure blue water! There are plenty of trees along the beach, so if shade from the sun is needed, it's just a few steps away. There is a beach shop located at the center of the beach, where beach chairs and water toys may be rented at a reasonable rate.

I took advantage of the waters off the beach for some snorkeling and it was super. The water was warm enough so you didn't feel chilled, but cool enough so it didn't feel as if you were in a bath tub! And clear - that water is gin clear and you can see everything perfectly!

Driving Around the Island

The roads on St. John are a marvel - wide and well paved, with very little traffic. I can now understand the comment by a St. Johnian when he referred to the island where we had spent our first four nights, as "St. Trauma!" I specially enjoyed driving around tiny Cruz Bay, one of the loveliest towns I've ever been in.

At breakfast our second day on the island, being as gregarious as I am, I struck up a conversation with two young girls, Jane and Hilde, at the table next to ours. We learned that they were Danish and were on a four month trip to the United States, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and then Mexico, before returning to Denmark!  When we got ready to leave and move over to Caneel Bay, we ran into them again and I offered to have them ride along with us. We went to Caneel Bay, dropped our bags in room number 27 and we were off - exploring!

We drove along the North Shore Road, first stopping off to look at Maho Bay, Francis Bay and then we drove to the Annaberg Sugar Mill ruins! This ruins dates back to the 1700's and the view of the BVI's from here across The Narrows is awesome.

From there, we drove into Cruz Bay for some light shopping and then off again up Centerline Road over the mountains to Coral Bay and to East End, until the road ran out! We drove back to Mamey Peak and had lunch at the hamburger stand beside Chateau Bordeaux, while we looked out over East End and Coral Bay, with Norman Island and Peter Island in the distance!

It was an altogether super day and I think Jane and Hilde enjoyed it fully as much as Nina and I did! We dropped the girls off at about 5:00 PM and Nina and I went back to Caneel Bay to rest a bit! All that exploring takes a lot outta you! <smile>

Caneel Bay Resort

As you already know, I've been around the Caribbean a bit, and I've seen some great properties. But, I can't say enough about Caneel Bay! And, it has a charm and elegance that is apparent to anybody who might happen to stop there without having ever heard of it before! It's awesome!

It was originally a sugar plantation. In the 1950's, millionaire Laurance Rockefeller was sailing past St. John and fell in love with the island. He purchased the land where Caneel Bay Resort is situated and built a place overlooking the Windward Passage. The current property has seven beaches and the property encompasses 170 acres, all of which are not just maintained but manicured by a staff of experts! (In addition, Rockefeller bought up more land and gave it to the federal government to be designated as a national park!)

The first night we were there, I walked out on what was a scimitar of soft, snow white sand, shimmering in the moonlight, and looked across Pillsbury Sound to Red Hook, with it's thousands of twinkling lights! Then, I looked back at the buildings and grounds of Caneel Bay and sighed! I was at total peace with the world!

By day, the beach provided it's white strand as a buffer for the deep blue of the deep water and the indescribable blues of the shallows from the tall, stately palm trees, which stand guard over the whole area! Let me tell you, it's gotta be seen to be believed!

The property was hit hard by the hurricanes, and most of the rooms scattered across the huge property suffered at least roof damage. Luis' staff has restoration reconstruction efforts currently under way and there's no doubt that the resort will be reopened on October 1, 1996, with everything in place for the coming season.

In addition to structures being damaged, more than 300 trees were uprooted by the hurricane winds. The resort has had replacement trees shipped in - if a fifty foot tree was lost, it's being replaced with a fifty foot tree!

There will still be the three separate restaurants when the resort reopens, with the Beach Terrace Dining Room being completely reworked. In addition the old Sugar Mill Ruins Restaurant will be open, as will the Estate House Dining Room at Turtle Bay. The tennis pro shop was demolished by hurricane Marilyn, but it's going to be completely rebuilt.

Carnival Fireworks!

Luis had invited Nina and I to join him, his wife Shanna, and his staff and their spouses, for a boat trip to St. Thomas, to watch the fireworks finale in the harbor at Charlotte Amalie on Sunday night. We drove into Cruz Bay, to the boat yard where the Caneel Bay boats are docked. We met the staff members and all boarded "Miss Caneel II" for what was to be a real highlight of our trip!

The boat ride went from the harbor at Cruz Bay, across Pillsbury Sound, past Cabrita Point, through the cut between Water Point and Great St. James Island (Hey, they even have an island named after ME!), and along the south coast of St. Thomas, to St. Thomas Harbor. We anchored and were in the prime location to watch what was approximately an hour long fireworks display! Talk bout being in the right place - we saw everything and I can say that it was probably as magnificent a display of fireworks as I'VE ever seen anywhere!

As the last fusillade was sinking into the waters of the harbor, our captain weighed anchor and took "Miss Caneel II" along the waterfront of Charlotte Amalie and then headed out to sea and our return to the dock at Cruz Bay. I think it's safe to say that "a fine time was had by all" - particularly ol' Jamaica Jim and Nina!

St. John's Shopping

Having eschewed going into Charlotte Amalie to shop while Carnival was going on, we made up for it on St. John! Or, let me put it another way - I made up for it! I found some l'il baubles that just seemed to shout, "Nina! Nina!" So, what could I do - I bought her enough jewelry that when we got to customs at the airport going home, I was OVER the $2,400 limit! (Aw, what the heck, she's put up with my shenanigans for thirty-seven years - she earned all she got!)

First off, there are two principal shopping areas on St. John - Mongoose Junction and Wharfside Village. Mongoose Junction is without a doubt the nicest shopping complex I've seen on any island in the Caribbean! Wharfside Village is conveniently situated just to the south of the main ferry dock in Cruz Bay, with a great view of the waterfront from the open walkways. Both areas have excellent shops, with Columbian Emeralds at both places and R & I Patton and Caravan Gallery at Mongoose Junction. In addition, we found some neat things at Freebird Creations and Blue Caribe Gems at Wharfside Village.

I got Nina an absolutely beautiful li'l gold bracelet that had links in the shape of the early Amerindian petroglyph (rock carving) that's now the logo for Caneel Bay, a gorgeous diamond and tanzanite ring and a diamond, ruby, emerald and sapphire bracelet! (I may NEVER be able to afford to return to St. John!)

Eating Out on St. John

Since we only had four days on St. John, we didn't have enough time to get to all the great places to eat, but the ones we did go to were excellent.

We had supper with Luis and Shanna on Monday night at the Lime Inn and it was sumptuous. In addition, we had a chance to get to know Luis and his beautiful wife, which was great. Luis is an especially sharp hotelier and was hired in early 1996 directly by Rosewood Properties to manage Caneel. From my conversations with him, I'd speculate that he'll do a superior job of seeing to the restoration and reopening of the property!

I can heartily recommend Mongoose Junction Restaurant, Morgan's Mango and Raintree's Fishtrap Restaurant. We had planned to go to Ellington's at Gallows Point, but it was on our last night and the restaurant was closed, so that will hafta wait for our next trip.

I've already mentioned T'ree Lizzard's Restaurant at Cinnamon Bay - we had breakfast there two mornings! We also had breakfast one morning at Mongoose Junction Restaurant and our last morning, we ate at the Barracuda Bistro at Wharfside Village! All were extra good, but I wish I'd found Barracuda Bistro the first day! Marty, Tim and Virginia have a super breakfast menu and I had more than my monthly limit of cholesterol in the four fried eggs I had! <blush> (Well, I AM still a "growing boy!")

Back To Reality!

As in everything, all good things must come to an end and we had to say farewell to the paradise that was St. John and return to St. Thomas, in order to catch our return flight to the "Land of Driving on the Right"!

I dropped Nina at the boat yard, while I went and turned the rental jeep back into the Avis agency. I walked back the two blocks and we boarded "Miss Caneel II's" sister boat, "Miss Mary Caneel II" for the boat ride to Charlotte Amalie. The ride was beautiful and as we passed along the south coast of St. Thomas, I was able to pick out the various points of interest to which we'd been just a few days before.

Upon arrival at the wharf in Charlotte Amalie, the boat captain lined us up with a van to take us to the airport. I was able to convince the driver if he didn't stop for Nina to get her coin, both he and I were gonna be in serious trouble! He smiled and said in the vernacular that I've heard so often on all the islands, "No problem, Mon!" <smile>

Our flights home were picture perfect and I was back home, sitting at my computer in less than six hours after leaving "paradise!"

Epilogue

Would I recommend that other folks take a trip the U.S. Virgin Islands?  Absodamnlutely!  Will I return to St. Thomas and/or St. John!  I'm sure I will!  After all, everybody needs to go to "paradise" more than one time!

** Jamaica Jim's Caribbean Caveat **

Get yourself to whatever airport you'll be departing from early -- and beg the counter agent to assign you to an "exit row" seat! The exit row seats have more leg room that any other seats on an airplane! You won't be disappointed and the whole flight, you'll be thanking good ol' Jamaica Jim for the tip! <smile>

Jamaica Jim Jordan
Created originally in April, 1996

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